He is considered one of the most innovative and original authors of his time, a master of history, poetic prose and short story in general and a creator of important novels that inaugurated a new way of making literature in the Hispanic world by breaking the classical moulds through narratives that escaped temporal linearity. As the content of his work travels on the border between the real and the fantastic, it is often placed within the genres of magical realism and surrealism. He lived his childhood and adolescence and incipient maturity in Argentina and, after the s, in Europe. He lived in Italy, Spain, Switzerland and France, where he settled in and composed some of his works.
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Taking the final months in the life of the prodigious jazz musician Johnny Carter as its subject, the story is in many ways an exploration of the career and personal life of the famous alto saxophonist Charlie Parker, the most influential musician of the style of jazz music known as bebop.
His depiction of the tensions between the critic and the artist, the theme of pursuit in art and life, and newly emerging philosophies of time and space, have earned "The Pursuer" a place among the classic texts of post-World-War-II literature. Throughout his youth he developed a passion for classic literature, but he was forced because of his family's financial situation to drop out of the University of Buenos Aires after one year and become a teacher.
He continued to read foreign literature and published a book of sonnets entitled Presencia Presence in , under the pen name Julio Denis. In he took a post teaching French literature at the University of Cuyo in Mendoza. Later in his life, he married the Canadian writer Carol Dunlap.
In , the author published his most famous novel, Rayuela Hopscotch , which employs a revolutionary narrative structure by way of chapters that are not read in chronological order but can be skipped through in at least two coherent sequences. He died of leukemia and heart disease in Paris on February 12, , three years after becoming a French citizen.
After a dedication to "Ch. Johnny is recovering from another bout of heavy drinking and drug use, he has once again lost his sax, and he is in a bad mood. While the three of them drink rum and coffee, Johnny talks about time, one of his "manias," or intense obsessions, using the subway and an elevator as examples of time not working in a rational way. Two or three days later, Bruno visits Tica, or "the marquesa," a rich friend and sometime lover of Johnny, to find out if she has been giving him heroin, or "junk.
Then Johnny arrives, in "great shape" with a moderate amount of drugs in his system and optimistic about the concert that night. Next comes a brief section of Bruno's thoughts during the intermission of that night's concert, about Johnny and the music he uses "to explore himself, to bite into the reality that escapes every day.
Bruno delays going to see him until the next day, but he finds out in the police reports the next morning that Johnny set his hotel room on fire and escaped, running naked through the halls.
Johnny is emaciated, or extremely thin from illness, but his temperature is normal, and he talks to Bruno about his visions of fields with urns that contain the ashes of dead people, as well as his conviction that the doctors and scientists that are so sure of themselves do not understand the world at all.
He uses the example of cutting a loaf of bread, which he cannot understand because it seems that the bread must change into something else when he touches it or cuts it. Then Johnny falls asleep and Bruno observes that Johnny is not a genius "walk[ing] in the clouds," but a man more real than anyone else. Bruno then receives a call from Tica who says that Johnny's youngest daughter, Bee, has died in Chicago.
Bruno goes to Johnny's hotel room and listens to Johnny explode about his friends keeping the recording of Amorous. Bruno next sees Johnny while sitting at a cafe with Tica and Baby Lennox, another woman that adores Johnny. Tica goes over to deal with Johnny while Bruno flirts with Baby and finds out from two musicians in Johnny's new group that Johnny is "barely able to play anything.
After everyone else leaves, Johnny and Bruno walk to the Seine River, and Bruno asks him about his biography, which has just been translated from French into English. Johnny says he liked it but there are things missing. Considering his decision not to include Johnny's psychological and physical abnormalities and illnesses in the biography, Bruno asks him again about the book and Johnny responds, "what you forgot to put in is me.
Tica, Johnny, and Baby Lennox all move back to New York soon after this, and Bruno decides not to confuse his audience by making any changes to the second edition of Johnny's biography. Bruno then receives a telegram from Baby Lennox saying that Johnny has died. Bruno finds out that he was at Tica's place and likely died of a severe drug overdose. Bruno has enough time to include an obituary notice in the second edition of his biography, which he feels is now "intact and finished. Johnny's youngest daughter with Lan, Bee dies of pneumonia in Chicago.
Her death is quite a blow to Johnny, who later says about his music: "What I'm playing is Bee dead. Bernard, whom Johnny calls a "sad-assed idiot," is the physician taking care of Johnny in Paris.
Art is a musician, perhaps a bassist, and a friend of Johnny. Bruno calls him a "teahead," or a marijuana smoker, and he sometimes feels sorry for him because Johnny has let him down in Paris. Like Johnny, Art is from the United States , and he has had "conversations with his agent about going back to New York as soon as possible. Bruno is a prestigious music critic who has recently published a very successful biography of Johnny. The narrator of the story, he is a Parisian intellectual who, although he is close friends with Johnny and the jazz crowd, does not take drugs or mix in much with their social life.
Bruno is like Johnny's lovers, friends, and fellow musicians who exploit Johnny for their own devices, since Bruno's book and much of his career is founded on Johnny's genius. Yet Bruno seems to be the only person aware that he is doing this, and Bruno also as becomes clear while he is listening to Amorous understands Johnny's music, as well as his obsessions and philosophies, better than any of the other characters. Indeed, Bruno seems to understand more about Johnny's real self than anyone else, which is perhaps why Johnny considers him such a great friend.
Bruno's relationship with Johnny is quite complex. Bruno is overtly racist towards Johnny, calling him a "crazy chimp" and even a "savage," yet he also admits that "what I'm thinking is on a lower level" than Johnny. Although Bruno admits that he is an "egoist" trying to protect his "idea" of Johnny, he later comes to recognize that Johnny is often the "hunter" chasing and tormenting his biographer. Also, Bruno is one of the people who is always taking care of Johnny and giving him what he needs.
However, by the end of the story, Johnny's combination of intriguing and tormenting Bruno results in Bruno's refusal to include Johnny's complex personal life in the second edition of the biography. A prodigious jazz saxophonist and one of the great talents of his time, Johnny Carter is the main subject of the story. His character is closely based on the famous bebop musician Charlie "Yardbird" Parker, and, like Parker, Johnny is a heroin addict and an alcoholic with severe psychological illnesses.
He has abandoned his wife, children, and an unknown number of other lovers, he continually loses or sells his saxophone, he fails to come to performances or refuses to play while there, he has a tendency to be suicidal, and it is sometimes necessary to confine him to a psychiatric hospital because he is a danger to himself or other people. But Johnny is also a unique genius whose understanding of life and psychological problems are inextricably connected to his philosophical and artistic insights.
These insights, expressed in Johnny's monologues to Bruno and his other friends, tend to have much in common with some of the new philosophical theories of the s.
The most pronounced of Johnny's obsessions is time, which confounds him because he sees that it is not a linear or collective phenomenon. This relates to the rhythmic innovations of his music and the fact that he is a "pursuer" or "hunter," which Bruno sees as a desperate struggle to find a crack in the "door" and discover a new way of thinking about the world. Although Johnny often disappoints his friends and family, he is also a person who is almost universally revered and admired.
His genius although Bruno insists that he is not a "genius" is in the combination of his personal life, his music, and his philosophical theories, and Bruno's racist caricature of him as a "chimpanzee who wants to learn to read" also, ironically, suggests that he is struggling to evolve and understand things that his species, the human race, has not understood before.
Johnny is ahead of his time, struggling to reach a new level of existence, and normal society, including his biographer Bruno, is ultimately unable to accept or understand him.
Confusing reality with fiction, Bruno mentions an interview with Miles Davis , the famous jazz trumpeter who played with Charlie Parker during the peak of his career in New York. Davis was, together with Parker, one of the most influential jazz musicians of the bebop era. During his climactic discussion with Bruno near the end of the story, Johnny refers to playing with Davis when "the door open[ed] a little bit," and he found, or nearly found, what he was looking for.
By the time the story begins, she is already quite worn down by Johnny and the lifestyle they lead. Finding the red dress she is wearing during the opening scene repulsive, Bruno notices that she has "gotten older. Delaunay is from Paris and seems to be a manager or producer of some kind, since he runs things in the studio but does not play an instrument.
Marcel is Johnny's friend and fellow musician, likely a trumpet player from the United States. He enjoys joking with Tica, and he takes away Johnny's saxophone after a recording session so Johnny does not sell or destroy it.
Bruno feels that Marcel, like Art, fails to understand Johnny as well as he does. Lan is Johnny's wife, although they seem to have been separated for a long time.
She lives in Chicago with her daughter Bee, who dies of pneumonia. During Johnny's description of the moment when, as he was playing a solo, "time" began to "open out," he remembers Lan's red dress, and he also tells Bruno that Lan's red dress is one of the things Johnny's biography is "missing.
The twenty-year-old beauty that goes back to New York with Johnny at the end of the story, Baby is one of Johnny's admirers. Bruno calls her stupid and promiscuous, but she seems to know how to handle Johnny despite Bruno's suspicion that she would readily shoot up heroin and become "lost" with him. Pepe is the musician who talks with Art and Delaunay about Lester Young , the alto saxophonist that was Charlie Parker's hero when he was growing up, in the hotel after Johnny learns that his daughter died.
Although her name is Tica, Bruno often refers to Johnny's friend and sometime lover, the wife now separated of a marquis, as "The Marquesa. Since then she has given him money, sometimes slept with him, shot up heroin with him, and used her unique ability to calm him down and provide comfort when he has needed it. Tica is both an enabler for Johnny's drug addiction , since she is the person who most frequently supplies him with heroin, and a sophisticated and generous friend that often saves him in social situations.
Two months before the opening of "The Pursuer," Johnny had a falling-out with Tica, which is why Bruno is the one to pay for a new saxophone when Johnny loses his on the metro. But Johnny "makes up" with her during a recording session, and they remain close until the end of the story, when they both leave Paris for New York. In many ways, Tica's character is based on the Baroness Pannonica "Nica" de Koenigswarter, a benefactor and socialite who befriended and financially supported many jazz musicians, including Charlie Parker and Thelonious Monk.
Like Tica, Nica separated from her rich husband because of "dope and other, similar, reasons," and moved to New York and then Paris in pursuit of the bebop scene. She became quite famous, or infamous, after Parker died in her New York luxury apartment from complications due to drug and alcohol abuse.
Bruno's entire career is, in a sense, based on "pursuing" Johnny and Johnny's musical talent. He helps Johnny, in part, in order to make sure that his biography is successful, and he tries to keep Johnny off of drugs, in part, so that Johnny will remain famous for his music and not for his incredibly complex psychology, which Bruno's biography completely omits.
As Bruno admits, "we're a bunch of egotists; under the pretext of watching out for Johnny what we're doing is protecting our idea of him. Bruno later suggests, however, that the theme of pursuit is more complex than this. Johnny pursues a new definition and realm of possibility in art, and he pursues his friends as well; in his struggle to find what he is looking for with his prodigious music, he hunts and exposes his friends' weaknesses.
Bruno admits that he is haunted by what Johnny reveals about his own failures and unhappiness and especially his "prestige," and he feels sorry for Art because Art could not succeed in Paris without Johnny. Although Bruno seems to have less sympathy for the women in Johnny's life, in many ways they seem to be hunted intensely, since Johnny has a tendency to abandon them once he has successfully caught them.
For example, one of his chief interests is in the relationship between the critic and the artist; critics like Bruno must pursue and clarify the truth or the nature of the artist so that the art itself can be comprehended. Similarly, artists like Johnny are constantly engaged in pursuing some of the basic values and assumptions of a society, trying desperately to open the door to a new understanding of the world.
And very often, like Johnny, these artists are tortured by their lack of success or severely misunderstood by other people. Although Bruno has a tendency to dismiss Johnny's discussions of time after he is finished talking with him, these speculations are central to "The Pursuer. In fact, many of his obsessive rants relate to some of the most pressing philosophical issues of the post— World War II era, particularly in the area of metaphysics, the branch of philosophy that deals with the "nature of reality.
As Bruno admits, Johnny's moments of true artistic genius, as reflected in the recording of Amorous , occur not when he is technically accurate but when he is most desperately fighting against convention and searching for an "outlet" in time and existence. Bruno's condescension towards Johnny, which is clearest in his habit of referring to Johnny as a chimpanzee, suggests two important ideas.
First, it emphasizes that Bruno uses racism as a way of dealing with his insecurity around Johnny. Bruno can feel better about himself and his "prestige" by convincing himself that because Johnny is a black man his "mental age does not permit him to understand" the biography's profundity. The author may be suggesting that such racist judgments and simplifications are delusional. The most important stylistic technique of "The Pursuer" is its unique use of past, present, and future verb tenses to narrate the story.
Bruno does not follow any commonly accepted standard of dramatic unity or narrative structure and insists on using awkward verb structures. He most frequently uses the present perfect verb tense, a verb form that is usually used to discuss events that happened at an uncertain point between the past and present.
It is vital to recognize the distinction between the literal Spanish version of the verb usage in "The Pursuer" and the version presented by the translator.