Wednesday, June 17, 2009

missed it the first time: Julio Cortazar's Hopscotch

I'm tempted to just list quotes in a review of this book:
"He always spoke about death when he was talking about life."

"The absurd thing is to believe that we can grasp the totality of what constitutes us in this moment or in any moment and senses it as something coherent, something acceptable if you want."

"The truth is I don't want to understand anything, if by understanding one must accpet what we used to call mistakes."
And the list could go on and on. Then there's the problem, no, opportunity of the non-chronological chapters. Sure, they're numbered in order but that doesn't mean they're read in order. The spastic order and those that continue on without a "clean conscience" will still read that story, just with extra asides thrown in from various chapters. Some of those chapters (read in a non-chronological order) contain various news reports and introductions of additional character such as the mysterious Morelli, Cortazar's own narratee on authorship and mediation.

But the central figure is Horacio Oliveira, a drifter, a lover and for sure a philosopher living in Paris. The book centers around his on-again and off-again relationship with La Maga and his group superiority is challenged by Gregorovius who confronts him about his doom philosophies and is also in love with La Maga.

As conventional as all of this sounds, it is not and is almost impossible to comprehend into the mind of Horacio and Gregorovius, especially as Horacio is constantly aware of La Maga's relationship with Gregorovius. But Horacio has an almost passive response to the death of La Maga's child, Rocamadour and doesn't attend the funeral--alienating him farther from her.
At this point, Horacio is described as "a spectator on the edge of a spectacle"--always an observer, never a participant.

Horacio further evolves once he returns to his native Argentina and joins a circus then becomes part of the staff of the insane asylum. He continues his metaphysical musings with his friend, Traveler and equates Traveler's wife Talita with La Maga. Love always unquenched, except for the love himself or the love of creating the spectacle and still remaining outside of it.

So why the heck read this? Its complicated, complex and is full of reader activity--flipping pages in a chapter order that makes no obvious sense, all the while contemplating the purpose of this activity (just put the chapters in order...) along with Horacio's misguided musings. And that is the purpose, those exercises into readerliness--self-awareness of the process (reader-response theory, I believe). And this isn't meant to be academic, but a book constructed on that premise can almost stand on its own, and the only reason it does, the only reason that I might consider reading it again is to find gems like these again because I'm sure there's more (is it like the Bible, then?)

"He knew that without faith nothing that should happen would happen and with faith almost never either."

"The novel that interests us is not one that places characters in a situation, but rather one that puts the situation in the chartactes."

Yes, it's a metaphysical meditation on the act of reading, which then makes the reader feel eerie for reading it in the first place and even more eerie to want to read it again, like it's a duty to crack it, because you're not sure if Cortazar cracked it himself, like it wrote itself.

Or one may perceive as stated on page 440 of my dog-eared copy from the mid 70's:
"one would have to recognize that his book was before anything else a literary undertaking, precisely because it waas set forth as the destruction of literary forms."

Oh my.

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