Saturday, February 9, 2008

Freewayistas in Parkingland

Archipelago Books published Anne McLean’s translation of Julio Cortázar and Carol Dunlop’s Autonauts of the Cosmoroute: a timeless voyage from Paris to Marseilles late last year, and some reviews followed, lauding the translation and taking note of Cortázar’s considerable accomplishments, which include the novel Hopscotch, ‘Blow-up,’ the story adapted by Antonioni for the film of the same name, and much besides. Cortázar is indispensible to the story of twentieth-century literature. As the publisher reminds us, Pablo Neruda said it best: “Anyone who doesn’t read Cortázar is doomed. Not to read him is a serious invisible disease, which in time can have terrible consequences. Something similar to a man who has never tasted peaches. He would quietly become sadder. . .and, probably, little by little, he would lose his hair.”

Autonauts is a journal of Cortázar and Dunlop’s thirty-three-day voyage on the Paris-Marseilles freeway in 1982, a voyage they undertook as a sort of paradoxical challenge, something of an inverse adventure. On this inventure, all rest stops were visited and careful observation of roadside flora and fauna became the foundation for much writing, done in deck chairs (the ‘Florid Horrors’), on a manual Olympia, and so on. Photos accompany the text, so as you read, the sensation of riding and camping along the highway is accentuated, as it is by the mock-scientific reportage of the logbook entries detailing time, temperature, location, what was eaten for breakfast, in a sort of parodic homage to the sixteenth-century scientist/explorers who set out from the Old World to ‘discover’ the New.

The book is generous and unpretentious, its coy charm unusual in any literary atmosphere, and it is bound to be treasured in particular by those who know Cortázar’s work. But the particular impetus for this post was the blistering response by Calque to the weirdly flimsy review of Autonauts published in the New York Times Book Review. It’s a case study in poor reviewing and a contrasting example of the benefits of blogging, as the review-of-review is on Calque's webpage. (Speaking of blogs, somehow the New York Review of Books' recent piece on the blogosphere – an omnibus review of books on the subject – failed to take notice of the many worthwhile literary blogs; it’s as though the article itself falls prey to the traps purportedly inherent in blogging. Read it for yourself if you wish; it’s in NYRB 2.14.08, pp. 16-20). A glance around the reviewing landscape reveals that Autonauts has been well received, if not always exhaustively reviewed, by Quarterly Conversation, The Austin Chronicle, the LA Times, and Bookforum.

No comments: