Academic journal article Hecate

Unsubordinated Women: Modernist Fantasies of Liberation in Silvina Ocampo's Short Stories

Academic journal article Hecate

Unsubordinated Women: Modernist Fantasies of Liberation in Silvina Ocampo's Short Stories

Article excerpt

Fantastic Literature has proved a particularly fertile object of study with regard to the representation of the subject since, by its very nature, the fantastic stretches the conventions of fiction to their limits. Thus it corresponds to the definition of modernist literature in the sense that this experiments with streams of consciousness rather than dealing with straightforward stories. Rosemary Jackson states that fantastic literature is one of the genres to emerge from the literature of fantasy and that it is generated by unconscious desires. She suggests that fantasy literature is essentially subversive by virtue of its insistent interrogation of the real, and highlights the sociopolitical subversion of this type of writing. In her analytical studies of post-romantic works Jackson maintains that the most transgressive fantastic texts are those that attempt to remain open, 'dissatisfied, endlessly desiring.' (1) For her, it is in these texts that the fantastic is at its most controversial in its questioning of the natural and the real. Furthermore, Jackson's broad thematic division of fantasy literature into categories of metamorphosis and disintegrated bodies proves useful in an approach to Silvina Ocampo's stories.

Silvina Ocampo (1903-1994), storyteller, poet, playwright and painter, was associated for over fifty years with the most prominent literary and artistic personalities of her native Argentina--most notably with her sister, Victoria Ocampo, founder of the very important literary magazine Sur; her husband Adolfo Bioy Casares and her life-long friend Jorge Luis Borges. Silvina Ocampo, prize-winning author of seven volumes of poetry, collaborated with her husband and best friend to publish in 1940 the Antologia de la literatura fantastica. It is clear that Ocampo's participation in this book influenced her writing. Indeed, most of the short stories in her collections Autobiografia de Irene (1948), La furia y otros cuentos (1959), Las invitadas (1961) and Los dias de la noche (1970) fall within the realm of the fantastic. (2)

Bioy Casares, in the preface to this anthology, (3) asserts that there is an intrinsic relationship between the genre of the fantastic and the literature of terror/horror. He offers a classification organized around stories in which ghosts appear, stories in which there is travel through time and stories which are about metamorphosis, immortality or metaphysical fantasies. Borges, on the other hand, asserts that fantastic literature uses fiction not to avoid reality but, very much to the contrary, to express a much more profound vision of it. According to him, devices used in the fantastic genre of literature can be classified in four groups: the work of art within the same work; the contamination of reality in dreams; the journey through time; and the double. (4) Many of the themes encountered both in Borges and Casares are present in Ocampo's writing, particularly those relating to journeys through time, the double, and metamorphosis. Another well known Argentinean writer, Julio Cortazar, attempts to define the fantastic by giving examples. He refers to 'the fantastic of the intellect' in Borges, 'the sometimes ironic artifices' in Bioy and the 'strangeness of the everyday' in Silvina Ocampo, with which he identifies himself. (5)

Silvina Ocampo has achieved her greatest expression in extraordinary stories born of the everyday. The writer represents the fantastic in relationship to the psychological: that is the irruption/eruption of strange forces in the psyche of human beings. These give rise to disruptions and fissures between the natural and the normal which allow a glimpse of hidden dimensions, but not their intellectualization. (6) Ocampo's stories depart from an immediate reality; her characters are very close to the narrator and also to the reader of the text because their actions are common to the experience of the average person. In her stories an element of a fantastic nature frequently irrupts into an apparently ordinary and banal universe. …

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