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By Enrique Vila-Matas, Anne McLean, Thomas Bunstead

A reader’s fictional journey of the artwork and lives of a few of the good 20th-century Surrealists

An writer (a model of Vila-Matas himself) offers a brief “history” of a mystery society, the Shandies, who're keen about the concept that of “portable literature.” The society is totally imagined, yet during this rollicking, intellectually playful ebook, its contributors 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, resorts, and cafes in all places Europe to debate what nice literature particularly is: short, now not 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 resources for A Brief History of Portable Literature (New Directions Paperbook)

Example text

They thought that if they said this one was impossible to improve upon, future portables would discard the idea of trying to better Rigaut. Blaise Cendrars, for example, wrote: “In the hotel in Palermo, the key, the bolt, and that closed door formed—in that moment and indubitably forever—an enigmatic triangle: both offering and denying us Rigaut’s deed. In any case, an insuperable suicide. ” In the opinion of Maurice Blanchot—in Faux Pas, he briefly but lucidly analyzed the portable phenomenon—the proliferation of texts that sought to eradicate suicide weren’t attempts to convince others, but rather the authors themselves.

But, as is well known, to be born is to begin to die. That the femmes fatales installed themselves in the Shandy bachelor machines did not exempt the latter from irreparable future breakdowns, since, at the very moment they became aware they were alive and portable, they embraced Death, which explains both the immediate appearance of the word suicide on their horizon and the fact that one of those who dined in Port Actif—specifically the one who had fallen in love with the femme fatale—took charge there and then of the fate of one of the portable “offices,” the General Suicide Agency.

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. Apparently, he was also the inventor of the method for finding portable artists on the streets of Paris. For a year Antheil strolled the terraces of Montparnasse and Saint Germain, in perfect silence, making conspiratorial gestures, and distributing the alphabet manual for the deaf. Along with the alphabet, there were some instructions, incomprehensible at first sight: twelve phrases that only made sense when read vertically and the first letter of each phrase spelled out the following address: SEPT RUE ODÉON.

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