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

, “Becoming”: Notes on Clarice Lispector’s “secret life”. IMS Clarice Lispector, 2017. Disponível em: https://site.claricelispector.ims.com.br/en/2017/12/21/tornar-se-notas-sobre-a-vida-secreta-de-clarice-lispector/. Acesso em: 15 June 2024.

1.

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

2.

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

3.

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

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

Quanto a mim, estou. Sim.

‘Eu… eu… não. Não posso acabar.’

Eu acho que..”

4.

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

5.

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

6.

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

7.

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

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

Notes

Clarice Lispector’s hour and turn

, Clarice Lispector’s hour and turn. IMS Clarice Lispector, 2017. Disponível em: https://site.claricelispector.ims.com.br/en/2017/12/04/a-hora-e-a-vez-de-clarice-lispector/. Acesso em: 15 June 2024.

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

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

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

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

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

Clarice Lispector in the lineage of Machado de Assis

, Clarice Lispector in the lineage of Machado de Assis. IMS Clarice Lispector, 2017. Disponível em: https://site.claricelispector.ims.com.br/en/2017/08/14/clarice-lispector-da-linhagem-de-machado-de-assis/. Acesso em: 15 June 2024.

When it comes to the topic of Brazilian crônicas (which are often more like short stories than chronicles), one instantly thinks of the name of Rubem Braga as a primary representative. “The greatest chronicler,” according to Clarice Lispector. 

The writer from Espírito Santo, who modestly considered himself a typewriter that is “a little used, but still in good condition,” had a new collection recently published with texts gathered in book form for the first time. In O poeta e outras crônicas de literatura e vida (The poet and other chronicles of literature and life), edited by Gustavo Henrique Tuna, the old Braga, who used to write every day, uniquely registers certain profiles of intellectuals who were already well-known at the time: Carlos Drummond de Andrade, Manuel Bandeira, Joel Silveira, Rodrigo de Melo Franco, Aníbal Machado, and of course, Clarice Lispector.  

On December 11, 1965 in Manchete, the second most important weekly news magazine during its heyday, Rubem Braga dedicated his column to Clarice Lispector. In that year, Clarice published the third edition of Family Ties, a collection of short stories released by Editora Francisco Alves in 1960 for which the author would receive the Jabuti Prize for literature. His diagnosis of the Ukrainian-born writer from Pernambuco was as simple as it was daring. According to Braga, Clarice would come from the same lineage as Machado de Assis.    

Up next, one of the 25 chronicles that make up the volume of chronicles by Rubem Braga.

Clarice Lispector, a Carioca Storyteller 

This brief information from Petit Larousse about Virginia Woolf is very French: “Romancière anglaisenée à Londres (1882-1941); sa finesse rappelle la manière du romancier français Marcel Proust.[1]

It would be possible to say that Clarice Lispector’s finesse recalls that of Virginia Woolf – which actually seems to be her strongest influence. But what most surprises and captivates me in Clarice’s short stories, such as those in this admirable volume Family Ties, which is now in its 3rd edition, is the strong Carioca flavor in this writer who has lived so many years abroad. As introspective as the writer may be, she not only is alert to the turmoil and confusion of the soul, but is also especially sensitive to the lights, the sounds, the winds, and the temperature, to details of the landscape and the environment.  

Her characters are not only from Rio de Janeiro, they are from certain streets, certain neighborhoods, and bear this trademark: at the Copacabana meal “the daughter-in-law from Olaria showed up in navy blue, glittering with “pailletés” and draping that camouflaged her ungirdled belly;” and she remains the whole time as if she were blocked off in her spiritual refuge of Olaria, staring challengingly at her husband’s sister-in-law from Ipanema.  

The lazy and raunchy Portuguese girl could only live on Riachuelo street and dine with white wine at the Tiradentes plaza. The lady of “The Imitation of the Rose,” this girl who was “was a brunette as she obscurely believed a wife ought to be,” is basically a Girl from Tijuca. And Rio lives in this book, with is botanical garden and its zoological garden, its old streetcars, its heat, its quiet nights, its suburban flower gardens, its flies, its Saturdays and families.     

What I’m saying is only marginalia for Clarice’s book, which is most interesting because of the intense internal vibration of its beings, and its mastery of style and composition, which none in Brazil can surpass. But for all of us who live in Rio, and who for the first time have vaguely become Carioca patriots after the capital moved to Brasília, it is sweet to feel the city gasp and shake over the heads of these creatures, as if it wanted to capture and condition them.     

And in this year of the Quadra-Centennial, we proudly and gladly feel that the Ukrainian-born Pernambuco writer Clarice Lispector is actually a great Carioca storyteller, in the good and noble lineage of Machado de Assis.Manchete, December 11, 1965

O poeta e outras crônicas de literatura e vida
Rubem Braga/Global Editora, 102 pages
Ed. Gustavo Henrique Tuna

[1] A British novelist, born in London (1882-1941). Her finesse recalls that of the French novelist Marcel Proust.

Matryoshka: two or three words on a travel notebook

, Matryoshka: two or three words on a travel notebook. IMS Clarice Lispector, 2017. Disponível em: https://site.claricelispector.ims.com.br/en/2017/06/29/matriosca-duas-ou-tres-palavras-sobre-um-caderno-de-viagem/. Acesso em: 15 June 2024.

Penworthy: thin notebook, fits in the palm of the hand, 17cm x 10.5cm and 58 pages. On the cover in cursive handwriting, and apparently with some pride, there is the name she assumed after being married: Clarice Gurgel Valente. As of January 23, 1943, Clarice Lispector would sign her name this way, full-time wife of the diplomat Maury Gurgel Valente who, that year, was appointed to serve as vice consul in Naples. The spouse will cross oceans right in the middle of the war to meet him in Italy. The trip lasts from July 19 to August 24, that is, more than a month in transit, in a state of travel, of expectation, of longing, of restlessness, and of anxiety. Tania, my dear sister, I love you.

It is her first international trip, straight to the unknown. Countries, people, marital status, the future unknown. Excited thoughts, through her eyes everything is new, everything is new, everything is – what goes through the body that it is not possible to share with the other? “What others are to the ascetic in a community, the notebook is to the recluse,” teaches Foucault. One writes, therefore, to relieve thought.

Coming to light in 2012 (prior to this it was under the care of the principal heir), the travel notebook is quite unique compared to the documents already known to researchers, editors and readers.

Penworthy overlaps different times. Sitting somewhere in Liberia, July 31, 1944, late at night, Clarice describes the experience of that day which she spent in still untouched villages of black people: “With the journalist Ana Kipper, the captain David Crockett, and Bill Young, I went to the black villages, Tallah, Kebbe, Sasstown”. She recalls what she did, what was said, what she saw. The booklet as a platform that keeps things from oblivion.

Liberia, Fisherman’s Lake, July 31, 1944

With the journalist Ana Kipper, the captain David Crockett,8 and Bill Young, I went to the black villages of Tallah, Kebbe, and Sasstown. Black women with bare breasts in villages where missionaries have not arrived. They work for the Americans and speak a little English (in Monrovia there are 24 or 25 dialects). They suddenly say: hello! They love to wave goodbye. I saw a young woman with very beautiful breasts. But most of them, still young, have large and sagging breasts. They are clean and healthy. But some children [14] have navels as big as oranges. A black man, to whom I had said goodbye and given a prolonged smile, on purpose, was enchanted and put his hand on his [erased].9 The young black women paint their faces with cream-colored strokes and their lower lips with a cream-colored paint. One of them asked for my shoes. Another, whose little boy was pleased by me, said: Baby nice, baby cry money. One of the guys gave her a nickel, she said: baby cry big money. One said something long and complicated. I saw that it was about me and she was laughing. (they laugh with great ease, but some are sad and even their laughter is one of humility and fascination.) I ask one of them, who spoke English, what she had said: he tried to summarize, finally saying: that you are fine, she likes you. They asked about my headscarf. I took it off to teach them how to put it on and when they saw my hair, they became serious and attentive.

Until Clarice interrupts the text and returns (returns?). “The missionary is talking about something with Ana Kipper.”- the gerund indicates that while recording the visit to the village, an episode parallel to the narrative and perhaps relevant was happening right there in front of her.

This return is somewhat cruel. How to go back, have dinner, go to the cinema, and move on? How not to turn inside out? Cinema will always be boring, dinner  lackluster. This return-no return recalls the story of the character Ana herself, from the short story “Love.” How to return home, to the children, to the husband, to make dinner, after having seen a blind man chewing gum? How to reorganize the room, clean up, after noticing and eating the cockroach? How to be happy dressed in pink at the Recife Carnival if the mother is dying?

Don’t return.

Clarice in that situation, that village of black people, would be just another tourist who would leave some money for the mother of the child who begs for “big money.” That episode for Clarice would be the impulse to compose the short story “The Smallest Woman in the World” (Family Ties, 1960 – “At that moment, Little Flower scratched herself where no one scratches.”), “Africa” (Foreign Legion, 1964) and “Corças negras” [Black Does] (Jornal do Brasil, April 5,1969). That is, twenty years would pass and the Fisherman’s Lake episode would not fail to echo.

The distance in time, in this case decades, is the right measure to join a biographical episode to a poetic text that serves to expand the fictional text. Biography intimately implicated in production.

Penworthy not only stands out from the other archival documents, but also escapes more technical archival definitions. Notebooks are common, like those of the Minas Gerais poet Paulo Mendes Campos and the study of the Russian language, and other manuscripts or typescripts for literary purposes. The normative classification, however, does not exactly fit the travel notebook. Is it a personal document? Yes, it holds very precise, informative data, accounts, and addresses. Is it an intellectual production? Yes, it holds excerpts that would be used in novels, short stories, and chronicles. Is it a planner? Yes, it contains dates, times, phone numbers, and appointments.

According to Louys Hay, there are two types of notebooks: diaries and work instruments. While the first are made up of notes whose referential space and temporality are defined by the clock and the calendar, the latter are dedicated almost exclusively to linguistic studies and experiments, the elaboration of phrases, titles, essays, and a list of proper names.

Although in the world of words no classification has an absolute value, Penworthy has both attributes, but it is a third type. This notebook would seem to be a composite, a genre that mixes the ephemeral and the essential, everyday events and literary projects, fragments of forms or ideas.

There are, in these writings, which have not yet passed, and will not pass, through the knife’s blade of the other – and this other can be the reader, the public, or the market -, there are energy expenditures in these hand gestures that do not correspond to any apprehended model. It may be a gain for the field of literature studies to think of this material not from the point of view of a certain curiosity regarding the erasure or which word the author has omitted – a very common approach to genetic criticism.

It may be a gain for the field of literature studies to think that a notebook retains the agitations of the body.

And to ask what language is that which serves both the author and the woman, the tourist, the wife of a diplomat? What language is this, the only possible and familiar presence in the face of an unknown world – Liberia, Portugal, Italy? How many folds can language make in the service of such and such a situation? The vernacular choreography in which an extremely utilitarian language and literary language converge on the same page?

A thousand folds. Matryoshka.

Dealing with this type of writing – that of writing in notebooks – means raising it to the category of a text that dialogues with experiences and events without repressing the documentary value and status of a literature that is inscribed there.

It is precisely in this writing medium, in this thin notebook, without, at first glance, robust literary content and disengaged from existing archival categories, that one finds a fundamental reading of not only geographical displacements, but, above all, of literary and personal displacements.

The notebook was described and its contents are available for reading here.

“Triumph,” Clarice’s Press Debut

, "Triumph," Clarice's Press Debut. IMS Clarice Lispector, 2015. Disponível em: https://site.claricelispector.ims.com.br/en/2015/06/25/triunfo-a-estreia-de-clarice-na-imprensa/. Acesso em: 15 June 2024.

Among the set of documents Paulo Gurgel Valente recently donated to the Moreira Salles Institute are some photographs, 120 letters from Clarice Lispector to her sisters Tania Kaufmann and Elisa Lispector and, in particular, a copy of the magazine Pan, Issue 227, from May 25, 1940. This issue contains the three-page story “The Triumph” – Clarice Lispector’s first registered collaboration with the press. The debut novel, Near to the Wild Heart, would be released only in 1943.

“The Triumph,” which was not part of any later story collections, anticipates a theme that will run through the entirety of Lispector’s works. The story is set in the domestic sphere and relates the experience of a separation from the point of view of the character Luísa, whose tormented argument with her husband the night before leads to his departure. Absence, the extreme emptiness, and the uncertainty of his return underscore the items that did not seem to exist for her previously – she had learned only to perceive her husband (and her circumscribed daily life), her object and main objective.

It strikes eleven, long and leisurely. A bird lets out a piercing cry. Everything has stood still since yesterday, thinks Luísa. She’s still sitting up in bed, stupidly, not knowing what to do. Her eyes fix on a marina, in cool colors. Never had she seen water give quite that impression of liquidness and movement. She’d never even noticed the painting. Suddenly, like a dart, wounding sharp and deep: “He’s gone.”  

The narrative explores the entire semantic vocabulary of the gaze, thus accentuating the sense of deficiency and dependency on this male figure. From the moment of abandonment, the character sees herself as alone, everything around her is noisy, mediocre, and rueful. Luísa is estranged from the place that should supposedly be familiar.

The beginning of the reversal comes when, after crying until she feels weak, she “goes to the sink and splashes her face.” (Water.) Through this act, “the dining room [that] lay in darkness, humid and stuffy” is suddenly and all at once illuminated by the brightness of the open windows. The air is new and touches everything. Luísa realizes that things – always things – “hadn’t entirely lost their charm. They had a life of their own.” Furthermore: if earlier the entire world was the inside (her man, her room – the sheets and pillows –, the ceiling, the moonless night), now, leaning against the window – the outside –, Luísa visualizes the trees, the red clay dirt road. Reoriented in her territory, she takes action: she gathers up some clothes and takes them to the large wash basin at the end of the backyard. (Water.) Luísa leaves home and defies the unexpected.

Cover of the magazine Pan, May 25, 1940. Clarice Lispector Collection / IMS

It would not be an exaggeration to say that the scene of washing clothes has a strong erotic nuance: “Bent over like that, moving her arms vehemently, biting her lower lip from the effort, the blood pulsing strong throughout her body, she surprised herself (…). A sweet breeze made the hairs on the back of her neck rise, dried the suds on her fingers. Luísa finished the chore” and, exhausted, she “felt a wave of heat…” when, suddenly the idea comes to bathe in the “large spigot, gushing clear water.” “She took off her clothes, opened the spigot all the way, and the cold water coursed over her body, making her shriek at the cold.” The spontaneous bath “made her laugh with pleasure (…)” and her bathtub “took in a marvelous view, beneath an already blazing sun.”

There is no way to avoid evoking here the symbolic value of water in the most diverse literary and cultural traditions. From the river of  Heraclitus, in which no man, not even the water, is the same after a swim – everything, everything flows –, to Catholic rituals, such as baptism and holy water, and even the worship in  Celtic mythology of water that “symbolizes the primal substance from which all forms come and to which they will return either by their own regression or in a cataclysm.”[1], guaranteeing longevity, force of creation, and healing. One must also mention, among the five rivers of Hades, the Lethe, the touching of whose (lethal) waters causes souls to lose their earthly memories and begin the process of return to the world of the living. One of the two main myths of the birth of Aphrodite is closely related to water: the Titan Cronos cuts the genitals of the despot Uranus and throws them into the sea, and from this contact the goddess of beauty, fertility, and sexuality is born.

More than depleted forces, water restores freedom to Luísa, returns stability and the feeling of self-sufficiency: “She looked around at the perfect morning, breathing deeply and feeling, almost with pride, her heart beating steadily and full of life.” After the bath, the triumphant certainty comes to her: her husband would return “because she was the stronger one,” because it is she – the weaker tie? – that he needs and depends on.

[1] ELIADE, Mircea. Patterns in Comparative Religion, New York: Sheed and Ward, 1958. Translated from the French edition, Traite d’histoire des Religions, by Rosemary Sheed. Paris: Editions Payot. (p.188)

Notes

Who was Mineirinho

, Who was Mineirinho. IMS Clarice Lispector, 2013. Disponível em: https://site.claricelispector.ims.com.br/en/2013/05/31/quem-foi-mineirinho-bastidores-de-uma-cronica/. Acesso em: 15 June 2024.

I am willing to do everything for you; but, my son, tell me one by one all that you need, for I wish to be the intermediary between your soul and God in order to alleviate your ills.

Thus begins the prayer “Five Minutes Before Saint Anthony,” found on the shirt of Mineirinho, one of the Rio de Janeiro police’s most wanted criminals during the 1960s. José Miranda Rosa earned this nickname, naturally, for being born in the state of Minas Gerais.

Mineirinho became famous in those years for his frequent and dangerous infractions, such as countless store robberies in broad daylight, attacks on Rio’s police and three escapes, two from jail and another from the Judicial Asylum, where he was condemned to serve more than a hundred years. They say he escaped swearing to settle accounts with the police officers who had put him there. Since his escape, many traps were meticulously set but only a hunt with more than three hundred men was finally successful.

The prayer continues: “do you wish for my help with your business, do you want my protection to bring back peace to your family, do you desire employment, do you want to help someone who is impoverished, someone in need, do you for someone you highly esteem need good health? Courage, for you shall obtain all this.” Mineirinho’s biography becomes very unique when read together with this prayer. It is said, for example, that the residents gave him cover when the police hunted for him inside the labyrinthine passages of the Mangueira favela where he lived and where he was considered a kind of local “Robin Hood.” Perhaps the clearest difference between the English anti-hero and the Brazilian is the tuberculosis from which the latter suffered. There is also the legend that Mineirinho had seven lives. Seven, but thirteen was the number of bullets that struck him at dawn on that First of May, 1962.

His death was widely reported in the newspapers and magazines of the time, including Senhor, where Clarice Lispector had published chronicles since 1958. The text “Um grama de radium – Mineirinho” (“Mineirinho”) was commissioned by the editorial board and published in the month after he died.

Clarice points out the cruelty in the assassination of Mineirinho and notes the exaggeration of thirteen shots striking the bandit, in opposition to the nocturnal calm of the “essentially clever” that sleep:

But there is something that, if it makes me hear the first and the second gunshots with the relief of safety, at the third puts me on the alert, at the fourth unsettles me, the fifth and the sixth cover me in shame, the seventh and eighth I hear with my heart pounding in horror, at the ninth and tenth my mouth is quivering, at the eleventh I say God’s name in fright, at the twelfth I call my brother. The thirteenth shot murders me — because I am the other. Because I want to be the other.    

A year later, in an interview with TV Cultura, Clarice would say: “whatever his crime was, one bullet was enough. The rest was a desire to kill. It was haughtiness.” And in that she was absolutely right. The Diário de Notícias published at the time of the pursuit that the order given was to detain him “at any cost.”

“It was past time for us, with or without irony, to be more divine,” Clarice wrote. “If we can guess what God’s benevolence might be it is because we guess at benevolence in ourselves, whatever sees the man before he succumbs to the sickness of crime. I go on, nevertheless, waiting for God to be the father, when I know that one man can be father to another.”  

“Now, go back to your occupations and don’t forget what I have recommended; always come looking for me, because I wait for you; your visits will always be a pleasure, because a fonder friend than I you shall not find.” This is the conclusion of Saint Anthony’s prayer.


However, Mineirinho’s story did not end that morning. In addition to all the social notoriety – more than two thousand attended his funeral – and having become a notable Lispector character, his biography was adapted for the cinema in 1967, directed by Aurélio Teixeira and entitled Mineirinho Vivo ou Morto (Mineirinho Dead or Alive).

Notes