March 19, 2009

César Aira, The Quarterly Conversation, Rodrigo Fresan etc

A huge series of fortuitous coincidences here. I'm somehow on the emailing list for something called the Daily Dose, which is affiliated to,which is a listings guide to New York (where I lived for zero years some time in the early no-ties). Anyway, the Daily Dose is a rather good cultural supplement and ran a piece about César Aira, a new translation of one of whom's books is/was about to be published by my old friends (in the sense that publishers of books you like are your friends, not in the sense of people i know and go and have drinks with when i'm - not - in New York) New Directions. With it was a link to a piece about Aira from Bomb magazine, which I enjoyed so much that I googled him and found this essay about him by Marcelo Ballvé on a site called The Quarterly Conversation, which turns out to be just about the best literary website I've ever come across. Not only is there that Aira essay (which I'll come back to in a moment), but I immediately stumbled across a really interesting piece about Rodrigo Fresan's Mantra, a book which, unfortunately no one has yet had the good sense to publish in English. And before I'd even done more than dip into that I found an essay on Enrique Vila-Matas' excellent Bartleby & Co, a book I think I've blogged about here before... (ah yes, here). And that was just the essays about Spanish-language writers...

Anyway, back to Aira. Beyond his books (which I'm waiting for Amazon to deliver, so maybe more on them later), his immediately most appealing trait is that he rarely gives interviews and when he does he tells lies. This may sound a little tired, but in the BOMB interview he lies quite heroically, expending considerable imaginative juice on how he sources his writing paper from a particular, high class supplier (I can imagine Safran Foer wanking vigorously and repeatedly over this passage - although I do not want to imagine it, if you see what I mean) and going on to say how little and rarely he writes. Yet, in the Quarterly Conversation piece it transpires that he has so far published 63 books (only four so far translated into English). But the Quarterly Conversation also offers a potential reason beyond mischief for this tactic of mistruth which ties directly back to his work. Ballvé quotes Aira saying that “the real story, which we have grown unaccustomed to, is chemically free of explanation... The story is always about something unexplainable."

This chimes with me, both as a reader and a writer. I don't read novels to understand them or for them to explain things for me - a war, poverty, emotions, marital breakdown, the stockmarket, the 16th century coffee industry. That seems an intensely reductionist attitude to the true pleasures of reading. Nor do I write to explain, or expect what I write to be explicable. That's why, on the few occasions I've been interviewed about my writing (both less often and more often than I would have liked), I've either fended off questions about what my book is supposed to "be about" and come over as surly, unhelpful and confused or, even worse, I've tried desperately to play along and, like a puppy with a very long neck, ended up biting off my own tail. Pynchon's solution to this problem is clearly the most elegant of all, but for those of us too needy (and too poor) to turn down all offers of publicity, here's another solution: lie. And in this act of setting out to lie - baldly, obviously, almost honestly - maybe you can hope to do yourself some sort of justice. Or have fun, anyway.

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