Around the World in a Daze, or Julio Cortázar Inside Out


Marco Alexandre de Oliveira

Pontifical Catholic University of Rio de Janeiro



Following in the tradition founded by “masters” of the short story such as Edgar Allen Poe, Guy de Maupassant, Rudyard Kipling, and Anton Chekhov, the Uruguayan writer Horacio Quiroga established several key principles for Latin American storytellers in his celebrated “Decálogo del perfecto cuentista” (1927). Of the ten precepts for the “perfect” short story writer, the last one would become particularly significant for a later craftsman of the genre, Julio Cortázar. According to Quiroga:

No pienses en tus amigos al escribir, ni en la impresión que hará tu historia. Cuenta como si tu relato no tuviera interés más que para el pequeño ambiente de tus personajes, de los que pudiste haber sido uno. No de otro modo se obtiene la vida del cuento.


In his own influential essay on the short story, “Del cuento breve y sus alrededores,” Cortázar views Quiroga’s rules with a somewhat skeptical eye, though he readily admits that the final one appears to stem from “una lucidez impecable.” From this point of departure, Cortázar considers how the idea of the small circle or “pequeño ambiente” reflects the closed structure of the story, or in his words, how it defines “la forma cerrada del cuento, lo que ya en otra ocasión he llamado su esfericidad.” Complementing this notion of “sphericity,” in which the short story is conceived as a world unto itself, he further adds that, since the narrator himself can be considered a character in the story, “la situación narrativa en sí debe nacer y darse dentro de la esfera, trabajando del interior hacia el exterior.” For Cortázar, then, the world of the short story, though in a sense closed upon itself, is nonetheless open to a limitless horizon of interior possibilities of writing that in turn form the exterior limits of the sphere as such. It is ultimately the writer as author who must irrevocably be situated outside the story while both the “narrative situation” and the narrator himself, seen as a creative force or demiurge, are born and live within a sphere that is forever shaping or drawing its own limits in relation to the beyond. As such, Cortázar finally establishes his own precept for “perfection,” which surpasses the one presented in Quiroga’s “Decálogo:”

el sentimiento de la esfera debe preexistir de alguna manera al acto de escribir el cuento, como si el narrador, sometido por la forma que asume, se moviera implícitamente en ella y la llevara a su extrema tensión, lo que hace precisamente la perfección de la forma esférica (Último Round, 35).  


Cortázar’s “Del cuento breve y sus alrededores” is one of many essays that establish the prolific Argentinean writer not only as a renowned storyteller and novelist, but also as an important essayist in his own right. The essay itself was published along with photographic illustrations in Último Round (1969), one of the author’s innovative collage-books, and a follow-up to the earlier La vuelta al día en ochenta mundos (1967). Taken together, both works invoke a certain challenge, or else response, to the limiting rules and classifying norms of established literary genres and other critical categories such as the essay, the short story, the novel, the poem, etc. As critic Sara Castro-Klarén asserts: “The texts of Último round and La vuelta cannot be called novels, poems, or essays. They contain all these forms but they also dissolve the idea of a closed form and so go on to become simply writing” (234). It is thus in the telling “essay” “Del sentimiento de no estar del todo,” from La vuelta al día en ochenta mundos, that Cortázar comments upon his unique style of writing which effectively turns itself inside out, creating a perpetual movement from an interior to an exterior world which opens the text to an outside reality by paradoxically enclosing it as a form of lived experience:

Mucho de lo que he escrito se ordena bajo el signo de la excentricidad, puesto que entre vivir y escribir nunca admití una clara diferencia; si viviendo alcanzo a disimular una participación parcial en mi circunstancia, en cambio no puedo negarla en lo que escribo puesto que precisamente escribo por no estar o por estar a medias. Escribo por falencia, por descolocación; y como yo escribo desde un intersticio, estoy siempre invitando a que otros busquen los suyos y miren por ellos el jardín donde los árboles tienen frutos que son, por supuesto, piedras preciosas.


One immediately notes that Cortázar does not distinguish between the acts of living and writing per se, two vital processes that appear to mirror each other in complementary fashion. Both living and writing constitute spheres of experience that reflect the presence of an absence, an identity that is always either estranged from, or else other than, itself. That Cortázar’s own personality and especially writing, whether in novels, short stories, or essays, is considered to be “eccentric” is hardly an understatement. One must, however, consider the term eccentricity with respect to both its figurative meaning of strangeness and its literal, etymological meaning of being out of center. Cortázar, the writer, ultimately writes “por no estar o por estar a medias,” by not being there or by being only partially there (Cortázar, La vuelta, 21). The writer is therefore also, in a sense, mediated by his own writing, for as an author he exists outside or beyond the text itself, while as a writer he exists inside or within it. Such a form of displacement for Cortázar becomes a “paralaje verdadero” and, in effect, places the writer in a non-place or space-in-between that constitutes the fundamental “interstice” from which his writing is written as such. 

In the aforementioned text, Cortázar states that the writer is essentially an “extrañado,” and it is his “extrañamiento como persona” that generates what he has called the mechanism of “challenge and response” which inspires his writing. The challengeresults from the actual condition of estrangement, while the responseconstitutes a form of reaction to it. Relating the writer to the poet, he immediately adds that “así, cada vez que el poeta es sensible a su lateralidad, a su situación extrínsica en una realidad aparentemente intrínsica, reacciona poeticamente.” Furthermore, that which the writer or poet writes ultimately become “petrificaciones de ese extrañamiento, lo que el poeta ve o siente en lugar de, o al lado de, o por bajo de, o en contra de” (Cortázar, La vuelta, 23). Elsewhere in his essay on “feeling not all there,” Cortázar remarks that his short stories reflect certain “aperturas sobre el extrañamiento” or “instancias de una descolocación,” inasmuch as the limits between the ordinary and the extraordinary are effectively blurred (La vuelta, 25). Once again, such a sense of “estrangementor displacementtherefore situates the writer within a certain space-in-between, or “zona intersticial,” in which interior and exterior worlds meet in order to be realized as both a form of writing and the content of living.

In Cortázar’s writings, whether in his collage-book La vuelta al día en ochenta mundos or elsewhere, it is important to observe that despite his fervently consistent valorization of humor, irony, and “understatement,” one must take quite seriously his position that form and content are virtually indistinguishable (Cortázar, La vuelta, 34). In “De la seriedad en los velorios,” he alludes to his oft stated dictum that the short story in effect writes itself, as it is written or told by a narrator who actually becomes a character within the sphere of the story. Thus, Cortázar writes that “todo cuento es como se lo cuenta, la conciencia de que fondo y forma no son dos cosas es lo que hace al buen narrador oral, que no diferencia así del buen escritor” (La vuelta, 31). The idea that form and content essentially correspond may actually be said to apply to all of Cortázar’s writings, including his short stories, novels, and even essays. The remarkably “eccentric” character of La vuelta al mundo en ochenta días is therefore evident not only in what is written or said within its pages, but also in how it is said or written. Although the collection is mostly comprised of essays and memoirs, it also includes other forms of writing, such as poetry and fiction. The collage-book is definitely and definitively marked by its formal innovations and stylistic experimentation, both on the level of writing (or text) and especially on the level of illustration (or images). Regarding such a “new” form of the essay, particularly in Latin America, critic Martin S. Stabb observes that although “he has gained international recognition as a leading figure of the continent’s new fiction, Cortázar is an essayist of major proportions: moreover, despite his innovative formal experimentation he has remained surprisingly faithful to the genre’s essential spirit.” If there is such an essential “spirit” of the essay in Cortázar’s writing, it is perhaps present, to a degree, in his portrayal of himself and in his “desire to persuade or convince,” both of which represent characteristics of the genre as a whole since its inception in Montaigne (Stabb, 20). But it is also evident that the radically subversive quality of Cortázar’s essays, which, again, is manifest in both the form and the content, prefigures the abolishment of genres, categories, systems, or orders of any kind as they effectively challenge and respond to the prescribed rules or limits of writing as discourse. There is, in a sense, neither an identity or self to portray nor an other to persuade or convince. Instead, there are the changing colors of a chameleon in his natural habitat(s), the varying masks of a writer that convey the presence of an absence, and the alternating voices that echo the words of other personalities, characters, or even cronopios.  

If Cortázar is indeed a writer who writes from an interstice or space-in-between, the fragmentary format of the collage-book provides ample space for the exploration of his literary worlds. The technique of collage, in fact, figures prominently in much of Cortázar’s writing, and as Marian Zwerling Sugano notes, “all of Cortazar's book-length works rely to an important degree on collage techniques.” However, it is primarily in his “almanac books (libros almanaque), such as La vuelta al día en ochenta mundos and Último Round, “that his use of the photographic visual image with collage and montage most radically challenges accepted notions of the book through constant experimentation in format, typography, and the mise en page.” The collection as a whole illustrates the very limits between word and image, the verbal and the visual, by juxtaposing various forms of media, including poems, short stories, essays, anecdotes, memoirs, quotes, photography, paintings, drawings, advertisements, and other miscellaneous items. It is therefore by means of such a collage-work that the writer, as Sugano asserts, “erases generic distinctions, accentuating through photography the ‘plasticity’ of the book, opening it up in all directions.” In this respect it is clear that, even in forms other than the short story or novel, Cortázar is a writer who works from an interior to an exterior reality. The inclusion of “reality” in the form of texts and images – especially photography – thus characterizes the collage-nature of the work itself, which in turn becomes a literary and artistic construction that is effectively created by both the writer and the reader, from the inside out. As such, in Cortázar’s collage-books there is ultimately, as Sugano concludes, a “privileging of the ‘between’ in that meaning arises not only in the text proper or in the realistic reference of the photograph, but in the new space created by their juxtaposition.”   

Perhaps the “the principal innovation” in Cortázar’s collage-works, as Sugano indicates, is indeed “the interspersing of drawings and photographs to create an album-like text. Neither the image nor the writing dominates. Rather, they work in tandem to produce a radically new form.” Furthermore, the conjunctions of text and image may also be said to “open vertically” onto the so-called “greater reality” that Cortázar describes in numerous essays, as they simultaneously “expand horizontally” across the world or sphere that constitutes the books themselves (Sugano). The use of collage techniques for literary or artistic purposes was by no means a novelty, however, and was, in principle, derived from formal experimentation that originated in European modernism and the “historical” avant-garde, even though, in fact, the practice is evident in relatively “ancient” scripts and so-called “primitive” art(ifacts), such as Mayan glyphs and the Aztec sculpture of Coatlicue:

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Fig. 1: image of the Aztec sculpture of Coatlicue)


The relatively unprecedented juxtaposition of word and image in modern collage-works would nonetheless become significant for both art and literature, and the result was that diverse media with various structures, and often conflicting meanings, could be combined in order to create a new and/or different order from the disorder. For his part, Cortázar’s affinities with the avant-garde are evident throughout La vuelta al día en ochenta mundos, especially in the many references to illustrious, or else notorious, figures such as Tristan Tzara, Man Ray, and especially Marcel Duchamp. In “Un Julio habla de otro,” in which Cortázar presents the book’s illustrator Julio Silva as “el Julio que ha dado forma y ritmo a la vuelta al día” (La vuelta, 55), he observes that their entire friendship began after a night of discussion about French poetry and particularly “frecuentes referencias a una tal Sara que siempre decía cosas muy sutiles aunque un tanto sibilinas” (La vuelta, 53). Julio the writer only later discovered that Julio the painter was in fact mispronouncing the name Tzara as “Sara.” Meanwhile, in the introductory piece “Así se empieza,” Cortázar compares the book itself to one of Man Ray’s infamous assemblages, or ready-mades, titled Gift (1921): “Me divierte pensar este libro y algunos de sus previsibles efectos […] un poco como el cronopio Man Ray pensaba en su plancha con clavos y otros objectos.” Such a useless combination of otherwise useful items, in this case an iron and nails, is thus related to the sponge-like works that constitute Cortázar’s collage-book(s), in which “continuamente entran y salen peces de recuerdo, alianzas fulminantes de tiempos y estados y materias que la seriedad […] consideraría inconciliables.” The relations between incongruent “pieces,” or material, are essentially formed by the juxtaposition created by the assemblage or composition of the work. By citing Man Ray as an example, Cortázar thereby suggests that his work does not aspire to have the aesthetic pretensions or “virtuosismo” of a work of art per se, even if it might later be perceived as one. Elsewhere in his introduction, Cortázar refers to Marcel Duchamp, the actual inventor of the ready-made, as a model for inspiration:

A su manera de suscitar una realidad más rica – haciendo cultivos de polvo, por ejemplo, o creando nuevas unidades de medida por el sistema no más convencional que otros de dejar caer un trozo de cordel sobre una superficie engomada y acatar su longitud y su dibujo –, se suma aquí algo que no podría decir explícitamente pero que quizá alcance a decirse, a desgajarse de todo esto. Aludo a un sentimiento de sustancialidad, a ese estar vivo que falta en tantos libros nuestros, a que escribir y respirar (en el sentido indio de la respiración como flujo y reflujo del ser universal) no sean dos ritmos diferentes. (La vuelta, 7)


It is clear that the concept of the ready-made object, which, in a sense, makes itself as it is being made, is analogous to Cortázar’s stated idea that writing writes itself as it is being written, or that a story tells itself as it is being told. That which one cannot explicitly say can, as such, perhaps be said all by itself, as long as the writer is understood to be part and parcel of that which is written by him. Once more, there is no fundamental difference between living and writing, as the writer as narrator lives within the text and writes from the inside out to a reality beyond. It is in this sense that a “substantial” writing is also comparable to breathing, since it lives and breathes from the influx and outflux of material.

Given Cortázar’s evident affinities with Duchamp, the collage-book itself arguably constitutes a form of ready-made since it is assembled, so to speak, from already made sources that include a vast array of texts and images, including a sketch of Duchamp’s very own Moulin à café (1911). As Castro-Klarén asserts, “Cortázar abhors the elevated position of the artist as much as does Duchamp and so, following his lead, the writer turns his books into linguistic ready-mades, quoting freely and extensively from all kinds of writing, from newspapers to obscure poetry” (232). Citations do indeed populate the pages of La vuelta al día en ochenta mundos, and are too numerous to enumerate here. It might nonetheless be interesting to note how and why quotes and other references are used in particular passages. For example, in “No hay peor sordo que el que” Cortázar reveals, in a side-note included in the margins, that the essay’s references were chosen “por la simple razón de que algunos […] estaban al alcance de la mano mientras iba escribiendo esto” (La vuelta, 95). Such a random, or even haphazard, way of quoting perhaps best characterizes a writer who appears to be playing a game of chance with both himself and his reader(s). In the introduction, Cortázar actually warns the reader that his “worlds” are populated by fellow cronopios, forming a community of personalities, or else an ensemble of voices, that nonetheless becomes the writer’s very own:

Se habrá advertido que aquí las citas llueven, y esto no es nada al lado de lo que viene, o sea casi todo. En los ochenta mundos de mi vuelta al día hay puertos, hoteles y camas para los cronopios, y además citar es citarse, ya lo han dicho […] con la diferencia de que los pedantes citan porque viste mucho, y los cronopios porque son terriblemente egoístas y quieren acaparar sus amigos [....] (La vuelta, 9)  


The idea that to cite is not other than to cite oneself is of fundamental significance for both the genre of the essay and Cortázar’s work as a whole. In one sense, it questions notions of originality in writing, while in another it challenges the idea of authorship or authority in general. It therefore responds to the status quo by affirming that writing is writing independently of whoever has written it. As such, whenever I cite a writer and his or her ideas I am also necessarily citing myself and my ideas, and as I cite there is really no distinction between his or her writing and my own, as evident in this essay titled “Around the World in a Daze: Julio Corázar Inside-Out. ” In the context of Cortázar’s writing, then, the plethora of allusions, references, and/or citations in his collage-books serve both to incorporate exterior realities within his interior worlds, and to embody a multiplicity of others within himself.      

Of the many citations that (in)form the collage-writings which constitute La vuelta al día en ochenta mundos, Cortázar highlights one passage by critic Robert Lebel, from La double vue (1964), as particularly significant for describing his own book. Reflecting upon his own work, Lebel writes: Todo lo que ve usted en esta habitación o, mejor, en este almacén, ha sido dejado por los locatarios anteriores; por consiguiente no verá gran cosa que me pertenezca, pero yo prefiero estos instrumentos del azar.In addition to emphasizing the role of chance and introducing the concept of the archive to describe the evident intertextuality of the text itself, the quoted passage also presents the phenomenon of automatic-writing, in the sense that the words of others appear to be channeled, so to speak, in the writer’s own voice. In Cortázar’s words: “el personaje que habla por boca de Lebel es nada menos que Marcel Duchamp” (La vuelta, 9). Literary experiments in automatic-writing were often performed by Dadaists such as Tzara and Jean (Hans) Arp, who literally played with the laws of chance in various works. Automatic-writing would assume a more pivotal role in Surrealism, however, especially in the works of Robert Desnos, Phillipe Soupault, and André Breton, the founder of the movement who incidentally also experimented with poem-collages made from random assemblages of newspaper headlines. Breton and Soupault actually collaborated on what is considered to be one of the first experiments of automatic-writing for literary purposes, Les Champs Magnétiques (1920). As Breton states in his “Manifesto of Surrealism” (1924), the practice of literary automatism generally consists of “a monologue spoken as rapidly as possible without any intervention on the part of the critical faculties, a monologue consequently unencumbered by the slightest inhibition and which was, as closely as possible, akin to spoken thought” (727). Such a practice, by which writers were to be perceived as “receptacles of echoes,” or even as “recording instruments” (721), thereby produced the rather peculiar quality present in random, arbitrary images whose evident absurdity effectively challenged the “reign of logic” by (cor)responding to the surreality of the Unconscious (723). 


Despite his persistent and justifiable objections to being labeled a surrealist writer, Cortázar’s process of writing displays clear affinities with Surrealism, if only to a limited extent.  In the aforementioned essay “Del cuento breve y sus alrededores,” he affirms that “todo cuento breve plenamente logrado, y en especial los cuentos fantásticos, son productos neuróticos, pesadillas o alucinaciones neutralizados mediante la objetivación y el traslado a un medio exterior al terreno neurótico” (Último Round, 37). Elsewhere he argues that “cierta gama de cuentos nace de un estado de trance” (Último Round, 38), while furthermore considering the “analogía onírica de signo inverso que hay en la composición de tales cuentos.” By admitting that his writing stems from nightmaresand hallucinations,and also that he writes from an ecstatic or trance”-like state, in which he himself is not actually present per se, he once more suggests that his stories tend to write themselves, in a sense. It is, in Cortázar’s words, “como si el cuento ya estuviera escrito con una tinta simpática y uno le pasara por encima el pincelito que lo despierta” (Último Round, 41). His admittedly “effortless” task as a writer thus becomes to “recibir y transmitir sin demasiadas pérdidas esas latencias de una psiquis profunda” (Último Round, 42). Such a process of automatic-writing is echoed in La vuelta al día en ochenta mundos, as he pointedly states, in the aptly titled “Del sentimiento de no estar del todo,” that his critical faculties are rarely employed as he undertakes to write a story. In his words: “Poco o nada reflexiono al escribir un relato; como ocurre en los poemas, tengo la impresión de que se hubieran escrito a sí mismos” (25). It is perhaps for this reason, or lack thereof, that an “estranged” writer such as Cortázar is able to produce such strange or eccentric narratives in his otherwise fantastic stories.   

In his “Manifesto of Surrealism,” Breton observes that the Surrealist image is created by the juxtaposition of two or more or less distant and otherwise unrelated realities. Such an image cannot be evoked by the conscious mind, as it is rather from “the fortuitous juxtaposition” of disparate realities that the so-called “light of the image” emerges. He furthermore adds that “the Surrealist atmosphere created by automatic writing […] is especially conducive to the production of the most beautiful images” (735). But inasmuch as the Surrealist image is characterized by its “marvelous” nature or quality, Cortázar’s writing instead arises from a distinct sense of the “fantastic.” In “Del sentimiento de lo fantástico,” Cortázar alludes to the subtle yet significant difference between “lo maravilloso” and “lo fantástico” after admitting that, for him, “el sentimiento de lo fantástico no es tan innato” (La vuelta, 44). Despite this lack of “sentiment, over the years he had learned, by reading stories “con la más absoluta suspensión de la incredulidad,” to perform what he considered to be “una operación inversa y bastante ardua: acorralar lo fantástico en lo real, realizarlo” (La vuelta, 44). Such an operation” of conjoining fantasy and reality is evidently present in Cortázar’s own writing, and also serves to demonstrate what his sense of the fantastic really is. Citing a passage from Victor Hugo, in which the French writer poetically describes the “velic point” of a ship, Cortázar appears to agree that the fantastic is a “lugar de convergencia” or “punto de intersección misterioso” (La vuelta, 44), a (dis)junction (or space-in-between) that admits heterogeneity or difference to exist in a point of singularity or identity. As Cortázar later writes: “Lo fantástico fuerza una costra aparencial, y por eso recuerda el punto vélico; hay algo que arrima el hombro para sacarnos de quicio” (La vuelta, 47). In other words, the “fantastic” forces its way into mere appearances and thereby pushes one to experience “reality” as other. The sense of the fantastic is therefore akin to that sense of estrangement which the writer or poet feels in relation to both his living in the world and his writing as such. 

Although the marvelous and the fantastic are arguably (inter)related, the two concepts must be further differentiated in order to distinguish Cortázar’s writing from that of the Surrealists. If the “marvelous” is defined as essentially supernatural and/or surreal, existing beyond the logical realm of possibility, the “fantastic” is perfectly natural and/or real, even though it exists within an absurd realm of impossibility. The Surrealists represented the ecstatic reality of dream-images by making the extraordinary appear all but ordinary, whereas Cortázar explores the everyday absurdity of waking life by making the extraordinary seem all too ordinary. Critics should therefore be wary of turning (s)elective affinities between Cortázar and the Surrealists into anything but correspondences. Cortázar himself actually rejects the practice of automatic-writing for its apparent superficiality. In demonstrating his “reluctance to be classified with the Surrealists,” Castro-Klarén observes that while Cortázar “accepts the fundamental surrealist enterprise of rescuing reality and the mind from the cage of rationalist thought and bourgeois habit, he points out that their task still remains unaccomplished.” Furthermore, she argues:

Inasmuch as André Breton at one point advocates automatic writing to the extreme of excluding any process of filtering because he considers such filtering a dangerous exposure to reason and habit, one cannot call Cortázar’s work surrealist. Both in his narratives and in texts such as La vuelta al día en ochenta mundos and Último round he exhibits fastidious thinking and rejects the notion that the writer may be a ‘modeste appareil enregistreur.’ There is an inherent tendency for ‘automatic writing’ to become a facile and frivolous verbal game. (220)


Unlike surrealist automatic-writing, therefore, Cortázar’s rather inspired-writing, as seen in his short stories, novels, and other works such as La vuelta al día en ochenta mundos, is neither “facile” nor “frivolous” but is instead consciously crafted and seriously conceived, though it still remains a literal and/or literary “game” of sorts.

Perhaps the most significant, or else explicit, example of Surrealist-inspired writing in La vuelta al día en ochenta mundos is from “Verano en las colinas.” Cortázar tells how he had been observing a solitary cloud suspended over the city that reminded him of a painting by René Magritte, La bataille de l’Argonne (1964), and how he had felt at that moment that nature was actually imitating art, in a sense.

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Fig. 2: René Magritte, La bataille de l’Argonne, 1964.)

He then realized that, in his own words, “esa nube plagiaba la suspensión vital siempre ominosa en Magritte,” in addition to “las ocultas potencias” of a text he had written many years before, “Manera sencillísima de destruir una ciudad:” “Se espera, escondido en el pasto, a que una gran nube de la especie cúmulo se sitúe sobre la ciudad aborrecida. Se dispara entonces la flecha petrificadora, la nube se convierte en mármol, y el resto no merece comentario(11). Without need for further comment, Cortázar thus describes an image that is (sur)really analogous to Magritte’s painting, though he curiously enough does not include the image itself in his collage-book, for whatever reason. He does, however, include rather conspicuous surrealist artworks in the memoir “Noches en los ministerios de Europa.” While inside one such European ministry, Cortázar writes that he came upon a hallway “que hacía un codo inesperado en la regularidad del palacio; una puerta se abrió sobre una vasta habitación donde la luna era ya el comienzo de una pintura de Paul Delvaux.” Delvaux, for his part, was not only a painter renowned for his incongruent representations of seemingly mesmerized, or else expressionless, women in the nude, but also an avid reader of Jules Verne, author of Le tour du monde en quatre-vingts jours (1873), which obviously inspired the clever pun that constitutes the title of La vuelta al día en ochenta mundos, Cortázar’s parodic homage to an “other” Julio. It is therefore evident that Delvaux’s paintings, which include an Hommage à Jules Verne (1971), have been greatly influenced by Julio Cortázar’s namesake, even including characters from his stories. Cortázar thus recounts in “Noches en los ministerios de Europa” how he finally arrived at a balcony and discovered a secret garden, and how he ultimately remembers “la incongruencia de estar en este jardín dentro de un palacio dentro de una ciudad dentro de un país a miles de kilómetros de ese yo habitual de todos los días” (77). Perhaps in order to intensify such a sensation, he includes details of two paintings by Delvaux, La mer est proche (1966) and L’Escalier (1946), which effectively illustrate the text he narrates.

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Fig. 3: Paul Delvaux, La mer est proche, 1966.


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Fig. 4: Paul Delvaux, L’Escalier, 1946.

Incidentally, a similar procedure occurs in the erotic short story “Siestas” from Último round, which not only includes details from Toutes les lumières (1962), Le sacrifice dIphigénie (1968), and L’Été (1938), but also alludes to several other paintings by Delvaux.

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Fig. 5: Paul Delvaux, Toutes les lumières, 1962.


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Fig. 6: Paul Delvaux, Le sacrifice d’Iphigénie, 1968.

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Fig. 7: Paul Delvaux, L’Ete, 1938.

In the case of Cortázar’s memoir about nights spent in European ministries, however, an actual real-life experience appears to represent, or else correspond to, the incongruence of a surrealist dream-image, just as the solitary cloud seemed to imitate a painting by Magritte.    

It is this sense of incongruence that conveys probably the most adequate concept to describe the various forms of relations between text and image, writing and illustration, in collage-works such as La vuelta al día en ochenta mundos and Último round. Although it would initially appear that the images tend to correspond to the texts, often the relations are either incomprehensible or else unreasonable. As Stabb observes: “Cortázar’s use of photographs and drawings is, more often than not, quite unusual. In addition to the normal function of providing a direct visual complement to the text, his graphic material is often dramatic, ironic, nostalgically evocative or humorous” (35). As such, it becomes apparent that despite the fact that the illustration of books hardly constitutes any novelty per se, Cortázar’s innovation stems from the incongruence of “graphic material” in relation to the texts it illustrates. Furthermore, it becomes evident that Cortázar, according to Stabb, “reflecting mid-century trends in mass communications, advertising, television and pop culture has in effect made his medium his message.” Not so (co)incidentally, Cortázar’s La vuelta al día en ochenta mundos was actually published in the same year as new media theorist Marshall McLuhan’s The Medium is the Massage (1967), which also constitutes a form of collage-work by its own original combination of text(s) and image(s). Since this multimedia aspect of Cortázar’s work often serves to complement his sense of humor, Stabb thereby notes that “his manipulation of authorial voice, his typographic tricks, his use of bizarre drawing and photos, his spelling games and his experiments in book design make the point better than any conventional statements” (39). In this manner, or by such a means, Cortázar once more demonstrates the fundamental correspondence between form and content in his works, as the very presence of various forms of media communicates its own sense, or absence thereof, as meaningful.      

Returning again to the incongruent relations between word(s) and image(s) in La vuelta al día en ochenta mundos, one must eventually inquire into the relative significance of the illustrations with respect to the writings, an “open” question which is aptly formulated by critic Dan Russek, who, while commenting upon Último round, insightfully observes:

To what extent the array of images included in the book comprises only illustrations, visual signs to be interpreted in their own right or in tandem with the texts, remains an open question. Neither the nature nor the placement of the graphic material seems to be governed by any specific code. The book forces the critic to question the parameters of interpretation of composite works.


Último round is definitely one such “composite work” which, like La vuelta al día en ochenta mundos, was designed and illustrated by Julio Silva, though it includes images from multiple sources in the forms of drawings, paintings, and photographs. By imitating the front-page of a newspaper, which is itself characterized by the fragmentary juxtaposition of text(s) and image(s), the cover of the book reveals, according to Russek, “the playful attitude and flair for irony of both writer and graphic artist.”  

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Fig. 8: Cover of Júlio Cortázar, Último round, México, D.F.: Siglo Veintiuno Editores, 1969.

Playfulness, for Cortázar, is nonetheless inevitably tied to subversion, and Russek also remarks that, within the pages of the book, in some instances “the use of captions subverts in a playful way the conventional link between images and the words that contextualize them.” For its part, the cover of La vuelta al día en ochenta mundos displays a rather curious image of two young boys playing the traditional childhood game of leap-frog. The strangeness of the illustration arises from the fact that the boys are gradually transformed into frogs as one leaps onto the other’s back, an action which is represented by a circular series of drawings that become virtually cinematic as they create the illusion of animation.

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Fig. 9: Cover of Júlio Cortázar, La vuelta al día en ochenta mundos, México, D.F.: Siglo Veintiuno Editores, 1967.

Such an image, although probably appropriate for an eccentric work like this, is nonetheless incongruent in the sense that, except for the obvious circle motif, there is arguably no other clear or rational relation between the cover illustration and the title of the book. The present conjunction of text and image might therefore be more aptly described as a disjunction, since the relation is actually formed by a non-relation. Such a “disjunctive synthesis,” as philosopher Gilles Deleuze would say, ultimately provides an opening for interpretation as it allows for a multiplicity of meaning(s) to be produced from the nonsensical interstice that comes to exist by means of the fundamental incongruence between word(s) and image(s).  

The dazzling array of images that illustrate the texts of Cortázar’s writings in La vuelta al día en ochenta mundos include, but are not limited to, photographs, portraits, paintings, drawings, sketches, and advertisements from a variety of sources. Images depict works of art, artists, musicians, writers, mythological characters, esoteric symbols, folkloric figures, medieval subjects, random people, boxers, criminals, animals, insects, random objects, furniture, and even machines such as the RAYUEL-O-MATIC, a device purportedly invented to interpret Cortázar’s own experimental hop-scotch novel Rayuela. Furthermore, there are a relatively significant number of fantastic images drawn from the illustrated literary works of Jules Verne, such as Voyage au centre de la Terre (1864), Les Enfants du capitaine Grant (1868), Vingt mille lieues sous les mers (1870), and of course, Le tour du monde en quatre-vingts jours (1873). Whether or not the images correspond to the texts by forming direct or indirect relations based on the multiple combinations of the two otherwise distinct forms, a fundamental disjunction will always and necessarily exist between verbal and visual media, despite their juxtaposition. Once more, it is this virtual disjunction, which forms an interstice (or space-in-between), that nonetheless opens itself up, or else turns itself inside out, to greater realities. This passage from the interior to the exterior is summarized by critic Graciela Batarce Barrios, who writes that such a “pasaje intersticial funciona en toda la obra de Cortázar como metáfora de la búsqueda, la apertura y la libertad humana, sirve de vínculo, otra vez, entre las distintas instancias semióticas” (145). Barrios adds that it is ultimately this (non) space, or “dimensión,” of the between, or “entre,” that Cortázar seeks to represent in his collage-book, by means of multimedia relations. Barrios thus concludes by observing that the book escapa a las normas tradicionales de unidad y homogeneidad, para ingresar, a través de la variedad y la mezcla de textos, discursos y géneros, en una pluralidad semiótica que es una verdadera aventura donde la experiencia vivida se presenta como inseparable de su enunciación.As an adventure” of sorts, such a literary venture explores means of representing the identity between living and writing, while also preserving the heterogeneity of different, otherwise unrelated forms of expression, such as the visual and the verbal. The work thereby effects a multiplication of signification, according to Barrios, as “el discurso se ha enriquecido con una pluralidad de sustancias sígnicas que van desde la escritura a la imagen icónica en sus diversos niveles y en variados grados de interacción.” It is, finally, the interstitial (non-)relation between word(s) and image(s) that produces such an inherent multiplicity of meaning, Barrios asserts, as “el ícono deja de ser un puro soporte gráfico y opera como multiplicador de relaciones y sentidos, convirtiéndose en la aplicación (metafórica y ‘real’) del principio de libertad creadora” (146). Such a form of freedom is sought, and ultimately realized, in Cortázar’s journey around the day in eighty worlds. 

In the end, the multiple interstices (or spaces-in-between) that form La vuelta al día en ochenta mundos become a metaphor for a writer’s own inner search for identification with an outer world. Summarizing the innovative character of his collage-book, Barrios ultimately observes:

Cortázar construye su libro a semejanza de esos almanaques, rompiendo todos los encasillamientos de los géneros literarios tradicionales. Por otro lado, este libro constituye, en relación con el autor, una especie de viaje alrededor de sí mismo, una manifestación de su posición vital frente al mundo, de su credo artístico y de su ideario político. (146)


If one seriously considers Cortázar’s contention that a writer only exists as a writer within his writing, as it writes itself or is written, it follows that he can only explore the outer world by means of a voyage either within or around its interior. In “No hay peor sordo que el que,” Cortázar is found lamenting the condition of contemporary writing, which disinterests him from both “el punto de vista intelectual,” which he conceives in the sense of fondo, and more importantly, “el punto de escucha estético,” which he conceives in the sense of forma (La vuelta, 93). In his essay, Cortázar cites Foucault during a discussion on the relations between substance (content) and style (form), which for the former “accede a ese estado límite en que ya no cuenta como mero lenguaje porque todo él es presencia de lo expresado” (94). In writing about the art of storytelling, Foucault had once observed that: “La fábula de un relato se sitúa en el interior de las posibilidades míticas de la cultura; su escritura se sitúa en el interior de las posibilidades de la lengua; su ficción, en el interior de las posibilidades del acto de la palabra” (Cortázar, La vuelta, 94-95). Inasmuch as fiction, for Cortázar, constitutes a vital sphere that is modeled upon the possibilities inherent in the world of real-life experiences, it is thus within the interior of language, or of the text itself, that one must search for an identity that is nonetheless always already differentiated. Yet the world within, for the writer, ultimately becomes none other than a form of the world beyond, as Cortázar evidently realizes when he observes, in “Morelliana, siempre,” how the visionary Romantic writer Novalis, who incidentally developed the fragment as a literary art form, “presintió que el mundo de adentro es la ruta inevitable para llegar de verdad al mundo exterior y descubrir que los dos serán uno solo cuando la alquimia de ese viaje dé un hombre nuevo, el gran reconciliado” (La vuelta, 207). It is perhaps through just such a sense of reconciliation that the incongruence, or disjunction, between fragments of text(s) and image(s) in the collage-book mirrors the “alchemic” convergence of interior and exterior worlds in the writer-as-narrator, as an always and ever “new” Julio effectively turns himself inside out, while traveling around his world(s) in a daze.


Barrios, Graciela Batarce. “La vuelta al día en ochenta mundos: La teoría del camaleón.” Acta Literaria 27 (2002): 145-155.

Breton, André. “Manifesto of Surrealism.” In Modernism: An Anthology, edited by Lawrence S. Rainey. Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing, 2005.

Castro-Klarén, Sara. “Cortázar, Surrealism, and Pataphysics.” Comparative Literature 27:3 (1975): 218-236.

Cortázar, Julio. La vuelta al día en ochenta mundos. México, D.F.: Siglo Veintiuno Editores, 1967. 

---. La vuelta al día en ochenta mundos. Tomo II. México, D.F.: Siglo Veintiuno Editores, 2006.

---. Rayuela. Caracas: Biblioteca Ayacucho, 2004.

---. Último round. México, D.F.: Siglo Veintiuno Editores, 1969.

Deleuze, Gilles, and Félix Guattari. Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia. Trans. Robert Hurley, Mark Seem, and Helen R. Lane. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, 2005.


McLuhan, Marshall. The Medium is the Massage: An Inventory of Effects. Corte Madera, CA: Ginko Press, 2001.  


Quiroga, Horacio. “Decálogo del perfecto cuentista.” Accessed November 4, 2014. <>. 

Russek, Dan. “Verbal/visual braids: the photographic medium in the work of Julio Cortázar.” Mosaic 37:4 (2004): 71-86. Accessed December 4, 2007.

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Stabb, Martin S. “Not Text but Texture: Cortázar and the New Essay.” Hispanic Review 52:1 (1984): 19-40.

Sugano, Marian Zwerling. “Beyond what meets the eye: the photographic analogy in Cortázar’s short stories,” Style 27:3 (1993): 330-338. [The Free Library. “Beyond what meets the eye: the photographic analogy in Cortázar’s short stories.” Accessed February 10, 2015. <>


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