Literature in quarantine: Living water

Image: Elyeser Szturm

By Benedito Nunes*

Clarice Lispector's book review

This book is a continuation and a new beginning: a continuation of Clarice Lispector's self-torn writing and a new beginning of the language drama that, already latent in Close to the Wild Heart (1944) and in the novel The City Besieged (1949), openly declares himself in The Apple in the Dark (1961), problematizing, from then until The Passion according to GH (1964), at the extreme limit of introspection in which the character disappears and the story dissolves, the singular position of the narrator and the reach of the narrative as such.

An Apprenticeship or The Book of Pleasures (1969) adopts, in contrast to the previous text, the narration in the third person; try to rescue the status character's literary character and reactivate the plot. Reply to the negative pedagogy, intrinsic to the experience of emptying in the 1964 novel, which dissolves common reality, proposes a difficult learning of human things and announces a “new realism”.

Jellyfish it is a continuation, because it returns to that experience that The Book of Pleasures interrupts, and is a restart, because the double emptying consummated in The passion – both of the subject-narrator, whose I disintegrates, and of the narrative, which has nothing else to narrate but the subject’s own wandering – is transformed into the new, athematic realism of the writing process, made by random search, conquest and loss of time, creation of survival and approach of death. A deed self-torn, conflictual, which before reached itself as a final limit and a disturbing necessity, is now the assumed contingency of transgressing representations of the world, language patterns, literary genres and protective fantasy.

Fiction is how the author describes her last book. But here, fiction is a verbal flux, which erases the difference between prose and poetry, extending itself, like a web continually made, unmade and remade, over the two great voids – the romantic and the sacred – that connect, in a way exemplary, the work of our fiction writer to the agony dimensions of a crisis literature.

Passionate meditation on the act of writing, in the way that the fiction writer called the “humility style”, the narrative without a story of Jellyfish it develops as an improvisation, randomly. But its real focus is on the ongoing debate between the writer and his vocation, between the writer and the words: “I write by acrobatic and aerial pirouettes – I write by deeply wanting to speak. Although writing is only giving me the great measure of silence” (p. 14).

What can this humble and fearful writer tell us? And what should the novelist write about? These are the questions that throb in the pages of Jellyfish, whose slight fictional artifice (the narrator is a painter, who intends to write as she paints, “round, coiled and warm”) results in the major confrontation, the authentic theme of an athematic work, between the need to say and the experience of being, in the course of of improvisations that oscillate at the whim of apparently disconnected motives – from the description of hypothetical landscapes to reflections on time, death and God, which could continue indefinitely in the tense rhythm of a tragic game, in which the narrator exposes himself. “I want to write to you like someone learning, I photograph every moment. I deepen the words as if I were painting, more than an object, its shadow…” (p. 15).

This book by Clarice Lispector, which will not be a “message of ideas” (p. 28) or an intimate confession, wants to give us, addressing the virtual reader that we all are, an “onomatopoeia, language convulsion” ( p. 32), and just convey to us the tone, the halo of things, the vision of God, of the impersonal, of what is “behind thought” (p. 34), and which is called it. In its struggle to settle in the court and mastering it, the act of writing, maximally agony, becomes an existential failure, always leading to an extreme situation, which borders the being through time: “I'm waiting for the next sentence. It's a matter of seconds. Speaking of seconds, I ask if you can handle time being today and now and already” (p. 41).

The novel then dissolves into the only story there is to tell: the story of the writer and his never-ending passion, a fragmentary story, without a plot of life, but which, as an instrument of penetration and dissolution, manages to exalt, in a single paradox, the joy of living and the "mind-blowing horror of dying".

If Clarice Lispector's novel is, among us, the most relevant expression of the crisis of a genre (with the cultural connotations that a crisis has), its problem is not, however, that of the pure and simple dismissal of history, for the reason , which the pseudo-objectivism of Alain Robbe-Grillet invokes, that “raconter est devenu impossible”. For Clarice Lispector, the impossibility is to narrate anything without at the same time narrating herself, without, in the dull light of her ontological realism, not exposing herself, first of all, to the risk and adventure of being, as O beforehand of literary narrative, which today's writer finds on the threshold of any possible story to tell.

* Benedito Nunes (1929-2011), philosopher, Professor Emeritus at UFPA, author, among other books, of The drama of language – a reading of Clarice Lispector (Rile up).

Originally published in the magazine Colloquium/Letters no. 19, in May 1974.


Clarice Lispector. Jellyfish. Rio de Janeiro, Rocco.


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