Tuesday, April 7, 2020

Read a Good New Book: ARTFORUM by CESAR AIRA

A review of ARTFORUM by Cesar Aira, New Directions.
 ==To begin by quoting from my review in the LA Times:  March 1, 2009--- a near pre-historic time in the now present rapidly aging digital age--- Cesar Aira's Ghosts,  "A final reviewer's sigh: the charm (if that word is still meaningful) of this scene [in the novel]-- so refreshing.  And what a gift: to look forward to reading a new Aira novel from New Directions every year for the rest of one's life."
==To begin to write-- in this moment of social distancing, while sitting in front of house in a semi-rural part of New Jersey, just up from a large lake reservoir: bird song, a machine somewhere doing something--- a review of the most recent novel of Aira, ARTFORUM, 82 pages from New Direction which the mailman delivered as an Amazon purchase.
==Yes, the novel is named after the art magazine, still published in New York, though some may be very happy to know that the guy in the novel never opens the magazine, never quotes from it which if you have glanced at it, is probably a reason to read the novel, a minor reason to be sure. 
==ARTFORUM is not noted for its accessibility even to the well-educated.  It makes medieval theological debates seem as if written with the clarity of a Hemingway sentence.
==This review in some tiny way mirrors the method of Aira, which is probably obvious if you have read any of the more than 16 of his novels that have been translated.
==The novel opens: " I WOKE UP LATE, BLESSED BY THE SOUND OF rain, so merciful this oppressive summer;"
==The novel concludes: "Adam heard the very first birdsong."
==What comes in between... ah, those 3 dots... yeah, you all know, Celine was proud of them but Celine and his dots do not appear in Aira's novel but they do appear in this review of Aira's novel or would it be better to say: in this notice of Aira's novel.
==It is not by accident that I singled out that opening sentence which includes the word rain.
==I am not giving away any of the plot if I write that rain being water is not something you, I or the narrator would want to come into contact with paper. 
===Sadly, this catastrophe is visited upon the narrator of the novel and has happened to the writer of this notice.  But I was more fortunate in that I could blame catastrophe on my wife, who in a moment of over-conscientious cleaning of our apartment on East First Street in Manhattan, contrived to drop Paul Valery's LEONARDO POE MALLARME (a volume from the incredibly beautiful Bollingen Series of the collected Valery.)  That book is now next to the machine where this review is being typed. The wrinkled pages and cover whose wavy sort of condition almost would make, with a tiny grain of imagination, one to becomesea-sick--- something many---including the writer  of this review experienced many times, while trying to distract one's self by reading a book when crossing the English Channel and why I am sure that experience will return in Purgatory as the perfect punishment as I will see two screens: myself forever--- unless someone thinks to include my soul in their prayers--- seasick nauseous and on the other screen my subsequent going first class on the Eurostar from London to Paris.
===The narrator of the novel discovered his rain soaked ARTFORUM and I will quote some teasing lines: To my great dismay, on top of the pile of magazines was a ball, a sphere was a ball a sphere the size of a soccer ball .. whose layout... the ball was the ARTFORUM...I touched it... it was cold to the touch... as for the perfectly round form... Artforum's  peculiar, almost square, format... Can an object love a man?
===All readers know that the word waiting is always and forever now associated with Samuel Beckett and while Beckett's name does not appear in this novel at least this reader was thinking of a Beckett sort of waiting as the narrator eventually decides to subscribe to ARTFORUM. The problems which such an action creates can well be imagine if like me you, thanks to this temporary visiting of a plague, has interrupted the postal delivery of the TLS... in my case it is being held in the post office in Manhattan which I am due to collect it on April 24... such a visit, if the post office is open, seems as essential and necessary as the visit last week to plague infested Manhattan to receive an eye injection... trying to imagine and Aira so well describes this waiting, the distance from New York to Buenos Aires, the post offices at both end of the journey---- the light fingered employees in the Argentinien postal system--- something I am not worried about in the New York post office but I did once know an armed P.O. officer  whose duties allowed him to carry a concealed gun even when was taking refreshments in a bar on West 14th Street... he touched the holster a bit as he was too frequently easy to take offense...
===There is no violence in ARTFORUM, unlike the violence in the actual magazine... I must urge any who read this writing to order it from wherever you want. You might include Ghosts and an earlier novel An Episode in the Life of a Landscape Painter.
===The day in which I typed this review has begun to get chilly, though the sun is out, and I was listening to John Foxx singing... the road curves away to my right , a tulip has burst open to my left... there are now many birds singing in the trees over-head... the leaf buds have begun to glow lightly green...
A POST PARAGRAPH.  I opened my still battered LEONARDO POE MALLARME and noticed that much of the book was translated by Malcolm Cowley, a man I knew during the year 1969-70 when he was teaching at Hollins College... there is this wonderful quote from an essay by Valery on what sort of book he was interested in reading: "I derive little or nothing from a book unless it resists"
                                       "To demand that the reader should be intellectually alert; to forbid him the privilege of completely possessing a text except at the cost of a somewhat painful effort; to insist on transforming him from the passive spectator that he would prefer to be into a partial creator--- all this was an affront to custom, indolence, and every form of mental inadequacy."