30 November 2011

César Aira on Argentine literature

On his books:

I must say that all my books are experiments. They are thought as such, but they are not done with methodical seriousness of a scientist. They are, rather, done with the non-methodical seriousness of a crazy wise person or a boy who plays with a chemistry set and mixes two substances to see what happens.

On postmodernism:

My motto continues to be the famous verse of Baudelaire: “To go ahead and always in search of the new.” That attitude is not postmodernist. I believe that postmodernism undoes that, erecting a species of supermarket where they organize the culture of the past in one aisle, the one of now on that other aisle, and the one to come in yet another compartment. With them it is a matter of formulating combinations at random. That is not me.

On Borges:

I was too young and even so I felt all the greatness, the elegance, the exquisite quality of his texts, almost like a poison because later on all others seemed not to be of the same caliber. All writers in Argentina have had to find themselves against Borges.

I saw that the only option was an anti-borgean path, in which I went to Rimbaud: life, life that enters and is one with literature. Borges is another thing: he is cold; he is an Everest of intelligence and lucidity uncontaminated with reality. But I have made peace with Borges.

On Juan Jose Saer and Ricardo Piglia:

In the first place, Saer and Piglia are ten years older than I, from another generation, another atmosphere, another world. In fact, I read them as a youngster. Piglia is a serious writer, an intellectual. I appreciated Saer very much; he is almost a classic modern Argentinean, he is also a serious writer, but I have looked for other models. Saer no longer attracts me; with time I have been moved away from that serious, responsible position towards society.

On Manuel Puig, Alejandra Pizarnik and Osvaldo Lamborghini:

I found them brilliant models, for different reasons, of life, of attitude. Sometimes one takes a model and later does all of the opposite, but the model continues acting on us. 

On 19th century Argentine Literature:

The best thing is the gauchesca, our great invention, and within it the “Martín Fierro,” a book we no longer think of as such because it has been turned into an Argentinean fetish. Without a doubt, it has great literary merits. In the twentiehth century, all good Argentine writers looked for that point of connection.

On Borges-Bioy Casares-Silvina Ocampo:

We went downhill from there, or to paraphrase Oliverio Girondo, you can say the best Cortázar is a bad Borges. It is hard but an unavoidable truth.

On Roberto Arlt:

Paradigms are repeated every time, the right and the left exist everywhere, but also there are intermediate lines, like Roberto Arlt. He for me is a great one. Good, it would be necessary to say one of the best, the other being Borges. So different and similar. My work comes from that intellectual, borgean line, but with vigorous arltian affluences. 

On Alejandra Pizarnik:

I wrote a couple of books on Alejandra Pizarnik, one is a study on her poetry, done with the intention to redress an imabalance, because with Alejandra that myth of distress has been created, of the sleepwalker, the small shipwreck, etc., so all her criticism fell in that metaphorical field, of her as a celebrity and it does not do her justice.

On Ernesto Sabato:

And yet it surprises me a little that somebody like him can be taken so seriously. He has very laughable edges, that vanity, the “malditismo,” that tragic figure that does not match with his personality.

On Julio Cortázar:

There are some stories that are good, but as I said, his best is a bad Borges, or a mediocre Borges. Uglier in Cortázar is the prologue for the edition of the Ayacucho Library stories of Felisberto Hernandez, of a paternalistic tone, where he practically comes close to say that the greater merit of the Uruguayan writer was to seek him, when in truth Felisberto is a brilliant writer to whom Cortázar could not aspire at least to shine his shoes.

More topics in "César Aira: Against Everybody" at Latino Weekly Review (October 2004).

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