Reading Notes on "La noche boca arriba" ("The Night Face Up")

This isn't exactly reading notes, but rather Chapter 91 of my book ms. Living Invention, or, The Way of Julio Cortazar. But it does offer my brief reading of "The Night Face Up"

91.   Inventing an Arc of Becoming in "The Night Face Up"

            This story seems simple enough.   What happens to the man seems not so uncommon.   Enjoying a motorcycle ride through a large city he is a surprised by a careless pedestrian.   Avoiding her, he suffers an accident and winds up in traction in the hospital.   Drifting in and out of sleep in his room, he slips at the same time in and out of a dream in which he, a Motecan Indian, flees the Aztec hunters who want to capture him for a mass sacrifice.   It's as old, at least, as Chuang Tzu: "Once upon a time, I, Chuang Tzu, dreamt that I was a butterfly, flitting around and enjoying myself.   I had no idea I was Chuang Tzu.   Then suddenly I woke up and was Chuang Tzu again.   But I could not tell, had I been Chuang Tzu dreaming I was a butterfly, or a butterfly dreaming I was now Chuang Tzu?   However, there must be some sort of difference between Chuang Tzu and a butterfly!   We call this the transformation of things."   The man in Julio's story, for almost the whole story, feels pretty certain that he is the man who lies injured in the hospital.   At the end of the story though, as he lies on an altar awaiting the stone knife of the Aztec priest, "he knew that he was not going to wake up, that he was awake, that the marvelous dream had been the other, absurd as all dreams are."   Julio has filled his invention with a city and a civilization and a life that Chuang Tzu, civilized though he was, could only have dreamed.

            It's not important whether the man is awake in the hospital or awake on the Aztec altar.   Actually, he is awake in both places and he is also dreaming in both places.   What matters in the story - what matters when I open my eyes or close them or do whatever I need to do so as to just see what's there - is the movement across zones of being and time.   We might call this the transformation of things.     Astonishing to me is the fullness of physical detail, the density of emotion with which Julio imbues both sides of the double being of this man.   Hospital or jungle, he smells, sees, hears, and feels, his body works, heart beating, breath rising and falling, pores sweating.   He's caught in one of Deleuze's blocs of becoming: a Motec-becoming of the modern city dweller, and an urbanite-becoming of the Indian.   But in the zone of becoming that is this story, the terms modern and traditional also fall away, just as surely as they assert themselves.   Thus the modern city from the point of view of the Indian who believes he has dreamed it becomes for us just as unfamiliar, or familiar, as the Aztec altar.   Julio holds these terms in an arc of exquisite tension across which the man slides like a spark and this tension is not resolved just because the narrator stops recounting the transformation of things when the Motecan feels certain that the dream was the other.   After all, where transformation is the point, where you stop makes no difference, and it makes all the difference.   "To the sage," continues Chuang Tzu, "all life is one and united.   All life is simply what it is [ Ù 37]."

Chuang Tzu, The Book of Chuang Tzu , Trans. Martin Palmer with Elizabeth Breuilly (New York: Penguin, 1996), p. 20.

Julio Cortázar, "The Night Face-Up," Blow-Up and Other Stories , Trans. Paul Blackburn (New York: Collier, 1968), p. 66.   In Spanish: "La noche boca arriba," Final del juego, 2a ed. [1964] Cuentos Completos/1 (Madrid: Alfaguara, 1994), p. 392.

 


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