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An Episode in the Life of a Landscape Painter (New Directions Paperbook) An Episode in the Life of a Landscape Painter by Cesar Aira

Part fiction, part non-fiction, part poetic description, part philosophy. Aira examines the depths of history, the meaning of repetition, reproductions and its role in art, compensation, and much more, and in the context of a very specific, relatable person and his predicaments. Often zooming into an idea or description with intense precision, then moving on, this book is able to contain big ideas without sounding pretentious, or bloated. In fact, the book is less than 90 pages, though it tells a story that could be told in 500 pages. It’s really some of the best writing I’ve read. Also, I had no idea it wasn’t a completely true story, because it was told as if it was pieced together from accounts and letters. But there were points where he could not have been so intimately in the character’s head. Only after I read it did I find out that this is a perfect combination of history and novelistic invention. Some excerpts:

Peaks of mica kept watch over their long marches. How could these panoramas be rendered credible? There were too many sides; the cube had extra faces. The company of volcanos gave the sky interiors. Dawn and dusk were vast optical explosions, drawn out by the silence. Slingshots and gunshots of sunlight rebounded into every recess. Grey expanses hung out to dry forever in colossal silence; airshafts voluminous as oceans.
p. 14

A drove of mules the size of ants appeared in silhouette on a ridge-top path, moving at a star’s pace. The mules were driven by human intelligence and commercial interests, expertise in breeding and blood-lines. Everything was human; the farthest wilderness was steeped with sociability, and the sketches they had made, in so far as they had any value, stood as records of this permeation. The infinite orography of the Cordillera was a laboratory of forms and colors.
p. 16

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