Last week we were joined in the Two Lines Press offices by translator Daniel Balderston to discuss his translation of Silvina Ocampo’s short fiction, Thus Were Their Faces, published earlier this year by NYRB Classics.
Although underappreciated in her time, Ocampo was lauded by the elite of Argentine letters, among them: Borges, Bioy, Manuel Puig, Alejandra Pizarnik, and Julio Cortázar, and she has also been praised by Italo Calvino, Alberto Manguel, and Errique Vila-Matas. In this wide-ranging discussion, we talk about Daniel’s personal encounters with Ocampo, her life and work, the reasons for her neglect and the renewed interest in recent years, translation challenges of Ocampo’s prose, her poetry, and what comes next for this master.
Below you will find the complete audio of this event, plus a table of contents for the conversation.
1:24: Daniel’s history with Silvina Ocampo and Argentina during the era of Bioy, Borges, and Ocampo
9:22 The details of Ocampo’s neglect during her life in Argentina, and the huge expansion of interest after her death
15:10 How the word “cruel” relates to Ocampo’s work and why people like to call her work “cruel”
18:50 The strangeness of the child narrators in Ocampo’s stories and preponderance of strange deaths (often narrated in a “light” way)
20:20 The element of the fantastic in Ocampo’s work
22:05 What distinguishes Ocampo’s fantastic literature from that of Borges and Bioy, and the relationship of Ocampo’s Irene to Borges’s Funes the Memorious
26:25 The fortune that Ocampo read for Daniel
27:15 The reasons Ocampo was overlooked during her lifetime
30:15 Ocampo’s relationship to Alejandra Pizarnik: influence on one another’s writing and their love affair
32:20 Ocampo’s ability to write about horror in a deadpan way and its influence on Pizarnik
34:40 The question of femininity and femininism in Ocampo’s writing
37:25 The selection criteria for the NYRB Classics volume
42:30 Bioy’s impact on Ocampo’s writing and revisions of her work
43:50 What untranslated books by Ocampo would you like to see translated into English?
45:50 The question of madness in Ocampo’s works
47:05 Challenges to translating Ocampo, in particular with regards to Ocampo’s use of gender, and the most difficult-to-translate sentence in the entire collection
52:15 Ocampo as a poet
56:40 William Carlos Williams as a translator of Ocampo’s poetry
1:01:10 Q & A