Thursday, 20 August 2015

The Illogic Of Kassel - Enrique Vila-Matas

I've been trying to remember this review having written a lot of it in my head whilst lying in bed this morning, thinking about Enrique Vila-Matas' The Illogic Of Kassel. Forgive me if I can't recall the best lines. You'll have to take my word (or not) for it that I wrote some good lines. The mind is a fragile material on which to write, however, being prone, as it is, to absorbing all superfluous thoughts along with those we wish to keep.

Right now, as I sit outside the Renoir cafe in Kentish Town, using a more reliable means by which to capture thoughts, the notebook, I am prevented from remembering the review by a craving to satisfy my addiction to caffeine and nicotine. Yes, those frequent bedfellows for those of us addicted to them.

Writers and addiction were once common. Jack London said: "I was carrying a beautiful alcoholic conflagration around with me. The thing fed on its own heat and flamed the fiercer. There was no time, in all my waking time, that I didn't want a drink. I began to anticipate the completion of my daily thousand words by taking a drink when only five hundred words were written. It was not long until I prefaced the beginning of the thousand words with a drink." Hemingway and Bukowsi are other well-known examples. Stephen King was a coke head and Coleridge got his kicks from opium. Dali, however, said "I don't do drugs. I am drugs."

Before smoking became vilified to the point of being deemed a dangerous anti-social act akin to jabbing innocent bystanders with heroin-filled needles many artists indulged. It was not seen as a problem. Then again, alcohol abuse had an air of romantic devilry about it, as if signalling the wild, ravaged soul of a writer for whom the straight-headed life revealed too much terrible reality. Compared to the excessive addictions of famous artitst, mine seem mild and, I hate to say, are proportionate to my talent, as a writer anyway.

Now, here outside the cafe, I await my drink with increasing agitation. It is taking longer than it should. I cannot concentrate. Ah, here it is at last. "Sorry for the delay, the coffee grinder was playing up," says the waitress, placing the gorgeous white cup of frothy milk and coffee speckled with chocolate on my table. Now I can write, swathed in smoke, with a caffeine-drenched tongue.

This morning, whilst in bed, I recalled the conversation with the bookseller in the charity shop where I bought Enrique Vila-Matas's The Illogic Of Kassel. I had informed him that I thought £9 was a little pricey for a second-hand paperback. He took the book from me and, having inspected the front pages, reminded me that it was a new publication. "Even so, nine pounds seems a lot." "We gauge our prices against Amazon and always sell cheaper than them," he said. Not by much in this case, I thought, knowing Amazon's pricing well, having shopped there many times. This book would have cost £16.99 new. Expensive. But I knew it would be about half that online. I checked when I got home and found it for £8.55 plus £2.80 delivery. So he was right, but still, Oxfam skimming just under the online price irked me. This sounds mean, I know. They are a charity. But I am old enough to remember when all books in Oxfam were very cheap. I must reconcile myself to the new world, where price wars are fought in relation to online selling and maximum profit for high streets charity shops. otherwise, even saving a couple of quid, I shall be miserable.

Still, I could not put back the latest novel by Enrique Vila-Matas. He is the only living writer I regularly enjoy. The only one I read, actually. I do so for several reasons, one being the fact that he writes a lot about writers, literature and books. Having written fiction in the past and being keen on books the subject matter suits me. Not that anyone writing about those subjects automatically wins my approval. I'm sure many others like to feature them. Vila-Matas does so in a manner that is clever without being an intellectual bore. His knowingness is a kind of unknowing, or unravelling of knowledge to create not learning, or to reveal wisdom, but to illuminate the paradoxes of creativity, wisdom and fiction. That is what I might say if I were trying to write a proper review.

Now I must be honest. I must confess to not having finished The Illogic Of Kassel. I am on page 28 of 220, actually, which is not far enough, you might think, to warrant writing about it. In this you would be wrong. Already I am captivated by the character and the story of his invitation to take part in Kassel's Documenta art exhibition which, to my surprise, I discovered actually exists. Like the character, I know little about contemporary avant garde art. In only 28 pages Vila-Matas has entertained me greatly with his character's musings on the subject. I think it a fine art, being humorous about, yet not scathingly critical of, the modern art scene. I'm sure much more will be said about it. I hope so, anyway. That aside, typically of Vila-Matas, we enter the first-person mind fully convinced that we are reading a non-fictitious account. He does this using ordinary language to spin extraordinary tales of multi-personas inhabiting multi-layered worlds. The implausible made plausible; the labyrinth of the mind opened up for easy access, wherein we the readers find ourselves wandering as willing accomplices to deception and philosophical questions posed between the lines. You might say. I might say. I have said. So without having finished to book, I still suggest you read it.

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