Cortázar, Julio (Contemporary Literary Criticism)
Hopscotch Julio Cortázar
The following entry presents criticism on Cortázar's novel Rayuela (1963; Hopscotch). For further information on his life and works, see CLC, Volumes 2, 3, 5, 10, 13, 15, 33, and 34.
The publication of Hopscotch in 1963—and its English translation three years later—confirmed Cortázar's reputation as a major figure in the Latin American literary "Boom" of the 1950s and 1960s and established him as a writer of international stature. Noted for its experimental structure, the novel contains three parts: two traditional narratives—the first set in Paris, the second in Buenos Aires—and a collection of fragments which can, if the reader so wishes, be incorporated into a second, more complex reading. Hopscotch explores traditional novelistic problems of love and death; casts an ironic eye on the existential anxieties of Horacio Oliveira, its alienated, postwar protagonist; and questions the rational foundation of the realist novel and Western civilization. However, Cortázar complicates and enriches these themes through metafictional play, exposing the process of story-telling, and inviting reader participation both in a postmodern literary game and in the fate of his characters.
Plot and Major Characters
The first two sections of Hopscotch, "From the Other Side," and "From This Side," form a complex but otherwise traditional narrative that can be read by a "passive" reader as the story of an Argentinean intellectual expatriate in Paris who returns disillusioned to Argentina. The third section, however, titled "From Diverse Sides," comprises seventy-five optional "Expendable Chapters." These segments, which often contradict the preceding chapter as they offer new perspectives and disturb the reader with abrupt changes in tone and content, encourage readers to critically examine their reactions to the text and thus pursue a more "active" and participatory reading. Oliveira, the narrator-protagonist, is a self-absorbed, aimless bohemian who belongs to the Serpent Club, a group of friends who spend long hours in the Latin Quarter of Paris listening to jazz records and discussing art, philosophy, and such literary hypotheses as Gregorovius' dictum "Paris is one big metaphor." The club members—Babs, Ronald, Etienne, Gregorovius, Ossip, Guy Monod, Perico, Pola, and La Maga—represent numerous countries and share Oliveira's rootless and fanciful attachment to the city. In the narrative of the first 56 chapters, Hopscotch chronicles Oliveira's intellectual quest for a vaguely defined Absolute, the "kibbutz of desire"—an idealistic combination of individuality and community. In contrast to Oliveira's unhappy longing is La Maga, a mysterious and haunting character who heightens Oliveira's sense of the absurd and suggests a more authentic means of interacting with reality. Scattered among the many chapters of discussion are a number of crucial events that determine Oliveira's destiny. His experiences in Paris, partly chosen, partly governed by chance, are described obliquely, often either implied or requiring reader inference. Oliveira meets Berthe Trépat, a concert pianist whose repertoire is obscure and whose small audience shrinks until only Oliveira is left. During another evening, Oliveira discovers the death of La Maga's child Rocamadour but says nothing to comfort La Maga, who later disappears. The ambiguity of her fate—did she leave Paris or drown herself in the Seine—plays an important role in the second part of the novel, for it questions whether La Maga's appearance in Buenos Aires is some sort of fantastic event or a symptom of Oliveira's insanity. In chapter 36 Oliveira has a sexual encounter on the banks of the Seine with an indigent woman, an event which precipitates his departure from Paris. In the second section of Hopscotch, Oliveira returns to Buenos Aires, where he rejoins his friends the Travelers, Manuel and Talita, and an old girlfriend, Gekrepten. In a long chapter reminiscent of Absurdist theater, Oliveira persuades Talita to cross a precarious hand-made bridge high above the street, simply to bring him some mate. Oliveira joins Manuel and Talita in a circus, but when the circus is sold so that its owner can purchase a psychiatric clinic, all three make abrupt career changes to become warders in the asylum, and Oliveira's own faint grasp on sanity is weakened. At the close of chapter 56, Oliveira is left debating whether or not to commit suicide by jumping from a window onto the grid of a hopscotch game below. In the alternative, second reading suggested by Cortázar's "Table of Instructions," the reader begins at chapter 73, then follows the traditional chapter sequence while "hopping" back and forth to the "expendable chapters" which form the third section of the novel. It is here, in chapter 60, that the "Morelliana" (the words of the fictional author Morelli) first appear, along with further disjointed fragments of narrative; newspaper and magazine cuttings from such diverse sources as Levi Strauss's Tristes Tropiques, L'Express, and the London Observer; and quotations from such writers as Anaïs Nin, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Alban Berg, Octavio Paz. Morelli, a writer often read as Cortázar's double within the novel, is knocked down by a motor car; Oliveira subsequently gains access to the writer's papers, which then become the focus of much discussion in the Serpent Club. The presence of Morelli's writing in the second reading also complicates the reader's previously comfortable relationship with the narrative; Morelli blurs the line between writer and story, and his ideas become a commentary on Hopscotch itself. The "active" reading of Hopscotch leaves the novel unresolved, with the reader instructed to shuttle back and forth between chapter 58 and 131 indefinitely.
The controlling image in Hopscotch of a children's game, in which the goal is to move from Earth to Heaven, is an embodiment of Oliveira's quest for an accessible Absolute. The key theme and impetus of the traditional narrative in the first 56 chapters is Oliveira's sense of exclusion from an imagined state of grace and his attempts to find, as he calls it, a "kibbutz of desire," an idealized place of community and self-sufficiency. For Oliveira, La Maga represents such a state, and Oliveira tries to create his own version through encounters with strangers such as the pianist Berthe Trépat. Oliveira's sexual transgression with the clocharde Emmanuèle—a character whose indigence essentially excludes her from the nexus of Oliveira's desire—enables him to close his quest for the mythic "kibbutz," as he finds acceptance at society's lowest depth. Manuel, Oliveira's counterpart in Buenos Aires, shares with La Maga the status of Oliveira's "double" by which he can be defined, just as Buenos Aires will be determined by its semblance to Paris. Related to this is the theme of Argentinean national identity, Latin America's ambivalent attitude toward European culture, and especially toward literary culture. Allied to his critique of the Argentinean's cultural indebtedness to Europe is Cortázar's commentary on the failings of Western rationalism, including the traditionally lucid literary narrative that Hopscotch seeks to disrupt. The "second" and optional reading introduces problems of literary and linguistic theory, making Oliveira's quest part and parcel of a writing and reading strategy. Hopscotch thus becomes for the "active" reader a self-reflexive novel which problematizes its own authorship and raises the theme of the double or multiple articulation, for in this sense the "writing" is shown to be shared between Cortázar, Morelli, and the participant reader. Another major theme is madness and the individual's relation to society. Towards the conclusion of the second narrative, Oliveira kisses Talita, believing her to be La Maga. One of Manuel's options in response to Oliveira's act is to declare him insane; and Oliveira's sanity, as he is contemplating suicide at the novel's end, is questionable. As Steven Boldy has stated: madness assumes "several connotations in the novel, where Oliveira muses on the possibility of 'joining the world, the Great Madness.' In a mad world, to go mad is to be reconciled to reality and society, to be at one with its absurd or conventional laws. It is this acceptance, of which Oliveira has always before been incapable, that his long path has prepared him to embrace."
Many critics have praised Hopscotch's literary experimentalism and compared the novel to James Joyce's Ulysses (1922). While acknowledging Cortázar's debt to a more original work, commentators have found something new and more "decadent" in Cortázar's vision. Hopscotch has frequently been construed as a critique of Western rationalism, with scholars suggesting that the novel's passages of absurd humor and aimless philosophizing form a continuity with the Surrealist movement. Although some critics have been impressed by Cortázar's erudite display in Hopscotch—his knowledge of jazz, art, literature, and philosophy, as well as what they consider his conceptual tours de force—others have noted the danger of intimidating the reader. For example, the "philosophizing" in the Serpent Club has struck some critics as "tedious and verbose;" others have noted Cortázar's sensitive ear for the literary qualities of Argentinean common speech. The theme of trans-Atlantic cultural influence has been widely noted, and certain Latin American critics have focused on Cortázar's concern in Hopscotch with Argentinean national and cultural identity and the problem of exile and expatriation. For others, Oliveira's bohemian disaffiliation in Paris is a counterpart of his psychic alienation. Another set of scholars consider Hopscotch a major example of the postmodern novel, arguing that its metatextuality, its foregrounding of problems of reading and authorship, its discursive play, and its disruption of traditional narrative, all signal an important advance on the modernism of Joyce.
Presencia (poetry) 1938
Los reyes (poetry) 1949
∗Bestiario (short stories) 1951
∗Final del juego (short stories) 1956
∗Las armas secretas (short stories) 1959
Los premios [The Winners] (novel) 1960
Historias de cronopios y de famas [Cronopios and Famas] (short stories) 1962
Rayuela [Hopscotch] (novel) 1963
Todos los fuegos el fuego [All Fires the Fire, and Other Stories] (short stories) 1966
El perseguidor y otros cuentos (short stories) 1967
La vuelta al dia en ochenta mundos [Around the Day in Eighty Worlds] (nonfiction and poetry) 1967
62: Modelo para armar [62: A Model Kit] (novel) 1968
Ultimo round (nonfiction and poetry) 1969
Pameos y meopas (poetry) 1971
Libro de Manuel [A Manual for Manuel] (novel) 1973
†Octaedro (short stories) 1974
Vampiros multinacionales: una utopía realizable (short stories) 1975
Los relatos. 4 vols. (short stories) 1976–1985
†Alguien que anda por ahi y otros relatos (short stories) 1977
Un tal Lucas [A Certain Lucas] (short stories) 1979
Queremos tanto a Glenda [We Love Glenda So Much, and Other Tales] (short stories) 1980
Deshoras (short stories) 1982
Cuaderno de bitácora de "Rayuela" [with Ana Maria Barrenechea] (notebooks and...
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SOURCE: "Moving Snapshots," in The New York Times Book Review, April 10, 1966, p. 1.
[Keene is an American educator and critic. Below, he favorably reviews Hopscotch.]
The publication last year of Julio Cortázar's allegorical novel The Winners earned respectful reviews. Hopscotch, a far more impressive, indeed superb work should establish Cortázar as an outstanding writer of our day.
In general, Hopscotch is the story of Oliveira, an Argentinian writer living in Paris with La Maga, his mistress, and her child by another man. He falsely suspects she is deceiving him with a friend. After the death of La Maga's child, Oliveira returns to Buenos Aires, working first as a salesman, later as the keeper of a circus cat, finally as an attendant in an insane asylum.
It is difficult to describe the plot of Hopscotch, not because it is confused or vague—on the contrary, it is continuously absorbing even on the most obvious level—but because the author, whether with the voice of Oliveira, the principal character, or Morelli, a dying writer whose notebooks figure prominently at the end, seems to forbid any conventional plot summary.
We are told: "In some place Morelli tried to justify his narrative incoherencies, maintaining that the life of others, such as it comes to us in so-called reality, is not a movie but still photography,...
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SOURCE: "Hopscotch: The Novel as Pandora's Box," in The Review of Contemporary Fiction, Vol. III, No. 3, Fall, 1983, pp. 86-8.
[Fuentes is a Mexican novelist, dramatist, short story writer, essayist, and critic. In the following essay, which was originally published in the journal Mundo Nuevo in March 1967 and here translated by Naomi Lindstrom, Fuentes discusses the structure and poetics of Cortázar's Hopscotch and compares the novel to James Joyce's Ulysses (1922).]
The French reader knows Julio Cortázar by way of a marvelous collection of elliptical stories, End of the Game (one of which served as the basis for Michelangelo Antonioni's film, Blow-Up), and to a lengthy allegorical novel, The Winners. The publication of Hopscotch will show that these works were warm-ups leading to this work, hailed by the Times Literary Supplement of London as "The first great novel of Spanish America." It would be fair to state that this 52-year-old Argentine novelist is writing today, from the homes he makes on the Place du Général Beuret in Paris and in a farm near Saignon, the best prose fiction in Spanish. But to restrict him to what Philippe Sollers calls "Latinocentrism" would be a serious mistake. For the U.S. critic C. D. B. Bryan, writing in The New Republic, Hopscotch is "the most powerful encyclopedia of emotions and visions to...
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SOURCE: "On the Hop," in The Times Literary Supplement, No. 3392, March 9, 1967, p. 181.
[In the following review, the critic praises Cortázar's use of language in Hopscotch, but overall finds the novel pretentious and "constantly straining for meanings."]
Julio Cortázar is an Argentinian who, since the publication of Rayuela (or Hopscotch) in 1963, has acquired a reputation as the first great novelist of Latin America. Although this judgment is unfair to half a dozen of his contemporaries and one or two of his predecessors, his work, now widely translated, and perhaps rather too extravagantly promoted on the Continent and in the United States, certainly represents a remarkable achievement.
Señor Cortázar started as a writer of slightly Kafkaesque, slightly Borgesian short stories, most of them, on his own admission, the description of dreams in which an ordinary situation slipped almost imperceptibly into fantasy. The Winners (originally published in 1960 as Los premios) was his first novel and written in similar mood; it appeared in England in 1965 but was largely ignored by reviewers.
The hero of Hopscotch, Oliveira, an Argentinian expatriate in Paris, is amazed at the absurdity of life. The arbitrary detail of its conventional superstructure—the incredible streets, the colour and shape of the clothes, the lumps of...
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SOURCE: "Hopscotch," in Poetics of Change: The New Spanish-American Narrative, translated by Galen D. Greaser, University of Texas Press, 1984, pp. 42-53.
[In the following essay, which was originally published in Ortega's La contemplación la fiesta (1969), Ortega explores themes of nonconformism and chance in Hopscotch.]
Hopscotch, Carlos Fuentes has stated, is to prose in Spanish what Ulysses is to prose in English. This comparison is possible because Hopscotch, first published in 1963, summarizes the new or current tradition of modernity in the Latin-American novel, a tradition that in the opinion of Octavio Paz is one of renewal. Hopscotch starts from the crisis of the novelistic genre as a representational system and from the baroque transgression of its Latin-American axis. Its foundation is another novel, one that begins when this book is closed.
The various readings demanded by Hopscotch are a game between the narrators, the characters, and the reader, or more accurately, this work is the repeated beginning of a game rather than its development or conclusion. Cortázar thus prolongs the reading, because this novel questions literature, the reader, and itself. The repeated beginning of the game implies its regeneration. Hopscotch is like the fluttering of a verbal phoenix.
At a certain point, the...
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SOURCE: An interview in The Review of Contemporary Fiction, Vol. III, No. 3, Fall, 1983, pp. 5-21.
[An American educator and critic, Garfield has written extensively on Cortázar and Latin American literature. In the following excerpted interview, which was conducted in Saignon, France in July 1973 and first published in Garfield's Cortázar por Cortázar (1978), Cortázar discusses the writing of Hopscotch, addressing the novel's themes, its appeal to younger readers, its optimism, and its place in Latin American literature.]
[Garfield]: With Historias de cronopios y de famas (Cronopios and Famas) and Rayuela, you begin to alter reality, to search for authenticity in life and literature, utilizing a good dose of humor and optimism.
[Cortázar]: In the case of my books, altering reality is a desire, a hope. But it seems important to point out that my books are not written nor were experienced or conceived under the pretense of changing reality. There are people who write as a contribution to the modification of reality. I know that modifying reality is an infinitely slow and difficult undertaking. My books do not function in that sense. A philosopher develops a philosophical system convinced that it is the truth and will modify reality because he supposes he's right. A sociologist establishes a theory. A politician also pretends to change the world. My...
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SOURCE: "Julio Cortázar: Self-Explanation & Self-Destruction," in Modern Latin American Narratives: The Dreams of Reason, University of Chicago Press, 1977, pp. 51-60.
[In the following excerpt, Mac Adam analyzes Hopscotch, focusing on its significance in the history of the Latin American novel.]
Julio Cortázar's Rayuela [Hopscotch], the work that put both its author and Spanish American literature into a position of prominence in Western culture, is a deliberately essayistic text. It attempts to enact a coming to grips with the problem faced by all authors, the relationship between what the author talks about and how he talks about it…. [Rayuela] dramatizes the problem any author faces when he writes—which elements he will select and which reject, and how he will use those he selects, whatever elements his culture supplies to him. At the same time, Cortázar represents the same sort of problem, the dialectical or nondialectical relationship of "tradition and the individual talent," on a philosophical level by creating a protagonist who tries to evade a life of preordained patterns.
The metaphorical relationship between Rayuela's two sides, the conscious mirroring of the ethical and the esthetic, is further complicated by the protagonist's also being his own narrator. This is, the text simultaneously writes and "unwrites" itself as it grows. A word...
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SOURCE: "Introduction: Toward the Last Square of the Hopscotch," in The Final Island: The Fiction of Julio Cortázar, edited by Jaime Alazraki and Ivar Ivask, University of Oklahoma Press, 1978, pp. 3-18.
[Born in Argentina, Alazraki is an American educator and critic who has written extensively on Latin-American literature. In the following excerpt, he discusses philosophical themes raised in Hopscotch and compares the novel to Cortázar's short story "The Pursuer."]
Cortázar's fictional world,… rather than an acceptance, represents a challenge to culture, a challenge, as he puts it, to "thirty centuries of Judeo-Christian dialectics," to "the Greek criterion of truth and error," to the homo sapiens, to logic and the law of sufficient reason and, in general, to what he calls "the Great Habit." If Borges's fantasies are oblique allusions to the situation of man in a world he can never fully fathom, to an order he has created as a substitute labyrinth to the one created by a divine mind, Cortázar's stories strive to transcend the schemes and constructs of culture and seek precisely to touch that order Borges finds too abstruse and complex to be understood by man. The first stumbling block Cortázar encounters in this quest is language itself: "I've always found it absurd," he says [in Luis Harss and Barbara Dohmann's Into the Main stream, 1967], "to talk about transforming man if man...
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SOURCE: "Morelli on the Threshold," in Poetics of Change: The New Spanish-American Narrative, translated by Galen D. Greaser, University of Texas Press, 1984, pp. 54-9.
[In the following essay, which was first published in the Fall 1983 issue of The Review of Contemporary Fiction, Ortega discusses the novel's paradoxical form and the significance of Cortázar's "mythical author" Morelli.]
Hopscotch is many books in one, and one of these many books concerns Morelli, the author, or better still, the persona whose questioning of literature is also the convocation of another literature that implies this novel itself, along with its critical foundation and poetic open-endedness.
In "chapter" 22, Horacio Oliveira witnesses an accident in which a man is struck by a car on a Paris street. This man, who Horacio and Étienne visit in the hospital, turns out to be Morelli, a writer who the speakers of Hopscotch have read at length and who, as the central image of a marginal literature, rejects through the demands of his reformulating work the established literary currents. The speculation of the speakers of this novel, their need of a new formal system for a more radical poetic option, is generated in this questioning. [In an endnote, Ortega states: "Chapter 99 of Hopscotch, in which the characters discuss Morelli's ideas and projects after reading the Morelliana in...
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SOURCE: "'The Infinite Game': Cortázar's Hopscotch," in The Journal of the Midwest Modern Language Association, Vol. 23, No. 1, Spring, 1990, pp. 61-74.
[In the following essay, Simpkins discusses reader participation and authorial control in Hopscotch.]
Every text can be played according to the reader's desires, but Julio Cortázar's Hopscotch specifically invites reader participation in its production. Intensely preoccupied with the reader's role in the text's creation, Cortázar offers an alternative plan, a "Table of Instructions," at the onset of the novel to encourage the development of multiple interpretations—the "many books" he ostensibly hopes the reader will find. The reader is urged to either follow the book as it is laid out, or to pursue the "second" book, the one suggested by Cortázar's alternative chapter arrangement. While readers can choose to deal with the novel in other ways as well, their inclusion in the assembly of the novel undeniably reveals a gaming instinct, an attempt to engage them in textual play which takes full advantage of "misreadings" usually discouraged by authors. Moreover, comments on the aesthetics of the multiple found in Hopscotch itself—especially those by an author named Morelli who argues for the reader's participation as the author's "accomplice"—reinforce this sentiment.
The reader is essential for such gaming...
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SOURCE: "In the Name of the Author: Reading Around Julio Cortázar's Rayuela," in Reclaiming the Author: Figures and Fictions from Spanish America, Duke University Press, 1992, pp. 26-45.
[In the following excerpt, Kerr explores the problem of authorship in Hopscotch, focusing on the relationship between Cortázar and the fictional author Morelli.]
By virtue of the dramatic and apparently revolutionary turn it gives to Spanish American fiction, Julio Cortázar's Rayuela [Hopscotch] (1963) represents a critical moment in the development of contemporary Spanish American literature. Though one might now question whether this text is in fact as subversive as it seemed to earlier readers, it would be difficult to dispute Rayuela's place within the modern Spanish American canon, or to challenge Cortázar status within Spanish American literary culture. I have chosen to begin with this title precisely because in Rayuela—a text noted for its radical questioning of some traditional notions about writing and reading narrative fiction—the author stands out as a concept to which Cortázar has paid considerable attention. The attention paid to that concept, and to different figures of the author, also appears to inform some of the unsettling directions taken by the novel as a whole.
The figure of the author appears to be a figure against which Rayuela...
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Francescato, Martha Paley. "Bibliography of Works by and about Julio Cortázar." In The Final Island: The Fiction of Julio Cortázar, edited by Jaime Alazraki and Ivar Ivask, pp. 171-99. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1978.
Chronological listing of works by and about Cortázar.
Amaral, José Vázquez. "Julio Cortázar's Hopscotch and Argentinian Spiritual Alienation." In The Contemporary Latin American Narrative, pp. 157-65. New York: Las Americas Publishing Co., 1970.
Compares Hopscotch to James Joyce's Ulysses and argues that themes of failure and national tragedy are at the heart of Cortázar's novel.
Boldy, Steven. "Rayuela." In The Novels of Julio Cortázar, pp. 30-96. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1980.
Analyzes the major themes in Hopscotch. Boldy considers the significance of Paris and Buenos Aires, addresses the doppelganger theme, explores relationships between key characters, and considers the novel's ambiguous ending.
Brotherston, Gordon. "Intellectual Geography: Julio Cortázar." In The Emergence of the Latin American Novel, pp. 81-97. Cambridge, England: Cambridge...
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