Workings of the Posthumous in Cortázar

Gisle Selnes

University of Bergen

   En el fondo sabía que no se puede                ir más allá, porque no lo hay.
   Julio Cortázar

Carlos Alonso suggested two decades ago that "somehow Cortázar’s death inaugurated the illusory possibility of a re-reading of his oeuvre" ("Death" 66). Yet one is still hard pressed to find studies of Cortázar’s work qua affected by this posthumous condition. Even though his oeuvre has been modified, and perhaps even transformed, through a long list of posthumous publications, as far as I can tell such a task has been systematically postponed. Only quite recently—with critical anthologies such as María Elena Legaz’s Un tal Julio (Cortázar, otras lecturas) (1998), Carlos Alonso’s Julio Cortázar: New Readings (1999), and Joaquín Manzi’s Cortázar, de tous les côtés (2002)—has there been some effort to assess Cortázar’s work by addressing the question of its belated fulfillment. Although these contributions have added substantially to our understanding of Cortázar’s vast and extremely complex work, they do not attempt to analyze the effects of the posthumous on Cortázar’s work. To be sure, some of the analytic and metanarrative categories established by previous Cortázar criticism have no doubt been rendered obsolete by the posthumous material. But, more importantly, there also seems to be a more profound vein in Cortázar’s posthumousness which threatens to disrupt the integrity of his oeuvre. How does posthumousness affect the status and the structure of his oeuvre? This is the main question to be addressed throughout the following discussion.


It is not fortuitous that the bulk of the posthumously published texts by Cortázar belongs to the years around his exile from Argentina: Cortázar’s voluntary yet definitive exile functions as a first allowance of the essential "workings" of posthumousness to enter into his oeuvre. Yet it is a legitimate question whether there has ever been such a phenomenon as the "totality" of Cortázar’s oeuvre—that is, if there ever were a homeland or an origin from which exile might be regarded as a deviation. Diana Goodrich speaks of "exilic marginality" and "the impossibility of belonging" as essential qualities of Cortázar’s work ("Diaspora" 366). Also, in a most general theoretical sense, the very idea of a total and integrated structure (a "work") has long since become obsolete. Posthumousness always already haunts the organism, preventing it from coinciding entirely with itself. As Derrida implies, even the supposedly singular work enters into a non-contemporary relation with itself and thus projects a posthumous shadow. Writes Derrida:

I’m wondering whether (…) any structure in general, but especially the structure of language or a work of art, a literary work, (…) doesn’t imply that it’s intrinsically non-contemporary with itself first of all, and with contiguation then, if the posthumousness is not part of the structure. What I’m saying here (…) [concerns] every effort to build a synchrony in terms of paradigms, epistčmes, contiguation, a totality in which we assume that the time is not out of joint. And time is out of joint, time is out of joint. That is, finally there is no contemporaneity, and the posthumous is already here. In that case, we would have to (…) take into account the fact that from the very beginning, posthumousness inhabits the work (Derrida 18-19).

These fundamental paradoxes mark Cortázar’s oeuvre through and through. Is it not possible to grasp his relentless quest for the autonomy of writing as originating from a situation in which it had become impossible to coincide with himself and with his contemporaries, as well as with his own work? Hence the imperative to write as if one were dead and encapsulated in an impossible beyond, to write as if every work were a foreign body destined to flourish only at the cost of its author’s demise. As the story goes, by assuming such an essential solitude, by willing it and working through it, Cortázar came to see himself differently, as a writer inscribed in his own historical context. He gained a new position and a new perspective, we are often told, at the price of exiling himself from his own past. However, underneath this "enabling fiction" of community, the posthumous is also at work in a more somber, dismal way—as an inhuman principle of dispersion, governing the relations between writer, work, and the world in which they are inscribed. As Aníbal González suggests, Cortázar’s work seems to be caught in an impasse between two mutually exclusive visions of writing, opposing an implicit view of literature as essentially violent to his officially stated view of literature as "ludic, childlike, and therefore innocent" (González "Clippings" 252-253).

This duplicity is not unrelated to the question of genres. Ricardo Piglia has observed that whereas Cortázar’s short stories function in accordance with "el sentido común literario," his novelistic works represent "una poética del riesgo, una poética de la ruptura" ("Homenaje" 98). Indeed, it would be possible to consider Cortázar’s oeuvre as a double scene, including both the "organon" of refined "art stories," on the one hand, and the transgressive "energeia" of a writing that refuses to be put to rest in any formally fixed structure, primarily but not exclusively associated with the novels, on the other.

In a much-quoted passage from "Del cuento breve y sus alrededores," Cortázar seeks to grasp the essential nature of his stories as follows: "Son criaturas vivientes, organismos completos, ciclos cerrados, y respiran" (Último 42). (Remember that "posthumous" originally referred to a child born after the death of its father.) One may wonder whether the sum of these living and breathing beings constitutes a superior organism or family on a higher level, or whether it amounts to a more complex and heterogeneous structure, like an anthill, a menagerie, or even a monster. Cortázar provided a possible answer to this question when he said to González Bermejo in 1978: "Tengo la impresión de no haber avanzado un solo centímetro en materia de cuentos" (Conversaciones 30); elsewhere he unmodestly intimates that he believes that his own stories, in their totality as an oeuvre rather than as individual pieces, are the most important to have ever been written in Spanish… It is tempting to situate such a work in the tradition of modern aestheticism, a tradition for which the ultimate aim of literature was precisely the construction of The Total Work of Art—self-enclosed, organic, detached, autonomous.

Moreover, "work-like" qualities such as totality, integrity, and community are issues frequently raised in the texts that integrate the short story vein of Cortázar’s oeuvre. His stories very often thematize the gathering of beings into some kind of rudimentary community. These communities represent a fragile totality, however, achieved only through the influence of external pressure, and always on the verge of disintegration. Over and over again a small world or community is constituted through some kind of uncanny or violent encounter between incommunicable worlds. Thus, the incestuous couple of "Casa tomada" is expelled from their family house, ending up embraced on the streets; the two young bus passengers in "Omnibus" barely escape their hostile fellow passengers, an experience from which they gain a kind of tacit communion; the narrator of "Carta a una seńora en París" establishes a colony of "unborn" bunnies, whose disorder he escapes through the act of suicide. In "Las puertas del cielo," a criollo lawyer strives to convince himself that he is having a real friendship with two of his lower-class clients, an Italian immigrant and his "monstrous" wife; but he is only able to experience one brief moment of spiritual association, under very special circumstances, after his friend’s wife has died. Cortázar virtually seals off these allegories of (inoperable) communities with a text that returns to the scene of his earliest narratives—"Diario para un cuento"—in which he adopts an exiled and as it were posthumous perspective on the narrated events, locating them in "un país que es hoy mi fantasma o yo el suyo, en un tiempo que hoy es como la ceniza de estos Gitanes" (Cuentos 1081).

At the same time, however, Cortázar was perfectly aware that the book as an aesthetic form (a genre of genres) had long since entered a state of crisis—and that there was going on a rebellion against this major medium of literary expression. In his novels, as well as in many of his collections of miscellaneous texts, Cortázar explicitly confronts the problem of the delimiting, oppressive power of the book. Especially during the last decades of his life, Cortázar is engaged in a continuous effort to break out of every generic and institutional constriction. Not only does he experiment in an ever more uncompromising way with all the conventions of "literature," seeking to contravene the laws imposed on the writer by his medium—he also publishes in an increasingly uncontrolled and "centrifugal" fashion. Adolfo Bioy Casares once referred to a critical comment he believed Borges would have directed against Cortázar’s miscellaneous "almanac books"—such as Vuelta al día en ochenta mundos (1967) and Último Round (1969)—if he had been able to read them, namely that they seem to be the work of an author who has decided to publish his posthumous works before his own death (Palabra 151f). Regardless of the negative assessment which Bioy thus attributes to Borges, the apocryphal apophtegm actually represents a plausible and "neutral" interpretation of Cortázar’s miscellaneous books—as the work of a writer who is starting to compose (or rather, collect) his books as if he were some kind of specter haunting his own work: a revenant busy at work destructuring his own oeuvre. Cortázar draws virtually everything he comes across into the heterogeneous space of his anachronous "almanacs." His writing thus seems to grow in an untimely, monstrous way, as though the workings of the posthumous were already infringing on the limits of his oeuvre.

Thus it should be clear that the "totality" of Cortázar’s work is an extremely precarious concept, also for reasons that reach beyond a general sense of structural indeterminacy. But what occurs when this already precarious totality is supplemented, posthumously, by new, and somewhat anomalous, "organisms"? Do they reintegrate the dispersed totality; or do they further enhance the work’s uncenteredness? Or else, do they remain at or beyond its margins, allowing us at most to recognize the manoeuvres through which Cortázar constructed his oeuvre—precisely by not accepting these foreign organisms to inhabit it—in the first place? One of the more consequential possibilities that will be outlined below is that of a projected posthumous destabilization of the entire corpus through a series of deferred publications preparing for a more consequential sense of posthumousness.


In 1970, when the virtually unread mythological drama Los Reyes (1949) was republished by Sudamericana, an early instance of the posthumous affected Cortázar’s work. The considerable amount of critical attention which has been paid to this all but consummate text suggests that it represents a significant event in the unfolding of Cortázar’s oeuvre. Perhaps the most lucid of its critics, Roberto González Echeverría, has shown how Los Reyes raises the issue of the totality Cortázar’s work in an idiosyncratic way, as a mythology of writing. González Echeverría locates the empty labyrinth—which was left behind after Theseus had slain the Minotaur—to the very origin of Cortázar’s writing: a symbolic field which is destined to emerge in its totality through every single part of his work ("Mythology" 71). In a most fundamental sense, this empty space is also the "Nachlass" of Cortázar’s writing—a volume or surface that must always be inscribed with new, posthumous signs. On a thematic level, at the very end of Los Reyes, the dying Minotaur prophesies a future in which the labyrinth shall arise in the heart of every man (Reyes 66). Such a poetic/utopian project pertains to another vein of the posthumous in Cortázar, one that has to do with the ethico-political heritage of his work, primarily related to the efforts to create a new horizon for the oppressed societies of Latin America, free from the impact of imperialist barbarism. This doubleness also bears witness to the fundamental discrepancy between violence and innocence in Cortázar’s work, referred to above (González "Clippings").

The workings of the posthumous in Cortázar enter a new "epoch" during the last decade or so of his oeuvre, with an increasing experimentation with such crucial categories as authorship and work. First, there is the series of "counterpoint," inter-aesthetic publications which, unlike the almanac books referred to above, are normally located to the rim zone of Cortázar’s work. I am thinking of books such as Silvalandia, Territorios, and Alto el Perú, in which Cortázar stages a kind of dialogue between writing, on the one hand, and the painting, drawings, photographs, etc., of his co-author(s), on the other, as in an attempt to refigure the very idea of the book (cf. Lourdes Dávila Desembarcos). Secondly, in Los autonautas de la cosmopista (1983), the posthumous works in a much more dismal and ironic way. This notoriously unclassifiable book—a poetical, parodic, picaresque travel guide?—was cowritten with Carol Dunlop, who died, unexpectedly, before the final revision had been accomplished. Thus, when Cortázar sat down to conclude their common project, he was already paying a posthumous debt to his beloved co-author—as if he were constructing one of his famous "passages" or "bridges" between "this side" and "the other"—while at the same time dissolving and dispersing the trail of his own writing with other voices, other writings, and with death and silence.

With Salvo el crepúsculo (1984), Cortázar’s first literally posthumous publication ("born after the death of its father"), these tendencies only gain momentum. As a matter of fact, this book was the last in a series of collections of Cortázar’s poetic texts, such as De este lado, Presencia, Razón de la cólera, Pameos y meopas, etc., some of which had only circulated in private, mimographic editions. As Daniel Mesa Gancedo has pointed out, the totality of Cortázar’s poetic work is not integrated by the sum of these books, "sino en la unión de todos ellos con otros muchos textos que desde el comienzo han circulado fuera de estos libros" (Apertura 16). Still, Salvo el crepúsculo is the most "complete" and representative avatar of this "body poetic." The different poems that integrate the volume belong to at least four different decades of Cortázar’s work. Moreover, by dramatizing the process of inclusion and exclusion of poems, by distributing dates and signatures in a seemingly haphazard manner, by alternately remembering and forgetting the circumstances of their conception, and by insisting on a conflicting interplay between poems and prose passages, Salvo el crepúsculo is also the version that is most truthful to the polymorphic nature of Cortázar’s poetic writing.

CORTAR/AZAR: Cutting out his poems from the most diverse substances (notebooks, napkins, checks, etc.), putting them together in a new, transient constellation, always ready to obey the demands of chance: Cortázar ended his life as a writer with an insistently un-definite gathering of his dispersed poems, admittedly a marginal genres in his published work. Remember Persio’s words from Los premios: "No somos la gran rosa de la catedral gótica sino la instantánea y efímera petrificación de la rosa del caleidoscopio" (51). A similar, caleidoscopic poetics seems to underlie Cortázar’s somewhat chaotic handling of his own writings, which is also turned into a quasi-narrative argument of the very same "effort" to construct a more or less coherent "work" out of these dispersed fragments. In this way, Salvo el crepúsculo could be thought of as a kind of passage, or sluicegate, between the two "sides" of Cortázar’s work, or as an anticipation of the more large-scale posthumous rearrangements that were to follow.

In the above mentioned texts and books, the posthumous could be said to work on different levels—through the poet’s looking back on the past; rearranging and "disseminating" his writings; carrying out a work that is ironically circular, infinite, and inevitably extending beyond his own death. Perhaps these workings of the posthumous are related to Cortázar’s Orphic leanings, which have been studied by Daniel Mesa Gancedo in La apertura órfica (1999). As is well known, Orpheus ended his days as the most consummate posthumous poet ever to have lived. His dismembered body being left behind, his head and lyre were thrown into the river Hebrus, where they continued their mournful song and music, replied by the river’s banks. Perhaps we should add to the parallelism Orpheus’s opposite disposition, namely that of gathering, poetically, around himself flocks of living creatures, and even inanimate ones, which is reflected in Cortázar’s poetic gathering, in writing, of people and texts around the abiding figure of the poet.


In his will, Cortázar had appointed Saúl Yurkiévich and Gladis Anchieri as executors of his unpublished works, making it quite clear that they were totally free to decide on what to conserve, what to destroy, and what to publish. Needless to say, nothing was destroyed: "Habría que ser Dios para hacer una cosa así," Yurkiévich says in an interview ("Albacea" n.p.). Rather, the literary executors seem to have taken Cortázar’s permissiveness as an invitation to continue the author’s own "work in progress" of modifying his oeuvre. At the face of it, such a manoeuvre could seem somewhat unfair to Cortázar, who frequently emphasized the patient postponement of his literary debut—the pseudonymous Presencia being a premature exception, "felizmente olvidado"—and who even reacted with fury when some of his earliest short stories occasionally turned up in print. One could venture the hypothesis that Cortázar felt confident that the judgement of his executors would coincide (roughly) with his own and thus prevent the publication of the truly expendable part of his "Nachlass." Yet it is equally possible that he saw in the instance of his own death an event that would change radically the status of his withheld, unpublished works, thus opening up to another "epoch" in the unfolding of his posthumous poetics.

On account of what has been said above about the dual/heterogeneous nature of Cortázar’s oeuvre, it should come as no big shock that the most momentous effects of the "Nachlass" concern writings in other genres than the short story. Indeed, the early collection of stories titled La otra orilla (1945), first published in 1995 as part of Alfaguara’s edition of Cortázar’s complete short stories, contains rather few surprises. Perhaps the most striking phenomenon is precisely the difference between this cycle and the next, collected in Bestiario (1951), which started with the appearance of "Casa tomada" in 1946. There are actually very few things in La otra orilla that prefigure the qualities of Cortázar's later works in this genre. In no way "Bruja"—which for some time was a candidate to be included in Bestiario—is anywhere near to the standards achieved by Cortázar in his debut. Perhaps the most interesting text from this posthumous book turns out to be the brief prologue dated "Mendoza, 1945." It is worth quoting in its entirety:

Forzando su espaciada ejecución –1937/1945– reúno hoy estas historias un poco por ver si ilustran, con sus frágiles estructuras, el apólogo del haz de mimbres. Toda vez que las hallé en cuadernos sueltos tuve certeza de que se necesitaban entre sí, que su soledad las perdía. Acaso merezcan estar juntas porque del desencanto de cada uno creció la voluntad de la siguiente. / Las doy en libro a fin de cerrar un ciclo y quedarme solo frente a otro menos impuro. Un libro más es un libro menos; un acercarse al último que espera en el ápice, ya perfecto (Cuentos 73).

Evidently, at the time when he wrote this prologue Cortázar was already perfectly aware of the shortcomings of his own stories: he actually claims that their "fragility" had been a basic motivation for collecting them—in order to move on to the next and less "impure" cycle of stories. It is also worth noting that the concept of the "book" as a significant form is already present at this early stage, before the real beginning of Cortázar’s obra cuentística. The book is actually depicted as a natural receptacle for the author’s creative outbursts; it is also, significantly enough, inscribed in a chain projected towards a distant and perfect apex. This latter metaphor probably rings with a certain note of irony. Still, taken together with the critical testimonies referred to above, it nevertheless confirms the impression that Cortázar’s short stories somehow stand apart from the rest of his writings.

Whereas Cortázar lamented that his preliminary work in the short story genre had not been irrevocably destroyed, he had kept—and even prepared for the publication of—several manuscripts for books in other genres. According to Saúl Yurkiévich, the two novels Divertimento and El examen—written in 1947 and 1950, respectively—"[e]staban en sus cajones casi listas para ser publicadas" ("Albacea" n.p.). Cortázar had also written a prefatory "Nota" to El examen, where he explains the motives for a belated publication of the book: "Publico hoy este viejo relato porque irremediablemente me gusta su libre lenguaje, su fábula sin moraleja, su melancolía porteńa, y también porque la pesadilla de donde nació sigue despierta y anda por las calles" (Examen 5). Moreover, Yurkiévich reports that Cortázar had actually wanted the book to appear after his death. "Cuando me muera," he shall have confessed to Aurora Bernárdez, "estoy seguro de que este libro resultará interesante para mis lectores" (7). A third novel, Diario de Andrés Fava, is intimately related to El examen, insofar as it is presented as the notebook of one of its characters. Again a prefatory note—unsigned this time, yet evidently not from the author’s hand—bears witness to Cortázar’s preoccupations with the posthumous: "El Diario quedó excluido del corpus de la novela [El examen], pero Cortázar lo conservó cuidadosamente, como todos los textos que consideraba ‘acabados’ y dignos de ser publicados en algún momento" (Diario 7).

The appearance of these novels, at or even beyond what was formerly seen as the "beginning" of Cortázar’s work, threatens the consistency of the critical metanarrative regarding the development of his literary career—and hence also of the "totality" and "integrity" of his writing—which had been established at the time of his death. According to its canonized version, Cortázar arrived at the novelistic genre after having worked his way through a series of intermediate stages. He had started out writing poems, but soon recognized that he was a mediocre poet. He had also "failed" as a dramatist before realizing that he had a remarkable talent as a storyteller. After producing three collections of short stories, Cortázar’s writing virtually overflowed the frontiers of the traditional story format and gathered into that of the novel—a genre which, as has already been noted, represents a much more experimental/disruptive mode in Cortázar’s oeuvre (and thus as it were an "acquired taste"). Cortázar’s novelistic work is also related to an increasing interest in existential and political issues, one of the ideas being that a more "serious" investigation of the (post) modern condition humaine necessitates a less well-defined and aesthetically fixed form than that of the short story. In the final phases of his work, the space of literature was reduced to a minimum—in favour of political activism and circumstantial, documentary texts—as though the next step would be to assume fully the "responsibility" of non-literary engagement.

According to Joaquin Manzi, the posthumous publications have revealed "autres continents littéraires" (Cotés 4), and I am here arguing that these newfound landscapes complicate the metanarrative scheme outlined above. Already with the publication of Salvo el crepúsculo, the poetic continent appeared as much vaster and indeed more fertile than had formerly been assumed: Cortázar wrote a considerable amount of poems throughout his career. And although, as a totality, his poetry does not match the high standards of his short stories and his novels, it contains several poems worthy of prolonged attention. An even more secret archipelago of dramatic texts has also turned up, posthumously. It contains pieces written over more than four decades, thus modifying the singularity often granted to Los Reyes. To these regions must be added an essayistic climate located mainly to the initial phases of Cortázar’s oeuvre, and including such major writings as Teoría del túnel (1947) and Imagen de John Keats (1952), which were also found ready for publication in the "Nachlass." Furthermore, the voluminous tomes of letters also contribute to an alternative mapping of Cortázar’s literary universe.

Yet, as has already been suggested, it was probably the appearance of the three novels—Divertimiento, El examen, and Diario de Andrés Fava—that represented the most unsettling posthumous event, and for several reasons. First, on beforehand Cortázar’s novelistic work contained only four titles, and thus the three posthumous novels represent a substantial supplement. Moreover, all of them belong to the same period when Cortázar wrote the stories which were to integrate Bestiario; but they have very little in common with the textual strategies and narrative poetics that characterize Cortázar’s stories. It is even arguable that their playful, surrealistic style is closer to the last three of Cortázar’s novels than to his novelistic debut with Los premios (1960), which makes the structure of Cortázar’s oeuvre even less "contemporaneous" with itself than one had previously assumed. Taken together, the three posthumous titles constitute a multifaceted subsystem in Cortázar’s oeuvre. Whereas the loosely strung plots and rather esoteric intellectual ambience of Divertimiento and El examen clearly prefigure Rayuela and Libro de Manuel, Diario de Andrés Fava is more of a Phoenix in this flock. Presented as the diary/notebook of Andrés Fava, the character who commits suicide towards the end of El examen, this novel evinces a fragmented, aphoristic, reflexive, paradoxical style which anticipates the most experimental collections of texts—most notably, perhaps, the miscellaneous "almanac books." The fact that Diario actually figures as a posthumous work also on an internal, fictional level only adds emphasis to its unsettling potentiality.

However, this does not mean that Cortázar had intended, from the very moment of their writing, to put off the issuing of these books till after his own death—quite obviously, since several of the novels were refused by Argentine publishers. Saúl Yurkiévich suggests that perhaps Cortázar "las consideró como obra menor. Sucede que ańos después aparece con Rayuela y él entró en una dinámica de avance con un movimiento editorial descomunal. Ese momento le impedía ir para atrás, razón por la cual las novelas quedaron sin publicar" ("Albacea" s.p.). This might well be true, but it does not foreclose the possibility of interpreting these works as part of an idiosyncratic poetics of posthumousness, aprčs coup, through a gradual recognition on behalf of the author of what could be effected by such a manoeuvre. According to such a reading, the belated novels, plays, and essays represent a necessary supplement—repeating on a higher level the way in which Salvo el crepúsculo interlaces texts and voices from different zones of Cortázar’s work—destined to surface posthumously precisely in order to enact a belated metacritique of the entire corpus of his writings.

The destabilizing effect of the posthumous novels reverberates in the long essay Teoría del túnel (1947), published as the first tome of Cortázar’s Obra crítica (1994). Being contemporaneous with Divertimiento, this book suggests that Cortázar’s early work as a novelist was actually based on an elaborate poetics of the novel. Teoría presents a sustained reflection on Romantic and post-Romantic aesthetics which catches up with recent intellectual and artistic tendencies, such as Surrealism and Existentialism. Its most salient characteristic is its insistence on the crisis of "el culto al libro," understood as the ultimate expression of the delimiting notion of genre. The contemporary novel is seen as part of a more widespread rebellion against literary manners and grammatical language—in a quest for liberty involving much more than what is commonly associated with these linguistic phenomena. It represents not only an infringement of generic boundaries but also of the frontiers between "life" and "literature." What is implied by the title’s enigmatic expression (tunneling theory, theory of the tunnel) is a project which is both a violent and, at the same time, a creative act, insofar as the tunnel produces—precisely through its destructive work—new connections, new encounters, other directions.

It is not only Cortázar’s posthumous novels that should be read against the background of Cortázar’s "tunneling" poetics. Also, the monumental and/or monstrous Imagen de John Keats (1952/1996) engages in a "creative" destruction of the limits that separate literature from its "outside." Arguably, the most suggestive chapters are those that deal with John Keats’ notion of "negative capability," which amounts to a veritable poetics of radical identification with the non-self. As Cortázar renders it, this capability recuperates the pre-scientific principle of analogy—which corresponds to poetry’s master tropes, metaphor and equivalence—and hence venture into a lost world of myth and magic. Yet the interest of Imagen de John Keats as a work exceeds these poetological reflections, which Cortázar also elaborated in other texts. In all its heterogeneous complexity, Imagen de John Keats hovers between several genres, such a biography, novel, theory, poetry, as if it were part of the project to write a book that cannot possibly occupy a proper place in the literary system. Moreover, the book constantly crosses the limits between the writing subject and the "object" of its study—Keats and his poems—which is why it could be said to enact the theory of camaleonism, or "negative capability," whose principles it exposes. Successful or not in its overall intent, Imagen de John Keats does not fail to reveal the impetus of Cortázar’s writing—its excessive, almost inhuman tendency towards expansion and transgression.


One of the posthumous poems of Salvo el crepúsculo, "Las tejedoras," illustrates the textual monstrosity of Cortázar’s posthumous works in an exemplary manner. The poem conjures up an uncanny world in which everything is produced, uncessantly, by the hands and feet of anonymous weavers/knitters. The city is overflowed with "lanas como vómitos verdes y violetas" (67). Death a is colorless cloth weaved by a loving spider. In the end, what could have been a homely scene of leisure knitting turns into an uncanny scenario: "Ya están aquí, ya se levantan sin hablar, / solamente las manos donde agujas brillantes van y vienen, / y tienen manos en la cara, en cada seno tienen manos, son / ciempiés son cienmanos tejiendo en un silencio insoportable / de tangos y discursos" (67). These extravagant metaphors of a inhuman weaving/knitting suggest a possible poetics for Cortázar’s posthumous writing, akin to Roland Barthes’ theorizing of the unruly phenomenon of textuality.

As is well known, for Barthes an essential posthumousness, or "Death of the Author," accompanies the historical and methodological shift from "Oeuvre" to "Text." According to a most schematic application of the contrast outlined in "De l’Oeuvre au Texte," it should also be possible to read the "history" of Cortázar’s writings as a doubly signifying structure. The chronological—book by book/genre by genre/epoch by epoch—arrangement of his writings corresponds to the Barthesian Oeuvre; whereas the posthumous, multifaceted web interspersed with loose ends (like the anonymous textual production implied by "Las tejedoras") comes close to Barthes’s notion of Text. Thus a movement from the familiar towards the uncanny—from the contemporaneous to the posthumous—can be traced in the changing value of the "totality" of Cortázar’s writing. Arguably, the workings of the posthumous in Cortázar occurs as an intertwining of texts from different "places" (with a considerable amount of superfluous texts originating from an unlocalizable "beyond") which challenges the very logic of narrative and history much in the same way that Rayuela undermines the metaphysical preconceptions on which its own readability depends.

A famous Buenos Aires graffiti reads: "Volvé, Cortázar. Total, żqué te cuesta?" Perhaps one could say that Cortázar’s literary testament has actually turned him into a specter that haunts the body of his writings, preventing it from being (like Eliot’s Prufrock) "formulated, sprawling on a pin" (15). It is worth considering how different these posthumous manoeuvres are from Borges’s ulterior composition of a canonical version of his own complete works— first, in the thoroughly revised Emecé edition and, secondly, in Gallimard’s prestigious "Bibliothčque Pléiade," the first tome of which Borges provided with an author’s preface shortly before he died. To be sure, the subsequent issuing of condemned books and collections of captive/recovered texts, which occurred in spite of these efforts, has had a limited effect on Borges’s literary afterlife. The workings of the posthumous in Cortázar, on the other hand, is unique in that it appears as an "integrated" part of the totality of his literary project, the postponement of some of these publications assuring the non-contemporaneousness, transgressive impact of his posthumously completed works.

If this is so, then we should welcome the Opera Mundi edition of Cortázar’s Obras completas—in progress under the aegis of Cortázar’s executors—with some respectful reservations. It would be naďve to think that the juxtaposition of all of these uprooted writings with the already canonized texts—into an elegant edition that bears all the marks of completeness—does not make (or perhaps better, efface) a difference. To return to the parallelism between posthumousness and exile, traced at the opening of this article, it would almost be as if one were to present an exilic oeuvre—written in a distant continent, adopting a marginal, exterior perspective—as if it were actually composed in the native country and published, scrupulously, by national editors. Book history has taught us to take such a "material expressiveness" into critical consideration, and we should bear this lesson in mind whenever we consult the both impressive and practical volumes of Opera Mundi’s "Cortázar." In his essay on exile and literature, Cortázar proposes that exile may have a positive impact on the creative capacity of every writer that is honest to herself, precisely because "el desarraigo conduce a [una] re-visión de sí mismo" ("Exilio" 170), and thus to the subversive capacity of the exile’s position. The main point of this article has been to argue that a similar dialectics of "desarraigo," revision, and subversion is implied by the workings of the posthumous in Cortázar.



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