Julio Cortázar Essay - Cortázar, Julio (Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Cortázar, Julio (Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Introduction

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.

Major Themes

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."

Critical Reception

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.

Principal Works

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...

(The entire section is 226 words.)

Criticism

Donald Keene (review date 10 April 1966)

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...

(The entire section is 1024 words.)

Carlos Fuentes (essay date March 1967)

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...

(The entire section is 2232 words.)

The Times Literary Supplement (review date 9 March 1967)

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,...

(The entire section is 1362 words.)

Julio Ortega (essay date 1969)

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....

(The entire section is 5049 words.)

Julio Cortázar with Evelyn Picon Garfield (interview date 10-13 July 1973)

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,...

(The entire section is 3529 words.)

Alfred J. Mac Adam (essay date 1977)

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…....

(The entire section is 3795 words.)

Jaime Alazraki (essay date 1978)

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...

(The entire section is 2944 words.)

Julio Ortega (essay date Fall 1983)

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...

(The entire section is 2266 words.)

Scott Simpkins (essay date 1990)

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...

(The entire section is 6551 words.)

Lucille Kerr (essay date 1992)

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...

(The entire section is 9492 words.)