Saturday, December 26, 2015

"The Illogic of Kassel" by Enrique Vila-Matas (New Directions)

ISBN: 978-0-8112-2149-8 New Directions

"The Illogic of Kassel" by Enrique Vila-Matas (New Directions)

Kassel maybe illogical, but it's totally logical for Barcelona citizen Enrique Vila-Matas to write a book that takes place in Kassel, Germany during the Documenta arts festival.  For one, Vila-Matas is one of my favorite living writers, which is saying a lot, because it seems that I only deal with dead authors - but alas, that is only an illusion.    The beauty of Vila-Matas' novels is that they are somewhere between fiction and lit-crit.   All the novels I read so far focuses on literary history and the importance of the location in how and where this literature was produced.  Sometimes the reader forgets that they are reading a work of fiction (technically speaking) and not literary history.   The narrator of this novel is Vila-Matas, and he's invited to participate in the Documenta arts festival by one, writing and giving a lecture there, but also as a performance piece where he writes in a Chinese Restaurant where the public or diners can come and go while he's working.  This to me, would be a dream place for me to work, but for Vila-Matas, it is both an interesting concept as well as a form of hell. 

There are so many levels of things happening in this book.  One is of an author who feels misplaced in such a landscape, but it is also a critique of the festival and its artists, as well as the role of the writer in such a location and the role one has to take to be, either an artist or critic.  Since I have read all his novels, I suspect the author is fascinated by the division between the role of the critic, the historian as well as a fiction writer.   I didn't google all the artists that came up in this novel, because I suspect that they are all real and probably very well known visual artists, mostly from Europe.   Some I know, so I trust his "voice" regarding the others.  

As a writer (if I may call myself one) I find this novel fascinating.   On the narrative level, it is about being a writer, a man of words, and coming to an environment that is mostly visual. Vila-Matas mentions Raymond Roussel quite a lot throughout the book, and like the French authors' novels, he too comments on what is happening on the island (in this case the German town Kassel).   He goes to see artists that were recommended to him, and basically he is sort of an open book with respect to the art works he is dealing with   This is the critical aspect of the novel, and the narration is him dealing with "his" work on hand.   For a writer this is something that one does all the time, but I think for a reader, they are kind of forced to see what a writer goes through, with respect to his or hers subject matter.   I, clearly identify with the position of such a novelist like Enrique Vila-Matas.  

Also for the reader, they will probably get more enjoyment out of the book if they knew the tradition of the Documenta festival, as well as the authors that Vila-Matas mentions, for example Nietzsche, Sopie Calle, and of course, Raymond Roussel.   Contemporary art geeks I think would love this book, but also noted is the playfulness of being a narrator and what is real or not real.   Vila-Matas is a master, and I'm happy to swim in his bathwater.  

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