A Review of César Aira's
The Literary Conference
(New Directions, 2010)
Cooper Renner

Seen from one angle, this latest of César Aira's novellas to be rendered into English is a Monty Python version of a 1950s American science fiction disaster movie: a mad scientist (who is also an author and translator named César) who does cloning on the cheap and wants to rule the world; giant blue worms crushing buses and cars; a play in which Adam can't marry Eve because he's already married, even though there is no one else on earth; a pirate treasure enigma, centuries old, finally solved by César himself. But the narrator-author, suddenly wealthy from all that pirate treasure, tells us also that his story is a Fable (yes, capital F) which he will have to occasionally "translate" parts of so that he can be understood. This admission is key to what follows because otherwise, taken at its surface narrative, the tale is simply madcap--interesting or not, depending upon one's tolerance for such things--with a plot so impossible to predict that one hesitates to call it a plot at all, rather than simply a sequence of actions which César is at the heart of. On this under-level, which Aira insists the reader pull up to the surface, something much more serious is going on, an investigation (or embodiment, if you will) of the creative process, an identification of the author's ambition with that of the mad scientist and a forthright suggestion that his own works are both clones of each other and of the works of the authors which have preceded and influenced him. Is The Literary Conference a kind of answer to, and clone of, Don Quixote, a treasure as old as the pirates', and likewise hidden in plain sight? Perhaps it is; perhaps it is.