Sunday, August 26, 2007

Julio Cortazar And Hopscotch

Even though it may sound arbitrary, I have always judged most fiction keeping Latin American writing as a benchmark. It is the works, as they say. It has the Rings Of Saturn and Cupid's arrows, it has things concrete and things abstract, and its influence notwithstanding, it has won new converts to reading.

Of all great Latin American writers, it is Julio Cortazar who is the most daring, the most poetic, for with him, writing reaches those rarefied heights wherein the missed arc of his thoughts notwithstanding, the sheer delight of his prose is unending. With Cortazar, prose becomes proxy for love, proxy for the usually unattainable bliss, for surreal heavens, for shade, for light, for magic and honey and colour, for near revelations, for heartache before and after pain, for new music, for old love. Cortazar's prose has a hum, it has music which of course some other prose too has, but it has jazz which is usually different, played on a rainy night, near a burning fire. Cortazar lifts the clouds from a dull page and gives it colour, gives it sheen, gives gloss, gives the page love, a different song.

And all these qualities can very confidently be found in his Hopscotch, a novel that has mesmerised me for long, ever since I saw the femme fatale on its cover, ever since I read the lush translation of Gregory Rabassa. I think the whole of Cortazar's fiction is one Hopscotch after the other, and as you get familiar with his methods, there are further surprises, more hops and further jumps.

Hopscotch is usually considered as an example of the genre of Hypertext, and even though I am more fond of conventional story telling, I have found Hypertexting as more suitable to explore the subtle and not so subtle psychological ways in which human beings interact with each other. In other words, this becomes a very good method for exploring memory and then attempting to differentiate it from desire, which has always been my own undoing, one obsession. To read and analyse any story randomly needs an act of faith from the writer, and once the reader is invited to participate in this exercise, in this game, the demarcation between figure and ground disappears, from the read and unread, from the character writhing on the pages to the reader struggling on it, from desire to action, from memory to desire, from longing to pain.

I wish I could read Spanish, just for this book, for La Rayuela, as it is called. Set initially in Paris, and then later on in Argentina, I have been a victim of the symbols of this novels, of the shimmering claws of the memory it evokes in me, of my own life, of my own La Maga, my own club. It will be pointless to paraphrase or summarise this novel, for even if I wanted to, I feel incapable of just doing that. Suffice it to say here that this novel tells us the story of a man who lives by indulging in intellectual myth making. This novel is an account of his stories but it is also about La Maga, his lover. He lives with his friends in Paris, involved in intellectual, poetic, musical and political solutions for the world. After his lover disappears, he returns to Argentina, looking for La Maga in a different person ending nearly insane. The novel can be read whichever way you want, from chapter 1 to 56 or from 73 to 1, though Cortazar has provided a table of instructions, in case of confusion or forgetfulness. He also advises the reader to ignore these instructions, if the reader so decides.

This novel is filled with literary references and with jazz. The prose is jazz like and the style extremely rich. This novel is Literature itself, abundant with style and it conveys a certain approach, a style of living, something which I was incapable of doing in a certain time, words, days and nights that just came and went, superficially touching the fingertips of poetry, and leaving behind only ash, only regret, only promise, stale aftersmoke. Hopscotch is a dream when you read it, and one wonders at the genius of its style. One can quote chunks of it, any time. The great Pablo Neruda wrote about Cortazar............"Anyone who does not read Cortazar is doomed. Not to read him is a serious invisible disease which in time can have terrible consequences. Something similar to a man who has never tasted peaches. He would quietly become sadder...........and, probably, little by little, he would lose his hair".

One must not hurry while reading Cortazar, for everything is turned upside down. We must sing or try to hum a bit of his song, his jazz. Hopscotch is a fascinating novel or text that one could read for years and never tire. How many books could you say that for?


* said...

I read it a couple of years ago and loved it, it is great, isnt it, all the wanderings through Paris and of course La Maga and so on. The ending is great, too. This hypertext thing should not be too overemphasized, because Cortazar still gives guidelines. - here this excerpt from some interview:

EPG: The book is not negative. There is no way that Oliveira can leap from the window onto the hopscotch board.

JC: He doesn't leap. No, no. I'm sure he doesn't.

EPG:Me, too.

JC: Of course, completely sure.

Kubla Khan said...

I think that yes, for this novel, the hypertext may be ignored, though in other novels, we might consider it as important.
but, what a beautiful novel Hopscotch is!

Alok said...

i have heard so much about it, but never read it. my latin american literature knowledge is limited to marquez, llosa and borges.

Ganirivi said...

Hi again!
You know, many have learned english to read Shakespeare :-)
it would be great to know that someone started studying spanish to read Borges and Cortázar!

I really like your blog!

Lupe said...

It's somehow strange for me to read such a comment about Rayuela in English. And to read you wanna learn Spanish for it, well, that's huge.
You should really read 62/Modelo para armar (I haven't the slightless idea what can the title in English might be) if you so loved Cortázar's writing.

âşık meyhâni said...

Nice to see Rayuela fans.
I am looking for someone who has the english version of the book. I ve tried to translate a sentence, but I ve failed, as expected, so may be someone tells me directly. I ll be glad to be contacted.

Tip Robin said...


Stumbled across this while researching a short story of his called "La Nocha Boca Arriba".

Just wanted to say that, in a way, I'm getting my MA in Spanish literature in order to fully appreciate (and hopefully be influenced and further inspired) by Cortazar.

I read Hopscotch two years ago (in English) and loved it. He plays so much with the language that, even if you are a native Argentine, it's difficult to understand the extent to his playfulness.

Anyway, good blog.