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An Episode in the Life of a Landscape Painter

3.98 of 5 stars 3.98  ·  rating details  ·  1,146 ratings  ·  133 reviews
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 ...more
Paperback, 88 pages
Published May 25th 2006 by New Directions (first published 2000)
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The Rings of Saturn by W.G. SebaldLabyrinths by Jorge Luis BorgesThe Hour of the Star by Clarice LispectorA Heart So White by Javier MaríasLast Evenings on Earth by Roberto Bolaño
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Mar 29, 2013 s.penkevich rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: The artist in you
Recommended to s.penkevich by: Stephen P
Shelves: art, novella
It was another proof of art’s indifference; his life might have been broken in two, but painting was still the “bridge of dreams”.

In order to achieve the depth of soul and vision necessary to become a true artist, Rainer Maria Rilke prescribes a life of solitude. However, this exchange of artistry for solitude may come at a very high price. While on a journey through Argentina to paint landscapes, German painter Johann Moritz Rugendas suffered a tragic accident that left him with an horrifical
May 31, 2013 Garima rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommended to Garima by: s.penkevich

A single event can awaken within us a stranger totally unknown to us. To live is to be slowly born. ~Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, Flight to Arras

The power of art can easily be compared to the marvels of nature since both contribute a great deal in understanding life. If nature reflects the beauty of life, art helps in seeing that beauty through the kaleidoscopic vision of an artist. As that vision broadens, so does the dimensions of the said beauty and we reach an epiphany, both as a creator and a
Mike Puma
In a moronic attempt to get a jump on my 2111 Reading Challenge, I opted for the slimmest title on my TBR list—a novella of 87 pages that should have taken only moments from a day spent reading other people’s reviews and wishing I had more time to read the books they’ve reviewed. Speaking of other reviews, much better ones for An Episode in the Life of a Landscape Painter are to be found here and here. I suggest you immediately leave off this more mediocre and humdrum musing and devote your att ...more
this book is like a goddamn greek myth in its perfect symmetry and simplicity. a painter traveling through the mountains and plains of argentina is struck by lightning and turned into something of a freak. physically deformed, enlightened, twisted, destroyed, dragged down, flattened, elevated... and everything is suddenly different. the natural world itself seems less a collage of beautiful randomness than a coded mosaic... aarrrggghhh! manimals, indian raids, endless horizons, the subtle distin ...more
Stephen P
This book is short though usually referred to as slim, at eighty eight pages. Its prose, rather than slim, deepens in ever reaching transcendental layers never revealing intention. There is no trace of crafting it down or trying to say more. The allotted pages were precisely what this story called for and where it ended. It was created in the absence of the tools of the post modern trade. Its immediacy ran the length of the novel maintaining its tightened grip to the last word.

Each of Aira's wo
Said, a bit too loud, "Ha! Wow!" immediately after finishing its perfect ending. Not to hype it too much but maybe a new favorite short novel? It's a little like the Bartlebooth sections in Perec's Life: A User's Manual crossed with "Fitzcarraldo"? Imagine if Herzog exhumed Kinski for one last old-timey (early 1800s) South American romp . . . Seriously swell lit. Very little dialogue (no quotes; no conventional literary fiction dramatization; no character-revealing convos etc; no sections render ...more
Aug 08, 2009 Jimmy rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: sophie
Part fiction, part non-fiction, part poetic description, part philosophy. Aira examines the depths of history, the meaning of repetition, reproductions and its role in art, compensation, and much more, and in the context of a very specific, relatable person and his predicaments. Often zooming into an idea or description with intense precision, then moving on, this book is able to contain big ideas without sounding pretentious, or bloated. In fact, the entire book is less than 90 pages, though it ...more
Basically my definition of a five-star novel(la?), in the sense that it seems sui generis.
Hard to be a five-star book unless you nailed something completely individual - unless you formulated your aesthetic project and then accomplished it (if such a thing is really possible, maybe unclear?)

Might be best to summarize the project first, although the end is somewhat self-destructive and insane.

The beginning essentially tricks you into thinking you're going to be reading a (somewhat Borges-ian?) p
Holy crap, this is a masterpiece. A tiny, weird, 87 page masterpiece. Aira's portrait of Rugendas has an easy going, almost flat tone to it. Which might be why the incredible way he curls sentences about art and seeing around and through each other works so well. There is this ominous sense of space at work throughout the book, of the physical presence of the blasted, Argentinian pampas which is somehow always right in front of you, yet also delicately remote, somehow just past perception. Nearl ...more
Jeff Jackson
Hot damn! Starts out in a digressive historical mode that's reminiscent of W.G. Sebald, then seamlessly incorporates breathless action sequences and genuine grotesquerie while ruminating on the nature of art and perspective. Exquisite and surprising. Basically a perfect novella.
Ben Winch
Could it be that the novella - not the short story - is the pre-eminent literary artform (the form most accommodating to the search for perfection)? As focused and taut (almost) as a classic short story, yet discursive and atmospheric as few stories can be, An Episode... is a good argument for the ascendance of a form that is too often overlooked in Anglo letters. Sure, it starts dryly, and for the first 10 or so pages it's so information-dense you may wonder where the art is, but soon enough (a ...more
Emir Never
What does art require its pursuers? An ear? A face? Life itself?

An Episode in the Life of a Landscape Painter says someone who seeks art ought to take risks and offer his life for this pursuit.

"The artist, as artist, could always be already dead. There was something absurd about trying to preserve his life. An accident, big or small, could kill a man, or a thousand, or a thousand million men at once. If night were lethal, we would all die shortly after sunset. Rugendas might have thought, as pe
Tanuj Solanki
From Naturalism to Surrealism

I agree with The New Yorker when they say that Cesar Aira's prose can be 'slapdash and perfunctory,' but it is his fertility for metaphysical speculation that, for me, more than 'compensates.'

"...changing the subject is one of the most difficult arts to master, the key to almost all the others."

One cannot miss this line as a sort of key to the novel. The painter Rugendas, his friend Kraus, and the author Aira (clearly grounded in a modern era) - the three take keep
Laura Leaney
This is such a tiny gem. Exactly 88 pages of lovely prose. On the surface, the story is about Johann Moritz Rugendas, a nineteenth century landscape painter and what happened to him during his foray into Argentina to paint the landscape. More specifically, to paint the landscape by seeing "the processes of growth operative in all forms of life." If you've ever studied 19th century landscape painting, you know what this looks like. Here's a description of the landscape that Rugendas saw, accordin ...more
Josh Friedlander
I have no idea how much of this is surreal, metaphysically inflected short novel is true, but it's gripping and superbly composed throughout. The tale of an artist's compulsive search for beautiful scenery, under, ahem, less than favourable conditions, it works around themes of artistic sincerity and the nature of reality.

Much more than anything I've read in a long time, Aira's writing gave me a sense of location: the locust-devoured pampas, steaming jungle, violet mountains populated with a hu
Isn’t art simply mediation? A negotiation between artist, medium, and subject, often the goal is to shrink the distance between representation and represented. But can this gap ever be fully brought to a close? César Aira seems to think not, referring to this inherent and inevitable disconnect as an abyss.

If abyss sounds daunting, it is, though Aira insists that this is no cause for worry. In fact, it’s these very chasms that art is charged with bridging. When successful, divisions become blurr
césar aira's stories tend to be deeply imaginative and magnificently composed, and so it is with an episode in the life of a landscape painter. the prolific argentinian writer seems to draw from an almost limitless well of creativity, as each of his works features a distinctive plot and narrative arc. based on the life of german artist johann moritz rugendas, episode recounts the painter's time on the argentine pampas, blurring the division between fact and fiction. as in most of his short works ...more
What a strange, bizarre little book, like a perfect, gem-like hellenistic miniature, an engraver's sketch-pad frozen or captured alphabetically... not quite normal.
(view spoiler) ...more
Michael Flick
This is the second Aira book I've read today (the first was his "The Literary Conference"). He is consistent: except for the absence of humor, it boils down to the same book (not that repetition is a fault--it's even a theme here). It appears to have been written in one day (November 24, 1995), takes about 2 hours to read leisurely and with contemplation, and is the result of the author letting his thoughts amble along in writing that one day until evening, when he declared it a book and was don ...more
David Ranney
The artist, as artist, could always be already dead. There was something absurd about trying to preserve his life. An accident, big or small, could kill a man, or a thousand, or a thousand million men at once. If night were lethal, we would all die shortly after sunset. Rugendas might have thought, as people often do: "I have lived long enough," especially after what had happened to him. Since art is eternal, nothing is lost.
Still processing. Memorable.
Aira is incandescent. This novella is beautiful, poetic. The episode just ended too soon. The book's theme is the creation of a masterpiece, and it's very near producing one itself. It unfolds like a canvas of lighted landscapes here traversed by artists in the making.

What I love about An Episode and the other Aira I've read (Ghosts) is that you keep reading the books even after you finished reading them. They linger in your mind like a flash of lightning or something. The story ends with always
M. Sarki
Dec 24, 2012 M. Sarki rated it 3 of 5 stars
Recommended to M. by: the goodreads readers bunch
Three stars means "I liked it" so I guess that is good enough for me. Though my measly rating looks bad among all these five stars I see around me. The book was very easy to read and I liked some of the words the translator chose to use. More on this later. But I wasn't all that moved by the monstrous other-worldly trip-off in the spirit-quest for art, or for its sake. I will expound later when I have had more time to run this reading through my mind's-eye filter. Or if the text somehow finds it ...more
This is the third of César Aira's little novels I have read. I think they are becoming habit forming.

It is Argentina in the middle of the 19th century. Two German painters, an eminent one named Rugendas, and his traveling companion, Krause, are making their way to the pampas to paint scenes documenting the beauty of the area. They never quite make it to the pampas because, in a typically weird Aira scene, they come upon a desolate landscape near San Luis whose plant life has apparently been des
I literally forgot to breathe while reading certain parts of this book. Bolaño has described Aira as the type of "eccentric" whose prose, "once you start reading, you don't want to stop." In my case it wasn't a matter of 'wanting' - I could not.
It is a very short novel, yet every page is imbued with so much: An ode to nature with the "el beso de la fantasía". A thrilling meditation on art. A philosophical work. A saga of all-consuming passion. A snapshot of art history. A touching story of endur
Juneil Balo
What begins innocently as an overstuffed bio of the artist Rugendas -- strangely mechanical that the brilliant writer described ardently by Bolano seemed absent; a bio after a bio no less -- fleshes out to an extraordinary work of fiction. Never has nature been dressed as beautifully as the author's surpassing descriptions. The titular episode is written like a narcotic dream, indeed beautiful and haunting.

Notwithstanding the compact size, it's like a textbook spanning art, latin american geogra
Rivka Galchen first directed my attention to César Aira, the extraordinarily prolific Argentine author, in her overview of his work published in the June 2011 issue of Harper's. For her effort I am grateful. I rely on the kindness of strangers. If you are at all curious about this author and if I were in the business of recommending, which I am emphatically not, I would recommend it. After I read her article, the only question remaining for me was where to start exploring this author's works.

I h
Jim Elkins
A stupendous novel, a real achievement in a very brief compass. Aira is a strange and somewhat scattered novelist -- I am not sure if he has control over his forms, and sometimes, as in "How I Became a Nun," he seems to want to relinquish control -- but his pace, his wit, his descriptions, and even his philosophic asides are tremendous. He is genuinely surprising. It's not just the plot twists that took me by surprise, it was individual descriptions and sudden parenthetical comments. [return][re ...more
I do not really have an appropriate bookshelf for this. It is pseudo-biographical I suppose. Aira has taken the bare bones of an actual period in the life of landscape artist Rugendas and crafted a fantastical story around it. Twice during his life Rugendas ventured to Central and South America to apply the technique of "physiognomic totality" to the unique landscapes of that part of the world. One was very productive, and lasted seven years. The other was cut short by a horrible and bizarre acc ...more
An Episode in the Life of a Landscape Painter is completely different than Aira's Ghosts, yet the freshness, the thrust forward into the unknown remains. I read about it on John Self’s blog, and he teased everyone with this: “What the book is saying is the book.” I think John is exactly right, but after reading it, I see that Aira actually goes a step further.

Here we read a fictional account of an episode in the life of Johann Mortiz Rugendas, a German landscape artist. He is encouraged by the i
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César Aira (born on February 23, 1949 in Coronel Pringles, Buenos Aires Province) is an Argentine writer and translator, considered by many as one of the leading exponents of Argentine contemporary literature, in spite of his limited public recognition.

He has published over fifty books of stories, novels and essays. Indeed, at least since 1993 a hallmark of his work is an almost frenetic level of
More about César Aira...
Ghosts How I Became a Nun The Literary Conference Varamo The Seamstress and the Wind

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“Changing the subject is one of the most difficult arts to master, the key to almost all the others.” 2 likes
“Were the “pampas,” perhaps, flatter than the land they were crossing? He doubted it; what could be flatter than a horizontal plane?” 1 likes
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