Silvina Ocampo

No 12

Silvina Ocampo

Antonia, who is about to turn four, asks her aunt - my best friend and the younger sister in this anecdote - for a Wednesday Addams costume, but her mom vetoes the gift. Wednesday Addams is not an option because she kills people; if she wants a costume, she can choose a princess. They settle for Belle. It is well known that older sisters can be bossy.


Wednesday, usually cruel, is fascinated by the occult, death, and the macabre. She is a hyperbole, sure; an endearing character that catalyzes the usual inclinations and intrigues of childhood. Literature is a playground for Wednesdays, and the work of Silvina Ocampo, devoted to the unsettling, has taken special care of them.


Alicia Dujovne Ortiz says that Silvina's stories are "little graves adorned with feathers and pebbles, the rituals of a naughty girl who has killed an insect and now pays homage." Ocampo understands innocence (I love that Innocence was her second, perfectly put, name: Silvina Inocencia María Ocampo Aguirre). She gets that this sprawling curiosity can easily turn into cruelty. Children seem to have no tact or heart when they ask about the wrinkles around our eyes, dissect an insect, hang up the phone without hiding their boredom, laugh at horror, or show scatological fascination. Helen Oyeyemi deftly points it out: "what Ocampo understands is that so many of our cruelties and treacheries are born out of a sort of rapt distraction." 


There's a story by Silvina I always return to: a girl enjoys the friendship of Roberta, an older girl who pays attention to her. The girl senses some animosity from Roberta towards Arminda, the friend who is about to get married. Subtly, amid wedding preparations, she hides a spider inside the bride's perfect bun, who, a few hours later, falls dead as she is entering church. The gesture is terrible, but it shows the edge of innocence, of curiosity. No one believes the girl when she tells, mortified, what she has done. She's just a girl, and it seems impossible to accept how far the lapses of innocence (or distraction) can go. Silvina is wonderful because she revels without prudishness in those moments.


I feel terribly frustrated by the refusal to get Antonia the costume she likes. Grown ups, so prudish, tend to forget the importance of sublimating desire through play, costume, and literature. In the introduction to Angela Carter's Book of Fairy Tales, it is said that "traditional, popular, or wonderful tales provide the child with a guide to achieving a good integration of personality that includes the satisfaction of their inconfessable impulses (the Freudean it) and the final victory of the ego." Inconfessable impulses are inevitable, and "[w]ithout a mirror in which to recognize their own asocial, destructive, aggressive, and inadmissible impulses, children feel alone, draw the conclusion that no one else shares such flights of imagination."


Ariana Harwicz wrote in a 2020 tweet: "In a toy store (packed: museums and theaters closed), a mother was telling her son to choose something non-violent. The boy wanted to play war. She told him we should not be violent. Play, I thought, play, is sublimation in plain language. If you can't sublimate, the counterattack will be worse."



“La Boda”, La furia (1959) en: Cuentos completos I, Buenos Aires, Emecé, 2010



Silvina Ocampo
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