Scliar in Cabo Frio

I spent an unforgettable weekend in Cabo Frio, hosted by Scliar who painted two portraits of me. Scliar’s house is very beautiful.

Cabo Frio inspires Scliar. I asked him about so much creativity. Answer: 

— I think that living is a creative act. I try to do everything that I like and try to discover everything that disturbs me. I believe that in Cabo Frio it is possible for me to concentrate, which allows me to discover the thread. Then I just need to work on it. I do not understand living without working. The thing that I find most important in anyone’s life is to discover what he or she would like to work on.

Scliar has three dogs and I played lovingly with them. Everyone in Cabo Frio knows Scliar’s house. I verified this when early in the morning I went to buy the Jornal do Brasil, since I cannot start my day without reading this newspaper. But I got lost because I have poor sense of direction. As I got lost again, I asked for directions — and everyone knew where Sciar lived. I visited José do Dome who gave me a beautiful painting and brought me wild cherries. Before painting, Scliar made many drawings of my face. I told him about when I posed for De Chirico. He said that it is apparently easy to paint me: just put protruding cheeks, slightly slanted eyes, and full lips: I am caricaturable. But my expression is difficult to capture. Scliar retorted: every painting is difficult.

— When did you start painting? 

— I have been drawing and painting since always. Cabo Frio in the winter is calm and allows me hours of voluntary solitude. That is when I work. An apparently intuitive or apparently rational process ensues. The two things are contradictory, but they exist and are intertwined. I make use of the time to get down to work, while I leisurely listen to music and read.

Suddenly the telephone rang and Scliar went to answer it. And as incredible as it may seem, the phone call was coming from Barcelona, Spain, and was from Farnese with whom Scliar spoke for a long time.

— What do you feel when you paint? Do you feel restless like me when I write a book?

— I am not sure, because the process is so different for every painting. Oftentimes the painting – although the drawing is already structured – the painting seems strange to me until it is unleashed. And that begins with the discovery of certain relationships among the colors, with a plane in a definite tone that guides the proposition in a direction that is different from what was initially proposed. Other times it is a gesture that sets a value, a vibration that is unforeseen. Or an observation from looking through a window that brings me the color of a boat passing by. What do I know? It is all valuable and the result is what counts.

I almost forgot João Henrique who has green color and who gave me the night-blooming jessamine to perfume my nights. He is wonderful and sells very well. I have always liked men more and was happy to have two male children. João Henrique is a real man. If he were not such a man. José do Dome likes yellow very much.

There are also Dalila and Mercedes who cook very well. Mercedes has been with Scliar for twelve years and he calls her mom. Dalila makes a spaghetti with heart of palm that is amazing. Mercedes’ hair is completely white and she kisses Scliar.

— You like still lifes, I know that because I’ve seen really fantastic ones.

— As much as anything else I paint. Maybe they grant me greater freedom in the organization and later destruction of these processions that I have seen and modifying even their framework in a way that surprises me. That is when the work really begins.

— Talk about the silence in your house and how it affects you. 

— I think that my silence is being surrounded by all of the sounds that I like and that allow the atmosphere that I seek for my work. I think that life is so rich and unexpected that every instant I need to be open to what surrounds me so that I do not miss anything, if possible. Can you hear the sound coming from the kitchen or from the guy who moved the broken glass up there? They are vivid signs that prove we are also the silence. I think that this is important for my work, that I try to reflect in a permanent reflection and integration with everything that happens and comes to me. I think that life is a simple thing. But it is difficult to transmit it. When we like people and work on their behalf we establish a relation that we do not always immediately realize is essential.   

As for the mutating forms, speaking of them, Scliar said:

— It is my work continuing. In the end, what do we seek in each work if not the possibility that it will permanently renew itself? Of course, this happens in each new person who observes and discovers it. Fortunate is the work that renews itself constantly for the same person. Every work should contain this possibility of a permanent unfolding. My instants are sets of three or four paintings, each with its own balance, capable of restructuring itself in communion with the others. Since each painting contains its own propositions, I multiply these discoveries in each mutation proposed. You see, it is the same initial problem amplified.

— Do you work every day?

— Yes, even when I am not working.

* Translated from the Portuguese by Marco Alexandre de Oliveira and edited by Sean McIntyre.
**A chronicle published on October 28, 1972 in the Jornal do Brasil and never collected in book form, not even in The Discovery of the World, or in the recent Todas as crônicas (All the Chronicles).
*** The image that illustrates the text is the portrait of Clarice Lispector made by Carlos Scliar which the chronicle mentions, and which is the reason for the writer’s visit to the studio of her painter friend, in Cabo Frio.
**** The chronicle “Scliar in Cabo Frio” presents an unorthodox punctuation, especially with respect to the use (or not) of commas. During the period in which Clarice Lispector contributed to the Jornal do Brasil, from 1967 to 1973, her editor Marina Colasanti lets us know in the preface to Todas as crônicas (All the Chronicles) that one of “her constant requests was that we recommend to the proofreaders not to touch her commas.” For, as Clarice puts it in the chronicle “Minha secretária” (My Secretary): “my punctuation is my breath within the sentence.” Thus, strictly following the author’s warning, in the edition of the text now published, we opted not to disturb the commas – despite having observed that they sometimes seemed to have been intentional, that is, following the writer’s breath, but other times not, who knows an inattention common to texts written quickly to meet the newspaper deadline.

A Literature Without Literature

The chronicles of Clarice Lispector were collected in a book for the first time in 1984, in The Discovery of the World, a volume edited by Paulo Gurgel Valente, the author’s son, who arranged in chronological order 468 texts published in the Jornal do Brasil between 1967 and 1973. I read and reread those almost eight hundred pages many times, going from beginning to end, then back to the beginning, and I came to leap from one wonder to another. A single page would launch me into an unsettling experience. I returned to those illuminations so many times over the years that, despite my terrible memory for everything, I realized, at a certain point, that I knew several passages and phrases by heart. The new edition, now with the title Todas as crônicas (All the Chronicles), was enough for me to reread again, and once more, all of those texts to which the new editor, Pedro Karp Vasquez, added another 120 theretofore uncollected texts.

But I had discovered Clarice Lispector before The Discovery of the World, when I read Água Viva, a book published in 1973. As a young and beginning reader, I experienced the deep impression of a disturbing work, which was absolutely not a novel, which did not concern poems either, which resembled a diary, though it was not, which was somewhat similar to a philosophical essay, even though its twisted, strange movement sought nothing but to express sensations about writing and artistic creation. And it was not enough to say that it was a bundle of loose notes about the things of the world and about time. Aware of the irresolute and experimental character of the book, the author classified it as “fiction.” It was a way of explaining without explaining, or rather, of escaping from the narrow limits of so-called literary genres. When I first read the texts of The Discovery of the World, I recognized, as if I were dizzy, passages I had read in Água Viva. I do not know if I came to think what seems so clear to me today: that the pages of the Jornal do Brasil, detached from their source, muddled the signs that distinguished book writing from newspaper writing.

Writers are not—and never have been—preoccupied with preserving boundaries between genres.  If the chronicle is difficult to circumscribe, describe, or simply approach, the grouping of Todas as crônicas not only does not help to set limits, but also makes any demarcation impossible.  If it concerns, on the one hand, the characteristic indeterminacy of the hesitant prose that has long frequented newspapers and magazines, there is, on the other hand, a fluidity that moves beyond that, disturbing perspectives, disorganizing systems, refusing laws.

Intrinsically communicative, factual, ephemeral, light and transparent, the chronicle would be unfeasible for an author whose short stories and novels were defined by a writing opposed to such characteristics. Clarice, however, assumed the task of writing every week without abdicating what publication in mass media demanded of her. The flagrant contradiction, instead of dissolving into an easy and comfortable outcome, ended up engendering a creative process that would display its dilemmas, conflicts, and perplexities to the eyes of the reader. Thus, already in her third week collaborating with the Jornal do Brasil, the chronicler affirmed: “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, it automatically becomes more personal. And I somehow feel as if I were selling my soul.”1

Even though the passage consolidates a dilemma mentioned by other authors — the more or less conflicting difference between writing literature, on the one hand, and, on the other, writing for money (for a newspaper) —, the declaration, considered in the set of chronicles, leads to another ponderation, that apart from the easy antagonism there was in the soul of Clarice a more powerful and subterranean unrest: the vague but decisive refusal of literature.  With this I mean that by immediately consigning that she was writing “to earn money,” she took another step — a way already cleared — outside the literary institution, a gesture to be understood less as a frivolous circumstance and much more as a rejection in depth, no matter to what extent the writer was aware of it at the moment.  Such an attitude, it should be noted, was not limited to the mere demystification of the image of the writer as someone who does not take part in vile and pragmatic matters. The financial injunction would return later, once again displayed uncloudedly, but the assertion now would be above all provocative: “They pay me to write. So I write.”2

Rubem Braga

It is commonplace to consider the chronicle a minor genre, despite its virtues and the excellence of its practitioners. Clarice did not aggrandize it. Let us say that, on the contrary, she diminished herself to its size and made a point of making clear the course that she was taking. Furthermore, if she did not intend to elevate the genre, she exercised it in a process of vehement diminishment, as if she were seeking to shrink the genre until making it disappear. We read at a certain point: “To be frank, this can scarcely be called a column. It is simply what it is. It does not correspond to any genre. Genre no longer interests me. What interests me is mystery.”3

Therefore, instead of refusing the trademarks that define the secondary character of the chronicle — those that distance it from literature, or even from everything that, under such a code word, is considered major —, Clarice, at first, adopted the characteristic features of the genre seeking to adjust to it, but soon began to activate them, finding in this operation a freedom as extreme as it was risky, which certainly gave it the real dimension of writing something so minor that it was no longer literature or anything else except writing—just that, beyond all classification.

In this sense, “The Case of the Gold Fountain-Pen” is exemplary, bringing into play an allegory that ironizes the demand for a major writing: “are the words written with a gold pen also made of gold? Would I be obliged to write more elaborate sentences because my implement was so much more precious? And would I end up writing in a completely different style? And if my style were to change, surely that would have the effect of changing me as well. But in what way? For the better? And there was another problem: what would happen if I were to find, like King Midas, that everything I wrote with my gold pen turned out to have the brilliance and unyielding hardness of gold?”4

It is easy to see how much Clarice discovered in the chronicle a complete way to escape from the “brilliance and unyielding hardness” demanded of literature. But the escape was not a program to be executed in an unreflective way, for if the chronicle seems, by nature, to permit the escape from literary gilding, it does not fail to offer its models, artifices, and genre traits, albeit minor. Dissonantly, the new chronicler readily probed her suspicions and indecisions. She shed light, for example, on obstacles that sounded insurmountable: “I want to speak without speaking, if possible.”5

Chronologically accompanying the many uncertainties, we distinguish the fluctuation of a subjectivity that is expressed by acceptance and reception, but also by constant doubt, to the point of exasperation: “The Jornal do Brasil is making me popular. I get roses. One day I’ll stop. To become transformed.” And, further on: “I know that what I write here cannot be called a chronicle or a column or an article. But I know that today it’s a scream. A scream! I’m tired!”6

The enthusiastic response from the readers lent her some security, to which was added a lively contentment, to the point that, remaining foreign to the métier, to the extent that she wrote something which she could not name except as “a kind of chronicle,” she designates herself as a columnist and chronicler, and even though she does not understand the mystery of being one of them, she feels like one of them: “I’m a happy columnist. I wrote nine books that made many people love me from a distance. But being a chronicler has a mystery that I don’t understand: it’s that chroniclers, at least those from Rio, are much loved. And writing the kind of chronicle on Saturdays has brought me even more love. I feel so close to whoever reads me.”7

However, the favorable, loving reception of the readers did not eliminate other suspicions. Furthermore, the public’s love somehow fostered uncertainties, generating a spiral of inquiries about the act of writing and about the indecipherable bonds that unite work, author, and reader, inquiries expressed with astonishment one moment and with tranquility the next, which endured as a nerve, either implicit or explicit, in those texts. As for being a chronicler, certainty and indecision went hand in hand: “I know that I’m not, but I’ve been meditating a bit on the matter.” And furthermore: “Actually, I should talk to Rubem Braga about it, since he invented the chronicle. But I want to see if I can fumble my way through the matter alone and see if I come to understand it.”8 Here are manifested both the desire of the beginner who yearns to adapt to the genre and the appetite of the apprentice for discovering her own solutions, one of which is the unusual and constant exposure of her voluntary isolation and of her confrontation with the craft.

At the Typewriter’s Pace 

The collection of chronicles recomposes the weekly dialogue with the readers as a continuous speech, for whom the “columnist” frankly unveiled not only anxiety and confusion, but also the joy of maintaining a loving closeness. Often the anguish seemed overcome and the writing was resolved beyond literary expectations: “As you all can see this is not a column, it’s just conversation.”9 If the problem of genre — compliance with certain standards — would be overcome by an exception attained within the genre itself, another resistance persisted: the exposure of intimacy. This time, Rubem Braga was actually summoned to rescue the author, who declared: “Memorandum: one day I telephoned Rubem Braga, the master of the so-called crônica, and confided in despair:  ‘Rubem, I am no columnist, and what I am writing for the newspaper is becoming exceedingly personal. What am I to do?’ He assured me: ‘When you are writing chronicles it is impossible not to get personal.’ But I do not want to tell anyone about my life: my life is rich in experience and vivid emotions, but I never intend to publish an autobiography.”10

The judgment pronounced by the master did not placate the restlessness, which would be mentioned many times: “I have noted something extremely disagreeable. These articles I write for my weekly column are not exactly chronicles, in my opinion. I am beginning, however, to understand our greatest chroniclers. Because they sign their work, they ultimately reveal themselves. Up to a certain point we are able to know them intimately and to recognize their style. And personally I think this is a good thing. When I write my books, I remain anonymous and discreet.”11 

The poignant difference between book writing and newspaper writing consisted, therefore, in the propensity for a kind of nakedness that was irrepressible in texts that demanded periodicity. Another quote is in order: “in writing a weekly column I am allowing readers to know me. Am I in danger of losing my privacy? What am I to do? I type out my articles at the typewriter’s pace, and when I look to see what I have written, I realize I have revealed something about myself. I even believe that if I were to write an article about the over-production of coffee in Brazil, I should end up sounding personal. Am I in danger of becoming popular? The thought horrifies me. I must see if anything can be done to remedy the situation. Words by Fernando Pessoa which I read somewhere give me some reassurance: ‘To speak is the simplest way of becoming unknown.’”12

The good-humored hypothesis — humor is a decisive feature of Clarice’s chronicles — of an objective writing (her approach to the “problem of the overproduction of coffee in Brazil”) reveals an unrealizable zero degree of writing, that is, the author’s inability to remain shielded in impersonality, which, finally, coincides with Rubem Braga’s lesson. Thus, what is the reason for the permanent discomfort with the observation that in the “column” the person of the writer was made known? And what is the full scope of the affirmation that she did not want to tell anyone about her life and that she never intended “to publish an autobiography?”

By saying she was “anonymous and discreet” in her books, Clarice transferred to the chronicle the entire load of intimacy and biographism, as if she were being driven by an uncontrollable force. And, interestingly enough, her strength seems to come from outside her. Not from a higher, mystical, or divine force, but from something quite prosaic: her typewriter. Thus, both her non-compliance with literary principles and her manifestation of intimacy emerge through the force of a mechanism whose performance in time is capable of defining her creative process — speed would determine writing, and the chronicler, more than once, guarantees that she writes “at the typewriter’s pace.”

One of the most important critics of Clarice Lispector’s work, the Portuguese academic Carlos Mendes de Sousa, observes in Figuras da escrita (Figures of Writing; Instituto Moreira Salles, 2012) that Clarice’s novels originate from a slow pace, since they are operated by the slow machine of rewriting or from compositional effort, while the chronicles arise from a fast machine, conducive to the flow and to the association of ideas. In the latter case, the free and quick transit of sensations prevails, which often abruptly incorporate metalinguistic awareness: “Ah, this is neither a chronicle nor a column, I know. For once I don’t think it matters: the days go by, the typewriter goes on. But if I were a chronicler, ah, I would not lack topics!”13

The paraphrase is irresistible: there is a direct relationship between text and time; between the pace of days and the pace of the typewriter; between writing driven by the time of the typewriter, and of days, and not being a chronicler; between not being a chronicler and not having anything to say.  Everything takes place as if the typewriter determined the transit of writing, and this, then, escaped the control of the author, who, at certain moments, seems to be watching what takes place from the outside, surprising herself and recording her estrangement.  “The charlatan sells himself short. What was I about to say?”14

The mechanism becomes apparent here at the moment when the quick flow — without being interrupted — incorporates self-awareness. Something similar occurs in the following fragment: “My God, how love stops death! I don’t know what I mean by that: I believe in my incomprehension, which has given me an instinctive life, while so-called comprehension is so limited.”15 Sometimes, the awareness of the speed seems to interrupt the flow: “I’m writing very easily, and very fluently. I cannot trust that.”16 This record of mistrust and of the apparent interruption of the march may not be exactly a brake, but a moment of deceleration.

Even complaining about the loss of her “privacy,” Clarice accepted that writing “at the typewriter’s pace” exposed her, and she even came to want that, although she refused what she deemed autobiographical.  It is necessary to consider the gravity and, at the same time, the irony of the following statement: “I’m sorry to say, I’m a mystery to myself.”17 If there is a strong autobiographical dimension in Clarice’s chronicles, it is necessary to pay attention to another order of values ​​that is insistently staged: she did not fully know about what she was writing, since she sought the unknown in what was most banal, as if she found everything and everyone and above all herself strange; she also did not know how she wrote, surrendering to the “typewriter’s pace;” finally, she understood even less what she wrote—chronicles?  a “kind of chronicle?” articles?  conversations?  What would Clarice be biographizing, after all?  The only answer, which will seem oblique for being too direct, would be: ignorance. Or even: mystery.

Instinct

There is no autobiographical project, or a stable issuing center, and this becomes clearer when the chronicles transcribe other people’s speech or texts, often letters from her readers.  More important, however, is the impression that emerges from the whole, that these hundreds of pages are a collection of unstable fragments, sudden flashes, remnants. When I used the expression “continuous speech” here, I was referring to the permanence of Clarice Lispector’s dialogue with her readers, which does not mean a linear and/or integral voice. On the contrary, the general effect is, let us say, one of accumulation and disorder, which results not in the strong and lasting presence of a subject, but in its dissipation.

Clarice’s chronicles resemble much more an act of emptying the subject, in which biographical fragments undoubtedly surprise.  Perhaps we could extract from them this pedagogical/ontological summary: speaking of oneself, excessively, quickly, mechanically, one ceases to be. And if I used the word “act” above, I deem the term ritual more accurate in its imprecision. Approaching mystery and silence, the impersonality of the typewriter and of animals, the sensation of death and of God, the author herself is surprised by the precipitation of her intimacy, as if she came back to herself — becoming again — and, in in the midst of the flow, wanted to retreat: “As in everything, in writing I am also somewhat afraid of going too far. What would that be? Why? I retain myself, as if I retained the reins of a horse that could gallop and lead me to God knows where. I keep my guard.”18

None of this, however, responded to an intellectual call. The demand came from intuition, from a rapture prior to the mechanisms of a strict rational knowledge.  Thus, Clarice speaks of an urge to write that can take place as “pure impulse – even when I have no theme.”19 And she adds: “But who? Who obliges me to write? That is the mystery: no one. Nonetheless, I still feel this compulsion to write.”20 Later, she would come to very clearly formulate her view of the creative process: “To tell the truth, one cannot think of content without form. Only intuition touches the truth without need of content or form. Intuition is the deep unconscious that does without form, while it itself works before surfacing.”21   

Recalling that Clarice incorporated some chronicles into her novel An Apprenticeship or the Book of Pleasures, I imagine that Todas as crônicas could be called “An Unlearning:” “I no longer know how to write but the literary aspect has become so unimportant in my life that not being able to write may be precisely what will save me from literature.”22 Writing, the chronicler learned how not to write, while literature became, consequently, a strange gift — “writing is a curse” —, for only by means of it, accepting its unimportance, would there be any chance of achieving that which really matters, the unknown object that writing promises: “So what has become important to me? Whatever it may be, it will probably manifest itself through literature.”23

These speculations about writing and its mysteries can sound quite amusing, thanks to declarations whose frankness disdains any shadow of pride: “When I am not writing, I simply do not know how one writes. And if this most sincere of questions did not sound childish and sham, I would seek out some friends who are writers and ask them: how does one write?”24

A rare faculty of knowledge is in action through instruments that are inaugurated at every use, such that the revelation of what will be said and the act of saying are confused, with no chance of paving some minimally stable, repeatable awareness, or even, without configuring an ability: “Sometimes people wishing to pay me a compliment tell me I am intelligent. And they are surprised when I tell them that being intelligent is not my strong point and that I am no more intelligent than other people. They then accuse me of being modest.” It is once again intuition that comes to the forefront, constituting an intelligent way of operating in the dark: “But often this so-called intelligence of mine is so limited that one would think I was stupid. People who refer to my intelligence are, in fact, confusing intelligence with what I would call a knowing sensibility. Now that is something I really do possess. […] I daresay this is the kind of sensibility I exercise when I write, or in my relationships with friends. I also exercise it when I come into superficial contact with certain people whose aura I can sense immediately.”25 

Such a willingness to attest to the feasibility of writing outside the contours of a formal intelligence concerning literature gives rise to clarifications that are never lacking in humor and irony. After proclaiming that she is not a “literati,” because she has not made writing books — written “spontaneously” — either a profession or a career, Clarice wonders if she is an “amateur.” And without answering, she continues: “I also find it difficult to dissuade certain people from calling me an intellectual. Once again, I am not being modest but simply… intellectual, one has to exercise, above all, one’s intelligence. What I exercise is not so much intelligence but intuition and instinct. To be an intellectual means being someone who is learned. I am such a poor reader that I must shamelessly confess that I really have no great learning. […] Nowadays, despite often being lazy to write, sometimes I am lazier when it comes to reading than to writing.”26

The completely unencumbered humor often arises from misunderstandings concerning her intelligence or intellectual gifts, as in the episode in which a friend tells her that some consider her, Clarice, “highly intellectual” and deem that she is very cultured. Her friend says that the author of The Apple in the Dark should, “just not to be embarrassed,” take care of her bookcase, which seemed to her very diminished. The delightful conclusion of the scene comes in the following terms: “But really je m’en fiche. I secretly pretend to let them think whatever they want. Since I do not regret really being ‘diminished’ – in other things it hurts – I am pure when it comes to feeling the taste of success. […] In the beginning I tried to tell the truth: but they thought I was being modest, was lying, or was being ‘weird.’”27 

It is worth recalling that the vast majority of these texts were written from the second half of the 1960s until the middle of the following decade, a period marked by the counterculture and its ramifications. Clarice, calmly but vigorously defending a marginal place with regard to the literary institution, to its regulations and apparatus, seems to harmonize with that contestatory spirit, as if her more profound vocation had coincided with the youth of her time. It is quite eloquent, and moving, that on February 17, 1968 her non-chronicle is a letter to the Minister of Education, in which she refers to the unfair distribution of student openings at universities, whose conclusion comes with the following sentence: “Let these pages symbolize a march of protest on the part of young men and women.”28 A little later, on June 29 of the same tumultuous year of 1968, the chronicler, speaking directly to one of her readers, intrepidly asserts: “The students are shouting all over the world, Élcio. And I shout with them.”29

I realize at this point that I did not say what the recurrent themes of these chronicles are. In a very brief and hardly responsible list, I would include: taxi drivers, housemaids, animals, God, justice, the urgent need for us to preserve indigenous lands and undertake agrarian reform in the country, fear, her burned hand, indifference, Chico Buarque, the sea, readers, loneliness, silence, hunger, love, her children. I should also have mentioned the various, unusual interviews with people such as Pablo Neruda, Nelson Rodrigues, Millôr Fernandes, Tom Jobim, and Zagallo.

I shall quote one more passage, almost like a P.S. (it was a party, a meeting of Clarice and some friends, including the author of The Devil to Pay in the Backlands): “Guimarães Rosa then told me something I shall never forget, it made me so happy. He told me he read my books ‘not for the literature, but for the lessons in life.’ He quoted whole sentences by heart which I had written and I did not recognize any.”30 

* Translated by Marco Alexandre de Oliveira and edited by Sean McIntrye. All quotes from the Portuguese original are free translations unless otherwise indicated.
** This text was originally published on April 1, 2019 in the magazine Quatro cinco um.

Author’s note

Some texts published in The Discovery of the World are not in Todas as crônicas because they are part of The Complete Stories.

Notas

1 Clarice Lispector, Selected Crônicas. Translated by Giovanni Pontiero. New York: New Directions, 1996. 

2 The original quote in Portuguese reads: “Pagam-me para eu escrever. Eu escrevo, então.”

3 Clarice Lispector, Selected Crônicas. Translated by Giovanni Pontiero. New York: New Directions, 1996. 

4 Clarice Lispector, Selected Crônicas. Translated by Giovanni Pontiero. New York: New Directions, 1996. 

5 The original quote in Portuguese reads: “Quero falar sem falar, se é possível.”

6 The original quote in Portuguese reads: “O Jornal do Brasil está me tornando popular. Ganho rosas. Um dia paro. Para me tornar tornada; Sei que o que escrevo aqui não se pode chamar de crônica nem de coluna nem de artigo. Mas sei que hoje é um grito. Um grito! De cansaço. Estou cansada!”

7 The original quote in Portuguese reads: “Sou uma colunista feliz. Escrevi nove livros que fizeram muitas pessoas me amar de longe. Mas ser cronista tem um mistério que não entendo: é que os cronistas, pelo menos os do Rio, são muito amados. E escrever a espécie de crônica aos sábados tem me trazido mais amor ainda. Sinto-me tão perto de quem me lê.”

8 The original quotes in Portuguese read: “Sei que não sou, mas tenho meditado ligeiramente no assunto;” “Na verdade eu deveria conversar a respeito com Rubem Braga, que foi o inventor da crônica. Mas quero ver se consigo tatear sozinha no assunto e ver se chego a entender.”

9 The original quote in Portuguese reads: “As you all can see this is not a column, it’s just conversation.”

10 Clarice Lispector, Discovering the World. Translated by Giovanni Pontiero. Manchester: Carcanet Press, 1992. Note: Some fragments of the quote were unavailable and therefore translated freely.

11 The original quote in Portuguese reads: “Noto uma coisa extremamente desagradável. Estas coisas que ando escrevendo aqui não são, creio, propriamente crônicas, mas agora entendo os nossos melhores cronistas. Porque eles assinam, não conseguem escapar de se revelar. Até certo ponto nós os conhecemos intimamente. E quanto a mim, isto me desagrada. Na literatura de livros permaneço anônima e discreta.”

12 The original quote in Portuguese reads: “Nesta coluna estou de algum modo me dando a conhecer. Perco minha intimidade secreta? Mas que fazer? É que escrevo ao correr da máquina e, quando vejo, revelei certa parte minha. Acho que se escrever sobre o problema da superprodução do café no Brasil terminarei sendo pessoal. Daqui em breve serei popular? Isso me assusta. Vou ver o que posso fazer, se é que posso. O que me consola é a frase de Fernando Pessoa, que li citada: ‘Falar é o modo mais simples de nos tornarmos desconhecidos.’”

13 The original quote in Portuguese reads: “Ah, isto não é crônica nem coluna, bem sei. Por uma vez acho que não importa: os dias correm, a máquina corre. Mas se eu fosse cronista, ah não me faltariam assuntos!”

14 Clarice Lispector, Selected Crônicas. Translated by Giovanni Pontiero. New York: New Directions, 1996.

15 The original quote in Portuguese reads: “Meu Deus, como o amor impede a morte! Não sei o que estou querendo dizer com isso: confio na minha incompreensão, que tem me dado vida instintiva, enquanto que a chamada compreensão é tão limitada.” 

16 The original quote in Portuguese reads: “Estou escrevendo com muita facilidade, e com muita fluência. É preciso desconfiar disso.”  

17 The original quote in Portuguese reads: “Com perdão da palavra, sou um mistério para mim.”

18 The original quote in Portuguese reads: “Como em tudo, no escrever também tenho uma espécie de receio de ir longe demais. Que será isso? Por quê? Retenho-me, como se retivesse as rédeas de um cavalo que poderia galopar e me levar Deus sabe onde. Eu me guardo.”

19 Clarice Lispector, Discovering the World. Translated by Giovanni Pontiero. Manchester: Carcanet Press, 1992.

20 Clarice Lispector, Discovering the World. Translated by Giovanni Pontiero. Manchester: Carcanet Press, 1992.

21 Clarice Lispector, Discovering the World. Translated by Giovanni Pontiero. Manchester: Carcanet Press, 1992. Note: Some fragments of the quote were unavailable and therefore translated freely.

22 Clarice Lispector, Discovering the World. Translated by Giovanni Pontiero. Manchester: Carcanet Press, 1992. 

23 Clarice Lispector, Discovering the World. Translated by Giovanni Pontiero. Manchester: Carcanet Press, 1992.

24 Clarice Lispector, Discovering the World. Translated by Giovanni Pontiero. Manchester: Carcanet Press, 1992.

25 Clarice Lispector, Selected Crônicas. Translated by Giovanni Pontiero. New York: New Directions, 1996. 

26 Clarice Lispector, Discovering the World. Translated by Giovanni Pontiero. Manchester: Carcanet Press, 1992 Note: Some fragments of the quote were unavailable and therefore translated freely.

27 The original quotes in Portuguese read: “altamente intelectualizada;” “grande cultura;” “só para não se envergonhar;” “Mas realmente je m’en fiche. Brinco toda secreta de deixar que pensem o que quiserem. Como não tenho remorsos de ser realmente uma ‘desfalcada’ — em outras coisas me dói — estou pura para sentir o gosto do logro. […] No começo tentei dizer a verdade: mas tomavam como modéstia, mentira ou ‘esquisitice.’”

28 The original quote in Portuguese reads: “Que estas páginas simbolizem uma passeata de protesto de rapazes e moças.”

29 The original quote in Portuguese reads: “Os estudantes estão gritando em todas as partes do mundo, Élcio. E eu grito com eles.”

30 Clarice Lispector, Discovering the World. Translated by Giovanni Pontiero. Manchester: Carcanet Press, 1992. Note: Some fragments of the quote were unavailable and therefore translated freely.

Thanks,Typewriter

1.

When we had no way of knowing that the hashtag gratitude would be one of the terms referring to two strong traits of the future (social media sharing and the new hippie wave of pure gratitude), Clarice, prophetic, published in 1968 the short text “Gratidão à máquina” (“Thanks, Typewriter”), in the Jornal do Brasil newspaper. 

Between demonizing the technology available at that time (“I don’t feel mechanized for using a typewriter”) and joining the tendency, Clarice, with appreciation, chooses the second.The author, who even wrote “some eight copies” of The Apple in the Dark, a novel that would be published in 1961, alternated between the Underwood and Olympia models. The habit of typing was adopted above all during the period when she lived with two small children in the United States. For those who love the fetish, there will be a third machine, an Olivetti, which can be seen today in the collection of the Fundação Casa de Rui Barbosa.

2. Gratidão à máquina

I use an Olympia portable typewriter that is light enough for my strange habit: that of writing with the machine on my lap.

It runs well, runs smoothly. It transmits me, without my having to get caught up in the tangle of my letters. It provokes my feelings and thoughts, so to speak. And it helps me as a person. And I don’t feel mechanized for using a typewriter. It even seems to capture subtleties. Besides, through it, what I write is printed immediately, which makes me more objective. The low noise of its keyboard discreetly accompanies the loneliness of the writer.

I would like to give my typewriter a gift, but what can you give to something that modestly remains a thing, without any pretension of becoming human? This current trend of praising people by saying they are ‘very human’ is tiring me. In general this ‘human’ means ‘nice,’ ‘affable’, if not ‘honeyed.’  And that is all that the typewriter does not have. I don’t even feel that it wants to become a robot. It is satisfied just to keep its role.

Compact prose, poetic moves

1.

One of the most respected Brazilian sports journalists, with a resume that includes Diário Carioca, O Cruzeiro, Manchete and Jornal do Brasil – with a column in this last paper called “Na grande área” [“In the Penalty Area”] every day for more than a decade –, Armando Nogueira covered every World Cup since 1954, 7 Olympics, and celebrated Rede Globo’s silver anniversary of television journalism. Since the age of 17 he talked about, wrote about and commented perceptively on football– this national fascination.

He was, above all, an impassioned Botafogo fan who would gladly trade his team’s victory in a big game for a crônica by Clarice Lispector on football.

A sentence from Armando Nogueira published in the March 3, 1968 Correio da Manhã / Arquivo Hemeroteca Nacional.

2.

Clarice Lispector, endowed with an “impassioned ignorance”” also for Botafogo, wrote always on Saturdays for Jornal do Brasil, the same paper as Armando, and accepted the challenge from her colleague.

On March 30th of that year, the Jornal do Brasil reader would thus read “Armando Nogueira, Football and Me, Poor Thing”, a text by a not-so-evident Clarice Lispector.

3.

Football is the narrative that most resembles art, especially literature, according to José Miguel Wisnik. Nelson Rodrigues reaffirms: the most sordid pick-up game is of a Shakespearean complexity. Pasolini observes that football, and the whole apparatus that comprises it, can be played with different styles much like literary genres.

The beginning of every championship is configured like a kind of voyage of adventure where the margin of chance is quite wide and unpredictable. There is an effort that mobilizes the eleven on the field as well as the coaching staff and thousands of fans, with one clear goal: to reach the collective Ithaca, victory, the title. This aspect would appear to correspond to an evident epic character in football.

When the conflict on the pitch between two clubs reaches an extreme tension related to, for example, a decisive match very close to the end and all the destiny involved in those final minutes, there would thus be a dramatic aspect.

It’s enough to mention the 7 to 1 Brazil x Germany match to exemplify the tragic aspect– an entire nation seen from the aspect of failure. Or, going back a few decades, when the recently-inaugurated Maracanã stadium hosted the 1950 World Cup final – the first post-World War Two– it was the scene of a defeat of the Brazilian national team in front of a record public of 200 hundred thousand fans (approximately 10% of the population at that time of the city of Rio de Janeiro city was present). The game, which was tied, would have gone into overtime had it not been for Uruguay scoring the second goal a little more than ten minutes before the end of the match. A “psychic Hiroshima” (again, Nelson Rodrigues).

The lyrical aspect: football can be played in prose and in poetry. The more articulated, tactical game, of rehearsed passes, crosses and shots on goal would belong to the prose camp– more identified with the European ball profile. South American football would correspond more to poetry: creation of spaces where they didn’t exist before by running, dribbling, curve passes and unpredictable movements– movements that often don’t result in a goal, but whose construction takes the shape of a poetic event.

4.

Clarice records in her long chronicle, directed at Arnaldo Nogueira, her sparse but nevertheless passionate relation to the sport, especially Botafogo. And in matters of literary production versus love for the club, with some excess she makes it clear: she could not forgive that the already acclaimed columnist would trade, even as a joke, a victory from the Rio-based team even for an entire novel about football.

The story doesn’t end with this text– Clarice returns the challenge to the columnist: let him lose his modesty and write about life and himself, “which would mean the same thing”.

5.

“Armando Nogueira, futebol e eu, coitada” [Armando Nogueira, Football and Me, Poor Thing”]
(Jornal do Brasil, 03.30.1968)

E o título sairia muito maior, só que não caberia numa única linha.

Não leio todos os dias Armando Nogueira – embora todos os dias dê pelo menos uma espiada rápida – porque “meu futebol” não dá pra entender tudo. Se bem que Armando escreve tão bonito (não digo apenas “bem”), que às vezes, atrapalhada com a parte técnica de sua crônica, leio só pelo bonito. E deve ser numa das crônicas que me escaparam que saiu uma frase citada pelo Correio da Manhã, entre frases de Robert Kennedy, Fernandel, Arthur Schlesinger, Geraldine Chaplin, Tristão de Athayde e vários outros, e que me leram, por telefone. Armando dizia: “De bom grado eu trocaria a vitória de meu time num grande jogo por uma crônica…” e aí vem o surpreendente: continua dizendo que trocaria tudo isso por uma crônica minha sobre futebol.

Meu primeiro impulso foi o de uma vingança carinhosa: dizer aqui que trocaria muita coisa que me vale muito por uma crônica de Armando Nogueira sobre digamos a vida. Aliás, meu primeiro impulso, já sem vingança, continua: desafio você, Armando Nogueira, a perder o pudor e escrever sobre a vida e você mesmo, o que significaria a mesma coisa.

Mas, se seu time é Botafogo, não posso perdoar que você trocasse, mesmo por brincadeira, uma vitória dele nem por um meu romance inteiro sobre futebol. Deixe eu lhe contar minhas relações com futebol, que justificam o coitada do título. Sou Botafogo, o que já começa por ser um pequeno drama que não torno maior porque sempre procuro reter, como as rédeas de um cavalo, minha tendência ao excessivo. É o seguinte: não me é fácil tomar partido em futebol – mas como poderia eu me isentar a tal ponto da vida do Brasil? – porque tenho um filho Botafogo e outro Flamengo.

E sinto que estou traindo o filho Flamengo. Embora a culpa não seja toda minha, e aí vem uma queixa contra meu filho: ele também era Botafogo, e sem mais nem menos, talvez só para agradar o pai, resolveu um dia passar para o Flamengo. Já então era tarde demais para eu resolver, mesmo com esforço, não ser de nenhum partido: eu tinha me dado toda ao Botafogo, inclusive dado a ele minha ignorância apaixonada por futebol. Digo “ignorância apaixonada” porque sinto que eu poderia vir um dia apaixonadamente a entender de futebol. E agora vou contar o pior: fora as vezes que vi por televisão, só assisti a um jogo de futebol na vida, quero dizer, de corpo presente. Sinto que isso é tão errado como se eu fosse uma brasileira errada.

O jogo qual era? Sei que era Botafogo, mas não me lembro contra quem. Quem estava comigo não despregava os olhos do campo, como eu, mas entendia tudo. E eu de vez em quando, mesmo sentindo que estava incomodando, não me continha e fazia perguntas. As quais eram respondidas com a maior pressa e resumo para eu não continuar a interromper. Não, não imagine que vou dizer que futebol é um verdadeiro balé. Lembrou-me foi uma luta entre vida e morte, como de gladiadores. E eu – provavelmente coitada de novo – tinha a impressão de que a luta só não saía das regras do jogo e se tornava sangrenta porque um juiz vigiava, não deixava, e mandaria para fora de campo quem como eu faria, se jogasse (!). Bem, por mais amor que eu tivesse por futebol, jamais me ocorreria jogar… Ia preferir balé mesmo. Mas futebol parecer-se com balé? O futebol tem uma beleza própria de movimentos que não precisa de comparações.

Quanto a assistir por televisão, meu filho botafoguense assiste comigo. E quando faço perguntas, provavelmente bem tolas como leiga que sou, ele responde com uma mistura de impaciência piedosa que se transforma depois em paciência quase mal controlada, e alguma ternura pela mãe que, se sabe outras coisas, é obrigada a valer-se do filho para essas lições. Também ele responde bem rápido, para não perder os lances do jogo. E se continuo de vez em quando a perguntar, termina dizendo embora sem cólera: ah, mamãe, você não entende mesmo disso, não adianta. O que me humilha. Então, na minha avidez por participar de tudo, logo de futebol que é Brasil, eu não vou entender jamais? E quando penso em tudo no que não participo, Brasil ou não, fico desanimada com minha pequenez. Sou muito ambiciosa e voraz para admitir com tranquilidade uma não participação do que representa vida. Mas sinto que não desisti. Quanto a futebol, um dia entenderei mais. Nem que seja, se eu viver até lá, quando eu for velhinha e já andando devagar. Ou você acha que não vale a pena ser uma velhinha dessas modernas que tantas vezes, por puro preconceito imperdoável nosso, chega à beira do ridículo por se interessar pelo que já devia ser um passado? É que, e não só em futebol, porém em muitas coisas mais, eu não queria só ter um passado: queria sempre estar tendo um presente, e alguma partezinha de futuro.

E agora repito meu desafio amigável: escreva sobre a vida, o que significaria você na vida. (Se não fosse cronista de futebol, você de qualquer modo seria escritor.) Não importa que, nessa coluna que peço, você inicie pela porta do futebol: facilitaria você quebrar o pudor de falar diretamente. E mais, para facilitar: deixo você escrever uma crônica inteira sobre o que futebol significa para você, pessoalmente, e não só como esporte, o que terminaria revelando o que você sente em relação à vida. O tema é geral demais, para quem está habituado a uma especialização? Mas é que me parece que você não conhece suas próprias possibilidades: seu modo de escrever me garante que você poderia escrever sobre inúmeras coisas. Avise-me quando você resolver responder a meu desafio, pois, como lhe disse, não é todos os dias que leio você, apesar de ter um verdadeiro gosto em ser sua colega no mesmo jornal. Estou esperando.

6.

“Na grande área” [“In the Penalty Area”]
(Jornal do Brasil, 4.8.1968)

Clarice Lispector: há uma semana, não encontro no Rio uma pessoa amiga que não me pergunte: “Então, quando é que você vai aceitar o desafio da Clarice Lispector”?

(Permita, leitor, explicar que eu tinha pedido, daqui, uma crônica de Clarice Lispector sobre futebol. Ela escreveu, escreveu uma crônica admirável; mas, num impulso de terna vingança, Clarice me multou: desafiou-me a perder o pudor e escrever sobre a vida).

Agora, os cobradores de Clarice estão à minha porta, carinhosamente, exigindo a resposta, mas com uma impaciência que me angustia como a véspera de um grande jogo.

Que dizer de um jogo que ainda não terminou?

E mesmo quando termine, Clarice, o match de minha vida não justificará sequer resenha: é match-treino, sem placar, sem juiz, nem multidão. Por tudo! Que está bom assim, embora melhor se fosse uma pelada – mil meninos jogando a minha vida, alheios ao vento que às vezes persegue tanto o time da gente.

Jamais seria um bom depoimento de minha própria vida: jogo muito mal, sofro a imprecisão de meus chutes. Tenho medo e respeito muito o julgamento da plateia. Embora também já tenha tido vergonha da multidão. Eu te conto, Clarice: era um jogo de grande importância, no Maracanã. O ídolo errou o primeiro passe, errou o segundo, o terceiro. Deram-lhe uma vaia. O ídolo lutava, dignamente, mas seu esforço era vão, a bola de ferro não lhe saía dos pés. A multidão já passava da reprovação ao deboche; e o ídolo, ali, firme, correndo entre dois abismos – humilhação e fadiga. Chamaram-no de venal; ele chorou em campo.

Depois do jogo, a um canto do vestiário, ele me confessava, ainda em lágrimas:

– Armando, eu sei que joguei muito mal. Mas eu não tinha cabeça para pensar. Essa gente não sabe, mas eu vim jogar, deixando minha filha, de cinco anos em casa, com minha mulher doente e uma irmã de minha mulher, louca, trancada no quarto. Mas louca de hospício. Louca de passar o dia jurando que ainda vai estrangular a minha filha. E eu, no campo, só pensava nisso: meu Deus, será que ela não está estrangulando a minha filha?

Nesse dia, eu descobri que nem sempre a voz do povo é a voz de Deus e que às vezes a multidão é capaz até de torcer pelo estrangulamento de uma criança.

O match de minha vida, querida Clarice, tem sido um sofrido aprendizado de todos os sentimentos que murcham e florescem num jogo de futebol: o amor, o medo, o ódio, a inveja, a coragem ali estão, revestindo ou informando cada gesto da bola, cuja meta é sempre o coração – para viver uma grande alegria ou para morrer de infarto.

Infelizmente, jamais conquistei um lugar de jogador nesse misterioso torneio que acompanho, há quarenta anos, como simples espectador. Tentei ser goleiro. Queria sentir o único pedaço de campo em que a grama verde não vinga jamais. Cheguei a mentir, enfiando joelheiras, um boné na cabeça e dizendo aos outros meninos que era o Batatais. Deve ter me ficado da experiência uma visão pessimista do campo. Mas pelo menos duas lições aprendi com dois goleiros: com Evutchenko, “que a vida não é só atacar, é também vigiar os menores movimentos do adversário e conhecer suas artimanhas”; e com Albert Camus que o futebol ensina tudo sobre a moral dos homens.

Por fim, Clarice, o match de minha vida não registra um instante sequer de plena felicidade, embora alguns espectadores o vejam como um alegre amistoso de portões abertos. Marca-me, cerrado, um sentimento de culpa, a dividir comigo as bolas de sabão de cada gol perdido.

Se não deploro, também não tenho o que festejar no match da minha vida: o grito que glorifica o goleador é o mesmo que mortifica o goleiro.

Por isso, não vejo na vitória mais verdade que na derrota.

O match de minha vida, Clarice, está por aí, rolando numa bola que já não é de meia, nem de gude: bola de tantos sonhos perdidos pela linha de fundo – círculo, inspiração do sol, forma perfeita, esfera de fogo queimando, às vezes, a grama dos meus campos.

Que o match da minha vida possa ao menos terminar em paz – empate.

7.

The subject, which still today causes intellectuals to turn up their noses, was at the time despised by the academy and treated only prosaically by journalists and individual researchers. Nonsense. No topic is either noble or vulgar, “because there is nothing that doesn’t already carry within it the power of language”, instructs the philosopher Rancière.

Regarding Clarice, football returns again, in a way, in two entertaining interviews from the decade of 1970 for Manchete magazine with icons of Brazilian sports João Saldanha and Zagallo and in the intoxicating tale “In Search of a Dignity” (Where You Were at Night – 1974), in which the character Mrs. Jorge B. Xavier gets lost in the empty Maracanã stadium– “espaço oco de luz escancarada e de mudez aberta, estádio nu desventrado, sem bola nem futebol”.

8.

Armando Nogueira and Clarice Lispector, who in those weeks in 1968 engaged in an affectionate dialogue via crônica, didn’t imagine – to the happiness of both – that months later Botafogo would be two-time state champion, champion of the Taça Guanabara and would also take home the now-extinct Taça Brasil– the first national title in the club’s history. The columnists would be equally satisfied today with the team’s campaign in the round of 16 of the Copa do Brasil and as leader of group 1 in the Copa Libertadores da América.

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.