Julio Cortázar, Roberto Calasso, Deirdre Madden, Sam Riviere

Julio Cortázar “All Fires the Fire” Roberto Calasso “The Celestial Hunter” Deirdre Madden “Molly Fox’s Birthday” Sam Riviere “Dead Souls”

Many of Cortázar’s stories share the same form: two separate narratives (separated by time, by species, by distance) slowly become more similar, until they reveal they’ve always been the same narrative, pushing the reader into vertigo. They’re double narratives that hunt each other and both catch their prey.

Calasso also writes about hunters who become what they hunt. He writes that the first carnivorous ancestors of humans were scavengers. They ate what the predators who hunted them left behind – their fellow prey, what would become, if the predator’s next hunt was successful, themselves.

Calasso argues that sacrifice reenacts this primordial guilt. In sacrificial rituals, the killer paints themselves with the blood of what they killed, symbolically becoming the victim.

Madden’s novel describes another kind of symbolic imitation – writing and acting. Her story is about three friends, one a playwright, one an actor, one a critic. The playwright and actor are the closest of the three. In order to write roles for her friend, the playwright imitates how her friend would become them on stage. In order to act those roles, the actor imitates how her friend became them at the writing desk. They not only become these characters, they lose themselves in the person their friend thinks they are.

The critic, on the outskirts of their friendship, is also on the outskirts of this artistic process. Instead of entering into the work, he cordons himself apart from it in order to comment on it. His work is creative but not transformative.

There’s a strange and strong parallel between The Celestial Hunter and Dead Souls. Calasso’s book about hunting and imitation transforms, without much explanation, into a description of a higher realm where there is no difference, only simultaneity so undifferentiated it becomes nothingness. Riviere’s book is about a poet who gets in trouble for imitation and plagiarism, who confesses that, for him, writing poetry is “the replacement of things in the world with their absence.”

In the end, the only way for Riviere’s poet to escape the judgement of his peers is to voluntarily go to them, judge himself for his crimes of imitation, and sentence himself to a fitting punishment. Like Cortázar’s double narratives, Calasso’s sacrifices, and Madden’s friends, he becomes the hunter hunting himself.

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