The Illogic Of Kassel
Enrique Vila-Mata’s new novel, The Illogic of Kassel, is a fascinating, sometimes genius, work which pulls the piss out of modern art while sincerely examining its place and value in our tottering contemporary world. It’s a mediation on the ‘avant-garde,’ on writing (or ‘slow-maturing revenge’) and on the pleasures of a MacGuffin. The novel begins with a phone call which promises to reveal the ‘the mystery of the universe’ to the narrator in exchange for him being the writer-in-residence in a Chinese restaurant in Kassel during Documenta, a modern art extravaganza. From then on the novel only gets odder, becoming a meta-commentary which makes the reader join the narrator in questioning everything. There are allusions to other literary works, films and art, and the bleeding of fact over fiction – Vila-Mata was a writer-in-residence at Documenta 13 in the same Chinese, the artwork described is real, etc.
Despite the sometimes weighty subject matter, Vila-Matas maintains a sense of playfulness to the novel which stops it from becoming indulgent. The narrator floats from a ‘serious observer’ role to that of a tipsy dinner-guest in an instant. Only when this whimsical nature is forgotten does the novel become a trudge and its ramblings a bore. Nevertheless, this is a novel that both demands and gives, that is both a farce and a studious text, and that should be read.
Words: John McHugh