Sunday, May 15, 2011

Cortázar: Último Round and La vuelta al día



Julio Cortázar's collections La vuelta al día en ochenta mundos ("Around the Day in Eighty Worlds") and Último Round ("Last Round") were published in 1967 and 1969 respectively by Siglo XXI Editores in Mexico. Each work is made up of of two volumes and contains stories, essays, poems, and anecdotes as well as photographs, period engravings and other artwork selected by the designer, the artist Julio Silva. Among the highlights are Cortázar's long introduction to the Cuban novelist José Lezama Lima, appreciations of Thelonious Monk, Louis Armstrong, and Clifford Brown, the short stories "Silvia" and "With Justifiable Pride," and an essay on Jack the Ripper and other notorious murderers.


The coincidence of the author's and designer's first names goes further than is immediately evident, since another "Julio" -- Jules Verne -- serves as a kind of tutelary spirit, at least for La vuelta al día, which borrows its title, in mutated form, from one of Verne's most famous works.


In designing the layout of the interior of the books, Silva employed a variety of different typefaces, some of them antique; here and there the text is rotated 90 degrees, proceeding across the page from left to right. The illustrations chosen to complement Cortázar's texts were taken from a wide variety of sources. For the essay on Lezama Lima, to cite one example, he incorporated engravings from 19th-century editions of Verne's Voyage au centre de la terre, early scientific and hermetic treatises, runes, and tarot cards. Elsewhere he uses original drawings, old advertisements and clippings, and paintings by Paul Delvaux.

For Último Round, he created newspaper-style exterior art that worked in references to the pieces inside the book as well as quotations from Italo Calvino and Gary Snyder and at least one sly allusion to one of Cortázar's earlier books. Circled on the back of Tomo I, in what appears to be a clipping from a column of personal ads, is a nod to Cortázar's novel 62: A Model Kit:

ARE YOU sensitive, intelligent, anxious or a little lonely? Neurotics Anonymous are a lively, mixed group who believe that the individual is unique. Details s.a.e. Box 8662.
(In the novel, one of the characters discovers this ad, purportedly found in the New Statesman, and decides to investigate.)

In keeping with the vernacular spirit of the design, and perhaps under the influence of 19th-century Mexican chapbooks by artists such as José Guadalupe Posada, these "artist's books" were nevertheless intended to be inexpensive. They were printed on relatively cheap paper in small formats (La vuelta is only 3 1/2 inches wide) and have gone through numerous printings both in their original editions and in other formats, including this curious version of Último Round, which I haven't been able to identify:



[In an editor's note to one of Cortázar's letters to Silva there is a cryptic reference to "a book guillotined in the middle," but judging by the date the letter seems to refer to La vuelta al día rather than Último Round, and may describe the presentation of the book in two volumes rather than one.]

The 1986 North Point Press edition of Thomas Christensen's translation, below, is based on the contents of the French edition, Le tour du jour en quatre-vingts mondes, for which Cortázar himself chose selections from the original volumes of both La vuelta al día and Último Round, some of the excluded pieces probably having been deemed to be all but impossible to translate.


The North Point volume dispenses with the original array of fonts but makes a handsome book in its own right. The jacket design, by David Bullen, uses a painting by Paul Delvaux, Le Veilleur II. The panels on the cover have a pale greenish tint that for some reason doesn't show up well in my scan.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Cortázar: Hopscotch (Signet)



This Signet edition of Julio Cortázar's most famous novel was the first American paperback publication, issued in December 1967. I don't know if the cover art depicts an actual George Segal sculpture or just a deliberate rip-off of his style; in any case the book credits neither the designer nor the artist. It's a fairly generic piece of art; perhaps the salient point was that the woman is naked and lying in bed, as the publishers were eager to punch up the erotic angle of the book, which is prounounced "an underground classic" on the cover. The words above the title read LIFE | LOVE | SEX, which I suppose is one way of summing up what Rayuela is about. Just in case anyone missed the point it's spelled out again on the bottom of the back cover: “Hopscotch / a game of / LIFE, LOVE, SEX.”

The blurbs are pretty hilarious: Harvey L. Johnson of the Houston Post promises “Sexual bouts, drunken orgies … escapes into hallucinations and trances, emphasis on sex, unmindful frankness … shocking and sordid … crude or amusing … Hopscotch will not soon be forgotten,” while the Baltimore Sun simply promises that it “leaves you limp.”

Cortázar apparently first saw the cover by accident in June 1968, in an unlikely part of the world:
And since we're on the subject, in Tehran (of all places) my wife came across, by pure chance, in a supermarket, Hopscotch in the paperback edition. She bought it and gave it to me as gift. I stood aghast to read the bit about LOVE/SEX: by the author of Blow-Up, etc. Eventually I realized that all pocket-books are the same, and that on the other hand the edition was a good one and didn't, I think, have any major errors. But that naked couple (made out of clay, no less) depressed me quite a bit. It's unbelievable how "mass-market" editions can debase a work that tries to aim much higher. Every day I hate consumer societies more (which is why in Argentina they catalog me as a dangerous Red, and from that point of view they're right, what the hell).
(From a letter to Gregory Rabassa, in Cartas 2 (2000 edition); translation mine.)

Eventually this edition was superseded by Bard's, which had a much better cover. In addition to Hopscotch, the New American Library (of which Signet was an imprint) apparently also bought the paperback rights to The Winners at the same time, but I've found no evidence that a Signet edition of that novel was ever issued.

Update: Below is the Plume edition (another NAL imprint) from 1971, which I haven't seen before. I can't say I care much for it.

Saturday, May 07, 2011

A vignette by Bewick



In his posthumously published A Memoir, the engraver Thomas Bewick amused himself by imagining that the names and words of the great worthies of British history and literature might be carved into natural stone formations along rural roads in order to provide edification to passing travelers. Several of his vignettes -- or "tale-pieces" as he called them -- illustrate the idea; the example above bears Oliver Goldsmith's oft-quoted lines (perhaps, in truth, the only memorable lines) from "The Deserted Village," a lament for the destruction of traditional village life wrought by the Enclosure Acts and consequent emigration.
Ill fares the land, to hastening ills a prey,
Where wealth accumulates, and men decay;
Princes and lords may flourish or may fade;
A breath can make them, as a breath has made;
But a bold peasantry, their country's pride,
When once destroyed, can never be supplied.
Bewick would have known the poem well; he illustrated it for an edition The Poetical Works of Oliver Goldsmith, M. B. in 1794, but I suspect this image is later (it doesn't appear in the online edition I examined), and may have been used as a decoration for one of the several editions of Bewick's great illustrated works on quadrupeds and birds. It can be found in the Ikon Gallery's catalog Thomas Bewick: Tale-Pieces, which unfortunately doesn't identify its source. The actual image is only about two inches high.

Goldsmith's rosy evocation of bygone village life was no doubt highly romanticized, but his account of the social disruptions caused by the enclosure movement matches that of other witnesses. What he described can be seen as an early stage in the broader process -- one that is still very much underway -- by which smallholders and tenants throughout the world have been displaced from their lands, either through legal action or by market pressures, and have emigrated or gone to swell the burgeoning populations of cities, for better or for worse.

The general sentiment expressed in Goldsmith's lines remains resonant enough even today to have provided the late historian Tony Judt with the title of one of his last books, Ill Fares the Land.

Sunday, May 01, 2011

The ghost in the rain


It's been raining since morning and the wind has been driving drops like shotgun pellets against the windows of my room for hours. Outside, the gutters are choked with crabapple petals, and here and there clusters of maple leaves have blown down as well, as if autumn had arrived before its time, but night still hasn't fallen, even at this hour, and the trees that line both sides of the street show the pallor of new growth. I'll stay inside now until the storm is over; I've had my dinner and I've nowhere to go. I may have another inch or two of wine before I retire.

I saw him again today. He was standing in an alley, a few yards back from the sidewalk, in among the empty crates and windblown trash. He tucked himself into the shadow of the adjacent building just as I approached, but it was too late. When our eyes met he averted his gaze at once, but as I stood there watching him he lifted his face again after a moment and under the brim of his soaked fedora I could make out his features, the same dismal eyes, the soft nose that could almost have been a woman's, the small, frightened, half-opened mouth. I chose not to intrude any longer. Already I could feel the pain he felt at my discovering him again, though I have never pursued him or presumed on his sorrows more than I could help. I went on my way. I didn't need to look back to know that already he would no longer be there, that he would have shuffled off to some other forsaken corner, away from the crowds and the lights and the din. By now we both know that he can't escape me, any more than either of us can ever leave this city. Weeks will pass and I won't see him; he will trace his silent and mysterious routes through the streets and back passages, unseen, as I trace mine, and day after day our paths won't intersect, but sooner or later, just at the hour when the city is at its most forlorn, in the shadows of the giant beech trees of the park or down in the deserted cobblestone lanes by the docks, just when I think I've forgotten him at last, I will sense him even before he appears, and then I'll see him, he'll be there once again, my curse as I am his.