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Some Aspects of the Short Story.

I find myself standing before you today in quite a paradoxical situation. An Argentine novelist makes himself available to exchange ideas on the short story, but his listeners and partners in the exchange, with few exceptions, know nothing of his work. The cultural isolation that continues to afflict our countries, added to the unjust current-day cutoff of communications with Cuba, have meant that my books, of which there are several by now, have not found their way, except here and there, into the hands of such willing and enthusiastic readers as yourselves. The problem is not just that you have had no opportunity to judge my stories, but that I feel a bit like a ghost coming to talk to you without that relatively soothing certainty of being preceded by the work one has done over the years. And this ghostly feeling I have must show, because a few days ago an Argentine lady assured me in the Hotel Riviera that I was not Julio Cortazar, and, to my stupefaction, she added that the genuine Julio Cortazar is a white-haired gentleman, a close friend of one of her relatives, and has never left Buenos Aires. Since I've been living in Paris for twelve years now, you can see how my ghostly nature has visibly intensified following this revelation. If I should suddenly disappear in midsentence, I won't be too surprised, and perhaps we will all be the better off for it.

It is said that a ghost's greatest desire is to get back at least a glimmer of substantiality, something tangible that will bring him, for a moment, back into his flesh-and-blood life. To gain a little substantiality in your eyes, I will sum up in a few words the general tendency and sense of my stories. I'm not doing this simply for the sake of information, for no abstract summary could replace the work itself; my reasons are more important. Since I'm going to be concerned with some aspects of the story as a literary genre, and it's possible some of my ideas may surprise or shock my listeners, it seems to me only fair to define the type of narrative that interests me, pointing out my special way of seeing the world. Almost all the stories I have written belong to the genre called fantastic, for lack of a better word, and are opposed to that false realism that consists of believing that everything can be described and explained, as was assumed by the optimism of nineteenth-century philosophy and science, that is, as part of a world governed more or less harmoniously by a system of laws, principles, cause-and-effect relations, well-defined psychologies, mapped-out geographies. In my case, the suspicion that there's another order, more secret and less communicable, and the seminal discovery of Alfred Jarry, for whom the true study of reality lay not in laws but in the exceptions to those laws, have been some of the guiding principles in my personal search for a literature beyond all naive realism. That's why, if in the ideas I set forth you find a predilection for everything exceptional about the short story, be it in thematics or in the forms of expression, I think this presentation of my own way of seeing the world will explain my stance and focus upon the problem. At worst, it can be said I've only spoken of the story as I write it, and yet, I don't think that's so. I feel sure that there exist certain constants, certain values that apply to all stories, fantastic or realistic, dramatic or humorous. And I think perhaps it's possible to show here those invariable elements that give a good story its particular atmosphere and qualify it as a work of art.

The opportunity to exchange ideas about the short story interests me for several reasons. I live in a country--France--where this genre has not held much of a place, though in recent years there has been a growing interest among writers and readers in this form of expression. At any rate, while critics continue to accumulate theories and maintain heated polemics about the novel, almost nobody takes an interest in the problems the short story entails. To live as a short-story writer in a country where this form of expression is almost an exotic product, forces one to seek in other literatures the sustenance lacking there. Gradually, in the original version or in translation, one gathers, almost spitefully, a vast quantity of stories past and present, and there comes the day to weigh it all in the balance, attempt an evaluative approach to this genre, so hard to define, so elusive in its many contradictory aspects, and in the last analysis so secret and turned in upon itself, a snail of language, a mysterious brother to poetry in another dimension of literary time.

But beyond this stopping-place that every author must reach at some point in his work, a discussion of the short story especially interests us because every Spanish-speaking country on the American continents is giving the short story a place of special importance that it had never enjoyed in other Latin countries like France or Spain. With us, as is only natural in young literatures, spontaneous creation almost always precedes critical examination; a good thing it is so, too. Nobody can try to say that stories should be written only after we know their laws. In the first place, there are no such laws; at most one may speak of points of view, of certain constants that structure this rather unbounded genre; in the second place, there is no reason theorists and critics should be the same people writing the stories, and they naturally would come on the scene only after there exists a body, a mass of literature that will allow for research into and clarification of its development and features. In America, in Cuba, just as in Mexico or Chile or Argentina, a great many short-story writers have been at work since the early years of the century, hardly knowing one another, at times coming across one another almost posthumously. Faced with this unwieldy panorama, where very few know one another's work well, I think it's useful to speak of the short story above and beyond particular national or international traits, because it's a genre that holds for us an ever-growing importance and vitality. One day the definitive anthologies will be drawn up--as they are in Anglo-Saxon countries, for instance--and we'll know how far we've come. For the moment it seems to me to make sense to speak of the short story in the abstract, as a literary genre. If we come up with a convincing idea of this form of literary expression, it can go toward establishing a scale of values for this ideal anthology yet to be. There's too much confusion, too many misunderstandings in this area. While writers plunge ahead with their task, it's time to speak of that task itself, leaving aside individuals and nationalities. We have to have a workable idea of what the short story is, and that's always hard because ideas tend to be abstract, to devitalize what they're about, while in turn life recoils in pain from being roped in by concepts in order to tie it down and classify it. But if we have no working idea of what a story is, our efforts will go for nothing, because a short story, in the last analysis, exists on that same human level where life and the written expression of that life wage a fraternal war, if you'll allow me the term; and the outcome of that war is the short story itself, a living synthesis and also a synthesized life, like water trembling in a crystal, a fleetingness within a permanence. Only via images can one convey that secret alchemy that explains the way a great story strikes a note deep within us, and explains as well why there are few truly great stories.

In trying to grasp the unique character of the short story, it's common practice to compare it to the novel, a much more popular genre with many precepts concerning it. It's pointed out, for example, that the novel unfolds page after page, and hence in the time it takes to read it, and need stop only when the subject matter is used up; the short story, on the other hand, starts with the idea of a limit, and first of all a physical limit, so much so that in France, when a story runs over twenty pages, it's then called a nouvelle, a genre straddling the short story and the novel proper. In this sense, the novel and the short story may be compared, using an analogy to cinema and photography, in that a film is in principle "open-ended," like a novel, while a good photograph presupposes a strict delimitation beforehand, imposed in part by the narrow field the camera covers and the aesthetic use the photographer makes of this limitation. I don't know whether you've heard a professional photographer talk about his art; I'm always surprised that it sounds so much as if it could be a short-story writer talking. Photographs as fine as Cartier-Bresson's or Brassai's define their art as an apparent paradox; that of cutting out a piece of reality, setting certain limits, but so that this piece will work as an explosion to fling open a much wider reality, like a dynamic vision that spiritually transcends the camera's field of vision. While in cinema, as in the novel, catching that broader and more multiple reality is a matter of developing an accumulation of bits, not excluding, of course, a synthesis that provides the work's climax, in a photograph or great short story it works the other way, that is, the photographer or writer has to choose and delimit an image or event that's significant, not just in and of itself, but able to work upon the viewer or reader as a sort of opening, a fermentation that moves intelligence and sensibility out toward something far beyond the visual or literary anecdote the photo or story contains. An Argentine writer, very fond of boxing, told me that in that fight that takes place between an absorbing text and its reader, the novel wins a technical victory, while the story must win by knockout. It's true, in that the novel progressively builds up its effect upon the reader, while a good story is incisive, mordant, and shows no clemency from the first lines on. This shouldn't be taken too literally, since the good story writer is a very wise boxer, and many of his first blows may seem ineffectual when he's really tearing down his opponent's most solid defenses. Take any great story you prefer and analyze the first page of it. I'd be surprised if you found any gratuitous elements just there for show. The short-story writer knows he cannot work by accumulation, that time is not on his side; he can only work in depth, vertically, whether upwards or downwards in literary space. And this, which put this way sounds like a metaphor, expresses nonetheless the core of the method. The short story's time and space must be as if condemned, subjected to a spiritual and formal pressure to achieve that "opening" I spoke of. One need only raise the question why a certain story is bad. It isn't the theme that makes it bad, because in literature there are no good or bad themes, only good or bad treatments of a theme. Nor is it bad because the characters are uninteresting, because even a stone is interesting if a Henry James or Franz Kafka turns his attention to it. A story is bad when it's written without that tension that should be there from the first words or first scenes. And so we can anticipate that the notions of meaningfulness, intensity and tension will allow us, as we'll see, to come closer to the very structure of the story.

We were saying that the short-story writer works with material we may call meaningful. The meaningful element of the story would seem to lie mainly in its theme, in the choice of a real or imagined event that possesses that mysterious ability to illuminate something beyond itself, so that a commonplace domestic episode, as is the case in so many admirable stories of a Katherine Mansfield or a Sherwood Anderson, becomes the implacable summing-up of a certain human condition or the blazing symbol of a social or historical order. A story is significant when it breaks through its own limits with that explosion of spiritual energy that throws into sudden relief something going far beyond the small and sometimes wretched anecdote it tells of. I am thinking, for example, of the theme of most of Anton Chekhov's admirable stories. What is there but the drearily everyday, mediocre conformity or pointless rebellion? What's told in these stories is almost what we, as children, in the boring gatherings we had to share with the grown-ups, heard the grandparents or aunts talking about: the petty, insignificant family chronicle with its frustrated ambitions, modest local dramas, sorrows the size of a parlor, a piano, a tea served with sweets. And yet, the stories of Katherine Mansfield or of Chekhov are meaningful; something bursts forth in them as we read and offers us a sort of breakaway from the everyday that goes well beyond the anecdote summed up therein. You have seen that this mysterious meaningfulness does not lie only in the theme of the story, because indeed most of the bad stories we've all read contain episodes similar to those treated by the authors named. The idea of meaning makes no sense unless related to intensity and tension, therefore no longer concerning just theme but the literary treatment of that theme, the technique used to develop the theme. And here is where, suddenly, there's a division between the good and the bad writer. So let's pause carefully at this parting of the ways to see a little better that strange form of life, a story that works, and see why it's alive while others, apparently like it, are no more than ink on paper, made to be forgotten.

Let's look at it from the writer's point of view and in this case, necessarily, from my own version of the matter. A short-story writer is a man who suddenly, in the midst of the immense babble of the world, more or less involved in the historical reality around him, chooses a given theme and makes a story out of' it. This choice of theme is not so simple. Sometimes the writer chooses, and at other times he feels as if the theme irresistibly imposed itself on him, pushed him to write it. In my case, by far most of my stories were written--how should I say this--beyond my will, above or below my reasoning awareness, as if I were no more than a medium through which an alien power were coursing and making itself seen. But this, which can depend on one's temperament, does not change the basic fact, and that's that at a certain moment there is a theme, be it voluntarily invented or chosen, or strangely imposed from a level where nothing can be defined. There is a theme, I repeat, and this theme will become a story. Before that happens, what can we say of the theme itself?. Why that theme and not some other? What reasons consciously or unconsciously move the writer to choose a given theme?

To me it seems that the theme that gives rise to a good story is always exceptional, but I don't mean that a theme should be extraordinary, out of the common run of things, mysterious or unusual. Just the opposite; it can be a perfectly trivial, everyday anecdote. What's exceptional is a magnetlike quality; a good theme attracts a whole system of interconnecting links; for the author, and later for the reader, it "gels" a vast amount of notions, half-glimpsed things, feelings and even ideas that were virtually floating around in his memory or sensibility; a good theme is like a good sun, a star with an orbiting planetary system, that, often, goes unnoticed till the writer, an astronomer of words, reveals to us its existence. Or rather, to be both more modest and more modern, a good theme is somehow atomic, like a nucleus with its orbiting electrons; and all that, when it comes down to it, isn't it a proposal of life, a dynamic that urges us to come out of ourselves and enter into a more complex and beautiful system of relations? I've often wondered what it is about certain unforgettable stories; when we read them, they're in together with a lot of other stories, maybe by the same author. And here the years go by and we've lived through and forgotten so much; but those small, insignificant stories, those grains of sand in the vast sea of literature, stay with us, beating inside us. Isn't it true that each of us has his own collection of stories? I have mine, and I could give you some names. I have "William Wilson," by Edgar Allan Poe; I have "Ball of Lard," by Guy de Maupassant. The little planets keep their orbits; there's "A Christmas Memory" by Truman Capote, "Tlon, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius" by Jorge Luis Borges, "A Dream Come True" by Juan Carlos Onetti, "The Death of Ivan Ilyich" by Tolstoy, "Fifty Grand" by Hemingway, "The Dreamers" by Isak Dinesen, and I could go on and on.... You'll have noticed already that these aren't all the standard anthology items. Why do they linger on in memory? Think of the stories you have never been able to forget and you'll see that they all have this in common: they bring in a reality infinitely vaster than that of their mere story line, and so they've influenced us with a power their seemingly modest content, their brief texts, don't even hint at. And that man who at a given moment chooses a theme and makes a story out of it will be a great short-story writer if his choice holds--sometimes without his awareness of it--that fabulous opening-out from the small to the great, from the individual and bounded to the very essence of the human condition. Every enduring story is like the seed in which the giant tree lies sleeping. That tree will grow in us, will cast its shadow across our memory.

Yet, this notion of meaningful themes needs further clarification. The same theme may be deeply meaningful for one writer and insipid for another; the same theme will strike a deep chord in one reader and leave another cold. In short, one can say there are no absolutely meaningless themes. What there is, is a mysterious, complex connection between a certain writer and a certain theme at a given moment, just as this same connection will later be struck between certain stories and certain readers. So, when we say that a theme is meaningful, as in the case of Chekhov's stories, this meaningfulness comes about partly through something beyond the theme in and of itself, by something that comes before and after the theme. What comes before is the writer, with his set of human and literary values, with his drive to create a work with meaning to it; what comes after is the literary treatment of the theme, the way in which the writer, faced with the theme, lays hold of it, forces it verbally and stylistically into shape, molds it into a story, and reaches beyond it toward something greater than the story itself. Here I see a chance to mention something that happens to me a lot, and that other story writers will be just as familiar with. Habitually in the course of a conversation someone tells of a funny, moving or strange episode, and then turning to the story writer at hand says, "There's a great idea for a story; you can have it." They've given me tons of themes just that way, and I've always answered politely: "Thank you," and I've never written a story with any of them. Yet, once a friend was rambling on about the adventures a maid of hers had in Paris. While I was listening to her tale, I felt it could become a short story. For her, those episodes were just so many odd anecdotes; for me they suddenly took on a meaning that went far beyond their simple, even banal, content. So every time I've been asked how I distinguish an insignificant theme--however funny or exciting it might be--from a meaningful one, I've answered that the writer is the first to register that indefinable but overwhelming effect certain themes have, and that's why he's a writer. Just as for Marcel Proust the taste of a madeleine dunked in tea suddenly flung out a vast array of seemingly forgotten memories, so the writer responds to certain themes, just as his story, later, will get a response from the reader. All of which is set on course by the aura, the irresistible fascination, that the theme stirs in its creator.

So we get to the end of this first step in the birth of a story and come to the threshold of creation itself. Here we have the writer, who's chosen a theme using those subtle antennae that allow him to recognize those elements that later will become a work of art. The writer is faced with his theme, with this embryo that is by now a life, but has not yet taken on its definite form. To him this theme holds meaning, has a sense to it. But if that were the whole thing, it wouldn't get us much of anywhere; now, as the last phase of the process, as an implacable judge, the reader awaits, the final link in the creative process, the crowning or the downfall of the cycle. And that's when the story must be born as a bridge, born as an access route, take the leap that sends the first meaning, discovered by the author, clear to the other end, the more passive and less alert and often even indifferent end we call the reader. Clumsy writers are likely to fall into believing that all they need to do is write out, as is, a theme that touched them, to move readers as well. They're like the parent who naively imagines everyone else will find his son as beautiful as he does. With time, with failed attempts, the story writer who can get past this first naive stage, learns that in literature good intentions aren't enough. He discovers that to re-create in the reader the thrill that made him write the story, he needs a writer's craft, and this craft consists, among many other things, of achieving that climate found in every great story, that compels the reader onward, keeps him riveted, tears him away from everything going on around him, so that later, when he's finished the story, he can reconnect with his world in a new, richer, deeper or more beautiful way. And the only way to steal the reader temporarily away is with a style based on intensity and tension, a style where formal and expressive elements fit, seamlessly, the nature of the theme, give it the most penetrating and original visual and sound image, make it unique, unforgettable, and place it definitively in its time, in its setting, and in its core-most meaning. What I call intensity in a story means the elimination of all the ideas or situations that are neither here nor there, padding and transitions that the novel allows for and even needs. None of you has forgotten "The Cask of Amontillado" by Edgar Allan Poe. The extraordinary thing about this story is the sharp elimination of any description of the setting. By the third or fourth sentence we are at the heart of drama, present as revenge is implacably taken. "The Killers," by Hemingway, is another example of intensity won by eliminating all but what is essential to the drama. But now let's think about the stories of Joseph Conrad, of D. H. Lawrence, of Kafka. With them, each in his own way, intensity is a different matter, and I prefer to call it tension. It's an intensity that comes out in the way the author slowly leads us into the story line. We're still very far from knowing what will happen in the story; still, we can't tear ourselves away from its atmosphere. In the case of" The Cask of Amontillado" and "The Killers," the bare facts, with no buildup, leap out at us and capture us; but in the measured flow of a Henry James story--"The Lesson of the Master," for example--one immediately feels that the facts in themselves hardly matter, that it's all in the powers that unleash them, in the subtle net that was there before them and is still at work. But be it intensity of action or the story's inner intensity, it's the result of what I earlier called the writer's craft, and with this we come close to the end of this look through the short story. In my country, and just now in Cuba, I've been able to read stories by the most diverse authors: mature or young, from city or country, drawn to literature for aesthetic reasons or by the social needs of the moment, politically committed, or not.

So, and even though it may sound like stating the obvious, whether in Argentina or here, the best stories are being written by writers who know their craft in the way I've been talking about. An Argentine example will help show what I mean. In our central and northern provinces there's a long tradition of oral tales, that gauchos pass on at night at fireside, that parents keep on telling children, and suddenly they leap into the pen of a local-color writer and, practically always, they're horrible stories. What happened? The tales themselves are a joy: they translate and sum up the experience, sense of humor, and fatalism of man out in the country; some even rise to poetic or tragic dimensions. Heard from an old man of old country stock, while sipping mate, they can wipe out time and one thinks this was how the Greek tale-singers told the adventures of Achilles to dazzle shepherds and travelers. But at that moment, when a Homer should come to make an Iliad or Odyssey out of this store of oral tales, in my country along comes a gentleman who finds city culture a sign of decay, for whom the short-story writers we all love are so many aesthetes who wrote for the trifling amusement of social classes whose star has gone out, and this gentleman realizes that, instead, to write a story all that's needed is to write down a traditional tale, keeping as much as possible of the tone of telling, country turns of phrase, grammatical errors, everything they call local color. I don't know whether this way of writing popular stories is cultivated in Cuba; I hope not, because in my country all it's given us is undigestible volumes that don't even interest people out in the country, who prefer to go on sipping their brew and listening to stories, nor do they interest city readers, who may well be jaded and decadent, but they have read the classics of the genre with care. On the other hand--and I'm still talking about Argentina-we've had writers like Roberto J. Payro, Ricardo Guiraldes, Horacio Quiroga and Benito Lynch who, also making frequent use of traditional themes heard from old-country elders like Don Segundo Sombra, have managed to bring out this material's potential and make it into a work of art. But Quiroga, Guiraldes and Lynch knew the writer's craft through and through, that is, they would only work with significant, nourishing themes, just as Homer must have discarded tons of war stories and magic tales to keep the ones that have come down to us through their enormous mythic power, the resonance of their mental archetypes, their psychic hormones, as Ortega y Gasset called myths. Quiroga, Guiraldes and Lynch were writers of universal scope, with no local, ethnic or populist prejudices: that's why, besides choosing the themes of their stories carefully, they pressed them into a literary mold, the only one that could convey to the reader all their values, all their ferment, their sweeping range both in depth and height. They wrote tensely, they showed intensely. There's no other way a story will work, hit the mark, and dig into the reader's memory.

The example I've given might well interest Cuba. It's clear that the possibilities the Revolution offers a story writer are almost endless. City, country, political struggle, work, various psychological types, ideological and personality conflicts, and how all this is heightened by the drive I see in you to act, to express yourselves, to communicate as you never before could. But all that, how will it translate into great stories, stories that reach the reader with due power and effect? Here's where I'd like to apply concretely what I've said on a more abstract level. Enthusiasm and willingness are not enough by themselves, just as writer's craft is not enough by itself to write the stories that will set forth literarily (that is, in our shared sense of admiration, in the memory of a people) the greatness of that Revolution in progress. Here, more than anywhere else, is needed a total fusion of these two forces, that of the man fully committed to his nation's and the world's reality, and that of the writer lucidly sure-handed in his craft. Nothing short of this will do. The more of a veteran and an old pro a writer is, if he lacks a deep-seated motivation, if his stories aren't born of core experience, his work will be no more than an aesthetic exercise. But the opposite will be even worse, because fervor and the urge to communicate a message are no good without the expressive, stylistic instruments that allow for that communication. At this moment, we are touching the crux of the matter. I believe, and I'm saying this after weighing at length all the elements involved, that to write for a revolution, to write within a revolution, means to write in a revolutionary way; it doesn't mean, as many believe, to be obliged to write about the revolution itself.

For my part, I believe the revolutionary writer is the one who fuses in himself, inseparably, awareness of his free individual and collective political commitment, and that other sovereign cultural freedom, that of the full mastery of his craft. If that writer, responsible and lucid, decides to write fantastic or psychological literature, or turn his writing toward past times, his act is an act of freedom within the revolution, and so it's also a revolutionary act even though his stories aren't concerned with the individual or collective forms the revolution assumes. Contrary to the narrow criterion of many who have literature mixed up with instruction, or literature with teaching, or literature with ideological indoctrination, a revolutionary writer has every right to address a much more complex reader, one who is much more demanding in spiritual matters than what's imagined by those writers and critics thrown into those roles by circumstances and convinced their personal world is the only world in existence, that the concerns of the moment are the only valid concerns. Let's repeat, with reference to what's going on around us in Cuba, Hamlet's admirable line: "There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy." And let's think that a writer isn't judged only by the theme of his stories or novels, but by his living presence :in the heart of the community, by the fact that the total commitment of his person is an undeniable guarantee of the truth and the necessity of his work, however foreign that work might seem to the circumstances of the moment. That work is not foreign to the revolution because it's not accessible to everyone. Just the opposite, it proves there exists a vast sector of potential readers that, in a certain sense, are much further separated than the writer from the final goals of the revolution, those goals of culture, freedom, full enjoyment of the human condition, that Cubans have set for themselves, to the admiration of all those who love and understand them. The higher they aim, those writers who were born for it, the higher will be the final goals of the people they belong to. Beware of the facile demagoguery of demanding a literature accessible to everyone! Many of those who push this line only do so because of their evident inability to understand literature of wider scope. They clamor for popular themes, never suspecting that often the reader, simple as he may be, will intuitively be able to tell a poorly written popular story from a more difficult, complex story that will force him for a moment out of the little world around him and show him something else, whatever it may be, but something different. It makes no sense to speak of popular themes, period. Stories on popular themes will only be good if they are built, like any other story, on that demanding and difficult inner mechanism that we've tried to show in the first part of this talk. Some years back, I had this proven to me in Argentina, in a gathering of country men where a few writers were present. Someone read a story based on an episode from our war of independence, written in deliberately simple style to place it, as its author said, "at the peasant's level." The story got a polite hearing, but it was easy to see it hadn't left its mark. Then one of us read "The Monkey's Paw," the justly famous story by W. W. Jacobs. The interest, the thrill, the fear and, at the end, the enthusiasm were extraordinary. I remember we spent the rest of the night talking about spells, witches, diabolical revenge. And I'm sure Jacob's story keeps on living in the memory of those illiterate gauchos, while the supposedly popular story, manufactured for them, with its vocabulary, its made-easy intellectual content and its patriotic interest must be as forgotten as the writer who manufactured it. I've seen the thrill simple people derive from seeing Hamlet on stage, a hard and subtle work if there ever was one, and an unending topic of scholarly study and infinite controversies. It's true those people can't understand many things that thrill specialists in Elizabethan theater. So what? Only their feelings matter, their awe and rapture at the tragedy of the young Danish prince. That proves that Shakespeare truly wrote for the people, in that his theme was deeply meaningful for anyone--on different levels, to be sure, but reaching each one--and the theatrical treatment of that theme had the intensity common to great writers, which breaks down the seemingly sturdiest barriers, and men recognize each other and become brothers on a level beyond any culture. Of course, it would be naive to believe that any great work could be understood and admired by simple people; it's not true, and can't be. But the wonder that Greek or Shakespearean tragedies evoke, as well as the passionate interest many stories and novels--not in the least simple or accessible--can flame, must raise the suspicion among advocates of mislabeled "popular art," that their idea of the people is slanted, unfair and, in the end, dangerous. It's not doing the people a favor to offer them a literature that can be taken in effortlessly, passively, like going to see a cowboy movie. What needs to be done is educate them, and that's a first step, a matter of instruction, not literature. It has been reassuring to me to see how in Cuba the writers I most admire participate in the revolution, giving the best of themselves, without offering up part of their possibilities on the altar of a supposedly popular art that will benefit no one. One day Cuba will have on hand a store of stories and novels containing--worked out on an aesthetic level, rendered eternal in the timelessness of art--the, revolutionary adventure of today. But those works won't have been written out of obligation, following the slogans of the hour. Their themes will be born when the time is ripe, when the writer feels he must mold them into stories or novels or plays or poems. Their themes will carry a genuine, deep message, because they won't have been chosen in obeisance to a didactic, proselytizing norm, but from an irresistible force that will seize hold of the author, so that he, summoning all that his art and technique can offer, not sacrificing anything to anyone, will convey to the reader as fundamental things are conveyed: blood to blood, hand to hand, man to man.

This article originally appeared in Casa de las Americas, Nums. IS16 (1962-1963). It is translated here by Naomi Lindstrom with the permission of the author.

First published in issue 3.3 (Fall 1983)

JULIO CORTAZAR (1914-1984) lived in Argentina and France. He is the author of Hopscotch, 67: A Model Kit, and Blow-Up and Other Stories.
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Author:Cortazar, Julio
Publication:The Review of Contemporary Fiction
Geographic Code:3ARGE
Date:Sep 22, 1999
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