Tuesday, November 12, 2013

There are many things a novel does not say - The Miracle Cures of Dr. Aira

November and December 2013 is the perfect time to sample the Argentinean Literature of Doom, says Ricardo de la Caravana de Recuerdos.  Why, I do not know, but I did it, enjoying one of last year’s César Aira translations, The Miracle Cures of Dr. Aira, originally published in 1998.

The title is well-chosen.  It warns readers of the contents – CAUTION: Contains meta-fiction.  The Miracle Cures of Dr. Aira turns out to be about fiction.  The Miracle Cure is fiction.  Dr. Aira is César Aira.  Or all of this is a trick to encourage such a surface interpretation by a shallow reader like me.  The other César Aira translation from last year, the 2002 Varamo, was also about the fiction of César Aira.

I know there are readers who loathe this sort of thing, who are instantly bored by it.  In this case, fair warning, I say.

Dr. Aira performs Miracle Cures.  He is fifty, though, and thinking that it is time to finally write a book about his methods, published in installments of “four or eight” pages, “no more than that” (42), amounting to “the penning of an Encyclopedia of all things from all times” (39).  In other word, one of my favorite literary curiosities, the omnibook.

Dr. Aira’s method is not that of César Aira, but it is related.  He has thousands of manuscript pages which he plans to assemble into a collage.

He could start anywhere; no introduction was necessary because the subject was already well defined in the collective imagination…  The same thing was happening here: life, death, illness – there’s nobody who doesn’t know what they’re all about, which would allow him to create small, delightful variations that would seem like inventions even if they weren’t (thereby sparing the author the exorbitant effort of inventing a new story).  (37-8)

In the first chapter, Dr. Aira is asked to perform a cure but refuses.  In the second, he theorizes about his cures, as above.  In the third and final, he is asked to perform a cure and does.  So Aira does not cheat on this aspect of his conceit, as I suspected he might, since given his method he may well have launched the novel without knowing exactly where he was going.

The Miracle Cure applies the omnibook to reality, something like an application of the memory palaces of Giordano Bruno, and not so far from the central conceit of John Crowley’s Aegypt books, and of course akin to this and that infinite bit of Borges.  It is even more like an application of the power cosmic by the Silver Surfer or Thanos, the ludicrous yet god-like space-faring characters from Marvel Comics.  Aira scholars should figure out which comic books he read.  Here is a Spanish reviewer who is way ahead of me: “without doubt,” he says, Aira grew up with the bizarre and inventive comics of the DC Silver Age, which explains a lot.

There are many things a novel does not say, and this absence makes it possible for action to take place within its restricted universe.  Hence, the novel is also an antecedent of Miracles, precisely because the events the novel recounts can happen as a result of what it excludes.  (67)

Each Cure destroys and then replaces the universe.  This is the most Doom-like part of the Miracle Cures.

I have avoided describing the first chapter because it is the funniest piece of extended Aira I have yet read, wonderful Monty Python stuff.  The metafiction-hating reader could enjoy it and skip the rest of the book.

Katherine Silver translated this one.  Fun gig.


  1. Yay! I've mostly skipped this post because I have finally managed to obtain another two of Aira's books from the library: 'The Seamstress and the Wind' and... well, you know what ;)

    Expect my views once German Literature Month is over :)

  2. Oh good. I am more or less committed to reading the Aira books as they come out here (but with a delay, obviously). Every one has had rewards. I am two behind at this point.

    I had trouble finding an allegorical structure with which to squash The Seamstress and the Wind. Maybe you will have better luck.

  3. I haven't enjoyed the last two Aira novellas I've read all that much (too much of the same meta writing schtick or just not intrinsically "interesting" enough, I'm not sure), Tom, but I have enjoyed the two or three short stories I've recently tried by him. Encouraged by your words here to keep this one on the radar, but I think I'll submit an early Aira title for one of my upcoming Doom submissions to try and change my luck. On the other hand, Las aventuras de Barbaverde is prob. the Aira I ought to try next to keep in sync with your Miracle Cures zeitgeist: the hero is supposedly a comic book-like hero straight outta the feuilletons. 300-page feuilletons, though. Thanks, by the way, for participating in Doom again, natch!

  4. My tastes run pretty meta. My temptation is to make all fiction meta. I am a student of Borges and Nabokov.

    Barbaverde is the book considered in the Spanish-language link. I am beginning to wonder if superhero comics are more important to Aira's work than even some specific borrowings. There is a branch of them, mainstream stuff, that is completely nuts, commercial hackwork mixed with outrageous inventions, Surrealism for ten year olds.

  5. Wait, what, Thanos? I have to read this right now!

  6. Or maybe the Molecule Man? Or - what is a DC equivalent - the Anti-Monitor? Dr. Aira has, or thinks he has, reality-altering superpowers. The last chapter spends its time describing exactly how one alters reality. It is much like writing fiction, it turns out.

  7. Just picked this up thanks to your commentary and because, well, I can't seem to stop eating Aira's books. Sounds as though the entrée in this one is especially delicious.

  8. I always like the eating metaphor, but with Aira it fits my attitude well. Delicious, crunchy, doom-laden candy bars. Probably shouldn't eat more than a couple a year.

    I do think that first chapter builds to a fine comic climax.

  9. Read this early this year. A whirlwind read. The use of shaky metaphor (cures? novels?) is absurdly fun. I'm rooting for the spin doctor.

  10. That's how I read it, too. The chapter breaks, rare in the Aira I've read, gave me places to breathe.

    The cures = fiction metaphor really does not make much sense, but then that gives the author his task - make it make sense. Aira is a kind of nonsense writer.