Victoria Ocampo

No 15

Victoria Ocampo 

“people with self-respect exhibit a certain toughness, a kind of moral nerve; they display what was once called character
Joan Didion, "On self-respect"
Victoria Ocampo had been raised to become a socialite; but fulfilling the destiny of an object, “and it makes no difference that the object be placed on a pedestal, something that enabled vigilance” (Ocampo, 1954), was a given that drove her out of her mind. And so she annihilated it. She was a deviant who took hold of her ornaments (foreign languages, travels, literature, fortune) and subverted them into instruments of production (Sarlo, 1988). She founded the literary magazine and printing house Sur, from where she spread a formidable catalogue of American and European literature — “American” as in the entire continent, from the very South to the North.
Reductions of her figure to that of “a spoiled little girl who deals in literature but may as well pass the time collecting stamps” (Victoria, 1934) are mere forms of indolence. Sur was the longest standing and most relevant cultural project in Latin America, and Ocampo’s work has a starkly personal, ravenous nature, that makes it absolutely intoxicating. Essays, lectures, testimonials, autobiographies and translations define a hybrid body of work, bound by the thread of an unstoppable first person that chooses where to place her gaze, how to frame her subjects, stands for what she likes and for what she does not.


In 1953, Victoria was imprisoned for twenty-six days. During that time, she wore a checkered gown that she, then, tried to purchase. She was not allowed to do so as it belonged to the State. What she did manage to do, was to rip off the tag where her name had been embroidered in green: it would become one of her most beloved treasures. The claim what was hers and above all, the insistence in owning her own name, condensed in that little stolen token, is crucial. Victoria’s vital gesture, and the one on which all her cultural interventions would be held, was to seize her voice and dare to sign her ideas with her own name. A lady who “had the courage to be an individual” (Borges, 1979) and got away with it.



— Autobiography (written between 1952 and 1953, published posthumously in six volumes from 1979 to 1984) and Testimonials (ten volumes published from 1935 to 1977). 



Victoria Ocampo
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