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

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By Enrique Vila-Matas, Anne McLean, Thomas Bunstead

A reader’s fictional travel of the artwork and lives of a few of the good 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 solely 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 flats, lodges, and cafes all over the place Europe to debate what nice literature quite is: short, no longer 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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Additional resources for A Brief History of Portable Literature (New Directions Paperbook)

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For a long time, I have lived as a bachelor much more easily than if I’d had to tackle all of life’s normal difficulties. ” That Duchamp should come to understand all of this just as Varèse was telling him of Bely’s nervous breakdown on the enormous, towering rock of eternal recurrence is still strange. One inevitably wonders what link there might be between Bely’s frayed nerves and the Duchampian resolve to remain single at all costs, daydreaming like all irresponsible children. It’s hard—practically impossible—to know.

But the oddest thing about Johnson was that, though reminiscent of Rigaut in certain ways, unlike him, he seemed in an enormous hurry to leave this world. On meeting him, Rigaut felt surprised, ashamed, and extremely unsettled in the face of a far more determined suicide. “Take a good look at me tonight,” Johnson said, “because I doubt you’ll see me again. ” And indeed, soon after returning home, Johnson decided to finish the task he’d started long ago: consisting of a delicate piece of silversmithery.

This fourth and final phrase—the only one not constructed with words subject to the realm of coincidence—acquired a magical meaning for Picabia, who believed he saw in Port Actif (homonym for the French word portatif, meaning portable) a revelation, this word cryptically linking Duchamp’s dream with the Russian’s message and pointing him toward Port Actif, an African village situated at the mouth of the River Niger. After not a little difficulty, Picabia managed to convince four of his friends—Duchamp, Ferenc Szalay, Paul Morand, and Jacques Rigaut—of the absolute necessity of setting sail for the coast of Nigeria.

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