World Literature

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 travel of the artwork and lives of a few of the nice 20th-century Surrealists

An writer (a model of Vila-Matas himself) provides a quick “history” of a mystery society, the Shandies, who're passionate about the concept that of “portable literature.” The society is totally 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, resorts, and cafes in every single place Europe to debate what nice literature relatively is: short, no longer too critical, 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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Extra resources for A Brief History of Portable Literature (New Directions Paperbook)

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His snapshot, when it circulated among the early Shandies, confirmed that there was no place in their secret society for this unwittingly ridiculous or put-on desperation of extreme youthfulness. This meeting in a New Jersey doorway was also the start of a friendship between the North American poet and Man Ray. The latter (already friends with Duchamp) would in turn initiate a long lasting relationship with O’Keeffe and the exquisite Shandies. O’Keeffe, on her return from Port Actif, had patiently been enlisting from among the most select artists in New York, a city that, thanks to the nascent portable furor, was putting aside its provincialism.

And if we add to all this his passion for discovering unexplored, portablist literary territories (Savinio, Littbarski, Gómez de la Serna, Stephan Zenith, and a very youthful Borges were among those he invited to join the secret society), we get a rough picture of this writer whose figure (although outshone in this century’s cultural panorama) is fundamental to understanding how portable literature consolidated itself. It was Larbaud, in fact, who organized the Shandy party in Vienna, in March, 1925.

It was clear that he wanted me to leave as soon as possible, and this—you know me—made me angry. I called him rude, but he replied mysteriously that he wasn’t rude, but simply a fan of transporting everything that seemed portable . ” On receiving the letter, Picabia had the impression that behind the Russian’s strange conduct there might be a coded message he ought to decipher. He spent days trying to uncover a meaning to the frenetic moving around of files, until Duchamp, who didn’t yet know the content of the letter from Bocado, recounted a dream to him, supplying (without knowing it) the crucial clue he’d been trying so hard to find.

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