I picked up Vladimir Nabokov’s novel Pale Fire on a weird whim. I mean, I quite literally passed by it in the bookshop I frequent; it was misshelved, or unshelved, really. Someone had left it in sci-fi, near the “Bs” (B-for-Ballard, if you must know). Pale Fire, eh? I thought. Can’t remember this one. Because I had never read it, somehow. An amazing novel, one I dove into after sampling a bit of Clarice Lispector’s Selected Cronicas (still sampling—this is one of those books that’s lovely to dip gently into between selections) and after failing to get through the first essay in Elizabeth Hardwick’s Seduction and Betrayal. Not sure if I can (should?) muster a “review” of Pale Fire, but it’s one of the better prepostmodern-postmodernist novels I’ve ever read—very very funny and a beautiful mindfuck.
In advance of New Directions’ forthcoming Clarice Lispector collection The Complete Stories, Vice has published “Report on the Thing” in a new English translation by Katrina Dodson (who translated the entire volume of 86 stories. First few paragraphs:
This thing is the most difficult for a person to understand. Keep trying. Don’t get discouraged. It will seem obvious. But it is extremely difficult to know about it. For it involves time.
We divide time when in reality it is not divisible. It is always immutable. But we need to divide it. And to that end a monstrous thing was created: the clock.
I am not going to speak of clocks. But of one particular clock. I’m showing my cards: I’ll say up front what I have to say and without literature. This report is the anti-literature of the thing.
The clock of which I speak is electronic and has an alarm. The brand is Sveglia, which means “awake.” Awake 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.
It is not a wristwatch: Therefore it is freestanding. It is less than an inch tall and stands upon the surface of the table. I would like its actual name to be Sveglia. But the owner of the clock wants its name to be Horácio. No matter. Because the main thing is that it is time.
Clarice Lispector interviewed Antônio Carlos Jobim in 1968. Lovely, even through the strange wonderful estranging filter of Google translate.
“I’ve discovered a miracle in the rain — Joana thought — a miracle splintered into dense, solemn, glittering stars, like a suspended warning: like a lighthouse. What are they trying to tell me? In those stars I can foretell the secret, their brilliance is the impassive mystery I can hear flowing inside me, weeping at length in tones of romantic despair. Dear God, at least bring me into contact with them, satisfy my longing to kiss them. To feel their light on my lips, to feel it glow inside my body, leaving it shining and transparent, fresh and moist like the minutes that come before dawn. Why do these strange longings possess me? Raindrops and stars, this dense and chilling fusion has roused me, opened the gates of my green and sombre forest, of this forest smelling of an abyss where water flows. And harnessed it to night. Here, beside the window, the atmosphere is more tranquil. Stars, stars, zero. The word cracks between my teeth into fragile splinters. Because no rain falls inside me, I wish to be a star. Purify me a little and I shall acquire the dimensions of those beings who take refuge behind the rain.”
From Clarice Lispector’s Near to the Wild Heart.
The moment her aunt went to pay for her purchases, Joana removed the book and slipped it furtively between the others she was carrying under her arm. Her aunt turned pale.
Once in the street, the woman chose her words carefully:
— Joana.. . Joana, I saw you…
Joana gave her a quick glance. She remained silent.
— But you have nothing to say for yourself? — her aunt could no longer restrain herself, her voice tearful. — Dear God, what is to become of you?
— There’s no need to fuss, Auntie.
— But you’re still a child… Do you realize what you’ve done?
— I know…
— Do you know… do you know what it’s called… ?
— I stole a book, isn’t that what you’re trying to say?
— God help me! I don’t know what I’m going to do, you even have the nerve to own up!
— You forced me to own up.
— Do you think that you can… that you can just go around stealing?
— Well… perhaps not.
— Why do you do it then… ?
— Because I want to.
— You what?
— her aunt exploded.
— That’s right, I stole because I wanted to. I only steal when I feel like it. I’m not doing any harm.
— God help me! So, stealing does no harm, Joana.
— Only if you steal and are frightened. It doesn’t make me feel either happy or sad.
The woman looked at her in despair.
— Look child, you’re growing up, it won’t be long before you’re a young lady… Very soon now you will be wearing your clothes longer… I beg of you: promise me that you won’t do it again, promise me, think of your poor father who is no longer with us.
Joana looked at her inquisitively:
— But I’m telling you I can do what I like, that…
A biblioklept episode from Clarice Lispector’s novel Near to the Wild Heart.
Yes, she could feel within herself the presence of a perfect animal. She resisted the idea of unleashing this animal one day. Perhaps for fear of causing some embarrassment or because she was afraid of some revelation… No, no — she repeated to herself- one mustn’t be afraid of being creative. Deep down, the animal probably repelled her because she still felt anxious to please and to be loved by someone as powerful as her dead aunt. Even if only to humiliate her afterwards and disown her without giving it another thought. For the best saying, as well as being the most recent was: goodness makes me want to vomit. Goodness was lukewarm and weak, it stank of raw meat that had been lying around for a long time without, however, becoming completely rotten. It was freshened up from time to time, seasoned sufficiently to preserve it, a lump of lukewarm, stagnating meat.
From Clarice Lispector’s novel Near to the Wild Heart.
I have to move through Near to the Wild Heart very slowly—Lispector’s representation of her narrator’s shifts in consciousness is slippery, abstract, terrifying at times, often beautiful, alienating, complex. As in The Hour of the Star, there’s an intense vein of abjection that unifies the work—its narrator’s navigation of internal and external worlds—that simultaneously attracts and compels me.
Daddy’s typewriter was tapping out tac-tac..tac-tac-tac… The clock chimed brightly ting-ting… ting-ting… The silence dragged out zzzzzzz. The wardrobe was saying what? clothes — clothes — clothes. No, no. Between the clock, the typewriter and the silence there was an ear listening out, large, flesh-pink and dead. The three sounds were connected by the light of day and by the rustling of tiny leaves on the tree as they joyfully rubbed against each other.
Resting her head against the cold, shiny window-pane, she looked into the neighbour’s yard, at the great world of the chickens-that-did-not-know-they-were-about-to-die. And as if it were right under her nose, she could smell the warm, beaten earth, so fragrant and dry, where she knew perfectly well, she knew perfectly well that some worm or other lay squirming before being devoured by the hen that humans were going to eat.
There was a grand moment, motionless and quite hollow inside. She opened her eyes wide and waited. Nothing happened. Blank. But suddenly with a shudder they wound up the day and they began to function once again, the typewriter tapping, father’s cigarette giving off smoke, silence, tiny leaves, plucked chickens, brightness, things restored to life and as impatient as a kettle on the boil. All that was missing was the ting-ting of the clock which gave so much pleasure. She closed her eyes, pretended to hear it chime, and to the rhythm of that imaginary music, she went up on the tips of her toes. She executed three dance steps, so light and ethereal.
Then suddenly she looked at everything with displeasure, as if she had eaten far too much of that concoction. ‘Hey, hey, hey…’, she murmured wearily and then thought to herself: what will happen now now now? And in the fraction of time that followed, nothing ever happened if she went on waiting for something to happen if you get my meaning? She pushed away this awkward thought, distracting herself with a movement of her bare foot on the dusty wooden floor. She rubbed her foot, looking sideways at her father, awaiting his impatient and nervous smile. But nothing happened. Nothing. It’s difficult to suck in people like the vacuum cleaner does.
— Daddy, I’ve invented a poem.
The first five paragraphs of Clarice Lispector’s novel Near to the Wild Heart.
The Fata Morgana Books collects four novellas from Jonathan Littell and is forthcoming from Two Line Press, a new indie specializing in publishing English language translations of some of the world’s best literature. Here is their blurb about The Fata Morgana Books, Littell’s follow up to The Kindly Ones:
Ranging from swimming pools to art galleries, from beds to battlefields, and a few mythical places, these novellas are narrated by hermaphrodites, ghosts, wanderers, and wonders. Littell here once again mixes his love of the grotesque with time-twisting narratives and ethereal protagonists. Like an Italo Calvino or a Clarice Lispector, Littell channels the emotions of loss and desire to illuminate the shadowy depths of solitude, reflection, longing, and lust.
With fleet prose and Proustian self-reflection, these stories range from chaotic airlifts to a series of bullfights under the hot sun, fatal negotiations resolved as mathematical equations, and the nine circles of Hell. Commanding and beguiling, The Fata Morgana Books rings with depth and mystery, always pushing through to explore the in-between spaces: between thoughts, between bodies, between hungers and their satisfactions, between eyes and the things they look at.
I was psyched to get a review copy of The Fata Morgana Books; Littell’s previous novel about an SS officer’s depraved undertakings, The Kindly Ones, stuck with me in a weird, gross, foul way. In my review I suggested that it was “a novel that might as well take place in the asshole, or at least the colon.”
I read the first novella in The Fata Morgana Books, Etudes, which is comprised of four stories that read like an overture for what will come. The first piece, “A Summer Sunday,” sets an unnerving and estranging tone, where pleasure seems to mingle with ennui and dread:
That Sunday, then, after the beer near the cemetery, I accompanied B. to meet our friend A. and we went out to lunch at a beautiful, somewhat isolated restaurant with a terrace only half enclosed, which allowed one to stay out in the open air without breaking police regulations too much. We ate slowly, all afternoon, lamb chops with an onion salad, and drank a bottle of red wine. Afterward, B. and I shared a cigar, too dry but a great pleasure nonetheless. Then we bought some cakes and went over for drinks on my balcony, opposite the cemetery, with the two towers at our feet. It wasn’t till the next day, reading the papers, that we realized just how bad the weekend had been. But the summer had been like that for six weeks already, and it seemed likely it would continue that way.
By “The Wait,” the next chapter of Etudes, we’ve descended into Littell’s abject terrain. More to come in a full review.
The opening paragraph to Clarice Lispector’s novel The Passion According to G.H.