The Passion According to G.H.

The Passion According to G.H. By Clarice Lispector. 1964. New translation by Ida Novey

Writing without plot. Writing about writing. Each word, each sentence, each paragraph like an explosive compulsion. An aphorism of despair and delight. Clarice Lispector wrote as if her life depended upon it. As if she couldn’t help herself. And though her chaos was contained and expressed through words, the result was not chaos. It was poetry.

Clarice Lispector (1920-1977) was born Jewish in what is now the Ukraine. To escape from the frequent pogroms there, her family fled to resettle in Brazil, via Romania, when Clarice was not yet two. She wrote in Portuguese, considered herself Brazilian through and through, and is considered by some to be among the greatest writers of the 20th century in that language. If the English translation of The Passion According to G.H. is any indication, I can understand such high praise. It is unlike anything I’ve ever read and it truly defies description.

Rachel Kushner, in one of the best essays about Lispector I’ve come across, gives description a try:

In all of her work, she seems to write in service to neither tradition nor vanguardism. Her prose reads like something closer to philosophy, but it’s not philosophy. She isn’t a scholar. She knows things from sun-bright intuition. What writer is her kindred? It’s surprisingly difficult to find a suitable example. Ingeborg Bachmann comes at the same problem of time, but from a different direction, when she writes in Malina that “today” is a word that “only suicides ought to be allowed to use,” because it has no meaning for other people. Kafka is often mentioned, and Lispector appreciated his work, but their writing seems nothing alike. Kafka is a storyteller, no matter how unusual or abstracted the setting and events. Lispector is not. Kafka’s characters are actors in life, who inhabit the world. Lispector’s are not; they do not go here and there, encounter other people, have convincing spoken exchanges that result in effects on the main character and others.

I’m reading her Agua Viva right now, and like it even more than The Passion so far. Both are enough to spur an expanded reading of her oeuvre. But these works also make it clear that a single reading is not enough. There is too much left unsaid, but hinted at. Too much between the lines, and far too many windows created in time by her sentences.

It’s not that she’s “difficult,” per se. It’s more like she paints abstracts that lead to contemplation, but the rush of language prevents that contemplation upon first viewing. Accretion. Layers. Forgetting. And she has the uncanny ability to create marvelous non sequiturs within sentences — like the best surrealists. Like the best comics. But unlike most comics, she is a priestess of sorts, a mystic, a soul wanderer. And, perhaps, a diva with genius. One gets the feeling that she would have been an oracle in ancient Greece, or a shaman in the Peruvian Andes before the conquistadors. But modern life, with its complexities, with its endless noise and bustle, drove her into an artistic neuroses which she describes.

Not being neurotic. Nothing that basic or potentially self-indulgent. The neuroses of being itself . . .


The Passion According to G.H.
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