Around the Day in Eighty Worlds
Julio Cortázar, best known for his constructivist fictions including Hopscotch (1963), 62: A Model Kit (1968), and We Love Glenda So Much and Other Tales (1981), was, along with Gabriel García Márquez, Jorge Luis Borges, and Carlos Fuentes, one of the most bountiful sources of the modern renaissance in Central and South American fiction. His death in 1984 marked a watershed of sorts: The first generation, to whom Borges served as godfather, was passing away, and the effects of its remarkable outpouring, moving north (though this is only one of the directions in which it moved), was being felt by a new generation of “fabulists” in Great Britain, Canada, and the United States. Around the Day in Eighty Worlds could serve either as an introduction to or as a retrospective of Cortázar’s work: Though most of the pieces included were collected between 1967 and 1969, and published originally in two books, La vuelta al día en ochenta mundos (1967) and Ultimo round (1969), the variety of styles and interests they exhibit gives the reader an indication of the range of Cortázar’s work over his long career. Here, one can find a formal, critical tribute to the Cuban novelist José Lezama Lima alongside a compelling recollection of a Louis Armstrong jazz concert in Paris. A horrific remembrance of a visit to the Howrah Railroad Station in Calcutta appears in the same volume as descriptions of the antics of Cortázar’s anarchists of the imagination, the Cronopios. In essence, Around the Day in Eighty Worlds, as the inversion of the Jules Verne title suggests, is a chaotic voyage through the “worlds” of Cortázar’s capacious vision. The collection, abundantly illustrated with photographs, surrealist graphics, and line drawings, might be seen as a collage or an almanac of Cortázar’s imagination which can be read sporadically, at will, in a disorderly fashion. As the reader is invited to do in his fiction, in this assemblage of autobiographical fragments, critical essays, travelogues, satires, and flights of fancy, he can travel digressively through Cortázar’s “eighty worlds” constructing his own view of the author’s mind and memory.
While Around the Day in Eighty Worlds is a “miscellany” in the truest sense of the word, it does reflect a series of concerns which have been central to Cortázar’s writing throughout his career. Certainly one of these is his interest in “reflexivity,” or speculation upon the act of making fiction within fiction itself. For example, in “The Broken Doll,” an essay illustrated with what appears to be twenty-four negative prints of a child’s doll gradually undergoing disassembly beneath the covers of a doll-size bed, Cortázar discusses the “intentions” and “uncertainties” of Hopscotch and 62: A Model Kit. Of his writing, Cortázar says,We know that attention acts as a lightning rod. Merely by concentrating on something one causes endless analogies to collect around it, even to penetrate the boundaries of the subject itself: an experience that we call coincidence, serendipity—the terminology is extensive. My experience has been that in these circular travels what is really significant surrounds a central absence, an absence that, paradoxically, is the text being written or to be written. In the years I was working on Hopscotch, this saturation reached the point that the only legitimate response was to accept without comment the meteor shower that came through the windows of streets, books, conversations, and everyday circumstances and to convert them into the passages, fragments, and required or optional chapters of the other that formed around an ill-defined story of searches and missed encounters; that, in large part, accounts for the method and presentation of the story.
This elaborate analogy describes the method of Cortázar’s writing in general, as it does the way in which Around the Day in Eighty Worlds is assembled. Rather than controlling external reality through his art or creating a masterful illusion, Cortázar suggests that he, as artist, is merely a conduit for the “meteor shower” of information that comes to him through books, films, and the noise of everyday life. He argues that story is an “absence,” a kind of vortex around which the fragments of a discursive reality whirl or, perhaps, the black background upon which the artist arranges his verbal collage. In quoting a famous passage from Vladimir Nabokov’s Pale Fire (1962), Cortázar notes that the essence of his fiction is “not text but texture”: that is, not a transparent representation of the real or the illusory but an interweaving of plots, information, and discourses into a “web” of narrative. Reinforcing these points visually is the photo-essay of “the broken doll,” which shows the piece-by-piece destruction of the doll: The disassembly of the doll both parallels and acts as counterpoint to Cortázar’s remarks upon the assemblage of his fiction from fragments. The photos are disturbing in that, in some frames, the doll looks like a real little girl; a frame where the doll’s pose is frankly erotic is followed by one where a limb has been broken. The commentary provided by the photographs reflects the nature and intent of much of Cortázar’s fiction: to blur the difference between the real and the artificial; to show the attractions and distractions of eroticism and violence, while suggesting that the dividing line between them is not as clear as one might wish.
Cortázar is equally interested in that primary quality of fiction—time. Several items in Around the Day in Eighty Worlds raise the issue of time in fiction, especially those, such as “Journey to a Land of Cronopios” or “Julios in Action,” which involve a strange creature, the Cronopio. While Famas are overbearing, and while Esperanzas are ambitious, Cronopios...
(The entire section is 2435 words.)