Cortázar, Julio 1914–1984

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Cortázar, Julio 1914–1984

(Julio Denis)

PERSONAL: Born August 26, 1914, in Brussels, Belgium; held dual citizenship in Argentina and (beginning 1981) France; died of a heart attack February 12, 1984, in Paris, France; son of Julio Jose and Maria Herminia (Descotte) Cortázar; married former spouse A urora Bernardez, August 23, 1953. Education: Received degrees in teaching and public translating; attended Buenos Aires University. Hobbies and other interests: Jazz, movies.

CAREER: Writer. High school teacher in Bolivar and Chivilcoy, both in Argentina, 1937–44; teacher of French literature, University of Cuyo, Mendoza, Argentina, 1944–45; manager, Argentine Publishing Association (Camara Argentina del Libro), Buenos Aires, Argentina, 1946–48; public translator in Argentina, 1948–51; freelance translator for UNESCO, Paris, 1952–84. Member of jury, Casa de las Americas Award.

AWARDS, HONORS: Prix Medicis, 1974, for Libro de Manuel; Ruben Dario Order of Cultural Independence awarded by Government of Nicaragua, 1983.



Bestiario (short stories; also see below), Sudamericana (Buenos Aires, Argentina), 1951, reprinted, 1983.

Final del juego (short stories; also see below), Los Presentes (Mexico City, Mexico), 1956, expanded edition, Sudamericana (Buenos Aires, Argentina), 1964, reprinted, 1983.

Las armas secretas (short stories; title means "The Secret Weapons"; also see below), Sudamericana (Buenos Aires, Argentina), 1959, reprinted, Catedra (Madrid, Spain), 1983.

Los premios (novel), Sudamericana (Buenos Aires, Argentina), 1960, reprinted, Ediciones B, 1987, translation by Elaine Kerrigan published as The Winners, Pantheon (New York, NY), 1965, reprinted, 1984.

Historias de cronopios y de famas (novel), Minotauro (Buenos Aires, Argentina), 1962, reprinted, Alfaguara (Madrid, Spain), 1984, translation by Paul Blackburn published as Cronopios and Famas, Pantheon (New York, NY), 1969.

Rayuela (novel), Sudamericana (Buenos Aires, Argentina), 1963, reprinted, 1984, translation by Gregory Rabassa published as Hopscotch, Pantheon (New York, NY), 1966, reprinted, 1987.

Cuentos (collection), Casa de las Americas (Havana, Cuba), 1964.

Todos los fuegos el fuego (short stories), Sudamericana (Buenos Aires, Argentina), 1966, reprinted, 1981, translation by Suzanne Jill Levine published as All Fires the Fire, and Other Stories, Pantheon (New York, NY), 1973, reprinted, 1988.

La vuelta al dia en ochenta mundos (essays, poetry, and short stories), Siglo Veintiuno (Mexico City, Mexico), 1967, reprinted, 1984, translation by Thomas Christensen published as Around the Day in Eighty Worlds, North Point Press (San Francisco, CA), 1986.

El perseguidor y otros cuentos (short stories), Centro Editor para America Latina (Buenos Aires, Argentina), 1967, reprinted, Bruguera (Barcelona, Spain), 1983.

End of the Game, and Other Stories, translated by Paul Blackburn (includes stories from Final del juego, Bestiario, and Las armas secretas), Pantheon (New York, NY), 1967, published as Blow-Up, and Other Stories, Collier (New York, NY), 1968, reprinted, Pantheon (New York, NY), 1985.

Ceremonias (collection), Seix Barral (Barcelona, Spain), 1968, reprinted, 1983.

62: Modelo para armar (novel), Sudamericana (Buenos Aires, Argentina), 1968, translation by Gregory Rabassa published as 62: A Model Kit, Pantheon (New York, NY), 1972, New Directions (New York, NY), 2000.

Ultimo round (essays, poetry, and stories; title means "Last Round"), Siglo Veintiuno (Mexico City, Mexico), 1969, reprinted, 1984.

Relatos (collection), Sudamericana (Buenos Aires, Argentina), 1970.

La isla a mediodia y otros relatos (contains twelve previously published stories), Salvat (Estella, Spain), 1971.

Libro de Manuel (novel), Sudamericana (Buenos Aires, Argentina), 1973, translation by Gregory Rabassa published as A Manual for Manuel, Pantheon (New York, NY), 1978.

Octaedro (stories; title means "Octahedron"; also see below), Sudamericana (Buenos Aires, Argentina), 1974.

Antologí (collection), La Libreria (Buenos Aires, Argentina), 1975.

Fantomas contra los vampiros multinacionales (title means "Fantomas Takes on the Multinational Vampires"), Excelsior (Mexico City, Mexico), 1975.

Los relatos (collection), four volumes, Alianza (Madrid, Spain), 1976–1985.

Al guien que anda por ahí y otros relatos (short stories), Alfaguara (Madrid, Spain), 1977, translati on by Gregory Rabassa published as A Change of Light, and Other Stories (includes Octae dro; also see below), Knopf (New York, NY), 1980.

Te rritorios, Siglo Veintiuno (Mexico City, Mexico), 1978.

Un tal Lucas, Alfaguara (Madrid, Spain), 1979, translati on by Gregory Rabassa published as A Certain Lucas, Knopf (New York, NY), 1984.

Qu eremos tanto a Glenda, Alfaguara (Madrid, Spain), 1980, translati on by Gregory Rabassa published as We Love Glenda So Much, and Other Tales, Knopf (New York, NY), 1983.

Deshoras (short stories), Alfaguara (Madrid, Spain), 1982, translation by Alberto Manguel published as Unreasonable Hours, Coach House Press (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1995.

Salvo el Crepusculo, translated by Stephen Kessler, published as Save Twilight, City Lights Books (San Francisco, CA), 1997.

Julio Cortázar: New Readings, edited by Carlos J. Alonso, Cambridge University Press (New York, NY), 1998.

Final Exam, translated by Alfred MacAdam, New Directions (New York, NY), 2000.


Alfred Stern, Filosofia de la risa y del llanto, Iman (Buenos Aires, Argentina), 1950.

Lord Houghton, Vida y cartas de John Keats, Iman (Buenos Aires, Argentina), 1955.

Marguerite Yourcenar, Memorias de Adriano, Sudamericana (Buenos Aires, Argentina), 1955.

Edgar Allan Poe, Obras en prosa, two volumes, Revista de Occidente (Madrid, Spain), 1956.

Edgar Allan Poe, Cuentos, Editorial Nacional de Cuba (Havana, Cuba), 1963.

Edgar Allan Poe, Aventuras de Arthur Gordon Pym, Instituto del Libro (Havana, Cuba), 1968.

Poe, Eureka, Alianza (Madrid, Spain), 1972.

Daniel Defoe, Robinson Crusoe, Bruguera (Barcelona, Spain), 1981.

Also translator of works by G.K. Chesterton, Andre Gide, and Jean Giono, published in Argentina between 1948 and 1951.


(Under pseudonym Julio Denis) Presencia (poems; title means "Presence"), El Bibliófilo (Buenos Aires, Argentina), 1938.

Los reyes (play; title means "The Monarchs"), Gulab y Aldabahor (Buenos Aires, Argentina), 1949, reprinted, Alfaguara (Madrid, Spain), 1982.

(Contributor) Buenos Aires de la fundacion a la angustia, Ediciones de la Flor (Buenos Aires, Argentina), 1967.

(With others) Cuba por argentinos, Merlin (Buenos Aires, Argentina), 1968.

Buenos Aires, Buenos Aires (includes French and English translations), Sudamericana (Buenos Aires, Argentina), 1968.

Viaje alrededor de una mesa (title means "Trip around a Table"), Cuadernos de Rayuela (Buenos Aires, Argentina), 1970.

(With Oscar Collazos and Mario Vargas Llosa) Literatura en la revolucion y revolucion en la literatura, Siglo Veintiuno (Mexico City, Mexico), 1970.

(Contributor) Literatura y arte nuevo en Cuba, Estela (Barcelona, Spain), 1971.

Pameos y meopas (poetry), Editorial Libre de Sivera (Barcelona, Spain), 1971.

Prosa del observatorio, Lumen (Barcelona, Spain), 1972.

La casilla de los Morelli (essays), edited by Jose Julio Ortega, Tusquets (Barcelona, Spain), 1973.

Convergencias, divergencias, incidencias, edited by Jose Julio Ortega, Tusquets (Barcelona, Spain), 1973.

(Author of text) Humanario, La Azotea (Buenos Aires, Argentina), 1976.

(Author of text) Paris: Ritmos de una ciudad, Edhasa (Barcelona, Spain), 1981.

Paris: The Essence of an Image, Norton (New York, NY), 1981.

(With Carol Dunlop) Los autonautas de la cosmopista, Muchnik (Barcelona, Spain), 1983.

Nicaragua tan violentamente dulce (essays), Nueva Nicaragua (Managua, Nicaragua), 1983.

Argentina: Anos de almabradas culturales (essays), edited by Saul Yurkievich, Muchnik (Barcelona, Spain), 1984.

Nada a pehuajo: Un acto; Adios, Robinson (plays), Katun, 1984.

Salvo el crepusculo (poems), Nueva Imagen (Mexico City, Mexico), 1984.

Textos politicos, Plaza y Janes (Barcelona, Spain), 1985.

Divertimento, Sudamericana/Planeta (Buenos Aires, Argentina), 1986.

El examen, Sudamericana/Planeta (Buenos Aires, Argentina), 1986.

Contributor to numerous periodicals, including Revista Iberoamericana, Cuadernos Hispanoamericanos, Books Abroad, and Casa de las Americas.

ADAPTATIONS: The story Las babas del diablo, from the collection Las armas secretas was the basis for Michaelangelo Antonioni's 1966 film Blow Up.

SIDELIGHTS: Argentine author Julio Cortázar was "one of the world's greatest writers," according to novelist Stephen Dobyns. "His range of styles," Dobyns wrote in the Washington Post Book World, "his ability to paint a scene, his humor, his endlessly peculiar mind makes many of his stories wonderful. His novel Hopscotch is considered one of the best novels written by a South American." A popular as well as a critical success, Hopscotch not only established Cortázar's reputation as a novelist of international merit but also, according to David W. Foster in Currents in the Contemporary Argentine Novel, prompted wider acceptance in the United States of novels written by other Latin Americans. For this reason many critics, such as Jaime Alazraki in The Final Island, viewed the book as "a turning point for Latin American literature." A Times Literary Supplement reviewer, for example, called Hopscotch "the first great novel of Spanish America."

Still other critics, including novelists Jose Donoso and C.D.B. Bryan, saw the novel in the context of world literature. Donoso, in his The Boom in Spanish American Literature: A Personal History, claimed that Hopscotch "humanized the novel." Cortázar was a writer, Donoso continued, " who [dared] to be dis cursive and whose pages [were] sprinkled with names of musicians, painters, art galleries,… movie directors, [and] all this had an undisguised place within his novel, something which I would never have dared to presume to be right for the Latin American novel, since it was fine for [German novelist] Thomas Mann b ut not for us." In the New York Times Book Review, Bryan stated: "I think Hopscotch is the most magnificent book I have ever read. No novel has so satisfactorily and completely and beautifully explored man's compulsion to explore life, to search for its meaning, to challenge its mysteries. Nor has any novel in recent memory lavi shed such love and attention upon the full spectrum of the writer's craft."

Cortázar attempted to perfect his craft by constant experimentation. In his longer fiction he pursued, as Leo Bersani observed in the New York Times Book Review, both "subversion and renewal of novelistic form." This subversion and renewal was of such importance to Cortázar that often the form of his novels overshadowe d the action that they described. Through the form of his fiction Cortázar invited the reader to participate in the writer's craft and to share in the creation of the novel. Hopscotch is one such novel. In Into the Mainstream: Conversations with Latin-America Writers, Luis Harss and Barbara Dohmann wrote that Hopscotch "is the first Latin American novel which takes itself as its own central topic or, in other words, is essentially about the writing of itself. It lives in constant metamorphoses, as an unfinished process that invents itself as it goes, involving the reader in such a way to make him part of the creative impulse."

Thus, Hopscotch begins with a "Table of Instructions" that tells the reader that there are at least two ways to read the novel. The first is reading chapters one to fifty-six in numerical order. When the reader finishes chapter fifty-six he can, according to the instructions, stop reading and "ignore what follows [nearly one hundred more short chapters] with a clean conscience." The other way of reading suggested by the instructions is to start with chapter seventy-two and then skip from chapter to chapter (hence, the title of the book), following the sequence indicated at the end of each chapter by a number which tells the reader which chapter is next. Read t he second way, the reader finds that chapter 131 refers him to chapter fifty-eight, and chapter fifty-eight to chapter 131, so that he is confronted with a novel that has no end. With his "Table of Instructions" Cortázar forces the reader to write the novel while he is reading it.

Cortázar's other experimental works include 62: A Model Kit (considered a sequel to Hopscotch), A Manual for Manuel, Ultimo round ("Last Round"), and Fantomas contra los vampiros multinacionales ("Fantomas Takes on the Multinational Vampires"). 62: A Model Kit is based on chapter sixty-two of Hopscotch in which a character, Morelli, expresses his desire to write a new type of novel. "If I were to write this book," Morelli states, "standard behavior would be inexplicable by means of current instrumental psychology. Everything would be a kind of disquiet, a continuous uprooting, a territory where psychological causality wou ld yield disconcertedly." In 62: A Model Kit Cortázar attempted to put these ideas into action. Time and space have no meaning in the novel: although it takes place in Paris, London, and Vienna, the characters move and interact as if they are in one single space. The characters themselves are sketchily presented in fragments that must be assembled by the readers; chapters are replaced by short scenes separated by blank spaces on the pages of the novel. Cortázar noted in the book's introduction that once again the reader must help create the novel: "The reader's option, his personal montage of the elements in the tale, will in each case be the book he has chosen to read."

A Manual for Manuel continues in the experimental vein. Megan Marshall described the book in New Republic as "a novel that merges story and history, a supposed scrapbook of news clippings, journal entries, diagrams, transcripts of conversations, and much more." The book, about the kidnapping of a Latin American diplomat by a group of guerillas in Paris, is told from the double perspective of an unnamed member of the group, who takes notes on the plans for the kidnapping, and a nonmember of the group, Andres, who reads the notes. Periodically, these two narrations are interrupted by the inclusion of English-, French-, and Spanish-language texts reproduced in the pages of the novel. These texts, actual articles collected by Cortázar from various sources, form part of a scrapbook being assembled for Manuel, the child of two of the members of the group. On one page, for example, Cortázar reprinted a statistical table originally published in 1969 by the U.S. Department of Defense that shows how many Latin Americans have received military training in the United States. The reader reads about the compilation of the scrapbook for Manuel, while at the same time reading the scrapbook and reacting to the historical truth it contains.

Other such experimentation is found in Ultimo round, a collection of essays, stories, and poetry. William L. Siemens noted in the International Fiction Review that this book, like Hopscotch and 62: A Model Kit, "is a good example of audience-participation art." In Ultimo round, he declared, "it is impos sible for the reader to proceed in a conventional manner. Upon opening the book the reader notes that there are two sets of pages within the binding, and he must immediately decide which of them to read first, and even whether he will go through by reading the top and then the bottom of page one, and so on."

Cortázar's brief narrative Fantomas contra los vampiros multinacionales is yet another experiment with new forms of fiction. It presents, in comic book form, the story of a "superhero," Fantomas, who gathers together "the greatest contemporary writers" to fight the destructive powers of the multinational corporations. Ch ilean Octavio Paz, Italian Alberto Moravia, and American Susan Sontag, along with Cortázar himself, appear as characters in the comic book. Although short, the work embodies several constants in Cortázar's fiction: the comic (the comic book form itself), the interplay of fantasy and reality (the appearance of historical figures in a fictional work), and a commitment to social activism (the portrayal of the writer as a politically involved individual). These three elements, together with Cortázar's experiments with the novelistic form, are the basic components of his fiction.

Cortázar explained how these elements function together in his essay "Algunos aspectos del cuento" ("Some Aspects of the Story"), which Alazraki quoted in The Final Island. His work, Cortázar claimed, was "an alternative to that false realism which assumed that everything can be neatly described as was upheld by the philosophic and scientific optimism of the eighteenth century, that is, within a world ruled more or less harmoniously by a system of laws, of principles, of causal relations, of well defined psychologies, of well mapped geographies…. In my case, the suspicion of another order, more secret and less communicable [was one of the princ iples guiding] my personal search for a literature beyond overly naive forms of realism." Whatever the method, whether new narrative forms, unexpected humor, incursions into fantasy, or pleas for a more humane society, Cortázar strove to shake the reader out of traditional ways of thinking and seeing the world and to replace them wi th new and more viable models. Dobyn explained in the Washington Post Book World, "Cortázar wants to jolt people out of their self-complacency, to make them doubt their own definition of the world."

Cortázar's last full-length work of fiction, A Certain Lucas, for example, "is a kind of sampler of narrative ideas, a playful anthology of form, including everything from parables to parodies, folk tales to metafictions," as Robert Coover describes it in the New York Times Book Review. Including chapters with such tit les as "Lucas, His Shopping," "Lucas, His Battles with the Hydra," and "Lucas, His Pianists," the book "builds a portrait, montage-like, through a succession of short sketches (humorous set-pieces, really) full of outrageous inventions, leaping and dream-like associations and funny turns of phrase," states Los Angeles Times Book Review critic Charles Champlin. "Lucas is not Cortázar," Do-byns suggests in the Washington Post Book World, "but occasionally he seems to stand for him and so the book takes on an autobiographical quality as we read about Lucas' friends, his struggles with himself, his dreams, his tastes, his view of writing." The result, writes Champlin, might appear to be "no more than a series of extravagant jokes, [and] it would be an exceptional passing entertainment but no more than that. Yet under the cover of raillery, self-indicting foolishness and extremely tall tales," the critic continues, "Cortázar is discovered to be a thoughtful, deep-feeling man, impassioned, sentimental, angry, complicated, a philosopher exploring appearances vs. realities is the way of philosophers ever." "What we see in Lucas and in much of Cortázar's work is a fierce love of this earth, despite the awfulness, and a fierce respect for life's ridiculousness," concludes Dobyns. "And in the mi dst of this ridiculousness, Cortázar dances … and that dance comforts and eases our own course through the world."

This ridiculousness, or humor, in Cortázar's work often derived from what a Time reviewer referred to as the author's "ability to present common objects from strange perspectives as if he had just invented them." Cortázar, declared Tom Bishop in Saturday Review, was "an intellectual humorist…. [He ha d] a rare gift for isolating the absurd in everyday life [and] for depicting the foibles in human behavior with an unerring thrust that [was] satiric yet compassionate." Hopscotch is filled with humorous elements, some of which Saul Yurk-ievich listed in The Final Island. He included "references to the ri diculous,… recourse to the outlandish,… absurd associations,… juxtaposition of the majestic with the popular or vulgar," as well as "puns … [and] polyglot insults." New York Times writer John Leonard called absurdity "obligatory" in a work by Cortázar and gave examples of the absurd found in A Manual for Manuel, such as "a turquoise penguin [is] flown by jet to Argentina; the stealing of 9,000 wigs … and obsessive puns."

In an interview with Evelyn Picon Garfield, quoted in Books Abroad, Cortázar called Cronopios and Famas his "most playful book." It is, he continued, "really a game, a very fascinating game, lots of fun, almost like a tennis match." This book of short, story-like narratives deals with two groups of creatures descr ibed by Arthur Curley in Library Journal as the "warm life-loving cronopios and practical, conventional famas … imaginary but typical personages between whom communication is usually impossible and always ridiculous." One portion of the book, called "The Instruction Manual," contains detailed explanations of various everyday a ctivities, including how to climb stairs, how to wind a clock, and how to cry. In order to cry correctly, the author suggested thinking of a duck covered with ants. With these satiric instructions Cortázar, according to Paul West in Book World, "cleanses the doors of perception and mounts a subtle, bland assault on the mental rigid ities we hold most dear." By forcing us to think about everyday occurrences in a new way, Cortázar, Malva E. Filer noted in Books Abroad, "expresses his rebellion against objects and persons that make up our everyday life and the mechanical ways by which we relate to them." Filer continued: "In Cortázar's fictional w orld [a] routine life is the great scandal against which every individual must rebel with all his strength. And if he is not willing to do so, extraordinary elements are usually summoned to force him out of this despicable and abject comfort." These "extraordinary elements" enter into the lives of Cortázar's characters in the form of fantastic episodes which interrupt their otherwise normal existences.

Alexander Coleman observed in Cinco maestros: Cuentos modernos de Hispanoamerica (Five Masters: Modern Spanish-American Stories): "Cortázar's stories start in a disarmingly conversational way, with plenty of local touches. But something always seems to go awry just when we least expect it." "Axolotl," a short story described by novelist Joyce Carol Oates in the New York Times Book Review as her favorite Cortázar tale, begins innocently: a man describes his trips to the Parisian botanical gardens to watch a certain type of salamander called an axolotl. But the serenity ends when the narrator admits, "Now I am an axolotl." In another story, a woman has a dream about a beggar who lives in Budapest (a city the woman has never visited). The woman ends up actually going to Budapest where she finds herself walking across a bridge as the beggar woman from her dream approaches from the opposite side. The two women embrace in the middle of the bridge and the first woman is transformed into the beggar woman—she can feel the snow seeping through the holes in her shoes—while she sees her former self walk away. In yet another story, a motorcyclist is involved in a minor traffic accident and suddenly finds himself thrown back in time where he becomes the victim of Aztec ritual sacrifice. Daniel Stern noted in Nation that with t hese stories and others like them "it is as if Cortázar is showing us that it is essential for us to re-imagine the reality in which we live and which we can no longer take for granted."

Although during the last years of his life Cortázar was so involved with political activism that Jason Weiss described him in the Los Angeles Times as a writer with hardly any time to write, the Argentine had early in his career been criticized "for his apparent indifference to the brutish situation" of his fellow Latin Ameri cans, according to Leonard. Evidence of his growing political preoccupation is found in his later stories and novels. Leonard observed, for instance, that A Manual for Manuel "is a primer on the necessity of revolutionary action," and William Kennedy in the Washington Post Book World noted that the newspaper clippings included i n the novel "touch[ed] the open nerve of political oppression in Latin America." Many of the narratives in A Change of Light, and Other Stories are also politically oriented. Oates described the impact of one story in the New York Times Book Review. In "Apocalypse at Solen-tiname," a photographer develops his vacat ion photographs of happy, smiling people only to discover pictures of people being tortured. Oates commented, "The narrator … contemplates in despair the impotence of art to deal with in any significant way, the 'life of permanent uncertainty … [in] almost all of Latin America, a life surrounded by fear and death.'" Cortázar's fictional world, according to Alazraki in The Final Island, "represents a challenge to culture." This challenge is embedded in the author's belief in a reality that reaches beyond our everyday existence. Alazraki noted that Cortázar once declared, "Our daily reality masks a second reality which is neither mysterious nor theological, but profoundly human. Yet, due to a long series of mistakes, it has remained concealed under a reality prefabricated by many centuries of culture, a culture in which there are great achievements but also profound aberrations, profound distortions." Bryan further explained these ideas in the New York Times Book Review: Cortázar's "surrealistic treatment of the most pedestrian acts suggest[ed] that one way to combat alienation is to return to the original receptiveness of childhood, to recapture this original innocence, by returning to the concept of life as a game."

Cortázar confronted his reader with unexpected forms, with humor, fantasy, and unseemly reality in order to challenge him to live a more meaningful life. He summarized his theory of fiction (and of life) in an essay, "The Present State of Fiction in Latin America," which appeared in Books Abroad. The Argentine concluded: "T he fantastic is something that one must never say good-bye to lightly. The man of the future … will have to find the bases of a reality which is truly his and, at the same time, maintain the capacity of dreaming and playing which I have tried to show you …, since it is through those doors that the Other, the fantastic dimension, and the u nexpected will always slip, as will all that will save us from that obedient robot into which so many technocrats would like to convert us and which we will not accept—ever."



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Cortázar, Julio 1914–1984

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