Being Clarice Lispector

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Being Clarice Lispector

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Edited: Oct 28, 2009, 7:08pm

Clarice Lispector: Preliminary Musings

Clarice Lispector

Do you know that hope sometimes consists only of a question without an answer?
--Clarice Lispector The Apple in the Dark

Clarice doesn’t denounce, she doesn’t tell, she doesn’t narrate nor does she picture anything – she carves a tunnel in which she suddenly replaces the searched for object in its unexpected essence.
--Lúcio Cardoso


Under construction. In the meantime, see Rachel Gutierrez’s notes on Clarice Lispector. Guitierrez provides a brief biography of Lispector. Note: I drew upon her article for many of the quotations by and about Lispector.

Brief Description of The Hour of the Star

Macabéa is the face of Brazil. She is what everybody is.
--Suzana Amaral

And we must never forget that if the atom's structure is invisible, it is none the less real. I am aware of the existence of many things I have never seen. And you too. One cannot prove the existence of what is most real but the essential thing is to believe. To weep and believe. This story unfolds in a state of emergency and public calamity. It is an unfinished book because it offers no answer. An answer I hope someone somewhere in the world may be able to provide. You perhaps? It is a story in technicolour to add a touch of luxury, for heaven knows, I need that too. Amen for all of us.
--Clarice Lispector from her dedication to The Hour of the Star

As I write let things be known by their real names. Each thing is a word. And when there is no word, it must be invented
--The Hour of the Star

The Hour of the Star, Lispector's final novel, has been described as a "work that draws the reader deep within a world, both mystical and cruelly real." The novel has essentially two plot lines: that of Macabéa, an impoverished typist; and that of Rodrigo S.M, the narrator of the tale. Macabéa has migrated to Rio de Janeiro from rural, northeastern Brazil. Macabéa has known little pleasure in her life. Her understanding of pleasure or joy is stunted as is her inner life. She neither questions her existence nor understands the possibilities for a full life. Her life revolves around watching movies, drinking Coca Cola, and visiting her savagely egotistical "boyfriend." If, as Rodrigo notes, “the girl from the Northeast did not believe in death,” neither does she particularly appear to believe in life.

Rodrigo S.M is "perhaps" the more enigmatic of the two characters. Is he Lispector or is he a character as well? He claims that Macabéa is a character of his invention, her narrative one he has created and one through which he will guide the reader. Yet even he is uncertain how the narrative will unfold. But he does leave the reader with this advice:

I must add one important detail to help the reader understand the narrative: it is accompanied from start to finish by the faintest yet nagging twinge of toothache, caused by an exposed nerve. The story will also be accompanied throughout by the plangent tones of a violin played by a musician on the street corner. His face is thin and sallow as if he had just died.

Interesting Information about The Hour of the Star
• The Hour of the Star was made into a movie (dir. Suzana Amaral).
• It was Lispector' final novel. Several posthumous works have since been published: A Breath of Life, Pulsations, Almost True, Beauty and the Beast, and The Discovery of the World.

Preliminary Topics for Consideration

1. Notice the slippage in Lispector's account of her life, the inventing of multiple pasts. Why the reluctance? Simply a stunt? Some deep psychological trauma? Or does it reflect a life philosophy - one that recognizes the difficulty of getting at the soul of "reality"? Notice too the slippage between Lispector and Rodrigo. Who is who? Note: You will be better able to see this slippage when I get around to writing a brief biography.
2. Narrative technique.
3. What is the significance of “the word” for Lispector? For her characters?

Oct 28, 2009, 6:12pm

Can't wait to get started. But I will. Has anyone else read Lispector's dedication? Wow.

Edited: Oct 28, 2009, 6:32pm

#2 Indeed. Read it here

Oct 28, 2009, 6:34pm

Very tantalizing, that dedication; can't wait either.

That is a sumptuous syllabus Urania! Thank you.

Oct 28, 2009, 6:40pm

This message has been deleted by its author.

Oct 29, 2009, 10:25am

A suggestion: Lispector's novella is short, but a lot is compressed into the piece. We might start with significant quotations or quotations that strike us as profound (or perhaps drivel for Lispector haters) and discuss each thoroughly. That way we can discuss without spoiling the book for others. Then at the end, people who feel like it can offer lengthier analyses. This is only a suggestion. I have tried several times to write a review of this piece, but I find myself wanting to do nothing but quote or write a lengthy 20-page analysis.

Thoughts? Other suggestions? Quotation offerings???

Oct 29, 2009, 12:24pm

I like that idea. A lot.

Oct 29, 2009, 12:49pm

she carves a tunnel in which she suddenly replaces the searched for object in its unexpected essence

Interpretations, anyone? The meaning seems to have passed me by.

Oct 29, 2009, 1:21pm

I could make sense of that if I had the liberty of fixing it so that whatever she puts into the tunnel in place of what the tunnel had supposedly been dug to find is the unexpected object (as opposed to the object the tunnel was dug to obtain.) Maybe its a translation issue? Taking us digging for coal and leading us to a dirty diamond would qualify. No?

Oct 29, 2009, 1:27pm

It hasn't any meaning that we could hang our hat on. Maybe the translator? But as I get older I find that I prefer a 'classical' approach, something that aligns itself with the ideas if T.E. Hulme, et al.
Though I know it is not quite fair to criticize without knowing the greater context from which the line comes. Suffice to say, as a line it's pretty lame.

Oct 31, 2009, 1:38am

Today's disappointment was going to the university library to collect The Hour of the Star only to discover it wasnt on the shelves. :(

Did she write children's books? I dont read Spanish but I noticed some of the books contained illustrations of dogs and whatnot.

Edited: Nov 4, 2009, 4:33pm

Sorry if I've been absent. I've been dealing with a houseful of company. Vis à vis the quotation about which everyone is puzzled: she carves a tunnel in which she suddenly replaces the searched for object in its unexpected essence perhaps a little background will help: Lúcio Cardoso, the author of this quotation, was a friend, mentor, and fellow writer with whom Lispector fell madly in love. Unfortunately for her, Cardoso was homosexual, so this dimension of their mutual love could not be realized. Cardoso was also an alcoholic. Of course, none of this has much to do with the quotation.

Lispector's mysticism is evident in much of her writing, and a number of critics have referred to her work as dealing with occult. So where does this knowledge lead? Both Lispector and Cardoso have a mystic association with the word - getting at the essence of the word if you will. In this regard, they remind me of some of the 17th-century universal language adherents. For these 17th-century natural philosophers, the goal of a universal language was to get at the absolute essence of the thing described. That is to say, if I say "chair," I communicate the essence of chair with no ambiguities to every person in the world. In some ways, I would describe this project as similar to Plato's conception of ideal forms versus their copies. The ideal form is the essence of the thing itself. However, I don't think the natural philosophers of the 17th century would agree with me. I would argue their pursuit of the word that communicates the essence of the thing itself is mystical in some respects. (These men are rolling over in their graves as I write this.) They believed the original language of Adam and Eve had this quality. In other words, these men want to get back to the garden. Keep in mind that natural philosophy (which later became science as we understand it) had its roots in alchemy, which also sought the essence of objects albeit for different reasons.

So to return to the quotation. Pay attention to Lispector's obsession with the word. Note Rodrigo's obsession with getting at the word and his "fear" of the word, the word that can possibly betray the writers. He notes early in the novel:
I write with my body. And what I write is like a dank haze. The words are sounds transfused with shadows that intersect unevenly, stalactites, woven lace, transposed organ music. I can scarcely invoke words to describe this pattern, vibrant and rich, morbid and obscure, its counterpoint the deep bass of sorrow. Allegro con brio. I shall attempt to extract gold from charcoal

And and on the next page, Rodrigo writes,"Is it possible that actions exceed words? As I write--let things be known by their real names."

I think Cardoso's comment is dead on. Lispector wants to move from the object to its essence. The narrator and the reader begin with the object, in this case Macabéa (for she does not act as subject for most of the narrative) and gradually move to her essence if you will.

Oct 31, 2009, 12:51pm

>11 semckibbin: Lispector wrote in Portuguese. She has been translated into Spanish, so perhaps you are looking at those books.

Oct 31, 2009, 1:17pm

Wittgenstein, Quine and Davidson wouldnt have much patience with Lispector's occult view of language. They would not say that one is discovering essence rather they would say one is simply learning to use a word.

Oops, my mistake, I should have said Portuguese. The library had about 10 of her books and some of them had little sketches like one might see in a children's book. What's up with that?

Oct 31, 2009, 1:20pm

*waits for her library copy to come in*

Not sure if I'll like this, but I am reading everyone's comments with interest.

Edited: Nov 3, 2009, 6:32pm

>14 semckibbin:,

I agree with your comment about W, Q, and D.; however, I doubt if Lispector would have given a damn.

As far as I know, Lispector did not write children's books. I have some more of her books on order. Lúcio Cardoso, in addition to being an esteemed writer, was also a painter. Possibly, this was a collaborative experiment of some sort. I will check.

Nov 1, 2009, 1:17pm

Now that Im over my disappointment of not getting it for free, it is time to order the book from Amazon....everybody will be done reading by the time it arrives!

Nov 1, 2009, 1:31pm

re: reading The Hour of the Star -- like so many other wonderful novels, there are a variety of levels and ways to appreciate the work:

as a reflection of Lispector's very real concern with the urban poor of Brazil, especially those who had migrated from the north-eastern states of Brazil, as had Lispector herself (though she was never poor)

as a twisted retelling of the Cinderella story

as the last book she published as she was dying from cancer. She herself characterized Death as "my favorite character in the novel."

just to mention a few....

Nov 1, 2009, 1:36pm

Thanks Jane for your comments. And you are correct. One could spend quite a long time teasing out the threads in this narrative.

Nov 1, 2009, 1:37pm

Its of little consequence (or is it?) but Clarice Lispector is a beautiful name.

Nov 1, 2009, 2:08pm

Only about 30 pages in, but am underlining many religious and musical allusions. Interested in seeing where they take us.

"For at the hour of death you become a celebrated film star, it is a moment of glory for everyone, when the choral music scales the top notes."

Nov 1, 2009, 2:10pm


Great minds think alike.

Nov 1, 2009, 2:14pm

And a beautiful woman to boot!

18,19> am impatiently waiting to begin teasing out these threads. Should not have procrastinated in ordering the book. Shame on me (and you too, semckibbin!)

Edited: Nov 1, 2009, 3:30pm

Wow. If I was underlining I'd be underlining almost every line!

I've never read an author who described the musical accompaniment to the words. There are so many amazing tricks. The slow motion description was another that I especially enjoyed.

Cantabile is a musical term meaning literally "singable" or "songlike" (Italian). It has several meanings in different contexts. In instrumental music, it indicates a particular style of playing designed to imitate the human voice.

Manicot = Cassava (Manihot esculenta; also called yuca, yucca, or manioc) is a woody shrub of the Euphorbiaceae (spurge family) native to South America that is extensively cultivated as an annual crop in tropical and subtropical regions for its edible starchy tuberous root, a major source of carbohydrates. The flour made of the roots is called tapioca.

There was another word I wanted to look up but I should have written it down. I can't find it now.

Edited: Nov 1, 2009, 3:45pm

>24 slickdpdx:

Wow. If I was underlining I'd be underlining almost every line!

I know. This is why I have been unable to write a review. I only want to quote.

Nov 1, 2009, 4:07pm

I won't hold it against her that she loathes Coca-Cola. Won't even bring herself to capitalize it.

By the way - HUGE kudos to the translator of this work!

Edited: Nov 1, 2009, 11:54pm

I thought sometimes it was overwrought to the point where she had to have half of her tongue in her cheek. Suddenly its become apparent that there are touches of humor - (even those have a quotable serious side.) The four Marys. The passionate extremes of the narrator. The time chime radio station. Maybe I am too glib about it all? I don't think so. It might be a despairing humor but its there.

Nov 1, 2009, 11:26pm

#27 agree about the humor, at least as far as I have read. Despairing? Maybe. And snide, yes?

Nov 1, 2009, 11:53pm

Went back and found the other word I was wondering about: rachitic. She had rickets! In fact, per wikipedia the prominent knobs of bone at the costochondral joints of rickets patients are known as a rachitic rosary or beading of the ribs. The knobs create the appearance of large beads under the skin of the rib cage, hence the name by analogy with the beads of a rosary.

You know who should team up with our Macabea? Carrie.

Nov 2, 2009, 7:16am

29> actually, the first time I read the book, she reminded me of Dostoevsky's Underground Man -- or rather a kind of combination of Macabea and the narrator -- her lingering ailments and his self-consciousness.

Nov 2, 2009, 1:41pm

Just started, but I loooove the inchoate quality of the first couple pages. The way Lispector teases us with a floating, tentative narrative that, she/Rodrigo implies, may never coalesce into anything more than "lumps of trembling jelly", but which will at all events "surge with life". Then on the next page she settles down, reveals her face-as-narrator, Rodrigo, and says, basically, "actually, I am gonna tell you a story here." I anticipate liking this book.

Edited: Nov 3, 2009, 6:05pm

>20 slickdpdx: slickdpdx,

it's of little consequence (or is it?) but Clarice Lispector is a beautiful name.

Your question is an excellent one, indeed one that has relevance to The Hour of the Star. Lispector was born in the Ukraine to Jewish parents fleeing the pograms against Jews following WWI. Her birth name was Chaya Pinkhasovna Lispector. As Benjamin Moser notes in his biography of Clarice Lispector, "Chaya, which in Hebrew means 'life'-and which also has the appropriate connotation 'animal'-would disappear, reappearing only in Hebrew on her tombstone and not widely known in Brazil until decades after her death." As a result of her secretiveness about her name, "a whole mythology sprang up. Reading accounts of her at different points in her life, one can hardly believe they concern the same person. The points of disagreement were not trivial. 'Clarice Lispector' was once thought to be a pseudonym, and her original name was not known until after her death (Moser)."

When Lispector was two years old, the family finally managed to emigrate to Brazil, at which point the family changed Lispector's name to "Clarice." This change, which her family made upon the removal to Brazil, obsessed Lispector all her life. As she noted on at least two different occasions, "They gave me a name and alienated me from myself," and later "I lost myself so many years ago that I hesitate to try to find myself again. I am afraid to begin." (qtd. in Moser)

For the remainder of her life, Lispector avoided referencing her origins and would become quite upset when anyone suggested she was not a Brazillian writer. As one critic notes, The question of origin "'is so obsessive that one can say that Clarice Lispector's entire body of work is built around it (qtd. in Moser).'"

Important to our text is Moser's comment "The question of names and naming, the process by which things are called into being, dominates Clarice Lispector's work." For example, note Lispector's comment in The Hour of the Star, "As I write let things be known by their real names. Each thing is a word. And when there is no word, it must be invented." Note also the "Author's Dedication," underneath which Lispector writes "alias Clarice Lispector."

Edited: Nov 3, 2009, 6:17pm

Thanks for filling that in! I had a feeling....

Is there a progression in the alternative book titles after the dedication?
The Hour of the Star through the Discreet Exit out the back after the Tearful Tale...

Does the place Clarice put herself within the progression, if it is a progression, have meaning? (How could it not - it seems obvious she intended something specific for every single thing about this book!)

Hour of the star seems like it could suggest a time of birth, isn't that when our role in this drama of life begins anyhow? So its not inconsistent with the film 'star' connotation. Of course I could be getting ahead of myself seeing as I am only forty pages in. This is a book that warrants and, no doubt, rewards, rereading. There is so much to relish and to think upon in this slim volume!

Oh, forgot the Star of David!

Nov 3, 2009, 9:43pm


Like Richard D. James and his stillborn twin! Thanks for that tidbit.

Nov 3, 2009, 11:10pm

OK, I read this today.


More after I think a bit.

Nov 4, 2009, 9:38am

>35 A_musing:

"WOW" sums it up for me as well. I cannot believe I had not heard of her work earlier. I found mention of her fame as a Brazilian writer on some obscure website and ordered the book. I have ordered several others (three I think). There are more that have been translated (and a lot that has not been translated).

Nov 4, 2009, 10:32am

I think WOW is a pretty good assessment. I started a second read-through this morning and have just ordered Selected Cronicas, a collection of seven years of her weekly newspaper columns, from the local interlibrary loan system. I'm terribly curious about her journalistic work.

Nov 4, 2009, 12:23pm

I am unable to find a copy of this book. Does anyone know if one can read it online or where to check to see if one can?

Nov 4, 2009, 12:31pm

Enters. Looks around Room. Shakes Head.


Leaves room, still shaking head.

Sticks head back in to suggest buying on-line, direct from New Directions.

Leaves room again, still shaking head, muttering, "wow" again and again under his breath.

Nov 4, 2009, 12:52pm

Yeah, I know all about buying online, but I wanted to read it now and just thought...........
Didn't mean to wrinkle your day you amusing smartarse:->

Nov 4, 2009, 1:17pm

My library bought a copy, but it's still in processing. *waitswaitswaits*

Nov 4, 2009, 2:34pm


You might try interlibrary loan.

Edited: Nov 4, 2009, 3:56pm

OK, here's my first step at a short reading of Hour of the Star. I'm putting this up as my review, but will add and change it as I think about this more.

This is really a Nietzschean essay on Ontology, sans the uber-machismo, masquerading as a simple little story. Clarice Lispector, our author, is facing her death, and, working through a narrator who may or may not exist, looks into the eyes of a trod upon and anonymous young woman who may exist as an individual or a type, and sees in those eyes her best answer to the questions of being and nothingness that so trouble the philosophical.

Set aside the Sartre, the Heidegger, the Wittgenstein, with all their big words (her narrator emphasizes repeatedly that he has banned big words); forget about all the twisted logic used to figure out how we know about our own existence and what it's purpose may be. If there is a reason, something more than pure brute instinct, for an ugly little waif from the poorest part of Brazil to exist, perhaps even to live, there is a reason for all of us to live. And so, in the midst of life in the mud, and, quite literally, death in the mud, Clarice gives us reason to live. And while she does this, she tries to release us from the trap of a language that defines us (each reader can figure out whether she succeeds).

All of this is done through a style dominated by simple aphorisms (thus the Nietzschean - it's the only comparison I can think of) and a straightforward story line. No big words. Individually, her aphorisms are banal. Combined, they are profound.

She weaves together the metaphorical rags.


Nov 4, 2009, 3:22pm

Lovely response, A_musing.

Nov 4, 2009, 3:40pm

Individually, her aphorisms are banal.

I'm afraid that's what derailed me the last time...

Mary, a million thanks for furnishing the amazing extra dimension to the reading of Lispector! Makes a huge difference.

Nov 4, 2009, 3:44pm

Hey A_musing, re #43: WOW. Great summation/review.

Nov 4, 2009, 3:50pm


A lovely summary.

Edited: Nov 4, 2009, 4:02pm

Lola - When I started reading, I wasn't sure how those would work. She actually cuts away from the aphoristic to some very well done dialog just at the point when it starts to get to be too much. It's a unique style; I hope it's really her and not just an extraordinary translator. I would love to know from someone who speaks both Portugese and English what they think of the translation. It had to be tough. Tougher than usual.

I'll also say I struggled in one place - I thought the pacing was a bit off coming out of the fortune teller, and that the story moved too quickly. Looking at the scene in hindsight, having finished it, I see why she made that choice, but as I read through I wanted to yell, "hey, Clarice, SLOW DOWN."

Nov 4, 2009, 4:02pm

>48 A_musing: Lispector is considered one of the GREATS in Brazil.

Nov 4, 2009, 4:04pm

We have to read anyone whom Brazilians consider her equal.

Edited: Nov 4, 2009, 4:10pm

I just finished what I'll call Pt. 2 of the novel (it starts at about p. 43 in the ND edition) - a fairly straightforward narrative section without Rodrigo constantly tapping me on the shoulder. It's a whole other "wow." It is extremely spare, but highly effective. Macabea is made real to me even though Rodrigo has been telling me (bragging even) about having created her and about how easy it is for him to do so with just a few elements (or something to that effect.) Pt. 3 (about p. 69 or so in the ND edition) marks the return of Rodrigo.

Nov 4, 2009, 4:08pm

Just as an interesting experiment, I put a short piece of another work of hers that I found online through one of those infernal online translators. Surprisingly, the style still came through.

Nov 5, 2009, 3:25am

"I am a typist, and a virgin, and I like coca-cola". Is there a more perfect character sketch in 11 words? Take that, "For sale: Baby shoes, never sold." Hemingway loses again!

Edited: Nov 5, 2009, 4:22pm

Just finished the book. Like any great book it has hit the "Reset" button in me. I'll think about it for a while.

P.S. I liked everything about that book. Thank you urania.

Nov 5, 2009, 4:27pm

>54 slickdpdx:,

Thank you. I wish we could get more people to read this one. It really knocked my socks off.

Nov 5, 2009, 4:29pm

My copy better get here quick! (I am avoiding A-musing's review until then)

Nov 5, 2009, 6:24pm

56> My copy should've been here on Monday! I'm very upset.

Me too (am avoiding A_musings review), though I already gave it my thumb. Thumbs for all and all for thumbs!

Nov 6, 2009, 12:21am

I ordered The Hour of the Star today and it's all your fault Urania. Shame on you and Clarice Lispector for intrigueing me so. Now I too am anxiously awaiting delivery.

Nov 6, 2009, 1:00am

57 > Clarice arrived today chaperoned by Habermas and DFW (in plenty of time for the February read). :P

Will start to-morrow.

Nov 6, 2009, 3:48am

Wow. What an ending. I think I'm kind of mad at the narrator.

Nov 6, 2009, 11:12am

The narration is so compelling to me. I am about halfway through (all in one sitting). More thoughts once it's finished, probably this weekend.

Nov 6, 2009, 8:43pm

>59 semckibbin: Habermas rocks!!!

Nov 6, 2009, 11:55pm

I've been reading the book, and thinking about it, then read it a second time. I definitely enjoyed it. I wonder some how it would have been if it were straight story, a little fable like story, rather than being surrounded by the somewhat fictional writer writing about inventing the story. I'm not sure. The first time through I got a little impatient at the length of the beginning before the story began. I think a part of that was a fear that there would be too much self conscious artistry at the expense of story, but it wasn't so, and when I reread it I appreciated the beginning much more. It looks like the Multnomah County Library has several more of her books, and I expect to read them all.

Nov 7, 2009, 1:28pm

Just a third through. And I have some questions.

How does the fable go about the devil losing his boots in northeast Brasil?

What do you all make of such stuff as, But emptiness too has its value and somehow resembles abundance?

Then there is

The girl didnt know she existed, just as a dog doesnt know that its a dog.

The first clause makes sense by itself if you consider the girl as a piece of fiction, but Lispector's simile escapes me. never forget a person with whom one has slept. The event remains branded on one's living flesh like a tattoo and all who witness the stigma take flight in horror.


Nov 7, 2009, 1:57pm

I thought that it was just referring to a lack of self-consciousness or self-awareness on the part of a girl (rather than her being fictional) that is similar to an animal that exists in the moment without having a concept of themselves in their head.

Don't know about the final statement. It might be fun to imagine it were true, and come up with the various stigma that are branded on our bodies - assuming each has its own distinct pattern and meaning. Perhaps we take sex far too lightly.

Nov 7, 2009, 1:58pm

By emptiness, perhaps she means what remains when all the clutter is gone. In my experience something does remain.

Nov 7, 2009, 3:27pm

I thought that it was just referring to a lack of self-consciousness or self-awareness on the part of a girl (rather than her being fictional) that is similar to an animal that exists in the moment without having a concept of themselves in their head.

Yes, that would be the interpretation if she was retarded or an idiot or a smaller brained mammal. She is not. If her pre-frontal cortex is working and she has programmed herself with a language, I would maintain she cannot doubt, or not realize, she exists. She is emphatically NOT like a dog.

Nov 7, 2009, 3:58pm

I believe Clarice is characterizing Rodrigo more than Macabea in that passage; he cannot imagine her as a full human being.

Nov 7, 2009, 4:21pm

I agree with A_musing, and there's also this constant resort to atavistic imagery in trying to make some sense of Macabea's awful life, like if she's just a suffering animal it's easier. Cf. "It's like saying a healthy dog is worth more." But she isn't a dog--and the sick sadness is that we can't even rationalize this story in a way that requires the partial surrender, the self-degradation of accepting the suffering of dogs. Like, you go "well, she doesn't feel it the same as I would, she doesn't know any better", and just as soon as you start to come to grips with the ugliness of that sentiment you realize that it isn't even sustainable on its own terms.

The emptiness thing is a cliche, of course--I felt like there's this tension throughout between buying into them for the cold comfort they give, and rejecting them as banal for a fuller, sharper truth--but then as soon as you start to think of that truth as "higher" or more real you're buying into a whole new reduction.

The sex thing was striking and odd--I took it as a kind of reproach, a reminder that the bodies that pass over ours do not, in fact, leave no scar, but mark us, and we ignore that at our peril. But I'm not 100% satisfied with that.

Nov 7, 2009, 4:21pm

Are women full human beings? OMG, I never knew!

Nov 7, 2009, 7:09pm

Got to admit I didn't interpret The girl didnt know she existed, just as a dog doesnt know that its a dog as saying that the girl was not worth more than a dog, or that she was mentally deficient, etc. I thought it was about a life in which she had never been responded to as being of any importance. While it is true that there are people who try to minimize suffering by suggesting that it is not felt by some in the same way, I didn't get the impression that the author was suggesting this. - Of couse we only have the word of the fictional author about the character he created - are you suggesting he is intended as an unreliable narrator?

Nov 7, 2009, 8:35pm

The Shamed and Oppressed is a made up work, yes? Search on LT yielded nada.

Lispector could have made Authorial Digression the 14th title to the book.

69 > The sex thing was striking and odd--I took it as a kind of reproach, a reminder that the bodies that pass over ours do not, in fact, leave no scar, but mark us, and we ignore that at our peril.

Roger that. But then Rodrigo S.M. makes the tattoo literal with his "all who witness the stigma take flight in horror." As I think more about it---venereal disease?

Nov 7, 2009, 10:14pm

>71 solla: For sure, unreliable. I think he probably reflects a lot of Lispector's unease toward her protagonist, but he shows a nasty streak that I (baselessly?) don't feel like the author shares.

Nov 7, 2009, 10:16pm

>72 semckibbin: fair chance. Leaving a physical mark as it leaves a psychic wound.

Nov 8, 2009, 2:29pm

Nice reviews up from booksfallapart and solla.

Nov 8, 2009, 3:15pm

Not reading them until I read the book.
And just for the eye-rolling, room wanderer, "wow"ing person whose name or username shall not be mentioned within this post, I have ordered said book (finally found a copy). Yea!~!

Nov 8, 2009, 5:34pm

Hmmm . . . the computer ate a rather long note that I wrote yesterday, which I find LT ate. I'll try to create a brief version.

1. As a teenager, CL's two favorite books were Crime and Punishment and Steppenwolf.
2. We know she read Spinoza with great intensity. Her copy of his work is heavily annotated.
3. She identified strongly with her animal self. People frequently referred to her as being like an animal (in a positive way, not a negative way). She referred to herself in the same way.
4. And here's the nod to A_musing's Nietzsche's reference: she sees animals as amoral, hence free.
5. Animal imagery figures heavily in her work.
6. Thus far, I know of at least three books where the "heroine" is hit by a car and dies. Interesting, yes?
7. She did write children's books. Someone asked this question earlier on the thread.
8. She was fascinated by numbers, interpreted by some critics as a nod to the Kabbalah, her Jewish origins, and the mysticism present in her work.
9. I am halfway through Benjamin Moser's Why This World: A Biography of Clarice Lispector. At this point she is married to a diplomat. They have been posted to Europe at WWII's immediate conclusion. Thus far none of her letters home (at least the one's referenced by Moser) mentions anything about the Holocaust. Perhaps later????

Edited: Nov 8, 2009, 6:36pm

By the way, I wonder how this book sounds in Portuguese.

More questions.

How do you guys square this tentative description of Macabéa: She had no religious feeling and the divinities made no impression (p.28) with her asking for forgiveness from the Abstract Being on p. 66?

Then there is It isnt necessary to have faith in anyone or in anything---it is enough to have faith How does that work?

I am only true when I am alone. What do you all think of that?

And, urania, I havent read Spinoza, did you pick up any allusions to him in this story?

Nov 8, 2009, 7:29pm

Urania, a couple of notes on your notes:

3-6. It's even more senselessly sad if you start thinking of Macabea as roadkill.

8. I passed the book on to someone in my department who works on Jewish literature--she had never heard of Lispector, somehow (not that I had--I just mean that as a specialist . . . Brazil not on the radar for everybody, perhaps?), and was very excited. I anticipate great things.

Nov 8, 2009, 7:34pm

semckibbin, I am the wrong guy to be speculating on religious questions, perhaps, but it seems like the three statements are mutually supporting. Like, Macabea proceeds through life in a sort of foggy way, groping after what she vaguely grasps is expected of her (think of the doctor visit) or what makes her dimly happy. She is aware that people pray for forgiveness, so without feeling God in any immanent way, she prays--like taking cod liver oil even though you don't feel any better afterward. Similarly, it's not faith in the sense of actual belief in anything--it's nominal faith-because-faith-is-a-source-of-strength, similar to the obscurely provenanced equanamity or okayness that Rodrigo remarks on a couple times in Macabea.

Edited: Nov 9, 2009, 7:23am

72: Maybe The Insulted and Humiliated ?

You know: from Russian Униженные и оскорбленные to Portuguese (whatever) to English The Shamed and Oppressed.

Edited: Nov 9, 2009, 8:54am

>78 semckibbin: I think the divine being issues are closely tied in with your Spinoza questions. Spinoza was a mystical sort who was comfortable being discomforted by his inability to "know" God; there was a need for faith but not an ability to understand or explain that which we have faith in, which is by its own nature unknowable.

I think that Clarice is using Rodrigo to set up a series of ontological paradoxes for us, and that ultimately these ontological paradoxes are then ripped apart as not mattering, because what ultimately matters is Macabea and her own consciousness, the small joys she takes in the world, the small extent to which she comes into awareness - not awareness of anything specific she can express in a way that would satisfy the partially educated and somewhat pretentious Rodrigom, but of something none-the-less profound.

I think many of these aphorisms are little bits ripped from philosophy without the argument, backing or explication; they float there in Rodrigo's voice and represent his bit of pretension as he tries to understand his own faith and how it relates to this girl, but that his relation to Macabea is also all tied up in his power over her and his position with respect to her. Clarice is doing a bit of Monty Python on Western ontology here. The Buddha would be pleased. So would Karl Marx.

Does anyone think Macabea's statements have an aphoristic quality, or is it just Rodrigo? Do we think these aphorisms come at all from an authorial voice, or are they there, in all their individual banality, primarily to characterize Rodrigo?

Nov 9, 2009, 8:50am

>81 PimPhilipse: - very good! I am interested. That is Dostoyevsky I have not read.

Edited: Nov 10, 2009, 12:11am

Does anyone think Macabéa's statements have an aphoristic quality

I dont remember Macabéa saying much of anything. The most aphoristic were "Im going to miss myself when I die" and "I dont believe I am all that human."

(bang) Macabéa is an entirely fictional creation of Rodrigo. He saw the sallow face of a girl from the northeast (p. 56) and that inspired him to try to write something about her. Hour of the Star is the record of Rodrigo's attempt. He offers up possible attitudes, storylines and beliefs for Macabéa that he re-thinks and questions.

Nov 10, 2009, 12:07pm

I don't have the book in front of me, but was thinking that we had slippage from Rodrigo's narrator's voice to a third person omniscient narrator at some point, and Macabéa became more "real". But, yes, those are aphoristic sayings from her mind, both as she fades away, right?

Nov 10, 2009, 12:22pm

What was the original Portuguese for all the (bang) and (small bang) stage directions?

Edited: Nov 10, 2009, 12:46pm

Here is a dramatic reading/performance of The Hour of the Star. I think it is in Portuguese (not sure) and I think based on Rodrigo's presence (with book in hand) that parts may be straight from the book.

For a segment of the film version, check here.

Nov 10, 2009, 12:58pm

And here is the trailer for The Hour of the Star. It looks lovely. I think I'm going to see if there's a version with English subtitles.

Nov 10, 2009, 2:59pm

I've put in for the movie on Netflix and it is subtitled. Apparently, though, the narrator's function is greatly diminished in the movie, so I'm puzzled. As I read the book through the second time I kept picturing it onstage and searched to see if there had ever been a theatrical production, but didn't find anything. Good catch, Urania, on the finding the reading. The book has much potential for the stage. But no narrator?...hmmmm, No.

Nov 10, 2009, 3:43pm

Thanks, urania, for the link so I can hear how it sounds.

Thanks, PimPhilipse, for the Dostoevsky reference.

This is a supportive reading group!

Nov 10, 2009, 4:35pm

88> Mary, there is a version of the film with subtitles -- we have a video copy at school:

Hour of the starvideorecording
New York, N. Y. : Kino on Video, c1987.
1 videocassette (96 min.) : sd., col. ; 1/2 in.
ISBN#OCLC 17450012

I don't know if it's still available -- maybe through Netflix. It's quite a good film, but I think the ending is a bit off if I remember correctly.

Nov 10, 2009, 6:14pm

It is available on DVD with subtitles. I tried three times today to order it but the WICKED CORPORATE GIANT AMAZON kept trying to charge me a $1000 for a $26.92 movie. Additionally my modem has decided once again that it is a slow boat to China with many stops.

Nov 10, 2009, 6:25pm

Cannot the Baron intercede with his maker??

Nov 10, 2009, 6:34pm

Baron von Kindle has been an absolute cad today. More than that I will not say. And to add to my trials, the walls in my house are shrieking. I feel an Anglo-Saxon attitude coming on.

Nov 10, 2009, 8:31pm

Some of these narration questions are vexing me. I may need to reread this soon.

Nov 10, 2009, 10:18pm

I am nearly finished with Benjamin Moser's biography of Clarice Lispector. While the organization and the prose are among the most cumbersome I have ever encountered in a biography, the book is informative. But I am sooo exhausted by Moser. I would have given up on the book a long time ago if I weren't collecting information for group discussion. I hope when this great weariness passes, to offer a summation of the bio and contribute more actively to the conversation. But right now I am feeling as if I shall never read another book again. But then again this weariness may be the result of THE DREAD CLAREL. A_musing has much for which to answer.

Nov 10, 2009, 10:33pm

I just got it. Fifties-era hardcover, 650 pp., weighs about three pounds. I am terrified.

Nov 10, 2009, 10:39pm

Urania and booksfallsapart, I'll gladly read whatever summary the two of you provide. I saw it at my library today, but couldn't talk myself into it. I'm already immersed in a big bio and can only manage on at a time. Did pick up her Selected Cronicas though and can't wait to start that.

Nov 10, 2009, 10:40pm

>97 MeditationesMartini:,

What have you got? Perhaps you can unget it. Mine is stuck to me with superglue - a dastardly trick no doubt perpetrated by evil ones. It shrieks at me every night.

Nov 10, 2009, 10:54pm

I am definitely reading more Lispector. Anyone able to recommend a next book?

Nov 10, 2009, 11:00pm

>100 slickdpdx:

I just received The Apple in the Dark, but at the moment I am too exhausted to read it. Let me look back through my notes on the Moser bio (which is a literary bio . . . for the most part) and I'll get back with you . . . tomorrow maybe. Right now I am sooo tired of reading Moser I could scream, but I am determined to finish.

Nov 11, 2009, 3:45pm

At last! I am finished with Benjamin Moser's Why This World: A Biography of Clarice Lispector, possibly the most cumbersome and poorly constructed biography ever to come out of Oxford University Press. More will follow once I have recovered from reading this book. But one tantalizing tidbit:

In her first book, Lispector was a defiant atheist. In October 1977, The Hour of the Star came out. CL sent a copy to Alceu Amoroso Lima, the Catholic writer and publisher of her first book, inscribed as follows: "I know that God exists" (underscoring CL's). Less than two months later, Clarice Lispector died of ovarian cancer.

Nov 11, 2009, 4:06pm

Here is a link to the only televised interview CL ever gave (in 1977 the year of her death). Sorry, it's all in Portuguese. I couldn't find a clip with subtitles.

Nov 11, 2009, 4:07pm

This message has been deleted by its author.

Edited: Nov 11, 2009, 4:53pm

In her first book, Lispector was a defiant atheist ==> "I know that God exists"

And what does Moser attribute the change to...the usual fear of death?

Nov 11, 2009, 5:10pm

>105 semckibbin:,

And what does Moser attribute the change to...the usual fear of death?
No. His argues that her entire life was a search for God. I will try to elaborate on this later. But think about Jewish mysticism, the word, the power of the word, the quest to find the unspeakable name of God.

Nov 11, 2009, 5:41pm

I've barely begun Selected Cronicas, but it's quite fascinating. From 1967 to 1973, she wrote "a collection of aphorisms, diary entries, reminiscences, travel notes, interviews serialized stories, and essays" for the Saturday edition of the Journal do Brasil. You can sense her struggle in the beginning entries to find her way in this format. Translator Pontiero, in the preface, quotes her as saying, "I am apprehensive. Writing too much and too often can contaminate the word."

Nov 11, 2009, 7:48pm

I reviewed the book, though it is not much of a review. More about me than the book. 106, this is very thought-provoking. More please!

107: That's a beautiful quote and helps me clarify what it was about the book that so unsettled me. I thought there was too much wisdom packed into that little book for me to absorb, where every sentence tended to pack that sort of punch. I really did feel rather battered when I was finished with it.

Nov 11, 2009, 8:15pm

Anna, I thought your review was introspective, honest and quite astute.

Nov 11, 2009, 9:59pm

>107 theaelizabet: theaelizabet,

Does Selected Cronicas have an introduction, and if so is the Brazilian tradition of the cronica discussed? Moser mentions it briefly in his book, but doesn't really elaborate on it? I'd like to know more. Of course, I can do my own homework, but I thought I'd let you do it for me if the information is in the introduction :-)

>108 anna_in_pdx: anna, battered is the the way I felt about Moser's biography of CL, which was more a literary biography than a traditional biography. There was simply so much analysis of her life in terms of all her major works and many of her minor works that I couldn't take in all of it.

I have a lovely hardback edition of The Apple in the Dark waiting to be read, but I feel a bit intimidated about starting it because it is 445 pages long. The Hour of the Star was intense, and it was short. Moreover, nothing in Moser's book suggests The Apple in the Dark is any less intense. I need some time to collect my thoughts before I summarize Moser's work. I'm off to read anna's review now.

Nov 11, 2009, 10:17pm

110--There's only a brief explanation, Urania. "...loosely defined as 'chronicles': a genre peculiar to Brazil, which allows poets and writers to address a wider readership on a vast range of topics and themes. The general tone is one of the greater freedom and intimacy than one finds in comparable articles or weekly columns in the European or U.S. press."

Believe me when I tell you that no American paper would ever know what to do with this kind of writing, at least as practiced by Lispector. I'm going to have to buy my own copy. The library won't appreciate me making notes in theirs.

Nov 11, 2009, 10:42pm

>111 theaelizabet: Thanks theaelizabet. I guess I'm going to add Selected Cronicas to my wish list.

Edited: Nov 12, 2009, 4:07pm

Urania - Thanks again for a great read and all the information that has enriched it.

My final words: I want to stick up for the aphorisms in the Rodrigo sections, especially early on. I liked them. I thought they were thought provoking and, often, elegantly stated. They helped draw the Rodrigo character and they set the table for Macabea's story. Even if others thought them banal, in that case, they said something about Rodrigo, and Macabea's fate as well, so either way...

Nov 16, 2009, 5:20pm

I just finished The Hour of the Star, and want to thank you for bringing this wonderful novel to our attention!

As a fledgling writer, I found that the theme I followed through the book was that of creation - creating character, plot and oneself. Read from that angle, Macabea's story becomes almost an extended metaphor for the idea of "story" itself. I need to think this through a bit more, and probably read the book again to clarify my ideas, but that was what stuck with me.

Nov 16, 2009, 9:47pm

My copy of The Hour of the Star just arrived in the post today so I am forgoing my reading of Life and Fate tonight and reading "Star". It sounds so very good.

I would never intentionally be rude, crude or erudite, but have you ever thought of changing your username? I am certain that I am not the only one who always to call you slickdix.
just wonderin'

Nov 16, 2009, 9:51pm

There are several new reviews up of the Hour, but I want to recommend semckibbin's to everyone. He is our group contrarian. Might just learn something if we listen to him.

Edited: Nov 16, 2009, 10:17pm

Both reviews are good reads. That last line in semckibbin's is a doozy! I think the criticisms are valid, but I'm still more in the talbin camp.

115: I used to be slicknyc but I moved and someone already had slickpdx so I had to add a letter....

Edited: Nov 17, 2009, 11:24am

Semckibbin's last line, for those who haven't clicked through, is "These are the facts are hard stones on which the narrative trips", which I don't think is a way of calling the narrative trippy, which it is, but instead of pointing out a certain sloppiness with facts.

Here's the rub: is any mistake in the facts, such as where Gloria is described as not speaking in complete sentences even though she always does, just another characterization of that pseudo-intellectual Rodrigo, or are some these "goofs" that have to be laid at Ms. Lispector's door? Can she get away with anything because Rodrigo's a bit off, or are we letting her off because we like the book and want all to be good?

Nov 16, 2009, 11:24pm

I dunno, I mean, what's our "Gloria corpus"? I can imagine her being in monosyllables most of the time, and the limited amount of attested speech we have for her being relatively of greater significance compared to most of the stuff that comes out of her mouth over the course of the day, and as such being more fully developed, laid out in more complete sentences. I do very much like this book, but I can't say this bothered me.

Nov 16, 2009, 11:59pm

No the last line is "These facts are hard stones upon which the narrative trips." Which makes all the difference!

Nov 17, 2009, 11:25am

>120 slickdpdx: - oh, yes, that's what I said! (thanks, fixed, exactly right)

Nov 17, 2009, 12:43pm

Well done.

Edited: Nov 17, 2009, 10:22pm

My book arrived yesterday and I began it last night. I thought I would finish it but hubby decided he wanted to "talk".
I find I am reading this work very slowly and am only up to page 37 as of yet. But her words are like ear worms to me. They are getting in my head and stirring and crawling all round and over and under each other, slithering all about my brain. And they are "words". A lot of the time she isn't even using sentences. Why am I so fascinated with this little teeny tiny book?

"The person of whom I am about to speak is so simple-minded that she often smiles at other people on the street. No one acknowledges her smile for they don't even notice her."

That is so sad and yet I had to smile at it as it brought back to my memory one day when I was coming back from lunch and walking across the parking lot I saw a crow just doing his thing there and not bothering anyone. When I opened my station, my first customer was a gentleman I have known all of my life, and he said to me: "belva, you are the only person I have ever seen smile at a crow." Strange but lovely to recall little moments like that whilst reading.

"She was as light-headed as an idiot, only she was no idiot. She wasn't even aware that she was unhappy. The one thing she had was faith. In what? In you? It isn't necessary to have faith in anyone or in anything -- it is enough to have faith. This often endowed her with a state of grace. For she has never lost faith."

How very lovely that paragraph.

I've never read anything quite like this little novella or book of words. But I thank those of you who brought it to the attention of the powers that be and that it was chosen as a read.

Nov 17, 2009, 1:56pm

urania takes a bow

Edited: Nov 17, 2009, 3:09pm

OMG!~! Was it U? I don't care/still loving it. Can you feel the love?

Nov 21, 2009, 12:43pm

The sloppiness with facts is, in my view, simply Rodrigo's inability to create a vibrant and coherent world. It is hard to make all the pieces fit together.

Or take the passage Belva approvingly quotes about faith. To me it is simply an example of misusing a word; you have to have faith in something---truth, God, yourself, duty. Rodrigo's belief about the word faith has no content. Such a belief can in no way govern action, it is, to quote Wittgenstein, "a wheel that plays no part in the mechanism."

I can interpret some things ("Truth is unrecognizable.") by my lights and make them fit with what I believe, but by and large the things Rodrigo says are unhelpfully paradoxical ("I am so pure that I know nothing. I know only one thing: there is no need to pity God. Or perhaps there is?") more for setting a metaphysically spooky mood, not for structuring the action or coping with life.

So we never heard, how did the young atheistic Lispector become convinced that God exists?

Nov 24, 2009, 4:16pm

126: Re your first paragraph: I thought that it was definitely Rodrigo's inability rather than Lispector's. I thought that all the clumsiness and pretension and self-referential stuff in his narration was because he himself was a seriously flawed character. I thought this made the book that much more interesting.

Nov 27, 2009, 8:15pm


Hats off to you on both picking a fabulous one for us to read, introducing us to an "unknown," underappreciated author worthy of a larger audience (of which you've helped garner), and for helping make the reading of it so compelling with your magnificent introduction and divine direction throughout the reading.

Three (or four) cheers for Urania#1!!!!

Nov 27, 2009, 8:38pm

Thanks Enrique!