Interview with Cesar Aira

I feel a genuine affinity with Aira. A lot of what he says are things I say all the time, and we do write in a similar vein, and in a similar way. One point he makes that resonates with me is how one should strive to bring something new and different to the reader. This has long been the dividing line, to me, between ‘business-writers’ and ‘artist-writers’.

On the one hand for many readers, books are analogous to other entertainment vehicles – they want and expect a certain experience, an experience that should be more or less the same each time, the way that a cup of coffee or a bottle of beer or a glass of wine or a television episode or a movie drama produce the same effects every time. So they sit down to the book looking forward to the essential elements – character and plot and climax and denouement. When the reading experience does not trod those paths, there is a sense of disappointment. These are not the readers who would seek out a Cesar Aira or a Roberto Arlt or Robert Walser or Clarice Lispector or any writer who refuses the obvious choices but instead provides something original and unexpected. Personally, I love that. It’s what I read for. In some ways I’m the opposite of the commercial reader – anything that hints of ‘typical conventional’ makes me want to put it down.

While the business-writers worry about price points and marketing strategies (“is 99 cents too cheap to sell my soul for? Okay, then, how about two dollars and ninety nine cents!”), and struggle to master the paint-by-number elements of success, I prefer the amateur worry-free status. Aira hits on this theme as well, in this article, where he writes

“Luckily, there is a third alternative: the avant-garde, which, as I see it, is an attempt to recuperate the amateur gesture, and to place it on a higher level of historical synthesis.”

There’s no shortage here either: “When understood in this sense – as inventors of procedures – the relevance of avant-garde artists today is clear: they have populated the twentieth century with treasure maps waiting to be discovered and exploited.”

One can still create such things. Regardless of the rule of commercialism, there is always room – and a great need – for innovation, for trial and error, for amateurs and hobbyists who don’t have to go around putting a price tag on every last crumb.


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