Academic journal article Mosaic (Winnipeg)

Verbal/visual Braids: The Photographic Medium in the Work of Julio Cortazar

Academic journal article Mosaic (Winnipeg)

Verbal/visual Braids: The Photographic Medium in the Work of Julio Cortazar

Article excerpt

This essay shows the decisive role photography played in Julio Cortazar's literary evolution. It examines the ways Cortazar appropriates some of the features of journalism and travel writing in his short fiction, fields that function as models for the complex interactions between verbal and visual representations.


The enduring appeal of Julio Cortazar's engagement with photography stems from his short stories "Las babas del diablo" (1959), translated as "Blow up," and "Apocalipsis de Solentiname" (1977). Less critical attention has been paid to the ways Cortazar weaves text and photographic image in his illustrated books, specifically in La vuelta al dia en ochenta mundos (1967) and Ultimo round (1969). The importance of photography in these collage-like works can be assessed by showcasing the imprint of two cultural discourses at work in his life and texts: first and foremost, journalism, and second, travel writing. In this essay, I argue that the literary evolution from "Las babas del diablo" to "Apocalipsis de Solentiname" can be understood as a dialogic exchange between these discourses. I analyze selected texts from La vuelta al dia en ochenta mundos and Ultimo Round, works that stand chronologically and conceptually halfway between the two short stories. I show how Cortazar appropriates some of the main traits of news media: the task of reporting, a resort to visual testimony, the urgency to be up-to-date, and a response to current world events. "Apocalipsis de Solentiname" can be read as the end point of this literary journey, where the enactment of a kind of super-reportage takes place.

The use of the journalistic medium in Cortazar's work goes beyond the exploitation of a literary motif or a principle of textual organization. Some of the hallmarks of modern journalism such as brevity, fragmentation, simultaneity, and mosaic-like design, highlighted by media critics as diverse as Walter Benjamin and Marshall McLuhan, both inspire and echo Cortazar's literary style (Benjamin 158-159; MacLuhan 207; Gonzalez 103). The very newness of news, the pressure the present exerts upon consciousness in the reception and interpretation of information, and journalism's ingrained tendency to sensationalize (Stephens 2; Varnedoe and Gopnik 27) parallel Cortazar's own quest towards an aesthetic of heightened awareness.

The imprint of journalism is at work not only as a transposition of themes and models from mass communication media to fictional space, but as an ongoing struggle among media, where the demands of competing versions and distinct communicative regimes interact and seep through the textual production. On the one hand, Cortazar's work consciously appropriates some of its forms and topics; on the other, it is penetrated by the urgency of its appeal and its specific epistemological framework.

Journalism provides a constant wealth of information that Cortazar incorporates in his writings, becoming a virtual but abiding interlocutor. A well-known example of the dialogue between journalism and literature in Cortazar's work is Libro de Manuel, constructed around a series of newspaper clippings of mostly political content, which are meant to provide a guide for young Manuel's future education. By including facsimile copies of actual clippings that become part of the fictional world of the characters, the book strives to lend credence to the truthfulness of extra-textual events. More importantly, the author wrote the novel as the pressure of political events unfolded. At the beginning of the book, Cortazar highlights the quality of contemporaneity that came into play while he was writing the novel. He refers to the "frecuente incorporacion de noticias de la prensa, leidas a medida que el libro se iba haciendo," 'frequent incorporation of news, read as the book was being written' (11). (1) External pressures such as the deadline, an essential feature of journalism, can be seen as determining the moral impulse behind the novel (Picon Garfield 26-27). …

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