“I want you to know that I’m not a critic or theorist"—so begins the first of eight classes that the great Argentine writer Julio Cortázar delivered at UC Berkeley in 1980. These classes are as much reflections on Cortázar’s own writing—“in my work I look for solutions as problems arise”—as musings about literature. He covers such topics as “the writer’s path” (“while my aesthetic world view made me admire writers like Borges, I was able to open my eyes to the language of street slang, lunfardo”) and the fantastic (“unbeknownst to me, the fantastic had become as acceptable, as possible and real, as the fact of eating soup at eight o’clock in the evening”), Literature Class provides the amazingly warm and personal experience of sitting in a room with this fantastically inventive author. As Joaquin Marco stated in El Cultural, “exploring this course is to dive into Cortázar designing his own creations…. Essential for anyone reading or studying Cortázar, cronopio or not!”
20th century Argentine novelist, poet, essayist, short-story writer and Surrealist
Cortázar spoke of something more than novelty or progress—he spoke of the radically new and joyful nature of every instant, of the body, the memory and the imagination of men and women.
A glittering showcase for a daring talent—Julio Cortázar is a dazzler.
—The San Francisco Chronicle
There’s no question that Julio Cortázar is among the most revered Latin American writers of any age. In Literature Class, readers are treated to a series of talks the author gave at Berkeley circa 1980. They range from meditations on the writer’s path to the elements of an effective short story. “I’m not a critic or theorist,” he writes, “which means that in my work, I look for solutions as problems arise.” While this may be true, it’s hard to imagine anyone better suited to tackle the endless possibilities of literature and language itself.
—Juan Vidal, NPR
As Cortázar stresses throughout his talks, writing is rarely a pursuit of answers but, rather, about investigation—of the self, of one’s work, and of the world at large. The goal of the novel, Cortázar says, is to harmonize its formal and literal questions into a central, destabilizing quandary: ‘Why are things like they are and not otherwise?
—The New Yorker
[T]he lectures, at times, do feel cobbled together—but in the best way, in the way of art that thrives in complexity and contradiction. They are made from pieces of Cortázar’s life, his writing, his experiences as a young writer in Argentina and an as exile in Paris, his deep engagement with literature and cinema and politics, and they show the mind of a writer at work, asking questions and unearthing new possibilities.
Based on the words spoken by Cortázar and his students, the class that he taught appears to be an interesting hybrid of Cortázar as tour guide of his body of work, and as mentor into the broader lessons about the qualities of fiction that resonated most with him.
The consequent lectures—originally delivered in Spanish and translated adeptly by Katherine Silver—are erudite, intimate, charmingly fragmented, and anecdotal, covering a range of topics, from “Eroticism and Literature” to “The Realistic Short Story.”
—Dustin Illingworth, The Atlantic
One of those books that radically shifted my thinking about the possibilities of narrative.
—Christopher Higgs, Big Other
He was, perhaps without trying, the Argentine who made the whole world love him.