SPECIAL SPECIAL: Clarice Lispector

“I notice that I’m writing as if I were between sleep and wakefulness.

It’s because I suddenly see that I haven’t been understanding for a long time. Is the edge of my knife growing blunt?
It seems more probable to me that I don’t understand why what I am seeing now is difficult: I’m slyly coming into contact with a reality new to me that still has no corresponding thoughts and not even a word that signifies it
- it is a sensation beyond thought.”

— Clarice Lispector, excerpt from Agua Viva (Translation by Stefan Tobler)


This first sentence is the very definition of how one feels when reading the novel Agua Viva from Brazilian author Clarice Lispector (1920 - 1977). The whole book floats between reality and dreamworld, yet still managing to keep a focus and direction. It's hard to pin down what Lispector does to you with her writing, but it is SPECIAL. In fact, so special that translators have had problems translating her portuguese into English, because even in Portuguese she chooses her grammatical rules from pages in her own rulebook. Yes, she did indeed change the menu of writing and language. 

eyes that say "Don't fuck with me"

eyes that say "Don't fuck with me"

Lispector had a quite unique background. Born in warbeaten Ukraine shortly after WW1 to Lithuanian parents the family moved to Recife in north east Brazil in search of a better life. Clarice and her family then moved to Rio after the premature passing of her mother in 1929, and Rio is also where she published her first dabblings in writing. She then married a Brazilian diplomat in 1944 which led to extensive travelling and moving around for the best part of 15 years, living in a smorgasbord of places, including Naples, Rome, Bern, Torquay in Devon and Washington DC.  

After years of being a nomad, hosting officials, and following her diplomat husband around she finally had enough.

“I hated it, but I did what I had to […] I gave dinner parties, I did everything you’re supposed to do, but with a disgust…”
Clarice + sons on Copacabana in Rio in 1959

Clarice + sons on Copacabana in Rio in 1959

She increasingly missed her sisters and Brazil, and in June 1959 left her husband and returned with her sons to Rio de Janeiro, where she would spend the rest of her life.

What I personally like most about reading Lispector is the trance-like state she puts you in as a reader. Like the state one is in right after waking up from a deep sleep, still with one foot in dreams. As mentioned in the interview below, she gets up early (4:30 am) in the morning to write, and get into the ZONE (also not to be bothered by anyone, which I think she won't have a problem with judging by her eyes). And that's the way I imagine her in my mind. Early in the morning, with a big batch of coffee on the go, leaning her head back, in a flow, writing quickly, not letting go of her dreams quite yet.