Clarice Lispector, columnist

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By MARIA RITA KEHL*

Comment on a selection of chronicles by the writer who would be 100 years old on December 10th

The first edition, by José Olímpio, is from 1971. The title, List of modern chroniclers, gives away the age of the book. How long has it been since we called what is new “modern”? What was called modern did not become eternal, as Drummond wanted, but (for many), anachronistic. It is us? Instead of becoming eternal, we become contemporary with ourselves. And conservatives.

The cast from the last century mentioned on the cover is heavy: Drummond, Bandeira, Ruben Braga, Paulo Mendes Campos, Fernando Sabino – and just two women, Rachel de Queiroz and Clarice.

The chronicle is a very elegant literary form; Without consulting university students, I would venture to say that the chronicle is a commentary on a scene (between what happened and what was imagined) that the author, however, spares himself from explaining to us. The note in the first edition makes use of Mário de Andrade's comment – ​​“short stories are all we call short stories” – to avoid defining the chronicle. The reader does not need a definition to convince himself that Clarice Lispector is a first-rate chronicler.
What are the chronicles about? You're welcome - that's the art of the chronicle. They are everyday banalities, passing observations on domestic and urban events. Why urban?

Nothing prevents, in principle, the rural chronicle from existing. But not: the city is the scenario that allows these observations, in passing, about a small part of the lives of anonymous people. The chronicle is funny because it is a fragment of astonishment in the face of what seems familiar, but not. But it can also be inspired by what happens, eventually, also within the family.

If it is true that Clarice Lispector was melancholic in the Greek sense of the word (as opposed to the Freudian sense[1]), her chronicles lead the reader through the author's astonishment in the face of seemingly banal events, little happenings in life, in the world. Like the melancholics, this writer also places herself in life in a paradoxical way: she tries to look at things from the outside, because she doesn't belong, or doesn't want to belong, to anything. However, she cannot escape her own sensitivity: everything “makes her move like hell”[2]. He feels a little sorry for everything and everyone, even when he is impatient or irritated. An “obligatory” lunch spoils the Saturday that one wanted to be uncommitted, and there she went, reluctantly, to eat and drink. “We drank without pleasure, to the health of resentment[3]".

But the guest/author is startled, and then moved, by the dedication with which the hostess tries to please her guests: “so that woman gave her best, no matter who?[4]” In a way, this remark touches the narrator without moving her. "It wanted to be eaten as much as we wanted to eat it." That's why she eats. No pity, no passion, no hope – and at this point she begins to startle the reader: isn't that really how you eat? But not for the narrator. For the narrator, eating like this is almost like outraging the hostess who forced her into that Saturday she didn't want. So he ate, as he should; because the food was good but not craved. “I ate without any nostalgia[5]”. Why, this one.

The second chronicle deals with the brief history of Lisette, the little monkey that the writer bought on a street in Copacabana and, this time willingly and not out of embarrassment, she took to her children. Lisette lasted three days and died, but before that the narrator looked deep into her eyes and was sure that she couldn't stand this monkey existence. Is that why she died? “A week later, the eldest [son] said to me, 'You look so much like Lisette!' 'I like you too' I replied”.

Further on, there she is pushed into another social event, in this case imaginary: a tea…” that I would offer to all the maids I've ever had in my life. A ladies' tea, "but there would be no mention of maids"[6]”. And then follows the imagination of servants' conversations over tea, among which I single out the one that seems to me the most astute: “No, madam, trivial. I only know how to make poor food[7]".

The melancholy narrator, seized from time to time with a holy rage, at other times with what the Renaissance called la haine melancholique[8], can also be easily carried away by the sympathy, if not the pity, that the other inspires in him.

Other times, more rarely, he lets himself be taken by admiration. Like when you go to a flamenco dance – the one where, like in no other, “the rivalry between man and woman is laid bare[9]”. It is not difficult to imagine that the paradoxical temperament of the narrator, who sullenly resists the tenderness to which she already guesses that she will succumb, produces the same ambivalent movement in each of these chronicles. Hence, perhaps, his heightened sensitivity to life's ambivalences. The flamenco dance is “severe and dangerous (…) it is hard to understand that life continues after it: that man and that woman will die”[10]. But this observation cannot be definitive, or it would not be Clarice Lispector. Ambivalence returns in style and ends the paragraph triumphantly: “Whoever survives will feel avenged. But forever alone. Because only this woman was her enemy, only this man was her enemy, and they had chosen each other for the dance.[11]".

It couldn't have been easy for Clarice to be this woman, so devastated by indignation, astonishment and tenderness. Able to imagine, in a short story written in XXX, the bored housewife who chews on a cockroach trying to feel something; and, in his latest work, inventing a girl so humble, so poor in spirit and so resigned, that she only knows how to eat bread with mortadella and listen to the radio clock. Well: perhaps to invent Macabea's sad life, Clarice didn't need so much imagination: she was born in Ukraine, into a very poor family whose mother – as if little misfortune was really a silly thing – had become paralyzed precisely after giving birth to that daughter. It is not possible to know if the mixture of hardness and tenderness that runs through her texts comes from her life story. But it is also not a hypothesis to be ruled out.

His chronicles love paradox. There is a domestic coati that thinks of itself as a dog, and that at the end of each day watches the sky asking the stars the reason for its nostalgia, being “as happy as any dog[12]”. When visiting Brasília, in 1962, she imagines Lucio Costa and Oscar Niemeyer as “two lonely men” – this is the only way she manages to explain her vocation for inventing a city that the disgruntled visitor defines as “the unexplained astonishment (…) when I died, one day I opened my eyes. eyes and it was Brasilia[13]”. What impression could be cruder, what impression could be truer, about the inhospitable capital built in the middle of nowhere?

For that happens to the melancholic – hence the Renaissance association between melancholy and the so-called man of genius. The melancholic, from the Middle Ages to the Freudian era[14], would be characterized as someone of heightened sensitivity, labile temperament and brilliant intelligence, capable of oscillating between moments of great euphoria and genius and others of apathy and/or hatred against the world and against himself. Hence the increased risk of suicide among melancholics.

Hence, in Clarice Lispector, the fine sensitivity to all manifestations of the unadapted, such as the very red-haired girl suffering from hiccups (“What to do with a red-haired girl with hiccups?[15]?”). Or the brilliant and discarded idea of ​​a party just for friends who are no longer friends. His first intuition of Macabéa may have come from one of these chronicles, “An Italian in Switzerland”: it is about a young nun who left the convent, but does not know how to live life outside of it. What's the point of enjoying your newfound freedom… in Switzerland?
Clarice was perhaps that woman, capable of jumping all the walls and then asking herself what was so interesting on the outside.

*Maria Rita Kehl is a psychoanalyst, journalist and writer. Author, among other books, of Displacements of the feminine: the freudian woman in the passage to modernity (Boitempo).

 

Reference


Carlos Drummond de Andrade and others. List of modern chroniclers. Rio de Janeiro, José Olímpio.

 

Notes


[1] There is no room for theoretical explanations in this brief review. I just note that the difference between ancient and modern melancholy is that for the Greeks melancholic sensibility is associated with what we call “genius” while for psychoanalysis melancholy designates the suffering of the subject who unconsciously hates someone who has already been the object of great affection – and with that, he also hates himself.

[2] Known verse by Carlos Drummond de Andrade in the Seven-faced poem.

[3] 35 page.

[4] P. 36.

[5] P.37.

[6] My griffin.

[7] P. 204.

[8] The melancholy rage.

[9] P.252.

[10] P. 253.

[11] Idem.

[12] P.181.

[13] P. 133.

[14] In 1920 Freud wrote Mourning and Melancholy, one of his most important essays, in which he rescues melancholy from the old association with the genius personality and proposes a relationship between the lack of zest for life that characterizes melancholic suffering and the lack of joy with which the mother would have received that child. The oscillations between euphoria and hatred (mainly against himself) that the Freudian melancholic suffers would have their origin in the ambivalent relationship between the mother and the child – provoking, evidently, an ambivalence also in the child's love for her. In 19xx, André Green made an important contribution to Freudian theory with his book The dead mother.

[15] P. 83.

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