Saturday, March 15, 2014

Julio Cortázar: A Model Kit

This year marks the 100th anniversary of the birth of Julio Cortázar (in the suburbs of Brussels, August 26th, 1914, just days into the German occupation of the city), as well as the 30th anniversary of his death, and last year was the 50th anniversary of the publication of Rayuela, so there has been a predictable amount of hoopla — though apparently relatively little in the US, so far. Cortázar, who was congenitally allergic to hagiography, at least as far as his own public image was concerned, would no doubt have been exasperated by most of this activity, but I think he would have made an exception for this book, which has been lovingly and creatively edited by his first wife and literary executor, Aurora Bernárdez, together with Carles Álvarez Garriga and the book designer Sergio Krin.

Taking their cue from the the experiments with the form of the book that Cortázar himself engaged in, they have assembled an alphabetical "biographical album," which, as the editors state in their introductory "Justification," is "in its way many books but which can be read above all in two ways: in the normal manner (from A to Z) or in a leaping manner, following the spiral of curiosity and chance (AZar). The book thus begins with "Abuela," a two-page spread of pictures of the author's grandmother and a memorial poem he wrote in 1963, and ends with "Zzz...," a brief, sarcastic passage from Rayuela. In between there are reproductions of first editions of his books, postcards, scraps of manuscripts, photographs of friends (my favorite is a priceless shot of Cortázar seated at a table discoursing to a cigar-toting José Lezama Lima), poems and excerpts from his novels, letters, and other writings (some previously unpublished), even his passports and metro tickets. Taking itself lightly, the book includes an entry on "Sacralization," reproducing bookmarks, postage stamps, an abominable coffee mug, and other posthumous Cortázar tchotchkes along with a characteristically tart Cortázar text that makes his own attitude towards such fetishization abundantly clear. Very few aspects of Cortázar's personal life, public activity, and work are left undocumented (Edith Aron, the purported original of la Maga, is one of the few), but the approach through out is respectful but never reverential or ponderous. Above all, like the man himself, it is fundamentally ludic.

Cortázar de la A a la Z: Un álbum biográfico has been published by Alfaguara in Spain; the ISBN is 978-84-204-1593-2. It's only available in Spanish (and wouldn't work in translation, at least in the same format, because of the reproduction of considerable manuscript and typescript material), but anyone seriously interested in Cortázar should seek it out nevertheless, if only for the illustrations.

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