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Hopscotch by Julio Cortazar

Thursday, August 7, 2014 § 0

Hopscotch by Julio Cortazar: A Monumental Innovative Novel Written as an Open Structure

A Book Review by 
David Detrich

Hopscotch (1966) by Julio Cortazar was first published as Rayuela in Spanish by the Editorial Sudamericana, Argentina, in 1963. It was translated into English by Gregory Rabassa, and published by Random House in 1966, and then appeared in an Avon Books mass market paperback edition. Hopscotch won a National Book Award for translation in 1967.

Hopscotch (1966) by Julio Cortazar is a monumental innovative novel that represents an open structure which can be read in two ways: one is where the chapters are read in consecutive order, and the other is according to a numerical scheme that includes additional chapters. This is one of the great novels of Latin American literature written by an Argentine translator working in Paris, a novel that has evolved from the Surrealist prose of André Breton and the Surrealists into metaphorical descriptions of romantic encounters on the streets of Paris. The long casual sentences of Julio Cortazar create a monumental innovative novel that also shows the influence of the Nouveau Roman with a precise intertextuality that expresses the wisdom of a more mature perspective. The charm of the Latin American narrator, Horatio Oliveira, is evident in the literary mind that has developed a relaxed intricate style of poetic prose, while his conversations with La Maga reveal two characters that are closely matched in intellect which creates an ongoing Parisian romance based on their appreciation for cool jazz, Surrealist poetry, and modern art. The narrative perspective of Hopscotch shows an awareness of future readers who are envisioned in a larger time frame that extends to the 21st Century.

Hopscotch (1966) begins with a concept that creates two different readings of the novel, and may have grown out of the idea of a first draft and a second draft with additional chapters. The Table of Instructions creates a precedent for the innovative novel, so that a new way of reading can be originated by the narrator.

Table of Instructions

In its own way, this book consists of many books, but two books above all. 

The first can be read in a normal fashion and it ends with Chapter 56, at the close of which there are three garish little stars, which stand for the words The End. Consequently, the reader may ignore what follows with a clean conscience.
                                                              Hopscotch 
                                                              Julio Cortazar

The open structure of Hopscotch allows for two main books which is similar to my own novel-in-progress Dream the Presence of the Circular Breast Starfish Topography that is a double text with the original draft elaborated by a second scene of writing at the upstairs window. With its reference to the three garish little stars Hopscotch is reminiscent of my own innovative word clusters which feature double words placed between stars.

Would I find La Maga?
                                                               Hopscotch
                                                              Julio Cortazar

La Maga is the leading female character who inspires the narrator Oliveira on his daily walks through the streets of Paris where they inevitably encounter each other along the banks of the Seine, and it is their interaction which makes Hopscotch interesting. In this way Hopscotch is similar to Nadja (1928) by André Breton which takes place on the streets of Paris with a metaphysical theme based on esoteric knowledge, so that when the narrator, Oliveira, visits the psychic Madame Léonie, who reads his palm, the reader is already in a receptive mood to the idea of psychic phenomenon. 

"She is suffering somewhere. She has always suffered. She is very gay, she adores yellow, her bird is the blackbird, her time is night, her bridge is the Pont des Arts."
                                                                Hopscotch
                                                               Julio Cortazar

La Maga is a literary character modeled on Carol Dunlop, a friend of Julio Cortazar, who shares Oliveira's enthusiasm for literature and intellectual dialogue. The influence of Alexander Calder, known for his mobiles, is noticeable in Hopscotch which can be thought of as a large scale literary mobile with individual chapters generating a monumental open structure.

At the time I used to pick up pieces of wire and empty boxes on the street early in the morning and I made them into mobiles, silhouettes which swung around the fireplace, useless gadgets that La Maga would help me paint.
                                                               Hopscotch
                                                               Julio Cortazar

Open structures and mobile constructs are theoretical ideas that Sharon Spencer introduced in her book Space, Time and Structure in the Modern Novel (1971) published by the Swallow Press, a book which I still refer to in my own mind when it comes to analyzing the innovative novels of the late 1960s: Composition No. 1 (1962) by Marc Saporta, Collages (1964) by Anaïs Nin, and Hopscotch (1966) by Julio Cortazar, novels which exemplified the creativity of the psychedelic decade of the 1960s with the exciting new art movements of happenings, Abstract Expressionism, Pop Art, kinetic art, and book arts design placing the innovative novel in the context of modern art. 

He was middle class, from Buenos Aries, had been to an Argentinian school, and those things are not dismissed lightly. The worst of it was that by dint of avoiding excessively local points of view he had ended up weighing and accepting too readily the yes and no of everything, becoming a sort of inspector of scales. In Paris everything was Buenos Aries, and vice versa; in the most eager moments of love he would suffer loss and loneliness and relish it. 
                                                             Hopscotch
                                                            Julio Cortazar

The narrator, Horacio Oliveira, reveals his Argentine perspective which becomes the psychogenesis of the structure for Hopscotch, an autobiographical narrative divided into the Paris chapters, and the Buenos Aries chapters, each section creating a doubling of the novel into the eventual two main structures which could be further doubled onto infinity. 

When one begins to read Hopscotch for the second time, that is, with the "expendable" chapters interspersed with those that more nearly contain narrative, he immediately understands that Cortazar is attempting something like the total truth by multiplying and varying the perspectives from which certain fixed characters and situations are seen by the reader. No incident, character, situation, or attitude is allowed to remain in the very incomplete exposure of Oliveira's single perspective. Each must be seen againand in a very different lightfrom the new perspective that is embodied by the perspective of the "expendable" chapter with that of the original portion.
                                               Space, Time, and Structure
                                               in the Modern Novel
                                               Sharon Spencer

I have returned to Hopscotch (1966) by Julio Cortazar many times over the years, from my college days when I discovered the innovative novel, to the time spent on the west coast where Hopscotch represented a monumental novel that one reads a first time, a second time, and onwards to an infinite number of readings. 

This reminds me of a fictive anecdote when my copy of Hopscotch fell into the washing machine one day in Berkeley, and as I took it out of the wash the pages were saturated with water forming a kinetic book sculpture similar to the Marcel Duchamp photograph with soap suds in his hair, the pages were folded back into a mobile construct which fit the idea of its open structure, showing that reality sometimes produces a similar chance phenomenon which illustrates an idea. 

Hopscotch (1966) by Julio Cortazar reveals the desire for a multiple perspective from a writer reflecting two cultures, similar in style to Octavio Paz of Mexico, a Nobel prize winning poet who was influenced by Surrealism, while much of Latin America still shows its influence, bringing Latin American consciousness and narrative charm to the modern novel where one can create their own path through the list of chapters, or write an innovative novel that parallels ideas in modern design.

David Detrich lives in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan where he has just completed The Convergence of Two Narrative Lines Ascending, an ultramodern Surrealist novel written in minimal squares. He is working on Dream the Presence of the Circular Breast Starfish Topography, a monumental Surrealist novel written with innovative typographical design. His first novel Big Sur Marvels & Wondrous Delights (2001) is available from Amazon. He edits Innovative Fiction Magazine and Surrealist Star Clustered Illuminations. 





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