“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).

Flying over Brasília – by Carlos Mendes de Sousa

The Moreira Salles Institute, in partnership with the Humanities Department of Columbia University, held the international seminar The Clarice Factor: Aesthetics, Gender, and Diaspora in Brazil, which occurred in March, in New York.

With discussions dedicated to Clarice’s writing as performance, form, sound, and matter, the panels included teacher-scholars from several universities, including Vilma Arêas (UNICAMP), Yudith Rosenbaum (USP), and Carlos Mendes de Sousa, whose text is available here. 

Flying Over Brasília 

Carlos Mendes de Sousa¹

Today is Sunday in New York. In fulgent Brasília, it is already Tuesday. Brasília simply skips Monday.  

Thresholds 

Threshold 1 – A date outside the text, 1976

Biographers are unanimous in relating Clarice Lispector’s contentment when on her last trip to Brasília, in 1976. Clarice had traveled to the city to receive the recognition award for her work granted by the Federal District Cultural Foundation. In the previous year, Brasília had acquired some visibility in the author’s work with the publication of a relatively extensive text about the city. Would this text be what led Clarice back to Brasília? This last trip symbolically crowns the connection between the name of the writer and the name of the city.     

Threshold 2 – Founding dates, approximations: The Apple in the Dark and Brasília

Does The Apple in the Dark announce Brasília? The approximate links would derive from the dates, from the vicinity of the times: the time of the conception and construction of Brasília (1956/1960) and the time of the creation and appearance of The Apple in the Dark. At the end of this book, we find the note: “Washington, May 1956;” the novel was only published in 1961. With due consideration of that which cannot be compared, certain connections can be found: the architecture and the monumental; the estrangement and the astonishment; poetry and modernity. All of this unites these two works that bring with them a foundational difference. But the repercussions of the analogies go further. What Clarice says about Brasília could perhaps be said of her own texts, especially The Apple in the Dark, a fascinating book, without corners, where it is necessary to learn to inhabit it. And what Niemeyer says about the city could also be applied to Clarice: “you can like or detest Brasília. But you cannot say that you have ever seen anything similar.”            

Let us approach Clarice’s literature as we approached Brasília. I experienced this in 1992, after an 18-hour trip, when I crossed Guimarães Rosa’s sertão backlands and arrived at Brasília by Clarice’s hand; and when I experienced the intermutation of the terms: Brasília – new literature. Clarice – new city.

The diptych

Right after the foundation of Brasília, Clarice visited the city. Following this visit, she wrote a text with the title “Brasília: Five Days,” first published in the “Children’s Corner” column in Senhor (1963) magazine, and collected in the following year in “Back of the Drawer,” the 2nd part of the book The Foreign Legion. In 1974, Clarice returned to the city and wrote a more extensive text, “Brasília: Splendor,” published in the anthology Vision of Splendor (1975), in which it appears as an afterword to the text written at the time of her first trip.             

The combination of two texts, from different times, with explicit reference to the dates of writing, constitutes a singular situation within the work. As a transition between the two blocks, there is a small fragment in which the two moments are explained: “I went to Brasília in 1962. What I wrote about is what you have just read. And now I have returned twelve years later for two days. And I wrote about it too. So here is everything I vomited up. / Warning: I am about to begin. / This piece is accompanied by Strauss’s “Vienna Blood” waltz. It’s 11:20 on the morning of the 13th.”  

It is important to emphasize the fact that the two texts collected under the name “Brasília” constitute a central piece in the book Vision of Splendor (1975). The attention that the author grants to them is well known, starting with the reflection in the name chosen for a title of the anthology and due to the fact that the diptych opens the book. It seems as though Clarice designed a book that would include the text which resulted from the visit to the city in 1974. It may also appear as though such a choice likewise resulted from the desire to give emphasis to the first text, by naturally accompanying the selection of other already published chronicles (included in Vision of Splendor).       

The brevity of the two visits clearly contrasts with the long consideration of the city expressed in the texts that she dedicated to it. Does entering Brasília by Clarice’s hand allow one to see the construction of the city as a construction of a literature?  

The Flyover (1) 

If the flyover metaphor can be reconsidered in texts related to the planning of the city of Brasília, we also find it in Clarice. For example, in Água Viva, when there is a reference to the way of seeing the text as if viewed from an airplane. The metadiscursive moment (the “explanation” about the image of the aerial view) becomes particularly relevant here. It is the distance that allows for the discernment of the difficult order: “This text I give you is not meant to be seen up close: it gains a secret roundness previously invisible when seen from a plane at cruising altitude. Then one can guess the set of islands and one sees channels and seas.”

But it is necessary to clarify right away that if we find the metaphor in Clarice, she is not the one who proposes the flyover reading perspective. It is clearly the point-of-view of the critic/reader that leads to this view. It is not difficult for us to place the work into perspective and find in it successive points of arrival that are constituted as points of departure. It is easy for us to find justifications when we think of the novels. In the beginning, the middle, or the last phase, the differences and similarities allow our arguments to be based on changes that involve new beginnings. I am thinking of The Besieged City, The Passion According to G.H., and Água Viva, but I could also think of The Apple in the Dark, An Apprenticeship or the Book of Delights, etc. And the short story collections could also be viewed from this perspective of the path taken or of an inaugural meaning. I read “Brasília” in this way, as a path to a revisitation, by pointing out a few connections, a few points that likewise allow for a look at the rest of the work.

One of the greatest implications of the combination of the two texts about Brasília into a diptych results precisely from the possibility that is provided by a reading of the work in perspective, taking into account the dates in which the “chronicles” were written, the contexts in which they appear, and the dialogue established with other works by the author. The first text refers to the key period in which the writing of some of Clarice’s most emblematic books is situated: between the novels The Apple in the Dark and The Passion According to G.H. and between the books of short stories Family Ties and The Foreign Legion.  

The differences between the two blocks are eye-catching. The first, which is more compact, produces an effect of greater closure. Despite the existence of elements that provoke estrangement, it bears a marked sense of cohesion based, to a large extent, on its approach to storytelling, in the recreation of a very particular founding story. The second block is marked by the fragmentation that is immediately observable in the formal layout, through the presence of very short paragraphs.       

The first text reflects the period in which it was written, very close to the inauguration, however, as one might expect, it reflects it in Clarice fashion. The amplitude and distance grow in the speaker who tells of the strangeness of the place. The writing of this first text alludes to chapters of The Passion According to G.H. (such as Chapter 18), but also to fragmentary texts from the 2nd part of The Foreign Legion, where it appears, and even to other texts from the 1st part, such as “The Egg and the Chicken.”

As for the second text, we are immediately led to contextualize it in the framework of Clarice’s production from the 1970s, which is particularly marked by the sign of the fragmentary. It is important to consider a reading perspective that relates the texts from the different phases, obviously taking into account the specificities of the moments. In this framework, I would like to highlight the book Água Viva, from 1973. Here one considers not only the book as we know it, but also what is represented by the tense moment that led to its concretization and that was visibly expressed in the evident transit in the copy of “Screaming Object” (a typescript that precedes this book), as well as in testimonies that allow us to accompany this process (like some letters exchanged with José Américo Motta Pessanha regarding the actual publication of this work). It is important above all to point out that a sort of distancing or a very expressive new direction will be performed in the texts published as of 1974. Incidentally, see how, right after the release of Água Viva, this work was analyzed with respect to its novelty, in its differences and also its similarities (in mode of concentration). In the beginning of 1974, in a review published in the Tribuna da Imprensa, Reynaldo Bairão highlighted the book’s formal renovation, giving an account of the fact that, in it, there is simultaneously “a sort of summary of all her previous fictional work.”     

I intend to show that Clarice’s “Brasília” is a place where, as if distractedly, a thousand doors are opened. In this way of presenting the city, all of Clarice is right there in the end. As if she unwittingly placed, on the same plane, the high and the low, autobiographical and identitarian issues, literature and truth, life and death; but also play and humor, bewilderment and deflation.  

In the beginning… the story 

In the first block, Brasília appears associated with light and blindness, with the gelidity of crystal. The incidence of raw light enhances the exile. One speaks of the buried city that rises from the rubble; it was nature that was charged with hiding it until it reappeared one day. This is the motif of the story. One may speak of a theory of strata (the past, the present, the future) that determine the layout and existence of the city. One represents a city that fulfills the attributes of circular mythical places: the concretization of an abstraction or idealization (“rounded streets … without corners”). 

Look at the implications of the founding story, in Clarice’s writing, and the way that the writer herself will deconstruct this view. We find the return to a fantastic past that is reinvented based on real facts: “I regard Brasília as I regard Rome. Brasília began with a final simplification of ruins.” The elements that are referred to an empirical reality are anchored in a recognizable historicity, but the dominant movement is that of the amplification which overcomes these references. A flowering Antiquity (the 14th century A.D.) mixed with a timeless present returns us to the book The Besieged City, one of the foundational novels (of her own name, of her writing). At a given moment, it is said of Lucrécia that she is “Greek in a city not yet erected,” finding names for things, a resonance that will extraordinarily and sumptuously echo loudly in the aforementioned Chapter 18 of The Passion According to G.H. 

In the first paragraph from the first block of “Brasília,” the author experiences, for a brief period, the impact of the new city. The account emphasizes this perspective. The invocation of the founding story (to take account of what is seen and felt) underscores the dawning moment (supported by the first analogy: the creation of the world), and the readers of Clarice Lispector, in turn, cannot avoid invoking the author’s work (specifically the initial phase, where many revisitations of founding myths are found). The issue of the deterritorialization performed by her literature reverberates here. In this sense, the identification between Clarice and the city of Brasília gains strength: she is Greek, Roman, and Brasiliarian, also. The confrontations with the place of estrangement are the estrangement from herself. The observer’s focus unveils her alien condition, which sets in continuous motion her propulsive self-consciousness and otherness.          

The trip 

The view of Brasília is a guest view based on the perspective of Rio de Janeiro. And nonetheless, Brasília is the city that evoked a more extensively concentrated text. 

The interrogations about Brazil, the attempts to understand the country based on this strange place, which is the new city, are recurrent in the 1960s. I recall different outside perspectives that are somewhat coincidental, such as that of the sociologist Max Bense, who dwells on its Cartesianism and its amalgam, or that of the poet Sophia de Mello Breyner Andresen, who speaks of the “logical and lyrical” city. In Brazil itself, there are recurring views that take account of the estrangement. One cites as an example the short film by Joaquim Pedro de Andrade – “Brasília: contradições de uma cidade nova” (Brasília: contradictions of a new city).   

The interest in Brasília is something that naturally involves all Brazilians. Even so, it is important to ask: why such an explicit and prolonged attention to a city? It is not difficult for one to make a very complete survey of Clarice’s geography. By memory, whoever knows her work may present a chart that succinctly allows one to accede to a synthesis in which various places in the city of Rio de Janeiro are highlighted.    

One must not forget the founding meaning integrated into the arch that the construction of the work presents. The city, in the first books, is the city with minimal references to any connection of a locatable geographical order. In the 1949 book, in whose title generically appears the word “city,” a certain atmosphere is asserted, with a landscape that is crudely extraterritorial, that is, prevailingly abstract.     

From the mappable places and objectifiable impressions, in “Brasília,” we are quickly confronted with lines of flight. The reason for the dislocations reverberates in the texts: from the familiar resonances of the first trip (in the reference to her children) to the explanation of the reasons for the second dislocation (the lecture given). Since we cannot exhaustively present here the presence of the map, let us see examples from the beginning of the second block. We read in a paragraph, which refers to the visit to the Dom Bosco church, the admiration for the “splendid” stained glass, the contemplative stillness: “[The church] has such splendid stained glass that I fell silent seated on the pew, not believing it was real.” But soon a dissonance is mentioned and an action plan suggested: “The only flaw is the unusual circular chandelier that looks like some nouveau riche thing. The church would have been pure without the chandelier. But what can you do? go at night, in the dark, and steal it?”. The text progresses alongside the map: “Then I went to the National Library;” it progresses with references to sensations, with references to that which marks the visiting writer’s contact, and with her way of interacting with defining elements of the city; it progresses with precise references to the hunger that she feels, in the cold, in the light, in the dry air. Very quickly, the narration allows itself to be contaminated by that which is disconcerting, that which escapes the conventionalism of the travel account or the chronicle: “What hunger, but what hunger. I asked if the city had a lot of crime. I was told that in the suburb of Grama (is that its name?) there are about three homicides per week. (I interrupted the crimes to eat).”     

Transits, accommodation 

The visit to the city and the return presuppose a movement that is asserted in the account and that highlights the sign of accommodation. Two aspects are notable in relation to this question: the counterpoint with other cities, other places summoned in the text, and the Brazilian question. The sign of accommodation is particularly active in the second block (“Brasília: Splendor”), which is marked by the pendularity between Rio de Janeiro and Brasília, a movement that paces the whole text. One observes, nonetheless, a mixture that at times seems to cause confusion and that involves the transit between the two cities – the location where one arrives and the place from where one has departed and to where one returns.        

Let us see the first four paragraphs of the second block. The length of the first two is similar. The third paragraph is smaller and the fourth is much shorter. Just one sentence: “I pause for a moment to say that Brasília is a tennis court.” After this pause, the following paragraph begins like this: “There is a reinvigorating chill there.” The adverb points to the place that is the object of attention. It is from here that a few contradictions occur from the speaker’s perspective, which are pointed out by the author herself, about the times of writing and about the places. “I’m talking about Rio. Hello, Rio! Hello! Hello!”; “Tomorrow I return to  Rio, turbulent city of my loves;” “In Rio, in my pantry, I killed a mosquito that was quivering in midair;” “It is daybreak here in Rio;” “Does Brasília have gnomes? / My house in Rio is full of them.” In Brasília, Clarice finds a world in her own image and likeness, a land where she can tread. Paradoxically, the city allows for the return to the place where the exiled is recognized. The threatening angel of expulsion prowls, but is absent.           

The approach to Brasília may take place through the political meaning of the new capital. In Clarice’s chronicles in the Jornal do Brasil, we sometimes come across her concern with the national question. Gilberto Figueiredo Martins, in the book Estátuas Invisíveis. Experiências do espaço público na ficção de Clarice Lispector (Invisible Statues. Experiences of Public Space in the Fiction of Clarice Lispector; São Paulo, Edusp, 2010), presents a reading with this focus, taking account of a difference in the second text with regard to the first, which reflects the political moment. The law of the accommodating city is asserted in some moments and incites confrontation. We read there the reference to “implacable Brasília” and to the implacable green eye, to the city that “arrests” and that deprives one of documents, identity, veracity, and intimate breath, and finally, to the city that leads to crime. But already in 1962, Clarice spoke of the “totalitarian state.” When she interviewed Oscar Niemeyer, she confronted him with this judgment: “I once wrote: ‘The construction of Brasília: that of a totalitarian state.’ What do you think of my impression, Oscar?” In the same interview, there arises a concern in relation to how the city could fulfill the concretization of the democratic ideal consonant with the architectural project. In 1972, when she interviewed Paulo and Gisela Magalhães, architects who worked in Brasília, she clearly affirmed: “When I was there many years ago, it seemed to me a deserted city.” And furthermore: “My primary impression, already very old […] and what I saw in the beginning of Brasília, was that of a city from the Far West of films, with saloons and shootouts.”    

The dislocation is made to a place that stimulates reflection. The return to the point of departure is to be simultaneously inside and outside. In the return, as if it were an improvisation, there arises a torrent of memories, in a record of fleeting images. The acceleration projects multiplying mirrors, a way of escaping fixity.  

The counterpoints encounter, in opposition, precise references: New York, Capri, Bahia, Ceará, Recife, Lisbon… What time is it? How does one live? If Brasília points to a trans-historical and trans-temporal dimension, the inhabitant of the land of Clarice Lispector also asks that there be room for the banalized terrain.   

Writing, text: hybridities 

The expected references in a chronicle text, the objective impressions and various referential notes (geographical, architectonic, climactic, social, etc.), everything that is in the factual domain is projected into another sphere. We are continually transported to the domain of overcoming and transmutation. The cold, the light, the color of the earth, the trees, the traffic, etc. are transformed into Clarice’s signs. Everything becomes widely pulverized, surpasses the immediate. Factual data is continuously intertwined with fantastic allusions, such as when between parentheses the narrator affirms that she interrupted “the crimes to eat.” Or when it is said that the rats of Brasília eat human flesh.

In the proposed view, the creative impulse permanently echoes: “my insomnia is me myself, it is lived, it is my astonishment;” “They erected inexplicable astonishment. Creation is not a comprehension, it is a new mystery.”

One may then affirm that Clarice’s “Brasília” is the mirror of the text: the author captures the city in its time, which is that of a recognized strangeness. Mirrored, the city encounters itself. By reading the places, we, the readers, recognize everywhere the topics of Lispector’s universe. Places in perspective: the world is as many ways as Lispector tells us it can be seen and even more so as we, Lispectorized, come to see it. 

“Brasília” is where genre no longer holds, it has always been the whole work escaping labels. It is in Água Viva that we find the indicated gesture, the maxim “genre no longer holds with me.” Actually, the gestation of this book accounts for the process and bears this explicit mark. On a page that follows the cover page of the typescript “Screaming Object,” consider what could be a draft for a proemial note similar to those that appear in The Passion According to G.H. or An Apprenticeship or The Book of Delights (the previous two novels). Two texts intersect on this page; the ink color is different:

This is an anti-book. The core is “it”.

If you consider this more than a letter, be aware that it is an anti-book.

But the phrase “genre no longer holds with me” could be placed as a subtitle to the beginning of the work, already in Near to the Wild Heart. And the indication for “Screaming Object” dialogues especially with “Brasília” if we think of the approximations with another text that is difficult to classify, “Report on the Thing,” which, when published in the Jornal do Brasil column, received the name “Objeto: anticonto” (“Object: antistory”). There Clarice presented an explanatory note:

“Note: this report-mystery, this geometrical anti-story was published in São Paulo’ Senhor magazine. In his introduction, Nélson Coelho says that I have killed the writer in me. He cites several writers who have attempted suicide of the written word. None succeeded. ‘Just as Clarice shall not succeed’, Nélson Coelho writes.

What did I attempt with this type of report?

I think that I wanted to write an anti-story, an anti-literature. As if that way I might demystify fiction. It was a worthwhile experience for me. It doesn’t matter that I have failed. It is called: OBJECT.”

For this purpose, it is interesting to highlight the inclusion of “Brasília” in the volume The Complete Stories, edited by Benjamin Moser. The plurivocity of registers (from short story to chronicle) embraces the opening on the plane of enunciation.   

Signs of flight: spectral Brasília, the interrogation, the assumption of one’s own death 

In opposition to the reinforced concrete, the monumental edifices, the solitude, the earthy, the solemnity of the opening of the new city born out of nothing, there arises the spectral city that vanishes, the city that levitates, the fluctuation, the diffuse: “Am I being levitated? Brasília suffers from levitation.” What causes the loss? What phantasmatically disappears? What can be shown and what escapes the subject of perception is permanently at play. The inquisitive bent becomes evident, the enunciations associated with the idea of flight. Why put the questions? Why Brasília? The text is rife with interrogations. And at every moment we come across the doubtful enunciation that results in double premises which always presuppose more than one path. Even the possibility of changing one’s mind and leaving matters unresolved: 

Could there be Brasília? That settles it: what I’ll do is buy a green hat to match my shawl. Or should I not buy one at all? I am so indecisive. Brasília is decision. Brasília is a man: And I, such a woman. I go bumbling along. I stumble into something here, I stumble into something there. And  arrive at last.

I’ve settled it: I don’t need a hat at all. Or do I? My God, what shall become of me?

Did I say it or not […]?

Didn’t I say that Brasília is a tennis court? Because Brasília is blood on a tennis court. And as for me? Where am I? Me? poor me, with my scarlet-stained handkerchief. Do I kill myself? No. I live in brute reply. I am right there for whoever wants me.

The assumption of her own death is another marked sign of flight. One will see how the strange formulation “died” presents an ontological impossibility in itself. Everything is quickly perceived – suddenly, everything is past, forgotten, and what the quickness leaves in our hands is a small emptied time. In the first block, the look of astonishment over the newborn city is projected in time travels, concretely in a future afterlife, and in a fabulously reinvented past:   

– When I died, one day I opened my eyes and there was Brasília. I was alone in the world. There was a parked taxi. Without a driver. Oh how frightening.

– Momma, it’s lovely to see you standing there in that fluttering white cape. (It’s because I died, my son).

The disarming and obsessive enunciation of death itself opens up the places of flight, the phantasmatic places. In the second block, this appearance is reconsidered and expanded into more and more disconcerting formulations in which humor and an elevated tone are mixed:   

I. The phantasmagoric one. My name does not exist. What exists is a picture faked from another picture of me. But the real one died already. I died on the ninth of June. Sunday. After lunch in the precious company of those I love. I had roast chicken. I am happy. But lack true death. I am in a hurry to see God. Pray for me. I died elegantly.

I am going to last a while yet. No one is immortal. Just see if you can find someone who doesn’t die. I died. I died murdered by Brasília. I died to pursue research. Pray for me because I died on my back.

Voices, rhythms, respirations, flows. The brainstorm.

The encounter with the city of Brasília causes an outbreak that stems from the anarchic energy of the voice. A flow, a manifesto against the programmed city. Look at the expressions, words, graphic resources – an explosive creativity (contrary to what is written about Bern or about other places, in the antipodes of Brasília). Look at the strangeness of the formulations that account for the extraordinary inventiveness: “I love you, oh extragantic one! Oh word that I invented and do not know the meaning of.” The examples can be listed, among many others. Such as the paragraph with the highlighted sentence: “Brasília is a wildly twinkling blue eye that burns in my heart.”  

The discourse progresses admirably at will. Brasília is an image-making machine. The threads are untangled, dismantling (feinting and dribbling) the commonplace. The dualities and alternances dominate: from the exalted, glorified image, to the humiliated figure. Spontaneous perceptions are associated with the account of the unpredictable. Semantic constellations instigate perspectives on perspectives.   

Brasília allows for a series of crossings, games, interrelations. A crossroads-text: reference notes, fantastic accounts, autobiographical fragments, humorous and parodic tirades. In the whole text, this cosmophagic centering is greatly relevant: “I call humbly for help. They’re robbing me. Am I the whole world? General astonishment.” One then immediately reads the following: “This isn’t a high wind, sir, it’s a tornado.” Further ahead: “The monstrous typewriter. It’s a telescope. Such wind. Is it a tornado? It is.” The intensity is the degree to which Clarice invests herself. She is a cyclone. At the service of stylistic novelty, which marks the flight from and the shattering of the text, we encounter devices that wrap and unwrap the sentences: words with hyphens inside syllables or letters (a way of making them more audible?), incomplete sentences, different formulations (“There people have dinner and lunch together – it is to have people to populate them”), the very marked repetitions: “Feeling good, feeling good, feeling good. I’m in a good mood.” The experimentation, the renovation of language are not gratuitous. The speaker’s perception is disconcerting and is supported by the segmentation, the accumulation, the impertinent chains, the hallucinatory rhythm, the strange similes, and the disturbing portrait.              

In “Brasília”, as in “Report on the Thing” or even earlier in “The Egg and the Chicken,” the brainstorming that Clarice will adopt in the texts from her last phase gains strength. In Where You Were at Night, it really appears in “Soul Storm.” There are loose sentences that echo in Brasília, intersecting thoughts, uncertain sayings, aphorisms, voices, echoes (we encounter a passage in which the narrator presents herself as a receptacle of voices that she records), wordplays (“Seus” [Yours] instead of Deus [God]; and “iulf” instead of flui [flows]).   

I am the words that I hear; we are the voices that we hear. In the vortex of speech, the dreams erected before us, the minute (or infinite) questions in proliferation. In the whirlwind into which the account throws us, sometimes, a halt is imposed, an arrow or a flash, a sparkle or unexpected image, before the return to the maelstrom:   

I am no more than phrases overheard by chance. On the street, while crossing through traffic, I heard: “It was out of necessity”. And at the Roxy Cinema, in Rio de Janeiro, I heard two fat women saying: “In the morning she slept and at night she woke up”. “She has no stamina”. In Brasília I have stamina, whereas in Rio I am rather languid, sort of sweet. And I heard the following phrase from the same fat women who were short: “Just what does she have to go do over there?” And that, my dears, is how I got expelled.

The complexity of Clarice’s brainstorming, which embraces a diversity of strata, settles into tense movements from a surprising mixture of registers: of the fantastic climate associated with critical humor and with constant autobiographical references, with the cohabitation of disparate literary references. As in the register of chronicles, but much more free. The strength of the telegraphic discourse and the spontaneous discourse, the transcription of registers into other languages (especially English), the transcription of the syllabled words:

I want to return to Brasília to room 700. So I can dot the “i”. But Brasília does not flow. It goes in the opposite direction. Like this: wolf (flow).

Wolf backwards. How discourse flows! The denegation says the centrality. Clarice is not a turgid discourse, she is not a mouthful of hard stones. It is water that flows, dense water of stars and rare jewels, drinking water, life water. The narrator is caught up in the powerful impregnating force of the city. It is the disturbing effect (the inexplicability of the place) that, in part, unleashes the torrential discourse. 

Projections: the flyover (2) 

There is a criss-crossing of many axes in “Brasília.” More than any other text close to this one (think of “The Chicken and the Egg,” “Report on the Thing,” or “Where You Were at Night”), here is a path which is similar to that of the announcements in Hour of the Star. One can also glimpse in “Brasília” an evident twinning with A Breath of Life: the dialogue and the interchanges between the “Author” and “Ângela” are on the same plane as the narrator’s dialogue in “Brasília: Splendor” with the city.

Almost at the end of the second block, we read: “I am innocent and ignorant. And when I am in a state of writing, I don’t read. It would be too much for me, I don’t have the strength.” Declarations of this sort anticipate the arrival of the alter ego Rodrigo S.M. (likewise present in The Via Crucis of the Body, in the character Cláudio Lemos). That which in the beginning of the first block of “Brasília” was a reflection of mirrors (the author spoke of the mystery of the architect’s creation, speaking of herself), is now an explained meta-literary inclination. The reversibilities are similar (“so much we interchanged”) and there are many similarities found in the domain of metadiscursive reflection. Look at the closeness in the formulations: 

Brasília – It’s an adventure: it brings me face to face with the unknown. I’m going to speak words. Words have nothing to do with sensations. Words are hard stones and sensations are ever so delicate, fleeting, extreme.

 The Hour of the Star –  “Its rhythm is frequently discordant. It also contains facts. I have always been enthusiastic about facts without literature – facts are hard stones and I am much more interested in action than in meditation. There is no way of escaping facts.”

No, it is not easy to write. It is as hard as breaking rocks. Sparks and splinters fly like shattered steel.

On the plane of enunciation, the relation of the narrator (the writer Clarice Lispector) with the city is very close to that which the narrator Rodrigo S.M. establishes with Macabéa: 

Brasília is slim. And utterly elegant. It wears a wig and false eyelashes. It is a scroll inside a Pyramid. It does not age. It is Coca-Cola, my God, and will outlive me. Too bad. For Coca-Cola, of course.

Oh, what a pretty nose Brasília has. So delicate.

The text presents us with real and fictional characters (in the library, the airport, the airplane) and reveals Brasília the character. With liberty, and in a register full of humor, the narrator interpellates the city, speaks to the city, to distantly better contemplate it. The unveiling results from the persecution and saturation of the figure, an obsessive procedure that is Lispectorian par excellence. 

The sign of privation is very marked: “city with no corners/ Neither does it have any neighborhood bars for people to get a cup of coffee / It’s true. I swear I didn’t see any corners. / In Brasília the everyday does not exist.” In the aseptic city, errors have been eradicated. One demands a revision. Because inhabitability, the place for the human, presupposes the fundamental incorporation of error. At the end of a paragraph, one reads a sort of maxim: “Brasília is a joke, strictly perfect and without error. And the only thing that saves me is error.”

Through play, from parody to humor, one continuously seeks to preserve mistakes. Here we are also led to approximations with many of Clarice’s characters, especially Macabéa: 

Brasília is a Wedding March. The groom is a northeasterner who eats up the whole wedding cake because he’s gone hungry for several generations. The bride is a widowed old lady, rich and cranky. From this unusual wedding that I witnessed, forced by circumstances, I left defeated by the violence of the Wedding March that sounded like a Military March and commanded me to get married to and I don’t want to. I left covered in Band-Aids, my ankle twisted, my neck aching and a big wound aching in my heart.

And nonetheless, the challenge that the city provokes is up to the risk. Here one finds one of the strong traits identified with Clarice’s universe:  

Brasília is risky and I love risk. It’s an adventure: it brings me face to face with the unknown. I’m going to speak words. Words have nothing to do with sensations. Words are hard stones and sensations are ever so delicate, fleeting, extreme.

One of the most expressive recurrences – the attempt to say by predication – translates an impossibility (“Brasília is…”). What else might this insistence want to say? In the second block, the irruption of these attempts reinforces the impossibility of description: “It’s becoming clear that I don’t know how to describe Brasília.” As in the whole work, one goes around an object or person, one incessantly seeks to reach it without managing to arrive at the nucleus.    

In the play of approximations, two elements are noticeable: the dentist’s chair and the tennis court. The dentist’s machine in Brasília, a recurring motif, leads us to toothaches, to the “exposed nerve” in The Hour of the Star. The reference to the tennis court appears in a short story from Where You Were at Night, “The Departure of the Train,” a text that occupies a marked role in the domain of interrelations established among texts from her last phase. In the dual structure that the short story presents, the figure of Ângela Pralini is speaking to Dona Maria Rita, but projecting a dialogue with the absent character, Eduardo. The meaning attributed to the characterization of the character is close to that which begins to be invoked to describe the city, in the first occurrence: “I pause for a moment to say that Brasília is a tennis court.” The complexification is manifested as the text progresses: 

Didn’t I say that Brasília is a tennis court? Because Brasília is blood on a tennis court. And as for me? Where am I? Me? poor me, with my scarlet-stained handkerchief. Do I kill myself? No. I live in brute reply. I am right there for whoever wants me.   

And further on: “Remember how I mentioned the tennis court with blood? Well the blood was mine, the scarlet, the clotting was mine.” The process of identification evident here is what we will read in the reversible statements made by Rodrigo S.M. to Macabéa. And if blood could have a political reading, in the dismantling of the oppressive scenario of the military dictatorship, as Gilberto Figueiredo Martins (cf. Estátuas invisíveis) claims, this blood also means the return to the essence of being and to the experience of limits – the obsession for the heart, for the nucleus of life:

De onde no entanto até sangue arfante de tão vivo de vida poderá quem sabe escorrer e logo se coagular em cubos de geleia trêmula. Será essa história o meu coágulo? Que sei eu. (The Hour of the Star)

The speaker is the character Rodrigo S.M., who, in the “Dedicatória do Autor (na verdade Clarice Lispector)”, writes: “Dedico-me à cor rubra muito escarlate como o meu sangue de homem em plena idade e portanto dedico-me a meu sangue.” 

We could continue to list examples. I will only recall the end of “Brasília,” which is so close to the ending of the last novel:  

I know how to die. I have been dying since I was little. And it hurts but we pretend it doesn’t. I miss God so badly.
And now I am going to die a little bit. I need to so much.
Yes. I accept, my Lord. Under protest.
But Brasília is splendo.
I am utterly afraid.

 Disclosure 

In “Brasília,” an avowedly autobiographical voice is assumed, even if these notes irrupt loosely here, often in unperceived fashion. The inquisitive procedures underscore the purpose of hiding and disclosing the writer figure and the writing processes. There are many references to the mother Clarice, to her dog Ulisses, who occupies a privileged space in this text, to Coca-Cola, to taxi drivers, to housemaids, to the fortuneteller Dom Nadir from Méier…   

Disclosures? Some. At other times the latency that incites us to interpret: “Oh, poor little me. So motherless […] It is a thing of nature. I am in favor of Brasília.” 

In the framework of explanations, one recalls for instance the direct appearance of topics with strong resonance in the Lispectorian universe: “As I may have said, I want a beloved hand to hold mine when it is time for me to go.” And it is in “Brasília” that polished self-characterizations arise that would serve as a theme for biographers. Olga Borelli portrays her as such: “She carried herself with both the humility of a peasant and the pride of a great lady.” In Clarice’s voice, we read here: “Come on, I am a woman who’s simple and a tiny bit sophisticated. A mix of peasant and a star in the sky” Above all, what is sought in “Brasília” is what is sought in all her work: the self’s encounter with the self. A search that encounters here its highest expression in the interrogation about the emblem-figure of Clarice’s writing: “Brasília is an orange construction crane fishing out something very delicate: a small white egg. Is that white egg me or a little child born today?”.       

¹ Carlos Mendes de Sousa earned his Ph.D. in Literature from the University of Minho. He is an associate professor in the Department of Portuguese and Lusophone Studies at the Institute of Arts and Humanities, University of Minho, Portugal, where he has dedicated himself to the study of Brazilian literature and modern and contemporary Portuguese poetry. He is the author of many books, including Clarice Lispector. Pinturas (Rocco, 2013); Miguel Torga: o chão e o verbo (Sabrosa / Espaço Miguel Torga, 2014); Clarice Lispector. Figuras da Escrita, (Instituto Moreira Salles, 2012), and O Nascimento da Música. A Metáfora em Eugénio de Andrade (Almedina, 1992).

The Clarice Factor

The Moreira Salles Institute, in partnership with the Department of Humanities at Columbia University, presents the international seminar The Clarice Factor: Aesthetics, Gender, and Diaspora in Brazil, which will take place on the 23rd (Thursday), 24th (Friday), and 29th (Wednesday) of March, at Casa Hispánica, in New York City.

The inaugural milestone of the collaboration between IMS and Columbia University began in December 2015, at the Institute’s headquarters in Rio de Janeiro, with the colloquium Brazil: Global Crossing, which brought together Columbia University researchers, Brazilian professors and specialists, in addition to the coordinators of the IMS collection, in multidisciplinary discussions on the modernization process in Brazil.

Since then relations between the two institutions have strengthened with the announcement of the new event organized by Ana Paulina Lee and Graziela Montaldo, from the Department of Iberian and Latin American Cultures at Columbia University, and by the IMS Research Directorate. 

Completely dedicated to discussions on Clarice’s writing as performance, form, sound, and material, the tables will mostly occur on the 24th, with the participation of researcher-professors from several universities. IMS guests include Carlos Mendes de Sousa, Vilma Arêas (University of São Paulo-Campinas), and Yudith Rosenbaum (University of São Paulo). Also confirmed are Katrina Dodson, award-winning translator for the edition of The Complete Stories, and Argentinian Gabriel Giorgi, Associate Professor at New York University.

The event will also feature the installation Edge of Nothing by theater director Dara Malina, who in 2015 had adapted The Hour of the Star for the theater at the same university.

What Lies Clarice Has

What I write about myself is never the last word

Roland Barthes

I.

It is not easy to talk about Clarice Lispector, an author who has broad repercussions. In the times of social networks, Clarice “cultivates” thousands and thousands of “followers,” “apps,” and “pages.” In the editorial context, the numbers are quite high. Her 22 titles published during her lifetime, among them novels, stories, and chronicles, have given rise to almost 210 translations and more than 500 publications, including theses, dissertations, and books dedicated to the life and work of the author.

Clarice’s numbers reveal that her texts do not respect geographical, cultural, or spatial-temporal boundaries, and remain very much alive by means of translations and reissues, even 40 years after the death of the author.

II.

However, Clarice Lispector’s international literary fame may bring some distorted modes of interpretation. Much of her production is taken only as a self-writing, drenched in personality, in biographical traits. A way of reading that foresees a mirroring of Clarice’s life and work may not be a fruitful option. As Roland Barthes affirms: “The more ‘sincere’ I am, the more interpretable I am, under the eye of other examples than those of the old authors, who believed they were required to submit themselves to but one law: authenticity” (BARTHES, 1997, p. 120). 

In the case of Clarice Lispector, despite the fact that, yes, the writing is introspective and subjective in character, the reader is responsible for feeling the literature in the “gut.” That is, the almost “soul” identification between the reader and Clarice has more to do with the reader’s intention, his or her interpretation, than with the intention of the author’s writing. To unite, indistinctly, the pair author-individual is an interpretive operation – one which is certainly not a big problem. However, this operation can weaken the power of the text when it stops being one mode, one operation, and becomes the mode, the interpretation. There is no doubt that information about an author’s biography sheds light upon the writing, both are in contact, but it cannot be the only light to guide the path of the reader through the text.

To think of the self on the razor’s edge, in a biographical illusion, in a death of the author (to give life to fiction), can constitute very rich spaces for reading.

III.

The mythification on the part of the readers may have been constructed, in part, by Clarice herself. Throughout her life, some “slips” were made. I use the term “lie” not in a Manichaean or biblical sense, but as a jesting way to classify Clarice Lispector’s statements that at some point – and on some level – may have contradicted the facts. Mistakes of a biographical and bibliographical nature, due to a memory slip or due to distraction. Before attributing to “liar” negative epithets, it is good to recall what Nietzsche conceptualizes as truth in the famous essay “On Truth and Lies in an Extramoral Sense:”

[Truth] is a mobile army of metaphors, metonyms, and anthropomorphisms—in short, a sum of human relations which have been enhanced, transposed and embellished poetically and rhetorically, and which after long use seem firm, canonical, and obligatory to a people: truths are illusions about which one has forgotten that this is what they are, metaphors which are worn out and without sensuous power; (…).  (NIETZSCHE, 1873)

The definition is quite inspiring if we think of metaphor as an eminently literary device; we would therefore all be poetic, creating and recreating the word. Neither lies, nor truth: metaphors. In this sense, we bring forth some lies (metaphors) told by Clarice that have been calcified in order to think of the relevance they bring to her oeuvre.

IV.

I’m totally Brazilian, the fact that i was born in Russia means nothing. I was two months old when I came to Brazil and my first language was Portuguese. (LISPECTOR apud ROCHA, 2011, p.50)

My homeland did not leave a mark on me, except for my genetic heritage. I’ve never set foot in Russia. (LISPECTOR apud IMS, op. cit., p. 59)

Clarice Lispector declared that she was two months old when she arrived in Brazil. Yet biographical history shows that the Lispectors landed in the city of Maceió in 1922, thus a simple accounting would show that Clarice was almost two years old. Would this reduction in age be an attempt to reduce her memories to the minimum possible? As if she could deny, could forget the various situations that her family had to go through en route from Ukraine to Brazil: robberies, epidemics, hunger.

In fact, the tension with her country of origin would be a glaring theme in her interviews. The condition of being Brazilian was irrevocable. Upon being asked if she would ever leave Brazil, she is emphatic: “Never, but I’ve never even considered this possibility.” The Portuguese critic Carlos Mendes de Sousa considers the author as “the first and most radical affirmation of a non-place in Brazilian literature.” And here is the non-place of her writings: the novelty of a deterritorializing literature in the midst of her contemporaries who turned to Minas Gerais, Rio de Janeiro, and to the northeastern backlands. I quote Lêdo Ivo:

There will certainly be no tangible and acceptable explanation for the mystery of Clarice Lispector’s language and style. The foreignness of her prose is one of the most compelling pieces of evidence in our literary history and, moreover, of the history of our language. This borderline prose, emigrating and immigrating, does not resound with any of our illustrious predecessors […]. One could say that she, a naturalized Brazilian, naturalized a language. (IVO apud IMS, 2004, p. 48)

Carlos Drummond de Andrade also recorded in the poem “Visions of Clarice Lispector,” published in Discurso da primavera & Algumas sombras (Discourse of Spring & Some Shadows, 1977), this non-place of Clarice in verse:

Within her
the ballrooms, stairways
phosphorescent roofs, long steppes,
lantern towers, bridges of Recife shrouded in fog,
formed a country, the country where Clarice
lived alone and ardent, building tales. 

The reference to the non-place can also be considered in relation to her life: born en route, she spent her childhood in Recife, and her youth in Rio de Janeiro, she married a diplomat, she lived in several countries, and finally, she returned to Rio and settled in the neighborhood of Leme.

Another controversial point that has not been very well clarified is not related to language, but to speech. During the Ukraine-Brazil voyage, the youngest Lispector had contact with several language: Yiddish, Russian, English, and finally, Portuguese. Current language acquisition and processing studies affirm that, until seven months of age, babies are able to assimilate the specific sounds of their language and internalize them, even though they cannot reproduce them. Those who have not only read, but also heard Clarice, remember her speech. A speech so undefinable that it is not a surprise. Might the internalization of these sounds mean her “tongue is tied,” as Clarice would say, a remnant of her contact with these different languages? The oldest sister, Elisa Lispector, said that at the house in Recife everyone spoke Yiddish.

My first language was Portuguese. Do I speak Russian: No, absolutely not. (…) my tongue is tied. (…) some people used to ask me if I was French, due to my accent. (LISPECTOR, 2005, p. 95)

Another slip is about her city of birth, Chechelnik. The Brazilian literature professor Nádia Battella Gotlib said she took Clarice’s statement literally and reproduced it several times in her classes: “I was born in the Ukraine, the land of my parents. I was born in a village named Tchechelnik, which is not on the map because it is so small and insignificant.” 1 Until a student brought in a map of Ukraine proving the existence of said village. This would highlight an aspect already mentioned about Clarice’s reluctance to associate her image with a pre-Brazil period. In the aforementioned excerpt, let us note the “land of my parents,” reiterating, once again, her integral Brazilianness.

(Warning: how might the investigation of lies – metaphors – enrich the reading of Clarice’s work?)

V.

Leaving aside the more biographical news, we will analyze the untruths about her production.

In an interview with Affonso Romano de Sant’Anna and Marina Colasanti for the Museum of Image and Sound on October 20, 1976, Clarice Lispector states:

Affonso – You have your texts written in your head. And once you told me something that impressed me: you never reread your texts.

Clarice – No. I get sick of them. When it’s published, it’s like a dead book. I don’t want to deal with it anymore. And when I read it, it’s strange, I think it’s bad. So, I don’t read it! (LISPECTOR apud ROCHA, op. cit., p. 142)

In the Preface to the edition of The Passion According to G.H. published by Rocco, Marlene Gomes Mendes cites Olga Borelli, “Clarice Lispector’s great friend and companion (…) assured us that, in fact, Clarice did not look again at her texts after sending the originals to the publisher.” Clarice: “Sometimes I don’t even correct the proofs. I ask someone to read them. Finished things don’t interest me anymore.”The copy of The Foreign Legion (1964) from the personal library of Clarice Lispector at the Moreira Salles Institute, with notes made by the author herself, proves otherwise. In it she made changes to the punctuation, substituted a word here or there, and highlighted what had already been published in the Jornal do Brasil. This copy is the embryo of the book that would come in 1971, Covert Joy. The change of title is already indicated on the title page of the 1964 copy. The titles of the stories were also rethought; however, in the following volume only two would undergo modifications: “Evolution of a Myopia” to “Progressive Myopia” / “Sketching a little boy” to “Pen Drawing of a Little Boy.” On one page there are marks made with pens of different colors, which may indicate that the review was the result of readings at various moments. The shaky, insecure handwriting indicates that the revision was made after the fire in September 1966, which seriously compromised the movements of Clarice’s right hand. There was never a second edition of The Foreign Legion, which further accentuates the rarity of the copy catalogued on the IMS site and available for consultation.

Lastly, let us talk about Clarice Lispector’s activity as a columnist, an author of crônicas. Alongside contemporaries such as Rachel de Queiroz, Paulo Mendes Campos, Otto Lara Resende, and Carlos Drummond de Andrade, authors who felt at ease in the genre, and who today are her neighbors in the archive, Clarice, on the contrary, felt great discomfort in the profession, for three reasons that we will point out below.

Although she denied the title of columnist, Clarice wrote for the newspapers Comício, Correio da Manhã, Diário da Noite, and the renowned Jornal do Brasil, where she appeared weekly for six years, accounting for nearly 300 crônicas published, with a range of subjects from those related to meta-writing to critical analysis, translations, and  short fictional passages that would be used in her novels and stories. To the 300 texts for the Jornal do Brasil, we add the 450 chronicles published in other newspapers. Her productivity, and, above all, good reception from the public are two signs that make us recognize the columnist Clarice revealed herself to be. We can identify at least two phases of her performance for the press.

The first would be composed of three newspapers united by the same theme. Clarice wrote for Comício (a weekly, anti-Getúlio Vargas newspaper founded by, among others, Rubem Braga), under the pseudonym Tereza Quadros, the column “Entre mulheres” (Among Women); for the Diário da Noite, as a ghost-writer for the actress Ilka Soares, the column “Só para mulheres” [Only for Women]; and for the Correio da Manhã, as Helen Palmer, the column “Correio feminino” (Women’s Mail). It is no secret that she agreed to write about “pleasantries” to bolster the family income. When she participated in the latter two newspapers, she was a mother of two children and recently separated from the diplomat Maury Gurgel Valente, with whom she ended a marriage of more than ten years. In an interview with TV Cultura (1977), Clarice stated: “I’m not a professional, I only write when I want to. I’m an amateur and I insist on continuing to be an amateur. A professional is one who has an obligation to herself to write. Or else to another, in relation to another. Now I make a point of not being professional to maintain my freedom.” From the statement, it is understood that her position as the author of the women’s columns has little to do with Clarice, writer of novels and stories. 

Professionalism takes away her freedom; it is not the author delivered to her creation. It is the paycheck. “Having to” write “for” are two reasons for her discomfort in the profession.² Writing chronicles for the female public was not in the cards. The use of pseudonyms was a way of safeguarding the author of the novels Near to the Wild Heart and The Chandelier, already published at the time. Protecting her, in truth, from a pedestrian and frugal-themed column.

I still feel a little uncomfortable in my new role which cannot be strictly described as that of a columnist. And besides being a novice in the art of writing chronicles, I am also a novice when it comes to writing in order to earn money. I have had some experience as a professional journalist without ever signing my contributions. By signing my name I automatically become more personal. (LISPECTOR apud IMS, op. cit., p. 64)

In her personal library there are some titles of feminine topics. We will cite three: A arte de beber e recepcionar (The Art of Drinking and Hosting), Personal Beauty and Charm and Beleza e personalidade –O livro azul da mulher (Beauty and Personality: The Woman’s Blue Book). In a search, we found several tips adapted from these books that were published in the columns in which she worked. Material that proves the professionalism with which she treated the pages of “pleasantries.” Work. Limited creation. The books cited could be sources for Clarice the columnist to guide wives, mothers, and homemakers, together with her experience as ex-wife of a diplomat and mother of two children; in addition to her natural female authority in women’s matters.

The second moment of her activity as a columnist, now no longer for the female public, is during her time at the Jornal do Brasil. There, Clarice Lispector points out the third reason for not recognizing herself as a columnist: the risk of personal exposure, of the self on the razor’s edge. Since there was no specific theme geared to a specific public, as in her previous experience, in other words, there was a certain liberty, the writer confesses a fear of exposing in her writings her “past and present” life. It is clear in the following quote, once again, the distinction she imposes on the two worlds, the private and the public, the crônica and the novel, the reader of newspapers and the reader of her works:

As I write here, I’m becoming too personal, running the risk of soon publishing my past and present life, which I do not intend. Another thing I’ve noted: it’s enough for me to know I’m writing for a newspaper, that is, for something easily opened by everyone, and not for a book, which is only opened by someone who really wants to, so that, without even feeling it, my way of writing is transformed. It’s not that I don’t like changing, on the contrary. (…) But to change just because this is a column or a chronicle? To be “lighter” just because the reader wants me to? To have fun? To pass a few minutes of reading? And another thing: in my books I deeply want to communicate with myself and with the reader. Here in the newspaper I only speak to the reader and I’m pleased that he is pleased. I’ll tell you the truth: I’m not happy. And I really think I’m going to have a conversation with  Rubem Braga because by myself I’ve been unable to understand. (LISPECTOR apud IMS, op. cit., p.65)

For the sake of clarity, Rubem Braga is cited because it was upon his invitation that Clarice started writing a column for Comício. If Clarice were not an author of crônicas it would not be Rubem Braga, a renowned author in the genre, whom Clarice herself called the “inventor of the crônica,” who would recognize in the author of important novels of Brazilian literature an excellent writer of crônicas.

VI.

In 1953, the possibility arose for Clarice to sign a new column for the magazine Manchete. She confesses to her friend Fernando Sabino just how uncomfortable this experience could be, as she would have the impression of being present in person, “probably stuttering from embarrassment.” She would probably be stuttering from embarrassment today if she knew that her biography is practically superimposed on her work.

Having seen all this, I find it pleasurable to observe in her a behavior for which the reliability of information does not always matter, in which reality and fantasy/biography and fiction intersect. Information on her origins, age, language, past: truth is a metaphor. It is all boundary, it is all a non-place. What Clarice Lispector published has to do with the “health of literature” that Gilles Deleuze refers to in “Literature and Life:” literature as an invention of a missing people; literature is not fables written with memories – unless they become the collective origin or destiny of these people.

In order to think about the modes of reading that can overinterpret literature and exceed the game of fiction it prescribes, I will conclude with the Minas Gerais native, Paulo Mendes Campos: “Whoever doesn’t know that literature is made up of words hasn’t arrived there yet.”

References:

BARTHES, Roland. Roland Barthes by Roland Barthes. Trans. R. Howard. London, McMillan, 1977.
DELEUZE, Gilles. Essays Critical and Clinical. Trans. Daniel W. Smith and Michael A. Greco. London, Verso, 1998.
INSTITUTO MOREIRA SALLES, Cadernos de Literatura Brasileira: Clarice Lispector, ns 17 e 18. São Paulo: IMS, 2004. LISPECTOR, Clarice. Outros escritos. Rio de Janeiro: Rocco, 2005.
MOSER, Benjamin. Clarice. São Paulo: Cosac Naify, 2009.
NIETZSCHE, Friederich. “On Truth and Lies in an Extra-Moral Sense,” 1873. Essay available at: https://oregonstate.edu/instruct/phl201/modules/Philosophers/Nietzsche/Truth_and_Lie_in_an_Extra-Moral_Sense.htm 
ROCHA, Evelyn, org. Clarice Lispector – Série Encontro. Rio de Janeiro: Azougue, 2011.
SOUSA, Carlos Mendes de. Clarice Lispector – Figuras da escrita. São Paulo: IMS, 2012.

1 In the months of February and March, 2012, the Moreira Salles Institute hosted the course “Clarice: An Apprenticeship,” with the participation of Benjamin Moser, Vilma Arêas, Carlos Mendes de Sousa, and Professor Nádia Battella Gotlib.
2 Recently, Globo Network made a series about Correio feminino (Women’s Mail) and, in an flawed manner (for the purposes of dissemination, perhaps?), they fell into the trap of mirroring Clarice as a writer and a woman, once again crossing the line between the individual and the author, attaching biography to literary work; in the case of the crônicas, attaching biography to the work performed.