Friday, August 13, 2010

A life that has some meaning: Vila-Matas & Modernism

English readers may view Vila-Matas as too self-absorbed, too self-referential in his choice of the pursuit of literature as the exclusive subject of his fiction. Modernism in fiction may be acceptable, but such postmodern games still seem too much of a Continental fashion. Yet Vila-Matas's obsession shows that the quest to create literature is a metonym for the ability to live a life that has some meaning, rather than being entirely absurd. His creations suffer because of their obsessions, and all risk ending up like Herman Melville's scrivener, locked away for their refusal to compromise with "normality".
Nick Caistor reviews Enrique Vila-Matas' Dublinesca, his new novel in Spanish.
Vila-Matas insists that there is a "moral contract" between writer and reader, and that the reader should be active, showing a "capacity for intelligent emotion, a wish to understand the other person, and to get closer to a language that is different from that of our daily tyrannies". He goes further, declaring that: "the same skills needed to write are also needed to read. Writers can fail readers, but the reverse is also true, and readers fail writers when all they look for in them is a confirmation that the world is exactly how they see it". In spite of all the playfulness therefore, the game of literature is the most serious and urgent there is.
The review is behind the TLS' subscriber paywall yet, for such diligence, sensitivity and happy seriousness, it is worth the outlay. Elsewhere in the paper, Gabriel Josipovici provides the background to his unhappy attempt to speak about such issues to a few of our daily tyrannies and concludes:
[T]hough critics and reviewers in the English language today pay lip service to T. S. Eliot and Virginia Woolf, and even Beckett and Borges, they seem not to have grasped what it was these writers were up to, the radical nature of their critique of the arts in our time. That is what [What Ever Happened to Modernism?] is about, though it seems that in England today journalists are only interested in raking mud.

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