Julio Cortazar


Oh, Maga, whenever I saw a woman who looked like you a clear sharp pause would close in like a deafening silence, collapsing like a wet umbrella being closed.

Too late, always too late, because even though we made love so many times, happiness must have been something else, something sadder perhaps than this peace, this pleasure, a mood of unicorn or island, an endless fall in immobility.

Thus they went along, Punch and Judy, attracting each other and repelling, as love must do if it is not to end up as calendar art or a pop tune. But love, that word...

It's funny how you can lose your innocence all at once, without even knowing that you've passed into another existence.

Music that can be translated into emotion is one thing, but emotion which pretends to pass as music is another.

Happiness cannot be explained, Lucia, probably because it is the ultimate moment of the veil of Maya.

Why have we had to invent Eden, to live submerged in the nostalgia of a lost paradise, to make up utopias, propose a future for ourselves?

Of all our feelings the only one which really doesn't belong to us is hope. Hope belongs to life, it's life itself defending itself.

Being alive always seems to be the price of something.

The only real difference between you and me at this moment is that I'm alone.

To know that he was in love with La Maga was neither a defeat nor any sort of fixation in any outdated order of things; a love that could do without its object, that could find its nourishment in nothingness, that could be totaled up and come out as other strengths, defining them and bringing them together into an impulse that one day would destroy that visceral contentment of a body stuffed with beer and fried potatoes.

Maybe love was the highest enrichment, a giver of being, but only by bungling it could one avoid its boomerang effect, let it run off into nothingness, and sustain one's self alone again on this new step of open and porous reality. Killing the beloved object, that ancient fear of man, was the price paid for not stopping on the stairs, just as Faust's plea to the passing moment would not have made sense if he had not abandoned it at the same time, just as one puts down an empty glass on the table. And things like that, and bitter mate.

And all of it, so ridiculous and gregarious, could have been even worse on other levels, in meditations constantly menaced by idola fori, words that falsify institutions, turning things to stone in the name of simplification, monuments of fatigue in which one slowly takes the flag of surrender from one's vest pocket. The betrayal could have taken place in perfect solitude, without witnesses or accomplices: hand to hand, believing one's self to be beyond personal compromises and dramas of the senses, beyond the ethical torture of knowing that one is tied to a race or to a people and a language at least. In what is apparently perfect freedom, not having to render accounts to anyone, leaving the game, leaving the crossroads and following any one of the roads put there by circumstance, proclaiming it to be the necessary one or the only one. La Maga was one of those roads, literature was another (burn the notebook at once, even if Getrepten wu-rr-inggs her hands), laziness was something else, and meditation on the sovereign kicking on the bucket was something else.

Talita slid up on the bed a little and leaned against Traveler. She knew that she was by his side again, that she had not drowned, that he was there holding her up on the surface of the water and that actually there was a pity, a marvelous pity. They both felt it at the same moment, and they slid towards each other as if to fall into themselves, into the common earth where words and caresses and mouths enfolded them as a circumference does a circle, those tranquilizing metaphors, that old sadness satisfied with going back to being the same as always, with continuing, keeping afloat against wind and tide, against call and fall.

Maybe there is a millenary kingdom, but if we ever reach it, if we are it, it probably will not be called that anymore. Until we take away from time its whip of history, until we prick the blister made of so many untils, we shall go on seeing beauty as an end, peace as a desideratum, always from this side of the door where it really is not always so bad, where many people find satisfactory lives, pleasant perfumes, good salaries, fine literature, sterophonic sound, and why then worry one's self about whether the world most likely is finite, whether history is coming to its optimum, whether the human race is emerging from the Middle Ages and entering the era of cybernetics. Tout va très bien, madame la Marquise, tout va très bien, tout va très bien.

In some corner, a vestige of the forgotten kingdom. In some violent death, the punishment for having remembered the kingdom. In some laugh, in some tear, the survival of the kingdom. Beneath it all, one does not feel that man will end up killing man. He will escape from it, he will grasp the rudder of the electronic machine, the astral rocket, he will trip up and then they can set a dog on him. Everything can be killed except nostalgia for the kingdom, we carry it in the color of our eyes, in every love affair, in everything that deeply torments and unties and tricks. Wishful thinking, perhaps; but that is just another possible definition of the featherless biped.

The intimacy of the Travelers. When I say goodbye to them in the doorway or in the cafe on the corner, suddenly it's like a desire to stay near them, watching them live, a desire without appetites, friendly, a little sad. Intimacy, what a word, it makes you want to stick the fateful wh in front of it. But what other word could intimate (in its first acceptance) the very skin of acquaintance, the epithelial reason for Talita's, Manolo's and my being friends. People think they're friends because they coincide for a few hours a week on a sofa, in the movies, sometimes in a bed, or because they happen to do the same work in an office. When we were young, in a cafe, how many times did the illusion of identity with our companions make us happy. Identity with men and woman of whom we scarcely knew one shape of being, a shape of giving in, a profile. I remember with timeless clarity the cafes in Buenos Aires where for several hours we would succeed in getting away from family and obligations, where we would enter a territory of smoke and confidence in ourselves and in our friends, where we would accede to something that comforted us in our precarious state, which promised us a kind of immortality. and there, twenty years old, we spoke our most lucid words, we knew all about our deepest emotions, we were like gods of pint glasses and dry Cuban rum. The cafe a little heaven, cielito lindo. Afterwards the street was like an expulsion, always, the angel with the flaming sword directing traffic on Corrientes and San Martin. Homeward bound, it's late, back to lawsuits, to the marriage bed, to linden tea for the old lady, to the exam day after tomorrow, to the ridiculous fiancé who reads Vicki Baum and whom we will marry, there's no way out.

Why is it so necessary at certain times to say: "I loved that"? I loved some blues, an image in the street, a poor dry river in the north. Giving testimony, fighting against the nothingness that will sweep us all away. That's how in the air of the soul little things like that will linger, a sparrow that belonged to Lesbia, some blues that in the memory will fill the small space saved for perfumes, stamps, and paperweights.

If you thought about everything that changes as soon as you leave the edge of the sidewalk and take three steps into the street...

I never took you to have Madame Leonie read your palm, probably because I was afraid that she would read some truth about me in your hand, because you have always been a frightful mirror, a monstrous instrument of repetitions, and what we have called loving was perhaps my standing in front of you holding a yellow flower while you held two green candles and a slow rain of renunciations and farewells and Metro tickets blew in our faces.

Only Oliviera knew that La Maga was always reaching those great timeless plateaus that they were all seeking through dialectics.

'The worst part of all this,' he thought, is that it always ends up in the Animula vagula blandula. What is there to do? With that question I'll never bet to sleep. Oblomov, cosa facciamo? The great voices of History stir us to action: revenge, Hamlet! Shall we avenge ourselves, Hamlet, or settle for Chippendale, slippers, and a good fire? The Syrian, after all, made the scandalous choice of Martha, as is well known. Will you give battle, Arjuna? You cannot deny values, reluctant king. Fight for fight's sake, live dangerously, think about Marius the Epicurean, Richard Hillary, Kyo, T.E. Lawrence...Happy are those who choose, those who accept being chosen, the handsome heroes, the handsome saints, the perfect escapists.

It sank into the gully like a ship into green water, stormy green water, into la mer qui est plus félonesse en été qu'en hiver, into the treacherous wave, Maga, as we counted for a long time, in love with Joinville or with the park, embracing like wet trees or like actors in some second rate Hungarian movie. And it stayed down there in the grass, small and black, like some trampled insect. And it did not move, none of its springs popped out as once before. Ended. Over. Oh Maga, and still we were not satisfied.

How was I to have suspected that what seemed to be a pack of lies was all true, a Figari with sunset violets, with livid faces, with hunger and blows in the corners. I came to believe you later on, later on there was reason to, there was Madame Leonie, who looked at my hand which had gone to bed with your breasts, and she practically repeated your exact words: "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 Pont des Arts." (A must-colored péniche, Maga, and I wonder why we didn't sail off on it while there was still time.
     We had barely come to know each other when life began to plot everything necessary for us to stop meeting little by little. Since you didn't know how to fake I realized at once that in order to see you as I wanted I would have to begin by shutting my eyes, and then at first some things like yellow stars (moving around in a velvet jelly), then red jumps of humor and time, a sudden entry into a Maga world, awkward and confused, but also with ferns signed by a Klee spider, a Miro circus, Vieira da Silva ash-mirrors, a chess world where you moved about like a knight trying to move like a rook trying to move like a bishop.

It was about time that I realized that searching was my symbol, the emblem of those who go out at night with nothing in mind, the motives of a destroyer of compasses.

I could never resist the urge to call her over to me, to have her fall on top of me, unfold again after having been so alone and so in love for a moment, face to face with the eternity of her body.

...and it occurred to me like a sort of mental belch that this whole A B C of my life was a painful bit of stupidity, because it was based solely on a dialectical pattern, on the choice of what could be called nonconduct rather than conduct, on faddish indecency instead of social decency.

But no, what really exasperated me was knowing that I would never again be so close to my freedom as in those days in which I felt myself hemmed in by the Maga world, and that my anxiety to escape was an admission of defeat. It grieved me to recognize that with artificial blows, with Manichaean beams of light, or desiccated, stupid dichotomies I could not make my way up the steps of the Gare de Montparnasse where La Maga had dragged me to visit Rocamadour. Why couldn't I accept what was happening without trying to explain it, without bringing up ideas of order and disorder, of freedom and Rocamadour, as one sets out geranium pots in a courtyard on the Calle Cochabamba? Maybe one had to fall into the depths of stupidity in order to make the key fit the lock to the latrine or to the Garden of Olives.

'This girl could leave Saint Thomas way behind,' Oliviera said.
     'Why Saint Thomas?' asked La Maga. 'That idiot who had to see to believe?' 'Yes, sweet,' said Oliviera, thinking that underneath it all, La Maga had hit upon the right saint. Happy was she who could believe without seeing, who was at one with the duration and continuity of life. Happy was she who was in the room, who had the freedom of the city in everything she touched or came in contact with, a fish swimming downstream, a leaf on a tree, a cloud in the sky, an image in a poem. Fish, leaf, cloud, image: that's it precisely, unless...

There are metaphysical rivers, she swims in them like that swallow swimming in the air, spinning madly around a belfry, letting herself drop so that she can rise up all the better with the swoop. I describe and define and desire those rivers, but she swims in them. I look for them, find them, observe them from the bridge, but she swims in them. 96

What good is a writer if he can't destroy literature.

Going out, doing things, bringing up to date were not ideas calculated to help him get to sleep. To bring up to date: what an expression. To do. To do something, to do good, to make water, to make time, action in all of its possibilities. But behind all action there was a protest, because all doing meant leaving from in order to arrive at, or moving something so that it would be here and not there, or going into a house instead of not going in or instead of going into the one next door; in other words, every act entailed the admission of a lack, of something not yet done and which could have been done, the tacit protest in the face of continuous evidence of a lack, of a reduction, of the inadequacy of the present moment. To believe that action could crown something, or that the sum total of actions could really be a life worthy of the name was the illusion of a moralist. It was better to withdraw, because withdrawal from action was protest itself and not its mask.

Oliviera liked to make love to La Maga because there was nothing more important to her and at the same time, in a way hard to understand, she was in a sense dependent on his pleasure, she would reach him for a moment and would therefore cling desperately and prolong it. It was as if she had awakened and recognized her real name, and then she would fall back into that always somewhat twilight zone which enchanted Oliviera, fearful of perfection, but La Maga really did suffer when she returned to her memories and to everything that in some obscure way she had to think about but could not. Then he would have to kiss her deeply, incite her to new play, and the other woman, the reconciled one, would grow beneath him and pull him down, and she would surrender them like a frantic animal, her eyes lost, her hands twisted inward, mythical and terrible, like a statue rolling down a mountainside, clutching time with her nails, with a gurgling sound and a moaning growl that lasted interminably. One night she sank her teeth into him, bit him in the shoulder until blood came, because he had fallen to one side, a little forgetful already, and there was a confused and wordless pact. Oliveira felt that La Maga wanted death from him, something in her which was not her awakened self, a dark form demanding annihilation, the slow wound which on its back breaks the stars at night and gives space back to questions and terrors. Only that time, off center like a mythical matador for whom killing is returning the bull to the sea and the sea to the heavens, he bothered La Maga in a long night which they did not speak much about later. He turned her into Pasiphaë, he bent her over and used her as if she were a young boy, he knew her and he demanded the slavishness of the most abject whore, he magnified her into a constellation, he held her in his arms smelling of blood, he made her drink the semen which ran into her mouth like a challenge to the Logos, he sucked out the shadow from her womb and her rump and raised himself to her face to anoint her with herself in that ultimate work of knowledge which only a man can give to a woman, he wore her out with skin and hair and drool and moans, he drained her completely of her magnificent strength, he threw her against a pillow and sheet and felt her crying with happiness against his face which another cigarette was returning to the night from the room and from the hotel.

He felt a sort of hateful tenderness, something so contradictory that it must have been truth itself.

"A complete lack of communication," Oliveira thought. "It's not so much that we're alone, that's a well-known fact that any fool can plainly see. Being alone is basically being alone on a certain level in which other lonelinesses could communicate with us if that were the case. But bring on any conflict, an accident in the street or a declaration of war, provoke the brutal crossing of different levels, and the man who is perhaps an outstanding Sanskrit scholar or a quantum physicist becomes a pépère in the eyes of the stretcher-bearer who arrives on the scene. Edgar Allan Poe on a stretcher, Verlaine in the hands of a sawbones, Nerval and Artaud facing psychiatrists. What could that Italian Galen have known about Keats as he bled him and helped him die of hunger? If men like them are silent, as is most likely, the others will triumph blindly, without evil intent, of course, without knowing that the consumptive over there, that injured man lying naked on that bed, are doubly alone, surrounded by beings who move about as if behind a glass, from a different place in time..."

Yes, but who will cure us of the dull fire, the colorless fire that at nightfall runs along the Rue de la Huchette, emerging from the crumbling doorways, from the little entranceways, of the imageless fire that licks the stones and lies in wait in doorways, how shall we cleanse ourselves of the sweet burning that comes after, that nests in us forever allied with time and memory, with sticky things that hold us here on this side, and which will burn sweetly in us until we have been left in ashes. How much better, then, to make a pact with cats and mosses, strike up friendship right away with hoarse-voiced concierges, with the pale and suffering creatures who wait in windows and toy with a dry branch. To burn like this without surcease, to bear the inner burning coming on like fruit's quick ripening, to be the pulse of a bonfire in this thicket of endless stone, walking through the nights of our life, obedient as our blood in its blind circuit.

No, but thinking about it frankly, the most absurd thing about these lives we pretend to lead are the false contacts in them. Isolated orbits, from time to time two hands will shake, a five minute chat, a day at the races, a night at the opera, a wake where everybody feels a little more united (and it's true, but then it's all over just when it's time for linking up). And all the same one lives convinced his friends are there, that contact does exist, that agreements or disagreements are profound and lasting. How we all hate each other, without being aware that endearment is the current form of that hatred, and how the reason behind profound hatred is this excentration, the unbridgeable space between me and you, between this and that. All endearment is an ontological clawing, yes, an attempt to seize the unseizable, and I would like to enter into the intimacy of the Travelers under the pretext of knowing them better, of really getting to be the friend, although what I really want is to seize Manú's manna, Talita's elf, their ways of seeing things, their presents and their futures, different from mine. And why this mania for spiritual possession, Horacio? Why this nostalgia for annexations, you, who have just broken your moorings, just sown confusion and despair (perhaps I should have spent a little more time in Montevideo and done a better job of searching) in the illustrious capital of the Latin spirit?

Why am I writing this? I have no clear ideas, I do not even have ideas. There are tugs, impulses, blocks, and everything is looking for a form, then rhythm comes into play and I write within that rhythm, I write by it, moved by it and not by that thing they call thought and which turns out prose, literature, or what have you. First there is a confused situation, which can only be defined by words; I start out from this half-shadow and if what I mean (if what is meant) has sufficient strength, the swing begins at once, a rhythmic swaying that draws me to the surface, lights everything up, conjugates this confused material and the one who suffers it into a clear third somehow fateful level: sentence, paragraph, page, chapter, book. This swaying, this swing in which confused material goes about taking shape, is for me the only certainty of its necessity, because no sooner does it stop than I understand that I no longer have anything to say. And it is also the only reward for my work: to feel that what I have written is like the back of a cat as it is being petted, with sparks and an arching in cadence. In that way by writing I go down into the volcano, I approach the Mothers, I connect with the Center--whatever it may be. Writing is sketching my mandala and at the same time going through it, inventing purification by purifying one's self; the task of a poor white shaman in nylon socks.

On top of physical pain like a metaphysical pinprick, writing abounds. All pain attacks me with a double-edged sword: it makes me aware as never before of the divorce between my ego and my body (and its falseness, its consoling invention) and at the same time it brings my body close to me, dresses me in it as pain. I feel it to be more mine than pleasure or mere coenesthesis. It is really a bond. If I could sketch I would gladly show pain chasing the soul out of the body, but at the same time I would give the impression that it's all untrue: mere characteristics of a complex whose unity lies in not having any.

Individuals like Goethe must not have abounded in experiences of this kind. By aptitude or decision (genius lies in choosing to be a genius and in being right) they have their pesudopods stuck out as far as they will go in all directions. They encircle with a uniform diameter, their limit is their skin projected spiritually to great distances. It does not seem that they have need to desire what beings (or continues) beyond their enormous spheres. That's why they're classics, hey.

Besides, what was the true morality of action? A social action like that of the syndicalists was more than justified in the field of history. Happy were those who lived and slept in history. An abnegation was almost always justified as an attitude of religious origin. Happy were those who loved their neighbor as themselves. In every case Oliveira rejected that sally of the ego, that magnanimous invasion of somebody else's corral, an ontological boomerang destined to enrich in the last instance the one who threw it, to give him more humanity, more sainthood. One is always a saint at the expense of somebody else, etc.

But love, that word...Horacio the moralist, fearful of passions born without some deep-water reason, disconcerted and surly in the city where love is called by all the names of all the streets, all the buildings, all the flats, all the rooms, all the beds, all the dreams, all the things forgotten or remembered. My love, I do not love you for you or for me or for the two of us together, I do not love you because my blood tells me to love you, I love you because you are not mine, because you are from the other side, from there where you invite me to jump and I cannot make the jump, because in the deepest moment of possession, you are not in me, I cannot reach you, I cannot get beyond your body, your laugh, there are times when it torments me that you love me.

Why stop? For fear of starting fabrications, they're so easy. You get an idea from there, a feeling from the other shelf, you tie them together with the help of words, black bitches, and it turns out that I want you. Partial total: I want you. General total: I love you. That's the way a lot of my friends live, not to mention an uncle and two cousins convinced of the love-they-feel-for-their-wives. From words to deeds, hey; in general without the verba there isn't any res. What a lot of people call loving consists of picking out a woman and marrying her. They pick her out, I swear, I've seen them. As if you could pick in love, as if it were not a lightning bolt that splits your bones and leaves you staked out in the middle of a courtyard.

All this must have, I imagine, an Edenic root. Perhaps Eden, as some would like to see it, is the mythopoetic projection of good old fetal times that persist in the unconscious. I suddenly understand better the frightening gesture of Masaccio's Adam. He covers his face to protect his vision, what had been his; he preserves in that small manual night the last landscape of his paradise. And he cries (because the gesture is also one that accompanies weeping) when he realizes that it is useless, that the real punishment is the one about to begin: the forgetting of Eden, that is to say, bovine conformity, the cheap and dirty joy of work and sweat of the brow and paid vacations.

So sad to listen to Horacio the cynic who wants a passport-love, a mountain pass-love, a key-love, a revolver-love, a love that will give him the thousand eyes of Argos, ubiquity, the silence out of which music is possible, the root out of which a language can be woven. And it's foolish because all that is sleeping a little in you, all you would have to do is submerge yourself in a glass of water like a Japanese flower and little colored petals would begin to blossom, the bent forms would puff up, beauty would grow. Infinite giver, I do not know how to take, forgive me. You're offering me an apple and I've left my teeth on the night-table. Stop, it's fine that way. I can also be rude, take note of that. But take good note, because it's not gratuitous. 426

In moments like that he knew he was closer to the center than many people who lived convinced that they were the axle of the wheel, but his was a useless nearness, a tantalizing instant which did not even take on the quality of torture. Once he had believed in love as an enrichment, an exaltation of interceding forces. One day he realized that his loves were impure because they presupposed that expectation, while the true lover loved without expecting anything but love, blindly accepting that the day would become bluer and the night softer and the streetcar less uncomfortable. "I can make a dialectical operation even out of soup," Oliviera thought. 419

Talita looked at him with the look of one who didn't understand, but her hand rose up without her feeling it rise, and she held it for an instant on Oliviera's chest. When she took it away he started to look at her as if from below, with eyes that looked from somewhere else
     "Who can tell," Oliviera said to someone who was not Talita, "Who can tell if you're the one who spit so much pity out at me tonight. Who can tell if after all the only thing left is to cry over love until you fill four or five buckets. Or let them cry into them for you, the way you're crying into them for you."
      Talita turned her back on him and went towards the door. When she stopped to wait for him, upset and at the same time needing to wait for him because to go away at this instant would be like letting him fall into the well (with cockroaches, with colored rags) she saw that he was smiling and that smile was not for her either. She had never seen him smile like that, faintheartedly and at the same time with his whole face open and frontward, without the usual irony, accepting something that must have come from the center of life, from that other well (with cockroaches, with colored rags, with a face floating in dirty water?), going up to her in the act of accepting that thing impossible to name that was making him smile. 320-1.

Manual for Manuel

I believe more than ever that the struggle for socialism in Latin America should confront the daily horror with the only attitude that can bring it victory one day: a precious, careful watch over the capacity to live life as we want it to be for that future, with everything it presupposes of love, play, and joy. The widely circulated picture of the American girl offering a rose to soldiers with fixed bayonets is still evidence of the distance that lies between us and the enemy; but let no one understand or pretend to understand that that rose is a Platonic sign of nonviolence, of innocent hope; there are armored roses, as the poet saw them, there are copper roses, as Roberto Arlt invented them. What counts and what I have tried to recount is the affirmative sign that stands face to face with the rising steps of disdain and fear, and that affirmation must be the most solar, the most vital part of man: his playful and erotic thirst, his freedom from taboos, his demand for a dignity shared by everybody in a land free at last of that daily horizon of fangs and dollars. (4-5).

Around the Day in Eighty Worlds

The simplest way to destroy a city

Hidden in the grass, wait for a large cumulus cloud to drift over the hated city. Then shoot a petrifying arrow; the cloud will turn to stone and the consequences go without saying. p. 7

Memory plays a dark game... p.40

It seems that the imperious bird known as God breathed into the side of the first man to animate him and give him soul. If Louis instead of the little bird had been there for that breath, man would have turned out much better. Chronology, history, and other concatenations are a total disaster. A world that began with Picasso instead of ending with him would be a world exclusively for Cronopios, and the Cronopios would dance Tregua and dance Catalan on every corner, and perched on a lamppost Louis would blow for hours, making huge chunks of raspberry syrup stars fall from the sky to be eaten by children and dogs. p. 66 Around the Day in Eighty Worlds

As for me, I know well that when external circumstances (music, love, any small surprise) take me outside with my waking mind for a moment, what takes shape and flourishes carries with it complete certainty, a sense of exultant truth. I suppose that this is what the Romantics called inspiration, and that mania is the same. p.142 ibid