Critical Context

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

A Manual for Manuel was awarded the Prix Medicis. One critic has called it a necessary second volume for Hopscotch. The narrative structure of A Manual for Manuel, although less complex than that of Hopscotch, is experimental and similar to the structure used by twentieth century musicians, both classical and jazz. It proceeds in a more or less linear way, but there are certain questions left unanswered, certain unfilled gaps, because of the way in which the story is told. There is no omnipresent narrator. Rather, the story is told primarily through the eyes of a narrator, “the one I told you,” and Andres. The fact that the modernist cannot get inside the historical event, rendering modernist literature helpless as a political educational tool, is of concern to Cortázar. His novel is about this problem, making the work post-modernist in that it examines the structure of the modernist novel.

Philosophically, Cortázar’s refusal of the role of omniscient narrator who would have access to the thing itself implies that there is no essence to be distinguished from appearance. Two possible conclusions arise: He is a Kantian, who believes that the object is unknowable, or he is a post-modernist, who refuses to distinguish between art and its object. The implication of this method is that reality becomes intelligible through the combined activity of the writer and reader who write or read the text. In A Manual for...

(The entire section is 493 words.)