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Mortara: a proposal for a new literary sub-genre base on hypertext and electronic literature.

Mortara: a proposal for a new literary sub-genre base on hypertext and electronic literature.

Mortara: Metafiction, literary illness and literary genres in three books by Enrique Vila-Matas.

(Conclusion of research and proposal )

By Juan Pablo Plata

“One should go to a literature according with the spirit of the time, it should be a mixed literature, crossbred, where boundaries are confused and reality can dance on the border with fiction, and the rhythm erases the border. For some time now, I want to be a foreigner forever. For some time now, I think that more and more literature transcends national borders to make profound revelations about the universality of human nature.”

This was said by Enrique Vila-Matas during the acceptance speech of the XII International Prize Romulo Gallegos in 2001 for his book The vertical travel.

In an interview with Fernando Clemot for the magazine Paralelo Sur, Vila-Matas answered:

"You once said that "the novel of the future will be multi-racial or it will be nothing." What traits would define the novel of the future?

If I knew how the future of the novel will be, I would already be writing it. "

Finally, in the documentary Café con Shandy by Enrique Díaz Álvarez, Vila-Matas said:

"Walter Benjamin said that in our time the only work of art full of meaning, critical thinking, should also be a collage of quotations, fragments, echoes of other works. I added to this collage phrases and ideas relatively of my own invention and gradually I built an autonomous world, paradoxically closely linked to the echoes of other works."

With the resonance of the fragments just read above, we must concede that the literary narrative has changed ostensibly since the time of Greek and Roman Classics classified under the genre of Epic nowadays. We can say without exaggeration that literary narrative has changed to the point of being almost impossible to classify it in its most recent forms. While we still tell stories or refer something, this is often done without a conflict that triggers the plot. Thus, style, resources and how we tell stories have changed so much until now that they now tend to produce strangeness between readers and literary critics. So, for the literary community in general it has become a problem to define and classify under some genre these same manifestations that are a kind or new form in the history of literature, with a particular artistic development, explained by the main traits of being hybrid, interactive and with a big amount of self-reflection or metafiction.

Now if we consider previous conventions of literary narrative, either be a novel or a short story or literature of other genre, we must concede that we live in a different time than our ancestors and that even though we still as humans keep telling stories, applications and tools to do so have mutated and changed. Suffice it to see movies, video games and hypermedia.

We must reiterate and reaffirm now, that there are new narrative forms and different kinds and frames of literary compositions in the twenty-first century and that they can not be place or they do not fit anymore under the awning of the genre known as novel as conceived by Mikhail Bakhtin, for example, or under other existent categories . The stories of our time are not fixed or autonomous, instead they lend and rely on stories and different kinds of content from other arts and they even depend on a self-reflection or metafiction (instructions to use fiction) to be used as Professor Daniel Grassian, a specialist in hybrid fiction and electronic literature says quoting George Landow. (In Hyrbrid fictions, 2003, p 172).

Among the manifestations of this kind of works with a narrative like the one described above there is the trilogy, full of metafiction, by Enrique Vila-Matas, composed by Bartleby and co, Montano’s malady and Doctor Pasavento, which was researched in this study with the purpose of doing a characterization of the three works - and other works in print and hypertext and in other digital media and interfaces by other authors and artists. It was a bet to propose a new narrative subgenre more precise for this type of innovative creations. The three books of Vila-Matas are fictions with loans to other arts and disciplines of human knowledge; these books are hybrid and metafictional, whose main topic is a certain type of literary illness: in Bartleby & Co. is a discontinuous creative block or fixed writer’s block in western literature; in Montano’s malady is the obsession with literature like happens to Don Quixote and finally in Doctor Pasavento the disease is the excessive exposure of some literary authors versus reclusiveness of other writers.

Academy, critics and readers have always found it difficult to recognize a novel in these three books of Vila-Matas or to find common literary conventions acceptable as recipients (reader’s expectation), to paraphrase here the theorist Hans Robert Jauss and his Theory of reception.

These works of Vila-Matas, Journal of the species (Diario de las especies) by Claudia Apablaza and Kazbek by Leonardo Valencia, are heirs to avant-garde artists of the twentieth century, of the rebelliousness of the Nouveau Roman and of the roman a clef or novel with a key. In the same way, they are debtors of the technology that appeared in the twentieth century, which allows to view moving pictures combined with audio, and to have hypertext mixed multimedia and many more. Now, we must also recognize that these works are heirs to two great novels of western literature: Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes and Tristram Shandy by Laurence Sternes, but we must accept that they have big noticeable differences and gaps. If the works of Cervantes and Sterne establish and opened masterfully in its tradition what is now called as a novel (creatively embracing several written and oral records under their awning), we must recognize too that the works researched in our investigation by Vila-Matas and works in hypertext format or made to be seen on a digital interface have an additional variety of resources from sound to visual and other areas of knowledge and technology that displace the category of novel to be use as a motto for these new manifestations of literature, currently known as electronic literature (el).

Thus the inquiry in Vila-Matas's books resulted in a proposal of classification of synthesized nominal word for this type of literature (el): Mortara. We have Vila-Matas as one of the pioneers of the subgenre Mortara, but this development is the result of a series of changes in creative writing influenced by technological advances, other works and a transgression by writers like him of themes, forms, resources and habits of previous literature. The all inclusive genre and concept of novel as seen by Mikahil Bakhtin now seems obsolete, because he talked and wrote about of hybrids of literature, but did not go as far as to live and to know and included literature works made up with other arts, tools and artifacts in other interfaces like Mortara.

According to the quotation used at the beginning with the requirement of meaning by Walter Benjamin, the subgenre classification proposal that is done in this document is intended to fill a critical and theoretical void in order to do one of the first bets to name these literary kind of works with a comprehensive approach.

Mortara. (Term)

From: Latin mortarium. English Gonne morter. French mortar.

Satires of Juvenal. Verse170: et quae iam Mortari sanant ueteres caeca. (And the mortars cured the blind)

Baba Yaga. Slavic folklore witch who travels the world in a giant broom or mortar capturing children.

(The proposed term is based on the word Mortar. Mortar and pestle are used to mix and grind food in the kitchen, to mix elements and compounds in pharmacy or metals in metallurgy, among others to produce new hybrids)

Mortara: literary narrative subgenre (art) with three complementary and supplementary degrees of hybridization ( Superior, Middle and Inferior ).

Inferior Mortara: it is literature that as the novel has a multigenre and polyphonic quality, but surpasses usual literary narrative because it includes discoursers and resources from other arts and disciplines of human knowledge hierarchically organized or free.

Middle Mortara: it is literature that includes the qualities of the Inferior Mortara but also has sounds, images and textures, among others included in his narrative. It does not dependent on formats or interfaces (print, hypertext) or devices to exist. It can be present in the digital and print domains or interfaces.

Superior Mortara: it is literature that contains all of the above and everything described in them, but its superior quality is achieved because in its narration and perception by the user-reader it uses from 1 to the 5 human senses. Its development and use stars in print and in the human mind, but it depends on formats, interfaces and devices to exist. Its creation and use will produce the experience of a parallel world or a simulated reality in the highest degree of experience in written fiction.

Finally, we express that made use of the research paper The digital story: a new literary genre? By Jaime Alejandro Rodriguez Ph. D, available in Spanish at, but at the same time we consider that we have complemented it. We did also use Claudio Guillen Comparative Literature essays and many more.

Examples of print Mortaras (Inferior)

Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde.

Diario de las especies de Claudia Apablaza. (Impreso)

Kazbek de Leonardo Valencia. (Impreso)

Nocilla, Nocilla experience y Nocilla Lab de Agustín Fernández Mallo (Impreso)

Retiro lo escrito de Juan Antonio Masoliver Ródenas. (Impreso)

La puerta del inglés de Juan Antonio Masoliver Ródenas (Impreso)

Bartleby y compañía, El Mal de Montano y Doctor Pasavento de Enrique Vila-Matas. (Impreso)

Examples, studies and directories of middle Mortaras.

Symmetricity. Por Tobias Tinker de Jaime Alejandro Rodríguez de Domenico Chiappe de Juan José Díez

Modern Living. Hotel.
The Graphic Universe of Han Hoogerbrugge


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