Michael Cisco is an American writer best known for his novels and short stories, the total of which stands as one of the most impressive bodies of work in contemporary weird fiction. In addition to his own writing, he is also a skilled translator of Spanish and French-language literature. In particular, Cisco is the translator of this week’s featured writer, Carlos Díaz Dufoo. The three stories that compose the selection of Dufoo’s fiction this week are taken from his collection Nervous Stories [Cuentos Nerviosos], the entirety of which has already been translated by Cisco. We asked Cisco to provide some additional context on Dufoo, especially for the benefit of English language readers, who may never have heard of Dufoo or his stories. – The Editors
Carlos Díaz Dufoo (pronounced, I believe, Du-FOE), was born in Veracruz, Mexico, 12/4/1861 and died there 9/5/1941. In addition to being an academic economist, he was also a journalist and writer of both fiction and nonfiction. He was raised partially in Spain and began his journalistic career working for a Madrid newspaper. He returned to Mexico when he was 23, working for La Prensa and El Nacional newspapers. He founded newspapers in Veracruz, then moved to Mexico City, where he continued his work both writing and editing for major newspapers and journals. As a rule, he promoted literary modernism of a European type. Nervous Tales (1901) is a collection of his “Art Nouveau” style pieces, some (perhaps all) of which had been previously published pseudonymously.
He belongs to the Decadent wing of weird fiction, which included writers like J.K. Huysmans, Georg Heym (Dufoo’s story “Catalepsy” bears a resemblance to Heym’s “The Autopsy” [ed. note: published in The Weird as “The Dissection”]), James Thomson, Ernest Dowson, and others. These writers had the same sense of disaffection as one sees in Machen, but lacked his particular strain of mysticism. Dufoo’s work is characterized chiefly by pessmism, moral grotesquery, the idea of Christianity in defeat. It is of chief interest to students of weird fiction in that it represents the delirium and the sense of unreality that attended the modernist period.
Dufoo is plainly inspired by Baudelaire. Baudelaire was hailed by Walter Benjamin as the first truly modern writer, which is to say, a writer who recorded the anomie and banal ugliness of contemporary nineteenth century capitalism. Dufoo was trying to bring European “spleen” back to Mexico, as a way of modernising Mexican literature. Ruben Dario, the Nicaraguan poet who revolutionized all Latin American poetry with his ornamented, decadent style, was also plainly an influence on Dufoo, although more in terms of subject matter and tone than in language. Another obvious influence is Villiers de L’Isle-Adam, best known as the propagator of “contes cruelles” or “cruel tales.” Most of Dufoo’s stories could be called contes cruelles.
All of this material was published in his lifetime, and it’s not clear that he left much unpublished — at least, not much that he didn’t want to leave unpublished. However, a great deal of his writing was produced for journals and newspapers, so it remains to be seen whether that material has been collected in book form or not. Neither Cuentos Nerviosos nor any of his other works has ever been translated into English apparently, nor does there seem to be any English language information about him, either.
Dufoo was well thought of in his own time, being elected somewhat late in life chair of the institute of Mexican letters. He was part of a greater movement designed to bring Mexican literature into contention with the literature of the U.S. and the rest of Latin America, largely with the idea of making an impression on European audiences. Like many Spanish language authors, however, his work was ignored in the U.S. Even much more influential writers, like Alfonso Reyes for example, who has a street named after him in Mexico, remain unknown and untranslated in the U.S. and abroad (I myself produced the first translation of Reyes into English, so far as I know).