Purposeful Imperfections

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Father and Son: A Lifetime by Marcos Giralt Torrente

Father and Son: A Lifetime by Marcos Giralt Torrente (cover art)

Many writers turn to their craft in an effort to conquer grief and past trauma, and Marcos Giralt Torrente is no exception. What’s curious about Father and Son is its circularity in this regard, as Giralt Torrente seems to also be lassoing his grief in order to spur on his writing. As the book progresses, the act of grieving and the act of writing become one, and the result is peculiar, visceral, and powerful. There’s an immediacy throughout, aided by Giralt Torrente’s frequent deployment of the present tense, and it’s a reminder that the past is a living document, one that can be perpetually reexamined and reworked.

So, while Father and Son is a poignant, personal examination of the remnants of his relationship with his father, it’s also about writing–in particular, how to write about the past. It’s about losing as well as gaining and creating something meaningful out of that which was all but destroyed. It’s about “Death and life mingling, as always, but shaded by something that supplants life by merging with it and moreover aspires to triumph over death itself.” (p. 81)

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

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.

An Opening