Cefalea in inglese

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Hallucination and Nightmare in Two Stories by Cortázar
Author(s): Lanin A. Gyurko
Source: The Modern Language Review, Vol. 67, No. 3 (Jul., 1972), pp. 550-562
Published by: Modern Humanities Research Association
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/3726124
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HALLUCINATION AND NIGHTMARE
IN TWO STORIES BY CORTAZAR
Within the fictional world of the modern Argentine author Julio Cortazar, the
external life of the characters, most often a mundane or vapid existence, is constantly undermined by hallucination, nightmare, and obsessive delusions that for
the solipsistic individuals become a monstrous reality. Often these fantasies are
defensive reactions to fear, guilt, or anguish and serve to reduce anxiety through the
projection of an afflicted state of mind upon an external object or presence. But what
begin as adjustive delusions end by overpowering and defeating the characters.
Paradoxically, the extremely negative role that fantasy plays in the lives of Cortazar's characters demonstrates that he is fundamentally a realist. No authentic
existence can be constructed by retreat into the self and by obliviousness to the
pressures and demands of the external world, a world often considered odious by
the characters. These figures are brought into violent confrontation with an adverse
reality of age, death, cripping illness, or social constrictions, or they are forced to
assume moral responsbility for their own self-seeking behaviour of the past whose
consequences they have attempted to avoid through physical flight or mental
suppression, or both. Self-delusion leads only to self-destruction.
Two stories in which the escapist worlds of the principal characters are dramatically and irreversibly demolished are 'Casa tomada' and 'Cefalea'.1 Both stories
portray lonely, frightened, and pathetically weak characters whose identities are
easily usurped. These characters are alienated not only from external reality but
also from the self. 'Cefalea' depicts a group of patients who suffer from devastating
attacks of vertigo and migraine headaches. As a protective therapy, the patients
submerge themselves in fantasy, creating an elaborate dreamworld in which they
give exacting care to mancuspias,delicate animals that are but the projections of
their own debilitated state. The patients strive to convince themselves of the concrete reality of their delusions, which appear at first to offer them liberation from
their physical and mental afflictions. But their hallucinatory world is impossible to
sustain. The mancuspias
begin to starve and then to die, a reflection of the worsening
of the patients' own condition and their collapse into insanity and death. In 'Casa
tomada' the narrator recounts the takeover by mysterious, phantasmal occupants
of the mansion that he shares with his sister. The strange noises that he and Irene
hear in the night are emanations of their own guilty consciences, which afflict
them because of their maintenance of an incestuous relationship in the very home
of their ancestors. Unlike the patients in 'Cefalea', who nurture their fantasies, the
brother and sister in 'Casa tomada' attempt to deny the influence of their hallucinations and seek to maintain their normal routine of activities, until finally their
delusions increase in strength and jolt them out of their narcotized existence. At
first the couple seek to rid themselves of their guilt merely by refusing to acknowledge it, that is, by isolating the strange invaders in one part of the house. But they
are forced toward the traumatic and inevitable confrontation between self and
world that they have long sought to avoid by shielding themselves behind obsessive
but essentially meaningless activity.
1 Both are from Cortazar's first collection of short stories, Bestiario(Buenos Aires,
1951). Subsequent
references are to the tenth edition of Bestiario(1969) and are included in the text.
LANIN
A.
GYURKO
55I
The characters of both stories are dehumanized. In 'Cefalea' the most awesome
presence is that of the bizarre diseases. In 'Casa tomada', as the title implies, the
most important presence is the immense house that forms not only the centre but
almost the reason for existence of the couple. The edifice that they personalize with
'Nos resultaba grato almorzar pensando en la casa profunda y silenaffectionciosa' (p. 9) - is the womb that offers them comfort and security, protecting their
fragile selves from the exigencies of the real world. The house is also a symbol of
the mind. It is both memory - 'guardaba los recuerdos de nuestros bisabuelos,
el abuelo paterno, nuestros padres y toda la infancia' (p. 9) - and conscience
'A veces llegamos a creer que era ella la que no nos dej6 casarnos' (p. 9) - a
moral force that acts to prevent the consummation of incest.' The labyrinthine
quality of the house has been emphasized by Andreu:
On a l'impresion de tourner en rond, d'arpenter vainement un ddifice hermetiquement clos.
A la longue on se sent prisonnier de ce couloir. Inexplicablement les ouvertures ou les
fenetres semblent totalement absentes de cette maison dont la seule issue est la 'puerta
cancel' qui donne sur la rue. Nous sommes dans une souriciere.2
The physical labyrinth of the mansion symbolizes the labyrinth of a distressed
consciousness. The feeling of entrapment within the house represents the characters'
isolation within the self and their inability to find a way out of their predicament.3
Both the narrator and Irene retreat into an absurd and futile daily routine.
Irene becomes a modern Penelope, attempting to mask her anxiety and to fill the
emptiness of her life by incessant knitting and unravelling. Her brother is even more
passive. He finds diversion for hours at a time merely in watching her. He is mesmerized by the unstintingly repetitive action:
mostraba una destreza maravillosa y a mi se me iban las horas viendole las manos como
erizos plateados, agujas yendo y viniendo y una o dos canastillas en el suelo donde se agitaban
constantemente los ovillos. Era hermoso. (p. I)
Although the narrator attempts to stress the value of Irene's knitting: 'tejia cosas
siempre necesarias' (p. IO), the futility of both of their lives is symbolized by the
pile of garments that he one day discovers hidden in a drawer, useless because the
couple has no need to wear or sell them. The brother further attempts to exculpate
Irene by emphasizing her innocuousness: 'Irene era una chica nacida para no
molestar a nadie' (p. Io). He suppresses his own identity as well, not only in his
fatuous subordination to the role of observer of his sister's activity but also in his
attributing much more importance to the house than to himself. He converts the
mansion into the protagonist of his account: 'Pero es de la casa que me interesa
hablar, de la casa y de Irene, porque yo no tengo importancia' (p. I I). He desires,
1 The quotation is deliberately ambiguous. The brother may be intending to say that the house
exerts such a strong hold on both his sister and himself that they cannot break away in order to marry
an outsider. Yet his use of 'casarnos', without specifically indicating with whom, can also be taken to
mean withoneanother.
2 Jean L. Andreu, 'Pour une lecture de "Casa tomada" de Julio Cortazar', Caravelle(Cahiersde
mondehispaniqueet luso-bresilien),10 (1968), 62.
3 The isolation of the narrator and Irene within their house in Buenos Aires also symbolizes the
isolation of Argentina from the world. The brother condemns his country both indirectly, through
his marked preference for French literature, and directly in a single biting statement about the
provincialness and censorship of his homeland: 'Desde 1939 no llegaba nada valioso a la Argentina'
(p. I ). Thus the escapist and empty world within the house is ironically juxtaposed with the culturallv vacuous one outside it.
552
IallucinationandNightmarein Cortazar
by converting himself into a non-thinking, non-acting entity, to efface the self.
He becomes a foetus attached to the outside world through the umbilical cord of his
rent income and to Irene by the thread of her knitting. Although the brother states
that Irene 'rechazo dos pretendientes sin mayor motivo' (p. 9), one of the reasons
for her rejection of the suitors is that she too prefers her sheltered life in the world
she has known since childhood, a life without the necessity to adjust to new persons
or to maternal responsibilities. In their isolationist existence, the narrator and his
sister are similar to Luis and Laura, the married couple in Cortazar's 'Cartas de
mama' (Las armassecretas(I959)), who flee from Buenos Aires to Paris. There they
attempt to maintain the facade of a happy marriage by submergence in a sterile
routine of card games and movies, while the problem gnawing at the heart of their
relationship - their guilt feelings over the death of Luis's brother Nico, the suitor
that Laura jilted back in Argentina - becomes more severe precisely because it is
not confronted nor even acknowledged.
The narrator of 'Casa tomada' and his sister also refuse to confront their guilt.
Both hide their true feelings in front of one another. Upon first hearing the strange
sounds, the brother does not go to investigate nor does he even entertain the
possibility that their source could be an innocuous one. Instead, with a desperation
that contrasts markedly with his customary listlessness,he hurls himself against the
door to keep the invaders from advancing: 'Me tire contra la puerta antes de que
fuera demasiado tarde, la cerre de golpe apoyando el cuerpo' (p. 13). The alacrity
and decisiveness with which he responds indicate not only that he has intuited the
ominous nature of the sounds he has preferred to describe as 'impreciso' but also
that he may have been anticipating an intrusion of this nature and may have planned his reaction. Significant too is that he does not describe the noises to Irene as
being ambiguous but instead gives her a laconic explanation of his perceptions
and strange response, that, even more curiously, Irene accepts:
'Tuve que cerrarla puertadel pasillo.Han torado la partedel fondo.'
Dej6 caer el tejidoy me mir6 con sus gravesojoscansados.
'iEstasseguro?'
Asenti.
'Entonces',dijo recogiendolas agujas,'tendremosque vivir en este lado.' (p. 14)
The narrator does not have to clarify to whom the apparently enigmatic 'han
tomado' refers. Irene understands, as if she too had been anticipating the occurrence, and outwardly resigns herself to the occupation. An indication that both
Irene and the brother may consider the takeover as a legitimate one is that they
do not summon the police or make any attempt to reclaim the occupied part of
the house or even to protest indignantly against the invasion. On the contrary,
both pretend to act as if nothing serious had happened. Instead of discussing the
intrusion, the narrator prefers to return to his stupefied contemplation of Irene,
using the image of his sister to blot out all thoughts of the traumatic incident:
'Yo cebaba el mate con mucho cuidado, pero ella tardo un rato en reanudar su
labor. Me acuerdo que tenia un chaleco gris; a mi me gustaba ese chaleco' (p. 14).
The quickness of the brother's response initially keeps the invaders from occupying the whole of the house. His physical action of slamming the door symbolizes
his mental response of suppressing the guilt feelings that have begun to afflict his
conscience. Although for a short time the couple experience difficulties in adjusting
to the loss of their prized possessions, they quickly begin to rationalize their new
LANIN
A.
GYURKO
553
existence - much of it an abbreviated version of their old routine - on the
grounds of convenience:
Pero tambien tuvimos ventajas. La limpieza se simplific6 tanto que aun levantandose
tardisimo, a las nueve y media por ejemplo, no daban las once y ya estabamos de brazos
cruzados...
Irene estaba contenta porque le quedaba mas tiempo para tejer. (p. 15)
Instead of causing them to abandon their life style, the initial invasion ironically
serves only to heighten the absurdity of the couple's existence as they increase their
dedication to the old routine. Irene knits even more. The narrator accommodates
by channelling his dissatisfaction over the loss of his library into preoccupation
with rearranging his father's stamp collection. A motive for their behaviour is
indicated by Malva Filer who describes many of Cortazar's characters as 'seres que
se aferran desesperadamente a un sistema de vida que, aunque absurdo, les da una
falsa sensaci6n de seguridad'.1
Deliberately blinding themselves to their real problem, Irene and the narrator
concentrate on trivia and attempt to convince themselves of the feasibility of their
existence: 'Estabamos bien, y poco a poco empezabamos a no pensar. Se puede
vivir sin pensar' (p. I6). Their behaviour is regressive; they deny their reasoning
capability. Throughout his narratives Cortazar deflates and burlesques characters
who refuse to confront their problems rationally but instead take refuge in selfdelusion or pretence. In 'Cefalea' the hapless patients of Dr Harbin naively believe
that they can successfully retreat into self and remain oblivious to their ever
worsening condition. The fatuous members of the family in Cortazar's 'La salud
de los enfermos' (Todos losfuegos elfuego (1966) ), helpless in times of crisis, establish
a
an elaborate pretence to conceal the death of Alejandro from his motherfabrication that absorbs more and more of their time and effort and which they
foolishly come to accept as a reality. Alina Reyes, the imperious and volatile
protagonist of'Lejana' (Bestiario (I951) ), becomes apprehensive as she approaches
the strange beggar woman on the bridge whom she sees as an alternate self. But
she is totally caught up in her delusions of grandeur. She refuses to think, suppresses her misgivings, and blindly throws herself into an embrace expecting to be
confirmed in her identity as queen. Instead the meeting with her double leads to
the loss of her regal self and of her sanity, as she is forced to assume the identity of
the beggar. In 'Cartas de mama' Luis believes he can solve the problem of Nico
by destroying the letters of mama that mention the brother as alive and by convincing himself and Laura that the mother is insane. But the fact that both Luis and
Laura go to the railway station expecting to see Nico arrive in Paris on the day
announced by mama indicates the fragility of their marital harmony and the
inefficacy of their pretence.
Similarly, although Irene and her brother are outwardly resigned and tranquil,
there are indications of their deep disturbance within. Whenever they use the
kitchen, which borders on the occupied zone, they speak in loud voices to block
out the sounds of the intruders and to reduce their apprehensiveness. Irene's
singing of lullabies in the kitchen is not only a form of 'whistling in the dark' but
- perhaps the spirits of
may also be an attempt to convince the ghostly occupiers
1 Malva E. Filer, Los mundosdeJulio Cortdzar(New York, I970), p. 39.
554
HallucinationandNightmarein Cortazar
their ancestors1- that she intends to fulfil her maternal responsibilities and keep
the family line from dying out. Although the narrator seeks to rationalize their
use of the kitchen only once a day - 'Nos alegramos porque siempre resulta
molesto tener que abandonar los dormitorios al atardecer y ponerse a cocinar'
(p. 5) - it is not laziness but fear that keeps them from entering the kitchen
during the evening. Significantly, the sounds of the mysterious occupiers are all
heard at night. The expulsion of Irene and her brother that marks the climax of
the story also occurs at I I p.m. By day the couple are able successfully to suppress
their guilt feelings. It is only during the night, when their conscious defences relax
and weaken, that subconscious feelings surface through hallucination and nightmare. What they believe is an invasion of the house is an invasion of the mind.
The insomnia and nightmares that both of them suffer indicate that their imperturbability is only a defensive facade:
(CuandoIrene sofiabaen alta voz yo me desvelabaen seguida.Nunca pude habituarmea
esa voz de estatuao papagayo,voz que viene de los suefiosy no de la garganta.Irenedecia
que mis sueniosconsistianen grandessacudonesque a veces haciancaer el cobertor....)
(p. I6)
But the narrator refuses to admit that his sudden awakenings are due to his
distressed state. Instead he dismisses them, even placing his description in parentheses in order to give the impression that the disturbance is only a trivial one.
After the strange inhabitants move beyond the initial barrier, the oak door, to
take over the rest of the house, the couple hastily depart. From abject passivity
the brother is forced into panicked action. The series of verbs in the imperfect tense
that characterizes the opening of the narrative - 'Nos gustaba la casa'; 'haciamos
la limpieza' (p. 9) - is now replaced by a seriesof preterites that signify the abruptness and finality of the change in their existence: 'cerre bien la puerta de entrada y
tire la llave a la alcantarilla' (p. 19). Even though he has left a large sum of money
behind, the fear of the narrator is so great that he abandons the house with no
thought of resistance. The sudden, dramatic quality of the expulsion is analysed
by Andreu (p. 55):
cette expulsions'opereen deux dtapes,mais elle s'operede fa?on brutale.Dans les deux
instantsprecisou se manifestel'envahisseur,les deux personnagessont prisd'affolementet
leur agitationconvulsivecontrasteviolemmentavec leur 6tatde qui6tudedansles moments
qui prdcedentou qui suivent la premiereinvasion.
The complete rupture with their old life style is signified by Irene's dropping of
her knitting, the fulcrum of her existence. The yarn is now swallowed up beyond
the vestibule, in the house that has changed from sanctuary to monster. The timeless, semiconscious existence that brother and sister have led now cedes to a forced
confrontation with the reality of the outside world and with the exigencies of
chronological time. Now the narrator looks at his watch; external time has suddenly become very important.
1 Interpretationof the invadingforceas the couple'sancestorsis given by LuisHarssand Barbara
with Latin-AmericanWriters(New York, 1967), p. 218.
Dohmann, Into the Mainstream:Conversations
Nestor GarciaCanclini,Cortdzar:unaantropologia
poetica(BuenosAires, 1968) considersthis as one
interpretationand offersother possibilities:'podriaser el ingresode las nuevas generaciones,intolerantescon la decadenciade los hermanos.Esa decadenciapodriarepresentartambienla declinaci6n de una clasesocial,desplazadapor otra, comosucediaen ciertomodo en la Argentinade aquel
tiempo' (p. 22).
LANIN A. GYURKO
555
Similar to the ending of 'Cartas de mama', when Luis and Laura abandon all
pretence and acknowledge to each other the overwhelming presence of Nico in
their marriage, 'Casa tomada' ends on a note of pathos and helplessness. The
couple have been ignominiously driven out of their womblike paradise, in the
middle of the night and with no money at all and no hope of return. Although they
have broken the meaningless routine of their vegetative existence and have been
forced to become acting individuals - almost as if they were being born again,
this time into the real world - they are two people ill-equipped to cope with reality
even under the most favourable circumstances. Their aimless, complacent life
now has been swept away, but the harsh reality they will have to face does not
seem to offer them a more promising existence.
Like the brother and sister in 'Casa tomada', who attempt to live on the brink of
disaster, the nameless characters of'Cefalea' struggle to lead a 'normal' life that at
every moment runs the risk of being overturned. The sense of tension, ominousness,
and fatalism that characterizes 'Casa tomada' becomes in 'Cefalea' a mood of
imminent catastrophe and terror: 'Nos parece cada vez mas penoso andar, seguir
la rutina; sospechamos que una sola noche de desatenci6n serla funesta para las
mancuspias, la ruina irreparable de nuestra vida' (p. 70). 'Cefalea' is one of the
weirdest and most horrifying of Cortazar'sshort stories. The animal presence found
in all the stories of the collection Bestiario- the prowling tiger, frenetic ants and
hideously green preying mantis of the title story, the destructive rabbits of'Carta a
una sefiorita en Paris', the repulsive cockroaches of 'Circe' - in 'Cefalea' becomes
the animalized diseases, that are evoked as monsters. Migraine headaches become
the terrifying 'cefaleas' that swoop down and attack their victims without warning.
The skittish and pathetic mancuspiasare animalized figments of the patients' disturbed imagination. Even the drugs used to treat their diseases are animalized in
both name and action (Apis, Crotaluscascavella).Finally, there is the degraded,
animal-like existence of the patients themselves, who inhabit what seems to be a
remote farmhouse but what is probably a mental asylum.l Although the house in
'Casa tomada' is both a concrete reality and a symbol of the mind, what the
patients in 'Cefalea' refer to as their house turns out to have no concrete reality at
all - it is a mere fantasy exteriorized by their dislocated psyche: 'Entonces la casa
es nuestra cabeza, la sentimos rondada, cada ventana es una oreja contra el aullar
de las mancuspias ahi afuera' (pp. 89-90). It also becomes a 'casa tomada',
although, unlike the passive Irene and her brother, the patients constantly struggle
to throw off the bizarre diseases that invade them.
The patients are dehumanized into a faceless mass. The only individuals
named in the story are Dr Harbin, who remains in Buenos Aires and is only mentioned once by the narrator, and Chango and Leonor, who are described as
helpers in caring for the mancuspiasbut who presumably are the attendants of the
patients. The narrator, a spokesman for the invalids, speaks as a disembodied voice.
Their total world is that of mental illness. Distinctive physical characteristics and
attire are not described. The patients do not even respond to one another in human
terms. Instead of personal names, they refer to each other by the names of the
1James East Irby analysesthe style of Bestiarioas a whole as 'fluentwith sharp,unexpected,even
hallucinatoryperceptions:a kindof quiet naturalmadnesswhich minutelysubvertsreality'.Consult
his review essay 'Cortazar's Hopscotchand Other Games', Novel, I (I967), 221.
556
Hallucinationand Nightmarein Cortdzar
drugs that are used to combat their illnesses: 'Uno de nosotros es Aconitum'(p. 70);
'El otro, en cambio, es marcadamente Nux Vomica'(p. 71). The narrator characterizes the patients clinically, according to temperament and body type. One who
requires the chemical Phosphorus:'coincide fisicamente con el cuadro fosf6rico: es
alto, delgado, anhela bebidas frias, helados y sal' (p. 71). Within their grotesque
twilight zone of existence, hands and mouths seem to act of their own accord,
dissociated from the mind that is incapable of governing them: 'hacia las cinco nos
abate un sueiio sin reposo del que salen nuestras manos a hora fija para llevar los
globulos a la boca' (p. 84). Common objects like shoes have more integrity than do
their incapacitated owners: 'uno de nosotros deja que las zapatillas se pongan sus
pies' (pp. 84-5).
The drugs that are personified are natural poisons that the patients administer to
themselves as part of a bizarre homeopathic therapy. The Encyclopedia
Britannica
( 197) defines this system of therapeutics as
based upon the 'law of similars' simila similibuscurantur.The essential tenets of homeopathy
arethat the cureof the diseaseis effectedby drugsthat arecapableof producingin a healthy
individualsymptomssimilarto those of the diseasesto be treated.
Sometimes the treatment backfires. When the anxious patients give themselves
overdoses in the hopes of attaining a faster or surer cure, their desperate efforts
lead to new symptoms that often equal in horror the ones that the medication was
designed to suppress. For example, the patient who doses himself with Aconitumto
combat his dizziness is forced to suffer a 'violenta tormenta' (p. 70) and afterwards
is left with a tendency to walk backwards. He has violated the homeopathic
principle that the drugs need to be administered in the most minute dosage possible.
The narrator feels frustrated because he cannot succeed in describing his
symptoms exactly: '(Comoesto, como aquello; pero nunca como es de veras)'
(p. 81). The problem of the impreciseness and inadequacy of language is an
existential one for the patients, who must record their symptoms as precisely as
possible in order for Dr Harbin to prescribe the correct drug for their homeopathic
treatment. Exact language becomes necessary for the patients' survival. The
narrator must develop a new vocabulary of adjective and metaphor in an attempt
to make rational and therefore communicable the phantasmagoria of his experience: 'ese vertigo curioso, transparente,si se nos permite inventar esta expresi6n'
(p. 8o).1
The narrator describes the daily routine of the patients, which consists in the
frantic, dawn-to-dusk care of the petulant mancuspias.Although at the beginning
1 On one level, Cortazar in 'Cefalea' is
toying with the bizarre images that a homeopathic manual
uses to describe the action of certain drugs on various diseases. As he indicates in his epigraphacknowledgement: 'Debemos a la doctora Margaret L. Tyler las imagenes mas hermosas del presente
relato. Su admirable poema, Sintomasorientadoreshacia los remediosmds comunesdel vertigoy cefaleas,
apareci6 en la revista "HOMEOPATIA" ' (p. 69). But Speratti Pifiero indicates another, more personal
factor that influenced the creation of the story in her reference to a letter of Cortazar in which the
author mentions his 'propia experiencia en materia dejaquecas' (Ana Maria Barrenechea and Emma
Susana Speratti Pifiero, La literaturafantdstica en Argentina(Mexico, 1957), p. 77). In an interview
with Luis Harss, Cortazar emphasizes the underlying seriousness of his stories of the fantastic:
' "The truth," says Cortazar, "is that though these stories, seen, let's say, from the
angle of Rayuela,
may seem like games, while I was writing them and when I wrote them I didn't think of them that
way at all. They were glimpses, dimensions, or hints of possibilities that terrified me or fascinated
me and that I had to exhaust by working them off in the story." ' (Harss and Dohmann, Into the
Mainstream,p. 221.)
LANIN
A.
GYURKO
557
of the narrator's account these strange animals seem to be rabbit-like creatures,
as the story progresses they acquire the characteristics of whatever illnesses afflict
the patients. The invalids humanize the mancuspias,projecting first their desires
for health and fulfilment and then their distress and pain on to the imaginary
creatures. An early indication that what the patients respond to as a concrete,
external reality is only a delusion - the metaphor of the world of a stricken consciousness- is given by the narrator's description of his vertigo in terms of the
behaviour of the mancuspias:
Empieza en el momento mismo en que nos domina el suenio,es un perder la estabilidad, un
salto adentro, un v6rtigo que trepa por la columna vertebral hacia el interior de la cabeza;
como el mismo trepar reptante (no hay otra descripci6n) de las pequefias mancuspias por
los postes de los corrales. Entonces, de repente, sobre el pozo negro del suenio donde ya
caiamos deliciosamente, somos ese pozo duro y acido al que trepanjugando las mancuspias.
(P. 75)
Although the patients struggle to keep separate an inner and an outer reality, the
two spheres keep fusing. They have lost all sense of space, including the ability to
distinguish directions and to localize sound. Their unwillingness to face the seriousness of their condition makes them attribute their own anguished cries in the night
first to the mancuspias that they think are howling outside, attempting to get in,
and then to the rats within the farmhouse.
The mancuspiasoriginally play what seems to be a positive role in the otherwise
anguished lives of the patients. Deprived by their devastating illnesses from being
able to work at normal occupations, the invalids fashion themselves as caretakers of
the mancuspias, which they look upon as a means of gaining their livelihood. The
animals serve as part of the patients' therapy (or autotherapy), changing their
self-preoccupation and anxiety into energetic dedication: 'hay que pensar en el
'
Quien
trabajo que espera y de nada serviria desanimarnos tan pronto' (p. 72).
puede pensar en tantas vanidades si la tarea espera en los corrales, en el invernadero y en el tambo?' (p. 72). They derive not only diversion but also a sense of
professional pride and accomplishment from being able to carry out smoothly the
complex and demanding schedule: 'su cria es un trabajo sutil, necesitado de una
precisi6n incesante y minuciosa' (p. 73). They are given a sense of purpose and of
usefulness, an ironic identity. But after the patients are abandoned by their
attendants, they become panicked and dedicate themselves obsessively to their
routine. They are unable to take care of themselves after Chango and Leonor are
gone. What begins as a positive, beneficial hallucination ends up by overexciting
them, increasing their anxiety, sapping their physical and mental energy, and
worsening their state. Ironically, they concentrate on the care of the mancuspiasto
take their minds off their vertigo and in the process become susceptible to worse
afflictions, the dread cefaleas. What the patients originally see as a poetic experience
that gives them comfort and satisfaction - 'Tal vez sea este el momento mas
hermoso de la manana, nos conmueve el alborozo de las pequefias mancuspias y
sus madres, su rumoroso parloteo sostenido' (p. 73) - is replaced by a nightmare
world as the neglected and starving mancuspias become monstrous, turning upon
one another in a cannibalistic fury: 'las mancuspias pelean ferozmente, se arrancan
pedazos de lomo y de cuello, les salta la sangre y hay que separarlas a latigo y
gritos' (pp. 85-6). The ambivalent nature of the strange creatures, who change
from gentle to uncontrollable, is reflected also in the inconsistency of the narrator's
558
HallucinationandNightmarein Cortdzar
evaluation of them. Although he originally states that they are being raised for
sale, his remark is rendered preposterous when he later indicates the marked
aversion of the surrounding populace to the animals: 'en las otras poblaciones se
ha difundido el rumor estupido de que criamos mancuspias y nadie se arrima por
miedo a enfermedades' (p. 79).
Initially, one of the dominant characteristics of the hallucinatory mancuspia
world is its precision. It seems to be governed by measurement, reason, and order.
Yet the activities of preparing a special diet, weighing the animals, and taking their
temperature contrast strangely with the horrible instability of the invalids' perceptions inside the house, as they suffer from attacks of vertigo:
Al despertar,al levantarnos,mirandohacia adelante,cualquierobjeto- pongamos,por
ejemplo,el ropero- es visto rotandoa velocidadvariabley desviandoseen formainconstantehaciaun costado(ladoderecho);mientrasal mismotiempo,a travesdel remolino,se
observael mismoroperoparadofirmementey sin moverse.(p. 80)
The exacting care afforded to the mancuspiasforms an ironic contrast with the
patients' almost total neglect of their own selves. The 'alimentaci6n especial'
carefully prepared for the animals is the opposite of their hasty, woefully inadequate
meals: 'deteniendonos apenas para comer (hay trozos de pan en la mesa y sobre
la repisa del living)' (p. 70). The meticulous bathing in salt solutions that the
mancuspiasreceive contrasts with the patients' personal slovenliness: 'De noche
caemos repentinamente en la cama, y la tendencia a cepillarnos los dientes antes
de dormir cede a la fatiga' (p. 70). The constant treatment that they give to the
mancuspias
represents a mere wish-fulfilment of the attention they themselves need
and desire yet do not receive from the indolent Chango and Leonor, who neglect
and finally desert them.
The patients are caught between two extremes. As a reaction to the trauma and
chaos of their mental world: 'donde todo se confunde y nada es menos cierto que
su contrario' (p. 84), they set up a disciplined 'outer' world, one whose rigid
routine leads first to their frantic efforts to maintain the order, their subsequent
enervation and, finally, their desperate retreat from it as it collapses. Ironically,
at the end of the story, the mancuspiaworld is as chaotic as the disease-ridden
universe it was designed to counteract. The rapid deterioration of the regulated
into uproar and cannibalism symbolizes the decline in the
world of the mancuspias
patients' own mental condition, from a limited adjustment to their illness into
fear, panic, and insanity.
The vision of 'Cefalea' is that of a hellworld. Anguish is made horribly graphic
through the use of an author-protagonist, a narrator who does not merely describe
the illnesses clinically but who is forced to live them at the same time. Even the
drug medications act not as a palliative but as an aggressive cure. Corresponding
to the nightmarish internal world of the patients is the oppressive external atmosphere of hot wind and blazing sun, a world which itself may be just another
metaphor of inner torment. The patients have no hope of receiving assistance from
the surrounding populace, who look upon them with suspicion and fear. The police
who come to the isolated farmhouse after the arrest of Chango and Leonor for
thievery 'huyen como apestados' (p. 85), in an action that suggests that the
patients are being quarantined to prevent the spread of their diseases.
The horror of their existence is augmented by their lack of a refuge from their
sudden, crippling attacks. Neither hallucination nor sleep offers them relief. The
LANIN A. GYURKO
559
patients are paranoids who feel themselves to be surrounded by illnesses at every
moment of their waking or sleeping lives: 'Por momentos tenemos un poco de
miedo a mirar hacia el suelo del corral- un cuadro Onosmodium
marcadisimo
pero pasa y la luz nos salva del sintoma complementario, de la cefalea que se
agrava con la oscuridad' (pp. 73-4). Their headaches seem to be produced by any
circumstance whatsoever, strong sunlight or darkness, or, absurdly, even by
drowsiness, 'la descripci6n del cuadro: cefalea y gran excitaci6n, causadas por
comenzar a dormir' (p. 89). Not only are the mancuspias
imaginary but the attacks
of vertigo and cefaleaseem to be psychosomatic or self-induced, precipitated if not
caused by an all-pervasive, free-floating anxiety: 'una ansiedad que nace de
cualquier insignificancia, de la nada' (pp. 70-I).
Failing in their desperate attempts to save the mancuspias,the patients can only
watch helplessly as their own hope for salvation dies before their eyes. The pathetic
humanization of the moribund animals by the narrator provides anotherindication
that the patients and the mancuspias
are identical: 'Desde donde estamos se ve a un
macho caido sobre las manos; intenta alzarse con una sacudida, pero vuelve a
caer como si rezara' (p. 86). Contrasting with the turmoil and extreme vulnerworld is the awesome power of the cefaleasthat continues to
ability of the mancuspia
mount, made even more terrifying by being graphically bestialized: 'cuadro de
Apis, dolores como picaduras de abejas... tras de la abeja, el cuadro de la serpiente' (p. 87). The climax to the narrative comes with the attack of the most
devastating of the headache syndromes, Crotaluscascavella,the rattlesnake. The
description, in the phraseology of the homeopathic manual that the patients are
reading, is horrifying in its intense explicitness:
El craneocomprimeel cerebrocomoun cascode acero.. Algo vivientecaminaen circulo
dentro de la cabeza . . Cabezay pecho comprimidospor una armadurade hierro.Un
hierro al rojo hundido en el vertex... Doloreslancinantesagudosen sien derecha,esta
terribleserpientecuyo veneno actua con espantosaintensidad.(pp. 89-90)
The patients read about their fate as they are in the very process of suffering it.
Word and experience coincide.1 And, given their tendency toward autosuggestion,
there is the distinct probability that the attack is being induced by the reading, an
indication of the power of the word to create a hellish reality of its own.
The end of the story marks the pathetic attempts by the patients to withdraw
from the world of the mancuspias,as they try to rid themselves both of disease and
anguish by projecting them upon the animals: 'Preferimosno pensar y cerramos la
puerta con delicia, replegados a la casa donde todo es mas nuestro' (p. 88). The
patients are in the absurd situation of attempting to isolate themselves physically
from a reality that is within their own minds: 'volvemos a la lectura como seguros
de que todo eso esta ahora ahi, donde algo viviente camina en circulo aullando
contra las ventanas, contra los oidos, el aullar de las mancuspias muriendose de
hambre' (p. go). They derive a false sense of security by retreating back into the
'house' that is the metaphor of the self, believing that however bad their internal
condition is, the outside world is worse: 'No estamos inquietos, peor es afuera, si
Anotherof Cortazar'scharacterswho unwittinglyreadsabout his fate and experiencesit at the
same time is the protagonistof the story 'Continuidadde los parques'(Finaldeljuego),who is tranquilly absorbedin a novel that describesthe plotting of a wife and her lover to kill the husband.
Fictionand realitymergeat the end of the storyas the lover creepsup upon the husbandseatedin a
chair readinga book; literatureends in life.
560
HallucinationandNightmarein Cortdzar
hay afuera' (p. 90). They refuse to acknowledge the hopelessness of their plight.
Instead, they hope to anticipate their next attack and to lessen its impact by
reading about it and attempting to understand it. But as their panic increases, they
no longer care about the meaning of the words. Their oral reading serves as a
in reality
defence, as they shout to drown out the howling of the dying mancuspias,
their own dying selves. Their vociferous and desperate reading parallels the talking
in exaggeratedly loud tones of Irene and her brother as they also attempt to banish
the threat to their existence by pretending to ignore it. But the narrator of 'Cefalea'
finds it increasingly difficult to maintain his equanimity. His rising anxiety is
evidenced by his halting to correct his misimpressions: 'Con la luz apagadapero no esta bien dicho, no hay luz apagada, simplemente falta la luz' (p. 83).
The strength of the patients is ebbing. Their obsessive fears about the precariousness of their existence have been realized and perhaps have even caused their
downfall, as have the guilt and anxiety-stricken consciences of the characters
in 'Casa tomada' and 'Cartas de mamA'. The lives of the patients have become a
state of permanent nightmare.
Both 'Casa tomada' and 'Cefalea' are characterized by a pattern of invasion
and expulsion. The patients in 'Cefalea' are frustrated in their attempts to expel
their diseases. In 'Casa tomada' the situation is reversed and the characters themselves are expelled. From the point of view of the mysterious occupants, Irene and
her brother are the usurpers who have profaned the family honour through their
incestuous relationship. The banishment of the couple from the house becomes a
purificatory rite. The rapidity with which the illusory universe of the mancuspias
dissolves is paralleled by the dramatic way in which forty years of existence of Irene
and her brother are swept away. The couple's naive assumption that they will be
free to live out their lives peacefully and then will be able to destroy the house to
keep it from falling into the hands of distant, profiteering relatives is ironically
reversed. It is the house that harbours the spirits- the internalized moral code of
their ancestors - that destroy the existence of the narrator and Irene.
These two stories of Cortazar display a complex, oscillating symbolism and
demonstrate rapid, devastating, and irreversible change. The mancuspias,at first
symbolic of a fragile state of health, at the end of 'Cefalea' are linked with the
irremediableness of disease and death. The house in 'Casa tomada', initially a
protector, becomes uninhabitable. Defence mechanisms are employed by the
characters of these two stories in an attempt to preserve the self intact. Thus,
although from one point of view the daily routine of Irene and her brother seems
unproductive and neurotic, such behaviour does serve a function by reducing
anxiety and protecting the threatened or anguished self. In 'Cefalea' the patients
struggle to sustain an eery tranquillity through their delusion that their diseases
and even their victimized selves have been physically separated from their 'normally functioning' identities. But their absurd routine, like the equally unreal one
of the couple in 'Casa tomada', becomes impossible to maintain.
Both narratives are characterized by a cyclic time that signifies futility. For the
patients in 'Cefalea' there is only a circular, destructive, mental time that brings
about new and increasingly severe attacks of their illnesses. The brother and sister
of 'Casa tomada' attempt to live a vainly repetitive time and, ironically, become
the victims of another cyclical process - the reoccupation of the house by the
original, legitimate owners. In both stories the human image is caricatured,
LANIN A. GYURKO
56I
fragmented, and debased. Paralleling the invasive force of the cefaleasthat proves
to be indomitable is the corroding power of guilt in 'Casa tomada'. All of the
human characters are not active but reactive. All struggle to defend the self,
paradoxically, from the monster that is within the self. But their efforts are futile.
The absurd diligence of Irene is paralleled by the frantic and equally absurd
industriousness of the patients of Dr Harbin.
In these two narratives, the outer world is always subordinate to the inner.
Seemingly concrete realities turn out to be metaphors of the mind. Psychic distancing is important in these stories, as the characters attempt to project as an external
reality, in the form of a haunted house or a colony of mancuspias,what is actually
their own state of mind. And even the truly concrete reality - that of the buildings
in these two accounts - is one of interiors.1 The narrator of 'Casa tomada'
describes only the inside of the house; for him external reality is almost nonexistent. At the end of 'Cefalea' the patients are huddled together inside the
farmhouse, their safety zone of longed-for oblivion.
The pervasiveness of hallucination and nightmare, often to the point of becoming the sole reality for the protagonists, indicates the extent to which Cortazar's
characters are forced to dwell within the self. They remain imprisoned within the
labyrinth of their own consciousness, one inhabited by the monsters of anxiety,
guilt, and fear. These characters fear freedom. The denial of responsibility by
Irene and her brother to think and act as independent human beings is paralleled
by the withdrawal and inertness of the patients in 'Cefalea'. All of their lives become
typified by a stuporous suspension. Instead of confronting their inadequacy or
deterioration, the characters prefer to ignore or suppressit, through pain-killerslike
the drugs in 'Cefalea', or through the mental anodyne of protective delusion. But
the hallucinatory and oneiric consciousness, like almost every aspect of Cortazar's
narrative vision, is ambivalent. The illusion of salvation is countered and undermined by the nightmare of frustration and anguish. Fantasy is both refuge and
psychic inferno.
The themes struck in these early stories of Cortazar resound throughout the
whole of his fictional world. Imaginative experience most often proves to be destructive for the individual. In 'Cefalea' as well as in other stories from Bestiario,this
negative fantasy is linked with the animal. The estranged narrator of 'Carta a
una sefiorita en Paris', for example, believes that he is vomiting up small rabbits.
for the patients in 'Cefalea', the rabbits at first are an adjustive
Like the mancuspias
mechanism and enable him to express the individuality that he feels is being
constrained by an external order. He derives a sense of satisfaction and of authority
from lording over his rabbit kingdom. But his hallucinatory bunnies, at first docile
and endearing, rapidly multiply and increase in size, strength, and aggressiveness,
until finally they drive their 'creator' to suicide. In 'Axolotl' (Final deljuego(1964)),
another solitary protagonist becomes mesmerized by the burning eyes of the
Mexican salamanders until finally he believes that he is one. Although his selfdelusion in one respect enables him to isolate and to reduce his anguish by projecting it on to the axolotlpart of himself, his catharsis is a negative one because it
1 Cortazar's artistic vision is one of innerness. On the literal level, almost all of his narratives occur
inside - within apartments, houses, hotels, covered galleries, museums, arenas, theatres, bars,
boats, planes, cars, and buses - closed-in worlds that symbolize the incarcerated self.
36
562
HallucinationandNightmarein Cortazar
occurs only at the cost of an identity that remains permanently split. The recluse
in 'Relato con un fondo de agua' (Final deljuego), initially attempts to deny the
premonitory power of his obsessive nightmare in which he envisions his own dead
body floating in the water. He kills a friend who he believes is about to actualize
the dream. But he finally becomes so haunted by guilt that he desires to commit
suicide in order to free himself from the terrors of his stricken conscience, thus
ironically fulfilling the prophetic fantasy. A nightmare of death becomes the dominant reality for the helpless protagonist of 'La noche boca arriba' (Final deljuego).
What he originally believes is a mere dream in which he is being hunted down as a
sacrificialvictim by the Aztecs turns out to be a horrible reality. In one of Cortazar's
most recently published stories, 'Siestas' (Ultimo Round (1969)), the young girl
Wanda who suffers strong guilt feelings after having been led into an autoerotic
experience by her friend Teresa, has recurrent nightmares of being molested by a
sinister man with an artificial hand. At the end of this story as throughout 'Cefalea'
and 'La noche boca arriba', Cortazar skilfully erases the limits between illusion and
reality. Neither Wanda nor the reader is certain whether the man that the girl is
confronted by is part of her nightmare or whether this time she has been trapped in
reality. Communal fantasy characterizes Cortazar's most recent novel to date,
62: Modelopara armar(1968), in which the characters enter into an imaginative
zone or 'Ciudad' that superficially has all the characteristics of external realitystreets, vehicles, buildings - and yet represents a bizarre psychic hellworld of
alienation, demonism, and violent death. The 'paredro', the double or psychic
extension of each of the characters into the supernatural realm, at first seems to
signify an adventurous existence and a freedom through transcendence of the
geographical limitations placed on the physical self and of the mental limitations
imposed on the individual consciousness:
La ciudadpodia darseen Paris,podia darselea Tell o a Calacen una cerveceriaen Oslo,
a algunode nosotrosle habiaocurridopasarde la ciudada una camaen Barcelona,a menos
que fueralo contrario.(p. 22)
But participation in the life of the fantasy zone becomes a compulsive and monstrous experience for the characters and results in the loss of their integrity.' The
authentic relationships that they fail to establish with one another in the real world
cannot be acquired through submergence in the supernatural, the zone that becomes the psychic stage on which their own sadistic or masochistic impulses are
expressionistically dramatized. Once more fantasy proves to be a lure toward
self-liberation and self-realization, this time through unity with a mysterious
psychic 'other', that terminates only in self-condemnation.
NEW HAVEN, CONNECTICUT
1
LANIN A. GYURKO
See also the fine discussion by Malva E. Filer of the ironic doubling of the self 'al mismo tiempo
expansionista y destructora de la conciencia individual', in Chapter v of her book.
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