Mathias Énard: Compass

Mira, keep this close to Luis Sagasti’s A Musical Offering, close to Olga Tokarczuk’s Flights.

It is, after all, a musical offering — golden threads of western music’s entwining with the orient, of Liszt’s recitals in Constantinople, of how Nietzsche wanted to Mediterraneanize music, of the narrator’s replica of Beethoven’s compass that insisted on pointing east, but most of all because it reminds you beautifully that “music is a fine refuge against the imperfection of the world,” one that describes music as “time thought out, time circumscribed and transformed into sound… time domesticated, reproducible time, time shaped,” and cautions that “life is like a Mahler symphony, it never goes back, never retraces its steps…” but also that “this feeling of the passing of time is the definition of melancholy, an awareness of finitude from which there is no refuge.” Take note of how there is a metronome on the cover instead of a compass. Perhaps because a metronome goes back and forth between directions whilst keeping the music in time. 

It is about flights. A hypnotic trip across east and west, tick tock, east, west, art, love, time, self, other, literature, until they have intermingled and are present in each other, an adventure with Being — of traveling to the lands of your dreams and to your favorite cities, about crossing the borders of genres, art forms, literary forms, and geographical borders, but also flights from sanity, and traversing through memory, history, and dreams, suggesting that “our dreams might be more knowledgable than we.” Flights of flavors, an exotic dish not everyone will love; disturbing at times, an acquired taste with a scent of opium.

But keep this book close to Luis Sagasti’s A Musical Offering, close to Olga Tokarczuk’s Flights, close to your heart. Only you know how much this book means to you. Don’t forget you were constantly wide-eyed with wonder when you read it and you agreed with the following lines. How much you were in need of reading that last sentence!

“Sometimes I feel as if night has fallen, that western darkness has invaded the Orient of enlightenment. The spirit and learning, the pleasures of the spirit and learning, of Khayyam’s and Pessoa’s wine, have not been able to stand up to the twentieth century; I feel that the global construction of the world is no longer carried out by the interchange of love and ideas, but by violence and manufactured objects… You have to have… energy to constantly reconstruct yourself, always look mourning and illness in the face, have the perseverance to continue searching through the sadness of the world to draw beauty or knowledge from it.”

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!

César Aira: The Famous Magician

A writer is confronted with a magician who makes an offer of magical powers in exchange for something horrendous — to abandon Literature forever. But having already accomplished much as a writer and a reader, he finds a certain appeal to exploring a new life.

“Perhaps something new was beginning for me, after a lifetime spent among books: a superior kind of reading, the reading of the real world.”

“Still, giving up writing and reading… would leave me without any consolation. It would be like giving up on life itself. On the other hand, I couldn’t help imagining all I could do with the powers he was offering me. Giving up Literature was a terrible wrench; moments before it had seemed unthinkable, and I still couldn’t envisage it. And yet, what was Literature, what had it been for me if not the protean power of transformation…”

He is caught in a quandary that is not too different from the balancing act we readers perform on a daily basis. And isn’t Literature in itself a magical power?

But I’ll stop before I reveal too much of this delightfully quirky little book. Here is a bite-sized literary confection with a hint of caprice, sprinkled with a dash of art, and best relished within the span of a cup of coffee. Expect a philosophical aftertaste!

“Readers seek out fellow readers as much as they seek out books, though fellow readers are, alas, more difficult to find. So we hold onto them for life.”

Isn’t this lovely passage from the book the very reason why I am here writing this and why you are here reading this?