Sunday, February 03, 2013

Re-reading Martin du Gard (II)

Una novela de Galdós, qué idea. Cuando no era Vicki Baum era Roger Martin du Gard, y de ahí el salto inexplicable a Tristán L'Hermite, horas enteras repitiendo por cualquier motivo "les rêves de l'eau qui songe"... — Rayuela, Cap. 31 1

As far as I know this is the only reference to Roger Martin du Gard in Julio Cortázar's writings. There's no mention of the French novelist in the three-volume Alfaguara edition of Cortázar's letters (I haven't checked the five-volume revised edition), although Gide, whom he translated, is mentioned, favorably, several times. If one thinks of the difference between Gide's approach to fiction, at least in The Counterfeiters, and Martin du Gard's as roughly corresponding to the divide between the modernist and the positivist novel traditions, then it's likely that Cortázar, a second-generation modernist, meant Oliveira to be dismissive of, or at best bemused by, la Maga's choice of reading matter.

Cortázar, of course, would explode the very notion of the novel in writing Hopscotch, in which he also drew a notorious distinction between the lector-hembra or "female reader" ("el tipo que no quiere problemas sino soluciones, o falsos pro­blemas ajenos que le permiten sufrir cómodamente sentado en su sillón, sin comprometerse en el drama que también debería ser el suyo" 2) and the lector-cómplice or "accomplice reader" who "puede llegar a ser copartícipe y copa­deciente de la experiencia por la que pasa el novelista, en el mismo momento y en la misma forma." 3

The naturalist or positivist novel assumes that there is a nature of things, which by dint of diligent effort one can ascertain and describe. (The implicit irony in the notion of describing reality by inventing stories is an old one, with which Cervantes was as familiar as anyone.) Oliveira, the ultimate anti-positivist, has no faith that the nature of things is knowable; Hopscotch mirrors that, using a variety of techniques that force the reader to come to terms with the author's own manipulations. Where a novelist like Martin du Gard sought to be invisible, Cortázar makes the reader the co-author of an impossible work.

1 "A novel by Galdós, what an idea. When it wasn't Vicki Baum it was Roger Martin du Gard, and from there the inexplicable leap to Tristan L'Hermite, whole hours spent repeating for no reason 'les rêves de l'eau qui songe.'" Benito Pérez Galdós was a Spanish realist, and Vicki Baum the author of the novel that inspired the 1932 movie Grand Hotel; François Tristan L'Hermite was a seventeenth-century playwright.

2 "the person who doesn't want problems but only solutions, or false problems belonging to others which permit him to suffer comfortably seated in his armchair, without being implicated in the drama which ought to also be his own." Although referring to the lector-hembra, a term he later apologized for, Cortázar here uses a masculine noun (tipo) and the possessives that follow are actually gender-neutral.

3 "who is able to be a co-participant and co-sufferer of the experience through which the novelist passes, at the same time and in the same form."

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