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Bartleby & Co. by Enrique Vila-Matas
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Bartleby & Co. (edition 2007)

by Enrique Vila-Matas, Jonathan Dunne (Translator)

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4882021,022 (3.89)50
Member:DetailMuse
Title:Bartleby & Co.
Authors:Enrique Vila-Matas
Other authors:Jonathan Dunne (Translator)
Info:New Directions (2007), Paperback, 192 pages
Collections:Read in 2011, Read but unowned
Rating:
Tags:Fiction, Metafiction, Books About Books, Bartleby, Homage, Literature, Writers, Writing, Writers Block, Vignettes, Footnotes, Structure, LT Inspired, per eairo, Translated, @D, a2009, 2011, Unfinished

Work details

Bartleby & Co. by Enrique Vila-Matas

  1. 00
    The Savage Detectives by Roberto Bolaño (poetontheone)
    poetontheone: Another highly meditative book by a revered Spanish language novelist that examines the nature of literature and writing while containing tonal elements of the absurd and the surreal.
  2. 00
    Mr Gwyn by Alessandro Baricco (thorold)
    thorold: Writers who stop writing
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English (15)  Catalan (2)  French (1)  Italian (1)  Spanish (1)  All languages (20)
Showing 1-5 of 15 (next | show all)
http://www.mytwostotinki.com/?p=2511

The hero - if I can call him that - and narrator of Bartleby & Co., a novel by the Spanish author Enrique Vila-Matas, is a failed writer who had published as a young man a novel on the impossibility of love. As a result of a personal trauma and the reaction of his surrounding to the publication of the book, he has become silent as an author, a modern Bartleby that spends most of his uneventful life in an office.

A misheard remark of a colleague ("Mr. Bartleby is in a meeting".) triggers in him again an urge to write - a novel in the form of footnotes on the representatives of what he calls "the Literature of the No", a collection of aphorisms, short musings and essays, glimpses of personal memories, quotations from phone conversations with a friend or from letters of a writer, and recollections of meetings with other authors.

The 86 footnotes that form the biggest part of the text circle around those authors who at a certain moment in their lives "preferred not to" write any longer, and whom the narrator considers as brothers (although also a female author plays an important role, the "Bartleby syndrome" seems to be by far more widespread among male writers.).

The dull and uneventful life of the narrator, together with his tendency to bath sometimes in self-pity are frequently contrasted by remarks that made me smile. A good example which is typical for the "sound" of the book are the opening lines:

"I never had much luck with women. I have a pitiful hump, which I am resigned to. All my closest relatives are dead. I am a poor recluse working in a ghastly office. Apart from that, I am happy."

The modern "Literature of the No" dates back to the 19th century when the two American writers (and friends) Melville and Hawthorne created their stories Bartleby the Scrivener and Wakefield, two stories about a rejection that in many ways foreshadowed "future phantom books and other refusals to write that would soon flood the literary stage."

In his footnotes, the narrator explores famous examples of the "Literature of the No", such as Robert Walser or Kafka; and while suicide or mental insanity seem to be among the most popular "strategies" for the Bartlebys among the authors, they are not held in particular high esteem by the narrator. He is definitely more interested in those cases where an author, while still alive simply disappeared from literature.

One of the most interesting things about the book is the abundance of examples of authors that are introduced to us readers; while I read many of them and know a few others by name, I discovered also plenty of seemingly extremely interesting writers particularly from the Spanish-speaking literature (mea culpa that I am not so well read in Spanish literature as I should considering the richness of this literary continent) who have fell silent at a certain moment in their lives. Felisberto Hernandez for example was not an author I had on my radar until now, but I will definitely look up what I can find about him. Another interesting author "without a work" is the Italian (non-)author Bobi Bazlen, whose name I came across once in Claudio Magris' books about Trieste.

I can imagine that one of the most annoying questions for an author must be the following: "What are you writing right now? On what are you working?"; or to an author who hasn't published anything since a long time: "Why don't you write again? What is the reason for your silence?" One of the best answers for me to the latter question is that of Juan Rulfo, an author for whose slender work I have the highest admiration:

"Well, my Uncle Celerino died and it was he who told me the stories."

Not that this Uncle Celerino was an invention, he had really existed and was known as a big storyteller - but there must have been something else behind the silence of Rulfo, something about which he rather preferred not to speak.

Our narrator gives us also some examples of his own experience and research that includes a chance meeting with J.D. Salinger in New York, a visit at Julien Gracq's home, but also personal memories about his childhood friendship with Luis Felipe Pineda, or his infatuation with Maria Lima Mendes, a very impressive example of a female representative of the "Literature of the No" (and possibly made up by Vila-Matas).

Hölderlin, Chamfort, Rimbaud, Larbaud, Hofmannsthal, Fernando Pessoa, Juan Ramon Jimenez, and many others make an appearance in these footnotes. And although as a reader we will not resolve in a single case the true reason for the silence of an author, we will have experienced an abundance of witty, comical, tragic, interesting anecdotes, stories, musings when we have finished this - obviously well-translated - book.

The narrator of this book (and its author) deserve a place at the Olympus of writers and non-writers of books. Who is able to write wonderful ironic passages like this one:

"I've worked well, I can be pleased with what I've done. I put down my pen, because it's evening. Twilight imaginings. My wife and kids are in the next room, full of life. I have good health and enough money. God, I'm unhappy!

But what am I saying? I'm not unhappy, I haven't put down the pen, I don't have a wife and kids, or a next room, I don't have enough money, it isn't evening."

and who is granting his happy-unhappy and rather unreliable narrator the equally ironic luck to complete this wonderful book about authors who fell silent, must be a great author himself. My first book my Vila-Matas, and for sure not my last.

P.S. And what about those who wrote, but were rejected by too many publishers, and who therefore gave up on being published? Also here, our narrator is helpful. Send your rejected manuscript to the Brautigan Library, the brainchild of underground author Richard Brautigan, nowadays hosted at the Washington State University Vancouver.

"The Brautigan Library accepts exclusively manuscripts that, having been rejected by the publishers who were sent them, were never published. This library holds only aborted books. Anyone with such a manuscript, wishing to submit it to the Brautigan Library or Library of the No, need only pop it in the post ... I have it on good authority - though there they are only interested in bad authority - that no manuscript is ever rejected; on the contrary, there they are looked after and exhibited with the greatest pleasure and respect." ( )
  Mytwostotinki | Mar 19, 2016 |
A fascinating collection of anecdotes about writers who turned away from writing, or writers who, paradoxically, never wrote at all. You'd think that such a study in negation would leave bitter taste in your mouth, a loss and a sadness, but that is not the case. These accounts are often whimsical, and even beautiful. I found myself moved, often to laughter, while reading this work. There is also no shortage of opportunity for contemplation here, for readers and writers a like, about the very nature and purpose of literature. The book also serves as a road map to discovering a great variety of writers one would not come across otherwise. Sadly, for the non-Spanish speaker, many writers in this book are Spanish or Latin American and obscure at that, so readng them may not be an option. Despite that, you will find your pencil underlining the titles of intriguing works as well as marking beautiful passages that are to be found right here in this book. ( )
3 vote poetontheone | Jul 10, 2015 |
The raison d'etre of this book could be taken to be on page 177, in this, about Tolstoy: "He had renounced writing for good and, with the strange gesture of his escape, announced the modern belief that all literature is the denial of itself." ( )
  V.V.Harding | Apr 21, 2015 |
A collection of meditations on writers who stopped writing that never quite gels into something coherent. The usual suspects (Melville, Salinger, Rimbaud) are discussed along with an unsurprising assortment of fellow travellers such as Kafka, Duchamp, and Pessoa. There are several writers mentioned that piqued my interest, Chamfort for example, and it is nice to find the story of B. Traven retold. As a grab bag of literary anecdote this is splendid, but the novel lacks insight and the fictional framework is underdeveloped. ( )
  le.vert.galant | Jan 26, 2015 |
Showing 1-5 of 15 (next | show all)
This slender, beautiful and honest work is about invisible writers and their phantom books.
added by Flit | editThe Hindu, Pradeep Sebastian (Dec 7, 2008)
 
Vila-Matas has produced a postmodern paradox, something out of nothing, a positive out of a negative. His non-novel is highly original, both lucid and ludic.
added by Flit | editThe Guardian, Mark Sanderson (Aug 14, 2004)
 

» Add other authors (9 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Enrique Vila-Matasprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Dunne, JonathanTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Hazaiová, LadaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Strien, PetraÜbersetzersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Epigraph
De roem of de verdienste van sommige mensen bestaat erin dat ze goed kunnen schrijven; die van andere dat ze niet schrijven.
Jean de la Bruyère
The glory or the merit of certain men consists in writing well; that of others consists in not writing

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Voor Paula van Parma
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Ik heb nooit veel succes gehad bij de vrouwen.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0811216985, Paperback)

A marvelous novel by one of Spain's most important contemporary authors, in which a clerk in a Barcelona office takes us on a romping tour of world literature.

In Bartleby & Co., an enormously enjoyable novel, Enrique Vila-Matas tackles the theme of silence in literature: the writers and non-writers who, like the scrivener Bartleby of the Herman Melville story, in answer to any question or demand, replies: "I would prefer not to." Addressing such "artists of refusal" as Robert Walser, Robert Musil, Arthur Rimbaud, Marcel Duchamp, Herman Melville, and J. D. Salinger, Bartleby & Co. could be described as a meditation: a walking tour through the annals of literature. Written as a series of footnotes (a non-work itself), Bartleby embarks on such questions as why do we write, why do we exist? The answer lies in the novel itself: told from the point of view of a hermetic hunchback who has no luck with women, and is himself unable to write, Bartleby is utterly engaging, a work of profound and philosophical beauty.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:10:06 -0400)

(see all 3 descriptions)

"Marcelo, a clerk in a Barcelona office who might himself have emerged from a novel by Kafka, inhabits a world peopled by characters from literature. He once wrote a novel about the impossibility of love, but since then he has been able to write nothing, and a nervous breakdown has meant that he has not even been able to put pen to paper. He has, in short, become a "Bartleby", so named after the scrivener in Herman Melville's short story who, when asked to do anything, always replied, "I would prefer not to."" "One day Marcelo sets out to make a search through literature for all those other possible Bartlebys who, for whatever reason, have had the urge to say "No," and with this in mind he has the engaging notion of keeping a diary and writing footnotes to an invisible text."--BOOK JACKET.… (more)

(summary from another edition)

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