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Episode in the Life of a Landscape... (06 Edition)

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Episode in the Life of a Landscape... (06 Edition) Cover

ISBN13: 9780811216302
ISBN10: 0811216306
Condition: Student Owned
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Publisher Comments:

An Episode in the Life of a Landscape Painter is the story of a moment in the life of the German artist Johan Moritz Rugendas (1802-1858). Greatly admired as a master landscape painter, he was advised by Alexander von Humboldt to travel West from Europe to record the spectacular landscapes of Chile, Argentina, and Mexico. Rugendas did in fact become one of the best of the 19th-century European painters to venture into Latin America. However this is not a biography of Rugendas. This work of fiction weaves an almost surreal history around the secret objective behind Rugendas' trips to America: to visit Argentina in order to achieve in art the "physiognomic totality" of von Humboldt's scientific vision of the whole. Rugendas is convinced that only in the mysterious vastness of the immense plains will he find true inspiration. A brief and dramatic visit to Mendosa gives him the chance to fulfill his dream. From there he travels straight out onto the pampas, praying for that impossible moment, which would come only at an immense pricean almost monstrously exorbitant price that would ultimately challenge his drawing and force him to create a new way of making art. A strange episode that he could not avoid absorbing savagely into his own body interrupts the trip and irreversibly and explosively marks him for life.

Review:

"Part travelogue, part meditation on art, this brief, increasingly riveting fictionalized history by Argentinean author Aira (How I Became a Nun) reinvents German painter Johann Moritz Rugendas's ill-fated 1837 South American journey. Rugendas, a genre painter influenced by naturalist Alexander von Humboldt, first recorded the "exotic" landscape of the New World in the early 1820s and had early success with the illustrated Picturesque Voyage Through Brazil (1827). Aira dwells on Rugendas's disastrous second journey to South America, when the artist had hoped to penetrate the immense plains of Argentina. Accompanied by younger German painter Robert Krause, Rugenda traveled through the Chilean Cordillera, over the Andes and to the border town of Mendoza, before heading east across the Argentinean pampas towards Buenos Aires. But they encounter a vast stretch of the plains devastated by locusts, and with their horses starving, Rugendas heads out by himself in search of verdant land. He is twice hit by lightning, then dragged by his terrified horse. Disfigured and dependent on morphine thereafter to quell paralyzing nervous seizures, Rugendas redoubles his dedication to his art. Aira's documentary achieves a skillful synthesis of fact and imagination." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)

Synopsis:

An astounding novel from Argentina that is a meditation on the beautiful and the grotesque in nature, the art of landscape painting, and one experience in a man's life that became a lightning rod for inspiration.

About the Author

César Aira (b. 1949) was born in Coronel Pringles, Argentina, in 1949. He has published more than seventy books of fiction and essays.

Chris Andrews has won the TLS Valle Inclán Prize and the PEN Translation Prize for his New Directions translations of Roberto Bolaño. A poet who lives and teaches in Australia, he has translated eight Bolaño books and three novels by César Aira for New Directions.

Author of 2666 and many other acclaimed works, Roberto Bolaño (1953-2003) was born in Santiago, Chile, and later lived in Mexico, Paris, and Spain. He has been acclaimed "by far the most exciting writer to come from south of the Rio Grande in a long time" (Ilan Stavans, The Los Angeles Times), and as "the real thing and the rarest" (Susan Sontag). Among his many prizes are the extremely prestigious Herralde de Novela Award and the Premio Rómulo Gallegos. He was widely considered to be the greatest Latin American writer of his generation. He wrote nine novels, two story collections, and five books of poetry, before dying in July 2003 at the age of 50.

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geoff.wichert, July 26, 2011 (view all comments by geoff.wichert)
An Episode In The Life Of A Landscape Painter
by César Aira
translated by Chris Andrews
New Directions, 87 pages. ($12.95)

No one is eager to talk about it, but every reviewer faces the dilemma of how much attention to pay to prevailing public opinion. Fortunately, in the case of César Aira�"like Roberto Bolaño and a handful of other wonderful writers�"that’s not a problem, because a critical perspective has yet to crystallize around Aira and the 30, or 50, or according to his latest translator, 70 novellas he’s written in the last decade or so. That An Episode In The Life Of A Landscape Painter is a masterwork of story telling and prose writing cannot be disputed, but when it comes to explaining just what makes it so good, critical voices falter. What seems clear is that Aira’s prose is simultaneously strange, unprecedented, and yet in some important way familiar. His methods remain unpredictable, yet the results quickly come to feel like a part of the reader, as if one has always been reading this book, or isn’t now reading it but hopes to get back to it soon. Like we had been waiting for this experience, and now it’s finally here.

Part of the quality that makes Aira irresistible is sheer talent. He can write the kind of paragraphs that leave a discerning reader hungry to read them again, but out loud, and preferably to someone else. An anecdote early in An Episode hints at how such compelling passages arise. The protagonist’s great-grandfather was trained as a clockmaker, but had to start over when an accident took his right hand. Rather than abandon the skills he’d practiced since childhood, he redirected them into drawing and painting with his left hand. Meticulous training, practical adaptation, and methodical deliberation gave him preternaturally precise draughtsmanship: ‘An exquisite contrast between the petrified intricacy of the form and the violent turmoil of the subject matter.’ Something similar may have happened to an experienced translator�"Aira’s day job�"whose inner, creative turmoil finally overflowed the precise use of language he’d practiced daily for decades.

What makes an Aira novella unmistakably his, in spite of the wildly inventive subjects and plots and the range of sub-literary genres he draws from freely, must be his approach to the actual process of writing. An outspoken partisan of el continuo, his term for constantly forward motion in a story, he has called his own technique fuga hacia adelante: flight forward. Painters among his readers will understand that an artist who meticulously prepares, working from sketches, preparing a ground, and finally filling in the colors, who examines the results and then makes changes as necessary, will get a different result from one who brushes paint on an unprepared canvas and takes directions from the spontaneous result. Aira’s method is similar to the second, or to a brush-and-ink or watercolor process permitting no penitence. Aira composes episodically, supposedly in coffee shops, and should it go badly, he continues to write forward until the problem is resolved. The result, when he’s ‘hot,’ is one of those sections that soars and rushes along, hypnotic prose that generates surgically precise sense impressions that can build to overwhelming intensity. Then when he resumes, he may very well be in a completely different narrative mood, and the result may be a change of direction, a philosophical digression, or (in one of the best-known cases) a sex change for the protagonist that goes un-remarked upon within the text.

Johann Moritz Rugendas (1802�"1858), the landscape painter of the title, was born and died in Germany. The men in his family had been documentary painters for generations, and Aira identifies him as not only the best of them, but the finest documentary painter of all. He is surely one of the most influential. How he became a painter, spent half his working years in Central and South America, and established his reputation on the work he did there forms the introduction to Aira’s tale, in which the novelist shows how Rugendas’ circumstances and his response to them, like his great-grandfather’s response to the loss of his hand, came together to produce a watershed moment not only for him, but for art. Before him, the family business was painting the warrior caste in Europe and their battles. But Johann Moritz had the misfortune to come of age just after Napoleon’s defeat, at the beginning of what he foresaw would be a long peace. Realizing his predicament, he left his teacher and enrolled in the Munich Academy of Art to study nature painting. Then as now, a graduating student was expected to take on a kind of thesis project, though Aira compares Rugendas’ next step to Charles Darwin’s decision to sign on for a sea voyage as the captain’s companion. The failure of Rugendas and his new employer to get along is another deciding circumstance: while the expedition met with disaster in the New World, Rugendas was able to pursue his own interests.

Aira tells this story as efficiently as a summary, but in more forceful prose, bracketing the names of factual objects with evocative adjectives and strong action. I couldn’t help comparing this lithe, fast-moving story telling to where creative nonfiction seemed to be headed before being hijacked by memoirs wallowing in self-regard. A novelist’s decision to take real people hostage as fictional characters can cause a deadening rupture in the reader’s suspension of disbelief. Aira avoids this pitfall by carefully controlling his proximity to the painter. Rugendas took copious notes throughout his travels, which aided him in turning his thousands of sketches into finished works. He also wrote long letters to his family and colleagues. By anchoring his point of view to this documentary record, Aira delivers a convincing illusion that combines the verisimilitude of fiction with the factual accuracy of a biography.

Rugendas returned to Europe and published a journal of his travels that brought him to the attention of Alexander von Humboldt, whom Darwin called the greatest scientific traveller ever, and who is known to us as the father of modern geography. Humboldt had already put forth the goal of setting down in one place everything known about the earth, with his priority on visual presentation as the most direct. He urged his theory on Rugendas and urged him to confine his art making to the tropics, where the density of mineral and vegetable data was richest. But a secret, life-long desire drove Rugendas: he wanted to explore the absolute emptiness that he anticipated finding on the Pampas of Argentine. Attempting to reach it led to the devastating title ‘episode,’ and subsequent events reveal how Rugendas’ character enabled him to translate Humboldt’s process for portraying the rain forest into a model of anthropological study and presentation. It’s not as dry as that makes it sound, and the challenges of carrying fragile art materials in nature and the sequence of sketching, note-taking, and synthesizing images makes for a story that can stand beside the accounts of Monet, van Gogh, and company as they learned to paint al fresco half a century later.

The popular imagination sees the artist as a romantic figure propelled by cyclones of inspiration, but Aira writes two to four novellas a year�"some of them based, like this one, on 19th century history, others set in his neighborhood and full of surreal whimsy�"and Rugendas is important to him because of the way, in the face of adversity, he got back on his horse with his sketch pad and returned to work. When the trackless plains of the Pampas presented him with new battles, this seventh-generation professional was ready to depict them, to rise above the fray and capture truth on both sides. He faces philosophical questions here, but ultimately what matters to Rugendas, as to Aira, is the work. Making art saves Johann Moritz Rugendas, and An Episode In The Life Of A Landscape Painter ennobles César Aira.
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(1 of 2 readers found this comment helpful)
Grady Harp, June 13, 2007 (view all comments by Grady Harp)
A Bold, Exciting Author from Argentina now in English Translation

C?sar Aira, known to this reader first as a contributor to the commentary in the book 'ARGENTINA: THE GREAT ESTANCIAS', is surfacing in this country as a brilliant new voice in literature. Long famous in his native Argentina, his works are becoming available in English, in the case of AN EPISODE IN THE LIFE OF A LANDSCAPE PAINTER, through the fine translation by Chris Andrews. Aira is a writer of style, wit, immensely gifted descriptive prose, and a mind that pays homage to magical realism without mimicking it. He is an original!

In this short novel Aira blends history with fiction in his recounting the adventures of Johann Moritz Rugendas, a gifted draughtsman and painter who is making his second visit to South America to paint the landscapes of Chile and Argentina from 1831 to 1847. Trained and influenced by the German naturalist Alexander von Humboldt, whose scientific vision of 'physiognomic totality' (definition of physiognomy:'a theory based upon the idea that the study and judgment of a person's outer appearance, primarily the face, may give insights into their character or personality. The term physiognomy is also used to refer to the general appearance of a person, object, or terrain, without reference to its underlying or scientific characteristics') Aria wished to apply to painting. Rugendas is accompanied by a fellow German Robert Krause, a man whose paintings by Rugendas' standards were poor but whose demeanor made him the perfect friend and traveling companion. Together the travel through the Andes, longing for adventure such as Indian raids to paint, and eventually wander into the pampas of Argentina where they encounter life altering experiences: Rugendas is struck twice by lightning and dragged by his terrified horse, an accident which peels the skin from his face leaving him severely disfigured - but undaunted. The remainder of the 'episode' relates how Rugendas, now requiring massive doses of morphine to control his pain, encounters Indian raids that he and Krause sketch and paint.

In Aira's words 'An artist always learns something from the practice of his art, even in the most constraining circumstances, and in this case Rugendas discovered an aspect of the physiognomic procedure that had so far escaped his notice. Namely that it was based on repetition: fragments were reproduced identically, barely changing their location in the picture...the fragment's outline could be affected by perspective. As small and as large as the Taoist dragon....Repetitions: in other words, the history of art.' And just as Aira is able to address cerebral issues such as this and incorporate them into his character's mold, he is also able to write some of the most comical prose encountered in literature today. Aira's spectrum of writing skill, even in this small volume, is amazing. He is at once able to entertain with wildly inventive storylines while enhancing the reader's knowledge and wrapping it all in balanced comedic and dramatic terms. The next novel to be translated is HOW I BECAME A NUN - and we can only hope that the rest of his output is made available to us soon. Highly recommended author, highly recommended book! Grady Harp
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Product Details

ISBN:
9780811216302
Author:
Aira
Publisher:
New Directions Publishing Corporation
Translator:
Andrews, Chris
Preface by:
Bolano, Roberto
Preface:
Bolano, Roberto
Author:
Bolano, Roberto
Author:
Andrews, Chris
Author:
Aira, Csar
Author:
Aira, Cesar
Author:
Bolao, Roberto
Subject:
General
Subject:
Literary
Subject:
Literature-A to Z
Copyright:
Publication Date:
May 2006
Binding:
TRADE PAPER
Grade Level:
General/trade
Language:
English
Pages:
120
Dimensions:
7 x 5.1 x 0.3 in 0.215 lb

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Related Subjects

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Episode in the Life of a Landscape... (06 Edition) Used Trade Paper
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Product details 120 pages New Directions Publishing Corporation - English 9780811216302 Reviews:
"Publishers Weekly Review" by , "Part travelogue, part meditation on art, this brief, increasingly riveting fictionalized history by Argentinean author Aira (How I Became a Nun) reinvents German painter Johann Moritz Rugendas's ill-fated 1837 South American journey. Rugendas, a genre painter influenced by naturalist Alexander von Humboldt, first recorded the "exotic" landscape of the New World in the early 1820s and had early success with the illustrated Picturesque Voyage Through Brazil (1827). Aira dwells on Rugendas's disastrous second journey to South America, when the artist had hoped to penetrate the immense plains of Argentina. Accompanied by younger German painter Robert Krause, Rugenda traveled through the Chilean Cordillera, over the Andes and to the border town of Mendoza, before heading east across the Argentinean pampas towards Buenos Aires. But they encounter a vast stretch of the plains devastated by locusts, and with their horses starving, Rugendas heads out by himself in search of verdant land. He is twice hit by lightning, then dragged by his terrified horse. Disfigured and dependent on morphine thereafter to quell paralyzing nervous seizures, Rugendas redoubles his dedication to his art. Aira's documentary achieves a skillful synthesis of fact and imagination." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"Synopsis" by , An astounding novel from Argentina that is a meditation on the beautiful and the grotesque in nature, the art of landscape painting, and one experience in a man's life that became a lightning rod for inspiration.
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