Tom McCarthy

To End Up in a Book

4 April - 7pm
Free, until full capacity is reached
Sabatini Building, Auditorium
Related activity inside the programme
Organized by
Museo Reina Sofía
In collaboration with
Notes from The Book of Disquiet. Photograph by Fred Merchán, 2006
Notes from The Book of Disquiet. Photograph by Fred Merchán, 2006

This third session culminates the program "Pessoa: brief history of modern art", a series of three talks in which some of the theoretical keys of modern art are reviewed from the writings of Fernando Pessoa. The lines of the different sessions are: the notion and categories of the avant-garde; the heteronyms, or the multiple lives of the artist under the crisis of modernity; and, finally, the idea of the book as a creation of the world, not as its representation. While the first two encounters have been led by scholars on the author of The Book of Disquiet, this last intervention will be carried out by the novelist and essayist Tom McCarthy. The author of Satin Island or Remainder is one of the most debated and acclaimed contemporary experimental writers. His work explores the possibilities of literature in the times of digital dissolution, a moment in which we regret the loss of hierarchy and authority of the book while any circumstance becomes text.

When writing enters the picture, time changes. Experience can no longer be “innocent” or “pure” — rather (as Proust knows all too well) it will be constantly measured against and detoured via its own mediation, its future setting-down. In this lecture, Tom McCarthy considers the question of temporality and consciousness in relation to the specter of “the Book”, from Cervantes to the Internet age. Does digital culture kill off literature, or does it (on the contrary) accelerate it onwards to its glorious apotheosis? When every moment of our lives, from walking down a street to buying, watching or even “liking” something, are recorded and archived for future parsing by the forces of capital and the law, to be transformed into a set of ledgers that, in turn, will correlate these moments and their patterns algorithmically with other archives, other ledgers — then do history and culture “write” themselves? If so, what might the writer’s role be?

Tom McCarthy (Stirling, 1969) is a novelist whose work has been translated into more than twenty languages. His first novel, Remainder, won the 2008 Believer Book Award and was recently adapted for the cinema by the artist Omer Fast. His third, C, was a 2010 Booker Prize finalist, as was his fourth, Satin Island, in 2015. McCarthy is also author of the study Tintin and the Secret of Literature, and of the essay collection Typewriters, Bombs, Jellyfish. He contributes regularly to publications such as The New York Times, The London Review of Books, Harper’s and Artforum. In 2013 he was awarded the inaugural Windham Campbell Prize for Fiction by Yale University.