Posts Tagged ‘Clarice Lispector’

‘Near to the Wild Heart’ by Clarice Lispector – Hurricane Clarice


‘Near to the Wild Heart’ by Clarice Lispector   (1943) – 194 pages      Translated from the Portuguese by Alison Entrekin


You read Clarice for the intensity.

Reading her again, I had to relearn a lesson that I had learned before.

It is often difficult to follow Clarice’s tortuous lines of reasoning. But you always think if you concentrate a little more, don’t get distracted, it will all make perfect sense in the end.

The lesson I learned is to not even try to “get” everything in a Clarice Lispector novel because no matter how hard you try you will not “get” everything. Just relax and give up the struggle to reach full comprehension, because you won’t. Relaxing is probably the best way to “get” what is there. Guilt is a terrible inhibitor to understanding.

The title ‘Near to the Wild Heart’ is taken from the following quote from the novel ‘Ulysses’ by James Joyce.

He was alone. He was unheeded, happy, and near to the wild heart of life.”

Yes, Clarice Lispector and James Joyce are both “near to the wild heart of life”.

What Lispector has in common with James Joyce is the manic flight or rush of words that go beyond reason to a deeper understanding. There are very few writers who can go beyond reason to summon up more profound truths.

As Benjamin Moser puts it, Lispector’s writing is “shot through by a ceaseless linguistic searching, a grammatical instability, that prevents them from being read too quickly”.

The situation of this novel is really quite simple. Joana’s mother died when she was very little. Her father died when she was about ten, and she was taken in by an aunt and uncle who had a daughter of their own. She is sent off to a boarding school. Her aunt says of Joana:

She’s a viper. She’s a cold viper, Alberto, there’s no love or gratitude in her. There’s no point liking her, no point doing the right thing by her. I think she’s capable of killing someone…”

Later Joana develops a relationship with Otávio. Here Clarice captures young romance:

Because when he embraced her, he had felt her suddenly come to life in his arms like running water. And seeing her so alive, he had understood crushed and secretly pleased that if she wanted him he wouldn’t be able to do anything about it…When he finally kissed her he himself had finally felt free, forgiven beyond what he knew of himself, forgiven in what he knew lay beneath everything he was.

From then on he had no choice.”

Been there, done that.

However even before Joana marries Otávio, she realizes that she is going to leave him.

To Otávio she’d only be able to say the indispensable words, as if he were a god in a hurry, if she rambled on in one of those leisurely aimless chats, which gave her so much pleasure, she noticed his impatience or his excessively patient, heroic face, Otávio, Otávio. What to do?”

As soon as they are married, Otávio starts up with his old girlfriend Lidia again because “he never sees a woman with a large bust without thinking about laying his head on it”.

When I read Clarice, I have a tendency to want to quote nearly every line in the book.

She felt a perfect animal inside her, full of selfishness and vitality.”


Grade:   B+




‘Agua Viva’ by Clarice Lispector – The Stream of Living


Agua Viva’ by Clarice Lispector  (1973) – 88 pages               Translated from the Portuguese by Stefan Tobler

I have now read ‘Agua Viva’. My understanding of it is fragmentary, but, wow, the sentences. I expect there are many readers of it who have only a fragmentary understanding of what they have just read. If ‘Agua Viva’ made complete sense to someone, I would worry about that person. But the fragments are deeper and make more visceral sense than most writers’ complete thoughts.

Although ‘Agua Viva’ takes the form of a novella, it is probably more helpful to approach it as a poem or a chant.

Rather than to stick ‘Agua Viva’ with any sort of review, I am instead going to quote fragments that were particularly meaningful to me. There were many. Here are some lines from ‘Agua Viva’.

What is this that I am writing? As far as I know I never saw anybody write like this.”

And the world trembles within me.”

I’m after whatever is lurking beyond thought.”

When I think a painting is strange that’s when it’s a painting. And when I think a word is strange that’s when it achieves its meaning. And when I think life is strange that’s where life begins.”

I am a heart beating in the world.”

One of the most striking images in ‘Agua Viva’ is of a female cat giving birth to kittens. “The mother licks the sack of fluid so many times that it finally breaks and there a kitten almost free, only attached by its umbilical cord.” Reason alone cannot explain how birth takes place.

I may not have meaning, but it is the same lack of meaning the pulsing vein has.”

Whoever can stop reasoning – which is terribly difficult – let them come along with me.”

As for music, where does it go? The only concrete thing in music is the instrument. Far beyond thought I have a musical background. But even farther beyond there is the beating heart. Therefore the most profound thought is a beating heart.”

Am I one of the weak? A weak woman possessed by incessant and mad rhythm? If I were solid and strong would I even have heard the rhythm?”

I don’t want to have the terrible limitation of those who live merely from what can make sense.”

I struggle to conquer more deeply my freedom of sensations and thoughts without any utilitarian meaning: I am alone, I and my freedom.”

Nature is enveloping: it entangles me entirely and is sexually alive: just that, alive. I too am ferociously alive – and I lick my snout like a tiger who has just devoured a deer.”

I who come from the pain of living. And I no longer want it. I want the vibration of happiness.”

I hear the mad song of a little bird and crush butterflies between my fingers. I’m a fruit eaten away by a worm.”

The world has no visible order and all I have is the order of my breath. I let myself happen.”

It’s so hard to speak and say things that can’t be said. It’s so silent. How to translate the silence of the real encounter between the two of us? So hard to explain: I looked straight at you for a few instants. Such moments are my secret. There was what’s called perfect communion. I call it an acute state of happiness.”

This is not a message of ideas that I am transmitting to you but an instinctive ecstasy of whatever is hidden in nature.”

In one part of ‘Agua Viva’, Clarice Lispector describes various flowers. Here she describes the rose. “Rose is the feminine flower that gives herself wholly and such that the only thing left to her is the joy of having given herself.”

But I want to have the freedom to say unconnected things as a deep way of touching you.”

And so I realize that I want the vibrating substratum of the repeated word sung in Gregorian chant. At the bottom of everything, there is the hallelujah.”


Grade:   A+



%d bloggers like this: