By Enrique Vila-Matas, Anne McLean, Thomas Bunstead
A reader’s fictional travel of the paintings and lives of a few of the nice 20th-century Surrealists
An writer (a model of Vila-Matas himself) offers a brief “history” of a mystery society, the Shandies, who're keen about the idea that of “portable literature.” The society is totally imagined, yet during this rollicking, intellectually playful ebook, its participants contain writers and artists like Marcel Duchamp, Aleister Crowley, Witold Gombrowicz, Federico García Lorca, guy Ray, and Georgia O’Keefe. The Shandies meet secretly in flats, lodges, and cafes far and wide Europe to debate what nice literature relatively is: short, now not too critical, penetrating the depths of the mysterious. We witness the Shandies having adventures in desk bound submarines, underground caverns, African backwaters, and the cultural capitals of Europe.
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Extra resources for A Brief History of Portable Literature (New Directions Paperbook)
I have no appetite for death, but I have an appetite for not existing, for never having fallen into this interlude of imbecilities, abdications, renunciations, and obtuse encounters . ” Although initially, as we’ve seen, each Shandy with his drama was to understand that he’d come down on the side of death, soon it would become clear that suicide was not a solution, but nor was it nothing. It could only be realized in the same space as writing: whether, as we’ll see, by repeating the most radical silence, or indeed by transforming oneself into a literary character, or by betraying language itself, or by drinking liquor strong as molten metal, or by steering off into trompe l’œil or optical illusions, or certain kinds of smoke and mirrors.
For me these two scenes seem to be the pillars on which the history of portable literature is built: a history European in its origins and as light as the “desk-case” Paul Morand carried with him on luxury trains as he traveled the whole of an illuminated, nocturnal Europe. This moveable desk was the inspiration for Marcel Duchamp’s Boîte-en-valise, indisputably the most brilliant bid to exalt portability in art. Duchamp’s box-in-a-suitcase—which contained miniature reproductions of each his works—soon became an “anagram” for portable literature and the symbol by which the first Shandies* would come to be recognized.
What came into the world as an ironic comment ended up becoming a principle agreed upon by all members of the secret society. It was very clear, from then on, that suicide could only be realizable on paper. Antonin Artaud, for example, responded in this way to a surrealist inquiry, where those interrogated had to give their opinion on the subject of taking one’s life: “But what would you say to an anterior suicide, one which made you retrace your steps, not to the side of death, but to the other side of existence.
A Brief History of Portable Literature (New Directions Paperbook) by Enrique Vila-Matas, Anne McLean, Thomas Bunstead