Thoughts on César Aira

There is a sense of Aira as the indifferent god who subjects his creations to difficult situations, but there is something more than that. The real contingency of our lives is reflected in these works, the ways in which we are constantly found to be powerless against the stream of events. This has the double effect of underlining the ways in which fiction transforms the contingency of our lives into necessity: the classic novel is an isolated work, frozen and perfected in its architecture. Things must have had to happen that way, we think. Perhaps we are attracted to traditional, formally symmetrical stories exactly because they encourage us to see our lives in the same way. We take in stories like a cure, looking for our own symmetry. In Aira we find a world that is as haphazard as our lives, but are instead encouraged to create our meaning in the cracks, forging the relationships and significances ourselves. And literature takes on again a new power, as Aira is always free to begin again, to write the novellas in which all the possible alternatives happen.

[David Wallace on Aira, via Idiom]

I had a conversation with a friend about a couple of weeks ago where the topic of César Aira came up. The point I ended up making was that Aira excites me partly because his body of work, with its unpredictability and imperfections, foregrounds the unspoken pact between author and reader: that composing a novel is always an attempt and that the novel itself is a record of an author struggling and gambling creatively. This is part of what we pay to see. One of the primary things that attract us to a novel (and actually to any artwork) is the fact that the author is always capable of failure. It is, after all, really no fun not seeing a writer stretch himself or herself. Aira epitomises this by being inconsistent, imperfect, improvisational, and sometimes irrational. It is a work that pushes the compositional process to the fore, constantly reminding us that we are not consuming a completed object. Instead, in reading, we are participating with an author in his or her attempt, where nothing’s fixed, not even for the author. Such are the stakes of Aira’s impressive and idiosyncratic literary project.

This idea has certain resonances with this particular article, which situates Aira’s work within a larger literary context. David Wallace’s article places Aira’s tiny novellas against the huge monolithic novels that we seem to have (shall we say) preferred over the years, suggesting that “Aira leads us toward a realignment of values in our literature, where representing totality is unnecessary [and] we are [instead] encouraged to find value in surprise, the free play of ideas, and a rejection of the rules that we supposed shackled authors.”

Thinking about this just this past weekend, I realise how, in spite of how frustrating it can sometimes be, Aira’s work has really quite changed the way I look at art, writing, and literature. Through this lens, this looking glass, art’s emphasis becomes not the elegance and perfection we tend to venerate, and perhaps not even the idealistic pursuit of these things (although that is not to say that these things are without value), but the gamble, the artist’s gambit, the attempt to defy the odds. Discovering Aira’s work has been one of the true joys in the past one or two years for me because it is one of the things that has reminded me that art continues to excite me and some of the reasons that it does. For me, both creatively and academically, this could not have come at a better time, illuminating a direction (or perhaps several) of, as Wallace puts it, flying forwards.

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One response to “Thoughts on César Aira

  1. Pingback: Rojak: Stalkers. | Who Killed Lemmy Caution?

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