Sunday, March 23, 2008

Clarice Lispector

An extract from The Passion According to G.H. by Clarice Lispector...

The most unreachable part of my soul, the one not belonging to me, is the part that touches on my border with what is not me and the part to which I give myself over. My whole anxiety has been this untranscendable and excessively close proximity. I am more what is not within me.
And that is why the hand that I was holding has abandoned me. No, no. It was I who let go of the hand, because I now have to go alone.
If I succeed in retuning to the realm of life I shall pick up your hand again, and I shall kiss it in gratitude for its waiting for me, waiting for my sojourn to pass, for me to return, thin, starved, humbled: hungry just for what is little, hungry just for what is less.
Because sitting here quietly, I have come to want to experience my own remoteness as the only way of experiencing my nowness. And that, which is apparently innocent, that was again an enjoyment that resembled a horrendous, cosmic pleasure.
To relive it, I am letting go of your hand.


The Passion According to G.H. is not really a novel (in any meaningful sense of the word). Instead it is actually a collection of aphoristic speculations on a bunch of things, written mostly in a free-associative way, or at least that's how it read to me. There is a narrator alright. She calls herself G.H. but later says it is not her real name. (It actually is an initial for "human race" in Portuguese). The only real event that happens in the novel is crushing and killing of a poor cockroach. This event sparks off lots of thoughts and speculations mostly related to that magical philosophical word "Being", which also sometimes leads to thoughts about "Non-being", even "Nothingness." Those who have their Sartre and Heidegger all done with, might be able to appreciate what really goes on here but as a philosophical dunderhead it all sounded a lot of gibberish to me. Not surprisingly, the translator of the book in his introduction says while remaining largely obscure and mostly unread in the Anglo-American world, Lispector is highly regarded in France (even more than her native Brazil), where she has been subject of numerous monographs and dissertations. Not that I doubt the profundity or the seriousness, one just needs a solid intellectual background apart from some patience.

It may or may not be related to what Lispector says in the book but all this talk about "Being" in the context of thinking about life of a cockroach reminded me of a line of thinking that interests me a lot. At one place she says that a lack of self-awareness implies that "nonbeing is a closer approximation to truth." She is probably critical of this position but I am not sure. Is a cockroach's way of being not a being at all because it lacks self-awareness or even more fundamentally, it lacks "language"? This struck me also because I was reading Celine's Journey to the End of the Night in which at one place the narrator says that he prefers an insect's life because unlike humans it doesn't need to "believe" to go on with life, which to him, by definition, smacks of dishonesty, compromise and hypocrisy. In other words an insect's way of being is more authentic, truthful and less alienated than a man's being can ever be?

1 comment:

antonia said...

i think i read it a decade ago or so which is why i can't remember much, but The Apple in the dark is sort of more coherent, like a novel 'as we know it' and just as great.