Essays & Fragments: Clarice Lispector

Here is what Clarice Lispector has to say about understanding and intelligibility:

“The desirable thing is to be intelligent and to not understand. It is a strange blessing, like experiencing madness without being insane. Everything I do not know forms the greater part of me: This is my largesse. And with this I understand everything. The things I do not know constitute my truth.”

I love this.

If you have not yet encountered the magnificent enigma that is Clarice Lispector, allow me the pleasure of introducing you. In his recent book Benjamin Moser describes her as possible the most important Jewish writer since Kafka (and notes her “penchant for Chanel suits” …)

I first encountered the writing of Clarice Lispector in a fourth-year comparative literature course called, enigmatically, “Writing the Fourth Dimension.” We read Lispector’s 1977 novel The Hour of the Star (A hora da estrala) and I was astonished when, upon opening my text, I discovered that there were an additional dozen or so possible titles. It was as though Lispector couldn’t — or more likely wouldn’t — settle on a singular, defining title. The novel, like the protagonist Macabea, refused to be pinned down.

In this essay, “The Egg and the Chicken,” Lispector writes in the Brazilian genre of the crónica. In his introduction to this essay John D’Agata describes the crónica as a dialogic and conversational genre, something most often found in the daily newspaper. Lispector was approached to write a crónica for a Brazilian paper but she was apprehensive. She demurred, D’Agata notes, because she was concerned that the form of the crónica would not fit with her highly experimental writing style. She was concerned that the conservative genre wouldn’t push her artistic and aesthetic experimentations further. Happily, for whatever reason, Lispector changed her mind. She wrote numerous crónica: something on sleep and then something about children. Later she wrote “On Water, “On Illness,” “On the Experience of Dying.”  

What I love about Lispector’s work is this: it is evocative, it is impossible, it asks language to do impossible things, and it asks the reader to go there with it.

Here is a link to “The Egg and the Chicken,” or you can read it in John D’Agata’s The Lost Origins of the Essay.