Clarice Lispector publishes A maçã no escuro [The Apple in the Dark].
Clarice Lispector has extraordinarily added to Brazilian
literature. Her contribution to the Portuguese language, considered by
Portuguese writer Fernando Pessoa to be the “nation”,
is as big as that of author Guimarães Rosa. But when she spoke, people
thought she was a foreigner. A great light in our literature, she had a
hard time pronouncing words containing r’s.
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, because of the
way I pronounce the r’s. (Interview)
Clarice was Brazilian and it was
by sheer luck that she was born in a small village in the Ukraine. She
knew English and French well, but she wrote only in Portuguese, her native
language. And as far as we know, she never spoke Yiddish or Hebrew. Once
she learned how to read and write, she became an avid reader.
When I learned to read and write, I devoured books! I thought
books were like trees, like animals: a thing that was born! I could not
find out what an author was! Then, at a certain point, I found out what an
author was! So I said: I want
career starts with Perto
do coração selvagem [Close to the Wild Heart]. This title is
reaffirmed throughout her novels, short stories, stories for children and
all her other texts. With her catlike eyes, slantingly open upon the world,
Clarice Lispector always remained close to the heart of life, as wild as
nature in the rural area of her childhood in Pernambuco. She was different,
inaugural, transgressing. She was always recreating herself, devouring
herself. Like a sun that illuminates as it burns itself up. A sun that
provides heat because it consumes itself.
As Clarice herself stated,
the compulsion to write made her feel dead when she was not writing.
I was born to write. (…) Each one of my books is a painful and happy opening.
writing is illuminating, without totally revealing itself. As in poetry,
silence -- all that she does
not clarify -- is present in the author’s incantatory prose, as though
when speaking of existence, she wished to cover it with yet other veils.
Maybe this is why the sortilege of her language is so seductive.
not tell stories, she writes life itself. She writes the act of writing
This capacity to renew myself as time passes, this is what I
call living and writing…
intensity and a density never before attained and that never fade, Clarice
Lispector achieves the improbable balance of walking on a razor’s edge
without tearing up the veils of reality and showing what was until then
unspeakable: the unsaid of the thinking impulses, of consciousness and the
pulsations of writing. When her character Martin is getting ready to write,
this process is evoked:
Around him, an emptiness blew, in which a man finds himself
when he is going to create. Desolated, he provoked the great
solitude. (...) And, like an old man who has not learned to read, he
measured the distance that separated him from the word. [A maçã no
escuro - The Apple in the Dark]
writing occupies this unlikely space, the immeasurable: the distance that
separates us from the words. It’s the measure of a void, of an abyss
that opens itself in the infinitesimal instant in which the words acquire
sense. That’s why it feels as if she is writing right in front of us, in
order to reveal to us, in its total nakedness, in its pungent abandonment,
the act of writing itself.
beating in solitude. [A
maçã no escuro - The
Apple in the Dark]
writes in the present, from within the beingness of being, as if she had
made of the delirium of Molly Bloom a method – not in order to remember
vicissitudes or adventures, but in order to think with us the life of us
all. Hers is a constant questioning. This need to question, to inquire
about life, about death, about love, is present in all of Clarice’s
texts, from the simple magazine chronicles to the most dense and
metaphysically dramatic texts such as A
maçã no escuro [The
Apple in the Dark] and A paixão segundo G.H. [The Passion According to G.H.] This questioning is
metaphysical: Why does the world exist instead of nothing? What is it to
be alive? What does it mean to live, to love, to die? In her writing,
there is a certain touch of Socrates, an irony and a maieutical approach.
It all happens as if she had preserved her childhood questioning and
developed it aesthetically. As if she had not forgotten what it is to be a
child in the world, in the fact that a child possesses a philosophy. And
when she focuses on the experience of love, as she does in Uma
aprendizagem ou O livro dos prazeres [An Apprenticeship or The Book of Pleasures], the
result is the report of an initiation or an ascetic path.
morning opened itself in a vacillating light. For Lori, the atmosphere was
that of a miracle. She had reached the impossible of herself. Because she
felt that Ulysses was again attached to the pain of existence, she said:
- My love, you
don’t believe in the God, because we made a mistake when we humanized
Him. We humanized Him because we did not understand Him, then it didn’t
work out. I’m certain that He is not human. But although He’s not
human, He sometimes makes us divine. Do you think --
- I think, the
man interrupted and his voice was slow and muffled, because he was
suffering from life and love; here’s what I think:
novel, that inserts itself in the possible, begins with a comma and does
not end; it is simply interrupted with a colon, in this way suggesting a
painting in which the master lines had cut themselves off the great
mystery that contains everything. The experts say that the Talmud is
characterized by having more questions than answers, or better yet, for
always leaving an open space for doubt and questioning. In this sense,
Clarice would be taking the very spirit, the essence of Judaism itself, in
order to insert it, with absolute adequateness, into the contemporary
world. In several parts of her work, it’s possible to identify an
undeniable affinity with Kabala texts, as shown in the essay A
ética cabalística de Clarice Lispector [The Kabalistic Ethics of
She did not
come to reveal the mystery, she came to reaffirm it. (Ester Schwartz).
choice of titles for her books is very expressive and significant, in that
they evoke the steps of the kabalistic path, which passes through the
spheres of the body and sensations, of love, passion and pleasure, of
initiation, darkness, perplexity or strangeness, splendor, etc.
Some examples: The Way of the Cross of the Body,
Close to the Wild Heart, The Passion According to G.H., The Apple in the
Dark, An Apprenticeship or The Book of Pleasures, The Foreign Legion,
Vision of the Splendor.
face of the originality of Clarice Lispector’s writing, it’s not hard
to understand the assertion made by scholars who say that in the 20th
century, literature ceased to be the writing of adventure to become the
adventure of writing, an initiation and a learning process. The act of
writing itself is lived and revealed in a state of exalted and exacerbated
consciousness, which evokes a unique and lonely mystical experience.
truth, I think that we should make contact with the supernatural in
silence and in a profound and lonely meditation. (Interview)
when her two sons were young, Clarice got in the habit of writing seated
on the couch in her living room, so she would not be apart from them.
use a portable typewriter, an Olympia, which is light enough for my weird
habit: I write with the typewriter on my lap. It flows well, it flows
smoothly(…) it stirs up my feelings and thoughts. (Interview)
thoughts and feelings are at the source of an uneasy questioning. They
reflect the perplexity of our modern uncertainties, the revision and
change of paradigms, the fragmentation of knowledge, the world of the
image and the splitting up of the image; “the modern I-don’t-know-what,
I-don’t-quite-get-what” in the words of poet Fernando Pessoa. It’s a
generous questioning. To question is to open, to unveil; it’s to have a
glimpse and expand horizons. To answer is to establish limits, to close,
to lock up. To ask is to eternally restart, it’s life being born again
and broadening itself in its infinite possibilities, including that of
making mistakes and restarting. Questioning has the weight of critical
consciousness and the lightness of imagination. To question is to think.
The main character, the true protagonist that reappears in each one of her
short stories, acquiring a greater dimension in Clarice’s novels, is
To take care of the world
demands also a lot of patience: I have to wait for the day in which an ant
will show up.
Água Viva (Live Water)
could say that Heidegger influenced her thinking; hers is a thinking
process that “takes over Being”.
Being which, as we know, is Time. Time, or the “instant-now”,
that she wants to capture in Água
Viva [Live Water], the
unending book that is a saga, a struggle of writing against Time and Death.
In this book, more than in any other, she was capable of the “intuition
of an instant”, in Bachelard’s terminology. She recognized the
possibility of ecstasy in the impalpable instant. It’s experience that
attracts her, not its result or its significance, as is also the case with
Joyce. And she knows how to transform the fleeing instant into an absolute.
I know what I’m doing
here: I count the instants that drop and are thick with blood. (...)
am a concomitant being: in myself, I gather the time past, the present and
the future, the time that pounds in the ticktack of the clocks.
Viva [Live Water].
represents an inimitable turning point in Brazilian literature. What she
does, in an original and inaugural manner, is to create moments of
illumination and revelation. Using a word so dear to Joyce and to Clarice,
she creates an epiphany. Epiphany
is the living sensation of the inapprehensible fluidity of reality, which
is saved by art.
Kafka were a woman; if Rilke were a Brazilian Jewish woman born in the
Ukraine; if Rimbaud had been a mother, if he had reached his 50’s; if
Heidegger had been able to stop being German, if he had written the Novel
of the Earth. (...) It’s in this ambiance that Clarice Lispector writes.
There, where the most demanding works breathe, she advances. There,
further ahead, where the philosopher loses his breath, she continues,
still further, beyond all knowledge.
Cixious, in: The Hour of Clarice Lispector)
work is not made of books like everybody’s work, as Cixious had already
recognized in 1979, still under the impact provoked in her by A
Paixão Segundo G.H. [The Passion According to G.H.]; in a text
de Clarice Lispector [The approach of Clarice Lispector], she
Lispector: this woman, our contemporary, a Brazilian woman (…)
it is not books that she gives us, but the act of living saved by books,
narratives, constructions that make us step back. And then, through her
window-writing, we enter into the frightening beauty of learning how to
read: and we pass, through the body, to the other side of the I. To love
the truth of what is alive, that which seems ungrateful to Narcissus eyes,
(…) to love the origin, to be personally interested in the impersonal,
in the animal, in the thing.
thought of this “window-writing” is eminently feminine, welcoming and
loving as an embrace. Her
language flows and involves you like a Debussy tune, the composer that she
loved so much. Yes, music,
the most dialectic of the arts, for it only becomes as it stops being and
is only complete in the silence, just like life. She dedicates A
hora da estrela [The Hour of the Star] to Schoenberg and
Stravinsky, among others -- a fact that demonstrates how in tune she was,
not only with the most audacious and experimental writers, but also with
contemporary music, atonal and dodecaphonic, as well as with abstraction
in Art. In the essay called “O figurativo inominável” [The unnamable
figurative], Lúcia Helena Vianna revealed another language explored by
Clarice – painting. She didn’t show her paintings to anyone, not even
her own family. In her amateurish exercises, she shows certain affinities
with modern Abstract Expressionism.
inherited from me the desire to write and paint. And if she inherited this
part of me, it’s because I cannot imagine a life without the art of
writing or painting or making music.
Um sopro de vida (A Breath of Life)
could say that her writing is a soliloquy mediated by the many faces of
her several characters. Through them, always with the same voice, she
unfolds herself into infinity. Clarice’s characters are not types. She
doesn’t create types. Also, there are many things that she doesn’t do
like everybody else, because she doesn’t need to do them. For instance,
her work doesn’t have anything to do with the scatological
pseudo-realism that is so fashionable nowadays. In her books, the conflict
that feeds the novel or drama is not a conventional one, such as the
misunderstanding between characters or the struggle of passions, even
though they are present. All her work is, finally, a passion – in the
sense of the passion of Joan of Arc or the Paixão
segundo G.H. [Passion according to G.H.], the passion of Martim in
maçã no escuro [The Apple in the Dark], or that of Macabéa in A
hora da estrela [The Hour of the Star]. The pathos of her work is
in the questions that are formulated by her writing, it’s the
existential angst of the beings that represent her and live in her. For
it’s only apparently that creatures and creator describe things, objects,
animals, and small day-to-day events. What her writing describes -- or, as
Guimarães Rosa would say it, “descrives” (N.T. Portuguese “descrevive”,
a combination of descrever (to describe) and viver (to live) -- is the
being-in-the-world itself. She tells us about the mystery of being in the
world, the mystery of being a person -- G.H. stands for Gênero Humano (Human
Genus – humankind). It also becomes evident that the protagonist in A
hora da estrela [The Hour of the Star] – Macabéa – represents
the Brazilian disgrace in all the oppression she is subject to: being poor,
being unable to adapt, being a woman.
Macabéa is the
face of Brazil. She is what everybody is. She’s a feminine version of
Macunaíma (T.N. a popular
character from Mário de Andrade’s novel, Macunaíma, o herói do Brasil), an anti-heroine from Brazil, but possessing a huge universality.
Amaral, moviemaker, director of The
Hour of the Star)
is our most tragic face. Above all, in the words of the Sorbonne scholar,
is a meditation on the last hour. The wonderful and unthinkable hour, the
hour towards which we lean, as though towards truth. My truth, our truth,
this foreigner, this stranger whose face we were promised we would see in
Cixious, in: The
Hour of Clarice Lispector)
the philosophical thinking that expresses itself through feminine and
Socratic irony, there is an ethic in Clarice’s writing: an authentic
charity and a profound respect for her fellow creatures, for the child and
the beggar, for the mismatched family ties, for unhappy love stories, for
But don’t let
yourself be tricked. She also wrote stories. A rich young woman meets a
beggar. In six pages, it’s the Gospel, or the Genesis. No, I’m not
(Hélène Cixious, op. cit.)
watery eyes reflect the world. Thence the permanent plunge into the
beingness of things, the constant exercise of philosophical wonder – the
perplexity of the first thinkers.
said forever in Água viva [Live Water]:
I, who live
sidewise, I’m to the left of whoever comes in. And in me the world
very often, the world of our misery too. Nevertheless, it’s essential to
stress that, unlike Kafka, Beckett, Maurice Blanchot or Cioran – her
peers – who remained necessarily in the closeness of being, in the
deadlock and the angst, she celebrates uncertainty! ... For the
first time, there appears in a literary work the acceptance and the
celebration of the act of questioning as a privileged form of courage. The
courage of hope:
you know that hope sometimes consists only of a question without an answer?
maçã no escuro [The Apple in the Dark]
the acceptance and the celebration of the necessity and the neediness, of
the human incompleteness itself. In the last pages of her Passion she says:
Oh! My love,
don’t be afraid of neediness: it is our greatest destiny.
the poet who expands and dissolves himself in the world and nature, in the
manner of the Creator, Clarice, who is not afraid of incompleteness, grows
and expands herself in the last paragraphs of A
Paixão segundo G.H.:
was now so much bigger that I could not see myself anymore. As big as a
landscape in the distance. I was in the distance. More perceptible in my
ultimate mountains and in my most remote rivers.
how can I say it, if not timidly like this: life is it self my self. Life
is it self my self, and I don’t understand what I say. And then I adore.
Clarice Lispector’s work is a long poem in prose
that performs an oblique cut into reality in order to illuminate it with
her vision and to carve in it the adventure of her writing.
the first public meeting of the ALACL (Association of Readers and Friends
of Clarice Lispector’s ), which took place at the Biblioteca Nacional (National
Library) in Rio, 1995, we asked all those present why they were interested
in Clarice’s work. Actress Maria Esmeralda, her constant collaborator,
fascinates me and frightens me, because she seems to know more about me
MARIA ESMERALDA, actress.
had already said:
It was Clarice playing
Where the word seems to meet
Its reason for being
And portraying man.
DRUMMOND DE ANDRADE…
doesn’t denounce, she doesn’t tell, she doesn’t narrate nor does she
picture anything – she carves a tunnel in which she suddenly replaces
the searched for object in its unexpected essence.
CARDOSO, writer, moviemaker, painter and a great friend.
work recodifies and reinterprets in contemporary poetic prose the
Kabalistic beliefs. For the Kabala, as well as for Clarice herself,
existence reveals itself explicitly and structures itself in the certainty
of the Mystery that allows humanity to exercise its freedom (ZOHAR);
Creation is not a comprehension, it’s a new mystery -- Visão do
esplendor [Vision of the Splendor].
SCHWARTZ, M.A., professor, co-director of ALACL
(You get a thousand waves that I don’t get, I feel like a little radio,
only receiving the station on the corner and you receive radar, television,
and short waves. It’s funny, you hit me and you enrich me at the same
time, and that hurts a little, it
makes me feel less safe and secure.
BRAGA, writer and friend.
of certain important themes in the fiction of Clarice Lispector belongs in
the context of the philosophy of existence, composed of doctrines which,
although differing in their conclusions, have the same starting point: the
Kierkegardian intuition of the pre-reflexive, individual and dramatic
character of human existence. It deals
with issues such as angst, nothing, failure, language,
communication between consciousness, some of which traditional
philosophy had ignored or relegated to a second plane.
NUNES, philosopher, critic, writer.
write to you about your short stories book, Family Ties, for sheer shyness
of telling you what I think. Here it is: it is the most important
collection of stories published in this country since Machado de Assis.
VERÍSSIMO, writer and friend.
Where were you
You who return in the morning
with the ultra-world in your veins
among abyssal flowers?
We were in the
that the letter can reach:
reading Clarice’s book,
mystery and key in the air.
DRUMMOND DE ANDRADE
There is a
Brazilian literature B. C. (before Clarice) and another A.C. (after
Clarice). From the national narrative, inherited from the founding fathers
of fiction in the 19th century and renovated in the 20th
century through the modernist avant-gardes “à la chose”, to
Clarice’s text, in which what is narrated is not exactly the most
important thing, the distance was immense.
CONSUELO CAMPOS, PhD, professor, writer, co-director of ALACL
Lispector requires researchers that are willing to work with specific
books, refusing the totalizing model of historiographic criticism.
ZILBERMAN, PhD, professor, writer.
Nowadays it is
not excessive anymore to say that, in the culture of modernity, Clarice
belongs in the lineage of creators touched by uneasiness, of those who
follow the imperatives of the pulsion more than the laws that preside over
LÚCIA HELENA VIANNA, PhD,
professor, writer, co-director of ALACL.