Without Formulas

, Without Formulas. IMS Clarice Lispector, 2014. Disponível em: https://site.claricelispector.ims.com.br/en/2014/04/28/sem-formulas/. Acesso em: 17 June 2024.

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


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.]


  • 06/08/2013

“I’d Like To Write like a Painter”

, “I'd Like To Write like a Painter”. IMS Clarice Lispector, 2013. Disponível em: https://site.claricelispector.ims.com.br/en/2013/08/06/eu-queria-escrever-como-um-pintor/. Acesso em: 17 June 2024.

Being a writer was not the first option for Clarice Lispector, as strange as this may seem to us now. Despite having studied law at the University of Brazil, collaborated on editorials, and translated novels, it was fiction writing were she excelled. But one does not live from fiction alone, and Clarice had her affair with painting. 

In general, the lines between the visual and literary arts have long been blurred. Some of the greatest icons in literature, such as Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Edgar Allan Poe, and Franz Kafka, in addition to the Brazilians Monteiro Lobato, Rubem Braga, Érico Veríssimo, and Ferreira Gullar, found pleasure in the visual arts. Clarice Lispector also ventured down this path, mainly in the 1970s.   

The fascination for painting and for the dynamics that this type of art demanded was manifested in Clarice’s characters and stories, above all in Água Viva, a book published in 1973, in which the theme is approached intensely and experimentally. Painting and writing are in different perspectives of the same plane. A game occurs there, from beginning to end, between an I and a you, between the canvas and the page, between the paint and the letter, which undoes the linearity and serenity to which conventional readers are accustomed. Neither novel, nor poetry, “genre doesn’t have a hold on me anymore,” says the narrator of Água Viva (even though, for the purposes of bibliographical cataloguing, it had to be labeled as a “novel”).    

Among the items that make up the Clarice Lispector Collection, which has been at the IMS since 2004, are two of the approximately 20 known paintings by the author: Interior da gruta (Cave Interior) and an untitled work. Although she does not appear to be as skillful at painting as she famously is at writing, in Interior da gruta, Clarice creates a sensation that is similar to the one caused by her stories: discomfort. If at first glance the painting may cause an effect of estrangement, at second glance the observer tends to be overcome by a sort of hypnosis.

With its brown, green, red, and yellow colors vertically painted in gouache, the painting places its viewer in a state of near obtrusion. The image intends to be “behind thought,” a title that would actually be given to Água Viva. Behind thought, close to the non-rational, the wild, the first impulse, divination.    

The novel’s narrator says the following about caves:

I want to put into words but without description the existence of the cave that some time ago I painted – and I don’t know how. Only by repeating its sweet horror, cavern of terror and wonders, place of afflicted souls, winter and hell, unpredictable substratum of an evil that is inside an earth that is not fertile. I call the cave by its name and it begins to live with its miasma. I then fear myself who knows how to paint the horror, I, creature of echoing caverns that I am, and I suffocate because I am word and also its echo.

In the second painting, the same dynamic: a profusion of lines, a layering of green, pink, and white, vertical strokes. A patchwork, apparently, just impetus, jumps without rest. Despite the simplicity of the material – gouache on plywood and oil on canvas, respectively – and the rusticity of the strokes, there remains an estrangement similar to that of her writing.

The paintings and the book Água Viva seem to have the same purpose: to discover the “instant-now,” the it, escaping possible definitions. “My painting,” says the narrator, “has no words.” The intention is just to write and draw like a jazz improvisation.


Who was Mineirinho

, Who was Mineirinho. IMS Clarice Lispector, 2013. Disponível em: https://site.claricelispector.ims.com.br/en/2013/05/31/quem-foi-mineirinho-bastidores-de-uma-cronica/. Acesso em: 17 June 2024.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Book You Might Not Imagine Clarice Had

, Book You Might Not Imagine Clarice Had. IMS Clarice Lispector, 2013. Disponível em: https://site.claricelispector.ims.com.br/en/2013/04/19/livros-que-voce-talvez-nao-imagine-que-clarice-tinha/. Acesso em: 17 June 2024.

When we think about the books that make up a writer’s library, we first imagine works that have influenced the author, or at least dialogue with his or her literary production. When speculating about how Clarice Lispector’s bookshelf would look, a reader could assume the presence of Virginia Woolf’s novels, stories by Katherine Mansfield… and, in fact, in Clarice’s library, which is in the IMS Collection, the two modernists are present.

Unexpected books included various works with Buddhist themes, such as “Introduction to Zen-Buddhism,” “Zen and the Infinite,” and The Tibetan Book of the Dead. The author’s interest in eastern philosophy is evident when we handle her copy of the I Ching, “the book of changes,” a Chinese classic that, among other things, also serves as an oracle.

Clarice left various papers with drafts to calculate responses provided by the I Ching. Some of the questions are scribbled, such as “What’s my future in general?” Curiously enough, this question is on a page in her planner dated December 10, 1974, the author’s 54th birthday.
It is also hard to imagine Lispector purchasing the nutritional guide Let’s Eat Right to Keep Fit, by Adelle Davis, or the fitness guide Exercise and Keep Fit, by Terry Hunt.

I Ching

In addition to these curiosities, we have two books with styles much different from Lispector’s: Stories, by Ernest Hemingway, known for his dry style and faithful to the notion that “to write is to cut words” [as the Brazilian poet Carlos Drummond has said] and Breakfast of Champions by Kurt Vonnegut, a hilarious novel, written in a simple style defined by the author himself as writing “in the voice of a child.”

Revealing some of the author’s very idiosyncratic interests, we have Fun with Mathematics, by Jerome S. Meyer, and Ten Perfect Crimes, by Hank Sterling, who presents particularly ingenious true crime cases. This latter book is perhaps not so strange considering that it keeps company with many works of detective fiction in Clarice Lispector’s extremely diverse and unusual library.

* Antônio Xerxenesky is a writer.