Cesar Aira’s The Literary Conference

The Literary Conference is the newest novel available in English from the prolific Cesar Aira, bringing the total works available to five (of his seventy or so books). Like the others (excepting The Hare), The Literary Conference is a very short work—a mere 90 pages—published as part of New Directions’ reincarnated Pearl series (formerly known as the Bibliot series) . . .

. . . and it’s certainly the weirdest of the five: a writer goes to a literary conference to get a wasp to sting Carlos Fuentes, so that he, who is also “the typical Mad Scientist of the comic books” whose final goal is “nothing less than world domination,” can get some of Carlos Fuentes’ DNA and clone an army of Carlos Fuenteses. Along the way, the narrator expounds on topics such as his ideas about translation, love, women, the genesis story, and the theater. The prose in The Literary Conference is a bit more, well, literary than the other novels, such as when he writes: “Physical perfection in the human is rare by definition, for the slightest defect nullifies it. If you look at people in the street, scarcely one in a hundred passes the test. All the rest are monsters. But, to my languid surprise, those of us who came to the pool (different ones every day, except me) constituted a gathering of that one percent.” When his cloning scheme doesn’t quite go as planned, we’re told that “Under other circumstances I would have smiled with melancholic irony upon seeing to what awkward and destructive gigantism literary greatness could be reduced when it was passed through the weave and warp of life.” [80]

Aira is really having a lot of fun in this bizarre little novel. The narrator, in fact, explicates various meta-commentary about the story he’s telling as he tells it, as when a certain . . . unexpected plot twist occurs: “It seems like the insertion of a different plot line, from an old B-rated science fiction movie, for example.” The Literary Conference is a great, quick-but-fairly-dense read for something without much of a narrative and little space in which to unfold. It’s yet another wonderful little Aira novel, wholly different from the others that are available—each of which is wholly different from all the others.


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