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 con- stantly 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 Corta- zar'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 dramatic- ally 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, their own debilitated state. The patients strive to convince themselves of the con- crete 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 hallu- cinations 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 acknow- ledge 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). references are to the tenth edition of Bestiario (1969) and are included in the text. Subsequent
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 affection- 'Nos resultaba grato almorzar pensando en la casa profunda y silen- ciosa' (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 mes- merized 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 with one another. 2 Jean L. Andreu, 'Pour une lecture de "Casa tomada" de Julio Cortazar', Caravelle (Cahiers de monde 3 et luso-bresilien), (1968), 62. 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 cul- turallv vacuous one outside it.
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 armas secretas (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 plan- ned 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 cerrar la puerta del pasillo. Han torado la parte del fondo.' Dej6 caer el tejido y me mir6 con sus graves ojos cansados. 'iEstas seguro?' Asenti. 'Entonces', las agujas, 'tendremos 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 occur- rence, 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 occupy- ing 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
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 self- delusion 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 an elaborate pretence to conceal the death of Alejandro from his mother- a fabrication 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, sup- presses 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 convinc- ing 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 may also be an attempt to convince the ghostly occupiers - perhaps the spirits of 1 Malva E. Filer, Los mundos I970), p. 39.
554 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 night- mare. 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 imper- turbability is only a defensive facade: (Cuando Irene sofiaba en alta voz yo me desvelaba en seguida. Nunca pude habituarme esa voz de estatua o papagayo, voz que viene de los suefios y no de la garganta. Irene decia que mis suenios (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 paren- theses 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 series of preterites that signify the abrupt- ness 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 expulsion s'opere en deux dtapes, mais elle s'opere de fa?on brutale. Dans les deux instants precis ou se manifeste l'envahisseur, leur agitation convulsive contraste violemment avec leur 6tat de qui6tude dans les moments qui prdcedent ou qui suivent la premiere invasion. sont pris d'affolement 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 time- less, 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 sud- denly become very important. 1 Interpretation Dohmann, Into the Mainstream: Conversations Nestor Garcia Canclini, Cortdzar: interpretation tolerantes and offers other possibilities: 'podria ser el ingreso de las nuevas generaciones, in- tambien la declina- ci6n de una clase social, desplazada por otra, como sucedia en cierto modo en la Argentina de aquel tiempo' (p. 22).
LANIN A. GYURKO
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's short 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 mancuspias are animalized figments of the patients' dis- turbed imagination. Even the drugs used to treat their diseases are animalized in both name and action (Apis, Crotalus cascavella). 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 men- tioned once by the narrator, and Chango and Leonor, who are described as helpers in caring for the mancuspias 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 1 James East Irby analyses the style of Bestiario hallucinatory his review essay 'Cortazar's Hopscotch and Other Games', Novel, I (I967), 221.
drugs that are used to combat their illnesses: 'Uno de nosotros es Aconitum' 'El otro, en cambio, es marcadamente Nux Vomica' (p. 71). The narrator charac- terizes the patients clinically, according to temperament and body type. One who '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 Britannica ( 197) defines this system of therapeutics as based upon the 'law of similars' simila similibus curantur. are that the cure of the disease is effected by drugs that are capable of producing in a healthy individual symptoms similar to those of the diseases to 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 Aconitum 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: '(Como esto, 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 ex- perience: '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 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 epigraph- acknowledgement: 'Debemos a la doctora Margaret L. Tyler las imagenes mas hermosas del presente relato. Su admirable poema, Sintomas orientadores del vertigo y 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 literatura 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, 221.) fantdstica en Argentina (Mexico, 1957), p. 77). In an interview
LANIN A. GYURKO
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, 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 con- sciousness- 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 serious- ness 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 mancuspias originally 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 trabajo que espera y de nada serviria desanimarnos tan pronto' (p. 72). ' Quien puede pensar en tantas vanidades si la tarea espera en los corrales, en el inverna- dero 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 mancuspias to 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
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' per- ceptions inside the house, as they suffer from attacks of vertigo: Al despertar, al levantarnos, mirando hacia adelante, cualquier objeto - pongamos, por ejemplo, el ropero - es visto rotando a velocidad variable y desviandose stante hacia un costado (lado derecho); mientras al mismo tiempo, a traves del remolino, se observa el mismo ropero parado firmemente 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 mancuspias 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 mancuspia world of the mancuspias fear, panic, and insanity. world 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 patients' own mental condition, from a limited adjustment to their illness into 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 atmo- sphere 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
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 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 cefalea seem 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 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 vulner- ability of the mancuspia world is the awesome power of the cefaleas that continues to 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 ser- piente' (p. 87). The climax to the narrative comes with the attack of the most devastating of the headache syndromes, Crotalus cascavella, the rattlesnake. The description, in the phraseology of the homeopathic manual that the patients are reading, is horrifying in its intense explicitness: El craneo comprime el cerebro como un casco de acero .. Algo viviente camina en circulo dentro de la cabeza . . Cabeza y pecho comprimidos por una armadura de hierro. Un hierro al rojo hundido en el vertex... Dolores lancinantes agudos en sien derecha, esta terrible serpiente cuyo veneno actua con espantosa intensidad. (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: 'Preferimos no 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 Another of Cortazar's who unwittingly reads about his fate and experiences it at the who is tran- quilly absorbed in a novel that describes the plotting of a wife and her lover to kill the husband. Fiction and reality merge at the end of the story as the lover creeps up upon the husband seated in a chair reading a book; literature ends in life.
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 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 apagada- pero 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 precarious- ness 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 them- selves 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 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 'nor- mally 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 cefaleas that 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 distanc- ing 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 non- existent. 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 becom- ing 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 suppress it, through pain-killers like 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 under- mined 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 destruc- tive 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. 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 self- delusion in one respect enables him to isolate and to reduce his anguish by pro- jecting it on to the axolotl part 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 36
occurs only at the cost of an identity that remains permanently split. The recluse in 'Relato con un fondo de agua' (Final del juego), 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 domi- nant 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 sacrificial victim 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: Modelo para armar (1968), in which the characters enter into an imaginative zone or 'Ciudad' that superficially has all the characteristics of external reality- streets, 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 ciudad podia darse en Paris, podia darsele a Tell o a Calac en una cerveceria en Oslo, a alguno de nosotros pasar de la ciudad a una cama en Barcelona, que fuera lo contrario. (p. 22) But participation in the life of the fantasy zone becomes a compulsive and mon- strous 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 be- comes 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 LANIN A. GYURKO 1 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.