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César Aira: Artforum (Artforum)

This is a short book and is divided into shorter pieces. However, all the pieces are linked by a common thread: the US art magazine Artforum. An art magazine does not seem an obvious subject for several linking stories but then Aira is not an obvious writer.

The novel is set in the narrator’s (presumably Aira himself) first-floor (that is second floor if you are in the US) flat in Buenos Aires, where he lives with his wife and children. The narrator is a devoted aficionado of Artforum and eagerly looks forward to it every month (except for its brief summer hiatus). However, it is very difficult to get hold of in Buenos Aires and he tells us he could write a book about his adventures in getting it, involving traipsing round various magazine and book sellers as well as getting friends visiting the US to bring him back a copy. Sometimes, he misses out on issue but when he does get it he treasures it.

Our first adventure involves the weather. It gets very hot in their flat so they tend to keep the windows open all the time. Clearly they do not have air conditioning. However, there can be sudden rainstorms and the rain can get in, so as soon as it starts to rain our narrator dashes round, shutting the windows. On this one occasion, a copy of Artforum and other art magazines were lying on a table and seemed to get wet. However, as this is Aira, it seems that the Artforum magazine had a mind of its own (Aira discusses this possibility and comes to a more or less positive conclusion) and saved the other magazines.

When I started reading this book and saw his troubles I wondered, as you, the reader, would also wonder, why did he not simply take out a subscription? Aira is ahead of us. he had indeed considered this and gives various sound reasons for not doing so but, eventually, succumbs. He now eagerly looks forward to his copy of the magazine arriving promptly, as, indeed, it does for a short while. However, as we all know subscriptions can go wrong, with copies getting lost and not turning up, particularly when it involves a subscription from a foreign country. Soon his magazine does not turn up. This has all sort of ramifications both for him and for the story.

He fantasises about it turning up when it is delayed. He eagerly rushes to the door when the postman calls to see if it has arrived. He learns about a Post Office scam, whereby they steal such magazines and then sell them. It causes him sleepless nights. He even adapts his calendar according to when the magazine arrives or does not arrive. (I wondered why he did not just contact the publisher and ask for another copy but it seems that he did not.) He even links it to the cleaners who seems to come around the time when the magazine is delivered. Is there a causal relationship? he wonders. Well… He then gets on to similar causal relationships based on superstition: If you get a call for the wrong number, it’s going to rain. If a pigeon alights on the balcony rail, there’s going to be a subway strike. If a country changes its name, a relative is going to die.

There are various other stories involved, such as his death at the hand of a policeman because of the magazine, his idea of producing his own copy, whether it is just the content of the magazine or the actual paper copy that appeals to him not to mention the random breaking of their clothes pegs. I would also mention that he is also an obsessive collector of old pens.

As always with Aira, it is very funny, very clever, highly imaginative, totally unpredictable and utterly original. It will certainly have you thinking about your magazine subscriptions.

Publishing history

First published by Editorial Blatt & Ríos in 2014
Firat English translation by New Directions in 2020
Translated by Katherine Silver