because after this Enrique Vila-Matas writes…

…during these minutes I was able to think things over and put an end to any further queistions I might still ask myself about the possible, or impossible, relationship between innovative art and a bottle of perfume belonging to a Nazi woman, about the possible relationship between innovative art and our historical past and present. … It had become clear to me that art and historical memory were inseparable.

Any activity connected to the avant-garde – assuming the avant-garde still existed (which I doubted more with each passing hour) – must never lose sight of the political dimension: one that required us to bear in mind that perhaps nothing would do us poor mortals more good than for the avant-garde to disappear, not because it was worn out, but because, through an invisible current, it had turned into a source of pure energy, transforming itself into our own fascinating life.


For a moment, I thought I saw the invisible impulse cross the area and flow through that community of strangers seated in the middle of the forest. I remember thinking of the efforts of popular revolutions trying to make a name for themselves, while secret groups like this one in the woods at Kassel, or those formed during sporadic bursts of fighting, had, by contrast, never tended to be photographed or leave a trace. I recalled Sebastià Jovani, a writer from Barcelona, who said that revolutions spawned postcards and all sorts of souvenirs, while guerrilla warfare and spontaneous groups involved in clandestine struggles – volatile groups, situationists if you looked at them that way – generated emotions, common feelings that didn’t require a picture framed up on the wall. Jovani also said, if I remember rightly, that it was worth asking if anyone would really want a signed urinal in their living room. Perhaps, in that question, the difference between art exhibited in museums and art without a fixed home – art that is out in the open, so visible in Kassel, in more than one installation – couldn’t be better summed up. Art of the outskirts. Or of the outskirts of the outskirts. Like Huyghe’s work, with his humus and pink-legged dog, with his remote quagmire, where there was no organization, no representation, no exhibition – although I suspected things were interconnected there than they appeared to be.

And while I was thinking about all this, I realized how that silent revolt of the spirit was making a move at that precise instant and let itself be seen, too: the almost imperceptible was making everyone suddenly get younger on the spot.

This reminded me of that episode in Proust’s Remembrance of Things Past where you see the members of the old aristocracy grimacing in a Paris salon, getting older on the spot, becoming mummies of themselves.

For a while, I didn’t stop looking around me. The music’s attempt to get us over the collapse seemed very fortuitous. That motif of death Schubert had placed at the center of Winter Journey, which we were all listening to there in shy silence, collided head-on with the idea of that voyage. Each of us allowed ourselves to be assailed by our solitude, which expanded timelessly in the evening light, the sun reflecting among the clouds, and it did so like the nightmare I most feared, the one in which I felt at constant risk of seeing everything invaded by frost and dead nature.

Death was before us like the bird singing just then, filtering through in an unequal contest with Schubert’s music. Death was playing no tricks and plainly visible, but the general resistance, the effort not to succumb to its awful, murderous song, was admirable. The imperceptible breeze ran serenely throughout, getting stronger every minute, perhaps because it was a current that advocated life. Indeed, the conspirators in the forest appeared to be getting stronger and stronger in this lull. Even so, my disquiet didn’t seem about to evaporate so easily. There were flashes of vitality within the forest group, but a certain inner disquiet persisted. I remember the circumstances of that moment well. The truth is, I always remember my own unforeseen anguish with mathematical precision: I was in the forest, I lost myself mentally in a tangle of undergrowth. I heard the cry of a tawny owl in the area bordering the woodland, and then nothing, absolutely nothing. I went on to the esplanade and saw that Europe was a lifeless expanse and then accepted that the dawn light of morning had turned into darkest night. I think I perceived a song far off in the distance that I learned in childhood and that comes back to me from time to time, above all now that I’m getting old. It’s a song that disturbs me because it says there is no escape: to get out of the forest we have to get out of Europe, but to get out of Europe we have to get out of the forest.

The Illogic of Kassel, Enrique Vila-Matas (trans. Anne McLean & Anna Milsom), pp. 108-110