Friday, 27 February 2009

Julio Cortázar

This Argentinian writer is famous for his intricately schemed short stories and renowned novel “Rayuela” (Hopscotch). The idea behind the latter is gorgeous in itself, the execution even better. Part of Cortázar’s own introduction reads as follows :

“A su manera este libro es muchos libros, pero sobre todo es dos libros. El primer libro se deja leer en la forma corriente, y termina en el capítulo 56…el segundo libro se deja leer empezando por el capitulo 73 y siguiendo el orden que se indica al pie de cada capítulo…71, 1, 2, 116, etc”.

“In its own way this book is many books. However, above all, it’s two books. The first one can be read like normal and finishes at the end of Chapter 56…the second one can be read by starting with Chapter 73 and following the order that’s indicated at the foot of each chapter…71, 1, 2, 116, etc”.

The game of hopscotch isn’t just technical virtuosity for its own sake – Cortázar’s challenging of our expectations goes much further. I can’t recommend this novel enough.

Nevertheless, my favourite Cortázar book isn’t a novel or a collection of short stories. It’s his collected poems (Salvo El Crepúsculo), tough to find even in Spain. He’s virtually unknown as a poet, but his skill is immense. Cortázar’s poetry is scattered with terrific turns of phrase, but is also held together by an original vision that juxtaposes everyday and abstract elements:

“…esa comida recalentada, la memoria…”

“…el pozo herido
de una sola cabeza en una almohada…”

And here’s my betrayal of his original versión:

“…memory, that reheated dish…”

“…the wounded well
of a single head on a pillow…”

Wonderful stuff - this is poetry that accompanies me all the time.

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