jueves, 24 de enero de 2013

Historia abreviada de la literatura portátil

Historia abreviada de la literatura portátil (Anagrama, 2011)
by Enrique Vila-Matas
Spain, 1985

According to the presumably reliable bibliographical information available over at Enrique Vila-Matas' website, his 1985 Historia abreviada de la literatura portátil [Abbreviated History of Portable Literature] has been translated in Brazil, France, Germany, Holland, Italy, Japan, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Serbia, Switzerland, and Turkey but, after 25 years and counting, has not yet been deemed worthy of an English-language translation.  I can only surmise that somewhere a Norwegian translator must be yucking it up at the expense of his/her major market colleagues.  Sigh.  Whatever the case may be, it's too bad that EVM's irreverent Historia abreviada--a sort of devilish distant cousin to the non-fiction likes of more widely disseminated cultural history works such as Maurice Nadeau's A History of Surrealism--has yet to make it onto English-speaking shores as I have no doubt whatsoever that many/some/OK, maybe just a few of you would get a huge kick out of its Jorge Luis Borges, Marcel Schwob, and J.R. Wilcock-inspired hijinks masquerading as an account of a 1924-1927 secret society "starring" Walter Benjamin, Aleister Crowley, Marcel Duchamp, Georgia O'Keefe, Francis Picabia and a galaxy of other mostly Euro luminaries dedicated to the propagation of the portable art lifestyle.  Just what is this portable art nonsense all about?  Well, I'm glad you asked because the narrator, supposedly a Barcelona-based investigator of the movement and evidently quite the collector of anecdotes and aphorisms related to it as well, is all too happy to describe "los shandys" [the Shandys] as a fun-loving DADA/Surrealists-like group of conspirators defined by a high degree of madness and dedicated to 1) creating art that can fit within the confines of a suitcase and 2) living out their lives as examples of Duchampian machines célibataires par excellence.  Other typical but not necessarily essential Shandy attributes: "espíritu innovador, sexualidad extrema, ausencia de grandes propósitos, nomadismo infatigable, tensa convivencia con la figura del doble, simpatía por la negritud, cultivar el arte de la insolencia" ["an innovative spirit, extreme sexuality, lack of ambition, tireless nomadism, a tense coexistence with one's double, solidarity with black culture, and cultivating the art of insolence"] (13).  As with the two other Vila-Matas works I've read previously, there's no shortage of memorable literary history and/or memorable spurious literary history quotes to be found in this essay-like contraption; for example, the Paul Valéry Monsieur Teste epigraph that opens things up--"El infinito, querido, es bien poca cosa; es una cuestión de escritura.  El universo sólo existe sobre el papel" ["The infinite, my dear, is hardly anything at all; it's just a question of writing.  The universe only exists on paper"]--probably represents the serious side of things rather well, and the alleged Marcel Duchamp proclamation about parasitism being one of the fine arts (90) definitely represents the waggish side of things just as persuasively.  However, I'm also sort of partial to what the narrator represents to be Hermann Broch's condemnation of the portable artistes--"No es que sean malos escritores, sino delincuentes" ["It's not so much that they're bad writers as that they're delinquents"] (14)--and to the linguistic praise that Juan Villoro bestows on Vila-Matas himself in referring to the author as "el catalán que escribe en español para mentir con libertad" ["the Catalonian who writes in Spanish to lie with impunity"].  You won't find that last quote in the book, of course, but hopefully you get the picture by now.  A righteous prank.

Vila-Matas at the age of 5

14 comentarios:

  1. Sounds like the usual stuff from V-M. No doubt it would be quicker to get my Spanish up to scratch than await an English translation.

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    1. I think this book has a little more of a narrative arc than, say, Bartleby & Co., but otherwise, yep, kind of more of "the usual stuff from V-M" indeed (which is good for me and not so good for you as I recall). Still, I wonder how many more "less popular languages" will tackle a translation of this before an English one ever appears. Perhaps we should start accepting wagers...

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  2. Yet another reason to work on my Spanish. The lack of English translations of works such as this combined with the torrential downpour of such "masterpieces" (sarcasm font) as '50 shades' leads one to ponder cosmic justice as it applies to the dissemination of literature. The secret society bit with Schwob et al.sounds especially wonderful.

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    1. Reading as yet untranslated Vila-Matas novels strikes me as almost as fine a reason as any to try to brush up on one's Spanish, R.R., and the exciting thing about him for people whose Spanish is a little rusty is that he's so conversational in tone that his prose isn't difficult at all. Really enjoy his creativity and ideas, though--the three books I've read by him so far all seem so action-packed from a mind candy standpoint that they provide strong antidotes to the "cosmic justice" concerns you mention re: which works get overlooked for translation.

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  3. This does sound tasty, but it also makes it clear that V-M has been playing improvisations on the same tune for thirty years. I think "just a few of you" is the right answer. Shandys, a fictional Herman Broch - I feel fortunate that anyone published this, much less translated it.

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    1. I prob. should read either Vila-Matas' La asesina ilustrada or even his super-early first novella soon to test what I'm about to say next, but I believe Historia abreviada is supposed to be the first novel that set him out on the path he's still traveling on today (I'm fine with the "improvisations on the same tune" thing since I like his tune and improvisations so much to this point). By the way, your friends Andrei Bely and Karl Kraus join Broch in also making really fine cameos here; however, I'm not sure whether that would make the work more or less popular to others in the grand scheme of things (I guess I kind of feel fortunate that anyone published this also).

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    2. See, that is why I have not read more Vila-Matas. Our interests are too close. He's as narrow as I am! It feels like flattery or pandering, but pandering to a handful of uninfluential people (like me). Knock it off, V-M, write a book about something I don't care about - I'll read that one.

      Oh no, I seem to be turning into a Vila-Matas character.

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    3. The next time I talk to Vila-Matas (or Obooki, whom I will pretend is Vila-Matas if need be) I'll fill him in on your concerns about the narrowness of your shared interests. In the meantime, I often feel like I'm pandering to a handful of uninfluential people beginning with my own Pessoa-like book blogging heteronymns!

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  4. yet again we show how behind the rest of the world we are when it comes to translation ,vill matas is some one you would expect most of his books to be translated especially given the success of his recent translations ,thanks for the review Richard as I wouldn't know about it ,all the best stu

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    1. I was surprised to discover the Vila-Matas translation omissions for all the same reasons you mention, Stu, but maybe the biggest surprise of all was seeing how many relatively low-population countries beat the U.S. and the UK to the punch as far as this particular title's concerned. Weird! Anyway, glad you got something out of the review and I hope you get a chance to judge the book for yourself some day--thought it was quite entertaining!

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  5. Given the other more recent award winning books of EV-M, and the optimistic rate of one EV-M translation per year, I don't think this will be prioritized to appear in English any moment soon. *in a challenging tone directed to concerned publishers, editors, translators*

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    1. I love that challenging tone of yours, Rise, but I suspect that the other things you mention will probably prove true in terms of the lack of prioritization. It's really too bad on all sorts of levels--the thing's barely over 100 pages in a decent-sized font, so it's not like it would take forever to translate what's supposed to be one of V-M's signature works. Bah...

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  6. This really sounds like a fun read. I really like the quotations that you shared above. Too bad that there is no translation.

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    1. It was a totally fun read, Brian, which makes it too bad indeed that you could have your pick of two Portuguese translations and none in English. The 2000 Bartleby & Co., available in English from New Directions, isn't a bad consolation prize at all, though, if you think you might like to get acquainted with Vila-Matas' witty storytelling schtick.

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