I just finished reading a translation (I don’t speak Spanish) of Alessandro Valencci’s 1925 Argentinian horror classic Hellephant: Footprints in Flesh. For those of you familiar with Italian/Argentinian writer Valencci’s work, you will understand if I say I was scared stiff. I’m know absolutely nothing about Argentinian fiction. I gather they’re into magic realism because of the Spanish influences, but I’ve never understood the buzz about Argentinian horror novels … until now. Hellephant scared me to death. Immediately after I finished it, I found a picture of the author on the internet and did a small painting of him on a scrap of masonite with a matte medium base. The values are a little strange because of the scan.
For those of you interested, below are three excerpts from a 1965 interview with Darien Fredricks and Alessandro Velencci contained in “The Orbis Journal of Books.” I think it’s funny that he thinks we’re too hung up on Hemingway.
I typed out the three most interesting parts (in my opinion).
AV: I’m not a horror author.
DF: You don’t see yourself that way?
DF: But, your primarily–
AV: I don’t see myself that way. I try to write literature that strikes against time–strikes against the press of time–refutes time. The dullness.
DF: The weariness.
AV: Yes. Time dulls our experience of life. It fogs up our lenses.
DF: Is that why your work provokes fear? To clarify?
AV: I hope it provokes many clarifying emotions. Fear is one of many.
DF: Is it the strongest?
AV: For me yes. I must say yes.
DF: Your work is received very well in Britain, but not so much in the United States.
AV: There is an undercurrent of appreciation, but not mass appeal.
DF: But what about the States prevents appreciation?
AV: They are much into sparseness–Hemingway. They still have not recovered from Hemingway.
DF: But they have an appetite for fantasy in film.
AV: Juvenile fantasy. In film. My novels you cannot make into film.
DF: They’re psychological.
AV: Yes. Yes. Psychological. The horror films are monster stories. Juvenile.
DF: Some might say your novel Hellephant is a monster novel.
AV: Some have said it. But it is more.
DF: Brooks Davis in a review for “The Letter” said, “It satisfies the hole in the modern soul where poetry used to reside. Reynard’s flight, for I must not say journey, is a meditation on the seemingly reckless, but actually precise force of judgement.”
DF: What made you think of–some might say this idea is far out. A demonic elephant is–
AV: But is he demonic?
DF: Well, the title is–
AV: That’s a publisher’s title.
DF: Is it accurate?
AV: In Argentina the book is titled Vivir Quiero Conmigo.
DF: Which means?
AV: “I Want To Live With Myself.” It is much more literary, but Americans prefer action and external emphasis.
DF: How did you come to write the book?
AV: The seed of the idea started when I was a boy in Italy the first time I heard a train whistle. It was a primal experience.
DF: Did the whistle scare you?
AV: Yes. I was scared by the sound because it sounded like it came from an animal not a machine. It sounded alive–an agony of breath. And yet, the trains traveled very fast–machine-like. I began to have nightmares of trains leaving their tracks in order to smash me over.
DF: That does sound like the stuff of nightmares. How did it turn into an elephant?
AV: Much later I went with my wife on an expedition in Africa. When I first heard an elephant I thought. That’s it. I saw the two in unity. The elephant seemingly has no tracks, but yet it leaves behind an imprint of destruction. A physical testimony. I thought train tracks and elephant tracks might be an interesting spot to start an examination of the fear of judgement.
DF: Do you find one more terrifying than the other? Because it seems to me that a person hit by a train is a metaphor for fate. There are tracks. You know exactly the path of the train.
AV: Yes. Yes. Exactly.
DF: And yet an elephant is unpredictable.
AV: Yes, but what if the tracks are there with the elephant, but we cannot see them?
DF: And that seems to be the key of your novel.
AV: Yes. In my mind–the force and purpose of the train placed into a creature to represent the momentum of judgement.
DF: And when Reynard hears the signal of the elephant, or in this case Hellephant, my hairs stood on end.
Mine did too!
Of course there is no such person as Alessandro Valencci. It was a late night.