martes, 21 de julio de 2015

El bautismo

El bautismo (Grupo Editor Latinoamericano, 1991)
by César Aira
Argentina, 1991

Who knows just what the frick don César Aira's prattling on about for most of this approximately 150-page doorstopper--the representation of reality? literary criticism? Mother Nature and mass extinction?  LOL!--but does it really matter much what the human Cheshire Cat is up to given that his entire career is essentially an extended homage to the unreliable narrator?  I thought not.  In any case, El bautismo [The Baptism, not yet available in English] is ostensibly concerned with depicting two landmark events in bourgeois parish priest turned film critic Máximo's life--the first having to do with the storm-tossed night when he refused to baptize a prematurely born baby because it was so hideous to the eyes and of an undetermined gender that it was worth denying the sacrament to and the second having to do with a night some twenty years later when the now elderly priest realizes that the handsome young man he's been keeping company with during a catastrophic flood is the very same person he'd refused to baptize years and years ago.  Mischievous baptism/flood parallels notwithstanding (the incessant rain of the second night is said to be the cause of "la muerte por inmersión de millones de animalitos" ["the death by immersion of millions of little animals"] with "little animals" naturally including humans such as you and yours truly [83]), non-theological gags constitute the primary sources of humor here as in the free indirect discourse swipe at an infamously uptight American master of the same ("Como Henry James, tendría que dar los más interminables rodeos para evitar hablar del sexo" ["Like Henry James, he'd have to beat around the bush ad nauseam to avoid speaking about sex"]) (64); the several pages dedicated to competing lettered and unlettered interpretations of Campo Argentino [Argentinean Countryside] magazine's comic book feuilleton of what would appear to be a cross-dressing and particularly violent sequel to the gaucho epic Martín Fierro; Máximo's provocative claim that regardless of the intrinsic good or bad value of a movie, "el producto final del cine son los buenos críticos" ["the end product of film is good critics"] (115); and a surrealist sight gag in which the edifice in which the priest and the young man have taken shelter is revealed to be a doll house.  OK, so maybe that bit about good critics being the true end product of film is more provocative than funny.  Still, it's at least somewhat amusing to see where Aira and the priest go with the joke: "La verdadera astucia de un productor de cine es trabajar con muertos, no con vivos" ["The true cleverness of a film producer lies in working with the dead and not the living"], Máximo argues.  "Hay que ponerse del lado de la fatalidad.  Los muertos en la realidad no se mueven ni configuran argumentos interesantes, pero el cine puede crear esa ilusión, y es la que mejor le sale...  Cualquier película, la más trivial, mejora con el sencillo expediente de considerarla una danza de cadáveres" ["Put yourself in Fate's shoes.  The dead in reality neither come up with nor fashion interesting plots, but film can create that illusion and that's how things turn out for the best...  Any movie, no matter how trivial, improves by the simple expedient of considering it as a dance of cadavers"] (115, ellipses added).  WTF?  Word, homey!

 César Aira

Other Aira Works Reviewed on Caravana de recuerdos
Los Fantasmas (1990)
La prueba (1992)
La Vida Nueva (2007)

12 comentarios:

  1. Extremely entertaining and lively commentary on this book as usual Richard.

    I tend to like this type of unconventional book that seems to go everywhere.

    I am thinking that the idea that the value in film derives from the fact that the art form creates critics, might get even more traction when applied to books.

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    1. Thanks for your kind words, Brian! Although I chose not to go into it in the post for the sake of brevity, I'm really glad you brought up the connection between readers of books and film critics because I think that equivalency was clearly one of Aira's aims: it's the reader as much as the writer who ultimately invests a work with meaning. Of course, the funny thing about Aira's novels is that this sort of conceptual reader response talk is often accompanied by the most outlandish storytelling embellishments so one never really knows for sure. Anyway, thanks for the great point!

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  2. Well, it wouldn't be Spanish (language) lit month without some César Aira! The set-up sounds great, plenty of scope there as your review suggests. As you may recall, I struggled with Ghosts last year but will give him another try in a few months. :)

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    1. "It wouldn't be Spanish (language) lit month without some César Aira!" My sentiments exactly, Jacqui, although if you didn't appreciate the more tightly-focused Ghosts all that much, I'm not sure what you'd make of this novel being all over the place and then some! El bautismo does have a lot of funny moments all the same, though. Cheers!

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  3. This hodgepodge on zombie filmmaking and baptism only a César Aira can concoct.

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    1. Touché! I have to say that I thought this particular Aira could have used a little pruning in places, Rise, although I sure hope it gets translated into English at some point b/c I'm sure you and other Aira connoisseurs would find plenty to enjoy in it. It's pretty wild.

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  4. Always great to get a review of a book (particularly one by Aira) not yet available in English - and especially one as entertaining as this. of course there is then the fear that it won't be translated!

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    1. Grant, relieved to hear that as I sometimes worry that many of my readers must chafe at the idea of reading reviews of books that aren't even available in English. Still, I can relate to that "fear" you mention at the end of your comment as well!

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  5. 150 pages! That is just way too long for an Aira novel. Well, if I must...

    Sounds - as usual with Aira - like a barrel of literary fun. I wonder if that "joke" about the movie producer is a reference to Gomez de la Serna's observation that the difference between theatre and cinema is that in cinema the dead don't get up after the show. The Henry James comment is priceless.

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    1. Scott, I think you're probably on to something with the Gómez de la Serna thing esp. as there's an extended gag/critique having to do with the superiority of film over theater which also involves a provincial theater mover and shaker being taken to Buenos Aires and being introduced to Victoria Ocampo and friends. The in jokes would seem to come fast and furious here, and it's too bad I don't get them all because at least a few of them have to do with Aira's home city of Pringles! Otherwise, "a barrel of literary fun" = yes, indeed. :D

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  6. More ghosts, on screen this time. I must essay another Aira soon. Still have two left in the three-parter I bought.

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    1. I believe you have one really good Aira and one overrated/semi-dud Aira left in that three-pack of yours. El bautismo is way wilder/more satisfying than the cloning of Carlos Fuentes story, so it's a shame it hasn't been translated into English yet. Oh, well--what's a brother gonna do?

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