In spite of himself

Some interesting thoughts on Cesar Aira in this essay by Alex Estes:

But wait. Varamo decides everything can be placed on hold; he needs a coffee. He enters a cafe where he meets a group of publishers, strikes up a conversation, and mentions he has taken notes regarding a book he might one day write. The publishers convince him he must write his book. “’I’m afraid it will take me a long time…’ They cut him off before he can finish: ‘What? What are you talking about?’” They go on to say that writing can be “done very quickly. ‘Do you have anything to do tonight? No? It shouldn’t take you more than three or four minutes to fill up a page, if you concentrate.’” And here we find the argument Aira is making with the text. From the first problem (the counterfeit money) to the story of Varamo’s origins (he looks Chinese and his mother looks Chinese, why wouldn’t he be her son?) to the last half of the book, which focuses on speed, all the way up to the very end, when Varamo, having never written a word prior to this episode, and never to write another afterwards, sits down and writes a masterpiece. In this sequence, Aira arrives at a very real question, a lasting question that seems to be bigger than the snap judgments of flight forward: Aira wants to know what qualifies a masterpiece as authentic. But it’s almost as if Aira gets there in spite of himself, in spite of his process, with its professed loyalty to Dadaism, with its wild plot, like a child who won’t stop to take a breath, but also can’t help but give rise to his own intelligence.

This touches a little bit on what I say about Aira in The End of Oulipo? That “in-spite-of-ness” that Estes identifies comes across in the best Oulipo work, as though the writers are reconciling with something deep at the heart of their method(s).


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