Tuesday, May 31, 2016


I just recently finished The Illogic of Kassel, the most recent book by Spanish novelist Enrique Vila-Matas, or at least the most recent to be translated into English. The narrator of the book is an author who was invited to Documenta 13 to perform as an installation in a Chinese restaurant. Speaking neither Chinese nor German he makes up interpretations of the discussions he hears.

Vila-Matas is actually an author, obviously, and he did attend Documenta 13, so it may be tempting to treat this as a memoir. But I'm pretty sure it truly is a novel, even if it doesn't always look like one. Whether Vila-Matas suffers nighttime panic attacks like his hero does - he wouldn't be the first writer or artist to do so - the special medicine he takes sounds made up. The relationship he has with the curators seems fictional as well. I kind of doubt they'd invite a fairly famous writer into their art project and subject him to the sometimes sadistic head games that transpire here, although I could be wrong.

Whatever the balance of real and fictional, it's an interesting read. I think Bartleby & Co. is still my favorite of his, though.


susan said...

While the title 'Bartleby and Co.' seemed familiar it wasn't until I looked up the name that I saw the Bartleby I recalled was Melville's scrivener. Here I am an hour later having been off on a fascinating journey you initiated by writing a post about Enrique Vila-Matas' most recent novel published in English. I've remembered how much I enjoyed reading Borges and Calvino, and Umberto Eco's 'Name of the Rose' but not 'Foucault's Pendulum'. While I love to read I've avoided reading much modern literature of the intellectual variety - it would never occur to me to celebrate 'Bloomsday' although I understand the passion of those who do.

Now, though, that I've read more about 'Bartleby and Co.' and some others of his work I think I'll have to treat myself to the one you say is your favorite so far. It appears you're far from alone in your regard for Vila-Matas as an author worthy of interest. Although 'The Illogic of Kassel' is likely very good, 'B.&Co.' sounds like it would be enough for me at present.

Ben said...

Yes, the Bartleby of the title is the scrivener of Melville's tale.Vila-Matas took Bartleby's catch phrase of "I would prefer not to" and spun a whole philosophy out of it, uniting a number of authors real and in a few cases, imaginary. It's a fascinating read and often a funny one. He was a friend of Roberto Bolaño back when Bolaño was alive, and he did a book with a similar scope called "Nazi Literature in the Americas." Similar format but a different tone, as you might guess.

I've enjoyed both Borges and Calvio myself. Especially the latter's "If on a winter's night a traveler." With Umberto Eco I've only read "Foucault's Pendulum," which I found to be decent pulp anyway. I may have to check out "The Name of the Rose" one of these days.