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An Episode in the Life of a Landscape Painter

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3.91  ·  Rating details ·  2,330 ratings  ·  252 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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3.91  · 
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 ·  2,330 ratings  ·  252 reviews


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s.penkevich
Mar 27, 2013 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: The artist in you
Recommended to s.penkevich by: Stephen P
Shelves: novella, art
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
...more
Garima
May 30, 2013 rated it really liked it
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
...more
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
brian
Sep 05, 2008 rated it really liked it
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
Lee
Jun 01, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
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
Stephen P
Aug 22, 2012 rated it it was amazing
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
...more
Jeremy
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
Feb 24, 2009 rated it it was amazing
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.
Sam
Sep 20, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: novellas
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
...more
Jimmy
Aug 08, 2009 rated it it was amazing
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
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
...more
Vit Babenco
Jan 21, 2016 rated it it was amazing
To be a landscape painter means to be present at the feast of the nature…
“Rain, sun, two whole days of impenetrable fog, night winds whistling, winds far and near, nights of blue crystal, crystals of ozone. The graph of temperature against the hours of the day was sinuous, but not unpredictable. Nor, in fact, were their visions. The mountains filed so slowly past that the mind amused itself devising constructivist games to replace them.”
And there is a human factor as well…
“His youth was almost o
...more
Ben Winch
Jul 20, 2012 rated it really liked it
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
Laysee
Jan 01, 2017 rated it liked it

New Year’s Day 2017. I made acquaintance with my first Argentine writer, César Aira. In this tightly written story, Aira cleverly wove fiction with fact while documenting a brief period in the life of the well-known German landscape painter, Johann Moritz Rugendas (1802 – 1858).

Rugendas was a genre painter. His genre was the physiognomy of nature, based on a procedure invented by one of his teachers, Alexander von Humboldt, who was a great naturalist painter. A physiognomic representation of nat
...more
Laura Leaney
Dec 28, 2012 rated it it was amazing
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
Cody
Aug 11, 2014 rated it it was amazing
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
...more
Tony
May 31, 2013 rated it liked it
Shelves: argentinian, art
(view spoiler) ...more
Jim Elkins
Oct 09, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: argentine
A stupendous novel, a real achievement in a very brief compass. Aira is a strange and somewhat scattered novelist -- his method guarantees he relinquishes control over his forms, and sometimes, as in "How I Became a Nun," he helps his narrative become less linear -- 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 comm ...more
jeremy
Jul 22, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: translation, fiction
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
Josh Friedlander
May 20, 2014 rated it really liked it
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
...more
Roger Brunyate
An Encounter with the Infinite

This very short 1996 novella by Argentinian writer César Aira is easy and enjoyable to read but hard to figure out afterwards. I am left asking "What on earth was that all about?" and far from confident that any of my tentative answers make any sense at all.



It is a historical novel based, so far as I can see, on documented fact. In 1837, the German painter Johann Moritz Rugendas, already famous from his previous paintings of Brazil, crossed the Andes from Chile, hea
...more
Michael Flick
Mar 02, 2011 rated it it was ok
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
M. Sarki
Dec 14, 2012 rated it liked it
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
AC
Apr 19, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: novels-spanish, art
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.
Adina
Jan 22, 2015 rated it liked it
Shelves: short, argentina
To celebrate my return to Goodreads after one week of business travel I will write my first review with pictures. I have no idea how to do it but I am willing to learn.

I am interested in Latin American fiction and was searching for a new Argentinian writer after reading Borges and Sabato. I found the book for sale in small library and decided to give the author a try. César Aira is a prolific contemporary writer and a finalist of The Man Booker International Prize 2015. One of his main themes, a
...more
Ellie
Dec 21, 2011 rated it really liked it
Finished An Episode in the Life of a Landscape Painter. I still don't know what I think of it. 3 stars or 4? I gave it 3 but I have the feeling the weaknesses in me. It haunts me in the way that usually only a major text does. I have to think some more about this. Only 88 pages but really vivid images. Based on historical fact but opening it out to the imagination. I feel that somehow I'm missing the point of it, but that there is one. Very frustrating.

Based on the power of haunting me, I'm movi
...more
John Pistelli
This short but grand 2000 novella, seemingly regarded as its prolific author’s masterpiece, is the story of the titular painter, the real-life German landscape artist, Johan Moritz Rugendas, as he suffers a life-altering accident on the Argentine pampas while on an expedition through South America.

Aira’s narrator’s academic tone—we might be reading a biography written by an art historian—almost explicitly invites us to read the story as an allegory, an allegory for nothing other than what I was
...more
Joe M
Amazing. Clearly going to have to read everything by César Aira now!
Trevor
Oct 13, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2000
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
...more
Dirk
Jan 16, 2018 rated it really liked it
I was tempted to give this book three stars, because I bought it as a result of Patti Smith's glowing endorsement in M Train, which set the bar of my expectations much higher, and I also thought, incorrectly, that the story of An Episode and the telling of it would be similar. It wasn't.

As another reviewer has noted, this short historical novel is somewhat reminiscent of W.G. Sebald's works (sans photographs) in that it weaves actual people and events into a fictional narrative and it is difficu
...more
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584 followers
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
“Changing the subject is one of the most difficult arts to master, the key to almost all the others.” 6 likes
“This was one of those situations in which the whole is not enough. Perhaps because there were other "wholes," or because the "whole" made up by the speaker and his personal world rotates like a planet, and the combined effect of rotation and orbital movement is to keep certain sides of certain planets permanently hidden.” 3 likes
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