Continuity of Parks
The boundary between that which is real and that, which is imitation or illusion has a long intellectual history. In Republic, Plato describes the state of the majority of people’s lived experience. Chained to the spot, humanity looks at shadows of artifacts cast by the light of a fire. It is only when they turn around that they realize they have been living a fantasy that is twice removed from the authentic universe. For behind them, are the artifacts themselves and beyond the cave, the Forms of which, the artifacts are copies. Finally, they observe the sun and behold the Form of the Good, the all powerful organizing force that is the highest achievable state of reality. Unlike Plato, however, Cortazar’s “Continuity of parks”, calls the existence of this binary into question; the world of Forms is collapsed into that of its imitations. The result is of which is a story in which different realities seem to interpenetrate each other, defamiliarizing the reader’s sense of truth. The world of fact and the world of fiction become one. It is undoubtedly a work of metafiction as it is “self reflexive, self-conscious and systematically draws attention to its status as an artifact in order to pose questions about the relationship between fiction and reality.
Cortazar, in his short story, blends startling strands of magical realism with sharp psychological insight and an imagination wild enough for any jungle. “A Continuity of Parks” is a title designed to lull the reader to sleep even before the story begins. It works. Who would guess that under the environmentally-conscious-sounding title, peril, deception and betrayal lurk? One is drawn into the detached world of the protagonist, a strangely intellectual man who owns a large estate. When he begins to read an action-suspense novel, one is submerged in the plot as well, caught up in a story within a story. Cortazar’s use of vivid emotional words is adroit and cunning.
Somehow it becomes hard to tell where the character’s life leaves off and the novel begins; details in the “novel” sound oddly familiar—and they should. It’s because they describe the protagonist’s world, where he is secluded on his velvet armchair as the sun is fast going down. When a murderer bounds up a silent stairway and story morphs into story, we nervously glance over our shoulders. The account juts suddenly into our living rooms. With just one page of words, Cortazar has challenged not only the limits of interpretation, but also the certainty of our personal safety with an efficient mingling of the reality with fiction. The short story is true to its basic element- it makes the reader think and evades him into a personal mystery which is self-imposed. Never does the author forcefully makes us think about the happenings. He just mildly and subtly plays with his words and the readers mingle along with his subtle art.
The businessman on the way to his country home has resumed reading a novel that had been interrupted by “some urgent business conferences.” He’s in control: “he permitted himself a slowly growing interest in the plot, in the characterizations.” He takes care of some final business when he arrives at the estate and then settles in a moment of tranquility into “his favorite armchair, its back toward the door,” so that the businessman faces a window, looking onto “the park with its oaks.” “Even the possibility of an intrusion would have irritated him had he thought of it.” I can understand that. He’s a businessman and he’s worked hard and now he wants to relax. “He tasted the almost perverse pleasure of disengaging himself line by line from the things around him. . . . Word by word, licked up by the sordid dilemma of the hero and the heroine, letting himself be absorbed to the point where the images settled down and took on color and movement, he was witness to the final encounter in the mountain cabin.”
From there, “The Continuity of Parks”- the shortest story Julio Cortazar ever wrote – dovetails with the “final encounter in the mountain cabin” in the novel the businessman is reading. The hero, a man, meets his lover in the cabin to go over the details of their plan to murder the woman’s husband and from there runs to the nearby home where the husband unwittingly waits to be murdered, while the woman heads off to their predetermined rendezvous point. They have plotted ahead of time, and everything, the hero reflects as he steals into the couple’s home, follows their plot perfectly: all the way to the final lines in which he approaches, knife upraised, “the high back of an armchair covered in green velvet, the head of the man in the chair reading a novel.” Now the loop has closed back on itself, snake swallowing its own tail. The man reading the novel at the beginning of Julio’s story appears now as the victim character in the novel he reads. Or the novel a man reads turns out to be the story of his own fate, consummated at the very moment that he reads of its consummation. What does this little story do?
It has the power of a certain kind of writing to pull us subtly into its universe or, equally, to project itself out and organize our universe according to its plot? To this extent, one way to describe what the “Continuity of Parks” does would be to say that it portrays and provokes a dynamic mixing of the boundaries between worlds. But what about the lethal sweetness of the experience for the businessman in the story? He pays with his life for his absorption. Why? Perhaps because for the businessman reading works like a secret room, “disengaged” from his life, like an affair, or a hidden gambling addiction but apparently more innocuous. It is leisure time, and in sharp contrast with the active, commanding stance he assumes in his work, his leisure time posture is passive and fiercely protected (the very thought of an intrusion would irritate him). The world of fiction, which he has kept pressed back firmly behind the sturdy door separating work from pleasure, now, reasserts itself aggressively, literally bursting through that door to make its claim on his life.
In the whole passage, and true in the story as whole, and from the very first sentence of the story, “He had begun…,” the subjective personal pronoun “he” is used to identify the man reading the book in .”..An armchair covered in green velvet.” He didn’t have a name, thus the writer never gave a distinction between, neither, the man reading the book to his wife’s lovers, or to the character slay in the book. The only instant, the readers knew for certain that the character slay in the book and the man reading the book are of one, was at the end when the man was described to have been sitting in .”..the high back of an armchair covered in green velvet.” The only way to identify him was with a lifeless object, of which soon he will become. Lifeless.
The “armchair covered in green velvet,” also plays another important role in symbolizing death. Cortazar used green as the color which describes the armchair of which the man is sitting on to read his book. Green symbolizes nature. Nature, in turn, epitomizes the nature of life and death. Since the man is sitting on an armchair covered in green velvet, it can be said that the man is sitting on death.
He, the man reading the novel is,”…licked up by the sordid dilemma of the hero and heroine…” The “sordid dilemma” is the adultery his wife has committed. The term “licked” implies that he is defeated. He is defeated by the adultery between the hero and heroine, the treachery of his wife and her lover. This illustrates that even though he knows of the affair and their plans to murder him, he does not want to stop them since perhaps he feels like he deserves to die, which is why his wife and her lover are depicted as the heroes.
Last but not least, the word “witness,” in the statement,”…letting himself be absorbed to the point where the images settled down and took on color and movement, he was witness to the final encounter in the mountain cabin,” not only implies that he was exceptionally addicted to the book, but that he was extremely obsessed with the book because he was so familiar with the character in the book since he recognizes himself with the character in the book, the witness; foreshadowing a murder in which he will be more than a bystander but who is slain.
The link between the “real” and “unreal” becomes indiscernible within the telling of the story itself. For the reader, the suspension of “belief” regarding the story versus reality replicates a process similar to the author’s when creating a fiction. The author’s success lies in the doubts and questions which emerge in the hearts of the readers. Cortazar proves his sheer brilliance with this masterpiece which continues to evoke mystery and inquisitiveness in the readers for years to come.