Jack’s Naughty Bits: Julio Cortazar, Hopscotch

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Jack's Naughty Bits

It’s a standby among parlor-room conundrums: If you had to be deprived of all your senses save one, which would you keep? Taste, perhaps, if you were Paul Prudhomme and lived down the block from La Tour d’Argent; or smell, if Carolina wisteria bloomed outside your bay windows; some would say hearing, transfixed by the rapture of Beethoven or Bessie Smith; but most people would cling to sight, “the prime work of God” (as Milton called it after he lost his), and hope to fight back the haunting darkness.


Not I. For my money, if I could only retain one means of interacting with the world, it would be touch. Touch, soft like the powder on a moth’s wing, the cool parabola of a slow-traced finger along my brow. I imagine myself blind as Borges, reading the Braille dots that circle a nipple or stroking the soft harp strings of down on my lover’s belly. Deaf as the desert amid the seesaw scissoring of body on body, hearing through contact the syllables of joint and sinew, learning through movement the grammar of friction. My brain is full of visual images I won’t soon forget; the jukebox of the mind contains innumerable tracks; I can recall the smell and taste of my favorite things almost at will; but of touch I require a constant transfusion. Something about touch defies memory — it is diffuse, complex and difficult to render in language. Aristotle was probably right that we receive all our knowledge through our senses, but touch is the only one I trust, and sex the language in which I’m least willing to lie. Fingers working like self-aware brushes on the electrified canvas of skin, a hundred million nerve endings in constant communion with the brain — that is the source of touch’s appeal.


We’ve all temporarily experienced what it would be like to have only one sense (at least under ideal circumstances): headphones on and eyes closed, surrendering to the tweeter and woof, or full-mouthed and chewing, head thrown back in communion with the flavor of a morel. With porn, especially, we limit ourselves to a one-sense experience, even if more would be merrier. Internet smut is the worst: sitting unfeelingly in a desk chair, gazing through the blue flicker to unreachably distant, odorless, 2-D bodies gathering themselves in their pixels for our delight, the crotch and the eye connected by a single, throbbing nerve — not how I’d prefer my arousal. I don’t think I’m alone in this opinion. Among allies in the cult of contact I think I can number the great Argentine writer, Julio Cortázar. Cortázar’s chef d’oeuvre, the avant-garde novel Hopscotch, contains one of my favorite love scenes in modern literature. He paints it in a few hundred words, and in all five senses, but it’s clear that touch is sovereign. Two eyes, two ears, one tongue, one nose, ten fingers. See what I mean? Reach out.


from Hopscotch by Julio Cortázar, translated by Gregory Rabassa

I touch your mouth, I touch the edge of your mouth with my finger, I am drawing it as if it were something my hand was sketching, as if for the first time your mouth opened a little, and all I have to do is close my eyes to erase it and start all over again, every time I can make the mouth I want appear, the mouth which my hand chooses and sketches on your face, and which by some chance that I do not seek to understand coincides exactly with your mouth which smiles beneath the one my hand is sketching on you.


You look at me, from close up you look at me, closer and closer and then we play cyclops, we look closer and closer at one another and our eyes get larger, they come closer, they merge into one and the two cyclopses look at each other, blending as they breathe, our mouths touch and struggle in gentle warmth, biting each other with their lips, barely holding their tongues on their teeth, playing in corners where a heavy air comes and goes with an old perfume and a silence. Then my hands go to sink into your hair, to cherish slowly the depth of your hair while we kiss as if our mouths were filled with flowers or with fish, with lively movements and dark fragrance. And if we bite each other the pain is sweet, and if we smother each other in a brief and terrible sucking in together of our breaths, that momentary death is beautiful. And there is but one saliva and one flavor of ripe fruit, and I feel you tremble against me like a moon on the water.

© 1966

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Jack Murnighan‘s stories appeared in the Best American Erotica editions of 1999, 2000 and 2001. His weekly column for Nerve, Jack’s Naughty Bits, was collected and released as two books. He was the editor-in-chief of Nerve from 1999 to 2001, before retiring to write full time and take seriously the quest for love.

Introduction ©2000 Jack Murnighan and, Inc.