Saturday, March 04, 2017

Everything there was sliced-up nerves

Reading notes on Clarice Lispector's The Passion According to G.H., the fourth and fifth chapters.

The first sentence of each chapter repeats the last sentence of the preceding chapter. It makes for a nice sense of continuity, maybe a looping effect. (Should I skip to the end to see the very last sentence? No.) Każdy przecież początek to tylko ciąg dalszy... [Every beginning is but a continuation...] ("Love at First Sight," Wisława Szymborska).

I wonder if these sentences stack up to have a more direct message,say, à la If on a Winter's Night a Traveller (Italo Calvino), where the chapter headings tell their own story.

In the fourth chapter, G.H. enters the maid's room to find the opposite of what she'd expected: it is orderly, clean, bright, dry, stripped bare — "as in an insane asylum."
The room seemed to be on a level incomparably higher than the apartment itself.

Like a minaret.
This is an effect of the angles and reflections, but the use of the word "minaret" connotes something spiritual yet foreign. One wonders if G.H. doesn't perceive it as higher morally, uncomfortable as the sight makes her.

This room is described so vividly, I think I can draw it. On one wall are drawn in charcoal a naked man and woman and a dog, with a coarse rigidity, hard motionlessness (p 31).
They were emerging as if they'd gradually oozed from the wall, slowly coming from the center until they'd sweated through the rough lime surface. tries to recall the maid, believing this mural is intended as a message for her, but has trouble doing so (p 32).
Abruptly, this time with real discomfort, I finally let a sensation come to me which for six months, out of negligence and lack of interest, I hadn't let myself feel: The silent hatred of that woman. What surprised me was that it was a kind of detached hatred, the worst kind: indifferent hatred. Not a hatred that individualized me but merely the lack of mercy. No, not even hatred.
G.H. describes the maid as having the features of a queen, and for this she is despised. I get the sense that the maid is physically superior, so G.H. tries extra hard to bring her down. The maid is also "invisible" (p 33). Class tensions are in play — did the maid intend the dog to represent G.H.? G.H. feels the maid, her inferior, is judging her. I'm reminded of Magda Szabo's The Door, for the force of the clashes between the employer and employee, each with a strong worldview entirely formed by where they came from.

Three old suitcases labeled G.H. are stacked along one wall. Barely noticeable. As if she herself had been boxed up, set aside, forgotten? Accumulating dust.

G.H. looks more closely at the room. Everything is dry, dusty, bleached, desert-like, in contrast to her habitual cozy, moist surroundings, their soft beauty. This is a place where things are exposed, over-exposed. "The room was the portrait of an empty stomach" (p 34). "Everything there was sliced-up nerves that had been hung up and dried on a clothesline."

Oh my god, this room is becoming an attack on all her senses. Charcoal scratching like needles on records and hissing and fingernails.

G.H. is planning on setting the room right, but she is summoning up a violent rage, the urge to kill. And then she goes i n(p 36). (She's been standing in the doorway this whole time?) She feels like the world is collapsing in on her. "Suddenly the whole world that was me shriveled up in fatigue." It's like some facade has crumbled, some pretense of being the kind of human being she'd fashioned herself to be. "And it's inside myself that I must create that someone who will understand." She's lost and needs to find herself, create herself anew.

Is it really the room that is triggering this existential crisis? Her relationship to the maid, and the existing class structures? The contrast of the room to the rest of her life that makes her question, I don't know, truth, purity, fullness? Or is it just that she's remembering how it unfolded yesterday, that now she reinterprets her perceptions then in order to make sense of her present state. The room is a void, a nothingness she's breached. She left pieces of herself in the hallway because she didn't fit.

She needs to refocus. The wardrobe. "The darkness inside escaped like a puff." The suspense! "And, as if the darkness inside were spying on me, we briefly spied each other without seeing each other." It's a Neitzschean moment, slightly sidestepped; what might you become if you saw each other? The door's blocked, move the bed over. Open the door! My god, it's a fucking horror novel!

A cockroach! Ancient, repulsive, obsolete, lurking in your wardrobe. Are there more?

"They're the miniature version of an enormous animal." What? Obviously that's not meant literally. A beast like Satan (though I don't recall him ever being described in insect-like terms)? Death? Life? Slow, patient, meaningless life? Something primal. Fear? What is this enormous animal?

Now the room is a sarcophagus, housing the roach and that maid. G.H feels herself limited, delimited by space. "I wasn't imprisoned but I was located." G.H. recalls an impoverished childhood (is she afraid of her past? ashamed of her past? afraid of denying her past?). Space and time are wholly palpable. And she needs to escape, needs to admit the danger she's in (what danger?).

"That was when the cockroach began to emerge." It really is a horror novel!

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