miércoles, 21 de septiembre de 2011

Cecil Taylor

Cecil Taylor
por César Aira
Argentina, 1987

Cecil Taylor empieza con una escena magnífica y totalmente asombrosa: una prostituta neoyorquina, al volver a su depto después de una noche de trabajo, se encuentra con un grupo de vagos que están mirando algo en la vidriera sucia de un negocio abandonado.  ¿De qué se trata?  La lucha inminente entre un gato y una rata.  De repente, la mujer golpea la vidriera con su cartera, distraendo del gato suficientemente para que se escape la rata.  Los hombres se enojan con ella a causa de la interrupción del show, y un hecho de violencia no especificado tiene lugar como resultado.  A pesar de ser tan cautivador, es facil pasar por alto la genialidad de este principio porque lo que sigue en lo demás del cuento no parece tener nada en común con ello.  En lugar de eso, encontramos la historia del pianista free jazz Cecil Taylor situada en el año de 1956.  Taylor, en aquel entonces un cero en cuanto a la fama, sufre la indignidad de ser expuesto a la mofa pública en bares con piano donde todos los clientes son músicos, drogadictos, o alcohólicos; en lugares prestigiosos como el Village Vanguard, donde él tontamente cree que al menos sus collegas los músicos tratarán de comprender sus inovaciones atonales; e incluso en una fiesta privada en la casa de Long Island de la señora Gloria Vanderbilt (los invitados aplauden cuando la heredera dice "para").  Frente al estilo de vanguardia del músico, casi todo el mundo reacciona con desaprobación a su arte atonal o, lo que es peor, con una pregunta sincera sino insultante cómo la del dueño del bar que especializa en el tráfico de la heroina: "¿No habrás querido tomarnos el pelo?"  Aunque las desdichas de Taylor nunca paran a lo largo del cuento de 14 páginas, la belleza salvaje y la artesanía del relato se encuentran en la escritura fiera de Aira y en la sugerencia provocadora que el proceso creativo--la realidad vivida en cual los conciertos de Taylor generan una falta de comprensión evidente como "escarnio invisible licuado en risitas inaudibles" [136]--es análoga en alguna manera a la historia de la prostituta y los vagos en cuanto al "fracaso" del artista de sobrepasar lo que se esperaba en la imaginación de la audiencia.  Aira, ¡vos sos un capo!
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"Cecil Taylor" begins with a magnificently drawn and absolutely striking scene: a New York prostitute, returning to her apartment early one morning after a night of work, runs into a group of lowlifes apparently transfixed by something visible through the dirty windows of an abandoned storefront.  What are they looking at?  An impending fight between a cat and a rat.  Suddenly, the woman strikes the glass with her purse, distracting the cat long enough for the rat to escape.  The men then get mad at her on account of the interruption of the show, and an unspecified act of violence takes place as a result.  As attention-grabbing as all this is, it's easy to overlook the compositional brilliance of this opening scene because it doesn't really appear to have much in common with the rest of the short story apart from its atmosphere.  Instead, we're treated to a hard luck story about free jazz pianist Cecil Taylor set in 1956.  Taylor, at that time a virtual nobody in terms of his fame, suffers a series of public indignities in piano bars where the small crowds consist primarily of musicians, drug addicts, and alcoholics; in a disappointing showcase performance at the Village Vanguard, where he foolishly believes that at least his fellow musicians will understand what he's trying to accomplish; and even at a private party given by Gloria Vanderbilt at her Long Island mansion (the guests applaud when the socialite pulls the plug on him).  Confronted with the musician's avant-garde stylings, almost everybody responds to his atonal art with either open disapproval or, what's worse, this sincere but insulting question put to him by a bar owner almost exclusively occupied with heroin-trafficking: "Are you sure you're not just pulling our legs?"  Although Taylor's misfortunes never let up throughout the length of this fourteen-page story, the savage beauty and the craftsmanship of the tale are to be found in Aira's feral writing and the provocative suggestion that the creative process--the lived reality in which Taylor's performances generate a lack of understanding manifesting itself as "escarnio invisible licuado en risitas inaudibles" ["invisible derision liquified in inaudible laughter"] [136]-- is somehow analagous to the story about the prostitute and the night owl lowlifes in terms of the artist's failure to deliver what constitutes a show in the minds of the audience.  Aira, you the man!

Fuente/source:
Juan Forn, ed.  Buenos Aires: Una antología de nueva ficción argentina [Buenos Aires: An Anthology of New Argentinean Fiction].  Barcelona: Editorial Anagrama, 1992, 129-144.

Arriba/Above: Cecil Taylor; Abajo/Below: César Aira

14 comentarios:

  1. The opening scene sounds a bit Steinbeckian, if he decided to go even darker, that is. But it also sounds like an opening jazz riff, as is appropriate, it would seem. Wonderful overview and I love the phrase "feral writing."

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  2. How fortunate you are to be able to read Aira in the original Spanish; I don't know what's keeping these English translators, but they really need to step up production. And this one looks like it's not even available yet in French. Slackers.

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  3. Hola Richard: Aira siempre sorprende con sus comienzos que suelen ser sublimes y perfectos pero me ha tocado, también, leer cada narración delirante que ahora avanzo con Aira sólo si está recomendado. Escritor que divide las aguas en la literatura argentina, Aira no se cansa de publicar. Saludos y muy buena la reseña

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  4. Maybe my Spanish is not as bad as I thought. This sounds like the story I "read."

    The Buenos Aires collection includes a little intro for each story written by the author. Aira's is typically oblique. "It is not a story," the genie flatly declares. Yes, the genie.

    It was the title that caught my attention, I remember. Was the story actually about the pianist? It is - a real jazz fiction classic.

    If anyone wants Cecil Taylor recording recommendations, I got 'em! He is extra-thorny.

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  5. I was already decided to read it but then I saw amateur reader's comment and that sold it for good. Jazz fiction writing. I read two books of short stories that could be classified as such, Emmanuel Dongala's Jazz et Vin de Palme and Geoff Dyer's But Beautiful. I love them both.
    This will be bought and read soon!

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  6. *Jill: That's interesting what you say about this sounding somewhat "Steinbeckian"--I wouldn't have made that connection, but then again I haven't read S in years. And I like the idea about the jazz riff, esp. since the little I've read about Taylor's music gives me the idea he used to play the piano (and riffs?) in attack mode. Anyway, I appreciate you weighing in on this feral tale!

    *Scott: Maybe it's just the company I keep blog-wise, but I get the sense that this story will soon have its day in the sun translation-wise. Too many Aira-ites, inc. one of his New Directions translators, are clamoring for it to be rendered into English for it to stay Spanish-only for too much longer. But over 20 years without a translation? Slackers, indeed!

    *Mario: ¡Hola! ¿Cómo andás? He leído algo sobre esas quejas en varios lugares (supongo que, con una bibliografía tan larga, habrán decepciones de vez en cuando con algunas obras suyas, ¿no?), pero este cuento me pareció ser genial y de primera fila como, digamos, "Muchacha punk", de Fogwill, o "El fluir de la vida", de Piglia. Me encantó. De todos modos, gracias por la visita (un placer, como siempre). ¡Saludos!

    *Tom: I'd love to get an "extra-thorny" Cecil Taylor recommendation or two from you--that'd save me some research (and random YouTube-ing) this weekend. Aira's intro that you mention here definitely adds an extra dimension to any attempt to savor the story beyond what's just written within its pages. "It's not a story" ("it's reality") = oblique and/or extra thorny for sure. Cheers!

    *Caroline: It's a great tale (maybe especially for jazz fans?) and quite subversive in the way it takes on the usual rags to riches style artist bios. If you have trouble finding the Buenos Aires collection (which includes some other top notch short stories, by the way), "Cecil Taylor" has also been anthologized in 11 relatos argentinos del siglo XX (another great collection on first look) and may be available online as well. By the way, thanks for the tip on those other short stories!

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  7. What a bad offer I made. Like I have any grasp of Taylor's output.

    So I will suggest this outstanding Gary Gidden's piece for more recent Taylor, and point the interested to Taylor's Blue Note records for music more contemporary to the setting of the Aira story: Jazz Advance, Love for Sale, and Conquistador!, but not the more famous Unit Structures only because it is music for a big ensemble, something different.

    My understanding is that "Cecil Taylor" is Aira's only short story, so I wonder if part of the problem or delay in translation is in figuring out where to put it. Tack it on to another short novel? Special deluxe collectorama pamphlet release, like Krasznahorkai's Animalinside?

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  8. *Tom: Thanks a bunch for the info on Cecil Taylor (the musician) and the hypothesis on "CT" (the short story). Totally makes sense--but why not a $5.95 deluxe short story a la Krasznahorkai with whatever the publishing industry's equivalent of colored vinyl is? I'd go for something like that if I had the choice! [Well, me and maybe three others...] Is it really still Aira's only short story, though? I've seen that said many a time, but recently I thought I ran across a reference to other ones (maybe untranslated ones) somewhere or other. Weird.

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  9. Ha! I never actually believed that "only short story" business. I will confess that I do not believe anything I read about Aira, and almost nothing about Bolaño. Certainly nothing either of them say, and I think that "only short story" stuff comes to me from Bolaño.

    Sometimes I pretend to believe things about Aira etc. for the sake of art.

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  10. Uh oh, I don't need to start getting music recommendations on top of reading recommendations. I'd never heard of Cecil Taylor, but after your review, and most especially the comments (thanks, Tom, for the recommendations!) I've been listening to some of Taylor's work this afternoon. I'll admit that my discretion when it comes to music is pretty much non-existent (are they in tune? ok, I like it), but this is exactly the sort of jazz I like. Thanks for the meandering from books to music!

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  11. *Tom: The '92 Buenos Aires anthology lists "Cecil Taylor" as Aira's "only known short story." However, a '97 anthology I picked up the other day lists three or four Aira shorts. I guess there could be more by now. Not that it matters, I guess--except..."for the sake of art"!

    *Amanda: I'd heard of Cecil Taylor but never heard him before until I listened to parts of his Conquistador! the other day on Tom's rec. Enjoyed it. By the way, I think you'd enjoy brushing up on your Spanish with the Aira tale if you can find a copy of it--but until then, I'll be looking for some Spanish-language short stories called "Albert Ayler," "Ornette Coleman," "Coltrane" and/or "Sun Ra" to continue the literature/music crossover here!

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  12. Thanks for the recommendation, Richard! I actually just signed up for borrowing privileges at the local branch of my alma mater, so I can now get my hands on just about anything I'm looking for. Not that I'm excited by that or anything....

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  13. This short story sounds amazing, wish there was an English translation!!

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  14. *Amanda: Congrats once again on that new/old library access--that should open up a world of reading goodies for you!

    *SC: It's a great one, very arresting in style and tone, and hence worth waiting for should it ever come out in English translation. By the way, thanks for visiting the blog--will need to return the favor on yours since it looks like we have a lot of current reading in common from what I could tell at a quick glance. Cheers!

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