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Review of From the Observatory by Julio Cortazar

Th National has just published my review of the exquisite From the Observatory by Julio Cortazar. Incredibly, this is the book’s first English publication, and translator Anne McLean has done amazing work.

From the Observatory brings to mind Friedrich Nietzsche’s declaration that the cosmos is “the primordial poem of mankind”. Nietzsche’s statement reflects the idea that culture is humanity’s “reading” of this primordial poem, as well as that the reality of the cosmos is something we must seek out. Both of these ideas are central to what Cortázar sets out to explore through his churning sentences.

His images attempt to put us in touch with a cosmos that is fundamentally a mystery, and also to show us that this cosmos very much includes humans – particularly their artefacts and their languages – as a part of this “primordial poem”. From the Observatory imagines how we can at once be part of it and respond to it.

It begins with Cortázar calling forth an hour outside of the flow of time . . .

Two things remain to be said: Number one, that From the Observatory (filled throughout with Cortazar’s photographs of the observatory) is a beautiful book to possess.

And number two, this is shaping up to be quite a year for literary art books. In addition to Observatory, we’ve also already seen the beautiful AnimalInside by László Krasznahorkai and Victor Halfwit by Thomas Bernhard. Later this year Seagull Books will publish Self-Portrait of an Other which brings together the art of AnimalInside artist Max Neumann and the prose of Cees Nooteboom.


The Surrender is Veronica Scott Esposito’s “collection of facts” concerning how she embraced her true gender.


Two long essays of 10,000 words each on sex in—and out of—literature . . .

The first essay dives in to Nicholson Baker’s “sex trilogy,” explaining just what Baker is up to here and why these books ultimately fail to be as sexy as Baker might wish.

From there the book moves on to the second essay, which explains just why Spaniard Javier Marías does right what Baker does wrong . . .


5 essays. 2 interviews.

All in all, over 25,000 words of Latin American literary goodness.

3 never-before-published essays, including “The Digression”—a 4,000-word piece on the most important digression in César Aira’s career.

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