A Brief History of Portable Literature (New Directions by Enrique Vila-Matas, Anne McLean, Thomas Bunstead

By Enrique Vila-Matas, Anne McLean, Thomas Bunstead

A reader’s fictional journey of the paintings and lives of a few of the good 20th-century Surrealists

An writer (a model of Vila-Matas himself) provides a brief “history” of a mystery society, the Shandies, who're passionate about the idea that of “portable literature.” The society is fullyyt imagined, yet during this rollicking, intellectually playful booklet, 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 residences, inns, and cafes everywhere Europe to debate what nice literature rather is: short, now not too severe, 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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Sample text

Some hotels are, frankly, rather literary. ) In Europe they’ve known this for a long time and consider suicides elegant only if they happen in places like the Ritz. This letter led to an outrageous increase in the number of suicides as well as letters to judges (the opposite effect to what Skip Canell had hoped for). ” According to Man Ray, Jacques Rigaut’s letter helped the Shandies uncover a new characteristic: a radical rejection of any idea of suicide as a benighted romantic tic. “Rigaut’s text,” he wrote, “made clear that, of all of us, he was the only one who believed in suicide.

Never since has there been such scrupulousness in literature. He concerned himself—scrupulously—with each and every comma. Anyone who wanted to uncover any kind of erratum in Die Fackel could spend entire weeks torturing himself in search of just one. Best simply not to try. But it so happened that a little before Larbaud’s arrival in Vienna, an injudicious young writer named Werner Littbarski set out to find that elusive erratum, and with the help of his black Brazilian servant Virgil, after several sleepless days and nights, he found it.

I ought finally to sound a note of caution: the hotel is run by a group of academic elephants, who only show visitors the room where Wagner once spent the night, making out that Rigaut was never there. ” —F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby At the beginning of 1925, the musician George Antheil appeared on the Shandy scene brimming with energy. With his announcement of Nicotechnica—a science invented by Antheil himself consisting of a fount of knowledge that categorically disproved the existence of the thriving secret society—he sowed seeds of uncertainty, as well as a certain despondency, among the portables.

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