Julio Cortazar

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Biography

Julio Cortazar (1914-1984) was an Argentine novelist and short story writer who emigrated to France in the 1950's. Heavily influenced by the Surrealism his best-known novels are The Winners (1965), Hopscotch (1966), a novel filled with jazz references, and 62: a model kit (1968) A Manual for Manuel (1978). His short story collections include Cronopios and Famas (1962), Blow UP and Other stories (1967) and We Loved Glenda So Much (1983). A modernist, Cortazar was a tireless stylistic experimenter. His collection of short essays and reflective pieces, Around the Day in Eighty Worlds (1986), contains a wonderful review of a Thelonious Monk performance as well as some significant words on a transient pet cat.


An Excerpt from Cortazar's Hopscotch

Guy Manod decided to wake up when Ronald and Etienne agreed to listen to Jelly Roll Morton; opening one eye he decided that the back outlined in the light of the green candles must belong to Gregorovious. He shuddered, the green candles seen from a bed made a bad impression on him, the rain on the skylight was strangely mixed with the remnants of his dream-images, he had been dreaming about an absurdly sunny place, where Gaby was walking around nude and feeding crumbs to a group of stupid pigeons the size of ducks. "I have a headache," Guy said to himself. He was not in the least interested in Jelly Roll Morton although it was amusing to hear the rain on the skylight as Jelly Roll sang: "Stood on a corner, an' she was soakin' wet..." Wong would certainly have come up with a theory about real and poetic time, but was it true that Wong had mentioned making coffee? Gaby feeding the pigeons crumbs and Wong, the voice of Wong going in between Gaby's nude legs in a garden with brightly colored flowers, saying: "A secret I learned in the casino at Menton." Quite possible, after all, that Wong would appear with a pot full of coffee.

Jelly Roll was at the piano beating the time softly with his foot for lack of a better rhythm section. Jelly Roll could sing "Mamie's Blues" rocking a little, staring up at some decoration on the ceiling, or it was a fly that came and went or a spot that came and went in Jelly Roll's eyes. "Eleven twenty-four took my baby away-ay..." That's what life had been, trains bringing people and taking them away while you stood on the corner with wet feet, listening to a nickleodeon and laughing and cussing out the yellow windows of the saloon where you didn't always have enough money to go in. "Eleven twenty-four took my baby away-ay..." Babs had taken so many trains in her life, she liked to go by train if in the end there was some friend waiting for her, if Ronald softly put his hand on her hip the way he was doing now, sketching out the music on her skin, "Eleven-thirty'll carry her back one day," obviously some train would bring her back, but who knows if Jelly Roll was going to be on that platform, at that piano, that time he sang the blues about Mamie Desdume, the rain on a Paris skylight at one o'clock in the morning, wet feet, and a whore who muttered "If you can't hand me a dollar then hand me a rotten dime," Babs had said things like that in Cincinnati, ever woman had said things like that somewhere, even in the bed of a king, Babs had a very special idea of what the bed of a king was like but in any case some woman must have said something like, "If you can't give me a million, give me a lousy grand," a matter of proportions, and why was Jelly Roll's piano so sad, so much that rain that woke Guy up, that was making La Maga cry, and Wong who wasn't coming with the coffee.

"It's too much," Etienne said, sighing. "I don't know why I stand for that garbage. It's moving, but it's garbage."

"It's no Pisanello medal, of course," Oliveira said.

"Or opus whatever-you-want by Schoenberg," said Ronald. "Why did you want to hear it? Besides intelligence you also lack charity. Have you ever stood with your feet in a puddle at midnight? Jelly Roll has, you can tell when he sings, it's something you learn, man."

"I can paint better if my feet are dry," Etienne said. "And don't come around with any Salvation Army arguments. Why don't you put on something more intelligent, like those Sonny Rollins solos. At least those modern guys make you think of Jackson Pollock or Tobey, it's easy to see that they've left the age of the pianola and the box of watercolors."

"He's capable of believing in progress in art," Oliveira said yawning. "Don't pay any attention to him, Ronald, and with that hand you have free dig out that little record of the "Stack O'Lee Blues," when all's said and done I think it has a fine piano solo on it."

"That business about progress in art is ancient nonsense," Etienne said, "but in jazz as in any art there's always a flock of fakers. Music that can be translated into emotion is one thing, but emotion which pretends to pass as music is another. Paternal grief in F sharp, sarcastic laughter in yellow, violet and black. No, my boy, it's hard to say where art begins, but it's never that stuff."

No one seemed disposed to contradict him because Wong had quietly appeared with the coffee and Ronald, shrugging his shoulders, had turned loose Fred Waring and his Pennsylvanians and after a terrible scratching they reached the theme that fascinated Oliveira, an anonymous trumpet followed by the piano, all wrapped up in the smoke of an old phonograph and a bad recording, of a corny prejazz band, all in all like those old records, showboats, Storyville nights, where the old only really universal music of the century had come from, something that brought people closer together and in a better way than Esperanto, UNESCO, or airlines, a music which was primitve enough to have gained such universality and good enough to make its own history, with schisms, abdications, and heresies, its Charleston, its Black Bottom, its Shimmy, its Fox Trot, its Stomp, its Blues, to label its forms, this style and the other one, swing, bebop, cool, a counterpoint of romanticism and classicism, hot and intellectual jazz, human music, music with a history in contrast to stupid animal dance music, the polka, the waltz, the zamba, a music that could be known in Copenhagen as well as in Mendoza or Cape Town, a music that brings adolescents together, with records under their arms, that gives them names and melodies to use as passwords so they can know each other and become intimate and feel less lonely surrounded by bosses, families, and bitter love affairsm a music that accepts all imaginations and tastes, a collection of instrumental 78's with Freddie Keppard or Bunk Johnson, the reactionary cult of Dixieland, an academic specialization in Bix Beiderbecke, or in the adventures of Thelonious Monk, Horace Silver, or Thad Jones, the vulagarities of Erroll Garner or Art Tatum, repentance and rejection, a preference for small groups, mysterious recordings with false names and strange titles and labels made up on the spur of the moment, and that whole freemasonry of Saturday nights in a student's room or in some basement cafe with girls who would rather dance to "Stardust" or "When Your Man Is Going to Put You Down," and have a sweet slow smell of perfume and skin and heat, and let themselves be kissed when the hour is late and somebody has put on the "The Blues With a Feeling" and hardly anybody is really dancing, just standing up together, swaying back and forth, and everything is hazy and dirty and lowdown and every man is stroking shoulders and the girls have their mouths half-opened and turn themselves to delightful fear and the night, taking them with a single hot phrase that drops them like a cut flower into the arms of their partners, and there comes a motionless race, a jump up into the night air, over the city until a miniature piano brings them to again, exhausted, reconciled, and still virgins until next Saturday, all of this from a kind of music that horrifies solid citizens who think that nothing is true unless there are programs and ushers, and that's the way things are and jazz ie like a bird who migrates or emigrates or immigrates or transmigrates, roadblock jumper, smuggler, something that runs and mixes in and tonight in Vienna Ella Fitzgerald is singing while in Paris Kenny Clarke is helping open a new cave and in Perpignan Oscar Peterson's fingers are dancing around and Satchmo, everywhere, with that gift of omnipresence given him by the Lord, in Birmingham, in Warsaw, in Milan, in Buenos Aires, in Geneva, in the whole world, is inevitable, is rain and bread and salt, something completely beyond national ritual, sacred traditions, language and folklore: a cloud without frontiers, a spy of air and water, an archetypal form, something from before, from below, that brings Mexicans together with Norwegians and Russians and Spaniards, brings them back into obscure and forgotten central flame, clumsily and badly and precariously he delivers them back to a betrayed origin, he shows them that perhaps there have been other paths and that the only one they took was maybe not the only one or the best one, or perhaps that there have been other paths that made for softer walking and that they had not taken those, or that they only took them in a halfway sort of way, and that a man is always more than a man and always less than a man, more than a man because he has in himself all that jazz suggests and lies in wait for and even anticipates, and less than a man because he has made an aesthetic and sterile game out of this liberty, a chessboard where one must be bishop or knight, a definition of liberty which is taught in school, in the very schools where the pupils are never taught ragtime rhythm or the first notes of the blues, and so forth and so on.

I set right here and think

three thousand miles away,
set right here and think

three thousand miles away,
can't remember the night
had the blues this bad any-way...

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