- Birthday, Books, Quotes, Reading, Writing

Julio Cortázar on Writing, Language, Literature, Living Absurdly, and More


Happy birthday, Julio Cortázar! Here are some quotes from the writer.


“‘What good is a writer if he can’t destroy literature?'”


“‘Being alive always seems to be the price of something.'”


“In quoting others, we cite ourselves.”


“If we are not capable of essentially changing the negativity that is attempting to surround us and crush us, we will have failed in our specific mission and potential.”


“‘Only by living absurdly is it possible to break out of this infinite absurdity.’”


“When responsible writers give the most of themselves as creators, everything they write will be a weapon in that difficult battle we wage day in and day out. A love poem, a totally imaginary short story, these are the most powerful proofs that there is no dictatorship or repression that can put an end to that deep connection between our best writers and the reality of our peoples, a reality that needs beauty as much as it needs truth and justice.”


“The vanity of believing that we understand the works of time: it buries its dead and keeps the keys. Only in dreams, in poetry, in play—do we sometimes arrive at what we were before we were this thing that, who knows, we are.”


“I shall keep on feeling less and less and remembering more and more, but what is memory if not the language of feeling, a dictionary of faces and days and smells which repeat themselves like the verbs and adjectives in a speech, sneaking in behind the thing itself, into the pure present, making us sad or teaching us vicariously until one’s self itself becomes a vicar, the backward-looking face opens its eyes wide, the real face slowly becomes dim as in old pictures and Janus is suddenly any one of us.”


“Often, there is no difference between a speech by a leader on the right and one by a leader on the left⁠—on the level of language. They use the same clichés, the same inexhaustible repetitions of stereotyped sentences…”


“If a book wants to question and doubt many things that are taken for granted or codified, how can the writer manage to do that, to put all those things in doubt? Apparently, he has to write, his only tool is language, but what language should he use? That’s where the problem begins, because if he uses the language that expresses the world he is attacking, that language will betray him. How can he denounce something with tools that are used by the enemy, that is, stratified, codified language, a language already used by the masters and their disciples?”


“What counts and what I have tried to recount is the affirmative sign that stands face to face with the rising steps of disdain and fear, and that affirmation must be the most solar, the most vital part of man: his playful and erotic thirst, his freedom from taboos, his demand for a dignity shared by everybody in a land free at last of that daily horizon of fangs and dollars.”


“As if you could pick in love, as if it were not a lightning bolt that splits your bones and leaves you staked out in the middle of a courtyard.”


“Why am I writing this? I have no clear ideas, I do not even have ideas. There are tugs, impulses, blocks, and everything is looking for a form, then rhythm comes into play and I write within that rhythm, I write by it, moved by it and not by that thing they call thought and which turns out prose, literature, or what have you. First there is a confused situation, which can only be defined by words; I start out from this half-shadow and if what I mean (if what is meant) has sufficient strength, the swing begins at once, a rhythmic swaying that draws me to the surface, lights everything up, conjugates this confused material and the one who suffers it into a clear third somehow fateful level: sentence, paragraph, page, chapter, book. This swaying, this swing in which confused material goes about taking shape, is for me the only certainty of its necessity, because no sooner does it stop than I understand that I no longer have anything to say. And it is also the only reward for my work: to feel that what I have written is like the back of a cat as it is being petted, with sparks and an arching in cadence. In that way by writing I go down into the volcano, I approach the Mothers, I connect with the Center—whatever it may be. Writing is sketching my mandala and at the same time going through it, inventing purification by purifying one’s self […]”


“No, but thinking about it frankly, the most absurd thing about these lives we pretend to lead are the false contacts in them. Isolated orbits, from time to time two hands will shake, a five minute chat, a day at the races, a night at the opera, a wake where everybody feels a little more united (and it’s true, but then it’s all over just when it’s time for linking up). And all the same one lives convinced his friends are there, that contact does exist, that agreements or disagreements are profound and lasting. How we all hate each other, without being aware that endearment is the current form of that hatred, and how the reason behind profound hatred is this excentration, the unbridgeable space between me and you, between this and that. All endearment is an ontological clawing, yes, an attempt to seize the unseizable…”


“Nothing is lost if one has the courage to proclaim that all is lost and we must begin anew.”


“Yes, but who will cure us of the dull fire, the colorless fire that at nightfall runs along the Rue de la Huchette, emerging from the crumbling doorways, from the little entranceways, of the image-less fire that licks the stones and lies in wait in doorways, how shall we cleanse ourselves of the sweet burning that comes after, that nests in us forever allied with time and memory, with sticky things that hold us here on this side, and which will burn sweetly in us until we have been left in ashes. How much better, then, to make a pact with cats and mosses, strike up friendship right away with hoarse-voiced concierges, with the pale and suffering creatures who wait in windows and toy with a dry branch. To burn like this without surcease, to bear the inner burning coming on like fruit’s quick ripening, to be the pulse of a bonfire in this thicket of endless stone, walking through the nights of our life, obedient as our blood in its blind circuit.”


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