Julio Cortázar Cortázar, Julio (Vol. 10) - Essay


(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Cortázar, Julio 1914–

Cortázar is an Argentine novelist, short story writer, translator, and poet. Like his fellow Argentine and mentor, Borges, Cortázar creates a fictional work in which fantasy and reality are indistinguishable. In this bewildering dream world his characters are portrayed as victims both of their delusions and of the fantastic world around them. Cortázar's short story "Las babas del diablo" was made into the film Blow-up. (See also CLC, Vols. 2, 3, 5, and Contemporary Authors, Vols. 21-24, rev. ed.)

David I. Grossvogel

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Like most of Cortázar's short stories, ["Las babas del diablo"] is primarily a tale about the impossiblity of telling and about the frustration of seeing—twin expressions of the ontological dilemma that defines man, for Cortázar, as an irreducible separateness that recognizes similarly hermetic presences, without ever being able to establish more than a surface contact with them, without being able to assimilate them through either perception (sight) or definition (telling). The dramatic tension of Cortázar's stories derives from the exacerbation of their people's attempts to cancel and transcend their ontological sentence. They fail, but their efforts are sometimes of such magnitude as to alter forever the order of the natural world in which they previously dwelled.

Michel is a translator: his job is to understand telling and to make it intelligible to others…. But as a consequence of his unearthly adventure Michel will sense that his plight resulted from a desperation to see beyond the surfaces that limit human sight, and that even beyond existence (for the people of Cortázar are afflicted with the same curse as Beckett's people: death does not still their metaphysical questioning) the problem remains one of telling.

Michel's dilemma is that however he focuses on the objects of his world, those objects remain separate from him and alien; his focusing instrument—the camera, the typewriter, the word—cannot bite on those objects, is irremediably inert…. (p. 50)

As the virulence of the ontological sickness intensifies, the victim's urge to escape into, and possess, his vision increases his need to voice the sense of his proximity to this vision and the sense of his frustration at not being able to cancel the forever remaining distance. He must tell his state of being…. Just as the still photograph subverts the life it intends to reproduce, the very act of telling subverts the substance of what...

(The entire section is 829 words.)

Lanin A. Gyurko

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Many of the short stories of Julio Cortázar present situations that appear to be absurd or fantastic…. These stories of the bestial and the demonic may be interpreted on two different levels. One is the purely fantastic or supernatural, in which time is cyclical and the self has avatar identities. Metempsychoses occur not only between two human souls but between human and animal spirits. Demonic forces are conjured up, sometimes by a weird pagan ritual and at others by a type of extrasensory process or mental telepathy. Yet another, equally convincing tack of interpretation, and one that attests to the complexity of the short fiction of Cortázar, is to view him as a realist author and to interpret the bizarre experiences that plague the lives of his characters as due to the operation of their own disturbed consciousnesses. Their minds are invaded by subconscious impulses which they initially can suppress but which finally increase in power and overwhelm them. Thus the world of the short stories of this modern Argentine author becomes one of delusions, hallucinations, and nightmares—powerful fantasies that at times have the strength to kill and that frequently destroy the minds of the afflicted characters. If seen as inhabiting a realm constantly invaded by the supernatural, Cortázar's characters are pawns of fate, suborned by demons that they struggle against but whom they are compelled to obey. But if viewed in realistic, psychological terms, in most instances Cortázar's characters destroy their own selves. Fate becomes an inner force, the relentless action of the obsessed and tormented consciousness.

Most all of Cortázar's characters are prone to absorption into fantasy worlds because they are narcissistic, socially alienated, and emotionally unstable. They have no strong or meaningful outer lives to counterbalance the awesome power of their delusions. These individuals are studies in deficiency. Many lack will, courage, professional role, social relationships, and, often, even a name. (p. 988)

Fantasy worlds are experienced with a conviction and an intensity that make them real for the characters. External reality, on the other hand, recedes to the level of the unreal. (pp. 988-89)

Cortázar's narrative art is one of paradox, ambiguity, and ironic reversal. Throughout his short fiction there is a subtle blending of reality and illusion, nightmare and waking consciousness, man and beast, self and other, present and past, terror and humor, myth and fact, art (visual, verbal, musical) and life. Neither time nor space, psychic identity nor social role remain certain. In many stories reality is a mere façade that masks the demonic….

The protean quality of Cortázar's world is particularly evident in the schizophrenic nature of many of his protagonists. (p. 989)

The unstable identities of the characters are often given a structural expression within the stories. Some are narrated in constantly shifting panels of present and remote past, reality and nightmare. The protagonist of "El otro cielo" rotates between experiences within the bourgeois world of Buenos Aires in the 1940's and adventures within his secret fantasy zone of Paris of 1870. His imaginative life is narrated with the same if not greater sense of authenticity as is his life in the real world. The story "La noche boca arriba" constantly oscillates between the twentieth century identity of the protagonist as a victim of a motorcycle accident and an oneiric self as an ancient Moteca Indian being pursued by Aztec warriors as a victim for blood sacrifice. The delirious mind of the guilt-stricken girl Wanda in "Siestas" confuses memory and nightmare, perception and hallucination. The molester with the hand of wax, initially a nightmare, finally materializes for the stricken girl, who has been driven insane. The hellworld created by the solipsistic consciousness is stylistically dramatized in many of Cortázar's narratives through a third-person indirect interior monologue or modified stream of consciousness technique. "Bestiario," "Las armas secretas," and "Siestas" combine this technique with sentence-pyramiding at the climactic moment of the narrative. The bewilderment and terror of the characters are strikingly conveyed through use of this onrush of thoughts that endows the narratives with high dramatic tension.

Many of the narratives use the labyrinth as the symbol par excellence of the mind in crisis. In Cortázar's first major work Los reyes (1949), a dramatic dialogue that is a variation on the myth of Theseus and the Minotaur, the labyrinth is not only a physical structure but also a symbol of the mind. (p. 990)

In addition to the labyrinth, another factor in many of the narratives that contributes to their air of unreality is that the protagonists are often artists—writers, photographers, musicians—or they are endowed with febrile imaginations easily influenced by artistic expression. Yet, ironically, the creative...

(The entire section is 2059 words.)

Roberto GonzáLez EchevarríA

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)


It would be a naïve and predictable undertaking to show that self-referentiality occurs in Cortázar, since Hopscotch has already become a classic of self-referential writing. But it is precisely in self-referentiality that the mythology which I intend to isolate manifests itself…. [Self-reflexiveness] is a regressive movement, a circular journey back to the source. In literature self-referentiality is a return to origins in order to take away from conception its claim of originality, of constituting a single, fresh moment of beginning, an ordering principle and principium. Rather than the joyful game that it is often taken to be, self-referentiality is a...

(The entire section is 2084 words.)

Martha Paley Francescato

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

It is always Oliveira, Juan, Andrés that we hear about [in studies of Cortázar's works]. Why not La Maga, Hélène, Ludmilla? Or is the reader supposed to accept the term "man" as meaning "human being," which would also include woman? I don't think so. When Cortázar refers to the "new man" he means precisely that: man. And the term does not include the woman, although Cortázar himself has insisted he refers to both the man and the woman. On the other hand, why not only "new man"? A writer—a man—who writes in a world dominated by men, does not have to give woman equal importance. Or should he? In the course of the following discission, I propose that we forget Cortázar the man. All references will be to...

(The entire section is 1665 words.)

Malva E. Filer

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Hands are the members of the human body most actively involved in the individual's psychological and emotional life. They are a source and instrument of pleasure; they can give love and affection. They can also, however, hurt and kill. Within the individual, popular tradition has identified the right hand with the rational, the left with the irrational or instinctive aspects of the psyche. From there it is a short step to having a hand represent one of the conflicting forces that strive to achieve control of the self. The literary possibilities of this inner conflict, as a subject, are without boundaries, for this is the main preoccupation of any human being. And Cortázar has found many imaginative and daring ways of...

(The entire section is 861 words.)

David William Foster

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

One of the outstanding characteristics of [Libro de Manuel] is the blending of fictional narration and journalistic clippings, based on the organizing motif of a sort of baby-book for a revolutionary child compiled as the legacy of his parents and mentors. The novel moves back and forth between being the process of compilation and being the baby-book itself. The result is a noteworthy blurring of the distinction between fiction and documentation, using the materials of popular culture, both highbrow and yellow journalism.

Cortázar's present effort [Fantomas contra los vampiros multinacionales] is an even more radical step and bespeaks eloquently the concern of the contemporary writer...

(The entire section is 392 words.)