‘On the performance of revenge in short fiction by Roberto Arlt and Iván Egüez’

Susan Antebi
Harvard University

Revenge is taken, presumably, to restore a balance of justice, as a form of payment for wrong-doing. The ‘taking’ may actually work as the giving of something, such as the infliction of a wound, a physical mark on the body, or as the literal taking of possessions, or of body parts. In either case, the goal would seem to be the return to a prior state of balance, or justice, one which had been wrongfully destroyed or altered.

In Roberto Arlt’s ‘El Jorobadito,’ revenge is taken on a ‘contrahecho’ or freak, who is murdered at the end of the story. At the same time, a similar revenge is performed in the text, on both reader and narrator. In Iván Egüez’ ‘El triple salto,’ the reader becomes a privileged witness to a process of secret vengeance, which is performed, literally, in a fatal circus act, and only revealed to the spectators at the end of the show. In both stories, as I propose to demonstrate, the notion of revenge depends upon a fragile splitting between performance and ‘taking’ of revenge. Although the two cannot quite be the same, their close proximity, and hence the need to define differences between them, become essential to the construction of revenge.

As will become evident, the balance which an act of revenge sets out to restore is not fully attained in either text. Yet this apparent failure to achieve a specific goal does not negate the possibility of political efficacy of revenge, as action and concept. In fact, the (partial) failure, understood as the shift from hope to deception in the text, may be seen as key to an unexpected success.