The Problem with Enrique Vila-Matas

I find myself unable to decide what to do with Enrique Vila-Matas.

It can be difficult admitting that you might not like an author’s work. Especially when you think that you may actually like it. Or that you should like it.

My biggest interest is in thinking about the ways that literature connects with visual arts, and therefore, Vila-Matas’ work should fit perfectly within my concerns. And it does. He blends fiction with fact, conceptualising the method through which his job as writer can live alongside and amongst his own fascination for contemporary art. But I find that there is something amiss when I read his work.

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His style is autobiographical, that of the author engaging with the artist Sophie Calle (in Because She Never Asked), or with an exhibition (The Illogic of Kassel), but at the same time it is uncertain as to whether the events recounted actually occurred, if they are part fiction, or purely fiction. The author protagonist always seems a little too neurotic. He is an exaggeration of some variety of author-trope. Or at other times the way in which he writes about visual art just seems a bit much—I’m not sure how many people respond to art in the way of Vila-Matas, but I know that I myself do not. I feel that he goes out of his way to like art a bit too thoroughly.

My problem is that how we approach art is so subjective.

The methods we use in relating to art are always our own. I find that I am often more skeptical than I would like to be when faced with works of contemporary art (as well as art from older time periods). I rarely find that I respond emotively to a work of art. Rather, I tend to prefer art that works well on a conceptual level—art as food for the brain, not the soul.

Don’t get me wrong, I also appreciate the sensory aspects of art. but as well as enticing my nose it also needs to work my intellect.

Perhaps what I find irritating in Vila-Matas is that we actually seem to share certain responses to visual art—he also, it seems, responds to it on a conceptual level, especially a contextual one. On top of this he recognises the correlation between writing and art: that the two are not mutually exclusive, but can in fact be interchangeable. He does not even take art too seriously (one of my pet hates). He makes use of aliases and alter egos for himself in order to make approaching his work easier, also something I have found myself doing in the past.

I think my problem is that I get a feeling of disingenuousness from his writing. It is as if Vila-Matas may not even be Vila-Matas at all. His writing is almost too playful to be based much upon reality.

I feel like I wouldn’t be surprised one day to learn that Enrique Vila-Matas is himself a fictional character.

But I also feel like I am Enrique Vila-Matas.

And therein lies the problem.

 

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