“In literature, the most essential thing is freedom.”
d –Enrique Vila-Matas.
Spanish writer Enrique Vila-Matas (born in Barcelona, 1948) seems his own creation—someone carefree but self-absorbed in his office work, someone who always dare to try new things.
Vila-Matas began his career in Paris in the 1960s, while he was living in an attic of the French writer Marguerite Duras. Based on that experience, he published a novel titled Never Any End to Paris about his years of youth and training as a writer.
In his early works, Vila-Matas showed an eagerness to experiment with the word and with the form of the novel. He’s aware of the many possible metamorphoses of the novel.
He is writing in search of the future. For example, Illustrated Killer, one of Vila-Matas’s first works, is a narrative without punctuation, because he wanted the reader to create the pauses and set the pace of the reading.
Vila-Matas likes to use lots of hypertextuality. The action of his books feeds on allusions and references—sometimes referring to great artists of the past and sometimes outside the strictly literary.
Another great book by Vila-Matas, A Brief History of Portable Literature, tells the story of a group of anarchic artists who are seeking to demystify art and “lighten it” by removing works and pieces from museums and putting them in suitcases. These group members get termed “shandy”: meaning a kind of eccentric artistic anarchist.
Vila-Matas even plays with the idea of “cult author.” He invents quotations and plagues his books with them. One of his most famous targets is Kafka, who is also one of Vila-Matas’s influences, with Kafka writing: “The German army invaded Poland, in the afternoon I went to swim,” a quote which appears in the prologue to his book Children Without Children.
Vila-Matas is also a writer who defends the idea of abandoning the “social role of writer,” as he has said in an interview. He sees writing as an act of purity and devotion, where fiction and life, when they meet, are no less mysterious together than they are separately.
In his work, it is also possible to find a notorious separation from the previous literary generations of Spain. Compared to the previous generation, who wrote under Franco’s regime, Vila-Matas’s writing is depoliticized. He sought to delve into other topics, like the confusion of literature and life as a space of possibilities.
The structure of Vila Matas’s stories is a response to uncertainty, to a suspicious and disenchanted world filled with the inexplicable. If one can speak of a “poetic vila-matiana,” perhaps this could be placed in the disappearance of the author as art form: and its transformation into one of his characters, as a set of costumes and references.
One of the many curiosities that caught my eye about Vila-Matas, in addition to his writing and his books, is that he is a part of the order of Knights of the Finnegans, formed with a group of friends, such as publisher and writer Malcolm Otero, and other writers like Jordi and Antonio Soler.
The purpose and raison d’être of this order, which took its name from Finnegan’s Wake, is their veneration of Ulysses and all the work of James Joyce.
The members of the group flock to the Irish capital, on June 16th to commemorate the “Bloomsday.” It strikes me, the fact that he has participated in the creation of this kind of “literary club,” since it looks like a narrative strategy. Vila-Matas is always enjoying the mysterious meetings of life and art.
Featured image by Lisbeth Salas
Luis Fernando Alcántar Romero is a writer/journalist who lives and works in León, Guanajuato, México. His work has been published in different venues such as Avenida Digital 3.0, Yaconic, Revista Marvin, Punkroutine, Life & Style and Revista Carnicería.