Conversion through hatred

Caetano Veloso says that when he played his song “Odeio” (I hate), which would be included on the album, for his friend and composer Jorge Mautner, while still at his guitar the latter cried and told him that it was the most beautiful love song that he had ever heard. The refrain, which repeats “I hate you, I hate you, I hate you, I hate,” when sung in a low voice, suggests a feeling of gentleness instead of the expected aggressiveness: “it seems sweet,” he explains. Caetano himself declared that when he composed “Odeio,” he was in fact thinking about how love and hate can easily be converted into each other: “when you have a love fight, you get very angry,” he commented in an interview for Rolling Stone magazine at the time of the album’s release, in 2012.

Based on this observation, it is possible to think of an axis in which love and hate are located at two extremes of a single affective mobilization. In other words, hate is love that recedes, despite being equally radical in its passion, while indifference is its opposite. Caetano’s refrain takes advantage of this ambivalence by synthesizing in just one verse — “I hate you” — both the anger of hatred (in words) and the sweetness of love (expressed in the melody and in the “grain” of the singer’s voice). The effect, according to the composer, is to be able “to express love as ‘I hate.’”

This is the theme of the short story “The Buffalo,” by Clarice Lispector, whom Caetano has been reading since adolescence, when the writer’s first texts were published in the Senhor magazine. The story, included in the book Family Ties, begins inadvertently, as if the facts were already in progress: “But it was spring. Even the lion licked the lioness’s smooth forehead.” Little by little, we find out that the protagonist had been to the Zoological Gardens to learn with the animals how to hate, and she intended to kill. About the motive for the unusual mission, there are two vague and sparse indications in the text. The first, when the narrator briefly describes the submissive posture of the woman before her boyfriend or husband: “everything was caught in her chest. In her chest that knew only how to give up, knew only how to beg forgiveness […].” The second, in a quick flashback, when she finally gathers the courage to tell him that she hated him – “‘I hate you’, she said in a rush;” however, “she didn’t even know how you were supposed to do it. How did you dig in the earth until locating the black water?”

The couple’s fight unleashed the woman’s murderous impetus. Did she go to vent tyrannically at the animals the contained anger to which she was unable to give free reign in her amorous relationship? We also do not know why she believes that the lesson of hatred could be learned from the animals. Is it because they only have instinct? Whatever the reason, she goes from cage to cage and, at each attempt, gets frustrated: the lions licked each other and loved each other exhaustively; the giraffe, like whatever is “large and nimble and guiltless,” was foolish and innocent; the “moist hippopotamus” conveyed a “humble love in remaining just flesh;” in the monkey cage, a mother breastfed her child and an old monkey with cataracts stared at her sweetly – the woman, upset, looks away and escapes. The bestiary continues with the sweet elephant whose strength is overwhelming but not crushing; the patient camel with “dusty eyelashes,” and the coati with a childish and questioning gaze.     

Until the spiral guard rail makes the woman lose her center; one no longer knows whether she is outside or inside the cages. She then trades places with the animal and goes from subject to object: “Her forehead was pressed against the bars so firmly that for an instant it looked like she was the caged one and a free coati was examining her.” In concert with animal behavior, the movement of nature only inspired in her notions of freedom and offering: “everything being born, everything flowing downstream;” “out of pure weeds sprouted between the tracks in a light green so dizzying […].” All around, everything therefore opposed her desire for revenge. 

Dissatisfied, she walks aimlessly. She then realizes that she is in the amusement park of the Zoological Gardens, in line for the rollercoaster, behind a few couples. Her turn arrives and she sits by herself. The ordinary situation sets off an unsuspected relation with Christian morality: “she looked like she was sitting in a Church.” As the train departs, the character undergoes a physically liberating and sensorially vertiginous experience (which is formally accompanied, in the text, by the sequence of coordinate clauses that list, with repetitions, reminiscences, screams, and situations):            

[…] but all of the sudden came that lurch of the guts, that halting of the heart caught by surprise in midair, that fright, the triumphant fury with which her seat hurtled her into the nothing and immediately swept her up like a rag doll, skirts flying, the deep resentment with which she became mechanical, her body automatically joyful – the girlfriends’ shrieks! – her gaze wounded by that great surprise, that offense, ‘they were having their way with her,’ that great offense – the girlfriends’ shrieks! – the enormous bewilderment at finding herself spasmodically frolicking, they were having their way with her, her pure whiteness suddenly exposed.

While riding on the rollercoaster, she becomes mechanical like the machine; she becomes depersonalized. And she loses her reference to the ground. On this aspect, it is worth mentioning a comment by the Italian writer Giulio Carlo Argan, in his book Storia dell’arte come storia della città (History of art as history of the city). By criticizing the obsession of architects and urbanists for a city of the future built so that life occurred on elevated surfaces, he observes that the relation of people with space and each other presupposes ground level as a humanistic reference. It is only based on a common plane, he argues, that all people, in the act of spinning on their own axis, can locate themselves, simultaneously, at the center of the world and periphery of their fellow human beings, who for their part are also centers of themselves and peripheries of others.      

The character’s dehumanization provoked by the experience on the rollercoaster can likewise be understood through the dilacerations of the body – “that lurch of the guts.” The fragmentation of the image of the human body – characteristic of vanguard movements from the beginning of the 20th century, such as Cubism and Surrealism – is an expression of denial of the elevated view of the human in favor of a low materialism that accepts the obscure forces of nature. That is what Georges Bataille qualified as “evil,” in the well-known book Literature and Evil, that is, the idea of an unmeasured life that is ideally intense and that therefore must be lived in the transgression of goodness and the morality associated with its conservation. 

Not by chance, at the end of the violent experience on the rollercoaster – which totally exposed her! –, the character comes back down to earth and to the humanistic morality of the ground. Pale, “weak and disgraced,” as if she had been “kicked out of a Church,” she “straightened out her skirts primly,” without looking at anyone, like a pariah. Something remains, however, that ferments within her: “the sky was spinning in her empty stomach; the earth, rising and falling before her eyes, remained distant for a few moments, the earth that is always so troublesome.” It is precisely on the troublesome earth – to which she stretches her hands like a “crippled beggar” (still mutilated, therefore) – that she will continue, transformed by evil and by her lesson of hatred alongside the animals. Finally, the link between love and hate is revealed:

Then, born from her womb, it rose again, beseeching, in a swelling wave, that urge to kill […] it wasn’t hatred yet, for the time being just a tormented urge to hate like a desire, the promise of cruel blossoming, a torment like love, the urge to hate promising itself sacred blood and triumph, the spurned female had become spiritualized through her great hope. But where, where to find the animal that would teach her to have her own hatred? the hatred that was hers by right but that lay excruciatingly out of reach? where could she learn to hate so as not to die of love?           

In the hyper-morality achieved by the character, love and hate are equal in intensity and become inseparable. Until then, she only knew how to bear, “have the sweetness of unhappiness.” The hatred for which she so longed was the same that served as raw material for her forgiveness. Between sudden bursts of activity and torpor – which demonstrated her disorientation – she rests her hot face on the cold and rusty iron bar of the railings. The temperature shock and the textures provoke in her the sensation of being hated. There is a symbolic rebirth – “opened her eyes slowly,” “a certain peace at last,” “of someone who had just died.”      

Finally, she arrives at the cage of the black buffalo. She fixes her gaze on it – the animal stares back. Attentive to the slightest movements of that “a body blackened with tranquil rage,” she realizes that she is being noticed and becomes absorbed. A “white thing” spreads within her – a substance that is similar to the vital “white mass” eaten by G.H. and expelled from the cockroach like ripened fruit from the horror, in the book The Passion According to G.H. “Death droned in her ears” like an enticing breath of evil – a metaphor for living a life of risk. From then on, the character reaches a sort of primordial purity. With her face “covered in deathly whiteness,” she painfully feels the “first trickle of black blood” flow within her: hatred, at last. The buffalo has its back turned to her. She grabs a rock on the ground and tosses it inside the cage. It turns around and faces her, motionless. That is when the woman declares her sentence:            

I love you, she then said with hatred to the man whose great unpunishable crime was not wanting her. I hate you, she said beseeching the buffalo’s love.  

The character’s search comes to an end in a paroxysm: not the unconditional, “pure love,” of nature, which brings to life “weeds sprouted between the tracks in a light green,” but the love among people who, to become fully realized, requires its opposite: hatred – according to Freud, the basic human affect, from which love is erected as a construct. Hatred is also the basis of the political theory of Thomas Hobbes, in the Leviathan, when he defines sovereignty. According to his maxim, man, wolf to men, fears violent death, and for that reason, the self-preservation instinct, subsidized by hatred of the other, establishes the regulatory state of collective life. Self-love adds rigor to the relation among equals. However, it is before the buffalo – in a sort of bullfighting ceremony –, and not anyone else, that the character feels threatened and threatening, “trapped in this mutual murder.” This is the moment in which hatred arises as a self-defense impulse and she feels anger at what could destroy her. Here we discover the reason why the lesson on hatred was sought at the Zoological Gardens. If one cannot call hatred that which in animals is merely instinct, it is in the so-called animal instinct of man that hatred resides. And that is how the short story ends: the woman falls on the ground in slow vertigo. One does not know if she dies or faints. But was not death – whether real or metaphorical – the North Star of this love story?

*Image of the title page taken from the book Death in the Afternoon, by Ernest Hemingway. Unidentified author.

“Love Smells Like Death”

Sex

Clarice Lispector wrote about sex only once. It was in the book A via crúcis do corpo (The Via Crucis of the Body). Even so, as her biographer Benjamin Moser observes, “the theme that unites the collection is not, in fact, sex. It is motherhood.” Indeed, based on this comment, it is possible to think that the writer undoes the boundary line that separates maternal love and sexual desire by uniting the two instincts into a conjunction, such as in the female organ common to birth and to copulation.  

Moser also says that some of the writer’s friends considered her “touchingly naive” in matters of sex. Her friend and plastic artist Maria Bonomi, who at the time had separated from her husband to date a woman, was supposedly interrogated with “technical questions” by a curious Clarice. Such an interest was also imprinted in the article “O vício impune da literatura” (The unpunished vice of literature), published in the Folha de S.Paulo, in 1992, in which one reads about a supposed “exchange of imported pornographic magazines” between her and the poet Carlos Drummond de Andrade. 

In any case, it is Clarice herself who is evasive, in the preface to A via crúcis do corpo: “if there’s indecency in the stories, it’s not my fault. Needless to say it didn’t happen to me.” In 1975, in an interview given to the Manchete magazine on the occasion of the book’s release, she reiterates: “Even I was surprised […] how I knew so many things about the topic.” 

If it is true that there is almost no sex in Clarice’s work, it is also a fact that her literature is impregnated with eroticism; an eroticism that touches the limits of matter. The best example of this is the mystical experience that the main character of The Passion According to G.H. undergoes when she eats the white mass of the dead cockroach that she had just crushed against the closet door, in the maid’s microcosmic room. 

The incident with G.H. can be understood in light of what the French thinker George Bataille, in his book Eroticism, classifies as “sacred eroticism,” which is connected to the concrete world, to its objects, and is therefore distinguished from the eroticism of bodies or of hearts – an experience that is thus independent both of sexual and personal relations.

For him, the depersonalization of the erotic fusion can be considered similar to that experienced in sacrificial rituals. In the face of the immolation of the victim – in the case of G.H., the cockroach –, what is revealed to the senses of the participants, who often eat it, is the experience of the sacred. As Bataille affirms: “a violent death disrupts the creature’s discontinuity; what remains, what the tense onlookers experience in the ensuing silence, is the continuity of all existence with which the victim is now one.”

Continuity and discontinuity are terms that must be understood as the reintegration of a mortal and singular being, who is therefore discontinuous, to the general fermentation of life, which is indistinct and impersonal. As in Lavoisier’s maxim, “nothing is lost, nothing is created, everything is transformed,” the body serves as food for bacteria, which participates in the decaying process of human flesh and sets in motion the incessant cycle of life and death.   

The immediate horror experienced with the putrefaction of the corpse reveals to men and women the unavoidable affinity between the “stinking putrefaction” of death and the essence of life itself. Thus, if on the one hand “the horror of death drives us off, for we prefer life; on the other an element at once solemn and terrifying fascinates us and disturbs us profoundly.”    

A disturbance of such an order, Bataille continues, is triggered by the direct contact with that which is commonly called nausea or repugnance. The term he uses, “sovereign disturbance,” perfectly fits that which critics and Clarice herself call “existential moment,” “surprise,” “flash,” “epiphany,” etc., in her work. The overcoming of disgust seen in sacrifice is the same that, in the face of an unexpected event, will cause the disorder that comes from reality-based erotic experience to burst in Clarice’s characters. It is an experience that, since it is not part of our will, always “waits upon chance,” according to the French thinker.        

But if for the writer, as we have seen, sex is not a priority, what is it that is revealed, then, in the blatant eroticism of her texts? In The Passion According to G.H., she herself answers: “Ah, people put the idea of sin in sex. But how innocent and childish that sin is. The real hell is that of love. Love is the experience of a danger of greater sin — it is the experience of the mud and the degradation and the worst joy.”

Love

In the short story “Love,” from the book Family Ties, Clarice Lispector narrates the story of Ana, a housewife who is on the tram, tired, returning from the market to her house, and carelessly thinking about everyday life at home: the broken stove, her children, her husband – to everything, Ana gave “her small, strong hand, her stream of life,” one reads.  

The narrator warns the reader: “A certain hour of the afternoon was more dangerous. […] when the house was empty and needed nothing more from her, the sun high, the family members scattered to their duties.” At this moment, Ana became restless. Before having a family, her life was “restless exaltation,” it was no longer within reach, for she “had created at last something comprehensible, an adult life” — in order.  

Absorbed in her thoughts, Ana is disoriented, all of a sudden, by the sight of a blind man chewing gum: “[…] her heart beat violently, at intervals. Leaning forward, she stared intently at the blind man, the way we stare at things that don’t see us. He was chewing gum in the dark. Without suffering, eyes open. The chewing motion made it look like he was smiling and then suddenly not smiling, smiling and not smiling — as if he had insulted her.”

It is worth observing the original way that Clarice stages some clichés, restoring to them the original meaning of the words. The trivial description of the blind man – eyes open in the dark, which is equivalent to the commonplace “seeing in darkness” – is metaphorically figured as a sort of existential longing on the part of the character: the calm understanding of life in full ebullition, in its intrinsic disorder. The chewing that seemed to make him oscillate between laughter and seriousness evokes, in the same way, the reconciliation “without suffering” between opposites, in a unity that is primordial and “inexpressive,” as G.H. says.      

Suddenly, the tram brakes and the bags that were on Ana’s lap fall on the ground. She yells. The driver stops. She collects what was scattered on the ground. But the eggs had broken: “viscous, yellow yolks dripped through the mesh” of the knit bag. Here, we witness the representation of yet another catch phrase: “the life that slips through your fingers.” The yoke, the egg of a chicken, if fertilized by the male, gives life; if not, it is life that could have been and was not. Thus, once the spoil of life – her own? – has been discarded, all the fragile harmony of Ana’s everyday life also slips away.       

She then perceives an absence of law; she no longer knows where to go – “She had pacified life so well, taken such care for it not to explode. […] And a blind man chewing gum was shattering it all to pieces.” Without realizing it, she missed the stop for her house and, in a rage, gets off the tram. It was getting dark. Little by little, she recognizes the place where she is and walks through the Botanical Garden. Equivalences arise with the Garden of Eden, which, on the one hand shifts the Judeo-Christian mythical paradise to the real park in the city of Rio de Janeiro, but, on the other, describes it in new terms. Contrary to the nice and lovely atmosphere in Genesis, in “Love,” horror and degradation are established:       

 There was a secret labor underway in the Garden that she was starting to perceive. In the trees the fruits were black, sweet like honey. On the ground were dried pits full of circumvolutions, like little rotting brains. The bench was stained with purple juices. With intense gentleness the waters murmured. Clinging to a tree trunk were the luxuriant limbs of a spider. […] it was a world to sink one’s teeth into […]. it was fascinating, the woman was nauseated, and it was fascinating.

Morality

Bataille, in another text, the essay “The Language of Flowers,” published in the magazine Documents in 1929, criticizes the image of the flower as a symbol of the discovery of love. The frequent association would be explained, according to him, by the fact that both the brilliance of flowers and human feelings are “a question of phenomena that precede fertilization.” Nevertheless, for men and women, what becomes a sign of desire, in the flower, is the corolla, its most decorative aspect, and not the sexual organ, a “rather sordid tuft,” covered by the petals. The flower’s appearance is equivalent, therefore, to an ideal of human beauty and, for this reason, says nothing about its real nature – flowers “wither like old and overly made-up dowagers, and they die ridiculously on stems that seemed to carry them to the clouds,” affirms the thinker, for whom “love smells like death.”      

To destroy the impression of harmony in the nature of plants, Bataille continues, it is enough to imagine “the impossible and fantastic vision of roots swarming under the surface of the soil, nauseating and naked like vermin.” To roots, in contrast to stems, could then be attributed the lowest moral value. The similarities between Clarice’s text and Bataille’s arguments are evident (and somewhat unprecedented). She writes: “The erotic impulse of entrails is linked to the eroticism of the twisted roots of trees. It is the rooted force of desire. My truculence. Monstrous viscera and hot lava of burning mud.” [1] The theme reappears in The Passion According to G.H.: “the unclean is the root — for there are created things that never decorated themselves.”

In “Love,” Ana’s experience is therefore the experience of interdiction. The narrator alerts the reader: “The moral of the Garden was something else.” Unlike the biblical garden, where God already dictated orders to the first couple, in Ana’s garden (or Clarice’s), it is the character herself who encounters, without prescription, and with a mix of attraction and repulsion, the erotic depersonalization that reconciles good and evil in an indistinct and amoral totality. In the words of Spinoza, of whom Clarice was an enthusiastic reader, Ana allows herself to be “affected” by the things of the world and learns an ethical lesson that has the body as a seat and real experience as a base. In a manner very close to the Dutch philosopher, Clarice reflects, in The Passion According to G.H., upon morality:      

 Would it be simplistic to think the moral problem with regard to others consists in behaving as one ought to, and the moral problem with regards to oneself is managing to feel what one ought to? Am I moral to the extent that I do what I should, and feel as I should? All of a sudden the moral question seemed to me not only overwhelming, but extremely petty. The moral problem, in order for us to adjust to it, should be at once less demanding and greater. Since as an ideal it is both small and unattainable. Small, if one attains it: unattainable, because it cannot even be attained. […] The solution had to be secret. The ethics of the moral is keeping it secret. Freedom is a secret.

The Secret (or The Ethics)

Ana was breathing in the putrid perfume of the decomposing plants – until she remembers her children. She immediately feels guilty. But why? “What was she ashamed of?” When she left the garden, she was no longer the same. Now, “her heart had filled with the worst desire to live.” And this was incompatible with her previous routine. Still in a trance, she arrives home, receives guests for dinner; the children play in the living room. Everything seemed normal, but she was absent and delirious, and she involuntarily frightens one of her children:     

Mama, the boy called. She held him away from her, looked at that face, her heart cringed. Don’t let Mama forget you, she told him. As soon as the child felt her embrace loosen, he broke free and fled to the bedroom door, looking at her from greater safety. It was the worst look she had ever received. The blood rushed to her face, warming it.

Ana’s senses were saturated and the atmosphere of the house was like an overwhelming shadow. She hears an explosion on the stove. “What happened?!”, she asks her husband, startled. He becomes surprised by his wife’s fear; “‘It was nothing,’ he said, I’m just clumsy.’” He brings her close to him and caresses her. Ana transfers to her husband all the love of one who had come face to face with death and tells him in a serious tone: “I don’t want anything to happen to you, ever!” He finds what she said funny; “Time for bed,” he says. He then leads his wife to bed, “removing her from the danger of living”;  back to the night that follows the day that follows the night – practical life, which, although miserable, nevertheless bears the existence of who knows love.        

[1] The passage, written by hand on the backside of the typescript for “Objeto gritante” (“Screaming Object,” the text that gave rise to the book Água Viva), is quoted by the Angolan critic Carlos Mendes de Sousa, in Clarice Lispector: pinturas (Clarice Lispector: Paintings).

In love with love

Before publishing her first book, while still a law student, Clarice Lispector had worked in the press as a reporter and editor for the National Agency and in periodicals such as the magazine Vamos ler! (Let’s Read) and the newspaper A Noite (Night). At the end of the 1960s, already famous, she accepted the invitation to assume an interview section in the celebrated Manchete. For almost a year and a half, important figures from literature, theater, music, visual art, and sports underwent the writer’s question-and-answer sessions, including friends such as Lygia Fagundes Telles, Rubem Braga, Maria Bonomi, and also Vinicius de Moraes. 

What immediately calls for attention in the conversations with Clarice is a sort of unsuitableness for the job with respect to journalistic technique: she is too personal, she is at times indiscrete, and the worst of heresies, she talks about herself as if she were being interviewed. It could not have been any different, and of course, the magazine knew it – the session would be called “Possible Dialogues with Clarice Lispector.” Instead of possible, it would perhaps be better to say improbable.      

In the interview with Vinicius, published in 1969, the first approach immediately sounds like a provocation: “Vinicius, did you ever really love someone in life?” Now, in theory, that was no question to ask, even more so without warning, to the famous lover of women and great proponent of love lyric in Brazil, author of sonnets that are monuments of the Portuguese language and correspond to those of Camões in importance.

The writer explains that she had telephoned one of the poet’s ex-wives, who had told her that when he is in love he gives his all: to children, women, friendships. That is why Clarice arrived at the idea that what Vinicius really loved was love, and women were included in it. “It’s true that I love love,” he answered, “but that doesn’t mean I didn’t love the women I had. I have the impression that, to those I really loved, I gave my all.”  

Clarice, certainly because she knew the biography of the poet, about to marry for the seventh time, proceeds: “I believe you, Vinicius. I really do. Although I also believe that when a man and a woman are in true love, the union is always renewed, no matter what the fights and disagreements are: two people are never permanently the same and this can create new loves in the same pair.”  

A beautiful reflection on love, however totally in contrast with that of the poet, who argues: “Of course, but I still think that the love which lasts for eternity is passion-love, the most precarious, the most dangerous, certainly the most painful. That love is the only one which is as big as the universe.”  

The interviewer retakes the floor, undismayed: “Do you break up because you meet another woman or because you get tired of the first?” 

In my life it’s as if one woman had placed me in the arms of another. Maybe because this passion-love is unable to survive due to its own intensity. I think this is expressed aptly in the final couplet of my “Sonnet of Fidelity:” “Be not immortal since it is flame/  But be infinite while it lasts.”

The interview continues, but for the meantime let us stop here. With such direct and disconcerting questions, Clarice intuitively touches sensitive points of the amorous personality of Vinicius. Passion-love is one of them. According to the philosopher Alain Badiou [1], romantic love highlights the initial ecstasy of the first encounter, which would not be, for him, the most important moment in an amorous relationship. Such a love is based, rather, on a lasting construction, to which he also gives the name of “stubborn adventure.” Thus, unlike the apprehension of the instant as the only temporal dimension of eternity, he proposes a conception that is “less miraculous and more hard work, namely a construction of eternity within time, of the experience of the Two, point by point.”    

Clarice would agree with Badiou. For Vinicius, however, love should be experienced in paroxysm: “but to love is to suffer, but to love is to die of pain,” he sings in one of his Afro-sambas, “Canto de Xangô,” in partnership with Baden Powell. The poet wishes to merge with his loved one, but the acute awareness of misfortune causes him suffering. Going into the heart’s reasons of which reason itself is unaware, he seeks to make the impossible possible in the rebirth of love in new relationships. The opposite of Clarice’s approach, to create new loves in the same relationship.  

Thus would come the feeling that, for the author of “Sonnet of Fidelity,” his life was as if one woman had placed him in the arms of another. That is also why, in his verses, there is often the analogy between real women and the imagined ideal woman, such that the former assumed the qualities of the latter. No poem better exemplifies such a fusion than “Epitalâmio” (Epithalamium). In this poem, at the end of a long list of women’s names – some of which antithetically reinforce archetypal qualities (Shadow / Dawn, Vandal / Saint, Lofty / Smooth), and others that evoke supposedly real women (Alice, Maria, Nina, Linda, Marina, Maja, Clélia) with whom he had some type of amorous experience – the poet is astonished:       

Vejo chegar alguém que me procura
Alguém à porta, alguma desgraçada
Que se perdeu, a voz no telefone
Que não sei de quem é, a com que moro
E a que morreu… Quem és, responde!
És tu a mesma em todas renovada?

Sou Eu! Sou Eu! Sou Eu! Sou Eu! Sou Eu!

(I see someone arrive looking for me
Someone at the door, some wretch
Who is lost, the voice on the telephone
That I do not recognize, the one I live with 
And the one who died… Who are you, answer me!
Is that you, the same in all of them, renewed?
It’s me! It’s me! It’s me! It’s me! It’s me!)

The “Sou eu!” (It’s me) that emphatically echoes in the last verse of the poem introduces a revealing ambiguity, for it can mean both the answer of a woman and the actual voice of the poet, who is confused with her or even with all of them – in this case, the polyphony would come from as many voices as the women evoked. It is an answer that combines in a single phrase poet, real women, and the ideal woman (“a mesma em todas renovada” [“the same in all them, renewed”]) and it performs in the poem, therefore, the fusion with the loved one that is impossible in real life.

For the poet, the love devoted to women was the most important way to plenitude in love. But it is not the only way. In his first answer to Clarice, he affirms: “I understand this love to be the sum of all loves, that is, the love of a man for a woman, a woman for a man, the love of a woman for a woman, the love of a man for a man, the love of a human being for the community of his or her fellow human beings.” The conversation between them continues, but all of a sudden, they grow quiet.   

Vinicius breaks the silence: “I have so much tenderness for your burnt hand….”

It is worth recalling that, three years earlier, Clarice had started a fire in her house after falling asleep with a lit cigarette. With serious burns on her body and on the brink of death, she spent two months hospitalized at the Pio XII Clinic in Rio de Janeiro, from where she left with sequelae, mainly on her right hand. 

Moved, the writer addresses the reader and acknowledges: “this man involves a woman with tenderness.”

By touching a painful issue in the life of Clarice, the poet corresponds to the emotional intensity established by the writer herself at the beginning of the interview. What the delicate observation by Vinicius reveals here is the amorous game in which both were entangled – for both, love and pain are inseparable feelings.  

A sort of diffused seduction involves the two. Clarice asks Vinicius for a poem. He improvises a precise and impressive portrait of the author of The Passion According to G.H. He reaches the center of her obsession, the incessant search for the “self” in its immanence, and, in the objective condition of Other (as a mirror), he subjectively returns to her the singularity of existence, concentrated in the couplet formed by her own name. He thus says: “You write one word above and the other below because it’s a verse:”   

Clarice
Lispector

 “I think your name is beautiful, Clarice,” he says in praise.

The interview is over, but the writer wishes for further verification; she telephones one of the poet’s ex-wives and asks her: “How do you feel married to Vinicius?” She answers: “Very good. He gives me a lot. And more importantly, he helps me to live, to get to know life, to like people.” She also talks to an “intelligent girl:” “Would you go out with him?” “No (…) I love another man. And Vinicius reveals to me, moreover, that I love that man. His music makes us enjoy love even more. And ‘suddenly, no more than suddenly,’ it becomes something else (…).”  

The epilogue ends up revealing the unavoidable ethical unfolding of Vinicius’ work, which is impregnated with life and at all times overcome by a contagious effect that transforms other lives. These lives, for their part, will not follow his model, but his courage to live.

Clarice ends by saying: “Because there is greatness in Vinicius de Moraes.”

[1] In the book In Praise of Love (2009)

*Highlighted photo: Vinicius de Moraes, 1971. By Alécio de Andrade. Pirelli/MASP Photography Collection.

**Bruno Cosentino is a singer and songwriter. He has released the albums Amarelo (2015), Babies (2016), Corpos são feitos pra encaixar e depois morrer (2017) and Bad Bahia (2020). He is the editor of the music criticism magazine Polivox and a PhD in Brazilian literature at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ), with research about love and eroticism in the poetry and songs of Vinicius de Moraes.