If I could be King for one year, what I’d do is call together 10 or 15 of the best Spanish-languge translators I could find, and I’d set ’em loose on Cesar Aira. Between the translators’ skills, Aira’s naturally beautiful writing, and the fact that his novels tend to be very short, with any luck we’d get through a good quarter of the 80+ Aira titles that remain to be translated into English.
Maybe we could even establish the Cesar Aira Press and just publish Aira titles exclusively over the next 5 – 10 years. His books are all so different from one another that I bet we could cultivate different readerships for each one (plus the people who already know and love Aira and will read whatever he publishes). And given Aira’s continuing (even accelerating) productivity, he’d keep us busy after we polished off his backlist.
To see why I’m such an Aira adherent, go ahead the look at The Literary Conference, the one Aira title to make its way into English this year (New Directions has plans for more next year, one hopes, more thereafter). Reviewing it in The National, I wrote:
The kernel of the plot is the idea to take a cell from Fuentes and clone it into an army, a metaphor for Aira’s own status as a prolific writer, firing off experiment after experiment and conquering his rivals by sheer ubiquity.
Later on there will be further conflations of fiction and reality: a play-within-the-novel (authored by César Aira, of course, and performed at the literary conference in his honour) about Eve as a “clone” of Adam; a love story involving a beautiful woman from Aira’s past; and, last but not least, enormously destructive worms that make mincemeat of the Venezuelan army.
That’s a lot to fit into 85 pages, and Aira is indeed an author who loves to keep multiple balls in the air at once, yet he has a way of making his novels feel extemporaneous and fun despite the heavy metaphors and philosophical implications seething out of almost every sentence. Aira writes with what Italo Calvino called “lightness” – a quality the latter held in the highest esteem and which he likened to Perseus (the writer) beheading Medusa (reality) while viewing her through a mirror and standing on the “very lightest of things, the winds and clouds”. Aira is just the kind of writer to assault reality while seeming to dance about around it on a current of nothingness. His wispy books rarely run far beyond 100 pages, and he continually employs an ironic, bemused tone that can turn even the heaviest matters to comedy.