By Enrique Vila-Matas, Anne McLean, Thomas Bunstead

A reader’s fictional travel of the paintings and lives of a few of the nice 20th-century Surrealists

An writer (a model of Vila-Matas himself) provides a brief “history” of a mystery society, the Shandies, who're keen about the concept that of “portable literature.” The society is fullyyt imagined, yet during this rollicking, intellectually playful ebook, its participants contain 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, lodges, and cafes in every single place Europe to debate what nice literature fairly is: short, no longer too severe, 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 info for A Brief History of Portable Literature (New Directions Paperbook)

Example text

Every word, every syllable published in Die Fackel was written by him. Every claim he made was rigorously correct. Never since has there been such scrupulousness in literature. He concerned himself—scrupulously—with each and every comma. Anyone who wanted to uncover any kind of erratum in Die Fackel could spend entire weeks torturing himself in search of just one. Best simply not to try. But it so happened that a little before Larbaud’s arrival in Vienna, an injudicious young writer named Werner Littbarski set out to find that elusive erratum, and with the help of his black Brazilian servant Virgil, after several sleepless days and nights, he found it.

He keeps the umbrella furled and his pocket watch inside a grey suede protective sleeve, and he also keeps the penknife that he uses as a pencil sharpener stowed in a case; he even seems to have his face sheathed, because he always hides it with the upturned collar of his coat. He wears dark glasses, a wool shirt, stuffs his ears with cotton wool, and when he gets in a car, he orders the driver to put the top up. In a word, this individual displays a constant tendency to create something akin to a casing that isolates him and protects him from all manner of prying eyes.

Months later and with a minor alteration to the boîte-en-valise (a hairclip now serving as its clasp), this “anagram” would be rearranged by Jacques Rigaut, who tried to represent, as he put it, the apotheosis of “featherweights” in the history of literature. His drawing was widely praised—perhaps for its markedly unorthodox character—and it prompted an extraordinary avalanche of new and daring corruptions of the Duchampian anagram, very clear evidence of the unremittingly transgressive impulse characterizing the first writers incorporated into the Shandy secret society.

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