With Guest Book Reviewer | Emir Gamis
This narrative distance, the unity of character to story that neither kills or trumpets the author’s presence, is at the center of César Aira’s Conversations, whose narrator recollects his daylight conversations with friends during the night, with memory that “is a prodigious apparatus, one that amazes me night after night with its precision and reach.” Only, as opposed to Wood’s didactic exposition, the point of contention is a movie, one that the narrator and his friend watched, separately and both only in parts. The nameless narrator laughed at the scene where the movie’s protagonist, a humble goatherd in the remote mountains of Ukraine, was shown wearing a Rolex.“Thanks to free indirect style, we see things through the character’s eyes and language but also through the author’s eyes and language. We inhabit omniscience and partiality at once. A gap opens between author and character, and the bridge – which is free indirect style itself – between them simultaneously closes the gap itself and draws attention to this distance.”
“…[T]hat story had to be somehow “more,” that is, it had to be more intelligible than real stories, which unfold in a chaos of happenstance and twists and turns. To do this, it had to emphasize one aspect that real stories also contain: verisimilitude. This is a conventional term that includes everything mankind does in its perennial war against the absurd.”
In the narrator’s point of view, the Rolex is an anachronism, an error. This is the equivalent of John Updike’s intrusion on his character Ahmad’s thoughts in Terrorist, as pointed out by Wood.
Aira’s narrator has a good point, right?
What is needed, the friend argued, is “not a static and narrow verisimilitude, which reality itself provides, but rather “emergency” verisimilitude, the ones that arrives at the last minute, like firefighters with their sirens blaring, coming to the rescue in a dangerous mission.”
As Conversations progresses one sees the gap between the author (César Aira) and his narrator collapsing as much as the fissure between the actor and goatherd character heals through the conversations, or the narrator's memory of the conversations. Aira opens up possibilities and his fictional terrain allows all – actor and character, author and character, Civilized and Savage, reality and fiction – “in a vertex of dissolution, of forgetting, of pure reality.”**
Despite or due to its form, inquisitive students of literature will find in Conversations a trove of lessons as it supplies a demonstration and subversion of essential literary qualities as pointed out by critics. But this is sort of a convention for Aira himself: his other works that I have read, specifically How I Became A Nun, Varamo, The Seamstress and the Wind, and An Episode in the Life of a Landscape Painter are demonstrations of creative power that encompasses criticism and dialogue -- all touched with infectious delight. Aira’s convention is subversion, a paradox of the first degree. To him applies the last sentence of How Fiction Works*:
“The true writer, the free servant of life, is one who must always be acting as if life were a category beyond anything the novel had yet grasped; as if life itself were always on the verge of becoming conventional.”
"Everything is made of words, and the words had done their job. I could even say they had done it well. They had risen in confusing swarm and spun around in spirals, ever higher, colliding and separating, golden insects, messengers of friendship and knowledge, higher, higher, into that region of sky where the day turns into night and reality into dreams, regal words on their nuptial flight, always higher, until their marriage is finally consummated at the summit of the world.