Monday, January 10, 2011

Julio Cortazar's World - Where The Mundane Meets The Mysterious

Cortazar is a strange writer or rather writer of strange inexplicable things, in that they are not explainable by us, but they may well have a reason for occurring. These are not some template strange things happening like getting caught in a haunted house, or in a graveyard in the middle of the night. Yes, we enjoy those stories, are even scared by them but in the back of our mind we know that we will not most probably experience those things. (How many among us is going to a graveyard in the night after all)  But lets consider another scenario, assume that you are listening to your favorite song on headset while travelling in a bus, the clear morning/afternoon sun beating down, its a song you have innumerable times and know by heart the lyrics. Suddenly you hear the voice singing another set of lyrics or probably the voice itself has changed. How would you feel then, this is much closer to our everyday life, most of us hear songs while travelling. This is the point, where the everyday life suddenly becomes terrible, this is the crux of most of Cortazar's stories. This is what makes them even more haunting in the sense that these things could actually happen to us. This post is not a critique or detailed analysis of his works, but only my random musings on his work and his short story collection 'Blow Up and Other Stories'. This could be a short introduction to him too.

His short story collection 'Blow Up' has such a collection of stories. For instance, in one of them 'House Taken Over', we are lead to believe that that house is being taken over some force which is never explained. An old brother and sister live there, the sister makes clothes. They start hearing noises in various rooms of the houses one day. It starts slowly, they stop going to those rooms and avoiding them. The noise slowly pervades the other rooms too and thus restricting their movement in the house itself. The fear of the unknown and the helplessness in the face of it is brought out very well.

'Axolotl' is a story about a person who becomes obsessed with Axolotl (a particular kind of fish) that he sees in the aquarium of  the museum. He starts to go there every day and stares at the fish until one day he finds that he is staring at the outside from within the aquarium. (!!) The story ends there

Cortazar is also intrigued by the tradition of  doppelgangers, alternate reality, parallel realities, in short,  he just likes to play around with the possibilities of fiction and the mind. His story 'This Night Face Up'', to me personally, is the ultimate con job in tricking the reads. If you look at the story rationally, it won't hold, but you just can ignore the questions of what exactly is real that is raised here. In this, I feel that he is closer to Borges.

'Blow up' is probably his most celebrated story, but not the one I like most 
personally.  It was made into a very famous film, so could have become more famous than his other works. This also has his trademark touch. What happens here, a photographer captures a woman and a boy talking, he enlarges the photo and makes a blow up of it. He feels that he has interrupted something by taking the photo, thinks that maybe he has saved the boy somehow. Suddenly he seems to see in the blow up that the people frozen in the photo are alive, they are going to complete what was stopped by the photographer taking the photo. What happens next, well it's left to us.

All these are in his short story collection 'Blow Up and other stories'.

It's not as if Cortazar plays around with the content of stories alone, he plays around with the form too. 'Blow up' is interspersed with first person and third person accounts all about the same man. His novel 'Hopscotch' has been written in such a way that you can read the first 81 chapters in the same order or you can skip from one chapter to the one mentioned at the end of the chapter. You would get multiple storylines like that. Yes, this has been tried out several times, but Cortazar was one of the first to do this. I personally have not tried reading the novel this way, the novel is pretty big as it is and reading it several times was beyond me. 

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