Connecting with Cortázar

Posted on September 19, 2014 by Anna Lowe in ARTS

Article by Anna Lowe.

“The worst of it,” Oliveira said to himself, “is that I want to be an active onlooker and that’s where the trouble starts.”

Julio Cortázar, Hopscotch


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I have to admit I knew very little of Cortázar before arriving in Argentina. And yet, like so many other travellers and expats living abroad, when I finally read his famous Rayuela (Hopscotch) it appealed immensely. Cortázar himself, although the son of Argentine parents, was born in Belgium and thus is perfectly positioned just on the fringe of porteño culture to introduce fellow foreigners to Buenos Aires.

Hopscotch presents the love affair of two Argentine émigrés set in bohemian Paris and Buenos Aires. It is probably a book more appealing to the young: full of chance encounters in the rain, long arguments about art and philosophy, and a couple who fall in and out of love to a free jazz soundtrack (which was also the influence of Cortázar’s experimental structure). It’s a three-part novel comprising of numbered paragraphs that can be read according to an alternative, non-linear pattern in which the final section becomes a meta-textual commentary on the first two.  

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Of course it’s never a bad idea to read a literary classic, but given the excitement this year over Julio Cortázar’s 100th birthday (August 26, 1914), it’s the perfect excuse to explore his life and works more fully.  Throughout Buenos Aires exhibitions and lectures have been put on to commemorate the writer, one of the most important is ‘Los otros cielos’, a monumental exhibition at the National Museum of Fine Arts (MNBA) – open till 28th September. ‘Los otros cielos’, named after one of Cortázar’s most famous short stories, displays some of the writer’s personal collection of photographs and letters dating back to his childhood and formative years, objects such as his typewriter and book-shelf as well as home-made 8mm films.

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In a ‘hopscotch’ inspired, non-linear way the curators of the MNBA’s exhibition organized the show around a series of short accompanying texts — a random yet careful selection. We can see many different aspects of his character: the child, traveller, revolutionary, the novelist, short-story writer and curator. On the floor, a hopscotch shaped projection displays the many locations where Cortázar lived. Artworks mentioned in his 1977 ‘Territorios’ are brought out of the MNBA’s collection for display along with a collection of intimate portraits by the great Argentine photographer and friend of Cortázar, Sara Facio. Furthermore, as well as the main hall’s exhibit, on the second floor of the museum ‘Los fotógrafos: ventanas a Julio Cortázar’ (The Photographers: Windows to Julio Cortázar) features more of the writer’s most iconic images as captured by Antonio Gálvez, Alicia D’Amico and Carlos Burri, among others.

You don’t have to endorse the claim Cortázar made shortly before his death that his short stories were the best things ever to have been written in Spanish to appreciate him as a remarkable talent and intriguing individual. For me, reading Hopscotch was a slow, difficult process – sometimes dense and surreal and often full of jagged sentences. Yet it represents an interesting chapter in the history of avant-garde literature and, as well as being audacious, it ignites the adventurer in all of us. The central theme is the quest for identity,  something that resonates with all of us.

Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes

Open: till 28th September, 11.30 -7.

Admission: Free

Other Cortázar Events:

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