On 7 June 2015 I began writing a novel with the working title ”The Spanish Leap.” This novel began germinating in 2010 when I came across the following quote:
...all of us have a double in another place, living their life with a face identical to ours. —from Montano’s Malady by Enrique Vila-Matas
The Spanish Leap
As I approached the end of writing The Architect, I imagined that I was approaching a precipice, a cliff at the edge of an abyss (which is really an exit from a trap). At this edge, the expectation is that I will take a leap. In the novel Dublinesque by Enrique Vila-Matas, Samuel Riba faces a leap, one inspired by a work of literary genius, Ulysses by James Joyce. Riba is inspired to take the English leap. Riba, like Vila-Matas, lives in Barcelona. So on the flight from San Antonio to New York into the heart of a snow storm, I decided that I would travel to Barcelona. The decision would be the beginning of a leap, for me, a Spanish Leap.
This Spanish Leap is more than just a decision to travel to a new place, it’s a decision bound to an artistic choice, a choice which is related to a theory of the novel. The Spanish Leap is a choice to follow the method of Aira.
But it wasn’t Aira that preoccupied my thoughts that day after the Dos a cero on the plane bound for New York. No, I was preoccupied by thoughts of Knausgaard (and the method of Knausgaard). So I searched for something else written by him that I could read on the flight and I found a short essay which had been published in the New Republic about the Argentine soccer player, Angel Di Maria, who played for Real Madrid, but after winning the UEFA Champions League with that club, transferred to the English club, Manchester United, for an astronomical sum.
As I read Knausgaard’s essay about the Argentine footballer, I thought about Samuel Riba’s English leap and how it was inspired by a work of literary genius, and I wondered if my Spanish Leap might not find its origins in a work of footballing genius. But what did that mean precisely?
The decision I faced was a choice between the method of Aira and the method of Knausgaard. Where Aira wrote slowly and produced short books, Knausgaard wrote swiftly and produced fat books, swollen tomes packed with details of everyday life. In his conversation with Ben Lerner at the Powerhouse Arena, Knausgaard emphasized that improvisation was essential to his method. I don’t plan things out, he said. I improvise. If it works, I keep it. If it doesn’t work, I throw it away. Of course, Aira might say the same thing. I’ve thrown away books that don’t work, he might have said. What I wrote yesterday doesn’t matter. I write for today. And tomorrow, I will write another page.
I would improvise. That much was decided. But I would improvise within a set of rules. Like a soccer player who has honed his skills with years of practice takes to the pitch to participate in a dynamic, improvised performance. Neither Aira nor Knausgaard revise their work. If it works, they keep it. If it doesn’t work, they throw it away. The real difference between the method of Aira and the method of Knausgaard then is one of speed and length. But there is one other significant difference. In Aira’s work, anything can happen. Where Knausgaard is rooted in the real, Aira can venture into the surreal.
But what about Knausgaard’s second novel? A Time for Everything. Wasn’t that a work in which anything could happen? Where angels could take the form of seagulls and the laws of physics were determined by social choice? The human race had decided to adopt the Newtonian view of the world over that offered by Antinous Bellori, the angel hunter in Knausgaard’s novel. The angels devolved into seagulls. The old way, the magic disappeared not because it was untrue, but because we no longer believed.
The more I thought about the method of Aira and the method of Knausgaard, I realized there were more similarities than differences: the Spanish leap or the Norwegian leap were one and the same. The important thing was to take the leap.
- The Illogic of Kassel by Enrique Vila-Matas