We Love Glenda So Much and Other Tales
In ldquo;Story with Spiders,” the narrator remarks: “The famous story of the purloined letter is objectively absurd.” One might very well apply this statement to several of the tales in Julio Cortázar’s collection. Although it is too soon to call any of them famous, the title piece, “Return Trip Tango,” and all of the third and last section of We Love Glenda So Much share the concern with reality and fantasy informing Edgar Allan Poe’s enduring tales of ratiocination and of the arabesque. Where Poe, however, tends to divide his work between the realistic and the fanciful, Cortázar—in league with many other experimental postmodernist writers—insists that one’s sense of actuality and one’s sense of fiction are not so far apart as earlier generations of writers and readers have supposed.
Hence he selects Poe’s tale of ratiocination, “The Purloined Letter,” and not the obvious phantasmagoria of “Ligeria” for his example of the “objectively absurd.” The former purports to solve a real mystery that is of the fiction writer’s making, not history’s; the story is a kind of game that treats detective work as if it were chess, which is dependent on making the proper moves. Knowing the reality of things is not so simple as discovering the correct clues or the right words, Cortázar implies in his ten tales, although several of them qualify as elaborate games whose rules are constantly changing. Thus, immediately after the phrase “objectively absurd,” the word “Objectively” is capitalized, isolated in a one-word sentence, and followed by a semicolon, so that through repetition, emphasis, and punctuation the narrator tests or questions his use of the word, making the reader wonder about the various meanings of “objectively,” about what more needs to be said, and about whether the word can be employed “objectively” at all.
This clever use of language is sometimes taken too far. As a result, some of the stories seem more than ambiguous and elusive. Instead, on a first and even second reading, they are opaque and seem like intellectual exercises over which the author may have labored too long to render multiple meanings from his style. The phrase that follows “Objectively,” “the truth runs underneath,” hints at the dangerous games Cortázar’s characters play with narrative. They revel in the hiddenness of language, showing how one buries and obscures one’s profoundest insights in words, words over which characters—no less than their readers—do not always appear to have full control.
What saves Cortázar most of the time from an excessively recondite use of language is his paradoxical grip on a historical reality his theory of fiction would seem to undermine. The narrator in “Return Trip Tango” puts the peculiar tension between fictionality and factuality particularly well: “But how can we not say that perhaps, at some time or another, the mental web adjusts itself, thread by thread, to that of life, even though we might be saying so purely out of fear, because if we didn’t believe in it a little, we couldn’t keep on doing it in the face of outside webs.” There does seem to be something like a genuine history—from which fiction departs and to which it returns. Sometimes the world proves to be almost exactly the way one imagines it, as though fiction were a kind of foretelling, which it is in “Stories I Tell Myself.” At the beginning of “Press Clippings,” the author feels uncomfortably obliged to demarcate, in an epigraph, the planes of the documentary and the fictional: “Although I don’t think it’s really necessary to say so, the first clipping is real, and the second one is imaginary.” Fact and fiction have to hinge on each other as in the last story, “Moebius Strip.” Webster’s Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary gives “Mobius Strip” a slightly different spelling and defines it as “a one-sided surface that is constructed from a rectangle by holding one end fixed, rotating the opposite end 180 degrees, and applying it to the first end.”
If Poe’s playing with common notions of fact and fiction, his attachment of the two to form the one-sided surface of his prose, inform Cortázar’s stories, so too do Constantin P. Cavafy’s carefully wrought convictions about history as an objective fate...
(The entire section is 1781 words.)