Tag Archives: julio cortazar

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.

He Did It for Cake

It is any coincidence that Cortazar is an essential author?

Ah, listen, I’ll say something I shouldn’t say because no one will believe it, but success isn’t a pleasure for me. I’m glad to be able to live from what I write, so I have to put up with the popular and critical side of success. But I was happier as a man when I was unknown. Much happier. Now I can’t go to Latin America or to Spain without being recognized every ten yards, and the autographs, the embraces . . . It’s very moving, because they’re readers who are frequently quite young. I’m happy that they like what I do, but it’s terribly distressing for me on the level of privacy. I can’t go to a beach in Europe; in five minutes there’s a photographer. I have a physical appearance that I can’t disguise; if I were small I could shave and put on sunglasses, but with my height, my long arms and all that, they discover me from afar. On the other hand, there are very beautiful things: I was in Barcelona a month ago, walking around the Gothic Quarter one evening, and there was an American girl, very pretty, playing the guitar very well and singing. She was seated on the ground singing to earn her living. She sang a bit like Joan Baez, a very pure, clear voice. There was a group of young people from Barcelona listening. I stopped to listen to her, but I stayed in the shadows. At one point, one of these young men who was about twenty, very young, very handsome, approached me. He had a cake in his hand. He said, “Julio, take a piece.” So I took a piece and I ate it, and I told him, “Thanks a lot for coming up and giving that to me.” He said to me, “But, listen, I give you so little next to what you’ve given me.” I said, “Don’t say that, don’t say that,” and we embraced and he went away. Well, things like that, that’s the best recompense for my work as a writer. That a boy or a girl comes up to speak to you and to offer you a piece of cake, it’s wonderful. It’s worth the trouble of having written.


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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