By Enrique Vila-Matas, Anne McLean, Thomas Bunstead

A reader’s fictional journey of the paintings and lives of a few of the good 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 idea that of “portable literature.” The society is solely imagined, yet during this rollicking, intellectually playful publication, its individuals 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 flats, motels, and cafes in every single place Europe to debate what nice literature fairly 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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Additional resources for A Brief History of Portable Literature (New Directions Paperbook)

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It was Antheil, for instance, who found the ideal place for the group’s first secret meetings: Shakespeare & Company, the bookshop situated at number 12, Rue de l’Odéon, and run by Sylvia Beach. George Antheil lived in the two-room apartment above the bookshop and often entered through the window. Shandily, he would scale the front of the building. Sylvia Beach, in her mediocre memoirs, says that the portables met in the bookshop every Friday, occasionally admitting some new member. Antheil was master of ceremonies.

This was a text he’d been working on since time immemorial, ever since he’d had the use of reason, to be precise. What made the novel so odd wasn’t how long he’d invested in it but rather the fact that he himself thought he’d only written one decent page in all that time: a miserable wine-soaked little sheet of paper that he showed to Larbaud. Girding himself with patience, Larbaud read it: “Feeling bored, little Hermann stood looking out the window of the concierge’s office managed by his parents.

On the same day, at the same time, a short distance away, the musician Edgar Varèse fell from his horse when, parodying Apollinaire, he pretended to set off for war. For me these two scenes seem to be the pillars on which the history of portable literature is built: a history European in its origins and as light as the “desk-case” Paul Morand carried with him on luxury trains as he traveled the whole of an illuminated, nocturnal Europe. This moveable desk was the inspiration for Marcel Duchamp’s Boîte-en-valise, indisputably the most brilliant bid to exalt portability in art.

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


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