Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Spotlight on ... Clarice Lispector 'The Hour of the Star' (1977)


'"I" is merely one of the world's instantaneous spasms.'
-- Clarice Lispector

'She was, said the great translator Gregory Rabassa, “that rare person who looked like Marlene Dietrich and wrote like Virginia Woolf”. Meanwhile, in Brazil, many Portuguese-speaking critics consider her to be the country’s greatest writer of the 20th century, a Brazilian Joyce. So why have we never heard of Clarice Lispector? Why has this literary sphinx barely entered the consciousness of the anglophone world? The answer, at least in part, lies with Lispector herself. She was an enigma during her lifetime, a woman who wrote: “I am such a mystery that even I don’t understand myself.” She had an oddness of literary style and personality that led the general public to question all aspects of her biography: was she a man, did she live abroad, was she writing under a pseudonym? Lispector did nothing to dissuade the conspiracists. To her, the truth was “always an interior and inexplicable contact. My truest life is unrecognisable... not a single word can describe it”.' -- Ed Caesar, The Times


'Clarice Lispector doted on the ugly, dull and superfluous. Over the course of her fifty years as a novelist, her characters became less intelligent. She began with self-conscious and lonely heroines and moved on to less pensive creatures: dogs, chickens, cockroaches and the smallest woman in the world. The triumph of her career is a dimwitted virgin named Macabéa, who subsists on hot dogs. Macabéa's "story is so banal that I can scarcely bear to go on writing," Lispector notes in her finest book, The Hour of the Star, published a few months before her death in 1977.

'Lispector was fascinated by the possibility of extinguishing self-consciousness; she idealized animals and idiots because they were free of the desire to translate their experiences into words. Unlike writers who make a game of their creative angst, Lispector appeared as if at any moment she might stop midsentence and abandon her typewriter. She was forbiddingly quiet--fans called her "the sacred monster" and "the great witch of Brazilian literature"--and she worried that her penchant for writing had become a pointless tic, a way to stave off loneliness. Lispector wrote to escape from herself, as if by spilling enough words onto the page she could slake the need for self-expression, an impulse she deemed gross and irresponsible.' -- Rachel Aviv, The Nation

Homage to Clarice Lispector: Photos, documents (7:05)

Clarice Lispector fala que Literatura é detestável (0:08)

Clarice Lispector interviewed in 1977 (in Portugese; 9:28)

The Hour of the Star
New Directions

'The Hour of the Star is a very abstract and experimental novel mostly told in a 3rd Person narrative about a north-east Brazilian girl living in Rio de Janeiro slums. Macabea, the girl from the north-east living in poverty and misfortunes. There are many like her in this world whose life does not matter to the world, their existence is a mere biological fact and nothing more. They have nothing to look forward to it and just pushes their life until death. As Macabea puts it, she should be happy that she is alive.

'This is a very sad and disturbing existential book written when Claris Lispector was diagnosed with cancer. This book written during her time of serious illness would definitely have provided her with enough personal difficulties. The 3rd person narrative ( The novel is as told by Rodrigo S M ) is her other self and it possibly is her attempt to detach herself from the story. The beauty of this novel is that you can have multiple interpretation of each character and incidents. Some of the prominent critics call this as "existentialism of the masses".

'Shortly after The Hour of the Star was published, Lispector was admitted to the hospital. She had inoperable ovarian cancer, though she was not told the diagnosis. She died on the eve of her 57th birthday and was buried on December 11, 1977, at the Jewish Cemetery of Cajú, Rio de Janeiro.' -- Brain Drain

Fragments from The Hour of the Star:

Everything in the world began with a yes. One molecule said yes to another molecule and life was born. But before prehistory there was the prehistory of prehistory and there was the never and there was the yes. It was ever so. I do not know why, but I do know that the universe never began.
----Let no one be mistaken. I only achieve simplicity with enormous effort. …
----In writing this story, I shall yield to emotion and I know perfectly well that every day is one more day stolen from death. In no sense an intellectual, I write with my body. And what I write is like a dank haze. The words are sounds transfused with shadows that intersect unevenly, stalactites, woven lace, transposed organ music. I can scarcely invoke the words to describe this pattern, vibrant and rich, morbid and obscure, its counterpoint the deep bass of sorrow. Allegro con brio. I shall attempt to extract gold from charcoal. I know that I am holding up the narrative and playing at ball without a ball. Is the fact an act? I swear that this book is composed without words: like a mute photograph. This book is a silence: an interrogation.


Unlike the reader, I reserve the right to be devastatingly cold, for this is not simply a narrative, but above all primary life that breaths, breaths, breaths. Made of porous material, I shall one day assume the form of a molecule with its potential explosion of atoms. What I am writing is something more than mere invention; it is my duty to relate everything about this girl among thousands of others like her. It is my duty, however unrewarding, to confront her with her own existence.


Remember that no matter what I write, my basic material is the word. So this story will consist of words that form phrases from which there emanates a secret meaning that exceeds both words and phrases. Like every writer, I am clearly tempted to use succulent terms: I have at my command magnificent adjectives, robust nouns, and verbs so agile that they glide through the atmosphere as they move into action . For surely words are actions?


Like every writer, I am clearly tempted to use succulent terms: I have at my command magnificent adjectives, robust nouns, and verbs so agile that they glide through the atmosphere as they move into action. For surely words are actions? Yet I have no intention of adorning the word, for were I to touch the girl’s bread, that bread would turn to gold — and the girl (she is nineteen years old) the girl would be unable to bite into it, and consequently die of hunger. So I must express myself simply in order to capture her delicate and shadowy existence.


The pond in my garden, now, in September, is swarming with tadpoles which should have transformed themselves into tiny frogs in the spring or early summer, but which, for some reason, were unable to make the leap. Macabéa is a tadpole. She will never be anything else. She loves Coca Cola and Marilyn Monroe and lives on hotdogs, she believes that good manners are the best thing that one can inherit, and she was born with a legacy of misfortune, a creature from nowhere with the expression of someone who apologizes for occupying too much space.


A scrawny fellow appeared on the street-corner, wearing a threadbare jacket and playing the fiddle. I should explain that, when I was a child and living in Recife, I once saw this man as dusk was falling. The shrill, prolonged sound of his playing underlined in gold the mystery of that darkened street. On the ground, beside this pitiful fellow, there was a tin can which received the rattling coins of grateful bystanders as he played the dirge of their lives. It is only now that I have come to understand. Only now has the secret meaning dawned on me: the fiddler’s music is an omen. I know that when I die, I shall hear him playing and that I shall crave for music, music, music.


afk4life said...

Interesting, I've added it to my list of books to read, the writing looks quite good. Thanks!

heliotrope said...

very cool Dennis. I thank you for this.

Hmm...on the homefront: Volvo blew up yesterday (made me very sad, I loved my Volvo)...Kaya is doing better than ever, hung out with the tall member of The Dils, getting a new mac for J to use for work...mid-way thru season 4 of Buffy (it's all your fault! well, and Joel's fault too!) we are BtVS junkies now...sleeping in the living room huddled around the glowing tube.

love you

Steven Trull said...

I spasms

tomkendall said...

Read this recently. I love her writing cause it's got all these temptations and warnings in the style.There's something in it I feel a real kinship towards. I need to read more of her stuff i think

Aaron said...

I remember really liking Hour of the Star. I read it a few years ago in college for some class, it was one of the highlights of the course along with Pedro Paramo.