From the Observatory, Julio Córtazar
The life cycle of the Atlantic eel has a lot to do with Jaipur, India’s 18th-century holy temple contracted by its sultan. At least, this is the case as presented by Julio Córtazar, the otherworldy multinational author responsible for some of the greatest contributions to Latin American literature.
From the Observatory is this pulsing thing, a primordial poem that establishes a sort of binary between the natural world-symbolized by the eels-and the astronomic, cosmic unknown-represented by “an hour outside all of the other hours.”
He writes in circular poetry that uses 10-page-long/one sentence metaphors and dreamy semantics that make eels sound magical–but only because they’re substitutes for his real discussion: that of the role of poetry in science and lust in relationships. You think you’re learning that eels swim upstream when they’re scared, but five pages later you’re halfway to discovering the meaning of knowledge.
“To be in a hotel room or on a platform, to be looking at a shop window, a dog, perhaps, holding you in my arms, siesta love or half-asleep, glimpsing in that patch of light through the door that opens out onto the terrace, and without notice, without any unnecessary warning of passage, in this beehive day, in this or any other way […]”
The best part? He pairs the poetry-prose with grainy black and white photos of India’s stunning whitewashed architecture. It lends a sense of eery nostalgia and unwarranted familiarity.
It will take you a half hour, at most to read it. It’s not much more than a handful of pages-and even then, it’s oversized text with dozens of photographs peppered through the novella (poem? essay? We may never know). But in these sixty-some pages, you learn to question ambition, challenge the standard concept of creativity, and delve into the meaning of passion. In short, I’ve learned more about socially constructed “truths” from this avant-garde history lesson than I have from any social ethics class or Shakespearean play.