Optic Nerve by María Gainza


The Meadows Museum Education Dept. has created a new online opportunity: monthly Book Club! Right up the old alley. Their first two selections are Optic Nerve (Gainza) and The Atocha Station (Ben Lerner). The Atocha Station has been selected, I assume, primarily for its being set in Spain. There is a vivid art museum scene at the outset but that quickly is replaced by–ta da–poetry. More later on this one because I’m in the middle of reading it.

Optic Nerve, however, is full of art, and a life viewed through art.

“In this delightful autofiction―the first book by Gainza, an Argentine art critic, to appear in English―a woman delivers pithy assessments of world-class painters along with glimpses of her life, braiding the two into an illuminating whole.” ―The New York Times Book Review, Notable Book of the Year and Editors’ Choice

I think this may be my first experience with autofiction. It kept me on my toes wondering (why?) what is “real” and what is enhanced. A definition:

Autofiction is a term used in literary criticism to refer to a form of fictionalized autobiography. That’s the strict meaning of the word. It can also refer to fictionalizing a real event of the writer’s life.

Gainza writes about works of art she’s deeply engaged in. She had me stepping away from the book to look at them. One review said to look at each chapter as an essay. Isn’t it delightful that a trip to the eye doctor with an art poster in the waiting room sets her off on a reverie on Rothko?

Here’s an example of Gainza’s writing from the end of the book (not a spoiler):

“Above, the sky is gray. the mortal gray of an ice rink, and when the first flakes start to fall they look up, but not in surprise; these people are not the kind of people to surprise easily.

Reynard again: ‘How monotonous snow would be if God had not created crows.’ The snow drifts slowly down, swirling, forming thin lips at the edges of roofs, covering the pavements in a sheer, lacelike layer, and I lean over to the glove compartment and take out the black woolly hat I put there when all of this began. This is the first time I put it on, pulling it down over my ears, getting out of the car and walking straight toward them. A quiet joy comes over me as my feet touch the ground, poetic joy, I think they call it. I’d give my right arm to remember who called it that.”

Excited to talk about it in Book Club.

3 comments on “Optic Nerve by María Gainza”

  1. Yum, Teri! You are keeping us full up these days– thank you– i didn’t know the term ‘autofiction’ – thanks for providing a definition. I think Jim Carrey’s book would qualify as autofiction though I hadn’t seen anyone call it that.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Teri, I am fascinated by your description of this book, Optic Nerve. Autofiction, hmmmmm. In the bits you have shared, I feel like I am looking through a telephoto lens, the focus going out, coming back in. I think I must get my hands on this.

    Liked by 2 people

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