The writer Julio Cortázar professed great admiration for Gaudí’s work, which he accredited in an interview for Spanish television in 1977, where he recounted memories of his early childhood and his feelings about the architect’s work.
Son of a diplomat, he lived in Barcelona between 2 and 4 years old while his family waited for the First World War to end in order to return to Argentina. From those years Cortázar kept an imprecise memory of the colorful trencadís on the Park Güell bench, where, as he explained in the report, his parents took him to play: “My immense admiration for Gaudí begins perhaps at two years of age, unconsciously”. (1)
In a paragraph of that interview, he explains: “I have imprecise memories of those years, (…) very disjointed, very scattered images returned to me that I could not make coincide with anything I knew, and then I asked my mother (…) and she told me: That may correspond to the fact that as a child, in Barcelona, we took you almost every day to play with other children in Park Güell ”. (2) In those years, Gaudí lived in Park Güell, so it is attractive to think about the possibility that he might have met the boy and future great writer on one of those walks he used to take along the gardens.
Afterwards he tells how when he returned to Park Güell as an adult, he had a different impression, as he observed it from another physical and mental perspective. (3)
Cortázar, born on August 26, 1914 in Belgium, grew up and trained in Argentina and later settled in Paris. A curious coincidence with Gaudí is that he also had a sickly childhood. In his case, this forced him to spend time in bed, and it was there that his love of reading began, which made him a precocious devourer of novels and poetry. (4)
In his youth, this passion for reading grew to become his main source of training, similar to Gaudí who spent many hours in the library of the School of Architecture to expand his knowledge. Beyond this, there seem to be few artistic and human coincidences between them, although there are nevertheless some common traits between both creators that are evidenced in a study beyond superficiality.
In the first place, a desire for perfectionism that pushed them to incessant work and perhaps to a certain frustration at believing that they would never achieve the desired objective of transmitting to the subject what their sensitivity drew in their minds. Cortázar’s novel 62: a model kit, (5) famous for subverting traditional ways of writing, contains paragraphs that tell us about the limitations of expression.
The text begins by recounting the protagonist’s difficulty in finding a way to report to his friends a coincidence that he found amusing happened in a fleeting moment in a Parisian restaurant: “There were no words, because there was no possible thought for that force capable of turning shreds of memory, isolated and anodyne images, in a sudden vertiginous block, in a living constellation annihilated in the very act of showing itself.” A little later, he explains how he will persist in “reviving that matter that became more and more language, a combinatorial art of memories and circumstances, knowing that that same night or the next day (…) everything that he told would be irretrievably falsified.”
Gaudí was also a tireless worker in searching to give materiality to what he imagined. His buildings seem to never reach the ideal of its author, who dedicates all his efforts to seek a perfection that seems to resist him. That’s why we find him rethinking projects over and over again, both in the design and construction stages. Gaudí’s architecture expresses synthesis and perfection simultaneously, only incompletely explicable with words. “Words are never enough when what to say overflows the soul,” said Cortázar. It is the persistent creative effort that is constantly unsatisfied what through continuous and methodical work allows us to reach a higher order capable of emotion. “I have tired a lot to those who have worked with me, always trying to improve things, because I have not considered anything as good until I have convinced myself that I could no longer perfect it,” he told one of his collaborators. (6)
Gaudí’s creative nonconformity prompted him to develop new ways of projecting: Such is the case of the three-dimensional hanging model with scale loads for the Colonia Güell church. Another example of innovative technique was the use of photographs of the model to draw and correct on the prints, a method not used until then. He was also innovative when it combined traditional and established construction techniques with unusual forms such as warped ruled surfaces.
There is another coincidence with Cortázar who, in the search for a means of expression, rewrote traditional literary methods, shaping novels open to many ways of being read, such as the famous Hopscotch.
In it, the protagonist persists in finding a “center”: “And that center, which I don’t know what it is, isn’t it valid as a topographical expression of a unit? I’m walking by a huge room with a tile floor and one of those tiles is the exact point where I should stop so that everything is arranged in its proper perspective.” (7). Or reformulates an old statement: “Terrible task to splash in a circle whose center is everywhere and its circumference nowhere.” (8)
The writer is determined to find the materialization of something that he glimpses internally but resists him and demands his greatest effort: a comprehensive, unequivocal literary expression. It recalls what Gaudí wanted of architecture when he said through his personal point of view: “Sometimes, after many sacrifices (…) the architect manages to see the angelic three-dimensionality for a few seconds. The architecture that arises from this inspiration produces fruits that satisfy generations.” Cortázar’s “Center ” is conceptually similar to Gaudí’s “angelic three-dimensionality”.
It is not surprising, then, that someone who was so distant in time, artistically and ideologically from Gaudí like Cortázar, became emotional about his work, since both undertook the same search, although in different ways. True art is capable of overcoming all barriers and placing itself on a plane above personal and philosophical differences.
Article about Gaudí, Cortázar and Borges in: https://bit.ly/32jOLse
Video with the extract of Cortázar’s comments about Gaudí in the TVE interview: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xnq2Ce4YuZI
Transcription of the sections of the interview with Julio Cortázar in the TVE program “A Fondo”. (03-20-1977) in which he refers to Gaudí’s work:
Min. 4:10/5:45: Between one and a half and three and a half years old I lived in Barcelona until in 1918, after the first world war, my family was able to return to Argentina. I have inaccurate memories of those years, memories that worried and tormented me a bit when I was a child. Around the age of 9 or 10, from time to time, very disjointed, very scattered images came back to me that I could not make coincide with nothing known, and then I asked my mother: There are times when I see strange shapes, like tiles or majolica with colors. What can that be? And she told me: That may correspond to the fact that as a child, in Barcelona, we took you almost every day to play with other children in Park Güell. So notice that my immense admiration for Gaudí begins perhaps at the age of two, unconsciously.
Min. 6: 31/7: 08: The first time I came to Europe, in 1949, I took a boat whose first stop was Barcelona, and then the first thing I did was go to Park Güell, and naturally the image no longer corresponded, even for a matter of optics: I was now looking at Park Güell from one meter ninety-three, and instead the child had looked at it from below, with a magical look, which I try to preserve but which I do not always have, unfortunately.
(1) Interview with Julio Cortázar on the TVE program “A Fondo”. 03-20-1977. There Cortázar tells of his relationship with Park Güell and his admiration for Gaudí. http://www.rtve.es/alacarta/videos/a-fondo/entrevista-julio-cortazar-programa-fondo/1051583/
(2) Ibid. Min. 4: 10/5: 45
(3) Ibid. Min 6: 31/7: 08
(4) Among many others, he read Jules Verne, Alexndre Dumas, Edgar Allan Poe, Víctor Hugo, Rubén Darío and Gustavo Adolfo Becquer, as well as encyclopedias. Herraez, Miguel. Julio Cortazar. A revised biography. Ed. Alreves. Barcelona. 2011.
(5) Cortázar, Julio. 62: a model kit. Sudamericana. Buenos Aires. 1968.
(6) Phrase collected in: Puig Boada, Isidre. El pensament de Gaudí. Colegio de Arquitectos de Cataluña. Barcelona. 1981.
(7) Cortázar, Julio. Rayuela. Sudamericana. Buenos Aires. 1963. P. 66.
(8) Ibid. P. 395. Cortázar refers to the quote by Jorge Luis Borges in the tale “El Aleph” from the expression of Alanus de Insulis (Alain de Lille) to define the universe: “A sphere whose center is everywhere and the circumference is nowhere”.