October 29, 2012

"The Golden Hare" (Silvina Ocampo)



SILVINA OCAMPO


Two years ago the online translation magazine Words Without Borders (WWB) published an issue devoted to contemporary Argentinean fiction. "Beyond Borges", the title of the issue, was proof of César Aira's assertion that every writer from Argentina finds herself writing against the master.

A year ago The Argentina Independent also launched a series called "Beyond Borges". It profiled writers like Domingo Faustino Sarmiento, Leopoldo Lugones, Silvina Ocampo, Ernesto Sabato, Alejandra Pizarnik, Rodolfo Walsh, and many more.

"The Golden Hare", a story by Silvina Ocampo (1903-1993), was included in the WWB issue. Ocampo, who was part of a literary set with Borges and Bioy Casares, wrote poetry and story collections. She was younger sister to Victoria Ocampo, the founder of the influential literary journal Sur. She edited with husband Bioy and friend Borges the anthology The Book of Fantasy (1940) which contains 80-plus stories from an international set of writers. Her own writing style was considered as belonging to the surrealist-fantastic mold. Only two other books of hers appeared in English: the collection Leopoldina's Dream (1988) and the novella The Topless Tower (2010).

"The Golden Hare" is a fable for children and adults. It first appeared in the collection La furia in 1959. The story was about an immortal hare who had undergone a series of metamorphoses ("innumerable transmigrations" of soul) and then was pursued by a pack of dogs. Its meaning was not readily transparent. At some point, the narrator warned, "This is not a children's story, Jacinto", but then acknowledged that the conversation between the animals could enchant a curious seven-year old boy.

The opening was rather ornate: "In the bosom of the afternoon the sun illuminated her like a conflagration in the engravings of an ornate Bible." The overall tone hovered between menace ("The dogs were not evil, but they had sworn to catch the hare just to kill her.") and whimsicality ("The black Dane had time to snatch up an alfajor or some other pastry, which he kept in his mouth until the end of the race.").

Meanings can surely be attached like prostethic antlers to the head, although that's another animal. There was something about the tale that resembled the slipperiness of a hare, or a deer. Andrea Rosenberg, the story's translator, wrote a brief note about gender and word choice. She pointed out that "it is impossible to read Ocampo’s original without noticing how the contrast between dogs and hare is underscored by their opposing grammatical gender." The story was not limited, however, by the assumed gender of its participants.

If not for any earth-shattering insights, read it for the sake of reading. It was a short playful race too.


A Halloween-ish post for the Argentinean Literature of Doom. More translated works by Argentinean writers – Saer, Piglia, etc. – appearing in WWB can be accessed here.

8 comments:

  1. I've read Silvina Ocampo and Bioy Casares' Los que aman, odian, a curious detective novel. It had some interesting ideas and twists. One day I'll like to try her poetry.

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  2. So they did like to collaborate with each other, Silvina, Bioy, and Borges. And often in genre books. I'm hoping Silvina's poems and other stories will get to be translated too.

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    1. Borges and Bioy Casares' collaborations were very good too.

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    2. Bustos Domecq, right? I hope to read them too as they sounded like fun.

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  3. My knowledge of Ocampo's work is limited to a handful (or less) of her short stories, Rise, so it was particularly nice to see this weird story of hers reviewed on your blog (with or without the prosthethic antlers!). Thanks for the link to those other resources as well--Piglia and Saer are big favorites of mine, and I wish they had a wider audience in the English-speaking corners of the world.

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    1. Welcome, Richard. A pleasure to read for this country challenge.

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  4. I ve still to read Ocampo so many gaps in my argentinan writers ,shocking really ,all the best stu

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  5. Me, too, Stu. Sadly, there's not much books to choose from as she's under-represented in translation.

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