A Manual for Manuel

(Literary Masterpieces, Volume 17)
ph_0111207073-Cortazar.jpg Julio Cortázar Published by Salem Press, Inc.

Julio Cortázar is no newcomer to the English-speaking world, although his most famous story is normally associated with the Italian film director Michelangelo Antonioni who put Blow Up to film. Seven of Julio Cortázar’s books, including A Manual for Manuel, have so far been translated into English. Hopscotch, one of Cortázar’s longer novels, has received, perhaps, the greatest acclaim.

A Manual for Manuel is Cortázar’s latest long and meaningful novel that has seen the light in translation. When the original Libro de Manuel was published in March, 1973, it was immediately hailed as the most “political” of the writings of this remarkable Latin American writer. Such an opinion is reflected in the flap of the jacket of the English edition, starting with the words “In his first political novel. . . .” This statement is both inaccurate and misleading. Political, though not partisan, are two previous novels: The Winners and Hopscotch. Indeed, all the works of Cortázar since the publication of Las armas secretas (The Secret Weapons) in 1959 fall into the political realm. This collection of stories that includes the original of “Blow Up” (“Las babas del Diablo”), and what now is considered as his best short story, “El perseguidor” (“The Pursuer”), is a narration of political consequence in the same perspective in which A Manual for Manuel is also political.

The wary reader will by now have guessed that the connotations of the very familiar word political as used in this essay differ somewhat, perhaps considerably, from the normally accepted usage and that an explanation is necessary. Cortázar shares with other well-known members of the group that has come to be known as the “boom” a nonpartisan political commitment, the bases and meaning of which can be best expressed in the writer’s own words:In Latin America (and in the rest of the world), politically committed intellectuals can be divided into two categories: those who understand political theory and know or think they know why they are engaged, and those who do not understand political theory but, nevertheless, are equally committed. Anyone who has read my books realizes that I belong to the second of these categories. . . .

Julio Cortázar shares with Gabriel García Márquez, Mario Vargas Llosa, Carlos Fuentes, and even Octavio Paz—though to a lesser extent—the conviction that artistic creation develops within a context that includes the historical circumstance and its political options, all of which ineluctably influence the work of the writer, whether he wishes or not, and will be reflected in it. They do not share the attitude of the Marxist critic, for whom only the writers who belong to the “oppressed” class or who have broken with the bourgeoisie and joined the “oppressed” can be considered as revolutionary. Their attitude can be compared, rather, to that of the American New Left in the late 1950’s and 1960’s. It is an irrational, rather than a logically systematic approach, based on vital motivation instead of on the acceptance of ideological discipline. It rejects organizational discipline while uncompromisingly adhering to the belief that the only acceptable basis for social behavior is the total absence of any exploitation of human beings.

In this search, Cortázar, an Argentine writer exiled in France, rejects the traditional view of the “Latin American liberal,” of the bourgeois or petit bourgeois liberal transplanted to Europe where, far from the daily constraints of the oppressive society he has left behind, he can devote himself to “universal” ideas redolent of religious and metaphysical connotations. Quite the contrary, as the writer himself has explained, if he left Argentina in 1951 to take up residence in France permanently, it was in order to acquire a wider perspective and to rediscover bit by bit the true roots of Latin American life without losing sight of a global view of history and of mankind. The Algerian war, the conflicts in eastern Europe, the Cuban revolution, the Vietnam war, the...

(The entire section is 1699 words.)