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By Enrique Vila-Matas

A reader's fictional travel of the paintings and lives of a few of the good 20th-century SurrealistsAn writer (a model of Vila-Matas himself) provides a quick "history" of a mystery society, the Shandies, who're captivated with the idea that of "portable literature." The society is totally imagined, yet during this rollicking, intellectually playful e-book, its individuals comprise writers and artists like Marcel Duchamp, Aleister Crowley, Witold Gombrowicz, Federico García Lorca, guy Ray, and Georgia O'Keefe. The Shandies meet secretly in flats, motels, and cafes everywhere Europe to debate what nice literature rather is: short, no longer too severe, penetrating the depths of the mysterious. We witness the Shandies having adventures in desk bound submarines, underground caverns, African backwaters, and the cultural capitals of Europe.

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That which we call a rose / By any other word would smell as sweet" (Romeo and Juliet, II, ii, 43-44). Outside the ecstasy of love, or the ideal of science, her rhetorical question would presuppose an answer very different from the one she gives, nowhere more so than in Scripture's matching of chosen nation and nomination. Of all proper names in the Bible's onomasticon, "Israel" is, if not the last, then the last but one to suffer the cavalier treatment of being taken or taken away lightly: it even incorporates ("-el") the very last one, God's own, as well as commemorating the father of the nation's triumphant struggle ("Yisra-") with divinity, from whom Jacob at Jabbok wrung a "blessing" in the shape of a renomination.

With one ethnicon too many left on the Books, an attempt at removing it to a sphere other than ethnic would appear predictable. In the event, thousands of years elapsed before the idea came to mind, and even then only under the impetus of new documentary finds. Once arisen, however, it eclipsed all rivals, certainly in notoriety, as in sheer output. I mean of course the Hab/piru link, which, ever since the late nineteenth century, has stolen the scholarly show (and caught the popular imagination).

Attacked it has in effect been, from various quarters and motives. In effect, because the opponents have been less concerned to expose (or repair) such holes as those just outlined than to draw some alternative equation. Whether Rabbis and later patriots wishing to cut Israelites loose from the "Hebrew" nexus or scholars anxious to forge it with nonIsraelites, in the interests of crosscultural bridge-building, they have other axes to grind than making sense of the discourse. But though not exactly oriented to the interplay of form and meaning, reference and difference in significationor not even to the Bible's signifying context per sethe alternatives are still relatable to this interplay for better or worse.

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