The OF Blog: Author Spotlight: Julio Cortázar

Monday, March 31, 2008

Author Spotlight: Julio Cortázar


While I'm as much of a Jorge Luis Borges fan as most reading this little post, I cannot help but to wonder at the relative paucity of words on spec fic-related sites and blogs about one of Borges's compatriots, one who is in his own way just as much of a master of the short fiction form and of inventive prose as was Borges himself. An author whose stories contain such a richness of scene and of character as to give them an atmosphere that could be chilling whenever he so chose to explore those paths.

I am talking about Julio Cortázar. I have been reading the two-volume collection of his short stories these past few weeks, and I cannot help but to marvel at how well Cortázar constructs a vivid image with just a few brush strokes. Add to that the masterpiece that was his "novel," Rayuela (Hopscotch in the English-speaking market), and here was an author that pushed hard to find the limits of the storytelling form. There are haunted places in Cortázar's fictions, places that are much more immediate and personal than what would find in say a Borges or an Adolfo Bioy Casares. But just because Cortázar was more direct in his short stories does not mean that he failed to write stories that linger with the reader. If any have seen the 1960s movie Blow Up, they might have learned at some point that the film is based upon a translated story of Cortázar's of that name, ("Las babas del diablo" in Spanish). Although I have yet to see the movie, after reading the story, I cannot help but to think that the movie will be an experience different from most.

As for Rayuela, years before Milorad Pavić thought to write his encyclopedia-style novel The Dictionary of the Khazars, Cortázar constructed a tale in which the order of events can be read in multiple ways, creating a very non-linear flow to what on the surface appears to be a tragic love story. It is moving, original, and the narrative conceit that Cortázar employs here works extremely well. Yet there are few paeans being written for Cortázar on genre sites, at least compared to Borges and others who straddle the imaginary line between "mainstream literary" and "genre" literature. It is a crying shame. This is an author who deserves to be read by those who read within the genre as much as those who read outside it.

11 comments:

Daniel Ausema said...

I read Rayuela for a college lit class. I definitely enjoyed it, including all the jumping around (though they did sit around listening to jazz and sipping mate an awful lot...). I've even tipped me hat a time or two to it in my own writing.

I don't remember anything speculative about it--not fantasy, not magical realism... So I guess I figured the lack of people in the spec fic world commenting about his work had to do with that. Are his other works more fantastic?

Larry said...

Many of his short stories are, but more of a "horror" element than anything overtly fantastical or SFnal. I seem to recall that some of his stories were published in Omni shortly before his death in 1984 from leukemia.

mark c said...

I much prefer his short stories to his novels, they are quite reminiscent of Kafka's short stories - there is an anthology out which includes most of his best ones, including Bestiary, House Taken Over and the BLow Up inspiration.

I'd highly recommend it.

Larry said...

Yes, those are indeed the stories I had in mind, although their titles vary somewhat from that in the Spanish original. The House one is perhaps my favorite, along with "Autopista del Sur," which I think translates as the Southern Racetrack, or something like that in English?

mark c said...

is that the one about the guy who has a motorcycle accident and dreams he's an aztec about to be sacrificed? I'll have to check the English title at home

the English language anthology is called "Blow Up and other tales", I think. The Spanish lang equivalent would be Bestario?

Larry said...

I'm reading them collected by Alfaguara as Cuentos Completos, I and II. And yes, that's the story that I had in mind.

Fábio Fernandes said...

Cortazar has left me an indelible impression since I read Bestiario in the 70s. Now and then, I like to read Rayuela (or "O Jogo da Amarelinha" in Portuguese) randomically, a kind of oracular reading. It always makes me feel good - and, at the same time, very, very humble and small as a writer. Even though most of his work has been translated to Brazilian Portuguese, I´m always amazed at the fact that many of my colleagues in the Brazilian SF-writing community couldn´t care less about him or Borges. A shame indeed.

Larry said...

A shame indeed, as it just seems so sad at times that the most creative and daring of writers fail to garner the recognition for their originality that they so often deserve. Ironic, considering there are many readers all across the globe who complain about a lack of originality in fiction and yet the more original writers tend to be relegated to relative obscurity.

Fábio Fernandes said...

That´s absolutely right, Larry. I have a friend of mine who, aside from Portuguese, just can read French (even though many of us Brazilians can more or less read Spanish, he couldn´t care less).

Just another day, in a Brazilian SF community, he was whining about the lack of several important themes in SF, just as... sex!!

Naturally, he was flooded with hot-tempered comments, ranging from "don´t you read P.J Farmer? And Samuel Delany, for crying out loud!" His answer: "but I can´t read English (even though Farmer was well translated to Portuguese)".

Oh, well, maybe Levi-Strauss was right... Tristes tropiques... :-(

Larry said...

Sorry for the lateness in responding (I've been lazy and not checking past the first page for new comments), but that friend of yours sounds like so many I've dealt with over the years. Sometimes I get the impression that people want more of the same, just slightly different, rather than anything differs greatly from one's "comfort zone" reading. It's something that I'm planning on working into an upcoming review being posted elsewhere; that dynamic of "slightly different" but yet based on familiar tropes and reader expectations. Won't surprise me one bit if I get quite a few harsh responses when I'm done with writing this review later today.

sorana said...

from all i know "autopista del sud" is the one with the very long traffic jam,so long that it gets to be a new reality for the drivers.another sad ending that leaves you with a pain in your chest.loved it.

 
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