HomePare de sufrirJulio Cortazar

Julio Cortazar

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A 19-year-old boy with a distant look like a poet or sailor knocks on the door of a literary magazine and leaves a few pages. A few days later he stops by again, they tell him that his story is going to be published and perhaps they offer him a modest stipend. The anecdote would be anodyne if it were not for the fact that the director of the magazine is Jorge Luis Borges, the story is “Casa Tomada”, and the teenager is the then unknown Julio Cortázar. The destiny of the first will be the exile of progressive blindness; the second, emigration, and since 1973, exile; “Casa Tomada” will become the emblematic story of estrangement and Latin American expatriation.

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Among the risks of celebrity is that of being taken or proposed as a model. For the writer, this risk materializes in three ways: through the influence of his texts on literary art, through the example of his way of living, and through the effects of his teaching. The three circumstances are connected. If, as Buffon said, the style is the man, so are his teachings.

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The artist deciphers and moves the world with his work. Julio's universe is insecure and contingent. At times it is populated by animals such as mancuspias, which cause headaches. At times his citizens are as inconsistent and random as his world: the cronopios, Berthe Trépat, Horacio Olivera. The law of that cosmos is the juxtaposition of smallness with incongruity. The orphaned brothers in “Casa Tomada” are expelled from their home by an invisible and irresistible force. A Mayan about to be sacrificed in a pyramid dreams that he travels through a luminous city in an inexplicable machine. The universe of fames is meticulous and monotonous, barely refuted by the mad outbursts of cronopios and waiting. Horacio does not fall in love with La Maga in Paris, but he does fall in love in Buenos Aires with the wife of his best friend, providentially similar to La Maga. This juxtaposition runs through all of his work; perhaps it culminates in Around the Day in 80 Worlds, an unlikely repertoire where narrative, poetry, essay, humor and absurdity coexist without immunological rejection. This celebration of incongruity creates school.

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The alternation of smallness with the unprecedented is elevated to a system in Hopscotch, a novel divided between sensible, functional, necessary chapters, and rambling, decorative or static chapters, which the author stacks in a final section as dispensable. That is to say, some are fames, and others cronopios. Timely numbering allows you to read the sensible chapters interspersed with the dispensable ones; Either go through each category en masse, or do it randomly. These variants suggest that nothing is categorically trivial or essential, that the coexistence between the one and the other can well define a poetics or a life. Darcy Ribeiro told me that in Hopscotch the writer had left the scaffolding after finishing the building. But Fruto Vivas argued to me that usually the architecture of scaffolding, light, cheap, resistant, easy to assemble, is superior to that of the heavy building.

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Humor is a contradiction between extremes, and precisely one of Cortázar's daring actions is to infringe the devastating solemnity that then paralyzed much of Latin American and Caribbean literature. Humor is gentle nihilism, rebellion without pretense of heroism, a bond that prevents distance from becoming detachment, simultaneous condemnation and absolution of the human condition. Julio's work smiles; Grace is the magic wand that breaks the infernal circle that drags from the sensuality of the bolero to the rage of the ranchera, from this to the resignation of the tango and from there to the debauchery of salsa and rumba to begin again. Maybe the humor is all the melodies played at the same time, contradicting each other, enriching each other.

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The true writer is an exile who describes the world to try to belong to it. In an interview with Martín Caparrós, two months before he died, Julio clarified that he did not like being treated that way because “the exile is the man who leaves because if he does not leave they will kill him. It is not my case: I left and lived in Paris because he wanted me to.” But with the death threats, starting in 1973, his situation changed from emigration to exile. Although much earlier, with Hopscotch, he had written the founding work of exile literature: the one that sees the homeland from the glass of nostalgia or distance, a condition that José María Arguedas and Óscar Collazos so unjustifiably criticized. Since then “We were, as a man described me, the intellectual leaders of the subversion in exile.” Leadership is not easy, between floods of insults from conservatism and claims of unconditionalism from progressivism. Julio was there whenever he could or was allowed, in besieged countries or alongside the decimated left, providing friendship and clarity.

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A teacher is someone who draws lessons from one's own life and shares them. To understand Cortázar's intermittent teaching, his own book Essence and Mission of the Teacher is essential. Unexpected Papers (Alfaguara, Bogotá, Colombia. 2009) and Gipsy Gastello's thesis A teacher of literature: Julio Cortázar: identity, narration and teaching (2023). In his childhood he received classes from teachers who he describes as “inflated bladders.” He teaches to survive and help his family while he learns his true craft, writing. Normal teacher, he teaches classes in Cuyo and Chivilcoy. He works in France as a translator and, finally, as an established author. Since then his teaching has been that of commitment. He defends the progressive movements, the Cuban Revolution, the Nicaraguan Revolution, the Venezuelan Revolution. He exalts language as a shield of identity. Beyond tickets and passports, he continues to be Latin American and Caribbean, at the same time a spectator and protagonist of our drama. He is a lesson for those who inhabit a mental Europe that will never accept them as equals.

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From his absence we are only consoled by the memory of his fanaticism for friendship and music, of his incomparable loves, of the brutal fate that fell upon them, of the certainty that his existence was a novel that only Julio Cortázar could have written. l

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