Julio Cortázar - Rayuela [aka Hopscotch (en), Игра в классики (ru)]

2021-01-13 @Literature

I’ve now been reading Julio Cortazar’s magnum opus Rayuela for the second time along with all those optional chapters (more below).

First off, however fantastic you might find a translation, strongly consider the original: in Spanish. Being a heavily language-oriented opus, you’ll relish the experience that much more.

I’ll thus continue to refer to the work as Rayuela, and not Hopscotch, the English title. Consider it pedantic, but I also find ‘Hopscotch’ sounding plain ugly. And as for the Russian title, spare me …

To proceed … I can easily designate Rayuela as a top-ten favourite novel, if not possibly the top-ten favourite long work of fiction, of one of the highest reread values among any of the longer works I know.

Part of that owes to many reading approaches, surpassing the two predominant denoted in the intro. I can imagine the following plausible ways to enjoy the work:

  1. Consecutively through chapter 56 (the ‘formal’ chapters, about two-thirds of the bulk).
  2. All 155 (including the ‘optional’) chapters read in the non-sequential order designated by the author.
  3. Chapters read in any random order, having preferably completed order 1 or 2.
  4. Any chapter or subset read individually, having preferably completed order 1 or 2.

Should you not even realize one of the official reading methods, any narrative obscurity or incongruity need hardly impact the value you derive, regardless of what subsection you choose to explore. I’ve not encountered many works of such varied potential.

Such unparalleled reading flexibility stems from the heavy micro-reading coefficient. But more specifically, you can enjoy sections of the novel at the narrative level, as an ultra-quality specimen of modernist prose, as a divulgation of literature/fine art/music, or as a set of academic (or pseudo-academic) essays.

Many of the chapters can be read individually as modernist short stories, each of unique character. In fact, similar to my strategy with short story collections, I’ve kept comprehensive notes relating to all remarkable segments, an approach I rarely employ so rigidly with the traditional ‘cohesive’ novels.

You can appreciate the novel at the level of 1) what is written and 2) how it’s written. You’ll find mounds of literary techniques employed, some traditional, some modernist, some highly experimental, some plain extravagant:

Speaking of Jazz, the novel employs abundant allusions or references to music, fine art, literature, philosophy, cinema. It helps to be at least superficially exposed to these for increased appreciation. Alternatively, it fosters great opportunity for learning and research.

Much of the primary narrative proceeds like a Ulyssean journey of a very compact sense of space and time.

Just as the meta-chapters and the characters ponder the sense and discontinuity of reality, the events likewise tend to erupt in entirely unprecedented ways.

Characters lounge around a cramped, obscure studio and ponder existentialism, nihilism, art and culture over the course of dozens of pages, sipping on mate, coffee, caña and vodka. Then one of the longest chapters presents a seemingly endless interchange from opposite windows across an alley.

The protagonist spends one section aimlessly wandering the street akin Leopold Bloom. At one point he spontaneously attends an awkward first-recital concert, then accompanying the deranged performer to an even awkwarder aftermath. Once he spends an evening with vagrants around the bonfire.

In one of those plentiful ‘What??’ moments, an optional chapter narrates a child’s experience with a worm and an anthill.

A substantial portion of the novel also embarks the quotidian: the mundane repeatedly chewed, reprocessed, meditated.

I tried reading Rayuela some seven-eight years back, but found myself way out of my league. Now I see it not so much as a question of language, but the experience (or lack thereof) with modernist prose. Having already read Joyce’s minor works, much of Cortazar’s short story material, and a bit of T S Eliot, I found myself far more equipped. It really makes all the difference.

It’s not your 19th-century Victorian novel, although something akin Moby Dick of that same period, likewise transcends the norm. Rayuela has even been labeled an ‘antinovel’. Not sure about that, but I’ll call it a phenomenal piece of work.

Questions, comments? Connect.