César Aira, 1991
Translated from the Spanish by Nick Caistor, 1998
“One can think one is always in the middle of a dream, precisely because of the consistence of reality, because it continues and keeps on going, though we have no idea how or why.” (95)
I’ve read several of César Aira’s novels precisely because they often read as a dreamlike reflection of the world. His writing is fluid, whimsical, and fun with plots that often trail off on extreme magical tangents that diverge from the realities of their thematic origins. Many of his books are short and quick, often less than 100 pages in length. At 266 pages The Hare is his longest translated work that I’ve read and oddly, it is my least favorite because it is his least magical or whimsical piece of writing.
“If experience has taught me anything, it is that the less one knows, the more effectively one can act.” (73)
The book primarily follows the travels of a nineteenth century English naturalist traveling through the countryside of Argentina. In his travels he encounters several native peoples of Argentina and is sent on a wild-goose chase in search of a Legibrerian hare that has the ability to fly. In his hare-goose-chase he gets caught up in the politics and warfare of the local people. In his interactions with the native peoples, the novel explores ideas of European idealism and colonial disregard towards the history and culture of the native people of South America:
“The reason you consider us primitive (no, don’t worry, I didn’t take it amiss) can only come from the fact that, unlike you, we do not have a God, or a monotheistic system, to provide a general framework of meaning for us. We Indians still ‘find’ ourselves at the stage of potentiality: a sign is not guaranteed by reference to a meaning, but by its position within a specific framework. It is also the case, and I think this is the key to your puzzlement, that since the stars are pure perception, are purely visible without any possibility of becoming tangible, they need constantly to demonstrate their reality, if possible every night. That is the paradox of an imaginary system which needs to be real in order to generate all images. Now look at our own black, immutable sky, our rock. It’s exactly the same. Points of darkness replaced points of light. It is we who are the stars, living memory of our lives, lived without days or nights on the margins of time. Meaning continues to exist however, whether or not there is a God or a sky.” (176)
The discussions about European and native (South) American relations and cultural understanding are definitely the strongest attributes of this book. However I found the narrative of The Hare to be slow paced and distracting. I will recognize that I read this during a tumultuous time during my life when I had moved into a new home and was expecting the birth of our first child and those life changes may have influenced my interest in the book, but this was my least favorite of all of the César Aira books I’ve read to date. If this was written by another another author I may have enjoyed it more, but with Aira I have come to expect a certain playfulness. Unfortunately for me I did not find that playful narrative in the pages of The Hare and it disappointed me. I have come to love Aira as one of my go-to authors, but since he has written over 70 books, it would be unfair to expect that every single one of his books is going to be as enjoyable and fun as the last. In The Hare Aira was clearly exploring a certain type of narrative style that was more linear and factual (despite the presence of a flying mythical hare) with intentions of making social commentary on the influence of European-South American history and culture. It is a decent book, but was not overly enjoyed by this reader.
“Up to now, we’ve given you too many words and not enough action, haven’t we? But without words, there can be no experience. Although without experience, there can be no words – or anything else for that matter.” (49)
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