Hal Hlavinka at The Quarterly Conversation:
The art movement was one of the early twentieth century’s great revelations. In conditions of war and economic collapse, of revolution and social engineering, artists and writers increasingly banded together under common manifestos to promote an aesthetic agenda. The romantic image of the lone creator, progressing an artistic craft out of a singular style, gave way to the collective. Of course, more personalities also meant more confusion, especially where Tristan Tzara’s and Breton’s camps were concerned. As –ism piled upon –ism, it became increasingly difficult to keep everything straight: What are the rules? Is anyone in charge? Who’s a member? And are they sexually available? Indeed, there’s an aspect of the Rabelaisian carnival at the center of the early manifesto era; the exchange of ideas, urges, and bodies unifies the collective, making it whole and self-aware through pleasure, pain, and laughter. For Enrique Vila-Matas, somewhere in the tangled network of Futurism, Dada, Surrealism, and their attendant bodies is A Brief History of Portable Literature.
Throughout his work, Vila-Matas bends literature, and the literary persona, back onto itself. His essayistic tone, encyclopedic recall of authorial ephemera, and focus on literary failure and erasure (those writers of the “no”) put him in a curious camp of contemporary authors not just openly indebted to their modernist predecessors but overtly obsessed with them. From the turn of the century onward, Vila-Matas’s narrators (and, one might conjecture, the author himself) have fallen under the spell of what he terms “Montano’s Malady,” or “literature sickness.”