cover image A Brief History of Portable Literature

A Brief History of Portable Literature

Enrique Vila-Matas, trans. from the Spanish by Tom Bunstead and Anne McLean. New Directions, $14.95 trade paper (128p) ISBN 978-0-8112-2337-9

Vila-Matas (Dublinesque) bends borders between authenticity and fabrication in this account of a short-lived (and fictional) secret society of notable artists that includes Marcel Duchamp, Francis Picabia, Aleister Crowley, William Carlos Williams, Georgia O’Keeffe, Tristan Tzara, and many others. Chapters follow the group’s efforts to produce and champion “portable” literature, the kind of writing that exhibits the “arrogant velocity of the lightning bolt of insolence.” In a collage of endnotes, quotations, and imagined moments, an unnamed narrator chronicles the covert collaborators: their formation in Nigeria during the summer of 1924, incidents in New York City, events leading to member Jacques Rigaut’s suicide in Paris, stealthy celebrations in Vienna, gatherings in Prague and Trieste, an exploration in a submarine, and attempts to escape their doppelgangers. Describing characteristics of the work by the portable collective, Vila-Matas defines his own writing: “impulsive, puerile, sweet and jumpy, hungry for destruction, and, at the same time, possessed of a lucid experimental intelligence.” His intelligent playfulness and his fervor for written language are visible on every page and highlighted by this excellent translation. Vila-Matas is a master, one of the most gifted contemporary Spanish novelists. (June)