The Miracle Cures of Dr. Aira by César Aira
Translated by Katherine Silver
New Directions, 2012
This is the tale of an artist fearing the day that marks his half-century long existence.
The artist, sensing his powers, writes, in order to extend time, delaying his arrival at fifty.
How does one extend time through writing?
They keep writing. They add details. They zoom in closer and closer to whatever they are describing. All to avoid fifty, or what might otherwise be called “The End.”
Fifty is a number that haunts the book. The beginning of each chapter mentions, coyly, the dreaded number. In this way, it becomes a temporal benchmark around which Dr. Aira, César Aira’s namesake protagonist, revolves, throwing at his works of art: his writing.
Writing is the concern of The Miracle Cures of Dr. Aira, which is a novel, of sorts, that avoids the narrative arc altogether, preferring a more detour-laden route to some satisfying end. The book is a collection and presentation of Dr. Aira’s ideas. It reads like a philosophy textbook that tries to deduce the metaphysics of writing through twisted, humorous yet ultimately agreeable logic. It’s a complicated, beguiling logic, but Aira’s reasoning is sound, and he’s sure of it.
Dr. Aira is a rather confident metaphysician by trade. Delay is his tool.
There is delight in delay. Delay relishes the moment and desires many of them. Aira’s explanations and anecdotes amusingly fill time before something important happens. For example: to produce a Cure, he explains, “one only needed to introduce the dimension of human time, which was not difficult because time participated, by its very heft, in all human activities, and even more so in those activities that entailed almost superhuman efforts and difficulties.” To which someone might rightfully respond, duh, but it’s an important reminder, about this heft of time, because Dr. Aira is trying to reorder the Universe – this is the work of any novel, and the goal of his Cures, he explains – and so these fundamentals must be discussed.
But what is a Miracle Cure? Who needs to be cured, and why? What is this “important thing” that will happen?
These questions linger through the book. And Dr. Aira is not in any rush to answer them.
No: the book moves at a walking pace. Miracle Cures opens with a somnambulistic walk through Coronel Pringles, Argentina (Aira’s hometown), which sets Dr. Aira’s imagination in motion. The rest of the book is a tour through his daydreams. His delaying allows him the space to reflect on his blunders in life and to plan for other book projects. He rifles through anecdotes and little stories, handing them out like winning lottery tickets, inspiring good luck and fortune. He discusses the “art of living” and the importance of self-mythologizing. He wonders what his favorite artists do when they’re not making art.
Despite all this delaying, fifty will come. And it does. Then, it’s the end of the book, or rather, the end of the narrative, which Dr. Aira trickily proves we all expect to arrive, that threatens to enclose Dr. Aira in darkness. Fortunately, at the end of Miracles Cures’ metaphysical twisting and turning, a solution to the Doctor’s thinking comes to light.
Aira is fascinated by possibilities, no matter how fantastic, or banal, or minute. He is rendered vertiginous by the potentiality of the Universe, and his ability to write that down, to cause change, to create an instance, to fill a moment with some sort of happening or occurrence. He wonders what is around every corner; he wonders what moments lie and wait there.
To begin to fathom Aira’s fascination, one simply needs to see Coronel Pringles’ diamond symmetry (and its strange, lingering darkness) from above:
Ryan Mihaly reviews books and teaches piano in Northampton. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.