“The Chandelier” is published in English

The Chandelier, Clarice Lispector’s second novel, published in 1946, was just translated into English by Benjamin Moser and Magdalena Edwards. The book is another of a series of translations of the author’s works that have been published in the past few years. In a statement to The New York Times, Moser observes that this may be the strangest and hardest book by the Brazilian writer (who was born in Ukraine in 1920). The British critic Christopher Ricks, for his part, sees it as a miniature of Clarice’s universe:

So many of the themes, philosophical inquiries and character types that appear [in The Chandelier] will return, honed as Lispector refines her style and hardens them into the diamond like perfection of her final books, which are narrated in jagged aphorisms – ‘anti literature’ she called them.

The American newspaper furthermore celebrates the rediscovery of Clarice in the United States as one of the true literary events of the 21st century, highlighting the singularity of her writing, which is marked by a unique punctuation and syntax, in addition to a capacity to resignify words according to her own wishes – “No one sounds like Lispector (…). No one thinks like her,” the journalist Parul Sehgal concludes.

A few days after the American newspaper featured The Chandelier, the editor Gregory Cowles included the book on the list of ten reading suggestions that he made for the prestigious Book Review column.   

Read The New York Times article here. 

*Photo: Unidentified photographer/ Clarice Lispector Collection/ IMS

Clarice Lispector by Jorge Carrión

The Spanish writer and critic Jorge Carrión recently published in The New York Times an essay about the life and work of Clarice Lispector (“La pasión según Clarice Lispector”). Starting from a reading of Por qué este mundo, the biography of Clarice written by Benjamin Moser and recently released in Spanish translation by the Siruela publishing house, the author addresses broader issues related to Clarice’s work:   

 “She did not like interviews and fiction – in her case – is much more important, incisive, and eloquent than nonfiction. By reading her novels and short stories, one might conclude that she is a hermetic author, close to mysticism. However, I believe, on the contrary, that she is an absolutely contemporary artist, who resolved in her work one of the great literary problems of our time: how to write, with abstract ambition, mental landscapes with figurative language.”  

That is, for Carrión, Clarice’s work is “corporeal, totally vital, and bloody,” although it is curdled with metaphors and mysteries. This characteristic brings her prose closer to poetry, according to the critic. That is why, perhaps, she wrote as if it were to save someone’s life, perhaps her own, as she said in A Breath of Life.Read Carrión’s essay, in Spanish, by clicking here.

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

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.

Clarice in Mexico

Clarice Lispector’s birthday was last Sunday, December 10th, but the Clarice’s Hour celebrations continue in Brazil and abroad. In Mexico, the Fondo de Cultura Económica celebrated the date with a presentation of En estado de viaje (published by the FCE in 2017), an assemblage of texts from the period when the author was abroad (between 1944 and 1959). Check out excerpts from the reading in the video, with the participation of Tálata Rodriguez.

Clarice’s biography now has a Spanish edition

Written by Benjamin Moser, Clarice Lispector’s biography Why This World (Oxford University Press, 2009) continues to circulate around the world. Also published in Brazil by Cosac Naify in 2009, and translated by José Geraldo Couto, a new edition of the work was released this year, this time by Companhia das Letras. Titled Clarice, the reedited biography includes new photos, rare images, letters, and manuscripts discovered by Moser himself.   

The book has now arrived in Spanish-speaking countries. The Madrid publisher Siruela released Por qué este mundo. Una biografía de Clarice Lispector (trans. Cristina Sánchez-Andrade) in September in Europe and began to distribute it in Latin America this month. The new releases will give Spanish-speaking readers the opportunity to get in touch with “a biography worthy of its great subject,” according to Orhan Pamuk, the Turkish Nobel Prize-winning writer. “One of the twentieth century’s most mysterious writers is finally revealed in all her vibrant colors.”    

Are you interested? You can read a passage of the work by clicking here.

Clarice Lispector’s hour and turn

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 and João Cabral: An Unprinted Story

Understanding that literature is also a kind of health, as Deleuze would say, João Cabral de Melo Neto would open a small press in the 1940s while he was in Spain working as vice-consul. In a statement to the Cadernos de Literatura Brasileira he says: “I was having health problems and the doctor advised me to do gymnastics. Instead of doing Swedish Gymnastics, I decided to buy a hand-operated press. Working on it was almost the same thing as doing exercise.”  

The hand-operated press would give rise to the workshop “The Seamless Book,” in which Cabral would print fourteen books, all poetry, from Manuel Bandeira to Charles Baudelaire, including Vinicius de Moraes, Joaquim Cardoso, and the Spanish writers Alfonso Pintó and Juan Ruiz Calonja, in addition to two books of his own, Psicologia da composição (Psychology of Composition) and O cão sem plumas (The Featherless Dog).  

To debut his printer, Cabral would try to convince Clarice Lispector. At the time, the author was preparing the novel The Besieged City and the tragedy “The Choir of Angels.” The poet from Pernambuco seemed to prefer the play: “I am awaiting ‘The Choir of Angels.’ You speak so fabulously about it to me that my expectations are growing. Though I am certain you will like it when printed on good paper.”    

The idea of a work by Clarice inaugurating “The Seamless Book” likewise excited his friend Manuel Bandeira, who wrote to Cabral: “If your printer begins with Clarice Lispector, what could be a better way to begin?”  

Although the publication of Clarice by the printer was valued by two of the most important poets in Brazil, she declined the invitation. “I only regret not beginning with something of yours,” Cabral wrote.

The first book by “The Seamless Book” was, in the end, Psicologia da composição, by João Cabral de Melo Neto himself, but for a purely technical reason: “It took me a while to get it right and in order for Manuel’s [Bandeira’s] book [Mafuá do Malungo], which was in the machine, not to be damaged, I did mine. (…) It is undeniably the most difficult task of all to successfully print.”And the play that Cabral wanted, “The Choir of Angels,” would be published only in 1964 in the book Foreign Legion, by the Editora do Autor, with the title “The Woman Burned at the Stake and the Harmonious Angels.”

Pens, Paper, and Records

Listening to music is not only a pleasurable activity but also an almost necessary task for those whose vocation it is to incorporate words – a mixture of sound and silence – as a way of illuminating existence. In the archives of Clarice Lispector, Otto Lara Resende, and Decio de Almeida Prado, there are several LPs that help us get to know a little about the musical taste of these three writers.   

Clarice Lispector, for example, was explicit in relation to what music meant to her.  In Água Viva, she confesses: “I see that I’ve never told you how I listen to music – I gently rest my hand on the record player and my hand vibrates, sending waves through my whole body: and so I listen to the electricity of the vibrations, the last substratum of reality’s realm, and the world trembles inside my hands.”

Covers from Clarice Lispector’s LPs: on the left, St. Matthew Passion, by J.S. Bach, performed by the Concertgebouw Orchestra of Amsterdam; on the right, The Complete String Quartets of Ludwig von Beethoven, performed by the Budapest String Quartet. Clarice Lispector Archive / IMS Collection   

On the left, Jeanne D’Arc au bucher, by Arthur Honegger, performed by The Philadelphia Orchestra; on the right, Othello, by William Shakespeare, with Paul Robeson, José Ferrer, Uta Hagen, and Edith King. Clarice Lispector Archive / IMS Collection.

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.

Without Formulas

In 1970, Clarice Lispector started to write a work that would come to be called Água viva [translated into English as both Água Viva and Stream of Life].

According to Nádia Gotlib in “Memória seletiva” (Selective Memory), published in a special edition of Cadernos de Literatura Brasileira (Brazilian Literature Notebooks) on Clarice Lispector:Incorporating old notes, she begins to work on a new novel entitled Atrás do pensamento: monólogo com a vida (Behind Thought: A Monologue with Life). The book, which in a later phase would be called Objeto gritante (Screaming Object), would finally be called Água viva and would come out under the broad genre of “fiction,” given the author’s understanding that she had surpassed conventional classifications of literary narrative.

Cover of the 1st edition of Água viva, published in 1973 by Artenova. Ana Cristina César Library/ IMS collection

Professor Clarisse Fukelman analyzes Água viva and says that, in this work, the author “radicalizes innovative writing processes with which she had already experimented in previous publications” and develops a book in which “there is no linear story or central theme.”

Água viva was published at the end of August 1973 by the publisher Artenova. Below is a handwritten excerpt from the work’s manuscript under the care of the Moreira Salles Institute, followed by its transcription.

Excerpt from the manuscript for Água viva, by Clarice Lispector. Clarice Lispector Collection / IMS collection

Calo-me.

Porque não sei qual é o meu segredo. Conta-me o teu, ensina-me sobre o secreto de cada um de nós. Não é segredo difamante. É apenas esse isto: segredo.

E não tem fórmulas.

[I go quiet.

Because I don’t know what my secret is. Tell me yours, teach me about the secrets of every one of us. It’s not a slanderous secret. It’s only this: a secret.

And there are no formulas.]