21 January 2012

Eloísa Cartonera and César Aira

It may seem odd that the text I chose to translate, El Cerebro Musical by César Aira, is bound by a cardboard cover. It is difficult to make out the title and author that are hand-painted on the cover in red and orange against a yellow background, mirroring the red lettering on the cardboard itself. One can still read the address in Buenos Aires where the box was made, and the words "INDUSTRIA ARGENTINA" are still legible under the title. The barcode on the back is not a proof-of-purchase of the book, but rather of some lost transaction made by the supermarket Día. It is a flimsy cover, hardly protecting the text within, but no other copy of this book has these same features. This uniqueness is what has made Eloísa Cartonera, the publishing house in Buenos Aires that creates these cardboard books, an inspiration to other "paper picker presses" throughout Latin America, the subject of documentaries, and the starting point of my own investigation.


Much like Eloísa Cartonera, Aira seems concerned with "much more than just books." He saturates the markets with books marked with his name, if only to demonstrate that no book is the Aira. There is a certain disposable quality to this saturation of the market and it becomes a personal choice which Airas are worth reading and which are 'throw-aways.' [Eloísa Cartonera] converts what was thrown away into a piece of art. Coupled together, Aira and Eloísa Cartonera break down the components of the book into their simplest forms—cover and text—in order to suggest how stories are ephemeral, just like the cardboard ...

- from a thesis called "On Eloísa Cartonera and César Aira: Much More Than Just a Translation of El Cerebro Musical" by Stephanie Reist, Williams College. Eloísa Cartonera is a small publishing house and cooperative in Buenos Aires; it specializes in books bound in cardboards. Reist's study covers the emergence of "cartoneros", issues on translating Aira, and a full translation of Aira's story "The Musical Brain." The story appeared in the New Yorker last month in Chris Andrews's translation. The thesis is available (pdf) here.


  1. Thanks will check out that PDF link, as you make it sound very interesting.

  2. It's the first time I've heard of this publishing venture. It looks like a great concept.