Between Mystery and Politics

Bingemer, Maria Clara. Between Mystery and Politics. IMS Clarice Lispector, 2021. Disponível em: https://site.claricelispector.ims.com.br/en/2021/07/08/between-mystery-and-politics/. Acesso em: 28 May 2024.

The numerous commentators who not only in Brazil but also throughout the world investigate Clarice Lispector’s work encounter several aspects to highlight in her multifaceted writing.1 From the fruitful tension between transcendence and contingence to the profound and refined attention to the human condition, one can encounter an immense variety of dimensions in her body of writings. There is, however, an aspect of Clarice’s texts that is – it seems to us – less observed. It concerns the social and political sensitivity of the writer. And because it seems to us extremely important, we will dwell precisely on this.

Clarice reveals in her texts – novels, chronicles, or short stories – a true openness to the other and its difference and, above all, its vulnerability. Even characters like GH, a wealthy bourgeois woman, will learn to commune with the whole in her maid’s room.   But in a special way, Clarice’s gaze will dwell on and identify with the northeastern girl Macabéa, whose cavity-ridden body and life of “less” lead her by the hand in the narrative at the same time that they question her crudely. This last novel, so to speak, “rescues” this feature of writing in a prophetic and explicit manner.

It is she herself who says in one of her chronicles, “Literature and justice:” “Ever since I have come to know myself, the social problem has been more important to me than any other issue: in Recife the black shanty towns were the first truth that I encountered.” Always inhabited by the thirst for justice, Clarice declares that this is a constitutive feature of her identity, a feeling so obvious and basic that it cannot surprise her. And that is also why she cannot write about it, since for her it never concerned a search, but a confirmation of something existing in herself.

At the same time, the conscious and lucid writer is amazed by the fact that this obviousness which inhabits her does not occur with the same obviousness to all of her peers. As Silviano Santiago affirms, “the more the Jewish immigrant adapts and conforms to the new national frame, the more indignant and pessimist she becomes with regard to the world as presented to her.” Injustice is something that she internally abhors, and Clarice openly declares so on several occasions. She even takes concrete actions against this injustice, such as, for example going to the March of the One Hundred Thousand, participating in clandestine political gatherings, etc.  Silviano Santiago calls this attitude “participant indignation, declaring it to be a matter of survival in a society under military dictatorship and a state of exception.

Clarice’s perspective on injustice and evil is personalized. It considers a person and from him or her it arrives at the collective that he or she represents. This is how the narrator of The Hour of the Star captures the desperate gaze of a northeastern girl in the middle of the crowd.2 And this gaze brings him discomfort and compassion, as he compares the girl’s situation to his own, living in abundance and comfort and realizing that the northeastern woman represents the majority of the population in the country where she lives.3 That is how Macabéa is born, from the writing of the narrator who is Clarice Lispector’s character, but who is also Clarice herself, whose gaze captures the suffering and pain of others, the fruit of injustice, and deposits them in her book. From there, the narrator shapes Macabéa’s body, which is oppressed by poverty and sadness. He confesses his discomfort and difficulty in undertaking this adventure of narrating Macabéa: “With this story I’m going to sensitize myself, and I am well aware that each day is a day stolen from death. I am not an intellectual, I write with my body.”4 And he adds: “If I know almost everything about Macabéa it’s because I once caught the eye of a jaundiced northeastern girl. That glance gave me every inch of her.”

Macabéa only has weaknesses and subtractions in her life. She is a woman, she is a northeastern migrant alone in the big city, she is a virgin, innocuous, dreary, ugly. The narrator describes her “slumped shoulders like those of a darning-woman,” with a “cavity-ridden body.” She was “a fluke. A fetus tossed in the trash in a newspaper.”  Writing about her causes discomfort, since the writing is heavy with brutality. “I promise you that if I could I would make things better. I’m well aware that saying the typist has a body full of holes is more brutal than any bad word.”

The narrator actually sees in the humiliated poverty of the northeastern girl something incomprehensible, greater than herself. The girl’s helplessness makes Clarice approach a profound mystery: “Why should I write about a young girl whose poverty isn’t even adorned? Maybe because within her there’s a seclusion and also because in the poverty of body and spirit I touch holiness, I who want to feel the breath of my beyond. To be more than I am, since I am so little.” This poverty that diminishes, that oppresses, that belittles, is imagined by the narrator to perhaps be a choice on the part of Macabéa herself and therefore the source of her infinite dignity: “Maybe the northeastern girl had already concluded that life is extremely uncomfortable, a soul that doesn’t quite fit into the body, even a flimsy soul like hers… Because, no matter how bad her situation, she didn’t want to be deprived of herself, she wanted to be herself… So she protected herself from death by living less, consuming so little of her life that she’d never run out.” This deadly “savings” is more painful for Clarice than anything else in her character, since it constitutes a brutal denunciation of the injustice that victimizes the northeastern girl.

The narrator confesses how difficult it was to make his character die. And this occurs because, touching her poverty in body and soul, he feels that he has touched holiness, the virgin core of the human condition that has nothing of his own, nothing upon which to draw and is destined for contempt, oppression, and humiliation until the end of her life. That is why he describes her hit-and-run (a term he uses in place of death) like this: “She lay helpless on the side of the street, perhaps taking a break from all these emotions, and saw among the stones lining the gutter the wisps of grass green as the most tender human hope.” And the feeling of dying is one of exaltation and not of despair: “Today, she thought, today is the first day of my life: I was born.” 

Death is what finally makes Macabéa into a star, like the movie stars she so admired. In death she received the kiss, the definitive embrace. And above all, she rested from the painful and useless effort to live. The last word that comes out of her mouth is “future.”

Among the cobblestones and passersby, her struck body agonizes. And the narrator –Clarice, actually – sees the pain of this poor girl as an epiphany. “She’d gone to seek in the very deep and black core of her self the breath of life that God gives us.” Macabéa, just like all those who day by day seek life in the midst of oppression and injustice, now receives the embrace of death as a joy. “Then — lying there — she had a moist and supreme happiness, since she had been born for the embrace of death. Death which is my favorite character in this story.” She wishes for life and knows that only death will give it to her. Hearing Macabéa say her last word, “future,” the narrator asks himself: “Would she have longed for the future?”

Life triumphs in Macabéa, about whose death the narrator exclaims: “Yes, that’s how I wanted to announce that — that Macabéa died. The Prince of Darkness won. Finally the coronation.” The cavity-ridden body was now a luminous, transfigured body. The hour of the star had sounded and Macabéa shone upon the darkness that could not swallow her.

The narrator, humiliated in his conscience, confirms that he was actually the one who died. Macabéa – now “free of herself and of us” – killed him.  Clarice’s social sensitivity, her political conscience, sees in the diminished life of the northeastern girl the grim work of the injustice that plagues the country that is her own. And because she cannot do away with it, she writes. She prophetically denounces the poverty that is a mystery of suffering and holiness of the victims who every day experience death as the only thing that will one day finally free them from the life that they did not choose but are condemned to live.

It is symptomatic and eloquent that Clarice’s last novel, The Hour of the Star, is so clearly marked by her gaze to the margin, to the northeastern girl who incarnates the marginality of poverty and of contempt. Gazing at Macabéa and her life of “less,” the writer dies from her alienation and is transformed, learning to be aware of her privileges and of the oppression of the poor who constitute the overwhelming majority of the population in the country where she lives.

The writer’s “participant indignation” occurs when she looks and sees a body without a place to be, a body that is hardly comfortable in life, a body that does not find a meaning and whose plenitude only occurs in death. In this star that is dark on the outside and suddenly bright on the inside, which has neither grace nor beauty to attract the eye, which is like hair in soup that turns the stomach and spoils the appetite, is the secret, the mystery of life and of its Creator that has always fascinated and challenged the Jewish Clarice Lispector.

Notes

1 Translated from the Portuguese by Marco Alexandre de Oliveira.

2 About The Hour of the Star, see our article “Via Crucis e gozo pascal,” in Geraldo de Mori and Virginia Buarque (Eds.) Escritas de ser no corpo, SP, Loyola, 2017, p. 105-122.

3 The Hour of the Star, op. cit., p. 15: “Because on a street in Rio de Janeiro I glimpsed in the air the feeling of perdition on the face of a northeastern girl.”

4 This quote and all others belong to the book The Hour of the Star.

“Becoming”: Notes on Clarice Lispector’s “secret life”

, “Becoming”: Notes on Clarice Lispector’s “secret life”. IMS Clarice Lispector, 2017. Disponível em: https://site.claricelispector.ims.com.br/en/2017/12/21/tornar-se-notas-sobre-a-vida-secreta-de-clarice-lispector/. Acesso em: 28 May 2024.

1.

In this year in which we commemorate The Hour of the Star, the entry of Clarice Lispector and her alter ego (one of many), Macabéa, into the “própria profundeza (…) – a floresta”, the profusion of factual explanations for this or that character, narrative element or writing situation, in bonding and plastering a work already marked by biographical reading, one seems to lose sight of the essential lesson repeatedly stated by this writer and her writing known precisely for the rarity of plot, of facts. If the formulation of such a lesson appears in Agua Viva (“Não vou ser autobiográfica. Quero ser ‘bio’”), it is in the “Explanation” of the opening of The Via Crucis of the Body that it manifests (a key term in Clarice’s poetics) itself in all its radicalism. The very unmarked position in relation to the other thirteen texts that comprise the volume, which makes it impossible to distinguish graphically or by means of a paratextual element whether it is a preface (by the author) or already a fiction (by a narrator) is reinforced by what “Explanation” says: “É um livro de treze histórias. Mas podia ser de quatorze. Eu não quero. Porque estaria desrespeitando a confidência de um homem simples que me contou a sua vida. Ele é charreteiro numa fazenda. E disse-me: para não derramar sangue, separei-me de minha mulher, ela se desencaminhou e desencaminhou minha filha de dezesseis anos. Ele tem um filho de dezoito anos que nem quer ouvir falar no nome da própria mãe. E assim são as coisas”. The fourteenth story, told in the same gesture in which its omission is announced – an unconfident confidence –, thus resembles “the fifth story” and eponymous titled story in The Foreign Legion: the last, or first, of the stories is the story of the making of the stories, not only implying (folding inward) the life in the work, but also explaining (folding outward) the fiction in reality. In this sense, it is worth recalling that, according to the explanation, the genesis of The Via Crucis came from a commission for “three stories that (…) really happened” (emphasis added), and those are, according to the author (or narrator), “Miss Algrave”, “Via Crucis” and “The Body”, the three parts of the book that are furthest from the proposal, for they consist in, first of all, the parodic rewriting of other texts: in order, mystical experience of Catholic women, the incarnation of Christ, and a short story by Edgar Allen Poe, “The Tell-Tale Heart”, which Clarice had already translated (or rather, rewritten, giving it the title “The Denouncing Heart”). Like “Useless Explanation”, from “Back of the Drawer”, the second part of The Foreign Legion, which gained autonomy in Not to Forget, the “Explanation” complicates more than it supplies a key to reading for the relation of life to literary work and for the genesis (the birth) of fiction in reality – which was already foreshadowed in the book’s epigraphs, mixing Biblical passages and one attributed to “a character of mine still without a name” and another “I don’t know whose it is”. Thus, on the one hand, Clarice makes of a fiction of Poe (or takes it as) a story that really happened (what is written has happened, what one writes happens), in a paradoxical literary movement of deliteraturization, masterfully elucidated by João Camillo Penna, and that appears already in Near to the Wild Heart, when Steppenwolf, a character in the book of the same name by Hesse, and therefore a literary reference, figures as a life memory of Joana’s. On the other hand, in a game with the editor’s commission, she inserts into this book of stories, of fictions, three other stories (“The Man Who Showed Up”, “Day After Day” and “For the Time Being”) that sound, by the diction and resumption of dates and facts mentioned in the “Explanation”, like non-fiction, in every regard close to Clarice’s chronicles. That is, the writer at the same time complies to the letter and doubles the bet placed by the editor to fictionalize real facts: indeed, from the very opening of the book, as we have seen, life becomes fiction, but what is fictionalized (or realized) are not only certain facts, but the writing of the book itself, the commission and its realization, the life of the writer and of writing, in sum, the very relation between life and literary work, reality and fiction. It’s as if, for Clarice, literary fiction, the “as if”, constituted a two-way street, through which the non-existent gains  life only to the degree that ‘real life’ becomes unreal, that is, it occurs from a recreation of the given, as we can see in this famous passage in which the birth of writing coincides with the non-birth (death) of the writer, or rather, with reciprocal transformation (and intersection) – a face-to-face – of reality and of fiction: “Escrever é tantas vezes lembrar-se do que nunca existiu. Como conseguirei saber do que nem ao menos sei? assim: como se me lembrasse. Com um esforço de memória, como se eu nunca tivesse nascido. Nunca nasci, nunca vivi: mas eu me lembro, e a lembrança é em carne viva” (emphasis in the original).

2.

The “Explanation” appears to poetically formulate a much sought after and worked for solution, combined and of financial origin, to a double problem which plagued her: the necessity to write crônicas every day, and, therefore, to ‘talk about oneself’, take

3.

If, as Joana states, “nada existe que escape à transfiguração”, this feminine excess that is in everything that exists and that is confused with existence itself as a transformation (including, and this is the point, transformation of what is the female), the problem of gender shows itself right away as a problem of genre, with the progressive transfiguration of the narrative form of the novel, which, starting in the third person (unmarked position, i.e., masculine, and, in a certain sense, isomorphic to the divine omniscience of the phallic, Father creator ex nihilo) and with the father writing, gradually he is being contaminated by the female first person, the voice of Joana, who gives the last enunciation. The movement of formal transfiguration, the feminization of the narrative form, is not restricted to Near to the Wild Heart, but traverses through Clarice’s novels, having as its apex The Passion According to G.H., now entirely in the first person, with the protagonist narrator facing the challenge of not relying more on a “third person” and on the eye that “vigiava a minha vida” (the omniscient third person?), and, to that end, and in return, inventing a male path: from a he that creates and talks about a she, we pass to a she that creates and talks about a he. In Agua Viva, after this strange body (and, for this reason especially important) that is An Apprenticeship, she resumes the structure of G.H., but now free of any plot other than the writing itself and her desire to capture the “instant-already”, which is the “semente viva”, the “instantes de metamorfose”, the exact moment of transformation, of becoming oneself. It’s not startling, therefore, that it is not presented as a novel, but as “fiction” (or as “thing”, as Hélio Pólvora disparagingly—but attuned to Clarice—classified it in his opinion of Agua Viva for the National Book Institute). But as nothing in Clarice escapes transfiguration, the final two long prose works, The Hour of the Star and A Breath of Life (also not “novels”, but “novela” and “pulsations”, respectively), produce a further twist: in them, we find ourselves facing first-person male narrators writing books about (creating) female characters, in a gesture packed with critique of the criticism that Clarice – and women’s literature in general – suffered. Think, for example, of the old flaw of sentimental or intimate literature, that is, the accusation of always talking about oneself, and how Rodrigo S.M., “the most cynical narrator ever created by Clarice Lispector”, according to Ítalo Moriconi, cannot help but project himself and his stereotypes onto Macabéa, to the point where she sees his image when looking in the mirror – and this coming from an engaged writer, documentary, interested only in “fatos sem literatura”, and who complains that “escritora mulher pode lacrimejar piegas”. And, to talk about the “nordestina amarelada”, about the “cadela vadia”, in the name of Macabéa, Rodrigo S.M. must necessarily attribute to her not only the total absence of a voice and consciousness, as even, by narrative means, a name. On the other hand, however, it is emblematic that the final movement of A Breath of Life resumes that of Near to the Wild Heart, with Ângela, a character, coming from fiction to the world, and the Author losing the words, in an inversion of the fate of another creature, Macabéa:

“E agora sou obrigado a me interromper porque Ângela interrompeu a vida indo para a terra. Mas não a terra em que se é enterrado e sim a terra em que se revive. Com chuva abundante nas florestas e o sussurro das ventanias.

Quanto a mim, estou. Sim.

‘Eu… eu… não. Não posso acabar.’

Eu acho que..”

4.

In a crônica that confronts this series of issues– the classification of her books, in particular GH, the form of her narratives and the rarified plot, and the relation between life and fiction –, Clarice exposes in a theoretical key the coming into the world of Ângela (and other characters, such as Joana, since Near to the Wild Heart concludes in media res, with the protagonist traveling, leaving the bonds of the family and the narrator to another, unknown place): “O que é ficção? é, em suma, suponho, a criação de seres e acontecimentos que não existiram realmente mas de tal modo poderiam existir que se tornam vivos”. It’s not a matter of proximity or appearance of truth or reality (an internal or external verisimilitude), but of an entry into life: fictional creation names, for Clarice, a certain intensification in the way of being of the possible or the nonexistent (“de tal modo”), which makes it – transforms it– alive. In this sense, the Spinozist conception intoned by Joana, “Tudo é um”, should be read in the broadest sense possible – everything participates of the same substance, including fiction and nonexistent beings: “Tudo é um, tudo é um…, entoara. A confusão estava no entrelaçamento do mar, do gato, do boi com ela mesma. A confusão vinha também de que não sabia se entrara ‘tudo é um’ ainda em pequena, diante do mar, ou depois, relembrando. No entanto a confusão não trazia apenas graça, mas a realidade mesma. Parecia-lhe que se ordenasse e explicasse claramente o que sentira, teria destruído a essência de ‘tudo é um’. Na confusão, ela era a própria verdade inconscientemente, o que talvez desse mais poder-de-vida do que conhecê-la. A essa verdade que, mesmo revelada, Joana não poderia usar porque não formava o seu caule, mas a raiz, prendendo seu corpo a tudo o que não era mais seu, imponderável, impalpável.” If everything participates in the same substance, if the difference between things is not of nature, of essence, but of manner, of form, then there follows a continuity not only between human and animal, but also between the organic, live, and the inorganic, supposedly dead, and, moreover, between existing and non-existent beings: it is thus a matter of questioning the prerogative of human exceptionality, of biological life and ontological superiority of the currently existing, and, at the same time, since everything participates in the same substance, changing only its form, to postulate the universal possibility of metamorphosis and transfiguration, in short, of life. “Tudo é um” means that everything can be modified, that everything is alive – including, and this is the extension we want to emphasize, the fictional beings, who are as alive as existing beings. Following the Shakespearean maxim – “We are such stuff as dreams are made on” –, Clarice seems to postulate a radical monism, which can be seen in a series of her formulations or of her characters in which creation doesn’t refer to an other whose reality or life is inferior, as when G.H. states: “Terei que fazer a palavra como se fosse criar o que me aconteceu? Vou criar o que me aconteceu. Só porque viver não é relatável. Viver não é vivível. Terei que criar sobre a vida. E sem mentir. Criar sim, mentir não. Criar não é imaginação, é correr o grande risco de se ter a realidade”. Perhaps this explains why the experience of the “thing” is always accompanied by an experience of language in her fictions, because, when entering the “bio” before the biographical, the “neutral”, “it”, the “raw material”, the “forest”, the “forbidden fabric of life”, the zone prior to individuation and separation of genders, where “She/he” reigns, the “He/She” of Where You Were at Night, the Clarice characters feel the need to write, fictionalize, for they see, like Joana, their bodies connected by a root to everything that is no longer theirs– all the other things, all the other beings, among them the non-existent. “Having the reality” of the experience of the oneness of the world therefore implies creating, as a gesture of becoming alive, of intensifying a way of being that normally appears not only dead, but nonexistent. Thus it is not by chance that, in Agua Viva, the narrator-protagonist, after experiencing the “state of grace”, describing it as “se viesse apenas para que soubesse que realmente se existe e existe o mundo”, states that “depois da liberdade do estado de graça também acontece a liberdade da imaginação. (…) A loucura do invento”. The “state of grace” comes only to know that one really exists and the world exists – and that, among them exists the non-existent, which fiction has the power to make alive.

5.

An Apprenticeship or The Book of Delights opens with the protagonist Dori facing a situation of extreme anguish, fictionalizing, in a succession of “make-believe” described as “os movimentos histéricos de um animal preso”, which “tinham como intenção libertar, por meio de um desses movimentos, a coisa ignorada que o estava prendendo”. This transvaluation of a typically (stereotypically) feminine scene, associating, as in Agua Viva, creation and freedom, brings us to the true Clarice date, or rather, Clarice time par excellence, between two dates, possibly invented in the writing of The Via Crucis of the Body. If “Explanation” states that “Today is May 12, Mother’s Day”, the date on which the three stories that “really happened” would have ended, the “P.S.” that supplements it (or rewrites) and on which other stories of the volume would have been written is dated another today, after the “domingo maldito”: “Hoje, 13 de maio, segunda-feira, dia da libertação dos escravos – portanto da minha também”. One can read this sequence, this association or succession between motherhood and freedom in two ways, not necessarily contradicting each other. On the one hand, as the liberation from slavery of the characters, especially the feminine ones, from the social, family role, epitomized in reproduction, in maternity – the transition from mother to liberated. In this sense, it would be about the radicalization of the movement that intensifies in Clarice’s writing starting with what José Miguel Wisnik called the separation trilogy– Family Ties, The Foreign Legion and The Passion According to G.H. In it, family bonds, socially familiarized, not only unite, but also bind, arrest, serving as instruments of domestication that allocate each to their place. Yet, on the margins of the familiar, the edges of the ties of the domesticated, a series of figures that will dominate Clarice’s later fiction begin to emerge: crazies, servants, animals (hens, dogs, cockroaches, horses, etc.), “natural” spaces domesticated in the city, surrounded by it (gardens – private, zoological or botanical), etc. Like a true foreign legion – in a sense completely opposite to the military formation with that name –, these figures increasingly gain more and more the center of the scene, questioning and revealing the violence of the domesticated and domesticating relations to the point where, in The Via Crucis, multiplicity can longer be alien to the family body of that time– gays, lesbians, transsexuals, prostitutes, nuns and widows full of carnal desire, beggars, in short, “everything that has no worth”, to use the words of a worthless politician. Thus, for example, the duo of short stories “Monkeys” and “The Smallest Woman in the World”, articulating racism and speciesism, brings out the role of violent exoticism, even when pious, which is at the base of the process of familiarization (of humanization) in our society. Such questioning, however, is not limited to a denial of the given, a reverse affirmation; rather, it seeks to convert the affirmation into a question, in what appears to be a movement that runs through Clarice’s writing: “Este livro é uma pergunta”, claims Rodrigo S.M.; “Escrever é uma indagação. É assim: ?”, we read in A Breath of Life; “sou uma pergunta”, says the narrator in Agua Viva, a phrase that is also the title of a crônica; and, to offer just one more example, the strongest of them: “O único modo de chamar é perguntar: como se chama? Até hoje só consegui nomear com a própria pergunta. Qual é o nome? e este é o nome.” It is thus not only about denying existing ties, or of affirming others in their place, but to open space for the experimentation with other relations– that is why liberation is only the first step in a movement of inquiry that cannot stagnate at an affirmation, at a name: “Liberdade é pouco. O que eu quero ainda não tem nome”. Take the short story “The Foreign Legion”. In it, we are faced with a family configuration that is at minimum strange. The members of the narrator’s own family are not named and hardly appear. Who occupies the place of prominence, in the first moment, is a chick who, terrified, makes the children ask their mother that she be the mother of that animal, of someone who doesn’t properly belong to the family, and not even to the human race – a motherhood role that the narrator says she doesn’t know how to fulfill. It is this “unfamiliar” scene (to use a term that appears three times in Family Ties, and is a possible translation for Freud’s Unheimlich) that makes her remember another, the familiarity with Ophelia, the daughter’s neighbor and another stranger to whom she was a mother. If, on the one hand, the narrator seems to hold a certain attraction for her, to the point where the child visits her every day, on the other hand, the relationship seems socially inverted, for it is Ophelia who behaves like an adult, as the embodiment of obedience to behavioral social norms (the theme will reappear in a tragic way in “The Obedient Ones”), it’s up to the hostess to indeed bow and define the tie between them paradoxically: “já me tornara o domínio daquela minha escrava”. The turning point comes when Ophelia hears a chick (another) in the kitchen, and the narrator allows her and encourages her to play with the animal, which she ends up doing, against all the rigidity imposed on her by her own family. It’s not surprising that in the description of the event again we come across an image that has already become familiar: “A agonia de seu nascimento. Até então eu nunca vira a coragem. A coragem de ser o outro que se é, de nascer do próprio parto, e de largar no chão o corpo antigo. (…) Já há alguns minutos eu me achava diante de uma criança. Fizera-se a metamorfose”. It is in a relationship that is not exactly maternal that motherhood gains an opening of meaning, that new ties between the narrator and Ophelia, between this girl and the world and with herself, can be experienced: here, motherhood (‘improper’) designates the opening of the door to disobedience, so that one can get out of family ties, so that one can make contact with the stranger, and thus modify oneself, “be the other that one is”. Thus we can return to the succession of dates of “Explanation” and see them in another way, complementary to this first: motherhood as a liberation from given relationships, possibility of recreation of the given, including motherhood itself, since the most maternal figure (including literally) of The Via Crucis of the Body is the transsexual Celsinho/Moleirão, “mais mulher que Clara”, her friend (‘biologically’ a woman) and rival.

6.

The strength and uniqueness of Clarice’s conception of fiction, and its relation to life, lies in this attention to those who/that are on the margins, as if the power to make fiction alive, its power to liberate, were related to the “power-of-life” of the radically other– and “attention” is another of the crucial words, also associated with the feminine, with her writing: “Lóri era uma mulher, era uma pessoa, era uma atenção, era um corpo habitado olhando a chuva grossa cair”. In her beautiful text on The Hour of the Star, Hélène Cixous points out the minutia of this attention and its consequences: “The greatest respect I have for any work whatsoever in the world is the respect I have for the work of Clarice Lispector. She has treated as no one else to my knowledge all the possible positions of a subject in relation to what would be “appropriation”, use and abuse of owning. And she has done this in the finest and most delicate detail. What her texts struggle against endlessly and on every terrain, is the movement of appropriation: for even when it seems most innocent it is still totally destructive. Pity is destructive; badly thought out love is destructive; illmeasured understanding is annihilating. One might say that the work of Clarice Lispector is an immense book of respect, book of the right distance. And as she tells us all the time, one can only attain the right distance through a relentless process of de-selfing, a relentless process of deegoization. The enemy as far as she is concerned is the blind self.” Thus, for Clarice, paying attention to the other would require a “depersonalization” or “objectification” of oneself, the entry into the neutral, the “non-birth” of oneself, movement without which her conversion into an “inhabited body” is not possible, the “Involuntary Incarnation” a story/crônica speaks of and that seems to be a good name for fiction according to C.L.: “Às vezes, quando vejo uma pessoa que nunca vi, e tenho algum tempo para observá-la, eu me encarno nela e assim dou um grande passo para conhece-la (…) Já sei que só daí a dias conseguirei recomeçar enfim a minha própria vida. Que, quem sabe, talvez nunca tenha sido própria, senão no momento de nascer, e o resto tenha sido encarnações”. Exemplified by the incarnation in a missionary and later in a prostitute (an always present pairing), the operation, which I have called oblique, often occurs before, or in relation to, figures of an extreme otherness, especially animals. It is a matter of adopting the perspective of the other and, in this way, estranging oneself (hence the importance of the intensity of the difference), as in “Dry Sketch of Horses” (“E veria as coisas como um cavalo vê”), or in “In Search of a Dignity”, in which the perspective of inversion is fully enunciated: “Ulisses, se fosse vista a sua cara sob o ponto de vista humano, seria monstruoso e feio. Era lindo sob o ponto de vista de cão. Era vigoroso como um cavalo branco e livre, só que ele era castanho suave, alaranjado, cor de uísque. Mas seu pelo é lindo como a de um energético e empinado cavalo. Os músculos do pescoço eram vigorosos e a gente podia pegar esses músculos nas mãos de dedos sábios. Ulisses era um homem. Sem o mundo cão” (The children’s book Almost True will pull this thread even further, as it is narrated by the “same” dog Ulysses, Clarice’s life companion, and it is up to her to transcribe or translate his barking into writing). However, the movement does not end there: we would not be faced with a true birth, a true becoming, a transformation, if such an incarnation were not to establish a relationship with life, were not to become alive itself, we would not be changed, it would not make us reborn. It is necessary, therefore, that the perspectivist  transformation be a way of looking at each other through the eyes of the others and that we be looked at by them, not only to see the world through the eyes of the others, but also to see ourselves by this gaze, see ourselves in another way, changing us. At least, this seems to be the “experiência maior” which Clarice speaks of, and that her fictions keep searching for: “Eu antes tinha querido ser os outros para conhecer o que não era eu. Entendi então que eu já tinha sido os outros e isso era fácil. Minha experiência maior seria ser o outro dos outros: e o outro dos outros era eu. “A experiência maior”, while becoming another from contact with the other is not reduced to being the others (an experience not flush with reverse egotism); rather, it constitutes an experiment of subjectivity anchored in transfiguration, through which, traversing the non-birth of oneself and the birth of the other in us, we access the “terra em que se revive” of which A Breath of Life speakswhere we recreate– or we are recreated. Fiction makes the other alive in us, to make our life another. It provides the liberty to question oneself and one’s ties to the world and to inquire of other relations, for which we do not yet have names, for which the question is the only possible name.

7.

Starting from a mirrored formulation of A Breath of Life, “A sombra de minha alma é o corpo. O corpo é a sombra de minha alma”, the young scholar of Clarice’s works Letícia Pilger said that the author’s relationship with the posthumous book could be defined in an analogous way: indeed, the fictional work is the shadow of Clarice’s life, provided we take the reciprocal as true, namely that Clarice’s life is also the shadow of her fiction. After all, to paraphrase Eduardo Viveiros de Castro, if everything, including fictional beings, is alive, then life is also a fiction, is something else – everything is one (becoming).

Alexandre Nodari is Professor of Brazilian Literature and Literary Theory at the Federal University of Paraná, where he is also a collaborator in the graduate programs in Humanities and Philosophy. He is also editor of the periodical Letras and coordinator of SPECIES – speculative anthropology research group: http://speciesnae.wordpress.com.

Notes

Clarice Lispector’s hour and turn

, Clarice Lispector’s hour and turn. IMS Clarice Lispector, 2017. Disponível em: https://site.claricelispector.ims.com.br/en/2017/12/04/a-hora-e-a-vez-de-clarice-lispector/. Acesso em: 28 May 2024.

The year 2017 marked the 40th anniversary of The Hour of the Star, the last book written by Clarice Lispector and published in the year of her death. The event “Clarice’s Hour,” which is organized annually by the IMS to celebrate the writer’s birthday (December 10), will pay tribute to this legacy with a number of events at its various headquarters. In addition, other institutions will hold readings, releases, and presentations in Brazil and abroad.   

One of the highlights of the project is the performance of The Hour of the Star directed by Bruno Lara Resende, with the actors Ana Carina, Charles Fricks, Marcio Vito, and Raquel Iantas. At the IMS in Poços de Caldas, the professor Sérgio Roberto Montero Aguiar will talk about Maria Bethânia’s relationship with Clarice’s work using audio clips from shows, books, LPs, and projected images. In São Paulo, there will be an encounter with the writer and translator Idra Novey, who translated The Passion According to G.H. into English.   

This edition reaffirms the increasing recognition of Clarice’s work in the world. One of the most recent signs of this importance was the publication of The Complete Stories by the American publisher New Directions, considered by The New York Times as one of the hundred best books of 2015 and winner of the PEN Translation Prize. In 2017, another important translation was made public, this time in France: Des Femmes-Antoinette Fouque published Nouvelles – Édition Complete, a selection of 85 texts.     

 “Clarice’s Hour” is part of this great movement of international promotion of Clarice’s work. In this edition, activities outside Brazil include the release of The Passion of G.H in Turkey (by the MonoKL publishing house) and a celebration at the Brazilian Embassy in Holland, where a translation of the novel will also be published. In addition, in Portugal, also on the 10th, a biography of the writer titled Clarice, uma biografia (Clarice, a biography), written by Benjamin Moser, will be released.

As her notoriety grows abroad, her recognition in her homeland is becoming even stronger. One of Brazil’s most beloved writers, in addition to being an object of extensive and fertile criticism, Clarice arouses much interest, as can be noted by the several events scheduled to happen during the week of “Clarice’s Hour” in various regions of the country, from São Paulo to Caraúbas, at the Federal Rural University of the Semi-Arid Region (UFERSA).     

  • 19/05/2017

Before the Hour, a preface by Paloma Vidal

, Before the Hour, a preface by Paloma Vidal. IMS Clarice Lispector, 2017. Disponível em: https://site.claricelispector.ims.com.br/en/2017/05/19/antes-da-hora-prefacio-de-paloma-vidal/. Acesso em: 28 May 2024.

To celebrate the 40-year anniversary of The Hour of the Star, the Rocco publishing house has prepared an edition of the novella with a new cover, which will be released at the Travessa Bookstore on May 22 at 7 pm.

The publication includes a new preface by Paloma Vidal based on the research of manuscripts – under the care of the IMS since 2004 and available for access here. We have reproduced a few fragments of this exploration into the collection in the next section.     

And now – a chronicle of the encounter with the manuscripts of The Hour of the Star (Paloma Vidal)

A pair of plastic gloves, a box so white it glows, in a small room with glass windows and artificial lighting. It all makes me think of a surgical operation. That’s what I wrote down. Then a question about how to make an emotion arise there. I wrote that down and raised my head, trying not to be seen as I looked at J., sitting at the desk facing mine, busy and vigilant. She was the one who offered me sheets of paper, which were also white, and a pencil, which she sharpened first, in a deliberately old-fashioned gesture. She spends hours inside this room, with lunch and snack breaks, watching how people open and close white boxes, which look like presents, not so much due to their own qualities than to the expectation of those who open them. She’s already seen this gesture so many times she could make a typology: there are those who laugh, those who cry, there are the disdainful and the disrespectful ones, those who roll their eyes, those who close them. There are those who are suspicious, like me. Everything is more or less expected. I wonder how many accept the sheets of paper she kindly offers along with the sharpened pencil, since the use of a computer is allowed. Notebooks and pens, no, computers, yes. (…)  

When I arrived at the small room in the Moreira Salles Institute, in Rio de Janeiro, and before opening the white box, I had already seen scanned copies of Clarice Lispector’s notes for The Hour of the Star. Along with the request to write a chronicle of the encounter with the book manuscripts, for a 40th anniversary commemorative edition of the novella, came the images of these papers, which I nonetheless decided I had to see in person. (…) 

In this small room, wearing gloves, J. hands me white sheets of paper and a pencil, which I accept, though I had brought my computer. I accept out of courtesy, because it is difficult for me to say no to something that is offered in kindness. But that’s not all: it’s an invitation to write by hand. J. makes me a rare invitation. An invitation, for its part, that could give meaning to this encounter. I would like her gesture to be mine. That’s what I wrote next, before deciding to finally open the white box. (…)  

Inside we encounter 34 manila folders of different sizes, numbered on the right, in pencil: 1/34, 2/34, 3/34, and so on. Soon we discover that the size of the folders depends on the size of the papers inside them – smaller when there are loose papers, bigger when there are legal writing pads – and we wonder if they were decorated by hand, custom-made. We also discover that the handwritten titles at the center of the folder covers correspond to the first words on the first page of the manuscripts contained in them. All this presupposes someone’s manual labor. “An archive presupposes an archivist, a hand that collects and classifies,” writes Arlette Farge in The Allure of the Archives. I think of these hands while I handle the folders, which I do not open yet. I think that this archive presupposes many hands, before mine own. And that many others will come, in search of this survival, this trace of the real, as alive as it is inaccessible. (…) 

I write by hand on the white sheets of paper that J. gave me, and I’m already somewhere else, while I copy what I wrote down on this computer screen. I end up disobeying the archive, wanting to be faithful to it. (…)  

 “The allure of the archive,” writes Farge, “passes through this slow and unrewarding artisanal task of re copying texts, section after section, without changing the format, the grammar, or even the punctuation. Without giving it too much thought. Thinking about it constantly. As if the hand, through this task, could make it possible for the mind to be simultaneously an accomplice and a stranger to this past time and to these men and women describing their experiences.”

I go ahead. I feel like I can’t get too fixated, expecting each of these notes to give me a revelation. I begin to go quicker through the notes and folders, making small piles that alarm J.: “will you know how to put them back in order?”, she asks me, removing her earphones and breaking the silence that had apparently been arranged after our roles had been distributed. I answer what she already knows: that the folders are numbered and that, yes, yes, everything is under control. She must have noticed my restlessness. My feeling of unpreparedness. She’s not the first person this has happened to. There are those who know what they want and those who only seek, without knowing where to begin. “How do you start at the beginning, if things happen before they happen?” (…)I jump. The complicity I seek could come from a note in folder 8/34. With very tremulous handwriting, in four lines, without punctuation, Clarice writes on the back of a checkbook: “I swear this/ book is made/ without words/ It is a mute photograph.” The image of the back of the checkbook was not included in the scanned notes I received, and if it weren’t for the later encounter, it would have likely been impossible for me to know the origin of the paper on which these lines were written. In the image, one saw a texture, thin beige lines covering the manila paper, with a slightly darker border. I think of the frequency of these notes in Clarice’s writing, when the words come unexpectedly, when the need to jot them down comes, at any time, in any place. In these folders, there are envelopes, torn papers, loose sheets, this checkbook. I see the fascination caused by the recording of a writing that comes all of a sudden and can’t be contained. The recording of an instant. Of the instant in which something is created. Besides, of course, the witnessing of a method, that only later, having opened a few more folders, will be possible to see better.

For the time being, I pause at this note. The encounter between these words and this paper. Any type of paper could have served for these notes, I know, including this one, which nonetheless, unlike the others, indicates a date, September 15, 1976, an account number, and a bank branch. “Lido,” of the National Bank. In this specific case, the writing comes to exist in time and in space, in a much more concrete relation to the real of which it is part and of which it has become a trace. It gives visibility to a body, of one who inhabits and passes through a certain place in the city, at a particular time, with its singular characteristics. (…)

On the last pages of the handwritten pad, we arrive at Macabéa’s death. The author makes a detour and the parentheses appear: “(I could turn the clock back and happily start again at the point when Macabéa was standing on the pavement – but it isn’t for me to say whether the fair-haired looked at her with eyes it doesn’t matter what color. But– but I’ve gone too far and there is no turning back. But at least I didn’t speak of death and only being run over.)” How to narrate death is one of the questions that the manuscripts make us see in astonishment. Here is the “grand finale” announced by the author, carefully refuted by the interventions that, in putting the book together, Clarice will make in the continuous text, many of them written down in the fragments that are in these folders. Through them, the book will refute the truth about life being a trajectory that goes from a beginning to an end. The “fatal line” will be cut out. In parentheses, in the book, these opening words are taken up again: “Truth is always an inexplicable inner contact. Truth is unrecognizable.” (…)

 

40 Years of The Hour of the Star

, 40 Years of The Hour of the Star. IMS Clarice Lispector, 2017. Disponível em: https://site.claricelispector.ims.com.br/en/2017/02/15/40-anos-de-a-hora-da-estrela/. Acesso em: 28 May 2024.

One of Clarice Lispector’s most translated books, The Hour of the Star was published almost 40 years ago by the José Olympio publishing house in October of 1977. 

The Rocco publishing house, which as of 1998 assumed the republication of Clarice’s works, is preparing a special volume to celebrate the occasion. Expected to arrive in bookstores in May, the hardcover publication will include six essays written by scholars of the author, among them Nádia Gotlib, Eduardo Portella, Colm Tóibín, Hélène Cixous, and Paloma Vidal.

With a new look, the book will also have an extra section with a facsimile reproduction of the novella’s manuscripts. A part of these manuscripts, in the care of the IMS since 2004, has been scanned and can be accessed here.

Original manuscript of The Hour of the Star / Clarice Lispector Collection / IMS

In addition to the originals for The Hour of the Star, the Clarice Lispector Collection, which is entirely catalogued and available for research in person, is made up of the manuscripts of the novels A Breath of Life and Água Viva, family correspondence, two paintings by the author, LPs, photographs, negatives, and a personal library with around one thousand items, such as books and periodicals.

Notes