Early last year the Andorran novelist Oa Aayorta was presented with ‘The Henrik Stofferson Award for an Autobiography of No More than Five Sentences’. This, as you probably know, has always been one of the more contentious prizes out there, ever since, well, Pablo Diemar’s victory in 2004 (no need to rake over that, is there? No, I thought not…) Just why a man of Aayorta’s standing would want to be associated with such a soiled mattress of a competition was a question few people could answer at the time. Still, pondering its unanswerableness proved far more interesting than exploring the content of the entry itself. In rushing to the conclusion that Aayorta’s offering was some sort of joke, no one stopped to consider the possibility that it held a little more meaning than your usual two sentences. Time, then, for a re-evaluation:
I painted on the wall a mural of my ascent over it. This filled me with hope, though in the time taken to complete the painting I had missed the opportunity to ascend for real (‘Autobiography’ by Oa Aayorta)
Right. So, maybe people were right to dismiss the work. It’s succinct, and not without a certain elan. But it’s also yawningly typical: yet another slice of self-indulgent, solipsistic writer’s pie, complete with a side-order of sugary paradox. ‘I’ve wasted my life thinking about life’ – how many elderly writers have screamed these words towards an indifferent sky? It’s a tiresomely common complaint. You need to experience life, in some sense, to write well; but by dedicating oneself to writing well, the opportunities to ‘experience’ life diminish. Which may explain why so few people write well: it’s near impossible. You either get murals on walls, or nothing at all. As someone once said: ‘the real writers never wrote a word – they were too busy living’.
I exaggerate: some sort of balance can, on rare occasions, be maintained. Some artists will paint on, and ascend the wall (possibly returning to paint another brick or two before departing, once more, into the regions beyond). Most artists, nevetheless, will never paint a sufficient mural, nor ascend the wall. Many will fall, and be crushed, by the wall. And no one will paint a mural of their being crushed, because no one much cares. Wall-related fatalities will happen.
To bring this back, however, to Oa Aayorta. After all, this is his autobiography – or so he claims. All of which makes the whole thing so much more intriguing, no? After all, Oa Aayorta is most definitely not your archetypal writer-type. His first novel wasn’t a repository for turgid teenage angst, or some middling mid-life crisis. He started later than that; he was in his sixties, I believe, when he first put finger to keyboard. Which is to say that he would seem to have fit in rather a lot of ‘life’ before he got around to the process of documenting (and/or avoiding) it. So why issue forth a semi-cryptic statement suggesting the contrary? Is he having some fun at the expense of his contemporaries? Or is he wondering why, after half a happy lifetime crouched under the comfortably cruel wings of reality, he has leapt out into the sadly thrashing winds of fiction? Does it matter that he only turned to art late in life?
Sometimes one ascends a wall only to find another wall behind it. Sometimes the wall you thought you ascended wasn’t a wall at all. One reads Aayorta’s two sentences, at first, as an expression of exasperation. After a while, however, one comes to realise that it isn’t this at all. It’s simply a statement of fact. He missed the opportunity. Who’s to say whether or not that was a bad thing?