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  • Remembering the Sixties: On Julio Cortázar’s Hopscotch and Time
  • Gavin Arnall

Subjects that have long been investigated and appropriated by scholars need to be emancipated from the forms in which such scholarly acquisition took place, if they are still to have any value and any defined character today.

– Walter Benjamin1

We live in times of remembrance.2 The past decade has been one of countless public gatherings and academic conferences, new editions and special issues, art installations and even Hollywood films observing the fiftieth anniversary of the many great books, figures, and events of the sixties. This has been the case particularly during the recent flurry of activities surrounding the anniversary of the 1968 global uprising, although every year of the 2010s has included various opportunities to memorialize what happened during the corresponding year in the 1960s. How the past is remembered is nevertheless far more important [End Page 360] than the simple fact that its remembrance is widespread. As Fredric Jameson has observed, “[n]ostalgic commemoration of the glories of the 60s and abject public confession of the decade’s many failures and missed opportunities are two errors that cannot be avoided by some middle path that threads its way between” (“Periodizing” 483). These two modes of remembering the sixties are the most common among today’s Left, and I share Jameson’s sentiment that both are ultimately misguided. When the nostalgic Left longingly recalls the sixties as “the good old days,” it forecloses a sober evaluation of what the period was not able to accomplish, its still unfulfilled potential. Analogously, when the repentant Left abjectly confesses to how misguided it once was, it cannot but lose sight of past hopes and desires that remain—to paraphrase Ernst Bloch—not yet realized (Principle 246–49).3 The solution to these two errors is not to combine them into some sort of middle term. This is because, to a certain extent, they are already combined. They make up what Jameson elsewhere characterizes as a “union of bad opposites,” which is to say, “two distinct symptoms united in a single cause” (“Three Names” 28).4 To overcome both terms of the dialectic would therefore require a third form of remembrance that would present a genuine alternative to their shared ground.

The wager of this article is that underlying both nostalgic commemoration and its opposite is a shared conceptualization of time that Walter Benjamin and his readers have characterized as historicism.5 In Enzo Traverso’s words, “[h]istoricism means khronos: a [End Page 361] purely linear, quantitative, and chronological vision of history as an ensemble of events put on the plane of a measurable elapsed time” (223). By conceptualizing time in this way—as a homogenous and unidirectional continuum—the past becomes “a closed continent, a definitively finished process. The past of historicism [is] nothing but cold, dead matter ready to be archived or put into a museum” (222).6 This understanding of the past unites the nostalgic and repentant Left. While these groups harbor opposite valuations of the sixties, they construe the period’s temporality in the same way, as a fixed point on a line that—for better or for worse—has been surpassed, left behind, such that it is now separated from the living present by the measurable distance of fifty-some years. As a result, both camps are “merely backward-looking,” unable to participate in the kind of remembrance that would “contain within itself the seeds of a new futurity” (Osbourne 142).

To make these opening propositions more concrete, I will turn to the case study of this article, Julio Cortázar’s Hopscotch [Rayuela], and examine how it is remembered today. Dubbed by Jean Franco “the signature Latin American novel of the 1960s” (Decline 201), it is no surprise that a special edition of Hopscotch was released in 2013 to commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of its publication.7 The anniversary was observed in other ways as well, including international roundtables, press releases in major newspapers, and even an extensive exhibit of specially commissioned artwork from over 50 contemporary artists.8 Argentina’s Ministry of Culture then announced that 2014 would be the “Year...