October: An Episode in the Life of a Landscape Painter
An Episode in the Life of a Landscape Painter by Cesar Aira (ARGENTINA)
Translated by Chris Andrews
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.
“May it herald many more such unsettling and elegant parables to come.”
- Mark Doty, Los Angeles Times
“Aira oversteps the bounds of realism, forcing the world to live up to his imagination.”
- Benjamin Lytal, New York Sun
“I’m about to reread César Aira’s An Episode in the Life of a Landscape Painter once again. The book’s mere 87 pages are so multifaceted and transporting and I get so absorbed that upon finishing I don’t remember anything. Like having a complex cinematic dream that dissipates upon awakening.”
- Patti Smith, New York Times Book Review
César Aira was born in Coronel Pringles, Argentina in 1949, and has lived in Buenos Aires since 1967. He taught at the University of Buenos Aires (about Copi and Rimbaud) and at the University of Rosario (Constructivism and Mallarmé), and has translated and edited books from France, England, Italy, Brazil, Spain, Mexico, and Venezuela.
Perhaps one of the most prolific writers in Argentina, and certainly one of the most talked about in Latin America, Aira has published more than eighty books to date in Argentina, Mexico, Colombia, Venezuela, Chile, and Spain, which have been translated for France, Great Britain, Italy, Brazil, Portugal, Greece, Austria, Romania, Russia, and now the United States.