Saturday, February 27, 2016

The Polylogical Chinese Restaurant or My Occasionally Postmodern Mind

The Illogic of Kassel by Enrique Vila-Matas

In the aftermath of World War Two, when virtually every German city had been destroyed by Allied bombing, the city of Kassel decided to postpone its reconstruction until 1955, when its citizens opted to turn their backs on the headlong industrial re-development embraced by such cities as Dresden and Cologne and devote themselves to the promotion of culture instead. It seemed to them a fitting rejoinder to Hitler and his contempt for modern and avant-garde art. 

Founded there and then, by painter and academy professor, Arnold Bode, was  the first of a series of 100 day-long exhibitions called documenta, a pioneering art festival, still running today, that initially included the works of such now world-famous artists as Picasso and Kandinsky. Writes Michael Glasmeier and Karin Stengel:

Again and again, the documenta has shattered the world of art, whether on poor postwar times when people thirsted for art, whether in rebellious years of revolution, whether in the lighthearted era  at the end of the 20th century or whether at the turn of the century dominated by globalisation. The history of documenta is a history of defeats, of doubts, of scandals and, at the same time, of renewal, of discovery and artistic creativity. Above all, however, it has always been a history of success.

Indeed the most recent documenta, dOCUMENTA (13), the exhibition of which Vila-Matas writes in his novel, drew a record-breaking 904,992 visitors.

The Illogic of Kassel tells the strange, funny, consistently beguiling story of a sixty-three year old Catalan avant-garde writer who receives a phone call from an enigmatic woman one day, inviting him to participate in this selfsame festival. Perplexed as to why the committee would invite him, a writer, to take part in such an exhibition, generally the preserve of sculptors, painters, and dancers, he soon discovers that his mission, his charge, is in fact quite novel, indeed distinctly avant-garde: for three weeks he is merely to sit down every morning at his own special table in a nondescript Chinese restaurant on the outskirts of Kassel and write—a living, breathing art installation. In essence he is told: “Here’s an invitation to a Chinese restaurant, we’re asking you for art, now let’s see what you make of it.”

The puzzled narrator, long intrigued by the idea of the avant-garde, indeed curious to discover whether the avant-garde as a movement still exists, decides to accept this singular invitation to Kassel. There, he soon finds himself seated at his appointed table in the Dschingis Khan each morning, surrounded by sometimes curious, though mostly indifferent diners as he toils away at his craft, only to spend his afternoons and evenings, like the other visitors there, wandering through the many exhibitions, “that great garden of contemporary marvels”, a few photos of which are included below.

What compounds the wonder of this funny, affectionate, and highly inventive novel is that the story itself—at least the premise of it—is true: Vila-Matas himself was actually working at his desk in his apartment in Barcelona one day when he was interrupted by a call from a mysterious-sounding woman who made him an offer he couldn’t refuse. Featured below is the author Vila-Matas at work in the Dschingis Khan.

Enrique Vila-Matas was born and raised in Barcelona. He has written numerous works, including Bartleby & Co., Dublinesque, Montano’s Malady, and Never Any End to Paris. The Illogic of Kassel was translated by Anne McClean & Anna Milsom.

Peter Adam Nash 


  1. The executive chef here was a genuinely nice person and never made us feel like we were just "business" for him. He was extremely competent and organized. Because of the natural beauty of the venues in NYC, we were able to get away with very minimal decorations.

  2. This restaurant is in Juhu Church, and offers both north Indian and Chinese dish. You can order for soup, Chinese starters, seafood and noodles. Phoenix Chinese Restaurant