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Latin America is filled with authors who have left stories and novels that have changed the course of Latin American Literature. This is seen, specifically with Argentine author, Julio Cortázar who influenced an entire generation of literature throughout Latin America. Julio Florencio Cortázar was born on August 24, 1914 in Brussels, Belgium, a few days after Germany had invaded Belgium (Bates 1). His father, Julio Jose Cortázar, was an Argentine representative to a commercial delegacy attached to the Argentine Embassy in Belgium. He had arrived in Belgium, with his wife Maria Descotte, to represent her family in the delegacy. As Julio Cortázar described his birth he stated, “My birth was a product of tourism and diplomacy,” (Bloom 1).
When, Cortázar was six years old, he father abandoned the family, and Cortázar never saw his father again. Cortázar remained with his mother and sister, Ofelia in Banfield, about an hour away from Buenos Aires. His mother supported both her children, but they lived in much economic distress. In addition, Banfield was an environment filled with much delinquency (Bates 1). However, Cortázar felt that this place in which he grew up, even though made him face many difficulties, like chronic asthma, also let him enjoy his childhood in the open fields and had a great impact on his writing. Adding to this, due to his tough childhood, Cortázar spend much of his time as a child and adolescence reading and writing poetry (Bloom 2).
Cortázar completed high school in Argentina, and then received a teaching certification, and became a high school teacher in various high schools in Argentina from the year 1939 to 1945. He abandoned further schooling in order to help support his family. Later on, with the help of a friend, he became a French Literature professor in the National University of Cuyo in Mendoza, even though he did not have a university degree (Bloom 3). At first, Cortázar was not actively politically involved. However, as a professor in the University, he became an extreme rightist. With, the rise of the government of Juan Domingo Peron, which Cortázar was profoundly against, Cortázar stepped down from his position in the University. He then became a manager and translator at Camara del Libro, a publishing company. In addition, he began to improve his writing and published a book of poems, which was recognized by France, leading him to move there for the rest of his life, in 1951. In France he became a translator for UNESCO, and wrote his major works (Bates 1).
Throughout his life, Cortázar was married three times. His wives were Aurora Bernárdez, UgnÄ- Karvelis, and finally Carol Dunlop. However, his wife Bernárdez seemed to have the greatest impact in his writing. Eventually, after the death of his last wife, his final years were filled with both success and pain. In his final years he was awarded French citizenship, became politically active through his works, but was eventually diagnosed with Leukemia. Cortázar died in February 12, 1982, in Paris, and was buried next to his wife, Carol Dunlop (Bloom 5).
As an author, Cortázar took part in a generation of writing that was known as the “Latin American Boom,” (Bloom 4). The Latin American Boom was a golden period of Latin American novels during the seventies. During this time period, the authors prevailed in writing novels and began writing on broad topics. In addition, they started new techniques, such as different ways in telling stories, different point of views, juxtaposition of time and space, and the use of surrealism (Chang-Rodriquez 413). The authors that flourished during this time period include Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Guilletmo Cabrera Infantes, Jorge Luis Borges, and Julio Cortázar (Chang- Rodriguez 614).During this time period, Cortázar was an important figure, who like many of the authors in the group used different forms of narratives. Similar to the authors in the Latin American Boom, he mainly focused on using magic realism. However, he was notable, and recognized throughout this group for being very detailed and verbal in the observations he included in his writings (Bloom 4).
Even though, many may believe otherwise, Cortázar did not become the success he was right away. It took various years for him to evolve as a writer, and eventually be recognized. During the period of 1941 to 1951, before Cortázar left to Spain, but after he had stepped down from his place in the university, Cortázar began his career as a writer. However, in these beginning stages he was not satisfied with his work, and took this time to “fix” it. Thus, he published a book of poems, Precencia, and other articles through the pseudonym of Julio Denis. This stage of Cortázar’s writing career finished when Jorge Luis Borges published his first short story, “La casa Tomada” in a very prestigious magazine named “Sur.” Through this, Cortázar gained much satisfaction, and published a few more plays. However, this came to an end after he published his first collection of short stories named Bestiario, and his departure from Argentina to France (Bloom 5).
The next stage of his writing career developed in Paris and became the period where he created the works of literature that he is most noted for. In this time period, Cortázar began to include the various elements that made him into one of the Latin American Boom writers. Cortázar once said that his first wife had a vital influence, even after the divorce on his writing during this time. Shortly after his divorce with his first wife Aurora, Cortázar published Rayuela, in 1963, with his ex wife as the intended reader. This novel became very successful and well known, and became one of his most known novels during the boom period. After this novel, Cortázar published various works of literature, such as Final del juego in 1956, Las armas secretas in 1959, and the novel Los premios in 1960. In addition, he began being noticed as a very creative and stunning writer of fiction and short stories. He became known as “an emerging master of short stories. (Bloom 6)
The last stage in where Cortázar evolved, Cortázar became a politically active writer. As a self exiled author in Paris, he became politically active. He first started by visiting Cuba, and stating that he endorsed the Cuban Revolution. Adding to this, he also began to support the Latin American revolution and published, La Reunion, which was dedicated to show his support for the Latin American Revolution. He later, signed over his novel, “El libro de Manuel,” in order to aid the political prisoners in Argentina. This period led way to many grand works, such as the novel La Vuelta al Dia en Ochenta Mundos. Through this final stage, Cortázar showed that he evolved from a self conscious writer to one of the greatest writers during the boom era of Latin America, and eventually became a well known politically active writer (Bates 4).
One of Cortázar’s greatest influences in writing is Jorge Luis Borges. Influenced, by Borges, Cortázar mainly used surrealism in his pieces of literature, and mainly wrote short, fictional stories. However, Cortázar was also largely influenced by the English writer Edger Allen Poe. During his adolescence, Cortázar was mainly attracted by his novels and as a writer he began to use him as inspiration. Like him, Edgar Allen Poe was an American romanticist that was distinct in time and place throughout his works of literature. Through these major influences, Cortázar began to develop a style of French surrealism and symbolism. In addition to this, Cortázar let the reader become an active reader by letting them interpret the meaning behind his works. Using these techniques, Cortázar mainly focused on themes of finding ones identity, existential torment, and the hidden in the everyday life. His main message to his readers was to convey the unknown, which is usually seen as unreal, into reality (Chang-Rodriguez 418).
Today Cortázar is seen as one of the most influential Argentinean writers, and is one of the main authors discussed in Spanish literature classes (Bates 1). In addition, as he lived and started his literary career, he was also regarded as a very captivating author, who was capable of intriguing his readers. Although, he did not receive many awards for his works, Cortázar is recognized as one of the most significant writers during the boom age that shaped Latin American literature for years to come. Even though, he exiled himself from his homeland, his time in Paris presented him a chance to publish many influential works that made a huge impact on Latin American literature. When he left to France he was awarded a scholarship, in which he was able to keep publishing various works of literature (Bloom 2). In addition, in 1973 he was awarded the Prix Médicis, for his novel Libro de Manuel, but he gave his monetary prize for the legal defense of South American prisoners, (Bates 4). Cortázar’s great writing was also recognized by many of the other writers during the Latin American boom age. Through his writing, he influenced many writers in the last century including, Gabriel García Márquez, Carlos Fuentes, and the poet Pablo Neruda, who stated that “anyone who hasn’t read Cortázar is doomed.” In addition to this, on his death bed, Gabriel Garcia Marquez exclaimed, “he was the most impressive man I’ve known.” (Bate 6). Through him, Latin American literature expanded on the elements of surrealism and active reading. Moreover, Cortázar left a literary legacy through his poems, short stories, political writing, and especially his fiction that influenced the way Latin American literature was seen and written in the next century, (Bloom 6).
As briefly explained, Julio Cortázar’s main technique used in his work of literature is magic realism. In literature, magic realism is explained to be a style of literature that juxtaposes reality and fantasy, without including a clear line differentiating between the two, (Diamond 1).
This is seen in the short stories, “Continuidad de los Parques,” and “La Noche Boca Arriba,” written by Julio Cortázar. In these two short stories, Cortázar blends the reality with fantasy, making the reader unable to distinguish between them.
“Continuidad de los parques” is a short story that was written in a collection of short stories, called Final del Juego, written in 1956 by Julio Cortázar, (Bates 1). In this short story, Cortázar begins with a man sitting down on his green arm chair, one late afternoon, reading a novel. He soon begins to be captivated by the plot of the novel, and Cortázar starts detailing the events in the novel. Cortázar discusses that in the novel there is a couple having an affair, who is planning on murdering the husband of the woman participating in the affair. Eventually, they split up and meet up in the house of their victim. Once they go up the stairs they see the husband on a green arm chair reading a novel. Through this, Cortázar is able to reflect his vivid use of magic realism. As the reader reads this, he or she loses track of whether the plot the story started with or the novel being described is reality. At the end, the line between the fictional and the real erases, and both are blended, highlighting Cortázar’s use of magic realism. Thus, in “Continuidad de los Parques,” Cortázar’s mixture of the world of the man reading the novel, and the world inside of the novel creates the effect of magic realism, in where the reader is unable to distinguish between the reality and the fantasy.
Similarly, “La Noche Boca Arriba,” is another short story written by Cortázar in the book Final del Juego. This short story begins with a motorcyclist that has an accident and is transferred to a hospital. As he is in the hospital he drifts off to dreams where he is being persecuted by a group Aztecs that want to offer him as a sacrifice. Throughout the story, he constantly wakes up from this “dream,” to see that he is in the hospital. However, towards the end of the story when the sensory details, such as the smell, terror and pain become more real, the man realizes that what he believed to be a dream was actually a reality that he can no longer escape. His actual dream was the hospital in where he was safe from harm, but his reality is the horrid, terrifying jungle in where he is escaping from the Aztecs. In the end of the novel, the man is captured by the Aztecs and sacrificed. This short story is able to show Cortázar’s use of magic realism in where the reader cannot distinguish between the reality and the fiction of the story. At the beginning, one thinks that the reality is the hospital and the civilized world. However, towards the end the man shows that the reality is actually, what the reader believed to be a terrifying nightmare. Thus, in the story one can see that Cortázar created a thin line between reality and fantasy though magic realism.
Therefore, it is apparent that in both “Continuidad de los Parques,” and “La Noche Boca Arriba,” Cortázar uses magic realism to diminish the difference between the reality and fantasy. In “Continuidad de los Parques,” he makes the fantasy, or the novel, become one with the reality of the person reading the novel. Similarly, in “La Noche Boca Arriba,” Cortázar finalizes the story by making what one believed to be fictional, or merely a dream into the character’s reality.
With capturing stories, such as these, Julio Cortázar proved to not only be a great writer, but a writer who influenced all of Latin American literature. He developed forms of writing, such as magic realism, and intrigued his readers by making them actively read. Both writers now and then look up to Cortázar and he will remain to be a vital author to Latin American literature.
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