César Aira: The Musical Brain and Artforum

Life is like a book of short works by César Aira; you never know what you’re gonna get. But do try one and surprise yourself. Besides, who can resist book covers such as these? And how cool is that lenticular?

I have now accepted that a César Aira title is a blind date with a story or an essay. There might be some straightforward titles, but they are still no indication as to where his imagination will take you. How could I have known that A Brick Wall would be musings about cinema and childhood memories, or that the most musical one would not be the title story, or that Artforum isn’t exactly about art, or that my favorite line would come from one of the stories that didn’t appeal to me so much?

But then again, he writes in Athena Magazine, “Wasn’t that the definition of literature: the world turned upside down?”

The favorite line: “Elegance is a form of energy.”

The titles I recommend from The Musical Brain, and in this particular order: Picasso, In the Cafe, Poverty, and Acts of Charity.

As for Artforum, I don’t think any other author could be more eloquent about the maniacal acquisition of the printed word, a.k.a book-hoarding:

“One can say that they are only material objects, that other things bring true happiness. But would that be true? There always has to be something material, even love needs something to touch. And in my proceeds of that joyful day, the material was so entwined with the spiritual that it transcended itself, without ceasing to be material…they were paper and ink, and they were also ideas and reveries. They reproduced the dialectic of art itself… material made spirit is the luxurious border where reality communicates with utopia.”

You’re welcome!

Luis Sagasti: Fireflies

Scheherazade in A Musical Offering, Penelope in Fireflies. I see what you did there, Mr. Sagasti! The mother weaver of stories of the East, and the mother un-weaver of storytelling of the West. Spun and spanned. And spangled.

“Now I’m drunk, with universe.”

Ever since the two Zweigs that got me through the long wait at the polling precincts, I have only found myself turning pages of several books but absorbing nothing, only to reread the same pages and still end up drifting. The way many people have treated our national elections like they would a mere cockfight is confounding. Your books are beautiful reprieves. Write some more, please. This is going to be a tough ride. We will need more of your magic.

Is there anything to understand?

Without the slightest doubt, art is the answer.

What we can’t be sure about is the question.

Luis Sagasti: A Musical Offering

“Weren’t you just reading The Books of Jacob?” My mom asked when she saw me with this a day after I finished reading Olga Tokarczuk’s magnum opus.

“Recovery read,” I answered with a wink.

She shot me a questioning look.

“You know how runners do a short recovery run within 24 hours after a marathon?”

She could only laugh and shake her head.

It was the perfect easy run for this reader! In fact, I think every little detail of this book is perfect!

From the cover design, to the French flaps, to the first page that quotes Leonard Cohen:

Now, I’ve heard there was a secret chord / That David played, and it pleased the Lord / But you don’t really care for music, do you?

And truly, if you care for art and music, brilliant is an understatement of how this book is written. Think Apeirogon, think When We Cease to Understand the World but instead of physicists and mathematicians, musicians and artists — Bach, The Beatles, Brahms, Messiaen, Glenn Gould, Rothko, Mahler, Scheherazade… yes, Scheherazade!

Haven’t we already noticed that literature around the world is still undoubtedly under her spell, especially the Eastern Europeans and South Americans? Argentine Luis Sagasti’s musical offering puts us in the shoes of the bewitched Persian King Shahryar.

And we can only dream of a thousand nights more…