Julio Cortázar Essay - Cortázar, Julio (Vol. 3)

Cortázar, Julio (Vol. 3)

Cortázar, Julio 1914–

Cortázar is a Belgian-born Argentine novelist and short story writer now living in Paris. Best known for Hopscotch, he writes fantastical fiction often compared to work by Kafka and Borges. (See also Contemporary Authors, Vols. 21-22.)

The first fifty-six chapters of Cortázar's novel [Hopscotch] tell an ordinary enough story. The remaining "expendable chapters," "Capítulos prescindibles," are all made up of quotations of various lengths and drawn from a wide variety of sources. There are, for example, lyrics from American jazz songs, or blues, an Associated Press account of an electric chair execution, a passage from Clarence Darrow's Defense of Leopold and Loeb, phrases and passages taken from Antonin Artaud, Witold Gombrowicz's Ferdydurke, from the texts of Zen Buddhism, from Meister Eckhart, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Georges Bataille, Claude Lévi-Strauss, Giuseppe Ungaretti, Anaïs Nin, and Octavio Paz. There are allusions to The Waves, to "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock," and to Under the Volcano; there is a list of cafés in cities all over Europe; a selection from the diary of Ivonne Guitry; a totally mad plan by one Ceferino for a world government designed along ultra-scientific lines; and there is an explanation by Alban Berg of how he composed his "Chamber Concerto for Violin, Piano and Three Wind Instruments." When these quotations are interspersed among the regular chapters, the structure of the book is necessarily altered…. One may indicate at this point that without the "expendable chapters," Hopscotch would be a fine, but scarcely a revolutionary, novel. The fact is that Cortázar has employed literary quotation to erect what actually amounts to a movable structure….

[Cortázar's] announcement that Hopscotch consists of "many books" is no exaggeration: there are the stories of Oliveira's psychic quest, of Traveler and Talita's love, and of la Maga's emotional daring. There is, besides, the group portrait of exiled intellectuals in Paris, the comic picture of the Buenos Aires madhouse, the aesthetic of fiction provided by Morelli, the bits and pieces of witty or lyrical statements, and the snatches of poetry that are scattered among the pages in the form of citations or insights expressed by the author himself. The highly suggestive structure of Hopscotch allows the author an immense freedom to combine perspectives on such a scale that he is truly constructing several books simultaneously—and doing so in such a way that the novel spills over into life much as does The Counterfeiters, the masterpiece of Morelli's hero, André Gide.

Sharon Spencer, in her Space, Time and Structure in the Modern Novel (reprinted by permission of New York University Press; copyright © 1971 by New York University), New York University Press, 1971, pp. 145, 208-09.

An extension of Cortázar's brilliant novel "Hopscotch," ["62: A Model Kit"] is a formidable meditation on group psychology, self-reflexive consciousness, and the nature and limits of reason and language. At its heart is an evolutionary conception of being, one that suggests a restructuring of human behavior, moving beyond instrumental psychology toward the ambiguities of a radical phenomenological sense of being-in-the-world. These thoughts are unobtrusively borne by a plot that is at once comic and horrific. Interweaving stories of frustrated vampires and antic artists cavorting through Paris, London, and Vienna, Cortázar's innovative style challenges notions of gratuity with intimations of the profoundest sense of meaning. The vampires and artists are not only popular novelistic conventions, but regions of a mind struggling to comprehend itself.

Virginia Quarterly Review, Vol. 49, No. 2 (Spring, 1973), p. lx.

All Fires the Fire, a collection of eight short stories of uneven quality, is [Cortázar's] sixth work of fiction to be published in this country. And it prolongs the game of Seems & Is, a game many years in fashion in the cafes of Cortázar's current home town, a game his previous fictions have all but played out. Certain preoccupations—with point of view, with the absurd, with doppelgängers—have become hazardous to the execution of a talented fictioneer's gifts, and these preoccupations, the stock in trade of the advanced guard cinema, are Cortázar's. He is the author of the short story that became the movie "Blow-Up." And there you have him.

But not quite. There is more to be said about his art than its obsession with shell games and trick mirrors and false-bottom boxes. There is a story here, "Nurse Cora," that is a very special item indeed….

The technique of the story is to make cinematic cuts from the mama's consciousness to the boy's to the nurse's, and round the infield again. But what might have been merely an exercise in point of view becomes something far more consequential by Cortázar's gorgeous selection of social details and temporal ironies. The mama's love is harsh, and self-serving, a corruption of love. The boy hates his youth and his young body, and the body is mortally insulted, old to the edge of death. Cora is a bundle of human, as well as aesthetic, paradoxes. Cortázar's step is sure through this fiction….

There is something dusty and tutorial about many of these stories, something merely instructional, as though they were inspired by habit rather than need. Their language is supple, and often vigorous, and it's obvious that Cortázar has been well served by Suzanne Levine [his translator]. It's that Cortázar is too old to hang around with novice magicians, too talented to waste time on elementary card tricks and disappearing acts. He's had the stuff of these yarns down cold for years, he knows all the precedents, all the close cases. His hold on the absurd and the unreal is so firm that he makes a man see the consolations of that tired old whore reality.

Geoffrey Wolff, "The Old Unreality Blues," in Book World—The Washington Post (© The Washington Post), November 18, 1973, p. 4.