Hopscotch (Julio Cortázar novel)
|Publication date||28 June 1963|
|Published in English||1966|
|Media type||Print (paperback)|
|Dewey Decimal||863 19|
|LC Classification||PQ7797.C7145 R313 1987|
Hopscotch (Spanish: Rayuela) is a novel by Argentine writer Julio Cortázar. Written in Paris and published in Spanish in 1963 and in English in 1966. For the first U.S. edition, translator Gregory Rabassa split the inaugural National Book Award in the category Translation.
Hopscotch is an introspective stream-of-consciousness novel where characters fluctuate and play with the subjective mind of the reader, and it has multiple endings. This novel is often referred to as a counter-novel, as it was by Cortázar himself.
Cortázar's employment of interior monologue, punning, slang, and his use of different languages is reminiscent of Modernist writers like Joyce, although his main influences were Surrealism and the French New Novel -as Composition nº 1 (1962), by Marc Saporta (1923-2009)-, as well as the "riffing" aesthetic of jazz and New Wave Cinema.
Since Cortázar’s death in 1984, there has been a great deal of ambiguity regarding the classification of the ‘novel without genre.’ Works such as William S. Burroughs' 1962 novel, The Ticket That Exploded, and Thomas Pynchon's V., published the same year as Hopscotch, have earned similar reputations.
"Table of Instructions" and structure
Written in an episodic, snapshot manner, the novel has 155 chapters, the last 99 being designated as "expendable." Some of these "expendable" chapters fill in gaps that occur in the main storyline, while others add information about the characters or record the aesthetic or literary speculations of a writer named Morelli who makes a brief appearance in the narrative. Some of the 'expendable chapters' at first glance seem like random musings, but upon closer inspection solve questions that arise during the reading of the first two parts of the book.
An author's note suggests that the book would best be read in one of two possible ways, either progressively from chapters 1 to 56 or by "hopscotching" through the entire set of 155 chapters according to a "Table of Instructions" designated by the author. Cortázar also leaves the reader the option of choosing his/her own unique path through the narrative.
Several narrative techniques are employed throughout the book, and frequently overlap, including first person, third person, and a kind of stream-of-consciousness. Traditional spelling and grammatical rules are often bent and sometimes broken outright. A few chapters purport to be written by other authors, and there is even a whole section taken almost verbatim from another novel that may or may not exist in actuality.
Plot (Book I)
The first part of the book is entitled "From the Other Side," and its action takes place in Paris, France. As the narrative opens, Horacio Oliveira, the main character, is wandering the bridges of Paris alone one afternoon, hoping to encounter his lover, Lucía (most often referred to as La Maga), and a description follows concerning the complex relationship of the two. Horacio indicates that while La Maga is desperately in love with him, the feeling is not entirely reciprocated. He enjoys her company, but enjoys reflecting on profound ideas even more, which is a gap that Lucia's lesser education is unable to bridge. The affair is passionate, but Horacio himself is emotionally sterile.
The two meet up with their friends, a group affectionately referred to as ‘The Serpent Club,’ quite often. This is a circle of artists, writers, and musicians that pass the time drinking heavily and listening to music while dissecting literature, art, architecture, philosophy, and other subjects. A writer named Morelli frequently crops up in their discussions, as many ideas he expounds, such as the necessity of shattering current linguistic forms, which he feels have become trite through overuse, conform to their own, especially Oliveira's. The group meanders from subject to subject with relative ease, but La Maga, unlike the others, is neither well-read nor as intelligent, often needing the concepts to be explained to her. Her emotionalism distances her from the rest of the group and foreshadows her eventual disappearance. The club does demonstrate a fondness for Lucia, but it is often infused with patronization.
After Horacio and La Maga have been living together for some time, La Maga’s infant son, Rocamadour, is brought from the countryside in Belgium, ostensibly because she has stopped paying the bills necessary to support him. The boy is too small and sickly to remain in Lucia's cold, cramped flat, but she is unable to bear the idea of sending him away to a local children's hospital, a circumstance that leads to his developing a serious illness. Meanwhile Oliveira grows to resent the new situation. He had agreed to live with La Maga, not La Maga and an infant. An argument ensues during which Horacio admits he would leave her, but for the fear of what others might think of him. Whether the statement is true or not is arguable, but it reduces La Maga to tears. Oliveira then leaves the flat, perhaps intending to visit Pola. It appears he is uncertain himself if he will ever return.
A short time later, while wandering more or less aimlessly, Oliveira witnesses a car strike an old man. Another witness states that the victim is a writer who lives nearby. An ambulance arrives on the scene, and the old man is taken away.
It begins to rain softly, and Horacio's mind resumes its painful inner pacing. He is impressed by the poor old man's being treated in such a mechanical way by the orderlies. Seeking a respite from the weather, Oliveira then stands in the doorway of a theater and decides to attend a piano concert by one Madame Berthe Trepat, whose poster happens to be advertised there.
In the theater, Oliveira listens to Trepat's skillfully played, but poorly written compositions attentively, while the rest of the audience walks out. Horacio seems to sympathize with this woman whose failure is at comic odds with her proud bearing. He even offers to escort her home, but as the walk proceeds, Trepat becomes bewildered by Oliveira's effuse flattery, finally taking it as an attempt at romance. She strikes him violently across the face, and he departs, humiliated.
Later, he arrives back at La Maga's flat only to find Ossip already there. Ossip is presented as a potential rival for La Maga's affections, and so Horacio believes the two of them have slept together while he was away. But she has rejected Ossip's advances. Horacio sits and the three begin a discussion worthy of the Serpent Club, but the atmosphere is disturbed by a senile old man who lives in the flat above La Maga's, who keeps pounding on the floor. As the tension in the room increases, Horacio briefly touches Rocamadour and discovers that he has died.
Reflecting on the pointlessness of the death as well as considering the tumult that must inevitably envelop the scene once it becomes known causes Horacio to retreat into his customary stoicism, and he decides to remain silent on the subject. But with the pounding continuing upstairs, he finally suggests that La Maga should confront the old man—and while she is out of the room, he lets Ossip know what has happened. The two calmly consider the legal implications, but come to no other conclusion. Neither broaches the subject when La Maga returns to the room.
Ronald and Babs then arrive with the news that Guy Monod has tried to commit suicide. Etienne appears next with the information that Monod, although very sick, will survive, and the club embarks on yet another series of deep, philosophical exchanges during which, however, the awful reality of what is happening is gradually revealed in hushed voices among them. La Maga herself is excluded from this circle. She doesn't realize her son has died until she attempts to give him a dose of medicine, and finds him cold and unresponsive. She then becomes hysterical, and the chaos that Oliveira had been fearing for the last few hours finally descends on the flat. In the end, La Maga looks to Horacio for comfort, but he is either unable or unwilling to respond appropriately, instead turning wordlessly and leaving the room.
There is a wake for baby, and all the members of the Club remain except for Horacio, who is again wandering aimlessly around Paris. By the time he stumbles back to the flat, several days have passed and La Maga is gone, disappeared. She has given the keys to her apartment to Ossip, and he lives there now. Ossip insinuates that La Maga might have returned to Montevideo, but Horacio doubts that she has the funds to travel anywhere. And while he feigns disinterest, privately he suspects she may have killed herself following the wake. Another possibility is that she has gone to nurse Pola, who has been diagnosed with cancer.
While wandering the banks of the Seine looking for Lucia, Horacio encounters a clocharde, or homeless woman, both he and La Maga have met before, though he cannot recall the concrete circumstances of their previous meeting. Unwilling to go to Pola's, and unable to decide what else to do, Horacio sits and talks with the clocharde for a while, whose name he recalls is Emmanuele. With what little money he has, Horacio accedes to Emmanuele's request that he buy some wine for the two to share, and they proceed to get drunk beneath a bridge. The woman attempts to fellate Horacio, but the police swoop onto the scene and arrest them.
While riding back to the police station with Emmanuele and two homosexual prisoners, Oliveira conceives of yet another approach to finding his elusive sense of unity; namely, by tearing himself down to the clocharde's level and beginning the search all over again. He wonders if that is what he has been doing with La Maga. The homosexuals, meanwhile, argue over a kalaidescope, noting that only when it is held up to a proper light source are the "pretty patterns" inside it discernable.
This first part of the book ends with Oliveira's visualization of Heaven as something that is not above the earth, but at some distance along its surface, and must be approached in a similar manner to the way one plays the child's game of "hopscotch."
Plot (Book II)
The second part of the book is entitled, "From this Side," and the action takes place in Argentina. It opens with a brief introduction to the life of Manolo Traveler, Horacio's friend from childhood, who lives in Buenos Aires with his wife Talita. Although Traveler is a restless individual, the marriage appears to be on solid ground until Traveler is informed, through Horacio's old Argentinian lover, Gekrepten, that Oliveira, whom he hasn't seen in many years, is due to arrive by boat. The news fills him with a dark sense of foreboding; nonetheless, he and Talita greet Horacio at the docks, where Oliveira momentarily mistakes Talita for La Maga. Horacio then settles with Gekrepten in a hotel room that is located directly across the street from the flat Traveler and Talita share, where his mind slowly begins to unravel.
Traveler and Talita work for a circus, and when Horacio’s temporary employment as a seller of fabrics falls through, Traveler arranges for his old friend to be hired on there as well, though not without misgivings. Oliveira's presence has begun to disturb him, but he is unable to determine why. He wishes to ascribe it to Horacio's flirtations with Talita, but cannot do so, as there seems to be something more going on. And anyway, he has no doubts about his wife's remaining faithful to him. Unable to decipher the mystery, and unable to tell Horacio to leave them alone, he begins to sleep less and less, and his sense of restlessness increases.
Horacio, meanwhile, observing the relationship between Traveler and Talita, who more and more reminds him of La Maga, endeavors to enter more intimately into their lives, but he is unable to do so. His frustrations increase, and he begins to show signs of an impending mental breakdown. One hot afternoon, he spends hours on the floor trying to straighten nails, although he has no particular use in mind for them. This symbolic act then spirals out of control when he convinces Traveler and Talita to try to build a makeshift bridge with him between the windows of the two buildings over which Talita can cross. Horacio tells Talita to bring him straight nails and some yerba. Traveler indulges his friend's eccentric behavior, but Talita is frightened by the proceedings and must be prodded into participating. She feels it is a test of some sort. In the end, she tosses the yerba and nails to Oliveira without crossing over.
Soon after this incident, the owner of the circus sells the operation to a Brazilian businessman and invests in a local mental institution. Traveler, Talita and Horacio decide to go to work there despite the irony of the situation, or perhaps because of it. Horacio jests that the patients in the hospital will be no more mad than the three of them, anyway. On the day the ownership of the hospital is to be transferred, they are told that all the inmates must agree to the deal by signing a document, and that the three of them must act as witnesses. They meet a good-natured orderly named Remorino as well as a Dr. Ovejero, who manages the facility. The former owner of the circus and his wife, Cuca, are also present. One by one the inmates are led into the room where the document is to be signed, a procedure that lasts well into the night. The patients are usually referred to by their room numbers rather than their names, and they demonstrate mostly placid natures.
Talita becomes the resident pharmacist at the hospital, while Horacio and Traveler act as either orderlies or guards at night. The place is dark and eerie in the long hours before dawn, with the three often seeking refuge in alcohol and conversation in the pharmacy's warmer atmosphere. Remorino shows Horacio and Traveler the basement, where dead bodies are kept and cold beer can be had.
One night Horacio is smoking in his room when he sees Talita crossing the moonlit garden below, apparently heading to bed. A moment later, he thinks he sees La Maga appear and begin a game of hopscotch in the same general area; but when she looks up at him, he realizes it is Talita, who had turned and recrossed the garden. A kind of guilt, fed in part by the institution's gloomy atmosphere, begins to steal into his musings, and it is not long before he conceives of the idea of someone's trying to murder him while he is on duty—perhaps Traveler.
Later in the night, while Oliveira is on the second floor pondering over the symbolic implications of the mental institution's elevator, Talita approaches and the two talk about holes, passages, pits, and La Maga, of course, and as they do, the elevator comes to life, ascending from the basement. One of the mental patients is inside. After sending the man back to his room, Horacio and Talita decide to go down, ostensibly to see what he was up to.
Alone with Talita and the dead bodies, Horacio finds himself talking to her not as if she reminded him of La Maga, but as if she were La Maga. In a final moment of desperation, he attempts to kiss this Talita/La Maga mixture, but is repelled. Returning to her room, Talita tells Traveler about it, who surmises that something may be seriously wrong with his friend.
Meanwhile, having retreated to his own room, Horacio is now convinced that Traveler is coming to kill him. He begins to construct a kind of defense line in the dark room that is intended to confuse and irritate an attack, rather than deter it: water-filled basins placed on the floor, for example, as well as threads tied to heavy objects (which are in turn tied to the doorknob).
Horacio then sits in the dark on the opposite side of the room, near the window, waiting to see what will happen. The hours pass slowly and painfully, but finally Traveler does try to come in, and the tumult that results brings Dr. Ovejero and the others out into the garden, where they find Oliveira leaning out the window of his room as if intending to let himself fall. Traveler tries to talk Horacio out of doing what he, for his part, insists he doesn't intend to do, though at the conclusion of this part of the book, he suddenly muses that maybe he does mean to do such a thing after all, that maybe it is for the best, and the end of the passage is wholly open to this interpretation. Only by proceeding to read the Expendable Chapters will the reader be able to place Horacio firmly back inside mental institution, where, after being sedated by Ovejero, he succumbs to a lengthy delirium.
The third section of the book does not need to be read in order to understand the plot, but it does contain solutions to certain puzzles that arise during the perusal of the first two parts. For example, the reader finds out a great deal more about the mysterious Morelli, as well as finding out how La Maga and Emmanuele first became acquainted. Through Morelli's writings, Cortazar hints at some of the motives behind the actual construction of Hopscotch (such as a desire to write a work in which the reader is a true co-conspirator). The inner workings of Horacio Oliveira himself are described in a much less evasive manner than in any previous chapters, as well. The section, and the book, ends with Horacio visiting Morelli in the hospital, who asks him to go to his apartment and organize his notebooks while he is away. Most of these notebooks are unpublished and Oliveira not only considers doing this work as a great honor to himself personally, but also as perhaps the best chance yet of his attaining the ninth square in his lifelong game of spiritual, emotional, and metaphysical hopscotch.
The main character, Horacio Oliveira, is a well-read and loquacious bohemian. He enjoys a mostly intellectual participation in life instead of pursuing an active role[clarification needed] and appears to be obsessed with attaining what is referred to as a unifying conception of life, or center in which he can contentedly exist.
Lucia La Maga is a beguiling, intelligent being whose love of life and spontaneous nature challenge Horacio's ego as well as his assumptions about life. Oliveira's lover in Paris, she is lively, an active participant in her own adventures, and a stark contrast to Horacio's other friends, with whom he has formed a philosophical social circle called the Serpent's Club. She eventually develops into an indispensable muse for Horacio and a lens he employs to examine himself and the world in a more three dimensional manner. La Maga also has an infant son, Rocamadour, whose appearance in France causes a crisis in the relationship between Lucia and Oliveira.
Apart from Horacio and La Maga, the other members of the Serpent Club include Ossip Gregorovius, who is presented as a rival for Lucia's affections, the artists Perico Romero and Etienne, Etienne's friend Guy Monod, Wong, and Ronald and Babs (who are married). The club meets either in La Maga's apartment or the flat Ronald and Babs share.
When Horacio returns to Argentina he is greeted by his old friend Manolo Traveler and his wife, Talita. The two are employed at a circus and seem to enjoy a mostly serene existence. Talita bears a striking similarity to Horacio's great love interest, La Maga, while Traveler is referred to as his "doppelgänger." The relationship that develops between the three centers around Oliveira's interest in Talita, which seems disengenuous, and Traveler's attempts to lessen Horacio's metaphysical burden. Oliveira desires to inhabit Traveler's life, while Traveler appears to be mostly concerned with his friend's deteriorating mental health.
Other major characters include Pola, another Parisian love interest of Horacio's, and who is diagnosed with breast cancer after being cursed by La Maga, Gekrepten, Horacio's lover in Argentina, and Morelli, an Italian writer much discussed by the Serpent Club. Minor characters of note include Madame Berthe Trepat, a composer who mistakes Horacio's attention for sexual interest, and a homeless woman named Emmanuele whom Oliveira has a brief, disastrous tryst with shortly after La Maga's disappearance.
Order vs. chaos
Horacio says of himself, "I imposed the false order that hides the chaos, pretending that I was dedicated to a profound existence while all the time it was the one that barely dipped its toe into the terrible waters" (end of Chapter 21). Horacio's life follows this description as he switches countries, jobs, and lovers. The novel also attempts to resemble order while ultimately consisting of chaos. It possesses a beginning and an end but traveling from one to the other seems to be a random process. Horacio's fate is just as vague to the reader as it is to him. The same idea is perfectly expressed in improvisational jazz. Over several measures, melodies are randomly constructed by following loose musical rules. Cortázar does the same by using a loose form of prose, rich in metaphor and slang, to describe life.
Horacio vs. society
Horacio drifts from city to city, job to job, love to love, life to life, yet even in his nomadic existence he tries to find a sense of order in the world’s chaos. He is always isolated: When he is with La Maga, he cannot relate to her; when he is with the Club, he is superior; when he is with Traveler and Talita, he fights their way of life. Even when with Morelli, the character he relates to most, there exists the social barriers of patient and orderly. Order versus chaos also exists in the structure of the novel, as in Morelli’s statement, "You can read my book any way you want to” (556). At the end of chapter 56, he realizes that he is neither on 'the territory' (Traveler's side, with society) nor on 'the bedroom' (what would be his side, his real place, if he had reached it).
Isolation and loneliness
Cortázar uses a quick, succinct, vignette-chapter style that paints brief images for the reader without relying too much on plot. At one point in the novel Horacio witnesses a car accident. It is said of the victim that "he doesn't have any family, he's a writer." Horacio is stunned by the way violence brings the community together. Medics rush to the scene in an ambulance and speak "friendly, comforting words to him." Violence and conflict continually bring characters together in Hopscotch. For instance, Talita's crossing of the bridge and Horacio's stunt at the novel's conclusion.
The conundrum of consciousness
One of the biggest arguments between Horacio and Ossip, one that threatens to put a rift in the club, is what Horacio deems “the conundrum of consciousness” (99). Does art prove consciousness? Or is it simply a continuation of instinctual leanings toward the collective brain? Talita argues a similar point in her seesaw-questions game with Horacio, who believes that only when one lives in the abstract and lets go of biological history can one achieve true consciousness.
The definition of failure
Horacio’s life seems hopeless because he has deemed himself a failure. La Maga’s life seems hopeless because she has never worked to resolve the issues of rape and abuse in her childhood. Traveler’s life seems hopeless because he has never done what he wanted to do, and even the name he’s adopted teases at this irony. But none of these people are considered by outward society to be failures. They are stuck where they are because of their own self-defeating attitudes.
Short chapters also express the idea that there is no penetrating purpose to the novel and life in general. For Horacio, life is a series of artistic flashes by which he perceives the world in profound ways but still remains unable to create anything of value. Other major themes include obsession, madness, life-as-a-circus, the nature and meaning of sex, and self-knowledge.
- of "National Book Awards – 1967". National Book Foundation. Retrieved 2012-03-11.
There was a "Translation" award from 1967 to 1983.
- Grace Cummings (16 October 2010). "The Bookshelf: Hopscotch". Retrieved 2011-02-06. "The novel is stream-of-consciousness and plays with the subjective mind of the reader." Unknown parameter
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- Julio Cortázar on Charlie Parker, Art and Dylan Thomas (circa 1958-63) (Spanish)
- Julio Cortázar talks about Paris (circa 1963-67) (French / Spanish)
- Lost in Paris with Julio and Carole (circa 1977-82)
- “Un tal Morelli: Teoría y práctica de la lectura en Rayuela,” by Santiago Juan-Navarro (Spanish)
- Lisa Block de Behar, Jorge Ruffinelli, Carlos María Domínguez et al. (21-6-2013). "Read yesterday, read today". Brecha. (Spanish)