Everything I marked In Part 1 of Near to the Wild Heart by Clarice Lispector (First Reading)
Everything that really mattered was precisely what she found herself unable to confide.
She could feel within herself the presence of a perfect animal, full of inconsistencies, of egoism and vitality.
How curious that I’m unable to say who I am. That is to say, I know perfectly well, but I cannot bring myself to say it. Most of all, I’m afraid of saying it, because the moment I try to speak not only do I fail to express what I feel, but what I feel slowly transforms itself into what I am saying. Or at least, what makes me act is not what I feel but what I say.
Even so, only at a certain point in the game did she lose the feeling that she was telling lies — and she was afraid of not being present in her thoughts.
If I were to see myself there in the land of the stars, I would remain only for myself.
— Missie, missie, bissie, lissie…the man sang, looking towards Joana. What are you going to be when you grow up and become a young lady and all the rest of it?
— As for all the rest of it, she doesn’t have the faintest idea, my dear fellow, her father declared, but if she won’t get annoyed with me, I’ll tell you what she wants to be. She has told me that when she grows up she’s going to be a hero…
The man laughed, and laughed, and laughed. Suddenly he stopped, held Joana by the chin and as long as he remained there holding it, she couldn’t chew her food.
— Surely you’re not going to cry because your daddy has told me your secret, little one?
At times, they were not even the kind of thing that happens, but just words…
— You can’t imagine what she was like: I never saw anyone with so much hatred for others, but real hatred and contempt as well. And to be so good at the same time…dry but good. Or am I wrong? I am the one who did not like that kind of goodness: almost as if she were making a fool of me. However I got used to it. She didn’t need me. Nor I her, to be honest. But we lived together. What I should still like to know, would give anything to know, is what was on her mind all the time. You would find me, as you now see me and know me, the greatest fool compared to her. So you can imagine the impression she made on the few miserable relatives I possess: it was as if I had brought into their rosy and ample bosom — do you remember, Alfredo? — they both laughed — it was as if I had brought in some contagious virus, a heretic, I don’t know what…Who can tell? But even I prefer that this little one shouldn’t take after her. Or after me, for God’s sake — Fortunately, I have the impression that Joana will go her own way…
Just as the space surrounded by four walls has a specific utility, created not so much by its being space, as by the fact that it is surrounded by walls. Otavio transformed her into something that was not her but Otavio himself and which Joana received out of pity for both of them because both were incapable of freeing themselves through love. Also because she submissively accepted her own fear of suffering, her inability to conduct herself beyond the frontier of revolt. Besides: how was she to tie herself to a man without permitting him to imprison her? How was she to prevent him from enclosing her body and soul within his four walls? And was there some means of acquiring things without those things possessing her?
She could offer him any thought and so create a new relationship between them. This is what pleased her most in her dealings with others. She was under no obligation to follow the past, and with a word she could invent a way of life. If she were to say: I’m three months pregnant, that’s it! something would exist between them. Even though Otavio was not particularly stimulating. With him the most likely possibility was to link oneself to what had already taken place. Even so, beneath the gaze of his imploring ‘save me, save me’, she opened her hand from time to time and allowed a little bird to take sudden flight. But sometimes, perhaps because of the nature of what she said, no bridge was created between them. On the contrary, a gap opened up.
Dear God, what had happened to things? Everything was calling out: no! no!
Especially when it came to thinking, everything was impossible.
Then Joana suddenly understood that the greatest beauty was to be found in succession, that movement explained form…
In order to have a vision, the thing did not have to be sad or happy or to manifest itself. It was enough to exist, preferably still and silent, in order to feel its mark. Dear God, the mark of existence…But this was not something to be pursued, since all that existed, perforce existed…The vision, in fact, consisted in surprising the symbol of things in the things themselves.
In her confusion, she was unwittingly truth itself, which probably gave her a greater capacity for life than knowledge of life.
…And at this moment she was intrigued to discover that she was starting to listen to herself.
Chapter Title: The Bath [*Reread this chapter*]
Tell me first of all: what is good and what is evil?
— I don’t know…
‘I don’t know’ is not a reply. Try to discover everything that exists inside you.
…But why were people not entirely surprised at her inexplicable attitude towards them?
With whom would Joana now speak of the things that exist as naturally as one speaks of those other things that simply are?
For no one else in her life, no one else would probably ever say to her like the teacher: one lives and one dies. Everyone was forgetting that all they wanted to do was to amuse themselves. She looked at them. Her aunt amused herself with the house, the cook, her husband, with her married daughter and visitors. Her uncle amused himself with his job, his farm, a game of chess, the newspapers. Joana tried to analyze them, thinking that in this way she could destroy them. Yes, they were fond of each other in a distant, familiar way. From time to time absorbed in their games, they would glance at each other anxiously, as if to reassure themselves that they still existed. Only to resume that lukewarm distance between them which lessened when one of them went down with flu or had a birthday. They certainly slept in the same bed, Joana thought without satisfaction or malice.
She becomes a serious creature with wide, deep eyes.
Because no rain falls inside me, I wish to be a star.
I can scarcely believe that I have limits, that I am outlined and defined. I feel myself to be dispersed in the atmosphere, thinking inside other creatures, living inside things beyond myself.
Sometimes, upon making this discovery, there comes this love for myself, constant glances in the mirror, a knowing smile for those who stare at me. A period of interrogation addressed to my body, a time of greed, sleep, long walks in the open air. Until some phrase or glance — like that in the mirror — unexpectedly reminds me of other secrets, those which remove all limits. Enthralled, I plunge my body to the bottom of the well, I penetrate all its sources and walking in my sleep I follow another path. — To analyze moment by moment, to perceive the nucleus of each thing made from time or space. To possess each moment, to link them to my awareness, like tiny filaments, barely perceptible yet strong. Can this be life? Even so, it might elude me. Another way of capturing it would be to live. But the dream is more complete than the reality; the latter plunges me into unconsciousness. What matters in the end: to be alive or to know that one is alive? — The purest of words, crystal drops. I feel their moist and gleaming form struggling inside me. But where can I find what I must express? Inspire me, I have almost everything: I possess the outline awaiting the essence, is that it? — What is someone to do who doesn’t know what to do with himself? To utilitize himself as body and soul to the advantage of his body and soul? Or to transform his strength into an alien strength? Or to wait for the solution to come from himself as a consequence? I can express nothing, not even within form. All I possess lies much deeper inside me. One day, after finally speaking, shall I still have something on which to live? Or will everything that I might say be beneath and beyond life?
[!!! Holy Shit]
Within my inner self I find the silence I am seeking. But it leaves me so bereft of any memory of any human being and of me myself, that I transform this impression into the certainty of physical solitude.
Where is my imagination? I walk over invisible tracks. Prison, freedom. These are the words that occur to me. But I sense that they are not the only true and irreplaceable ones.
I must never forget, I thought, that I have been happy, that I am happy, happier than anyone could hope to be. But I forgot. I was always forgetting.
And the moment was so perfect that I felt neither fear nor gratitude and did not invoke God. I want to die now, something called out inside me, a cry of freedom rather than suffering. Any moment following upon that one would be less exalted and empty.
…a voice and days that were sexless…
The timbre of a newly-wed woman had a history, a fragile history that went unnoticed by the woman with the voice, but not by this one.
Above all, she went on thinking, she understands life because she is not sufficiently intelligent not to understand it.
She made a quick, impatient movement with her head. She grabbed a pencil, and on a piece of paper scribbled decisively in bold letters: ‘The personality that ignores itself achieves greater fulfilment.’ True or false? But in a sense she had taken her revenge by casting her cold intelligent thought over that woman swollen with life.
…She would hate herself more if she were already an immutable tree-trunk until death, capable only of yielding fruits but not of growing within herself. She craved for even more: to be constantly reborn, to cut away everything she had learned, that she had seen, and to make a fresh start in some new terrain where even the most trifling act might have some meaning, where she might breathe air as if for the very first time.
One more she was overcome by sheer, inexplicable weariness. Ah, perhaps I should go, perhaps…She closed her eyes for a moment, permitting herself the birth of a gesture or of a phrase without logic. She always did this, confident that deep down, beneath the lava, there might be a desire already directed to some goal. Sometimes, when she closed the doors of consciousness through a special mechanism not unlike that of lapsing into sleep, and allowed herself to act or speak, she was surprised to receive — for she only perceived the gesture at the moment of its execution — a slap on her face from her own hand. Sometimes she heard strange gibberish coming from her lips. Even without understanding those words, they brought a sense of relief, and greater freedom.
Then she began to think that she had actually prayed. Not her. Something greater than her and of which she was unaware had prayed. But she had no desire to pray because she knew that prayer would be the remedy. But a remedy like morphine that numbs any kind of pain. Like the morphine one needs in ever increasing doses in order to feel any effect. No, no she was not so worn out that she should be cowardly enough to want to pray instead of discovering pain, of suffering and possessing it entirely in order to experience all pain’s mysteries. And even if she were to pray…She would end up in a convent because all the morphine in the world would not be enough to satisfy her craving. And this would be the final degradation: addiction. Yet unless she were to seek an external god by some natural cause, she would finish up deifying herself in order to explore her own sorrow, by loving her past, by seeking refuge and warmth in her own thoughts, born initially with a desire for a work of art and later serving as familiar nourishment during periods of sterility. She was in danger of establishing and regimenting herself inside suffering, which would also be an addiction and form of sedation.
What was to be done then? What was to be done to interrupt that path, to grant herself some respite between her and herself in order to be able to re-encounter herself without danger, renewed and pure?
What was to be done?
The piano was deliberately attacked with measured uniform scales. Exercises, she thought. Exercises…Yes she discovered feeling amused…Why not? Why not try to fall in love? Why not try to live?
And then? — he thought. To close my eyes and hear my own music which trickles slow and dark like a muddy river. Cowardice is lukewarm and I’m resigned to it, laying down all the heroic weapons which twenty-seven years of thought have granted me. What am I today, at this moment? A trampled, silent leaf, fallen to the ground. No movement of air to rustle it. Scarcely breathing so as not to awaken. But what not, above all, why not use the appropriate words and entangle and envelop myself in images? Why call myself a withered leaf when I am merely a man with folded arms?
They only understood each other when they kissed, when Otavio rested his head like this, on her bosom.
— Only after having lived more or better, shall I succeed in discounting what is human, Joana sometimes told him.
— Discounting what is human is difficult, she continued, difficult to escape this atmosphere of frustrated revolt — adolescence — this solidarity with men who share the same sense of frustration and failure. Yet how nice it would be to build something pure, free from false, sublimated love, free from the fear of not loving…The fear of not loving, worse that the fear of not being loved…
— One night, no sooner had I settled down, she told him, when one of the legs of the bed broke, throwing me on to the floor. After a moment of anger, for I was not even sleepy enough to dispense with comfort, I suddenly thought to myself: Why should a bed be intact and not be broken? I got back into bed and was soon asleep…
Especially when he had touched her, he had understood: whatever might follow between them would be irremidiable.
He could love her, he could accept the new and incomprehensible adventure she was offering him. But he continued holding on to the first impulse which had thrown him against her. It was not as a woman, it was not like this, submissive, that he wanted her…He needed her cold and assured. So that he could say as he used to say when he was a little boy, protected and triumphant: It’s not my fault…
Plenitude became sad and oppressive and Joana was a cloud ready to turn to rain. She breathed with difficulty as if there were no room inside her for air. She paced up and down, perplexed by the change. How? — she asked herself and felt that she was being ingenuous. Were there two sides to this? Was she suffering for the same reason that had made her terribly happy?
Each event vibrated in her body like little glass needles that were splintering. After some moments, fleeting and profound, she lived tranquilly for a long time, understanding, accepting, resigning herself to everything.
She gradually became accustomed to her new state, she became accustomed to breathing, to living. Little by little, she started becoming older in herself, she opened her eyes and once more she was a statue, no longer plastic, yet defined. From afar, disquiet was reawakening. At night, between the sheets, the slightest movement or unexpected thought awakened her to herself. Mildly surprised, she opened her eyes wide, perceived her own body plunged into reassuring contentment. She wasn’t suffering, but where was she?
Her life consisted of tiny, complete lives, of perfect circles, that became isolated from each other.
It was ever futile to have been happy or unhappy. And even to have loved. No happiness or unhappiness had been so intense that it could have transformed the elements of her matter, giving her a unique path — as one’s true path ought to be. I perpetually go on inaugurating myself, opening and closing circles of life, throwing them aside, withered, impregnated with the past. Why are they so independent, why don’t they merge into one solid mass and provide me with ballast? The fact is that they were far to integral. Moments so intense, red condensed within themselves that they needed neither past nor future in order to exist. They brought an awareness that did not serve as experience, a direct awareness, closer to feeling than perception. The truth then revealed was so true that it couldn’t endure save in its recipient, in the very fact which had provoked it. So true, so fatal, that it only existed in function of its origin. Once the moment of life is over the corresponding truth is also exhausted. I cannot mould it, make it inspire other such moments. Consequently nothing compromises me.
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