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Summary Article: CORTÁZAR, JULIO
from Encyclopedia of Erotic Literature


Argentinean novelist, short story writer, and essayist

Cortázar's works narrate a desire for an impossible plenitude beyond the binary oppositions and the hollow conventions which structure mundane bourgeois reality. His oeuvre, strongly influenced by the Surrealist movement, is committed to the blurring of boundaries between rationality and irrationality, to the ludic rupturing of the banal. This impetus to fracture the pedestrian continuum, however, often submits his characters to strategies of transgression which are oppositional, hence destined to the reiteration of binary structures and so to failure and self-obliteration. Within this perfidious and annihilative scheme, eroticism is often exploited as a vehicle for rebellion. FromLos reyes [The Kings], his first published prose work, in which the incestuous passion binding Ariadne to the Minotaur vindicates the blending of beings beyond corporeal and spatio-temporal limitations as the non plus ultra of eroticism, Cortázar maintains a Bataillean discourse of the erotic as that which is inseparable from death and the notions of pure expenditure and non-regeneration. In other words, for Cortázar the erotic reneges productivity, the cornerstone of the social construct. As many of the stories inBestiario [Bestiary], Las armas secretas [Secret Weapons] andFinal del juego [The End of the Game and Other Stories] show, in his writing sexual acts constitute encounters with the other affording brief interludes of continuity between incomplete, discontinuous beings; a sense of continuity otherwise associated with voluptuous dissolution in death. Furthermore, the manifest dissociation of sexual practice from reproduction in these stories indicates the urge to transgress the edicts of social convention: Cortázar guards the erotic dissolution of being from acquiring a socially productive dimension. Nevertheless, although eroticism intimates deliverance from the pitiable state of individual separateness, the ensuing desire to rearticulate and fix being as an ineffable form of connectedness beyond life and death only begets anguish given the impossibility of the endeavour. Frustration born of this eroticized opposition to conventional existence exacerbates the horror of discontinuity, magnifies dissatisfaction with the empty routine and ritual of pedestrian life, and encourages dissipation through death. The suicidal denouements of stories such as “Manuscrito hallado en un bolsillo” [Manuscript Found in a Pocket] and “Lugar llamado Kindberg” [A Place Named Kindberg] inOctaedro [A Change of Light and Other Stories] strongly corroborate this reading, as does the orgiastic devastation of “Las ménades” [The Maenad] inFinal del juego where the delirium of an audience drives them to ravish and devour musicians and lay waste to a theater, making explicit the dynamics of liberation and destruction at play in erotic abandon.

In Cortázar's most celebrated novel, Rayuela [Hopscotch], the Argentinean protagonist Oli-veira—first in Paris, later in Buenos Aires— searches for a state of non-dualism, for a sense of authenticity or an origin untarnished by social machination. His adage, “en el principio fue la cópula” (“in the beginning was coition”) emphasizes the importance of sex in relation to this coveted origin. As the novel goes on to show, sex here is mostly oral, masturbatory, and abusive; it is not creative in the reproductive sense. InRayuela sex is only productive of a text—hence the interchangeable terms “the Word” and “coitus”—a text whose aim, paradoxically, is to undermine productivity and therefore social order itself. Oliveira's literary enterprise is to utilize eroticism as a means of breaking with social hegemony and returning to a point of unfettered creativity, of reaching his “kibbutz del deseo” [“kibbutz of desire”]. In Paris, Oliveira, the aloof intellectual, finds his antithesis in La Maga, a woman who represents infatuation and all that is ephemeral in life. La Maga executes a role often ascribed to women in Cortázar's fiction: the accessory enabling an eroticized (male) rite of passage. Oliveira experiments the transformative and disruptive powers of the erotic by rearticulating and defiling La Maga as Pasiphaë (Chapter 5). In such passages carnality is commensurate with fluidity, with an imaginative abandon of the objective world; particular significance is conferred upon the non-generative act of oral sex. Later, when Oliveira descends to the banks of the Seine (Chapter 36) and enters the idle—hence anti-social—world of the clochards, it is oral sex with the abject Emmanuèle that shores up the subversive barrenness of this act. Oliveira violates the taboo on filth by accepting the mouth of the foul vagabond who rouses visions of a desecrated goddess splattered with drunken soldiers’ urine and semen; Emmanuèle's dirt is associated with death and decomposition, she is, however, seductive, stressing the sensuality of decay and dissolution. On that occasion a policeman arrives to interdict the public display of transgressive eroticism. In other instances, such as those involving La Maga—or her resurrection through Talita in Buenos Aires (Chapter 54)—where the melding of her unruliness and Oliveira's intellect could offer a plenitude of sorts, the latter's preoccupation with his ego and with dialectics prevents or at least postpones such a redemptive union.

A decade later in the novelLibro de Manuel [A Manual for Manuel] where revolutionaries kidnap an official to secure the release of Latin American prisoners, Cortázar establishes an intimate relationship between political insurrection and sexual revolution: the progress of the protagonist Andrés is contingent upon transgression via sodomy. He forces Francine to have anal sex in a hotel overlooking a cemetery, hence emphasizing the association between this non-procreative sexual act and death. Similarly, Lonstein, who washes corpses in a morgue, develops an idiolect in reaction to the repression inherent in language and society (symbolic order) and declaims the need to liberate masturbation from its subaltern position vis-à-vis intercourse; he openly declares himself an onanist. The immediacy of death in these sexual exercises in sédition reasserts Cortázar's call for a breakdown in the equation of existence to perpetuation of the social regime (productivity). This idea finds its ultimate expression in Cortázar's most labyrinthine work, 62: Modelo para armar [62: A Model Kit]. The eroticized breaching of individual egos in this novel undertakes a vampiric dimension which further problematizes the life/ death distinction. Its protean continuum of characters negotiates libidinal and existential chaos, seduced by the undecidable nihilism/plenitude which defies articulation yet motivates, and inevitably frustrates, Cortázar's writing.


Cortázar was born of Argentinean parents in Brussels in 1914. He was taken to Banfield, Buenos Aires in 1918 where he was introduced to French and English literature. He later went on to teach and translate the work of Edgar Allan Poe, André Gide, and G.K. Chesterton among others. In 1951, partly because of dissatisfaction with the Peronist regime, he moved to Paris where he was to remain the rest of his life. There he produced most of his writing and worked as a translator for UNESCO. He became keenly interested in Latin American politics with the Cuban revolution of 1956–1959. His support of Castro's administration was chequered but enduring, and he also backed the Sandinistas in Nicaragua. He died in 1984.

Selected Works
  • Divertimiento.Madrid:Alfaguara, 1988 [1949].
  • El examen.Buenos Aires:Sudamericana, 1986 [1950]; as Final Exam.translated by Alfred MacAdam, New York:New Directions, 2000.
  • Los premios.Madrid:Alfaguara, 1983 [1960]; as The Winners, translated by Elaine Kerrigan.New York:Pantheon, 1965.
  • Rayuela.Madrid:Cátedra, 1994 [1963]; as Hopscotch, translated by Gregory Rabassa, New York:Pantheon, 1966. 62: Modelo para armar.Madrid:Alfaguara, 1996 [1968]; as 62: A Model Kit, translated by Gregory Rabassa, New York:Pantheon, 1972.
  • Libro de Manuel.Madrid:Alfaguara, 1997 [1973]; as A Manual for Manuel, translated by Gregory Rabassa, 1978.
  • Collections of Stories
  • Bestiario.Buenos Aires:Sudamericana, 1951; as Bestiary, translated by Alberto Manguel, London:Harvill, 1998.
  • Las armas secretas.Madrid:Cátedra, 1979 [1959].
  • Final del juego.Buenos Aires:Sudamericana, 1964; as End of the Game and Other Stories, translated by Paul Blackburn, New York:Pantheon, 1967.
  • Todos los fuegos el fuego.Buenos Aires:Sudamericana, 1966; as All Fires the Fire and Other Stories, translated by Suzanna Jill Levine, New York:Pantheon, 1973.
  • Octaedro.Buenos Aires:Sudamericana, 1974; as A Change of Light and Other Stories, translated by Gregory Rabassa, London:Harvill, 1984.
  • Alguien que anda por ahí y otros relatos.Madrid:Alfaguara, 1977.
  • Deshoras, Mexico: Nueva Imagen.1983; as Unreasonable Hours, translated by Alberto Manguel, Toronto:Coach House, 1995.
  • Queremos tanto a Glenda.Mexico:Nueva Imagen, 1983; as We Love Glenda So Much and Other Tales, translated by Gregory Rabassa, London:Arena, 1985.
  • Other Writings
  • Los reyes.Madrid:Alfaguara, 1985 [1949].
  • Historias de cronopios y de famas.Buenos Aires:Minotauro, 1962; as Cronopios and Famas, translated by Paul Blackman, New York:Panethon, 1969.
  • La vuelta al día en ochenta mundos.Mexico:Siglo XXI, 1967; as Around the Day in Eighty Worlds, translated by Thomas Christensen, San Francisco:North Point, 1986.
  • Ultimo round.Mexico:Siglo XXI, 1969.
  • Viaje alrededor de una mesa.Buenos Aires:Rayuela, 1970.
  • Prosa del observatorio.Barcelona:Lumen, 1972.
  • Fantomas contra los vampiros multinacionales.Mexico:Excelsior, 1975.
  • Un tal Lucas, Madrid: Alfaguara.1979; as A Certain Lucas, translated by Gregory Rabassa, New York:Knopf, 1984.
  • Los autonautas de la cosmopista.with Carol Dunlop, Barcelona:Muchnik, 1983.
  • Salvo el crepúsculo.Mexico:Nueva Imagen, 1984; as Save Twilight, translated by Stephen Kessler, San Francisco:City Lights, 1997.
  • Diario de Andrés Fava.Madrid:Alfaguara, 1995.
  • Further Reading
  • Alazraki, Jaime (editor).Critical Essays on Julio Corta-zar. New York: G.K. Hall, 1999.
  • Alazraki, Jaime Ivask, Ivar (editors).The Final Island: The Fiction of Julio Cortázar. Norman:University of Oklahoma Press, 1978.
  • Alonso, Carlos J. (editor).Julio Cortázar: New Readings. Cambridge:Cambridge University Press, 1998.
  • Berriot, Karine.Julio Cortzar l’enchanteur. Paris:Renaissance, 1988.
  • Boldy, Steven.The Novels of Julio Cortázar. Cambridge:Cambridge University Press, 1980.
  • Garfield, Evelyn Picon.Julio Cortázar. New York:Ungar, 1975.
  • del Castillo, Hernández. Ana.Keats, Poe, and the Shaping of Cortzar's Mythopoesis. Amsterdam:Benjamins, 1981.
  • Planells, Antonio.Cortázar: Metafísica y erotismo. Madrid:José Porrúa Turanzas, 1979.
  • Stavans, Ilan.Julio Cortázar: A Study of the Short Fiction. New York:Twayne, 1996.
  • Yovanovich, Gordana.Julio Cortzar's Character Mosaic: Reading the Longer Fiction. Toronto:University of Toronto Press, 1991.
  • Karl Posso
    © 2006 by Taylor & Francis Group, LLC

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