César Aira is a special treat. Not since I first read Cormac McCarthy in 2007 has an author new to my reading palette captured my interest and made me want to read more so instantly. My only regret in reading him now is that I have several more books left on my “to-read” list to get through before I can allow myself the opportunity to gobble up more of Aira’s work. However, don’t let my dropping of Cormac McCarthy’s name let you believe that César Aira is anything like McCarthy – the comparison is only justified in that Aira and McCarthy write unlike anyone else and both authors grabbed my interest from the start. However, that is where the comparison ends for McCarthy’s macabre world view and sacrilegious style of blatant textual non-punctuation are no where to be found in Aira. What gives Aira his uniqueness is that he is a playful author of ideas, allowing his prose to take pleasurably unexpected twists and turns in order to use the act of narration as an avenue for expressing ideas that are more memorable than the fantastically unreal plot of his narration.
To get a taste of what I am getting at, The Literary Conference is full of gems like this:
“Our perceptions awaken when we leave our habits behind, we see more and hear more, we even dream more.” (48)
Truisms like this are buried in what at face value sounds like a truly absurd plot. To get an idea of the plot’s wildness, just wrap your mind around this: The first person narrator, César is an out-of-work literature translator who also happens to be a mad scientist that plans to dominate the world by cloning the Mexican author Carlos Fuentes. Sound bizarre? It gets more so as his cloning attempts run amuck and he accidently clones the silk from Carlos’s blue tie, resulting in the creation of 70 foot wide 1000 foot long blue worms that destroy everything in their path. Not what you would expect from a book titled The Literary Conference is it? What makes this short, but thought provoking book so fun is that Aira prompts his reader to leave behind the habits of expecting a normal plot in a thinker’s book in order to elucidate such a truism that our perceptions can be heightened when we leave our habits behind.