star hour

Carlos Zilio, THE APPROXIMATION, 1970, 47x32,5


Commentary on Clarice Lispector's book and Suzana Amaral's film

In times of brutalist, hypermimetic literature,[1] Written and/or performed by all sorts of underprivileged people, it is worth revisiting an extraordinary aesthetic experience. Clarice's last book, published in 1977, The Hour of the Star must delight semioticians, those who see only half of it... so much metalanguage! It is worth meditating, however, whether they are conscious or not, the most decisive choices of the writer, which give the exhibition of literary resources, the acute awareness of poetic making, etc., etc., its deepest political meaning.

We can imagine how much certain demands, sometimes more or less veiled, might have cost Clarice, her elitist, alienated, psychological, intimate, metaphysical literature, or whatever, drenched as it was by “unnamed sensations”,[2] compared to the most militant literature of the 30s, 40s, 50s, 60s, 70s, of his entire literary life, anyway. Her response by all accounts couldn't have been more exemplary.

Through it we seem to touch the limits of literature (Literature? with a capital letter?), of that activity, for many good people, definitely surpassed (alas for us!), at least in the classic (conservative?) frameworks, not only in Brazil but also in in the world (meaning: the world that culturally imports and exports to the country).

Let's do now, let's make an effort, an exercise in going back in time, in historical imagination. We are in 1977, the military dictatorship is dying, which probably strangled our greatest possibility of turning around, but we are still optimistic, it is always with hope that a dictatorship emerges, the student movement is resurrected, popular movements grow, soon they enter the scene the workers; the cultural industry in the country is not exactly nascent, but neither has it yet given the measure of its devastating power; Clarice alive, Drummond and Cabral still alive, Bandeira and Rosa dead just a decade ago, the bastion of “high literature” survives unattacked for the time being.

Poverty, well, poverty has not yet given the measure of its newness, articulated as it is to the horizon that opens (?!), that tears the small national screen, but it is also far from being new, as we know. We are all familiar with it to some extent, given that it shapes our deepest historical sensibility; lived or imagined, feared or overcome, despised or enjoyed, praised or hated, most live with it on a daily basis, whether in passing, in the lighthouses of life, whether in the form of domestic servitude, buried in our homes as an eternal reminder of the our share of the generalized social inequity.


It is this poverty, harmless so to speak, that Clarice will deal with. The theme, when treated honestly, was never easy, and the writer is fully aware of its difficulties; authentic minefield, it is not for nothing that she makes pop up everywhere, in her reckless investigation of the terrain, the countless flashes of (explosion).[3] Witness of the war without truce, to the point of hearing even the martial drum roll,[4] he is the narrator, the scene of a true literary class struggle in his tormented adventure to understand Macabean life.

Was there another poverty? Of course there was, active, claiming, “collective”,[5] and of course Clarice knew violence and its literary charms. But the writer, suspicious perhaps of the seduction of blood, opted for Macabéa, poor thing, poor thing, incapable of killing a fly, poor thing. So helpless and moving (irritating?), by the way, it is moving to see, almost ten years later, the beautiful film by Suzana Amaral, from 1985, dealing with redeeming her from her inhuman condition, by accentuating — eliminating the problematic narrator of the book — the process of formation of the identity of a Macabéa that did not have time to complete itself, except in the last scene, in Hollywood, as if in the suffering imagination of the spectator, in tune with our most intimate desire, so unbearable is the fate of the character in the novel (soap opera?).

To make up for it a little perhaps, perhaps out of gender solidarity, the film perpetrated an enviable (feminist?) ,[6] as well as his political project, to represent in his home state. He left him alone on the public bench, in a memorable scene, sitting and desolate next to the useless stuffed dog... to stop being a scoundrel, scoundrel, sexist, son of a bitch!

This is not to say, of course, that there is no violence in the book. Could there be a more violent death than that of Maca? It's the hour of death, his moment of stardom, when he debuts his only and last moment of public attention, trampled that he was, supreme irony, by the star of Mercedes. Was there then a more violent, violated life than Macabéa's?

What the writer did was escape the immediate relationship between marginality and violence, which, after all, we can end up deploring and regretting, but what to do? It could be a case of public safety, on the right, or income distribution, on the left (or vice versa, God knows, that we now all profess to be under the same Order, champions that we are of the rationality of economic irrationality). Clarice's choice not only allowed her to escape violence, but also led her to situate her in the very order of everyday life, of national normality. In a word, the violence that it was supposed to summon to indignation, to public (popular?) revolt, was, neither more nor less, than Macabéa life itself. And the figure of Marcélia Cartaxo, interpreting the character, is simply imperishable.

But the refined will rightly object that one cannot speak oh in life! that Macabéa doesn't exist, she's a fictional character… In fact, the writer makes a point of revealing the book's formation process, the comings and goings, the decisions and indecisions in the elaboration of a literary work, and she does it so openly that… Exhibitionism? Sclerosed virtuoso?

Everything is invented there, from the end to the beginning, starting with the title. Known though by one, which is not even the first, the writer lists twelve others, to the taste of the customer: “it's my fault or the star's time or she fixes herself or the right to cry or about the future or regret of a blue or she doesn't know how to scream or a sense of loss or hissing in the dark wind or I can't do anything or record of background facts or tear-staining history of cordel or discreet exit through the back door”. As for the future, the same indecision, which is much considered, suspected, but the outcome is not definitively drawn, although it remains to hover, a dark star, over Maca's head.

In a book so brazenly invented, certain things could evidently pass by… Why invent, for example, such an unlikely occupation (in terms of duration, at least) with the character's characterization itself? A typist, let's face it, if we all know that Macabéa, as they say, was at best a housemaid! Why invent a male narrator so little differentiated from his female counterparts? Rodrigo SM (Your Majesty?) is so clear as a narrator that we could be left without realizing the precise reason for such a choice. ex machina. How then to understand certain “flaws” of the great writer?

To the disappointment of formalists, the stripping away of literary procedures, from cover to cover, starting with the alternative names of the book, not to mention those of the characters, so allegorical, symbolic and apostolic! going through the creation of a male narrator (distant from the author, in theory, from her person literary, but whose artificiality helps to open wide the political meaning of the literary opening), passing through the creation of a character that is guessed, groping in the dark, as if modeling itself from the mud that we knead, passing through the precarious creation of a minimal plot, or better perhaps, by the minimal creation of a precarious plot, until reaching an ending whose supreme irony gives the measure of its success, — the shameless exhibition of literary making, in short, has a name, yes, and it is not metalanguage, no, nor congeners.

Its name is simple: honesty. Guys? narrative? literary? policy? ideological? Absolute. Honesty so exemplary that it makes the most well-intentioned and gifted writers of the left tremble at their foundations or in their graves. And not only by thematizing the poverty of the Brazilian people, but by addressing, as a narrator of a privileged class, the aporias of those who honestly propose themselves to the undertaking, because how honestly to do it, being from another class, another culture, another life , other everything? Therefore, the narrator's delay, the delay in starting, the delay in continuing, the delay in finishing have nothing to do with literary suspense technique, but with incorporating all the constraints involved in the creation of a world to its stranger.

To show here that a book is a book, that it can have one title, several, a dozen of them, that it has a visibly constructed narrator, that it has a visibly constructed protagonist, that has decisions and indecisions from end to end, — show a book in elaboration, to show it gradually being made in front of our eyes, brings a most fruitful lesson. If the writer's purpose, veiled or not, was to respond to the demands of her more progressive peers, her response could not have been more complete — a book is a book.

The conclusion, obviously, gives food for thought. For to reveal it with such honesty — in the highest sense of the word, touches the limits of literary activity itself, whose strength and whose weakness are here to the fracture exposed. That is to say, Macabéa does not exist, but since then there have been many Macabéas, as there have been and there are so many Severinos. The power of literature is undeniable. Its strength, however, does not hide its weakness. No matter how masterpiece it is, a book cannot change our historical reality. The word is from someone who spent his life with a typewriter in his lap, typing, dirtying the paper with his impressions… like Maca.

“Typists” both? and both marginal? Clarice's demagogy the approach? No. Uncomfortable though, the writer knew that, according to the degree of deprivation, comfort varies on the periphery of the periphery, that there are both more enjoyable margins and absurdly narrow margins, without prejudice, however, to being easily disposable in a world order of all alien to human will.

But “high literature” would indeed have something to teach—nowadays! with that Macabéa life, so odorless, so insipid, so dull, notwithstanding how much people laugh at Maca and her beatices?

Some, even more refined, may rightly object to me that it was not literature that changed, it was poverty,[7] and it was the country, and it was capitalism, aware that literature and society fight each other to the death. That it was literature that was finally changed... Ah, good times when there were Macabéas! good times when the poor ate more or less what the rich ate, when the poor more or less wore what the rich wore! Good times when the poor more or less assimilated the rich!

With the country disintegrated today with the accelerated internationalization of capital, the slow process of construction and national integration interrupted, as Celso Furtado would say, the poor, so far from the wealthy, and the rich, so expatriate nowadays, cosmopolitanized that they are at the expense of the high consumption — the new poor and the new rich can no longer recognize each other, completely unknown to each other. In such cases, of mutual ignorance, such as finding it strange that the maid will slit the head of the mistress, as almost happens following the Chronically Unfeasible, the film directed by Sérgio Bianchi?[8] Due to the almost impossibility of minimal human recognition, the ongoing violence in the country is fully justified.

It is as if the new poor, in contrast to the (extinct?) ancestor of our romantics, our modernists, our communists, our populists, had nothing left but the violent expropriation of consumer goods, unattainable despite the bombardment of media, with which contemporary society hypocritically, sadistically beckons.

That said, the consequent literature would also only have to follow the change, — a change of such magnitude that it leads the critic José Antônio Pasta to speak, instead of form, of “formativity”,[9] in an attempt to account for the most representative literary experiences in progress in the country, under the empire of the cultural industry. The concept (plastic?), notable for several aspects, seeks to elucidate, for example, how City of God, by Paulo Lins, can be reformatted or performed, without any disrepute, in a new, revised and reduced version… to the horror of young conservatives.

Truth aside, and narcommedia illuminates with blinding clarity the image and the mirage of the new poor, averse to any resistant romanticism or folklorism, I believe that star hour it still teaches us a new lesson. The actual theme of the book is not poverty, or the poor. The theme, as we know, is in the relationship, very complicated, as the narrator testifies, that we maintain with our secular misery, more precisely — in the reaction of literature, and all its humanizing tradition (of teaching as life teaches, with its light and its darkness, in the words of the Critic),[10] in the very reaction of “high literature” in the face of the lowest condition to which man can be subjected.

The relationship is extremely complicated, because, after all, God forbid and keep us, we could have been born Macabéa...[11] Thus, we have to concede that it is far, in its human condition, inhuman, subhuman, whatever it may be, from the literate, and at the same time close, so close, as the book exemplarily indicates, that we can study it... in us, as a good literary creation that it is, believable down to the last pubic hair, isn't it?

It goes without saying that it is we others, that it is literature that humanizes it (to a certain extent, of course, that we are not crazy to conceive it entirely in our image and likeness), by recognizing in it an unmistakable human sign, “the only mark vehement of its existence", "the small sex but unexpectedly covered with thick and abundant black hair".[12] The other star, whose hour has not yet sounded,[13] there it remained, to those who knew how to see and hear it, not asking, from its hungry core, but “demanding”… Complement, need? In a single ray we go from low to high recognition. Self? Macabeas all of us? New demagogy? No. Perhaps the writer was just warning that, human deprivation being a matter of degree, the sun not only does not shine for everyone, but it is still far from shining in all its splendor even for the happy minority.

In a way, discounting our probable idealism, this is what leads Roberto Schwarz to unconditionally defend, without going into the merits of literary quality, the presence of lyricism in City of God.[14] In this “improbable lyricism”, capable of displacing the heavy class discourse of the social inquiry that is at the origins of the novel, the irreducible humanity that unites us all in that collective undercurrent that the philosopher speaks of, shines in some way.[15]

Even the film — regardless of the possible aesthetic effectiveness of the expedient, which seeks to translate the poetic insolence of the book in its own way — even it aspires, through the introduction of a good-natured narrator, a link of communion with the humanity of the “loose animals”. ”. There's nothing like someone with their feet in two worlds to serve as a bridge, the more penile, the more humane, as the friendly and restless Busca-Pé proves.

The theme — literary, it must be repeated, does not obscure barbarism. Rather, it accentuates it, by displaying literature as it is, without disguise: a document of culture and original guilt. Had it not been for such a profession of aesthetic faith, the book seems to insinuate, betting on communicating vessels, however untouchable they may be, we would be condemned — if I may update the discussion — to wade into increasingly disparate worlds, bump into piles and more piles of islands, and end up admitting multiculturalism as the maximum expression of time, with each one talking about their islet, or keeping silent, and that's it.

It may be, indeed it is, that the time of "high literature" is past and much longer than we think, and that these words are ironically coined. in memoriam meam. Run over by history, may Literature be light on me, I shudder in the public square... But, like a good dying person, I couldn't avoid the last words.

a big book, star hour, full of lessons, and the greatest lesson, which is a book, a great book, the simplest, a book, the highest, a great book, a book.

I mean then, can the boorish people object, that this is all literature? that is nothing more than books, mere books, and books on the margins, the most precious vein of the cultural heritage of Humanity?

Well, as long as we have a left afflicted with parliamentary stupidity, or with executive omnipotence (the highest stage of parliamentarism), which in the end is memamé (ie, the same shit); as long as the left (left?!) is incapable of seriously articulating culture and politics, of not merely reducing it to MPB xous, forró, or anything like that; while not blatantly using man's cultural production, as the right does with its structural canonization; as long as we do not instrumentalize it against barbarism (a very different thing from instrumental art, which, if it is the role of the authentic artist to freely make art, the role of the authentic left is necessarily to politicize it); while the left does not socialize all of universal literature, from Homer to the wildest contemporary poet; as long as the left does not understand that revolutionary politics is made with a culture lived day by day, watered and rooted day by day, the only way to produce a truly revolutionary culture, in an attempt to overcome the globalized catastrophe; as long as Brazilian social-medocracy prevails, feather or overalls, — the great writer will have the last word.

No matter how powerful, a book is a book (explosion), as is a magazine, an article… finally articles of conspicuous consumption.

*Airton Paschoa is a writer, author, among other books, of the life of penguins (Nankin, 2014)

Published in the magazine footer — contemporary Brazilian literature review, in 2004, under the title “The Hour (and the tips) of the Star”.


[1] See, by Alfredo Bosi, “Literary Studies in the Age of Extremes”, footer No. 1, Nov./2001. At the other “extreme” would emerge the mannerist, mannered, post-modern, hypermediated literature, literary literature, in a word, faithful depositary of intertexts.

[2] The Hour of the Star, RJ, Rocco, 1998, p. 47.

[3] There are around 19, if I'm not lacking in arithmetic, the “countless” explosions scattered throughout the minuscule book: p. 24, 28, 42, 43, 58, 60, 61, 62 (small), 66 (two, one of them small), 71, 75, 76, 77 (three), 78 (two) and 79, — in a crescendo, as one hears, as one approaches… death? of life? of the truth? of your time.

[4] Id, P. 22.

[5] The short story by Rubem Fonseca that we take as a counterparadigm, “O collector”, is part of the homonymous collection that came out around the same time, 1979.

[6] Id, P. 61.

[7] I translate, I hope without betraying too much, the argument of Paulo Arantes at the Cinemateca Brasileira in the middle of last year, on the occasion of “Semana Paulo Emílio”. Such is the country's disaster, the main object of study of our greatest film critic, who, revived, — provokes Paulo Arantes, — the master would certainly abandon cinema and dedicate himself to television criticism, a vehicle today capable of giving the measure whole, the very disproportionate (hypermimesis?) of the state of national decomposition.

[8] Regarding the film, see our essay, “The Middle Class Goes to Hell”, USP Magazine n.º 49, Mar/Apr/May 2001 [republished in Film Studies 2000 — Socine (Brazilian Society of Film Studies), organized by Fernão Pessoa Ramos et al., Porto Alegre, Editora Sulina, 2001].

[9] The debate, “Intervention Criticism”, was promoted by three literary magazines, footer, Sebastian e Cactus, and took place in São Paulo at the end of last year. Mediated by Iumna Maria Simon, it also had the presence of Iná Camargo Costa, Paulo Arantes and Roberto Schwarz.

[10] From Antonio Candido, the lesson, explicit and implicit, is found everywhere.

[11] “(…) (When I think that I could have been born her — and why not? — I shudder. And it seems like a cowardly escape from not being me, I feel guilty as I said in one of the titles.)” (The Hour of the Star, on. cit., P. 38).

[12] “... …)” (id., on. cit., P. 70).

[13] Or it sounded at the time of death, as a foreshadowing: “(…) And from the head a trickle of blood unexpectedly red and rich. What she meant was that after all she belonged to a hardy, stubborn dwarf race that will one day perhaps claim the right to scream” (Id., P. 80).

[14] "City of God", sequences Brazilian, SP, Co. of Letters, 1999.

[15] Theodor Adorno, “Lírica e Sociedade” (translation by Rubens Rodrigues Torres Filho, assisted by Roberto Schwarz), Benjamin, Adorno, Horkheimer, Habermas (The Thinkers), SP, April Cultural, 1980.

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