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Aira’s “Episode in the Life of a Landscape Painter” and Ermarth’s “Sequel to History”

May 10, 2012

Was the moon illuminating his face or was it the other way around?” (Aira 82)

[…] the assumption that, acknowledged complexities notwithstanding, psychic identity is as simply located and invariant as somatic identity;” (Ermarth 61)


Paintbrush hovering over the desert-canvas, “[w]hat happened next bypassed his sense and went straight into his nervous system.” (Aira 32) “Where historical conventions formulate most questions in terms of quantity and extension in a neutral horizon overseen [episteme1] by a detached (potentially neutral) consciousness that is “in” history but not of it,” so “[…] Rugendas witnessed the spectacle of his body shining. […] he saw himself as if from outside [episteme1]” (Ermarth 59; Aira 32). In light of the flash of those roots emerging from the clouds, Rugendas, “[…] coerced perhaps by an emergent episteme1, begins anew and at the root of the obscure discursive enterprise of form.” (Ermarth 60) And then the painter, gazing at his object, his puppet, sees its face in the flashing strings by which it throws the form of his. “Evidently the charge flowed out [onto the canvas] as fast as it had flowed [from the light of the sky] into his body” (Aira 33). As “[a] ‘text,’ furthermore, is no longer a singular ‘thing’ because it is constituted by the process of enactment that engages this or that particular personnel or material [that is, Rugendas or his body],” holding the painter firmly, with him the canvas brushes the sky (Ermarth 48).

As “[w]here historical conventions use (more or less discrete and simply located) events, texts, and persons [Rugendas] as bases for key rationalizations, rhythmic conventions of temporality– parataxis on the move—depend on local arrangements whose [meteorological] amplifications are unpredictable,” so “[t]he body is a strange thing and when it is caught up in an accident involving non-human forces, there is no predicting the result,” under the thunder of the deconstructing continuity of the representing and the represented, the signifier and the referent, with all matter of significance in-between and, then, enveloping (Ermarth 59; Aira 36).

They witnessed, no, partook in “the fracture that marks the devastation of the twentieth century and History,” and “Following their foray, a painter [an author] has emerged from the night to reveal the delirious truth2 of the day’s events” (Chapman 1, Aira 87). So this question is not merely, “Is judicial resolution2 between one discussion and another important2when the fact of cultural reformation calls for sustained writerly experiment and not the same old arguments”(Ermarth 57)? But also, is it possible? And if it were, what would it be? Look like? Do?3 Would it “sustain?” Is it, itself, another form of “writerly experiment,” anyway? But,

“Some might say these altered states [of “sustained writerly experiment”] are not representative of the true self. So what? The thing was to make the most of them! At that moment, he [the author] was happy. Any drunk, to pursue the comparison, can vouch for that. But, for some reason, in order to be happier still (or unhappier still, which comes to the same thing, more or less) one has to do certain things2,3 that can only be done in a sober state. Such as making money (which more than any other activity requires a clear head) so as to go on2 purchasing elation. This is contradictory, paradoxical, intriguing, and may prove that the logic of compensation is not as straightforward as it seems” (Aira 76).

Paradoxical because the sobriety leads to the alterity. Because it itself shares responsibility for the addictive cycle — “so as to go on.” Because it is named and thereby called into repetition for the purpose of perpetuating2 it’s opposite, much as a bricoleur calls upon an engineer4. Just as we ask, “And what could be more common than the act of beginning again? It was being repeated all the time. What else could really be repeated? In the beginning was Repetition, and only there. It was Krause, not Rugendas, who by virtue of his health, was moving along an unbroken line, a continuum, without beginning or end” (Aira 82-83). So we see that, “Whatever the truth of the matter, the Germans found themselves in natural surroundings that were excitingly unfamiliar, so unfamiliar that Rugendas required confirmation from his friend that what he was seeing existed objectively and was not a product of his altered state”, and paradoxically, “[…] Rugendas tended to use Krause as a rhetorical device, a supplementary2,4 ‘color’ […]” (Aira 53, Aira 61). So, paradoxically again, ” ‘this ridiculous illusion of happiness and understanding‘ ” mustn’t be ‘denounced,’ for for it to be denounced it must first be made to be, it must be so that it can be denounceable; Rather, it must fall apart; It’s meaning must crumble as old stones facades do, lest the vicious cycle continues (Ermarth 52). This is how Ermarth arrives not resolving but through the paradox,

“The postmodern restoration of language attempts to bring back from repression an enduring creative power. If true exploration and experiment– that openness sometimes attributed to ‘thought’– really are a phenomenon of language in the widest sense of that term, then the creative originals of discourse are those who enable it to renew and not merely perpetuate itself2, those who manage some play with the sign systems in which we operate day to day, and who manage some correction of habitual usages2. The play of postmodernism seeks to guarantee vitality, to affirm what remains open to surprise and capable of new formation.” (Ermarth 62).

“Yet [the masses have continued, despite the philosopher’s crises, and] their lack of surprise was logical enough, since in such difficult situations, adapting any object to any purpose was the norm. In everyday life there were explanations for everything, and in abnormal circumstances, there were explanations for the explanations” (Aira 67). In this way, they have no problem reading along as “Such [postmodern] narrative calls readers to their senses by focusing acts of attention on the actual practices of consciousness and sensibility as they operate in process, and not as they might operate if the world were the rational, natural, logocentric place that so many of our models still describe” (Ermarth 55). So, finally, for “[…] those who believe in the myth of comprehensive evidence […],” “Drunkenness and guilt fused into terror when they saw that moonlit face, that man who had become all face. They did not even notice what he was doing: all they could see was him. They would never have been able to guess why he was2 there” (Ermarth 57 , Aira 85).

1 “[…] from Ionic Gk. epistasthai “know how to do, understand,” lit. “overstand,” from epi “over, near” (see epi-) + histasthai “to stand,” from PIE *sta- “to stand” (see stet) […]” (Online Etymology Dictionary, “”, accessed 14:28 MST April 6th 2012)

2 my italics

3 see Wittgenstein

4 see Derrida

Works Cited

Aira, Cesar. Trans. Chriss Andrews. An Episode in the Life of a Landscape Painter. New Directions. New York. 2000.

Chapman, J’lyn. “WRI 793 Speical Topics in Writing and Poetics: Poetics of History, 3 credits; Jack Kerouac School, Naropa University; Spring 2012 Syllabus”

Ermarth, Elizabeth. “Sequel to History.” Docutek ERes. Web. Accessed: 10 May 2012. <;.


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