Some Aspects of the Short Story

Article excerpt

I find myself standing before you today in quite a paradoxical situation. An Argentine novelist makes himself available to exchange ideas on the short story, but his listeners and partners in the exchange, with few exceptions, know nothing of his work. The cultural isolation that continues to afflict our countries, added to the unjust current-day cutoff of communications with Cuba, have meant that my books, of which there are several by now, have not found their way, except here and there, into the hands of such willing and enthusiastic readers as yourselves. The problem is not just that you have had no opportunity to judge my stories, but that I feel a bit like a ghost coming to talk to you without that relatively soothing certainty of being preceded by the work one has done over the years. And this ghostly feeling I have must show, because a few days ago an Argentine lady assured me in the Hotel Riviera that I was not Julio Cortazar, and, to my stupefaction, she added that the genuine Julio Cortazar is a white-haired gentleman, a close friend of one of her relatives, and has never left Buenos Aires. Since I've been living in Paris for twelve years now, you can see how my ghostly nature has visibly intensified following this revelation. If I should suddenly disappear in midsentence, I won't be too surprised, and perhaps we will all be the better off for it.

It is said that a ghost's greatest desire is to get back at least a glimmer of substantiality, something tangible that will bring him, for a moment, back into his flesh-and-blood life. To gain a little substantiality in your eyes, I will sum up in a few words the general tendency and sense of my stories. I'm not doing this simply for the sake of information, for no abstract summary could replace the work itself; my reasons are more important. Since I'm going to be concerned with some aspects of the story as a literary genre, and it's possible some of my ideas may surprise or shock my listeners, it seems to me only fair to define the type of narrative that interests me, pointing out my special way of seeing the world. Almost all the stories I have written belong to the genre called fantastic, for lack of a better word, and are opposed to that false realism that consists of believing that everything can be described and explained, as was assumed by the optimism of nineteenth-century philosophy and science, that is, as part of a world governed more or less harmoniously by a system of laws, principles, cause-and-effect relations, well-defined psychologies, mapped-out geographies. In my case, the suspicion that there's another order, more secret and less communicable, and the seminal discovery of Alfred Jarry, for whom the true study of reality lay not in laws but in the exceptions to those laws, have been some of the guiding principles in my personal search for a literature beyond all naive realism. That's why, if in the ideas I set forth you find a predilection for everything exceptional about the short story, be it in thematics or in the forms of expression, I think this presentation of my own way of seeing the world will explain my stance and focus upon the problem. At worst, it can be said I've only spoken of the story as I write it, and yet, I don't think that's so. I feel sure that there exist certain constants, certain values that apply to all stories, fantastic or realistic, dramatic or humorous. And I think perhaps it's possible to show here those invariable elements that give a good story its particular atmosphere and qualify it as a work of art.

The opportunity to exchange ideas about the short story interests me for several reasons. I live in a country--France--where this genre has not held much of a place, though in recent years there has been a growing interest among writers and readers in this form of expression. At any rate, while critics continue to accumulate theories and maintain heated polemics about the novel, almost nobody takes an interest in the problems the short story entails. …