Clarice Lispector




Translated by Katrina Dodson

Penguin Classics 2015

My comments on the remaining stories will appear in the comments below as and when I read them.

35 responses to “Clarice Lispector


    “; my ensnarement comes from how one story is made of many stories.”

    And not only have I been ensnared by this concept when first conceiving the process of Gestalt Real-Time Reviewing, but also all my unbeknownst life. And now ensnared by this story itself. An epiphany of a story. One that surely must appeal to Horror genre readers as well as to those of High Literature, the two peaks of reading…
    I guess Sofia is the nine year old girl’s name in this story, not the capital of Bulgaria. But to mention that is belittling the story. But the inferred woman writing this story belittles her own much younger self’s sophistication by herself inferring from such a height of maturity such rarefied sophistication in one so little when in truth the little girl never really thought such things at all? Notwithstanding this, the narration is a highly compelling account of this nine year old girl – with a fleeting interpolation of her point of view from age thirteen – and her love-hate crush upon (and, inferentially, from) her male primary school teacher. There is too much to cover in a review, but I will add some quotes below that I find I can’t resist sharing with you, some of which quotes show how this story meaningfully sits within a nested gestalt of stories which, for me, have already been read, while teasing me about the stories about to be read. The image of what passed between the teacher and child when finally alone is more significant than childbirth and nothing I can write here will be able to do justice to the power of the translated text’s still hidden treasure. Or, at least, still hidden for you. You have to trust in the power outlasting any medium or intermediary. And Lispector herself may be translating a text deeper still. The Lie Inspector now come to fruition.

    “; not to mention that I was permanently busy wanting and not wanting to be what I was, I couldn’t decide which me, every me was impossible; having been born meant being full of mistakes to correct. No, it wasn’t to annoy the teacher that I didn’t study; all I had time for was growing up. Which I was doing all over, with an awkwardness that seemed more the result of a mathematical error:”

    “…and on every trunk we had carved the date, sweet ugly names and hearts pierced with arrows; boys and girls made their honey there.”

    “I can’t possibly imagine with what childish words I could have revealed a simple sentiment that becomes a complicated thought.”

    “What I saw was as anonymous as a belly opened up for an intestinal operation.”

    “…and therefore I had wronged him with the fib about the treasure. Back then I thought everything made up was a lie,”

    “: he too, a man, believed, as I did, in big lies…”


    “No one spoke ill of anyone because no one spoke well of anyone.”

    This brief story reminds me of a foreign cinema film in rare colour from the fifties or maybe sixties where not much happens, very atmospheric; a family (like that in ‘Happy Birthday’?) gathers around for an unexpected feast provided mysteriously by someone who washes your feet first, some inverse Messiah, possibly, or a gloomy God, who cares little if this is the first harvest of food or the last. I know little that is so stoical, so lackadaisical, so bereft of volition … and my envisaged film has no need of subtitles, because – you guessed it – nobody says anything at all. The mere exchanging of food is sufficient…?

  3. imageTHE MESSAGE

    “But they had a life that was poor and anxious as if they would never grow old, as if nothing would ever happen to them – and so the house became an event.’

    A teenage girl and boy in mutually insulated stoicism, as if infected by the previous story. A rarefied theme and variations on anguish, poetry and lies. It flowed through me with a similar insulation against comprehension, but deep down I am sure I did understand it. A subtle alchemy of wisdom. Between the house and the buses. The anguished house.

    “They looked at the house like children facing a stairway.”

    “Like homosexuals of the opposite sex, and with no possibility of uniting, as one, their separate misfortunes.”


    “And she had the air of an immigrant who lands still dressed in her country’s traditional clothing.”

    A very brief gestalt of a message for our migrant times and this author’s earlier communing with the buffalo and other ‘human’ animals together with her smallest woman in the world, but here it is in her own house, not a zoo, and it is her soul rather than her body that is ‘murdered’ in some version of Poe’s Rue Morgue…


    “To the egg I dedicate the Chinese Nation.”

    When a text has the word ‘egg’ liberally nested within it, as you can see it is a very strange experience – and I found my mind wandering beyond the shell of its meaning as a result. It is the ‘gg’ that stands out like insect eggs or eyes with lorgnettes. I wonder if the same effect works in the original language of this story? I think this question is significant to this mind-bogglingly philosophical ‘curate’s egg’ of a story and to the nature of the madness that created not only this egg but also the whole translated book. Which is the egg, which the chicken? The retrocausal translation of the English by the Portuguese, or vice versa?
    I keep my powdered egg dry.


    “Unsuspecting, nonchalant dog.”

    A sobbing red-haired little girl sitting on the front step of her house is encountered by a basset hound, and the resultant communion and outcome are beautifully conveyed in just three pages. I am tempted to say that it is like an element of myself meeting the living essence of this book. And I shall remember this book when the book has forgotten me.


    “At her feet the dog was gnawing at its own paw, growling.”

    That is the only mention of the dog in the whole of this highly poignant story. But I imagine the little girl in the previous story has now grown old, with a black dress as “an old document of her life”, and detached families keep palming her off on each other until we weep at her ending, remembering that she kept seeing deceased members of her family in moments of what I can only call the senile fog of memory, until, all too soon, we forget we once read this story about her.


    “Indeed Almira seemed to have grown even fatter in those last few seconds, and with food still stuck in her mouth.”

    A parabulous short short about Almira’s one-sided attempt to be friends with Alice, leading to a shocking outcome that makes me think I like Lispector for her fables or parables due to their having amorals rather than morals.


    “…while also wrinkling his nose, which made his glasses slip — expressing in this twitch his attempt to substitute the judgement of other people with his own, in an attempt to deepen his own perplexity.”

    This story is full of such perplexity for the Lie Inspector, inspecting closely, VERY closely, as she does here, the point of view of a clever boy while dealing with his own cleverness in interface with the world by means of a series of productivities emerging from counterproductivities, and vice versa.
    As an oblique counterpoint to this, he pitches the tic-like phenomenon of his spectacles for short sight against his older childless female cousin’s gold tooth, making these phenomena seem to be ‘objective correlatives’ resonating with her parental love for him, a love tantamount to the retrocausality of her having given birth to him in the first place!


    “From the previous story the rooster crows.”

    Lispector’s own gestalt real-time review (showing that I did not invent this way of reviewing), a gestalt real-time review of various stories – but all the stories thus reviewed are part of this brief single story that actually becomes tantamount to her review. About killing cockroaches and turning them into statues – and more.
    Brilliant dreamcatcher!


    “Our friendship was as unsolvable as the sum of two numbers: it was pointless trying to explore for more than a second the certainty that two and three make five.”

    This is a dry, but fundamentally moving, account of a (Platonic) friendship between two men, as close bosom pals. Yet it is a friendship that is certain to exhaust itself whatever the closeness, whatever the small talk or issues concocted to maintain the illusion of an all-confiding friendship.
    I wonder if this brief story is the book’s own message to me about our sincere friendship as book and its reader, whatever the concoctions of small talk etc that each creates for the other, the book via its text, myself via this review?


    “It would already be as if I had seen, black outline on a white background, a man and a woman. And on that white background my eyes would be riveted with quite enough to see, for every word has its shadow.”

    Not quite enough but too much to see, in fact, as this observation of a married couple – in interesting comparison with the friendship in the previous story – literally teems with densely packed ideas like non sequiturs as word shadows, the expectations, the routines, the sudden silences of being alone, the touching bottom as well as touching base, the need for purpose… I drowned in the words. The characters threatened being drowned, too, as described by those very words that have already drowned me.


    “Yet wanting the chick to be happy just because we loved it was loving our own love.”

    Another significantly substantive story akin to ‘The Buffalo’ and what I shall now call its uniquely Lispectorus as pivot. A transformation, often a fleeting one, something like becoming, say, a painting by Max Ernst, something with love in it as well as monstrousness. Here a dusky, slightly foreign daughter of the woman narrator’s neighbour … A transformation by ‘objective correlative’: a transformation by peeping chick…
    The chick itself, though, is real enough. Feather and bones. We can feel its influence working through the words and through the people the words create around the chick, the sophisticated denseness smoothing into something one can whip into a quick batter in cooking.
    A symphony of martyrdom, miscegenation, therefore-ness “in an unerring concatenation”, expectations, misunderstandings, the upholding of standards, naivety of presumed ownership, allowing you to want things more easily as if someone else expressed that they wanted you to want them…
    I want these stories.



    “Our beloved King distributes us to posts of extreme responsibility,…”

    A complex interchange of views, in a dramatic format like a theatrical play, about a sinning woman, statements from her lover, her husband, and Invisible Angels who are forcing their way into birth as children – despite the world’s anti-natalism? And from others. I feel subsumed by the eschatology of punishment and spirit forces working in opposite directions to each other as they commune upon the theme of sin. I even sensed the power of the King in Yellow around me, engulfed by his flame, the King in Yellow that is another theatrical play to vie with this one – and to become a single play?


    Imagine that the whole of this five page story is equivalent to each of the quotes with which I have been heading my individual story reviews above. It needs to be read as such. Following on from the concept of ‘Invisible Angels’ in the previous story as thrusting self-creators from nothing into babyhood, here we have a similar concept but now it is a preternatural premonition of those who create and recreate themselves on, say, today’s Facebook, with photographs as visual avatars etc. Read the whole story and see.


    “We launch it into space, we launch it from our umbilical cord, and this thrust is for eternity.”

    Like much of Lispector, a gestalt of opposites, the paradoxical oxymoron of those in t e previous two stories thrust from nothing into selfhood, despite anti-natalism, a ‘suicide mission’ towards eternity, with a cylinder known as ‘metallic line’ wherein we might live like wifi mites as if in a metaphorical spacecraft, an eternitycraft…
    So much to suss out in this literary Tardis of around two pages of text.


    “; what upholds me is knowing that I shall always fabricate a god in the image of whatever I need in order to sleep peacefully,…”

    This is another deliberately blunt Occam’s razor taken to various overlapping polarities, if polarities can indeed be overlapping. Well, I reckon they can be in the Lie Inspector’s world! Here, a complexly ethical slant upon justice, the protocols of capital or hitman punishment, so-called madness and sanity, ideas we can take to many political and terrorist situations in the world today, 50 years or so after this was written.
    Also it seems to have the rhythm or template of the poem ‘Solemn 23’ I read today in that other review to which I linked above. I felt Psalm 23.4 and the Lord’s Prayer embedded at least syntactically if not always semantically in this text, imaginary or not on my part…


    A short portrait of serial tantalising and taunting, the ‘next day’ syndrome, two girls, one large the other slender, a book tantamount to a lover….
    The egg and the chicken or the sharing of loaves?


    “…it was a vital and necessary fear for it went along with my deepest suspicion that the human face was also a kind of mask.”

    This is, for me, an effective parallel with the previous story enabling the two stories, by symbiosis, to help each other gain even more power – here again two girls, but the excited ‘the next day’ obsession now being the carnival rather than the book, and the difference between the girls not being one of size or ability to bully, but rather it is the sameness of carnival costume (both girls as ‘roses’ in pink crepe paper) and the subsequent agonising difference that is cruelly enforced on the narrator girl by circumstances.
    Also entranced by the masks theme – reminding me of ‘Mystery in São Cristóvão’…a further symbiosis of one story with another.

  20. EAT UP, MY SON

    “Don’t cucumbers seem inreal?”

    A conversation between mother and child, displaying how children often ask the silliest but possibly the most important questions of all. Just as this very brief pointless story itself somehow asks, I infer, why it exists at all,


    “–that God without pride or pettiness would let someone show affection toward Him,…”

    This is an epiphany of Rat and God, and seems to evoke themes in the three books I am concurrently reviewing. It is a striking mother’s prayer – I call it prayer even if the text doesn’t – to the God she has invented, for good or ill – and by this invention makes Him a fiction, this fiction?
    See here and here.

    “The time it took to reach the rose was a century of my heart pounding.”

    An engaging account of two girls, one the lookout, the other the narrator as protagonist stealer of roses. And of those berries called pitangas that hide themselves within hedges but really want stealing – like virgins wanting deflowering?
    The yearning to steal the rose in particular, when factored into the two girls of ‘Remnants of Carnival’ takes on a new meaning?
    Forgiveness or solitude, childhood is just the start.

  23. A HOPE
    “But how lovely the hope is: it alights more than it lives, it’s a little green skeleton,…”

    A short piece that hangs on ‘a hope’ and ‘a cricket’ in Portuguese being the same word, while all over the world a spider means good luck. Hope: the ultimate ‘silly point’, I ask?


    “Yes, there was depth in her. But no one would find a thing if they descended into her depths — except depth itself, as in the dark you find the dark.”

    And that is perhaps the nub at the centre of a complexity distilled within this short indefinite portrait of 19 year old Eremita. A hermit soul, we all begin and end, with survivalism between? Outside the shell?


    “…even pen and ink bleed on the paper beyond the incredibly fine line of extreme presentness in which he lives.”

    We seem to be, in the book’s current territory of relatively brief but dense pen portraits, trying ‘to pin down the ineffable’, a phrase I have lifted from this particular work, a work that not only embodies ink as a wetness like blood, but also like urine, and the end image of his mother changing his nappy, as he continues to thrust into a relationship with that mothers – and into his evolving self, like those earlier Invisible Angels? Truth as madness.

    “The girl hadn’t yet understood that people can’t be cured of being people and chickens of being chickens:”

    Not chicken and egg so much as chicken and Eucharist, I guess.
    Another lesson for this book’s little girl before she grows up and dates men.

    “When people eat animals, the animals become more like people, since they end up inside us.”


    “She and the sea.”

    An intense communion or between a woman and the sea. A danger like all making love.


    “…my ghost becomes fully embodied in me, and we venture somewhat haughtily into that outside world.”

    This is perhaps the nub of this whole book. An Invisible Angel in its final thrust as missionary position on a planeflight..,
    With a sense of humour to round it off, something that I have not been astute enough to mention before now, a sense of humour that sits well with some of these otherwise tense, dense, emotional spasms.

    “From a sleeping dream he shifted to a waking dream, which is now an illness.”

    As if in honour to me, Lispector now real-time reviews someone else’s story, and like its Invisible Angel, I guess, makes it her own. As I am trying to do with hers!


    “The thing was to pool your saliva, and that’s what he did. After gathering it in his burning mouth he swallowed it slowly, over and over.”

    A field trip in a bus and a boy’s coming of age by kissing a statue whose water poured from its mouth. That seem somehow appropriate to finish this section of the book. Another Fever Dream?

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