“The avant-garde writers of today aspire to be conceptual artists, and have their novels considered conceptual art. This may be literature’s Duchampian moment. Welcome to the readymade novel.”


“Just as Marcel Duchamp asked if a urinal could be art, the readymade novel asks what literature can be, and what it should be in the future. Instead of trying to understand reality via a slew of concrete details, omniscience, multiple viewpoints, or anything else that we’ve traditionally expected from fiction, the readymade novel poses an idea or raises a question. It is more interested in the concept behind a work of art—behind itself—than its execution. The readymade novel underlines the chief virtue (or curse) of conceptual art: Unlike traditional visual art, you don’t actually need to see a readymade to “get it.” But if you do go to see it, it’s just as if you’ve opened up a readymade novel: You’re not merely a passive viewer of art, but an active participant in its formation.”

“In Vila-Matas’ latest novel, The Illogic of Kassel, the writer has literally become a contemporary art exhibition. (…) The curators of Documenta ask him to spend the week writing in the corner of a small Chinese restaurant. Vila-Matas finds this absurd, and spends most of his time at the (real-life) Dschingis Khan restaurant sleeping, inventing conversations between the German and Chinese people around him, and actively avoiding the one crazy person who approaches him. Despite seemingly wasting his time in the restaurant, Vila-Matas becomes the piece of performance art that the curators of Documenta hoped he would be: “Art is art, and what you make of it is up to you,” one curator tells him.”

“Our reality, instead, lies in something more akin to conceptual art. In The Illogic of Kassel, Vila-Matas is fond of repeating a line that Mallarmé told Manet: “Paint, not the thing, but the effect that it produces.” In other words, the effect of art has now become more important than the canvas.”

“Regardless of their varying commercial successes, the emergence of these writers suggests at least a small audience with an interest in how we experience art today. And it seems likely that the younger writers of this generation will continue to write similar books in the future. The “readymade” novelists may inspire a few readymade imitations of their own. “

Source: New Republic


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