Julio Cortázar

Dominic Paul Moran (University of Oxford)
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Along with Gabriel García Márquez (1927-), Carlos Fuentes (1928-) and Mario Vargas Llosa (1936-), Julio Cortázar is commonly considered to be one of the “Big Four” writers of the so-called “Boom” of the Spanish American novel of the late 1950s and 1960s. Indeed, he was in many respects a literary mentor to the other three, all of whom have written – and continue to write – about him with gratitude and admiration (a character from perhaps his greatest novel, Rayuela [Hopscotch] (1963), even gets a mention in García Márquez’s Cien años de soledad [One Hundred Years of Solitude] (1967)). If his work remains less well known than theirs beyond the Spanish-speaking world, that is perhaps because Cortázar was a less obviously “Americanist” (much less still “nativist”) writer. He spent by far the greater part of his creative life away from Latin America (principally in France, where he was eventually granted citizenship in 1981) and many of his novels and stories are set in part or in whole outside Argentina and in contemporary urban environments, offering limited appeal to foreign readers of a tropicalist bent reared on a diet of magical realism.

Cortázar was born in Brussels in 1914, just after the outbreak of the First World War, and the family did not return to Argentina until he was four, though the precise date of their arrival has never been established (for the most detailed and accurate account of Cortázar’s childhood, see Montes-Bradley 2004). Shortly afterwards, his father left the family home for reasons which remain unclear, and Cortázar was subsequently raised in a house full of women (his mother, Herminia, his younger sister, Ofelia, and his maternal grandmother). He would always remain close, some might say excessively so, to his doting mother (his short stories are certainly full of intrusive, overbearing maternal figures, and his early failures with the opposite sex – a result, in part at least, of his being coddled and cosseted at home – are reflected in the many thwarted or painfully awkward sexual encounters which pepper his fiction). The few accounts that we have of his early years (including his own) suggest that he was a chronically shy, introverted child with hypochondriac tendencies (hypochondria would become another constant in the fiction) whose principal, indeed almost insatiable passion, was reading. He was particularly fond of imaginative literature, devouring Jules Verne and Edgar Allan Poe (whom he would later translate) at a precociously young age. His upbringing, in the tranquil Buenos Aires suburb of Bánfield was, by and large, unremarkable, and when he finished his education he became a secondary school teacher, occupying posts in various provincial backwaters (chiefly Chivilcoy, where he was based from 1939-44) and briefly teaching French literature at the University of Cuyo in Mendoza (1944-46). Although he had wanted to be a writer from his teenage years, he exercised a strict self-censorship. His first book, a collection of transparently imitative symbolist poems titled Presencia [Presence], published under the pseudonym Julio Denis, appeared in 1938, but he would wait a full eleven years to publish his next. He continued to read voraciously, and both the quantity and breadth of his reading is evident in the posthumously published essay-cum-manifesto “Teoría del túnel” [“Theory of the Tunnel”] (1947), where we find a tumult of references to Keats, Nerval, Lautréamont, Rimbaud, Mallarmé, Rilke, Kafka, James, Breton, Proust, Joyce, Woolf, Broch, Nietzsche, Kierkegaard, Heidegger, Sartre and a host of other revolutionary nineteenth and early twentieth-century writers and philosophers. What underpins and in the loosest sense unites these readings is a sensibility that might best be termed Romantic and which found a contemporary echo and outlet in Surrealism; the essay is essentially an attempt to wed Surrealism and Existentialism into a coherent world view. Cortázar shared with the Surrealists a passionate belief that Reason, Logic and socio-political convention had denatured Man, numbing or dangerously suppressing his instincts and desires and turning him destructively against both himself and his fellows (The Great War was, the Surrealists insisted, a grotesque monument to Cartesianism). The history of Western Man, he argued, had been one of debilitating decline from some putative Prelapsarian state (which, like Keats and Nietzsche, he was wont to situate in an idealized, Presocratic Greece), in which head and heart, mind and body, reason and impulse had functioned in some sort of unconscious harmony with one another, before the “Fall” into (self-)consciousness calamitously supervened. It was up to the modern artist, thinker and writer to attempt to restore that harmony, and that meant waging all-out aesthetic warfare not just on inherited plastic and literary forms, but also on the very stuff and language out of which those forms were moulded. It is a by now familiar narrative, but it is one which informed almost everything of significance that Cortázar would write.

The essentials of that narrative are already evident in Cortázar’s next published work, a “dramatic poem” (as he called it) titled Los reyes [The Kings] (1949), which retells the story of Theseus and the Minotaur, casting the “hero” Theseus as an ignorant, aggressive oaf intent only on carrying out his bloody mission, and the Minotaur (who has an extensive speaking part) as a poet-figure who, rather than killing the Athenian youths and maidens, forms a community with them in the heart of the labyrinth. The Minotaur is no monster, but by killing him rather than “embracing” him (as the Minotaur himself urges) Theseus turns him into one, thereby transforming the exuberant “Lord of the Games” (as the youths and maidens refer to him) into nightmare presence destined to haunt men’s dreams. The dialectic at work here, which sees the monstrous as an effect rather than a cause of “rational” repression or rejection, forms the philosophical and ethical backbone of all four of Cortázar’s major novels.

Before he tackled the longer form, however, Cortázar published several books of short stories, the first of which was Bestiario [Bestiary] (1951). Many of these early tales are, form a technical point of view, obviously indebted to Kafka, narrating the most abstruse of events in a matter-of-fact tone that leaves the reader perplexed (in “Carta a una señorita en París” [“Letter to a Young Woman in Paris”], for example, the narrator continually vomits up little rabbits without being remotely surprised by the fact, whilst in the title story a man-eating tiger roams freely around a country house on the outskirts of Buenos Aires). In many of his later stories, Cortázar would effectively reverse the process, making the normal and everyday seem outlandish rather than naturalizing the bizarre. Fine (and uniquely disquieting) examples of this latter strategy include “Continuidad de los parques” [“Continuity of Parks”] “La noche boca arriba” [“The Night Face-Up”], and “No se culpe a nadie” [“No One’s to Blame”], from Final de juego [End of the Game] (1956); “Cartas de mamá” [“Letters from Mummy”] and “Las armas secretas” [“Hidden Weapons”] from Las armas secretas [Hidden Weapons] (1959); and “La salud de los enfermos” [“The Healthy and the Sick”], “Instrucciones para John Howell” [“Instructions for John Howell”] and “La isla a mediodía” [“The Island at Noon”] from Todos los fuegos el fuego [All Fires the Fire] (1966). All rank amongst the greatest stories to have been written in Spanish. Whichever way round he was working, Cortázar’s penchant for the disturbing, the unexpected and the seemingly unaccountable has led many to classify his stories as “fantastic” in the sense outlined by Tzvetan Todorov in his influential study Introduction à la littérature fantastique (1970). Cortázar, however, a lifelong reviler of academic cataloguing and classification, admitted the term only grudgingly, later dismissing Todorov’s whole taxonomic enterprise as both perverse and incoherent (if there was such a thing as the “fantastic”, he asked, why should it be susceptible to rational analysis?) and insisting that his tales were “profoundly realist too”, since if they troubled the reader it was presumably because s/he sensed that what they were narrating was or could in some sense be “true” (Picón Garfield 1978: 14).

Several of the more arcane stories in Bestiario, notably “Casa tomada” [“House Taken Over”] and “Ómnibus” [“Bus Ride”] may be read as political allegories but one, “Las puertas del cielo” [“The Doors of Heaven”], whilst retaining a “fantastic” element, deals more directly with the socio-political situation in Argentina in the late 1940s, marked by the rise of Juan Domingo Perón and his homegrown brand of National Socialism. Cortázar would later come to regret his rejection of Peronism, but at the time, as a cosmopolitan, middle-class intellectual, he found its low-brow, aggressive populism and all-out war on bourgeois liberal values intolerable. To avoid the sort of humiliating fate which befell the likes of Borges (who, in 1946, was removed from his post as an assistant librarian and made Inspector of poultry and rabbits in the public markets), he decided to leave the country. Before doing so, he trained intensively as a translator, a job which, throughout the remainder of his life, would provide him with the time and flexibility to be able to write in relative freedom. He also met the woman who would become his first wife, lifelong friend and, eventually, his literary executor, Aurora Bernárdez, who had sought him out after reading “Casa tomada”.

Cortázar, accompanied by Aurora, arrived in Paris in October, 1951, and proceeded to lead a manically bohemian existence, combining daily trips to galleries, concerts and murky backstreet cafés with odd jobs that allowed him to scrape together his monthly rent. His financial situation was eventually alleviated when he was contracted as an associate translator by UNESCO (a position he held for nearly twenty-five years) and later received a considerable sum from the University of Puerto Rico to translate the complete prose works of Poe. From a creative point of view, his first decade of “self-exile” in Paris might be viewed as a literary apprenticeship which culminated in the publication of Rayuela (1963). The most important precursor to the novel is the long short story “El perseguidor” [“The Searcher”], published as part of the collection Las armas secretas. It is narrated by a hip jazz critic, Bruno, who is writing a biography of his friend the saxophonist Johnny Carter (whose life is based closely on that of Charlie Parker), an instinctive, aggressively anti-intellectual character who uses his music to attempt to make contact with some deeper, more vital reality than the anodyne, pre-packaged one offered by everyday existence, but which he can only seem to reach (if he can reach it at all) in fleeting “moments of being”, when he loses himself in his playing. Inevitably, such ecstasy proves unsustainable, and Johnny’s life unravels in a haze of drink, drugs, personal tragedy and premature death. Nevertheless, the reader is left with the feeling both that Johnny’s anguished quest has not been an entirely futile one, and that his attempts to achieve some sort of experiential authenticity have been grossly misrepresented by Bruno’s slick but ultimately empty phrasemaking. Cortázar himself felt that the story constituted a vital watershed in his development as a writer, pinpointing it as the work in which he renounced the “pure invention” which had characterized his early stories and instead began to focus on “man, my neighbour” (Harss 1966: 273-74). Years later he came to view it as the juncture at which his writing began to take a political turn (Picón Garfield 1977: 20-21), though shortly after its publication he assured Argentine critic Emma Speratti Piñero that his interest in Johnny was purely existential and that he had not “been bitten by some dialectical-materialist bug” (Cortázar 2000a: 457).

The following year saw the publication of Cortázar’s first novel, Los premios [The Winners] (two youthful efforts, Divertimento [Divertimento] (1949) and El examen [The Exam] (1950) were published posthumously). The narrative, which has an obvious (perhaps rather too obvious) allegorical element, revolves around a group of Argentine lottery winners whose prize is an ocean cruise. Once on board the liner, they discover that they have been barred access to the stern, supposedly as a consequence of the outbreak of a mysterious strain of typhus. Most of the ensuing plot deals with their various attempts to reach it, but when some of them do finally manage to break through, they discover that no one is steering the ship. One of the passengers, Persio, gives the basic quest narrative, which has both personal and broader cultural and national implications, a metaphysical dimension in a series of visionary, quasi-poetic monologues which punctuate the main body of the text. A sort of intellectualized Johnny Carter figure with a Surrealist agenda, he, too, is seeking a sense of primordial, unmediated communion with or understanding of the cosmos, though, like his groping predecessor, all he seems to get are momentary intuitions or glimpses.

Three years after Los premios Cortázar finally published Rayuela, on which he had being working intermittently since at least 1957. The book defies meaningful synopsis, but it essentially deals with two interlinked quests. The first is that of Paris-based Argentine ex-pat Horacio Oliveira who, like Johnny and Persio before him, pits himself (or at least endeavours to pit himself) squarely against Western metaphysics (described in the novel as “the falsest of all freedoms”) in the search for some more authentic sense of “being-in-the world”, to borrow Heidegger’s term (Oliveira refers variously to this idea(lized) form of inherence or homecoming as the “centre”, the “kingdom” or the “Kibbutz of desire”). Hobbled by his own restless, self-sabotaging intellect, he focuses his energies on a simple, wholly unselfconscious woman who seems unknowingly to inhabit the prized realm to which his endless cerebration denies him access and to whom he refers as “La Maga” (“The Enchantress”) (the character is based on a woman called Edith Aron, whom Cortázar had met on a first trip to France in 1950 and with whom he began an affair that he resumed when he returned the following year). They have an identikit Surrealist relationship, built around a series of chance encounters (the key literary precedent is André Breton’s Nadja [1924]), but Oliveira eventually rejects her primarily because he refuses to sacrifice his life of cosmopolitan sophistication for her almost wholly uncultured simplicity, much though he claims to value the latter. She is a “monster” whom, at least at this juncture, he cannot fully bring himself to embrace. After a series of sometimes comical, sometimes profoundly sinister acts of self-degradation, he is deported to Argentina, where he rejoins his former friends Traveler and Talita, finding work first in a circus and later in a lunatic asylum (the “ludic” and the “insane” acting as possible antidotes to the tyranny of reason, as they had done for Breton). However, he is haunted by memories of La Maga until, in a scene heavy with symbolism, he kisses Talita in the asylum morgue and this transgressive act (a sort of latterday recovery of Euridyce) seems fleetingly to revivify the presence of his former lover. Fearing that the prosaic Traveler will fail to understand the significance of the experience and will kill him out of jealousy, Oliveira blockades himself in his room and the novel (or at least one version of it – see below) ends with him perched on the window ledge of his room contemplating suicide. The other, in certain respects more radical quest in Rayuela consists of an attempt to revolutionize the reading process itself, even as it is occurring. The novel, in Proustian fashion, is divided into three sections or “lados” (“sides”), titled respectively “Del lado de allá” (Chs. 1-36) (“Over There”), “Del lado de acá” (Chs. 37-56) (“Over Here”) and “Por otros lados” (Chs. 57-155) (“Elsewhere”). The first takes place in Paris and the second in Buenos Aires, but the third is made up of what are ironically termed “dispensable” chapters, consisting of (inter alia) extra episodes, extracts from newspapers and magazines, quotations from poems, novels and works of philosophy, meditations by Oliveira and, perhaps most importantly, an ongoing disquisition on the nature and purpose of reading (there are shades of the Gide of Les Faux-monnayeurs here), much of which is taken from the notebooks of a fictional writer named Morelli, who also appears as a character in the novel. These “dispensable” chapters are not intended to be read in numerical order, but are rather inserted at irregular intervals throughout the book depending on how one chooses to read it. A “Table of Instructions” invites the reader to choose between two paths through the novel, one of which proceeds in classical, sequential fashion from Ch.1-56, whilst the other requires him/her to follow a “hopscotch” pattern (hence the novel’s title) which begins at Ch.73 and thereafter flits repeatedly back and forth, intercalating clusters of “dispensable” chapters as it progresses. The aim is to disrupt the logical, linear unfolding of the narrative, problematize standard notions of cause and effect, and introduce bizarre and often unnerving juxtapositions designed to challenge the reader’s inherited suppositions about how fiction works and how we should respond to it. This second version of the novel has an open ending, in which the reader is left ricocheting back and forth between several possible outcomes to Oliveira’s final crisis. The endeavour is only partially successful, in part because a strong sense of traditional narrative structure and development still remains, in part because as readers we are told too much about how to tackle the book adventurously and dynamically actually to be able to do so, but also due to the fact that, at the heart of a novel one of whose prime targets is binary logic, Cortázar introduces an embarrassingly outmoded dichotomy, referring to the passive, reader-consumer of classic fiction as a “lector hembra” (“female reader”) and his new-fangled, active reader-creator as a “lector cómplice” (“accomplice reader”), describing each in terms of the most entrenched gender stereotypes (he was later heavily criticized for this, though he always claimed to have been unaware of it at the time of writing). Perhaps ironically, what makes Rayuela most readable today is not its formal experimentation but rather the quality of its prose (by turns crisp, sinuous, mordant, supple and often very funny – Rayuela is, amongst other things, a comic novel in the Joycean mode) as well as that of some of its more traditional set-pieces, not least the chilling scene in Ch.28 in which Oliveira and his intellectual friends sit around discussing the finer points of metaphysics in full knowledge of the fact that La Maga’s son, Rocamadour, is lying dead in a cot in the corner of the room – something of which La Maga herself remains distressingly unaware.

Even as Cortázar was writing Rayuela, he was undergoing a radical change in his thinking. He would later routinely refer to this as his “road to Damascus”, a true conversion experience, a transformation triggered by the Cuban Revolution of 1959 and which, during the last twenty years of his life, would see him embrace an increasingly radical socialism and lend his support to often extreme left-wing causes throughout Latin America. As a consequence, he came in for harsh criticism from both the liberal Right and the Left itself, the sterner elements of which (including many Cubans) saw him as no more than an armchair revolutionary, happy to cheer on the cause from the safe and very distant sidelines of the Quartier Latin but less keen to get his hands dirty at the front. Part of Cortázar’s problem was what Octavio Paz, in an obituary, rather charitably referred to as his “ingenuousness” with respect to political matters (see Paz 1992: 65). His was not a “scientific” socialism but rather a visceral humanitarianism every bit as Utopian as his gut sense that Western metaphysics was masking some more genuine mode of being which the assaults of the Surrealists might one day disinter. He had never read a line of Marx when he threw his lot in with the Cubans, and, rather like fellow convert, the Chilean poet Pablo Neruda (not to mention his hero Fidel), never really took to the theory. His naïve adherence to the Cuban experiment had some lamentable consequences. Thus in his correspondence we find the author of some of the most subtle and sophisticated novels and stories to have come out of Latin America meekly requesting poetaster and apparatchik Roberto Fernández Retamar’s permission to publish his essays and interviews in journals that might not be considered entirely orthodox (Cortázar 2000: 1323-24). Similarly, when the infamous “Padilla Affair” took place in 1971 (which saw poet Heberto Padilla imprisoned for expressing supposedly anti-revolutionary attitudes in his poetry and subsequently forced, in what was effectively a show trial, to make a humiliating public recantation) Cortázar’s protests were muted and brief in comparison to those of many fellow writers such as Mario Vargas Llosa and Jorge Edwards, both of whom broke publicly with the Latin American Left as a result of the scandal (in a further letter to Fernández Retamar, written in the wake of the affair, we even find him accepting the fact that the Cubans greeted his initial, sheepish objections with stony silence because, he confesses, he had still not been sufficiently sensitive to the fact that “individuals count for very little” when “the destiny of our nations is at stake” – a muffled admission that Padilla had got what he deserved [Cortázar 2000b: 1487]). However, perhaps the most regrettable upshot of Cortázar’s prise de conscience was the effect it had on his fiction. Acutely aware of the fact that he was perceived as an elitist, “aestheticist” writer, but reluctant (for reasons which were themselves aesthetic and hence “bourgeois” – he was tormented by this) to churn out the sort of politically “committed” literature which merely toed the Party line, from the late 1960s much of his literary work lurched along an unsteady tightrope between the two, culminating in the disaster that was Libro de Manuel [A Manual for Manuel] (1973), a novel which aimed to combine a routine political plot about the kidnapping of political leader by a group of Paris-based revolutionaries with the sort of philosophical speculations familiar to readers of Rayuela. The result pleased no one: the Left snubbed the book because, they said, it remained the work of a narcissist without the slightest clue about Realpolitik; fans of his earlier fiction, meanwhile, saw Cortázar’s immense writerly gifts being forcibly channelled towards conventional (and for many unpalatable) political ends. A more intriguing but ultimately no less problematic example of this “mix and match” approach is provided by the prose poem Prosa del observatorio (1972), which interweaves dense meditations on the life cycle of European eels and an account of the astronomical observations of the eighteenth-century Indian Maharajah Jai Singh with what becomes an increasingly orthodox and linguistically much more dilute disquisition on political revolution and the possibility of creating a “New Man” who unhesitatingly puts the needs of the collective before his own but whose instincts (like those of the eels) are not outlawed by dogma or crippled by the sort of social strictures and prohibitions which have characterized all previous socialist regimes (Paz’s word, “ingenuousness”, again springs to mind). What applies to Libro de Manuel and at least parts of Prosa is also true of his worst political stories, such as “Apocalipsis de Solentiname” [“Apocalypse at Solentiname”] from the collection Alguien que anda por ahí [Just Somebody] (1977), a piece of thinly disguised propaganda about the destruction of Ernesto Cardenal’s religious community in Nicaragua which is a also a self-conscious but drastically impoverished re-writing of the masterful “Las babas del diablo” [“Blow-Up”] (1959), the story which inspired Antonioni’s iconoclastic film of 1966. Cortázar’s most successful political tales are, unsurprisingly, those in which proselytising takes a back seat. “Grafitti” [“Grafitti”], “Recortes de prensa” [“Press Cuttings”] (both from Queremos tanto a Glenda [We Love Glenda So Much] (1980)) and “Pesadillas” [“Nightmares”] (from Deshoras [Awkward Moments] (1982), his last published collection) are the equals of many of the great stories from the 1950s and early 1960s. He also continued to write non-political works, including unclassifiable “collage” books such as La vuelta al día en ochenta mundos [Around the Day in Eighty Worlds] (1967) and Último Round [Final Round] (1969) (both collections of essays, sketches, stories, poems and photographs), and what turned out to be by far his most abstruse and challenging novel, 62: modelo para armar [62: A Model Kit] (1968), a book which covers much of the same philosophical ground as Rayuela (the title alludes to Ch.62 of the earlier novel, which contains a series of musings on the nature of collective behaviour), but this time without giving the reader any clues as to how to read it or what to make of it. The collections Octaedro [Octahedron] (1974), Alguien que anda por ahí, Queremos tanto a Glenda and Deshoras also contain many pieces closer in spirit to the earlier stories than to the more socially-oriented works of the later period.

Cortázar’s personal life during his final two decades was turbulent and has been the object of much, sometimes lurid, speculation. His physical appearance had always been remarkable. He measured six feet seven and sported a baby face which, as numerous photographs attest, barely seemed to change with the advancing years, but in the mid-1960s he underwent a form of hormone treatment from which he emerged with a luxuriant beard that rendered him instantaneously identifiable in his final, politically militant years (he was almost certainly trying to model himself on Che Guevera, whom he came to revere). Almost immediately afterwards, he split with Aurora and began to take a much more pronounced interest in the opposite sex (indeed, some have claimed that it was only as a result of the treatment that he became fully sexually capable). In 1967 he embarked on an often rocky decade-long affair with Lithuanian editor Ugné Karvelis, who played a key role in politicizing him (though even she could not get him to read Marx), finally leaving her in 1978 for American writer, photographer and activist Carol Dunlop, who would become his second wife. During their five years together Cortázar would become as fervent an advocate of the Sandinista movement in Nicaragua as he had been of the Cuban Revolution, and, after the fall of Somoza in 1979, made several trips to the country as a sort of freelance cultural ambassador and educator. However, by the late 1970s his health had started to fail, and in 1981 he suffered a severe gastric haemorrhage, apparently provoked by taking aspirin. He was saved by a massive blood transfusion (some thirty litres, pooled from about a hundred donors, according to his own account), but subsequent tests revealed that his white blood cell count had become dangerously high. There has been much, often malicious rumour-mongering about the cause of Cortázar’s death. Although leukaemia is commonly cited, it appears more likely that he died, on February 12, 1984, as a result of contracting the HIV virus from unscreened blood. By what appears to be the sort of freak coincidence we might expect to find in one of his novels or stories, Carol pre-deceased him in 1982, having also, it seems, been infected with HIV from contaminated blood some years previously (see Peri Rossi 2001: 12-15 for a brief account). He was buried in Montparnasse Cemetery on February 14. He left no children.

Cortázar has been and most likely will continue to be remembered not for his political posturing and interventions, courageous though these may have been at times (even his most fervent admirers now tend to draw a discrete veil over that aspect of his life), but rather as one of the greatest writers of prose fiction in Spanish of the twentieth century. In particular, his short stories are universally admired in the Spanish-speaking world as the equals of those of Borges or even Kafka, and continue to cast a powerful and fruitful spell over contemporary Hispanic writers on both sides of the Atlantic, regardless of their political allegiances.

Works cited

Cortázar, Julio (2000a) Cartas 1937-1963 (Madrid: Alfaguara)
----------------- (2000b) Cartas 1969-1983 (Madrid: Alfaguara)
Harss, Luis (1966) “Julio Cortázar, o la cachetada metafísica”, in Los nuestros (Buenos Aires: Sudamericana), 252-300
Montes-Bradley, Eduardo (2004) Cortázar sin barba (Buenos Aires: Sudamericana)
Paz, Octavio (1992) “Laude (Julio Cortázar, 1914-1984)”, in Al paso (Barcelona: Seix Barral).
Peri Rossi, Cristina (2001) Julio Cortázar (Barcelona: Ediciones Omega)
Picón Garfield, Evelyn (1978) Cortázar por Cortázar (New York: Frederick Ungar)


Works by Cortazar

There is still no definitive edition of Cortázar’s complete works, though one is currently being compiled by Galaxia Gutenberg of Barcelona (2003-) (six volumes, including the stories, theatre, poetry, novels and a collection of critical essays have appeared so far). The stories, including unpublished pieces from his early years, have also been gathered in two volumes by Alfaguara (2010).


A comprehensive biography of Cortázar has yet to be written. Montes-Bradley (see above) provides a useful account of the early years, though he spins out a very modest amount of new material over more than three hundred pages, many of which are filled with unedifying digression and sometimes questionable speculation. Both Mario Goloboff’s hubristically titled Julio Cortázar: la biografía [Julio Cortázar: The Biography] (Barcelona: Seix Barral, 1998) and Miguel Herráez’s Julio Cortázar (Valencia: Institució Alfons el Magnànim: 2001) summarize and rehash previously tapped and readily accessible source material, in rather desultory fashion in the former case, though both are for the most part sound and perfectly readable. Those wishing to get to know Cortázar the man might do better to acquaint themselves with his letters. Cortázar was a prolific, wide-ranging and highly articulate correspondent, and three volumes of his letters, edited by Aurora Bernárdez with an “Introduction” and notes by Jaime Alazaraki, were published by Alfaguara in 2000. An additional volume of his letters to the poet Eduardo Jonquières and his wife, also published by Alfaguara, appeared in 2010. All make for compelling and often revelatory reading. Cortázar was also a generous and eloquent interviewee, and the interviews with Luis Harss in Los nuestros (see above), Ernesto González Bermejo in Conversaciones con Cortázar (Barcelona: Edhasa, 1978), Evelyn Picón Garfield in Cortázar por Cortázar (see above for details) and Omar Prego in La fascinación de las palabras (Barcelona: Muchnik, 1984) are crammed with fascinating insights into both the writing and the experiences and motivations which underpinned it as well as Cortázar’s evolving political views.

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Citation: Moran, Dominic Paul. "Julio Cortázar". The Literary Encyclopedia. First published 30 May 2011 [https://www.litencyc.com/php/speople.php?rec=true&UID=1027, accessed 22 April 2024.]

1027 Julio Cortázar 1 Historical context notes are intended to give basic and preliminary information on a topic. In some cases they will be expanded into longer entries as the Literary Encyclopedia evolves.

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