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An episode in the life of a landscape…

An episode in the life of a landscape painter (original 2000; edition 2006)

by César Aira, Chris Andrews

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1921061,408 (4.07)25
Title:An episode in the life of a landscape painter
Authors:César Aira
Other authors:Chris Andrews
Info:New York : New Directions, c2006.
Collections:Your library
Tags:fiction, novella, Argentine literature, historical, adventure, (2012 reads)

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An Episode in the Life of a Landscape Painter by César Aira (2000)




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» See also 25 mentions

Showing 1-5 of 10 (next | show all)
This is really short, and really great; it'll make you think and it'll grow on you over time. Nice. ( )
  stillatim | Dec 29, 2013 |
This was an easy enough read for a bizarre tale amid philosophical musings about reality and observation etc. Somehow, however, it never quite grabbed me. It seemed a bit cold and distant. ( )
  snash | Dec 22, 2013 |
Three stars means "I liked it" so I guess that is good enough for me. Though my measly rating looks bad among all these five stars I see around me. The book was very easy to read and I liked some of the words the translator chose to use. More on this later. But I wasn't all that moved by the monstrous other-worldly trip-off in the spirit-quest for art, or for its sake. I will expound later when I have had more time to run this reading through my mind's-eye filter. Or if the text somehow finds itself getting deliberately burrowed deeper below my skin. ( )
  MSarki | Mar 31, 2013 |
For better or for worse a more straightforward read than the other Aira novella I have read, The Literary Conference. Still... it just doesn't quite add up to much. The writing is quite nice, the ideas nice but at the end of the day it doesn't move me and it doesn't even really stir me to think either. I can see the thoughts and themes but I'm not excited by them. Perhaps this is a work that would benefit from being much longer, where these ideas could play out properly and develop into something more meaningful.

As it is, An Episode in the Life of a Landscape Painter is just an interesting, minor curiosity. Sure, Aira is contemporary and that lends him an edge and a bit of kudos but I can't quite buy into the hype off of that alone. ( )
  DRFP | Feb 2, 2012 |
I owe my choice of this book to a friend of mine who mentioned that its story closely follows a blueprint for an acceptable Argentine poetry laid out by Domingo Faustino Sarmiento in Facundo. I don't think it's the type of thing most non-Argentine readers of Aira would notice, so I thought I'd leave a few quotes from Sarmiento's book here so that future readers can better understand this story in the context of the national literary tradition that inspired it. First, though, I wanted to mention that anybody who's about to read this book should do a Wikipedia search for "physiognomy", defined there as "the assessment of a person's character or personality from his outer appearance, especially the face." Ideas concerning the physiognomy of nature, the way that landscapes can be "read", play a large role in both Facundo and Un episodio. The first chapter of Sarmiento's book describes the geography of Argentina and explains how the land determined the habits and customs of its inhabitants. The traveling painter-protagonist of Aira's novella, Johan Moritz Rugendas, is a disciple of Alexander von Humboldt, who similarly sought to find deeper truths in the natural world.

And on to Sarmiento's poetics. I’m taking these from pages 78 and 79 of my Cátedra edition of Facundo. It’s near the beginning of Chapter 2. He says that "there exists an underlying poetry born of the natural characteristics of a country and of the exceptional customs that these characteristics engender.” He asks:

“What impression must be left on an inhabitant of the Republic of Argentina by the simple act of fixing his gaze on the horizon and seeing… not seeing a thing; because the more his eyes penetrate that uncertain, vaporous, undefined horizon, the more it distances itself from him, fascinates him, confuses him and fills him with contemplation and doubt. Where does it end, that world that he wishes in vain to penetrate? He doesn’t know! What lies beyond the horizon? Solitude, danger, the savage, death! And herein exists poetry: the man who passes through these scenes feels himself assaulted by fears and fantastic uncertainties, preoccupied by waking dreams.”

Rugendas, who has spent his life painting the lush flora and fauna of Brazil, yearns to look out over this sort of landscape. Argentina represents the negative of the overstuffed natural world of the tropics, a land defined by the absence of everything he’s made a career painting.

After explaining the sublime power of the open plain, Sarmiento talks a lot about lightning. He opines that the Argentine can’t help but feel poetry running through his veins when he sees dark clouds quickly fill the sky, “and suddenly the booming sound of thunder announces the storm that stops the traveler cold, holding his breath for fear of attracting a bolt of lightning out of the two thousand that are falling around him.” He suggests: “ask the gaucho about the type of person who tends to be killed by lightning and he will introduce you into a world of moral and religious idealizations mixed with poorly interpreted natural events, a world of superstitious and vulgar traditions. He will continue, affirming that the electric current is a part of human existence, that it is the same as that which we call nervous fluid…” Finally, Sarmiento asks: “how can the person who presides over these awe-inspiring scenes not be a poet?”

The sublime, terrible power of the lightning storm in the midst of the solitude of the open pampa: the power and the sublimity of this scene is what should be represented by the Argentine poet.

Aira’s novella has these things. Rugendas and his German sidekick Krause cross the Andes and begin making their way from Mendoza in a straight line across the plains of central Argentina, toward Buenos Aires. The pampa is deserted, unnaturally so. And there is a lightning storm. ( )
1 vote msjohns615 | Jan 26, 2012 |
Showing 1-5 of 10 (next | show all)
Possibly not since Cormac McCarthy’s blood-sprent work has there been a contemporary novel such as the Argentine writer César Aira’s An Episode in the Life of a Landscape Painter—one that stresses the sublime without falling back on the props of magical realism. This fictional take on an actual historical figure is not without its surrealist touches, but such elements arise as a result of, as opposed to being imposed on, the setting itself.

» Add other authors (8 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
César Airaprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Andrews, ChrisTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Bolaño, RobertoPrefacesecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Risvik, KariTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Risvik, KjellTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0811216306, Paperback)

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.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:25:45 -0400)

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