Julio Cortázar Cortázar, Julio (Vol. 15) - Essay


(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Cortázar, Julio 1914–

An Argentinian novelist, short story writer, translator, and poet, Cortázar is considered a master of fantastic literature. In his hands the fabric of reality is woven almost imperceptibly with threads of fantasy, creating a unique fiction that often bears the influence of his fellow fantasist, Borges. Cortázar probes the subconscious of his characters, and often the reader is confounded in the attempt to decipher whether one is in the realm of the bizarre or is witness to the machinations of a deranged mind. Cortázar's work, offering a dazzling display of language and structural openness, marks a departure from traditional Latin American literature. (See also CLC, Vols. 2, 3, 5, 10, 13, and Contemporary Authors, Vols. 21-24, rev. ed.)

James E. Irby

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Cortázar wholeheartedly continues, in his own fashion, surrealism's vast dream of undoing the whole rational machinery and routine of Western thought and regaining man's true spiritual abode. At the outset of [Hopscotch] there are … two parallel texts of moral prescription, one in academic eighteenth-century Castilian, the other in mock-illiterate Argentine slang: Cortázar has a uniquely sensitive ear for his countrymen's living speech, which he humorously stylizes and plays off against abstractions in an effort to demolish clichés, rhetoric, jargon. These contrasting epigraphs suggest further the principle of juxtaposition which dominates the novel's structure (a loose mixture of philosophy and parody) and its most experimental feature: the combinational rearrangement of its parts. Like the French anti-novelists, Cortázar wants to involve his readers creatively in that rearrangement so as to renew fiction as an instrument of perception. He differs from these writers, however, in his attempt to give his story metaphysical dimensions and to use language for visceral, symbolic or incantatory effects. (pp. 64-5)

Supernatural transpositions such as [those found in "Las babas del diablo" (The Devil's Spittle, 1959)] are frequent in Cortázar's early stories, first-rate examples of that genre known in Spanish as literatura fantástica…. However, in more recent works, without abandoning the basic premises of his art, Cortázar has discarded the overtly fantastic and moved toward larger forms in which characters are treated in broader and more detailed contexts of actuality, in which many styles or levels of discourse interplay, and in which his concern with means of expanding consciousness evolves into a search for what he now calls figuras. (pp. 65-6)

Though Cortázar considers his figuras as extensions of correspondences between doubles, they also enlarge upon the dark, labyrinthine aspects of his other early themes. The vertigo or terror arising from those themes now mingles more and more with the hopeful sense of a return to true origins, true order. Cortázar becomes fascinated with non-Western philosophies and primitive cosmologies; his vocabulary abounds with words like "mantic," "shamanic," "orphic" and the like. But beneath this modish pose there is something deeply genuine, going back to the author's childhood obsession with the formalized ritual of games, with their magical aura. And the figura always seeks to puncture the grandiose with the ridiculous. (p. 66)

It is in Cortázar's first novel, The Winners [1960] that the concept of figura arises…. In The Winners, the emergent figura has ample implications, serving in part as an allegory of frustrated Argentina, seen from the ground up as interlocking varieties of mauvaise foi, and in part as an allegory of all frustrated attempts upon Theseus-monsters and their false order. But it proceeds mostly on the level of objective presentation by fairly conventional devices. In Hopscotch, however, Cortázar tries to fashion a figura which will at once embrace not only character, relationship and setting, but also the book itself, its devices, its sources, and the reader's perception of it all. (pp. 66-7)

Hopscotch obviously represents a radical effort by the author to overcome any fixed, comfortable rhetoric he may have devised for himself in the past, and...

(The entire section is 1424 words.)

Gregory Rabassa

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Julio Cortázar is a writer who has thrown off the restrictions of mental Calvinism imposed by the past century and still so much with us…. [He] finds that life imitates art and that homo ludens must precede homo faber ("homo faber & faber," as he calls him in Libro de Manuel). This is most evident in his conception of structure. A form is of its own making, an object is defined by its use, as Ortega y Gasset has said, and the reader really creates his own novel as he goes forward. This is the starting point of Hopscotch, where Cortázar gives us a carefully ordered alternate version and also invites us to go to work and bring forth further variations. We have before us a rich lode of chiastic possibilities. When the novel was first published in the United States, a great many critics did not know that along with the interesting possibilities put forth to them they were also being had. Cortázar shook his head in dismay at this straitlaced interpretation and agreed that it would be awful to have to read any novel through twice, this one above all. What he did do, however, was to point out the possibilities of reality, and this can best be done and perhaps only be done by recourse to fiction, to the lie. Our wisdom is still so limited that it most often needs to be primed with a cupful of untruth in order to start pumping up new ideas and concepts. Before we can begin to write, we must unwrite, as the mononymous Morelli says in Hopscotch (a fine and complex pun can be essayed in Spanish with the words escribir and describir).

As we put the pieces of Hopscotch together we find that the puzzle is the novel itself, that we are in a sense writing it as we read it, much in the way that Aureliano Babilonia in One Hundred Years of Solitude lives his life to the end and can only do so as he reads the manuscript of Melquíades, which is the book we are reading too. This is also the structure of Don Quixote, accepted as the first novel, although Homer and, indeed, Odysseus himself have some claim through the narrative techniques of the Odyssey….

Cortázar's art as seen in Hopscotch and its sequel 62: A Model Kit is essentially indehiscent. The conclusion is vague, real rather than factual. Life cannot end so neatly and so precisely…. Oliveira seeks truth and meaning in the accepted sense and finally comes to realize that they are elusive, that his illusions are closer to his goal. The very name of his friend Traveler is evidence that our words and labels in their assigned usage are apt ultimately to be a mockery of the very thing they are meant to represent. Oliveira's nostos is tragic, more like Agamemnon's than that of Odysseus, perhaps because, like the former, he is prone to accept standard definitions in spite of himself and only becomes a contriver when his mind begins to slip. (p. 543)

In Cortázar's perception of the truth the use of dreams and dreamlike states leads us in important directions. Much of this in Hopscotch is hallucinatory or a ribald caricature of surface reality, like the Berthe Trépat episode…. In 62 we meet the City, a vision shared by the characters and not really a dream. It is, rather, an epiphany which has a collective mise-en-scène. The City is, of course, a labyrinth and the hotel a labyrinth within a labyrinth. Here the direction of the elevator leads to anabasis before it turns horizontal. The coming up is frustrated, then, and the revelation incomplete, leading into difficulties on a higher level. This would bear out what has subsequently been discovered in mathematics regarding the so-called "Traveling Salesman Problem," a sort of maze puzzle which can be solved when it is in limited form but becomes insoluble when enlarged, showing that microcosmic solutions do not always obtain in the macrocosm. (p. 544)

It is also in 62 that the other self acquires more cohesion. In Hopscotch Traveler is seen as a kind of doppelgänger for Oliveira (the irony of names again: Traveler who has never left Buenos Aires, and Oliveira with the connotations of roots and staff of life, the trunk upon which the bed of Odysseus and Penelope was anchored). The idea of the double is broadened in 62, and we have the notion of the paredros, the Egyptian concept of a guiding spirit, a fellow traveler, but one which...

(The entire section is 1810 words.)

Bell Gale Chevigny

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

In A Manual for Manuel, Julio Cortázar no longer obliges his reader to leap about, as he did in Hopscotch: the page itself jumps…. As in Hopscotch, play and war with communication obsess Cortázar and he still demands that his reader be an accomplice.

But an accomplice in what projects? Not, it seems, those of Hopscotch: we are no longer led in pursuit of the East, the "center," madness, or the unity behind discrete words and egos. Nor are we made to help discern and construct, as in 62: A Model Kit, the patterns of forces neither historical nor psychological that govern behavior. For the first time, Cortázar plays his revolutionary practice of literature...

(The entire section is 790 words.)