Post Road Magazine #30

The True Thought Seems to Have No Author: On Clarice Lispector

Natalie Eilbert

Well, what am I supposed to say about Clarice Lispector that she hasn't already said about the world. That she hasn't been celebrated with the same somber zeal as Kafka speaks to the 20th century's proud misogyny, though New Directions is doing noble missionary work to correct this. She is what would happen if Virginia Woolf, Franz Kafka, and James Joyce smashed their heads together. She could be the answer to Woolf's query, "Who shall measure the heat and violence of the poet's heart when caught and tangled in a woman's body?" Like many Europeans Jews, she fled her home country of Ukraine only to arrive in Brazil, where she would become the formative modern novelist of the Portuguese language. The essence of her books lies in her stark configurations, language capable of containing the big and smallness of bodies while remaining religiously elusive. She published her first book,Near to the Wild Heart, when she was but twenty-three, and it became a national sensation. She wrote several more books after that. The Passion According to G.H. is a monologue of a woman's mystic journey after crushing a cockroach and it shines within the territory of Kafka's inescapable animals and the bizarre ruin of womanhood via Marguerite Duras. Água Viva, one of my favorite books about artistic failure and the celebration of failure, performs her monomania. These texts are nearly plotless, more episodic than narrative, substantiated only by her landscape impressions, her umwelten. Nothing about her was delicate. She was a queen with a maimed hand. (It literally burned when she took a sleeping pill and fell asleep with cigarette dutifully in hand.) "Goodness makes me want to be sick," she writes in Near to the Wild Heart. "Goodness was lukewarm and light.... It was freshened up from time to time, seasoned a little, enough to keep it a piece of lukewarm, quiet meat."

In the beginning of The Passion According to G.H., she says "Yesterday I lost my human constitution for hours and hours. If I'm brave, I'll let it stay lost." She is a rhetorical master, a philosopher of disorder. Her language vibrates with a terrible desire for confinement, for not confinement. Again and always, the umwelt. She will not make you comfortable-she moves an amber plate under your chin and asks that you stare at your hungry distortion. She performs in language what Žižek calls an "unconditional violence"-that is, a language of negotiation, being and unbeing. In Água Viva, she says, "What you will know of me is the shadow of the arrow that has hit its target." She is a writer of objects only so she can be a writer of shadows. When I read Lispector, I think of Duras and the obsession of the ravaged face.

Duras: Very early in my life it was too late.

Lispector: Two minutes after I was born I had already lost my beginnings.

Once you enter Lispector's world, there is a disorder that never leaves you. It hangs like another face over your face. I turn the pages of her books to see how she speculates the ambiguous edges of humanity. She speculates so much that one could say her books are the sum total of that speculation: "An eye looked over my life. I probably called that eye sometimes 'truth,' sometimes morality; sometimes human law, sometimes 'God,' sometimes 'myself.'" The self is a detonator waiting upon reflection to ignite. But there is no outward landscape. We are not granted that space, only the manifesto of space. Instead, flowers, dinosaurs, implosion, a debilitated hand: "I struggle not to go beyond the portal."

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