Maria Gainza’s ‘Optic Nerve’

A Hybrid of Memoir, Fiction, and Art Criticism

Photo: Courtesy Optic Nerve

Optic Nerve — a hybrid work of memoir, fiction, and art criticism by Argentinian art critic Maria Gainza — effortlessly crosses genre borders in order to examine how we interpret visual data. In each chapter, the narrator juxtaposes her own experience, or that of someone she knows, with a heavily biographical analysis of the work of a particular artist. “The Hills from Your Window,” for instance, explores her fear of flying and the work of Henri Rousseau. There are one or two direct points of contact between the author’s life and that of the painter. She acknowledges that not flying “means missing out on certain things,” like traveling to New York to see Rousseau’s “The Dream,” which is “capable, they say, of making the earth move.”

However, as elsewhere in the book, the connections between her own experiences and that of the painter are generally more muted and implied. This authorial strategy forces readers to follow Gainza’s own example and make the connections themselves. In Thomas Bunstead’s clear and concise translation from the Spanish, we learn why “you write one thing in order to talk about something else.” 

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