Travelling painters and stories by César Aira in the Reading Club

For the session of March 20th, we counted on the presence of a well-known and much-loved figure: Jordi Carrión, jointly responsible for the initiative of the Reading Club of the Museu Picasso and coordinator, until last season, of the sessions. With Carrión, we spoke about Episodio en la vida del pintor viajero and Relatos reunidos, (“An Episode in the Life of a Landscape Painter” and “Collected Stories”) by César Aira.


In relation to the temporary exhibition ‘Post-Picasso. Contemporary reactions’, it seemed interesting to us to explore some of the possible relations that are established between literature and painting, from the work of one of the contemporary authors – the Argentinian César Aira, who, as Jordi Carrión immediately observed, has maintained, throughout his career, a sustained dialogue with the rest of the artistic languages. The possible dialogues between literature and painting – one of the lines of the club this year- have characterised the history of literature –and not only so: of the way in which literature has thought in itself, from the Ut pictura poesis, by Horacio, until Laocoont by Winckelmann. Relating with other arts, literature has learnt something about itself and has drawn possible horizons, imitating painting, overcoming the successiveness of its tool: the language.


Argentine soldiers under Indian attack. 1846. Johann Moritz Rugendas

The work of Aira is an extremely interesting case within contemporary writing, precisely because it is an explorer of this dialogue. Presented in terms of the “continuous”, the work of Aira takes the form of a very intense exercise in automatic writing. Aira moves the artistic gesture from the work to the procedure for producing the work; the ‘artisticity’ of his project, therefore, no longer has to go in search of the aspects in which, traditionally it has been supported by a ‘beautiful-lyricist’ review – the rhetorical excellence, the formal perfection of the work, the motivation of its elements, etc.-, if not, in terms of the creative activity. In this sense, as Carrión points out, what is crucial is its self-attributed artistic genealogy: Duchamp and Raymond Roussel.


Fontaine. 1917. Marcel Duchamp

From this point of view, the nouvelle of Aira ,and in particular the ‘Picasso’ story, serve as a privileged entrance to the literary universe of this Argentinian writer – a universe which is insane, brilliant, disproportionate, dazzling, in which we always find two thematic dimensions: one that the text deals with, and Aira himself. “Aira is always talking about himself, of his own poetry, of his conception of literature”, said Jordi, while brandishing a copy of the edition of Eloisa Cartonera of ‘Picasso’. Everything in Aira’s work is thought as an avant-garde gesture, even his policy of publications.

From here on, we talked about the thousand droplets that the painting of the Mona Lisa is broken down into – which are one of the many illustrations of this Airan trend of always relating macrocosms and microcosms, we passed on to the physiognomy paintings of Rugendas – this German painter who discovers the infinitesimal detail of the painting and considered the intuition of surrealism in his work; this man-monster, Frankensteinian, Mozartian, that breaks down all the ethnocentric and exotic categories that, until that time, had fed the imperialist look. In the end, painting returns to literature to ask about the present. How can it be, asks Carrión, that ugliness has been accepted as a legitimate creative principle in all the artistic disciplines except literature? Wouldn’t it be precisely in relation to the rest of the arts that literature could find one of the many ways of being, effectively, contemporary?

Borja Bagunyà

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Reading Club of the Museu Picasso

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