+ – Critique of Varamo [by Caesar Aira] + –

Aira’s Varamo is a very slim volume indeed, not one-hundred pages. But that is all that is needed, both at the level of ideas and at that of narrative. I must say I prefer the German title: Die naechtliche Erleuchtung des Staatsdieners Varamo – The nocturnal epiphany of the civil servant Varamo. This title is untrue to the book in content but rings true at a poetic, aesthetic level.

I had never read Aira before but had placed some of his books on my WishList because the synopsis sounded intriguing. Moreover Bolano’s name got mentioned in connection with him. This made me wonder if there are other Southern Cone’s penpeople excercising AB’s controlled madness, unexpected beauty of idiom and flabbergasting command over of an overflowing cast of characters.

Aira, at least in this one book of an alleged four-score and something, is much a different beast from Bolano. The storyline is a work of extreme concision and folds into itself like a beautiful Origami: you don’t know what it’s going to be until the very last folding step, step 91. Or whatever the case might be. And then your brain still needs to bring it, retrospective, into the right shape, which is the most difficult part.

Paul Kerschen, who I don’t know but who seems to know a lot about the author and the book, writes: But in place of Bolaño’s Romanticism, with its melancholy artist-heroes and demonic artist-villains, Aira deploys the anti-Romantic strategies of Dada. Varamo is dismissive of artworks as self-contained entities; its half-parodic project is to empty out the distinction between art and life.

It would be absurd or neuroclastic to write too much about a book of 91 pages, though a meta-book might well and even profitably [in the intellectual rather than financial sense] be written about it, counting 911 pages instead, caught in a deadly maelstrom of close-reading and misinterpretation and re-reading. Such a book, I would wager, will never be written.

The cover, Germanic version again, is a good hint as to the structure of the book: horizontal bands of many different colors run across it and written into some of them, in sheer black, are the names of the author and the novel and the name of the series [Argentina by Wagenbach]. There are too many colors to know how they go together so nicely but they do, this being similar to the miscellany of events Varamo becomes embroiled in. The bands are discreet and so are the literary elements: main story, meta-theory, back-story and whatever-else was in there.

There are no Nazi references that I could find but cryptology is ever a tricky affair.

That said, the quick, unpredictable, vivid enchainment of events makes Varamo compulsively readable. It could serve as a paragon for a single sitting. The question is how one person, one night, can do the almost absolutely unexpected, yet remain within the tight parameters of his/her cognitive profile. This is made entirely evident right at the start:

Nicht ganz schlüssig waren allerdings der Anfang und das Ende, und diese radikale Willkürlichkeit legte sich um die Abfolge, trennte sie heraus und verkettet ihre inneren Ursachen mit einer eisernen Logik. Auf der anderen Seite führte die extreme Verschiedenartigkeit von Anfangs- und Endpunkt zu einer unkontrollierbaren Wucherung von Zwischengliedern. Der Sinn stand unverbrüchlich fest, war aber von innen heraus bedroht durch das Unendliche.

Well, Aira has done an excellent job of reigning in and giving this infinity a most exquisite form. One more thing: what the flortschnunk is unverbrüchlich?

– – –


About tmabona

writer, reader [bolano, DW, bellow, deLillo], runner, badmintoneer
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