The above phrase in inverted commas is lifted from Gabriel Josipovici, Whatever Happened to Modernism? (Yale Univ Press 2010) and suggests a city landscape into which we have now stepped back. Our old aesthetic, which we had previously called wilderness, has now also become topical, like arriving at a street kiosk. Wilderness was abstract, a theory which lacked the economy of place and activity, as the ancient Greeks would locate oikos in the topical landscape of the House of Atreus, or the City of Thebes.
I am reading BARTLEBY & CO (first published 2000, tr 2004) by Enrique Vila-Matas (b Barcelona 1948), and I have reached page 147. It is at this point some 31 pages from the end soon after the crooked narrator Marcelo (a hunchback from Barcelona) states that he has received a letter from Derain that I find myself unable to continue reading: ” I would prefer not to”, I say.
But it refuses to go quietly. Here are the traces of the track BARTLEBY & CO has left behind; the footnotes as the author describes them, “commenting on a text that is invisible”, in a series of numbered sections -
1. Considers the life of Robert Walser, and his piece ‘The Chamber of Writing for Unoccupied Persons’.
2. On Felipe Alfonse (1928). I consider adding Roberto Bolano as a footnote of my own at this point but the author says, “He would prefer not to.”
"It was the cook who woke her, when he smacked the kitchen boy; the smack resounded with all the pent up force of those long years and re-echoed through the castle. A fair child sleeps behind the thorny pages that follow".
The quotation is taken from Walter Benjamin’s Preface to his unpublished doctoral thesis written in 1925 and tells the story of Sleeping Beauty, but the author has changed the story to suit his more pressing needs:
In the nick**, in the nick of time she escapes once only, but then is caught out again, dreaming of some other life, some other home, far away, the other side of the world… and then she is in the nick, buried up to her neck in the nick, hardly able to open her eyes, heavy as they are with grief and boredom. Can Nick measure our madness, our pain?
Why can’t we see our madness? Could I catch a glimpse in the mirror, by accident, as it were. Buried in the dark cellar in which the inmates play with their shadows. We are, she said, speed and desire. And, I added, we are caught by the short and curlies by the myth of science, a partial patchwork of barely begun work also known under the general heading of nihilism.
What about God?
Don’t be silly.