This seminar studies a selection of works by expatriate Argentine writer Julio Cortázar (1914-84) in the context of the Latin American new-narrative “boom” and fantastical literature. Emphasis will be placed on attention to noir-like detail, plot turns, and the tension between reality (or verisimilitude) and fantasy (or nightmare). How is it possible that a man can read a novel about his own murder? Why does a traffic accident lead to an Aztec ritual sacrifice? For whom does an epistolary exchange forestall the inevitable? Key concepts for understanding Cortázar are urbanization, visibility, otherness and a sense of international modernity—Paris in the rain, the Greek islands in the sun—that never quite counterbalances an unavoidable collision with Argentine history. In entering into dialogue with existing critical perspectives, we will develop our own sensibility to Cortázar’s work on the centenary of his birth. We will read work by at least one other Spanish American writer of the “boom” to see how Cortázar’s innovations may dovetail with the ideas of others. Beyond the boundaries of Spanish America, Cortázar’s work was often inspired by classical mythology, Renaissance art and American jazz, and inspired at least one film from the French “new wave” cinema. We will examine works from these traditions as well.
Class activities include close reading, literary analysis, discussions, group work, presentations, quiet writing, debates, and visual, literary, and musical analysis. Informal writing assignments will help students organize, express, and communicate reactions to works studied, and will help structure in-class discussions. Writing assignments will help students develop skill in close reading, literary and visual analysis (thematic, critical, and formal) and thesis-based arguments. Class discussions and presentations will enhance students’ speaking skills and their ability to organize and communicate information to fellow Spanish learners. A natural result of our study of the course topics will be to establish useful and profound comparisons and contrasts between different ways of perception that will bring us into critical engagement with the cultures of the Spanish-speaking world and, ideally, increase students’ capacity to consider and interrogate general humanistic themes. Accordingly, in course assignments students will be encouraged to make connections between the texts discussed and their individual academic and professional goals and personal interests.