Sunday, February 24, 2013

Bartleby & Co - Enrique Vila Matas

If I'm asked to pick 10 books of my choice, Pedro Paramo will be one of them. I've always wondered why we do not see many more books from him. The list of one book wonders are long, and there are many theories and speculations on their lack of motivation or inability to recreate the magic again. The famous 'writer's block' seems to have affected many writers in the era of modern literature.

Enrique Vila Matas looks at this subject in his acclaimed work. Marcelo, a clerk in a Barcelona office, has written a novel about 'the impossibility of love'( for which his father wsant very happy about) and hasn't written anything since. It was long long ago, almost 25 year back. In what he compares himself as 'Bartleby' a character in the Herman Melville's story, who prefer to do nothing, whenever asked to something. "We all know the Bartlebys, they are being inhabited by a profound denial of the world", says he.

Which is why he is interested in other Bartlebys in the Literature and set about exploring them and capturing them in his dairy, what he calls as 'footnotes'. Hunchback, no luck with women, he takes a long medical leave citing depression, to pursue his interest of investigating the literature of the No.
"For sometime now I have been investigating the frequent examples of Bartleby's syndrome in literature, for some time I have studied the illness, the disease endemic to contemporary letters, the negative impulse or attraction towards nothingness that means that certain creators, while possessing a very demanding literary conscience ( or perhaps precisely because of this), never manage to write: either they write one or two books and then stop all together or, working on a project,seemingly without problems, one day they become literally paralysed for good."
In what it should be a tale of the investigation of the 'NO' in literature, Enrique Vila Matas takes us through some of the literary giants and those of the the No. The 86 short 'notes' which has been collated by Marcelo, barring a couple of the personal anecdotes, are dedicated to various writers of the era. In a strict sense, there is no progressive story no plot and no twists. It is only a literary collection of the various writers and their disrupted career. As he move from one to the other with some ease, with his own commentary, this book give some valuable insight to the followers of literature. I haven't read some of the writers that attract his attention, but they were as interesting as the case of those you are familiar with.

We see writers with one or two works and then gone out of public eye, preferring the self imposed isolation, few never published at all, few wrote a couple of very promising books and went on a hiatus for long period ( 40 years or more) , few decided to end life and another set disappeared with no traces whatsoever.

This might not have all that is needed to claim as a literary masterpiece, nor it has demonstrated the capability of Vila Matas as a writer (there are many places we get to see the glimpses of his narrative power though) , this seems to be very original and modern. However, there is a draw back in these type of Non-novel, one can go on for ever. It uses the ingredients from within the community he is engaged in, and is there fore become a collection of literary reference, far from being a work of deliberation and literary creation. I still liked reading this for that very fact.
Bartleby & Co ( 2000)

Enrique Vila Matas ( translated from Spanish by Jonathan Dunne 2004)


178 Pages
Quarterly conversation, Guardian, Book Slut, Complete Review


Amateur Reader (Tom) said...

No one has read "some" of those writers! Some of them are made up.

Jayan Parameswaran said...

Thanks, and I thought about it too. Could you give me few examples of those ?

Amateur Reader (Tom) said...

I will direct you to obooki, who catalogued the invented authors.

Jayan Parameswaran said...

Thank you, and that explains it. That will also makes the book a lot more 'fiction' :-) than a literary study.