by César Aira
I read this earlier in the year, enjoyed it a bunch, but then didn't write about it at the time for some reason that's now completely unfathomable to me. I decided to reread it this week because--what's the technical term?--it's fucking funny, man. A 77-page Slinky happily tumbling down the stairs of authorial time in a single uncoiled paragraph, La Vida Nueva [The New Life] is César Aira's warm, chatty, intermittently preposterous account of his friendship with his first publisher, Horacio Achával, and of the many, many, many delays that Aira's 1975 debut novel Moreira suffered at the hands of Lacanian proofreaders, high-speed book-delivery motorcyclists, and other pataphysical forces before finally seeing the light of day. Without wanting to take anything away from Don César and his own impertinent storytelling personality, I have to say that one of the great joys of reading this book is that it made me think of what Dante's La Vita Nuova might have been like had it been written by the narrator of Bolaño's short story "The Insufferable Gaucho." Wild! In addition to providing a fun "autobiographical" goof, however, this novel should also be of interest to at least two Caravana readers on account of its entertaining look at the Argentinean writing life from both sides of the new author/small publisher divide from 1969 up till the present day. How much of what the 2007 version of Aira says about his younger self is true rather than mere leg-pulling is rather difficult to ascertain, of course, but that shouldn't stop anybody from enjoying the local publishing industry color or laughing at the first-time novelist's alleged doubts about whether a print run of 1,000 copies was way too high of a number for his prospective audience given the well-known anecdote that Borges himself only sold 64 copies of his first book. Achával, "un típico espécimen, quizás el más típico, del mundo de las editoriales de izquierda, con sus cuantiosas tiradas populares" ["a typical specimen, perhaps the most typical specimen, of the world of leftist publishing houses with their massive populist print runs"] naturally tells the young Aira that "no quería saber nada de esos derrotismos de élite" ["he didn't want to hear anything about that elitist defeatism"] (30) and for good reason; for, as he mentions with exquisite irony elsewhere, Aira's novel is "un arma de grueso calibre contra el cinismo rampante del postmodernismo" ["a high-caliber weapon against postmodernism's rampant cynicism"] (50) and, more to the point, "no había que subestimar al público, que siempre estaba a punto de cansarse de lo convencional y previsible y predigerido, del realismo chato y los sermones bienpensantes" ["there was no reason to underestimate the public, which was always on the verge of losing its patience with the conventional and the predictable and the predigested, of cheap realism and right-thinking sermons"] (12).
The cover of César Aira's Moreira as published by Achával Solo in 1975. The blurb at the bottom reads: "Un día, de madrugada, por las lomas inmóviles del Pensamiento bajaba montado en potro amarillo un horrible gaucho" ["One day, early in the morning, mounted on a yellow colt, a horrible gaucho was descending through the motionless hillocks of the Mind"].
No reason to underestimate the public? I don't get it! Oh, wait, yes, writing about Argentina.... Or was he being sarcastic? In any event, your review, coupled with the blurb on the cover, puts one in mind a bit of [a meta-META postmodern perhaps] analogy to Don Quixote. Yes?, or did I just get overly swayed by, say, your technical terms? [And I congratulate you for choosing to go for the mood of adding "man" rather than the alliteration of "friend" which I myself would have been unable to resist.]ResponderBorrar
I think Aira might have put some words in Achával's mouth there, Jill, but the part of the joke that most appeals to me hinges on the publisher thinking that Aira would be a big seller (a 1,000 copy "big seller" at that!) for reasons about the public that you, I, and probably even he knew weren't true. In any event, meta, yes, very much so. Your "friend" suggestion, while indeed alliterate, would have sounded too much like Mr. Rogers or a pastor to me, and I was going for the potty-mouthed jaded Californian effect instead. I trust I "succeeded," friend!Borrar
Aira's shorts were indeed designed for rereading. It's strange he waited 3 decades to write the (fictional) afterword to his first novel.ResponderBorrar
I don't know when Achával died, Rise, but I suspect that Aira might have "waited" 3 decades to write this as a homage to Achával as much as anything else. It's a really warm account of their friendship, though, and that's an adjective I don't often associate with Aira. Anyway, hope this book gets translated soon because it's a really good one!Borrar
Yum, this sounds like a tasty one.ResponderBorrar
It is, Tom--maybe even my new favorite Aira after "Cecil Taylor." Of course, I'd have to read An Episode in the Life of a Landscape Painter again before I could say for sure...Borrar