A Brief History of Portable Literature by Enrique Vila-Matas

By Enrique Vila-Matas

A reader's fictional journey of the paintings and lives of a few of the good 20th-century SurrealistsAn writer (a model of Vila-Matas himself) provides a brief "history" of a mystery society, the Shandies, who're enthusiastic about the concept that of "portable literature." The society is solely imagined, yet during this rollicking, intellectually playful booklet, its participants comprise 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 particularly 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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The most interesting of these events is that of the JVV of MB, where Emma sees Charles in the bedroom putting on a redingote, though Charles will later claim that he's just come from the Cafe Frangais. The man in the redingote in Emma's bedroom is both Charles and a non-Charles, a husband and a lover, Henry and Frederic, Gustave Flaubert as Elisa's lover. The 15/25 December coincidence makes all these events occur either on New Year's Eve or New Year's Day, since Christmas was a long-time year's beginning (JJB, 92), so they are reenactments of the transition from 31 December 1843 to / January 1844, t n a t epoch-making moment that saw the death of a failed law student and the birth of an invalid/writer through the progression from the saint-Sylvestre at Vernon to the crise de PontVEveque on Adolphe Schlesinger's second birthday.

Henry has already been associated with several prior relationships, including one with a woman who tormented him (1, 279), but he seems determined that the name of the woman he later defines as a 'marchande de corsets', whom he passed on his way to college (1, 324), will not be revealed. It is Jules who reveals the name of this 'lingere' who toyed with his affections while giving herself to Henry and his friends, and Mme Herminie's name is inscribed on the date of Henry's depucelage with Emilie Renaud (1, 314).

This is not surprising in view of the private language of Flaubert and his friends, who associated marriage and its consummation with becoming poxy, 'verole' (Ci, 46). The assumption that novelists such as Flaubert use a complicated language based on temporal recurrence to encode additional messages/narratives in their fictions is somewhat dependent on the question of access to dates in the lives of their contemporaries. Novembre shows the profound, detailed level of self-revelation which an intimate relationship, no matter how temporary, produces; and anniversaries are an important aspect of each individual's autobiography.

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