Cortázar always preferred French and English literature to Spanish. As a young man he was particularly attracted to French Surrealism and recognized its influence on his work. In his later years he was fascinated by books on psychology, psychoanalysis, and anthropology.
Cortázar considered himself to be the only one of his generation to employ the techniques and themes of both of the schools of writing that dominated Buenos Aires between 1920 and 1940: One was the Florida group, with its European intellectualism, polished style, and universal themes; the other was the Boedo group, with its realistic urban scenes and unkempt style. Cortázar used characters whose language reflects the Argentine Spanish of several different social classes, which is in the style of the Boedo group, yet his fiction has a universal appeal, dealing with the fantastic that lurks beyond everyday reality, which is characteristic of the Florida group.
For Cortázar the fantastic represents an alteration in the laws, based on the Western notion of logic and reason, that supposedly regulate an ordered reality. As in the works of Alfred Jarry, a French writer whom Cortázar admired, the exceptions are as significant as the rules in fully understanding the hidden and perhaps ignored realities impinging upon human life.
In his short stories Cortázar initially creates normal settings and conventional characters in familiar situations. Soon the reader is caught up in some strange, even nightmarish, turn of events that threatens the established order. This fantastic, illogical dimension infiltrates and subverts everyday reality, allowing both reader and writer to experience an exception to the rules.
In his first collection of stories, Cortázar exhibits a worldview that coincides with that of the Surrealists: The so-called real, concrete world is only one side of a coin whose opposing face is the fantastic, the repressed, the hidden, and the taboo. Like the Surrealists, Cortázar ventures upon the darker, ignored, and repressed side of humanity. He did not consider these darker human dimensions to be pathological; instead, they served as exciting keys to a full appreciation of life. In a work as early as the dramatic poem Los reyes (1949; the kings), Cortázar adapted and altered the Greek myth of the Minotaur—half man, half bull—using him as a sympathetic character to show acceptance of humanity’s basic dichotomy.
Although certain common elements exist between Cortázar’s short stories and his novels, he always differentiated the two fictional forms, depicting the novel as the more dangerous of the two because of the liberties it permits. He maintained that he identified with particular characters in his novels—for example, Horacio Oliveira in Hopscotch and Andrés in A Manual for Manuel. These characters seek a way of life and love and a more just social order.
In Hopscotch, the reader is exposed to Cortázar’s theory of the antinovel. Morelli, an old man, is a famous author, one read by bohemians; his manuscript notes on the antinovel are discovered while he is in the hospital recovering from a car accident. It is Morelli who proposes to make the reader an accomplice in the creative process.
The concept of the antinovel—the fragmented literary structure—was popular in the early 1960’s, when Hopscotch was published. Hopscotch can also be seen as a natural consequence of the dissolution of the novelistic form. The phenomenon began in the late nineteenth century with modernist novels by the Colombian José Asunción Silva and by the Argentine Eugenio Cambaceres. Moreover, by the early 1920’s and 1930’s, Latin American vanguard poets such as Pablo Neruda and César Vallejo were revolutionizing and demystifying poetry.
Cortázar not only challenges the traditional novelistic structure but also revolutionizes language. He aims to destroy literary rhetoric and outmoded forms. His use of imagery is richly varied. His characters play with words, engage in word games, and invent languages. In addition to inventing language, Cortázar makes unusual orthographic changes based on phonetics, joining words in strings to emphasize their vulgarity.
In Hopscotch and A Manual for Manuel eroticism plays a dominant role in the concept of revelation and revolution, for to Cortázar rebellion is sexual and political; it is a liberation of society collectively and of the individual’s desires.
Structural and stylistic playfulness in his fiction is always a means of saving oneself from the crushing seriousness of the world. In the final years, humor was still to be found in his poetry and in the collage travelogue he wrote with his companion Carol Dunlop. The title of the book indicates Cortázar’s playfulness: Los autonautas de la cosmopista: O, Un viaje atemporal Paris-Marsella (1983; Autonauts of the Cosmoroute: A Timeless Journey from Paris to Marseille, 2007).
First published: Rayuela, 1963 (English translation, 1966)
Type of work: Novel
In Hopscotch, Julio Cartázar revolutionized the conventional modes of novelistic expression and strives toward a new mode of consciousness.
Hopscotch is divided into three sections: “From the Other Side,” “From This Side,” and “From Diverse Sides.” At the beginning of the novel Cortázar offers a “Table of Instructions” for reading the novel and suggests that while Hopscotch consists of many books, it most importantly consists of two books. He invites the reader to choose between, first, a traditional reading of chapters 1 through 56 (the first two sections) and, second, a more unconventional reading that begins with chapter 73 and proceeds in hopscotch fashion through a sequence of at least 153 brief chapters.
(The entire section is 2442 words.)