Aira and Watterson

This past year I read two more novels by Cesar Aira, Ghosts, and The Literary Conference.  It’s hard for me to say why, but I felt let down by the first, and then the latter somewhat restored my opinion of Aira.  I may read parts of Ghosts again.  It’s set in Buenos Aires, and was somehow true to my experience of that city, where I had a great time although I found it very different from what I expected.  Perhaps it’s interesting, though, that no examples of an appealing parallel I thought of immediately occur to me from Ghosts.

Over this holiday break I spent some time at home reading old Calvin and Hobbes collections, and I found myself thinking of Watterson when I was copying out passages of Aira.  In The Literary Conference, the mad scientist narrator accidentally creates a swarm of giant blue worms, each one “as lethal as a soft skyscraper come to life”, that attacks an Andean city.  He explains, “if they had been magnified to that absurd size, it was simply because I had set the cloning machine to run in “genius” mode.”  That was when I thought of Calvin’s cardboard box.  Right side up, it’s a time machine, facedown, a transmogrifier, and on its side, a duplicator that can easily be enhanced with a good/evil dial.

Another connection of sorts that occurred to me was the regularity rally that appears in Varamo (an invention, I thought, but apparently real) in which the object is to drive across Panama at as close to constant speed as possible.  Anarchists exploit this event to stage a cunning attack on a high ranking minister, leading, in no straightforward way, to the climax of the novel.  Calvin and Hobbes has not only Calvinball, but a slowness race, “the secret base”, cross country football, and full contact golf.  If any authors should be described as playful, Aira and Watterson are two.  It’s not just creativity, but the blunt and unapologetic way in which the fantastic is brought into everyday life.

Of course I have no reason to expect all of Aira’s work to strike me in the same way; he has a large body of work and it will be interesting to see how it percolates into English.  Though I read just two novels of his this year, I included him on a list of the ten or so defining features of my reading this year.  I guess I’ll have to say more of that another time.

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