An Episode in the Life of a Landscape Painterby César Aira
An astounding novel from Argentina that is a meditation on the beautiful and the grotesque in nature, the art of landscape painting, and one experience in a man's life that became a lightning rod for inspiration.An Episode in the Life of a Landscape Painter is the story of a moment in the life of the German artist Johan Moritz Rugendas (1802-1858). Greatly admired as a master landscape painter, he was advised by Alexander von Humboldt to travel West from Europe to record the spectacular landscapes of Chile, Argentina, and Mexico. Rugendas did in fact become one of the best of the nineteenth-century European painters to venture into Latin America. However this is not a biography of Rugendas. This work of fiction weaves an almost surreal history around the secret objective behind Rugendas' trips to America: to visit Argentina in order to achieve in art the "physiognomic totality" of von Humboldt's scientific vision of the whole. Rugendas is convinced that only in the mysterious vastness of the immense plains will he find true inspiration. A brief and dramatic visit to Mendosa gives him the chance to fulfill his dream. From there he travels straight out onto the pampas, praying for that impossible moment, which would come only at an immense pricean almost monstrously exorbitant price that would ultimately challenge his drawing and force him to create a new way of making art. A strange episode that he could not avoid absorbing savagely into his own body interrupts the trip and irreversibly and explosively marks him for life.
- New Directions Publishing Corporation
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Meet the Author
Nominated for a Neustadt Award and shortlisted for the 2015 Man Booker International Prize, César Aira was born in Coronel Pringles, Argentina, in 1949. He has published at least ninety books.
The poet Chris Andrewsteaches at the University of Western Sydney, Australia, where he is a member of the Writing and Society Research Center. He has translated books by Roberto Bolaño and César Aira for New Directions.
Author of 2666 and many other acclaimed works, Roberto Bolaño (1953-2003) was born in Santiago, Chile, and later lived in Mexico, Paris, and Spain. He has been acclaimed “by far the most exciting writer to come from south of the Rio Grande in a long time” (Ilan Stavans, The Los Angeles Times),” and as “the real thing and the rarest” (Susan Sontag). Among his many prizes are the extremely prestigious Herralde de Novela
Award and the Premio Rómulo Gallegos. He was widely considered to be the greatest Latin American writer of his generation. He wrote nine novels, two story collections, and five books of poetry, before dying in July 2003 at the age of 50.
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César Aira, known to this reader first as a contributor to the commentary in the book 'ARGENTINA: THE GREAT ESTANCIAS', is surfacing in this country as a brilliant new voice in literature. Long famous in his native Argentina, his works are becoming available in English, in the case of AN EPISODE IN THE LIFE OF A LANDSCAPE PAINTER, through the fine translation by Chris Andrews. Aira is a writer of style, wit, immensely gifted descriptive prose, and a mind that pays homage to magical realism without mimicking it. He is an original! In this short novel Aira blends history with fiction in his recounting the adventures of Johann Moritz Rugendas, a gifted draughtsman and painter who is making his second visit to South America to paint the landscapes of Chile and Argentina from 1831 to 1847. Trained and influenced by the German naturalist Alexander von Humboldt, whose scientific vision of 'physiognomic totality' (definition of physiognomy:'a theory based upon the idea that the study and judgment of a person's outer appearance, primarily the face, may give insights into their character or personality. The term physiognomy is also used to refer to the general appearance of a person, object, or terrain, without reference to its underlying or scientific characteristics') Aria wished to apply to painting. Rugendas is accompanied by a fellow German Robert Krause, a man whose paintings by Rugendas' standards were poor but whose demeanor made him the perfect friend and traveling companion. Together the travel through the Andes, longing for adventure such as Indian raids to paint, and eventually wander into the pampas of Argentina where they encounter life altering experiences: Rugendas is struck twice by lightning and dragged by his terrified horse, an accident which peels the skin from his face leaving him severely disfigured - but undaunted. The remainder of the 'episode' relates how Rugendas, now requiring massive doses of morphine to control his pain, encounters Indian raids that he and Krause sketch and paint. In Aira's words 'An artist always learns something from the practice of his art, even in the most constraining circumstances, and in this case Rugendas discovered an aspect of the physiognomic procedure that had so far escaped his notice. Namely that it was based on repetition: fragments were reproduced identically, barely changing their location in the picture...the fragment's outline could be affected by perspective. As small and as large as the Taoist dragon....Repetitions: in other words, the history of art.' And just as Aira is able to address cerebral issues such as this and incorporate them into his character's mold, he is also able to write some of the most comical prose encountered in literature today. Aira's spectrum of writing skill, even in this small volume, is amazing. He is at once able to entertain with wildly inventive storylines while enhancing the reader's knowledge and wrapping it all in balanced comedic and dramatic terms. The next novel to be translated is HOW I BECAME A NUN - and we can only hope that the rest of his output is made available to us soon. Highly recommended author, highly recommended book! Grady Harp