Since Nietzsche began expressing philosophy aphoristically, way back in the closing decades of the nineteenth century, literature in turn has become more and more abstract, or at least parabolic. Kafka, Valery, Hofmannsthal developed various metaphysical equations in the dramatic mode, full of ironic reveries and dreamy detachment. Julio Cortazar, in his latest collection of idiosyncratic tales, continues the tradition. Unlike his predecessors, Cortazar is basically an absurdist writer, much taken with the fragmentary experience of alienation or the farce of present day bourgeois life. Thus he is without any sort of personal vision or ordering sensibility. The pleasure to be had in his work is that of watching a playful, polished, and clever stylist juggle varying anecdotes, mock-pensees, paradoxes, family histories, and so forth, all the while keeping a dry and disinterested demeanor. Although much that he has to say is funny, the author never cracks a smile, and though there is a peculiar strain of lyricism and fantasy throughout the proceedings, it is always deliberately undercut by phenomenological exactitude or naturalistic detail. There are four sections: ""Instruction Manual"" (a how-to burlesque: how to sing, cry, die, wind a watch), ""Unusual Occupations"" (a bizarre family and the ""struggle against pragmatism and the horrible tendency of reaching useful ends""), ""Unstable Stuff"" (whimsical metamorphoses), and ""Cronopias and Famas"" (competing lifestyles, a philosophical harlequinade). A droll set of cunning improvisations.