- Elevated Prose
Belgian writer Alain Arias-Misson’s latest story collection, The Man Who Walked On Air & Other Tales of Innocence, covers a lot of ground in a compressed space. Imaginative above all, the collection occupies a unique niche in short fiction. The writing is lucid and precise at one juncture, and then it pours forth in an excited rush at the next. Indeed, the reader can almost imagine that the stories are unfolding in real time, as the turns are both authentic and surprising.
Stories range in subject matter from a young man learning to master levitation and the art of dream manipulation, to what really happens in one of comic book character Tintin’s adventures. Arias-Misson’s prose is at once playful and exuberant, solemn and restrained. Of course, with such an extensive and varied background in poetry, performance, and prose over the last five decades, Arias-Misson’s dexterity on the page is not surprising. His body of work ranges from narrative novel-length fiction and art books to poetic innovation. The Public Poem, his own invention dating back to 1965, invokes location-specific urban elements and transmutes them into a text that is in effect written by the city itself. In this latest volume, Arias-Misson channels the same imaginative focus into short fiction, an art form with which he has much dexterity. The result is a volume of concentrated creative energy expressed in terms of elevation.
The titular story, “The Man Who Walked On Air,” deals quite literally with levitation. This short, which is among the longest of the fifteen stories in the volume concerns Augustus, a recurring character in the collection. Augustus discovers his ability to levitate during a sexual encounter with a beautiful girlfriend. As time advances, Augustus learns to cultivate and control his levitation. Because he relates to all the women in the story sexually, each woman comes to represent an advance in his skill and capacity to control the levitation. Augustus’s own ecstatic joy over his ability to levitate is matched by Arias-Misson’s energetic prose, which seem to intensify in delirious escalation as Augustus delves deeper into his unusual talent. In one such encounter with a Lacanian psychiatrist, he writes,
She became almost incoherent, but the tenor of her remarks was as follows: what are you doing, you fucking idiot! This is paranoid psychosis, fantasies of flying! An introversion of religious transcendence through frustrated sexual desire, you’re crazy!! You can’t do this, you confuse representation and id, take me down…
Arias-Misson’s writing is comedic and sharp, clever and intelligent.
Some stories seem like vehicles for transcendent thoughts. Take for example, “The Shadow of Canaletto’s Shadow.” Arias-Misson’s keen interest and appreciation of art is on full display as he takes his readers inside paintings by the eighteenth-century Italian master for a leisurely stroll. In addition to being remarkably detailed, this short is also lovingly executed: “This is a moody painting: the huge shadow has deepened almost to black and has struck across half the façade of the Scuola or Guild Hall of San Marco. The scene is saturated now with a golden summer glow.” What remains with the reader after finishing this particular confection is the desire to duplicate Arias-Misson’s exercise with a favorite painting or piece of art. Falling into a work, being absorbed into that foreign landscape as if it were the only truth—now that is an experiment worth replicating.
Close kin to “The Shadow of Canaletto’s Shadow” is “Second Life.” However, instead of falling into a painting, the reader follows another distinct Augustus into an alternate reality. The reality he stumbles into is available for purchase, like so many of the alternate realities that exist in real time. Appropriately, the Augustus featured in this story differs from the man in the pages of “The Man Who Walked on Air.” While both seem to value sexual relations highly...