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The Ambivalence of the Hand in Cortázar's Fiction Author(s): Malva E. Filer Source: Books Abroad, Vol. 50, No. 3 (Summer, 1976), pp. 595-599 Published by: Board of Regents of the University of Oklahoma Stable URL: . Accessed: 20/06/2011 14:06
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chaptersof Rayuela and 62: Modelo para armar and. 31-32 (JanuaryApril 1975).1975. Hands are the members of the human body most actively involved in the individual's psychological and emotional life. in "Cuello de gatito negro" (Neck of the Little Black Cat) from Octaedro. the left with the irrationalor instinctive aspects of the psyche. more recently. Subsequentreferencesare to this edition. however. They can also. . Urbana 1 62 : Modelo para armar. The translationsare my own. The translationsare my own. Before touching on possible psychological connotations of our subject. their return in "No se culpe a nadie" (No One Is To Be Blamed) from Final del juego. 67. p. with the morning sun shining on his blond hair. And the woman ? University of Illinois. pp. Sudamericana. Like Manuel. hurt and kill. 72-80. Rather. a new man in the dawn of the new day. Buenos Aires. 1968. nos. 2 Libro de Manuel. I would like to relate the role he gives to hands to some attitudes or psychological problems. by itself. We can notice their early appearancein "Estacion de la mano" (Season of the Hand).Buenos Aires. popular traditionhas identified the right hand with the rational. The literary possibilities of this inner conflict. And Cortazar has found many imaginative and daring ways of expressing this conflict in his fiction. Subsequentreferencesare to this edition.FILER 595 At the end of this narration there is a small blond boy sitting on the curb. . capable of independent life. I will not make any attempt to explain Cortazar'screations from the point of view of an exclusive psychoanalytic theory. as shown particularly by his main characters. as a subject. 4 MexicoCity. 1973. however. Sudamericana. meaningful. I should point out that the image of autonomous hands is frequent in fantastic tales."1one is led to believe that the subject is important enough to deserve attention. The Ambivalence of the Hand in Cortdzar's Fiction By MALVAE. . 6. 3 In El Urogallo. he symbolizes the Utopiathat can be fulfilled in the future. Within the individual. a youthful short story included in La vuelta al dia en ochenta mundos.The recurrenceof the theme is. 302. for this is the main preoccupation of any human being. they can give love and affection. Excelsior. The translationsare my own. are without boundaries. From there it is a short step to having a hand represent one of the conflicting forces that strive to achieve control of the self. And after reading Cortazar'sstatement concerning his dreams and fears of "hands . Subsequent referencesare to this edition. the newest of new men. p.FILER Hands are of particular significance in Cortazar's fiction. They are a source and instrument of pleasure.

the image of a correct and hopelessly average citizen. to name just a few. By its mere undemanding presence Dg had transformed the life of the narrator.2In "La estacion de la mano" Cortazar mentions the "Etude de mains" by Gautier. lived in harmony for a while."7 fingers threatening the self in much the same manner as we find in Cortazar's "No se culpe a nadie." Cortazar shows nevertheless an obvious ambivalence in his feelings toward the hand.6we find an anticipation of a subjectthat is of significant importancein Cortazar'slater works : the character's inability to enjoy love and beauty without analyzing it and destroying it in the process a longing to liberate himself from routine and convention. The narratorand the hand.) The end is caused by suspicion and fear. an Italian courtesan of the sixteenth century famous for her beauty and spiritual qualities. under the respective titles "Imperia"and "Lacenaire. It is possible that in this early story. It had introduced beauty and love and a poetic feeling of mystery. According to a statement made by Gautier. its five contracted poems. among them Balzac. though by its actions or by association: "The hand was light and it climbed up to its place effortlessly. for Gautier's poems. armeed'onglesde fer Crispeses doigtscrochus Pourme saisir. Not at all demanding. Imperia. and yet a lack of trust in that which is not rational. affectionatepresence. and it was in his home that the poet saw it. it was like a bird or a dry leaf. Without the hand there was nothing to do but put his finances in order. inspired some other French writers. after a sensational trial. (When reading this page one is tempted to think of Dg as an early incarnation of La Maga. Dg had rescued and liberatedhim from the limitations of life. The adjectives used in the poem make of this hand a symbol of evil. was executed in Paris in 1836. If not in the Manichean way of "fitude de mains. until his curiosity and analytic spirit started to undermine this beautiful relationship."describe two different hands representing completely opposite values. get dressed and walk through the city."5It happily blended with nature and freely moved about the room. "Cauchemar. his friend Maxime du Camp had preserved the murderer'shand. infernal terms is the ex- . Its attributes are referred to indirectly. to which he gave the name Dg. By contrast. Authors such as Gerard de Nerval.even 's it is not described physically in detail. whose merits Cortazar has tried to dismiss. with its duties and family relations. impossible dreams and bohemia. it is interesting to note that in one of his there appearsthe image of the severed hand. Returning for a moment to Gautier. made this theme popular and were followed by many others well into this century.596 BOOKS ABROAD especially in the nineteenth century." The poet associates it with images of luxury and sensuality.4 Imperia's hand is described by Gautier as a delicate and beautiful jewel: "Comme une blanche poesie / S'epanouissaitsa beaute. as symbolized by the dream of Dg (a right hand) cutting the narrator'sleft hand.its nimble fingers looking loose and distracted. This marks the withdrawal of the hand and an end to the escape from the demands of reality. In Cortazar story the hand is introduced as a pleasant. Lacenaire was a murderer who.une mainecorchee Qui marchesansle corpsdontelle est arrachee.3 This is a very interesting reference. Maupassant and SheridanLe Fanu. And yet the nightmare described by Gautier in horrifying."The poem startsas follows : Avecsesnerfsrompus.

The individual's being is cleft in two."10 which sounds as if this was an unquestionable rule that the characterwould not even consider challenging. contracted and has a pointed black nail. However. He had to put on the blue pullover. In his book The Divided Self he describesand documents cases of schizophrenia of various degrees of severity. extraordinary elements are usually summoned to force him out of this despicable and abject comfort. In this respect it would be enough to recall "Casa tomada" (The House Taken Over) or "Carta a una senorita en Paris" (Letter to a Young Lady in Paris) from Bestiario. On the other hand. In Cortazar'sfictional world this kind of routine life is the great scandal against which every individual must rebel with all his strength. he finds. and finally the character'shead emerges from the asphyxiating pullover. For the hand. this last remark is made in the impersonal form : "hayque ponerseel pulover azul. a feeling that rapidly increases to culminate in unmitigated horror. D. where they had to select a wedding gift. Laing is perhaps the most illuminating. scratchesand pinches him. cualquier cosa que vaya bien con el trajegris. man becomes his own enemy and the self is turned into a battlefieldfor warring forces. he cannot help admitting that it is very tempting to accept this world. Among the many authors who have studied the psychological elements involved in a split of self and body. already organized for us. no longer subject to its owner's will. undivided self. At the same time. And if he is not able or willing to do so. only to face five black nails striking against his eyes and pushing him into death. "There is a persistent scission between the self and the body." we find from the beginning the symptoms of such a schizoid condition in Cortazar'scharacter. The only finger emerging from inside the pullover's sleeve looks wrinkled."9 As we read "No se culpe a nadie. can still face it from the fortress of an unquestioned. . After all. What kind of inner conflict could be represented by this nightmare of having a part of the character'sown body attack and destroy him? One wonders if the man with the blue pullover was not suffering from the restrictions of a very conventional life-style and the split was not a rebellion against that part of the self that had submitted to the tyranny of domestic and social duties. one gets an immediate hint of something uncanny. . And yet putting on and taking off those acceptable clothes throughout the winter made him feel he was becoming increasingly withdrawn and alienated. terrorized as he might be by the image of death.In the schizoid condition. the horror is compounded when. and to respect the established . In Spanish.He looks at his hand (later on we find out that it is his right hand) as if it were not on his own.where the illness occurs in responseto the impossibility of keeping a unified sense of self-identity.FILER 597 pression of a soul who. producing a disembodied self and a body that is a thing that the self looks at. becauseit matched his gray suit. In Historias de cronopios y de jamas Cortazar expresses his rebellion against the objects and persons that make up our everyday life and the mechanical ways by which we relate to them.8R. "Tema para San Jorge" (Theme for Saint George) from La vuelta al dia shows his contempt and hatred for routine. the character had reluctantlymoved to get dressed only because his wife would be waiting for him in a store. as in Cortazar's story. . regarding it at times as though it were just another thing in the world. While reading this peculiar description at the beginning of the story.

Despite her claims of not being able to control her hands. "The arrival through illusions to a plane. Those hands had ended up by obsessing us. comes after intensive sexual gratification and is as much aggressive toward the man as it is self-destructive.The action starts on the subway." The introductionof Frau Marta in 62 is also made through referencesto her hands: "From an early stage our attention had been fixed on Frau Marta'shands. and hands generally in Rayuela. Oliveira had not had a chance to find out her name.. . are never threatening. the man feels encouraged into "pursuing the adventure and carrying it to the predictable sexual experience. a zone impossible to imagine. totally free of any control or inhibition. showed him a center. useless to attempt conception of because all thought destroyed it as soon as it attempted to isolate it. especially Rayuela and 62. A hand of smoke took his hand. However. The hand. soon loses any remnant of self-control. turned into gaffs. when Pola's hands were already the object of his obsessive attention. which the desperate woman cannot prevent.From this . Oliveira meets Pola through her hands."the object of his desperate search. causing her extreme anguish and embarrassment. for Oliveira. . viciously attack him. Only here the attackeris a part of the individual's own body. some sort of infinitely beautiful and desperateillusion which some time back he had called immortality. In fact. the emission of an incomprehensiblelanguage. fearful of yielding at first."15 The obsession with hands.598 BOOKS ABROAD function of each one of its objects. of blackish claws". that morning at the Capricorno. if it was downward. and her nails leave his face bleeding from his eyes and lips. . and the punishment is nothing less than total destruction."12 Chapter 76 of Rayuela makes insistent reference to Pola's hands. where the man finds himself in the unusual position of having a woman's fingers provocativelyclimbing over his own hand. just as Tell.Her hands. Hands are very noticeable in Cortazar's novels.11The five fingers that destroy the man with the blue pullover seem to perform a role equivalent to the materialized obsessions or doubles in his other stories. trying to castratehim. if it was a center. would intercede to provide an escape from the limits of reason and find access to the "center. Her hands move on their own. and after that a world against the grain began."13There is a similarity between the description of Frau Marta's hands "riffling through an ancient black purse" and Pola's opening her purse. however.had been caught by the arachnoid way in which Frau Marta had verbally entangled the English girl so as to win the right to go up to her table."14 both cases the hands symbolicallyopen the way to some kind of mystical experience. The inner conflict is seen from outside. some significant new elements. looking at them. which gives Oliveira "the feeling that the clasp is guarding In against an entry into a sign of the zodiac. The savage attack. What is attacked is the imprisoned. Frau Marta's hands are related to her "arachnoidways" and altogether sinister appearance. But whereas Pola's hands. through the main character. This time it is a woman who presents us with a split self. startedhim downward." The situation includes. And here again we find the idea of the hand as intercessor:"You moved that hand as if you were touching a limit.They have "something of an owl about them. finds a new expression in "Cuello de gatito negro. the woman. clearly stated in 62. Juan "ended up feeling ..whose only role is that of a catalytic agent. mechanized or overly domesticatedself.

15 62: A ModelKit. 3 Theophile Gautier. death. 1975. 1955. New York. London. 36 and 37 of the Oeuvrescompletes. If we try to summarize the different roles that hands play in Cortazar's fiction.Ungar. 1938. 79-80. Dutton. and Maurice Sandoz. 1967. In fact. 5 Julio Cortazar. Pantheon. and particularly when they prove capable of independent activity. 1975. 10 Final de Juego. 145. Conrad.1945. 1968.. 1964. Paris. chapter 12. They want to break the bars built by reason and morals but are at the same time extremely fearful of doing so. The Beast with Five Fingers. p. is nevertheless a source of anxiety at a deeper level. Buenos Aires. New York. 2 The theme of the severed hand appears in Gerard de Nerval. New York. Gregory Rabassa. tendernessand nostalgia are also evoked by this product of a younger period. pp. Siglo XXI. 1967. 9 London. Buenos Aires." "pretentious" and "naive" to describe its quality. to different degrees of aggression and self-destruction. Pantheon. Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu.If the interpretationproposed here were to be accepted as correct." of which there is an English version in Short Stories. New York. 13. Mexico City. Poesies completes. taken from Nerval's La main de gloire. However. Dutton. 13 62: A Model Kit. Penguin. Their presence is connected with different attempts at liberating the individual from the limitations of reason. tr. Paris. The House by the London. One wonders if Cortazar's rating of his own work is really as negative as the derogatory adjectives just quoted seem to indicate. Karl Menninger studies the implications of different cases and degrees of selfmutilation in Man Against Himself. 14 Hopscotch. 1970. 49. New York.1966. p. 11-12. New York. moral convention and the mechanization by routine. in general. Nizet. p. CUNY 1 Evelyn Picon Garfield. the liberation of instincts which the author's charactershave rationally advocated. 1972." in Contes drolatiques. However. Sudamcricana.FILER 599 point of view "Cuello de gatito negro" brings back to the reader memories of "Circe" from Bestiario. 18. 1947. Guy de Maupassant. Harvey. Doubleday. Brooklyn College. to the castration complex. 11 Historiasde cronopiosy de famas. Twenty Tales of the Uncanny. as is shown above. Harcourt Brace& World. 4 Honore de Balzac. 1966.p. 162. it would help us to understand why the hand in Cortazar's fiction is an ambivalent if not altogether threatening presence. New York." in La boheme galante. William F. among later authors. The struggle within the self often leads. "fitude de mains" is part of fimaux et camees. pp. Julio Cortdzar. 6 In a marginal note added to the story by the author he uses words such as "silly. we find that they seem to symbolize instinct. Minotauro. dd. and Church-Yard. 1912-32. 78. vol. vols. The epigraph.particularlyin Libro de Manuel. there seems to be sufficient reason to believe that Cortazar's charactersare torn between the conscious desire to free their repressed instincts and the intensive fear and distrust of anything instinctive and irrational. 80-81. . 167. Paris. is also meaningful.. The translationis my own. for it gives the image of nails as sharp claws waiting to devour their victim and throw him into the mouth of the abyss that is. tr. "La main. p. Blond. 389. "La belle Imperia" and "La belle Imperia mariee. ^Hopscotch." in Fantastic Memories (English version of Souvenirs jantastiques). 8 In his essay on "The Uncanny" (The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works. 1932. Hilsum.For in the two storiesthe man makes the gesture to strangle the woman but does not complete the act that in both situations would seem more compassionate than leaving her a prey of her own self-destructiveimpulses. 17) Sigmund Freud links the uncanniness of dismembered limbs. pp. imagination and. "La main enchantee. "The Hairy Hand. Gregory Rabassa. such as a severed head or a hand cut off at the wrist. the irrational. intuition. p. 7 Poesies completes. La vuelta al dia en ochenta mundos.