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

by Cody

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

Isn’t art simply mediation? A negotiation between artist, medium, and subject, often the goal is to shrink the distance between representation and represented. But can this gap ever be fully brought to a close? César Aira seems to think not, referring to this inherent and inevitable disconnect as an abyss.

If abyss sounds daunting, it is, though Aira insists that this is no cause for worry. In fact, it’s these very chasms that art is charged with bridging. When successful, divisions become blurred to such a degree that it becomes unclear–and, frankly, unimportant–which is art and which is life. As Aira eventually declares: “What the world was saying was the world.” (pp. 78)

But traversing these kinds of landscapes–in the spirit of discovery and transcendence–requires compensation on the part of the artist, often an unequal transaction in which a tremendous toll is exacted. In the case of Aira’s painter, it’s something that marks him forever–physically, emotionally, psychologically, and artistically–but it’s also what allows him to move wholly into terra incognita (both in life and in art).

So, is it worth it? That’s what Aira is asking us.