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Hallucination and Nightmare in Two Stories by Cortázar

Hallucination and Nightmare in Two Stories by Cortázar

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Published by: Jacob Steinberg on Jun 24, 2012
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Hallucination and Nightmare in Two Stories by CortázarAuthor(s): Lanin A. GyurkoSource:
The Modern Language Review,
Vol. 67, No. 3 (Jul., 1972), pp. 550-562Published by: Modern Humanities Research AssociationStable URL:
Accessed: 30/11/2008 22:31
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HALLUCINATIONAND NIGHTMAREIN TWO STORIESBYCORTAZAR
Withinthefictionalworld of the modernArgentineauthorJulioCortazar,theexternallife of thecharacters,most oftenamundane orvapidexistence,iscon-stantlyunderminedbyhallucination,nightmare,andobsessivedelusionsthat forthesolipsisticindividuals becomeamonstrousreality.Oftenthese fantasies aredefensivereactions tofear,guilt,oranguishandserve to reduceanxietythroughtheprojectionofanafflicted stateofminduponan externalobjectorpresence.But whatbeginasadjustivedelusionsendbyoverpoweringanddefeatingthecharacters.Paradoxically,theextremely negativerolethatfantasy playsinthelives ofCorta-zar's characters demonstratesthat he isfundamentallyarealist.No authenticexistencecan be constructedbyretreatintotheselfandbyobliviousness tothepressuresand demandsoftheexternalworld,aworld oftenconsideredodiousbythecharacters.Thesefiguresarebroughtintoviolentconfrontationwithanadverserealityofage,death,crippingillness,orsocialconstrictions,ortheyareforced toassumemoralresponsbilityfor theirownself-seekingbehaviourof thepastwhoseconsequencestheyhaveattemptedtoavoidthroughphysical flightormentalsuppression,or both. Self-delusion leadsonlytoself-destruction.Twostoriesinwhichtheescapistworldsoftheprincipalcharacters aredramatic-allyandirreversiblydemolishedare'Casa tomada'and'Cefalea'.1 Bothstoriesportraylonely,frightened,andpatheticallyweakcharacters whoseidentitiesareeasily usurped.These characters are alienated notonlyfromexternalrealitybutalsofromtheself.'Cefalea'depictsagroupofpatientswho suffer fromdevastatingattacksofvertigoandmigraineheadaches. As aprotectivetherapy,thepatientssubmergethemselvesinfantasy,creatinganelaboratedreamworldinwhichtheygiveexactingcaretomancuspias,elicateanimalsthat arebuttheprojectionsoftheirowndebilitatedstate. Thepatientsstriveto convincethemselves ofthe con-creterealityof theirdelusions,whichappearat first to offerthem liberationfromtheirphysicalandmental afflictions. Buttheirhallucinatoryworld isimpossibletosustain.Themancuspiasegintostarveand then todie,areflectionof theworseningofthepatients'owncondition and theircollapseintoinsanityanddeath.In'Casatomada'the narratorrecounts the takeoverbymysterious,phantasmaloccupantsof themansionthatheshareswithhissister. Thestrangenoises that heand Irenehearin thenightare emanationsof their ownguiltyconsciences,which afflictthembecauseof their maintenance ofanincestuousrelationshipintheveryhomeof theirancestors.Unlikethepatientsin'Cefalea',whonurturetheirfantasies,thebrotherandsisterin 'Casatomada'attempttodenytheinfluence oftheirhallu-cinationsand seekto maintain their normalroutineofactivities,untilfinallytheirdelusionsincreaseinstrengthandjoltthem out oftheir narcotizedexistence. Atfirstthecoupleseek toridthemselvesoftheirguilt merely byrefusingtoacknow-ledgeit,thatis,byisolatingthestrangeinvadersinonepartofthehouse.Buttheyareforcedtowardthe traumaticand inevitable confrontationbetween selfandworldthattheyhavelongsoughttoavoidbyshieldingthemselvesbehindobsessivebutessentially meaningless activity.
1Both arefromCortazar'sfirst collection ofshortstories,BestiarioBuenosAires,
1951).
Subsequentreferencesaretothe tentheditionofBestiario1969)and areincludedin thetext.
 
LANIN A. GYURKO
55I
The charactersof bothstories aredehumanized.In'Cefalea'the most awesomepresenceisthat of the bizarrediseases.In'Casatomada',as the titleimplies,themostimportantpresenceistheimmense house that forms notonlythecentre butalmostthe reason for existenceofthecouple.Theedificethatthey personalizewithaffection-'Nos resultabagratoalmorzarpensandoen la casaprofunda ysilen-ciosa'(p.9)-is thewomb that offersthemcomfortandsecurity,protectingtheirfragileselvesfrom theexigenciesof the real world.Thehouseisalso asymbolofthe mind.Itis bothmemory-'guardabalos recuerdos de nuestrosbisabuelos,el abuelopaterno,nuestrospadresytodalainfancia'(p. 9)-and conscience'Avecesllegamosa creerqueera ellalaquenonosdej6casarnos'(p.9)-amoral forcethat acts topreventthe consummation ofincest.' Thelabyrinthinequalityofthe househasbeenemphasized byAndreu:Onal'impresionde tournerenrond,d'arpentervainement unddificehermetiquementclos.Alalongueon se sentprisonnierdece couloir.Inexplicablementlesouvertures ou lesfenetres semblenttotalement absentesde cette maison dont la seule issue est la'puertacancel'quidonne surla rue. Nous sommesdans unesouriciere.2Thephysicallabyrinthof themansionsymbolizesthelabyrinthof a distressedconsciousness.Thefeelingofentrapmentwithin the houserepresentsthe characters'isolationwithintheselfand theirinabilityto find awayout of theirpredicament.3Both thenarratorand Irene retreatinto an absurd and futiledailyroutine.Irene becomesamodernPenelope, attemptingto maskheranxietyand tofilltheemptinessofher lifebyincessantknittingandunravelling.Her brother is evenmorepassive.He findsdiversion forhours ata timemerelyinwatchingher. He ismes-merizedbytheunstintingly repetitiveaction:mostrabaunadestrezamaravillosayamise me iban las horasviendolelasmanos comoerizosplateados,agujasyendo yviniendoyuna o dos canastillasenel suelo dondeseagitabanconstantementelos ovillos.Erahermoso.(p. I)Althoughthenarratorattemptsto stress thevalue ofIrene'sknitting:'tejiacosassiemprenecesarias'(p.IO),thefutilityof both of their livesissymbolizedbythepileofgarmentsthat he onedaydiscovers hiddeninadrawer,useless becausethecouplehasno needto wear or sellthem. The brother furtherattemptstoexculpateIreneby emphasizingher innocuousness:'Irene era una chicanacidaparanomolestara nadie'(p.Io).Hesuppresseshisownidentityaswell,notonlyin hisfatuoussubordinationto the role ofobserver of his sister'sactivitybut alsoinhisattributingmuch moreimportanceto thehouse thanto himself. Heconverts themansioninto theprotagonistofhis account:'Peroes de la casaqueme interesahablar,dela casaydeIrene,porqueyonotengo importancia' (p.II).Hedesires,
1Thequotationisdeliberatelyambiguous.The brothermaybeintendingtosaythatthehouseexertssuchastrongholdon both his sister and himself thattheycannotbreakawayinorder tomarryan outsider.Yethis use of'casarnos',withoutspecificallyindicatingwithwhom,canalso betakento
meanwithoneanother.
2
JeanL.Andreu,'Pour une lecture de "Casa tomada"deJulioCortazar',CaravelleCahiersdemondehispaniquetluso-bresilien),
0
(1968),62.
3
Theisolationof the narratorandIrenewithin their houseinBuenos Aires alsosymbolizestheisolationofArgentinafromthe world. The brother condemnshiscountrybothindirectly, throughhis markedpreferencefor Frenchliterature,anddirectlyinasingle bitingstatement about theprovincialnessandcensorshipofhishomeland:'Desde1939nollegabanadavalioso a laArgentina'(p.
I).
Thus theescapistandemptyworld within thehouseisironicallyjuxtaposedwiththe cul-turallvvacuousone outsideit.

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