terça-feira, 18 de agosto de 2015

Review: Clarice Lispector’s ‘The Complete Stories’ Sees Life With Existential Dread



Review: Clarice Lispector’s ‘The Complete Stories’ Sees Life With Existential Dread
by LARRY ROHTER

On the very first page of the Brazilian writer Clarice Lispector’s “The Complete Stories,” she signals that hers was never an ordinary sensibility, but one capable of perceiving anxiety and menace in even the most routine phenomena. The story in question was her debut as a writer, published in 1940 when she was just 19. Called “The Triumph,” it begins with a woman awakening to a “bright stain of sunlight” that leaves her motionless in bed, “crucified by lassitude.”
Since her death in 1977, Lispector’s literary reputation has grown enormously, thanks to her nine unsettling novels: The poet Elizabeth Bishop said she was “better than J. L. Borges,” and the novelist Colm Toibin recently called her “one of the hidden geniuses of the 20th century.” This collection, edited by Benjamin Moser, the author of the first comprehensive English-language biography of Lispector, is of a piece with the novels, and makes clear that she also had a mastery of short fiction.
Whatever the form, Lispector is enigmatic, mystical, confounding and philosophical. She may start in familiar territory — on the streets of a big city, aboard a bus or a train, at a dinner party — but quickly veers off into a realm in which the sounds seem to become discordant, and the landscape wavers, its colors taking on odd tones.

Photo 
Clarice Lispector in Bern, Switzerland, in 1946 or 1947. Credit Courtesy of Benjamin Moser/New Directions 

In several stories here, like “Where Were You at Night” and “The Egg and the Chicken,” nothing necessarily “happens.” Instead, Lispector depicts a state of mind or spirit: In a very early tale, “Letters to Hermengardo,” the title character is urged “not to think in words, but rather create a state of feeling,” and that is often what this author delivers.
Or she will describe a setting, frequently a room or an object, in detail so excruciatingly specific that it becomes ominous, as in “Report on the Thing,” about an alarm clock. “This report is the antiliterature of the thing,” she writes. “The clock of which I speak is electronic and has an alarm. The brand is Sveglia, which means ‘wake up.’ Wake up to what, my God? To time. To the hour. To the instant. This clock is not mine. But I took possession of its infernal tranquil soul.”
She is also obsessed with certain animals, like horses, chickens and especially vermin. In her novel “The Passion According to G. H.,” a society matron crushes a cockroach underfoot, setting off a profound psychological crisis; the equivalent here is “Forgiving God,” in which a woman experiencing an epiphany as she walks on a Copacabana street is shocked back to reality when she almost steps on a “huge dead rat.”
Gregory Rabassa, who translated Lispector’s longest novel, “The Apple in the Dark,” has memorably described her as someone “who looked like Marlene Dietrich and wrote like Virginia Woolf.” But this collection also suggests a certain kinship with Kafka, and not just because Lispector was a Jew born in Eastern Europe: She emigrated with her family to Brazil from a Ukrainian shtetl when she was a year old, after a series of pogroms.
Indeed, Mr. Moser has elsewhere described her as “the most important Jewish writer since Kafka.”
Her work is filled with an existential dread — what she calls in one of these stories living “without anesthesia the terror of being alive” — as well as characters who are “unhinged and fragile.” She often meditates on death or addresses an unsympathetic God: “I know how to die. I have been dying since I was little. And it hurts but we pretend it doesn’t. I miss God so badly. And now I am going to die a little bit. I need to so much. Yes. I accept, my Lord. Under protest.”
Reading all 84 of Lispector’s stories also raises the question of whether she could have suffered from — or, perhaps, was blessed with — synesthesia, in which one sense is confused with another. She will write about “an agonizing shade of violet” or “the citric flavor of heroic pains” or “pineapples malignant in their savagery.”
Even her similes seem slightly askew. “He was correct like a tennis court,” she writes, or “the air between Eduardo and her tasted like Saturday.” Monkeys are “as happy as weeds,” and human characters are “blond like a false coin” or indulge in “daydreaming as keen as a crime.” Then there is this gem: “They treated me as if I already lived in their future hotel and were offended I hadn’t paid.”
From the beginning, her style seemed odd, even to the Brazilian ear: When her first novel, “Near to the Wild Heart,” appeared in 1943, the poet Lêdo Ivo was struck by “the foreignness of her prose,” which “does not refer us back to any of our illustrious predecessors.” It is impossible to convey fully that vertiginous sensation of her Portuguese in another language, but the translator of this book, Katrina Dodson, has wrestled mightily with that problem and performed commendably, inducing in English many of the dizzying effects that characterize Lispector’s texts.
In a very useful translator’s afterword, Ms. Dodson remarks on Lispector’s peculiar grammar, syntax, punctuation and diction, and her habit of “bending known forms nearly to the breaking point, yet almost always making them sound right, if not correct.” She found herself challenged, she explains, when “the logic of a deceptively simple narrative or series of declarations becomes distorted or ends in non sequiturs,” or when “a comma trips up the pace where it doesn’t seem to belong, like a hair she’s placed in your soup.”
Language notwithstanding, Lispector also proved surprisingly deft in portraying Rio de Janeiro’s various social strata. Many of her stories are set in the upper-class beachfront neighborhoods, like Copacabana, Ipanema, Leblon and Leme, where she lived as an adult, or Petrópolis, the nearby mountain resort where the rich used to go to escape the summer heat. But others describe types and situations from Tijuca, the sprawling borough of middle-class strivers, somewhat akin to Queens, where she spent her adolescence.
There are stories here about the relationships between husbands and wives, mothers and children, unmarried or adulterous lovers, friends of opposite sexes, smart teenage girls awakening to their sexuality and elderly women whose sexual desire refuses to be extinguished — most told with the same jaundiced edge Lispector brought to everything else. She is especially strong in writing about savvy young women trying to find a place for themselves in a male-dominated world, which helps explain why Lispector has also come to be seen as an early feminist writer, a point stressed in Mr. Moser’s introduction.
Lispector herself was never particularly flattered by the many comparisons to the feminist heroine Virginia Woolf, whom she regarded as something of a coward because she committed suicide. “The terrible duty is to go to the end,” she maintained. “The Complete Stories” does that meticulously, tracking Lispector’s career from start to finish, in all its multiple, disquieting manifestations.

THE COMPLETE STORIES
By Clarice Lispector
Edited by Benjamin Moser
Translated by Katrina Dodson
645 pages. New Directions. $28.95.

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