Clarice Lispector

“It is curious that I can’t say who I am. That is to say, I know it all too well, but I can’t say it.”

Clarice is a writer I wish I had discovered in my early teens, when everything in my life suddenly changed. Up until then, I lived in Poland. I knew where to find the lollie man,  how to get the kids to follow me onto the thinly frozen lake. Then one night my parents carried my sister and I into the car and we escaped, without a goodbye. Little did I know that they had been planning this move for a while as the political system in Poland was becoming dangerous. It is at this moment like many immigarant I became a plant with two root systems. 

When we arrived in Australia for the first few months we lived in an immigration centre. By day I was attending a posh music school VCA with four perfectly white middle class kids, and by night was having dinner with a hundred or so refugees in an over lit cafeteria. I was living two very different lives.  At this pivotal age from girl to woman, from snowy nights  to oil refineries of Altona, everything felt new, strange and mysterious. A roadtrip without a map and Clarise's work just says YES.  It is all real, here, and I am here writing about it. Your witness, your interpreter your friend, your guide. 

Clarice was born in the Ukraine in the 1920's and with her parents emigrated to Brazil. Her first novella written when she was 23 years old, was awarded the Graca Aranha prize for the best first novel.   In 1966 she had a serious accident where she nearly burnt to death and was the catalyst for one of her finest books Agua Viva.


Her books, The Smallest Woman in the World and  Agua Viva are particularly remarkable. It is a thrill to read her work. A sort of disorientation, much like when you're a child whirling like a dervish feeling the whole world wrapping you up.

In today's creative consumption, where plot is king and everything is designed to show perfect balance between cause and effect Clarice explored the power of causing an effect. After all how do you capture the act of our existence? as a feverish unfiltered meditation.

Here is an excerpt from the Smallest Woman In The World.

She was laughing, warm, warm. Little Flower was delighting in life. The rare thing herself was having the ineffable sensation of not yet having been eaten. Not having been eaten was something that, at other times, gave her the agile impulse to leap from branch to branch. But, in this moment of tranquility, amidst the dense leaves of the Central Congo, she wasn’t putting that impulse into action—and the impulse had become concentrated entirely in the smallness of the rare thing herself. And so she was laughing. It was a laugh that only one who doesn’t speak, laughs. That laugh, the embarrassed explorer couldn’t manage to classify. And she kept enjoying her own soft laughter, she who wasn’t being devoured. Not being devoured is the most perfect of feelings. Not being devoured is the secret goal of an entire life.


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