Thursday, March 02, 2017

I lost my human form for several hours

I am reading Clarice Lispector's The Passion According to G.H. It is clearly a book that demands something of the reader. It hopes to be read by "people whose souls are already formed." I think I qualify.

I am forcing myself to read slowly, though I feel I could devour this in just a few hours. I want to document my understanding, my processing of it. I feel it's important.

The passion, the suffering. Of whom, what? Is this a Jesus story? And who is G.H.?

The epigraph is from Bernard Berenson: "A complete life may be one ending in so full identification with the non-self that there is no self to die." Wikipedia tells me that Berenson was an art historian specializing in the Renaissance. Perhaps he and Lispector knew each other. They both had Jewish backgrounds, and emigrated from Eastern Europe (though decades apart).

The novel starts with series of dashes, blanks. "I'm searching, I'm searching. I'm trying to understand." the narrator is mired in profound personal disorder, existential chaos. To the narrator, nothing makes sense anymore.

Something happened yesterday (p 4). "Yesterday, however, I lost my human setup for hours and hours." But then (p 6), "I get so scared when I realize I lost my human form for several hours. I don't know if I'll have another form to replace the one I lost." So, is the narrator currently formless? That seems to be the case in terms of the narrator's consciousness and sense of self. But is this more than metaphorical? Did something happen to the narrator physically? This reminds me a little of Lila's "dissolving margins" and "dissolving boundaries" in Ferrante's Neapolitan quartet, where the form of things breaks down to reveal some terrifying essence, only the self was somehow preserved from dissolving while experiencing the effects. Here, the self is lost too, and there seems to be trouble in regaining it.

The narrator refers to having lost a third leg, something that was essential but never existed and is no longer needed. An absence. An absence in relief, a positive absence.

The narrator has lost organization (acquired disorganization?) and lost courage (acquired cowardice?). But the narrator cannot yet feel freely, give over to disorientation.

There is something of a confession: that life is a disappointment. "Maybe disappointment is the fear of no longer belonging to a system?" Hence the fear of not being able to create order out of disorder (and disappointment when one stops wanting to try?)?

What the fuck happened yesterday?

The narrator is afraid of passion (p 7). But here, I think, the passion is in the sense of intense emotion.
Then may I at least have the courage to let this shape form by itself like a scab that hardens by itself, like the fiery nebula that cools into earth. And may I have the great courage to resist the temptation of to invent a form.
Do not make meaning. Give over to it.

Something was revealed. A secret the narrator is already forgetting. Relearning it would require re-dying. Did the narrator die? Literally?

The narrator breaks the wall so the reader can hold her hand (but I don't know yet that the narrator is a woman). But she cannot imagine a whole person because she herself is not a whole person (missing that third leg, I think).

This horror she has seen is the vastness of the truth. But truth of what? Maybe what she saw was love.

She has lost her fear of ugliness, and this is good and sweet.

"Creating isn't imagining, it's taking the great risk of grasping reality."

The narrator spends a couple pages trying to explain the difficulty of articulating any kind of truth; we've had ample evidence of this difficulty already.

"Three thousand years ago I went astray, and what was left were phonetic fragments of me" (p 14). Um, what? Is the narrator now claiming to be three thousand years old? Her consciousness in three thousand years old? Her missing third leg is three thousand years old?

Yesterday she went into the maid's room we learn at the start of the second chapter (though the chapters are not numbered), the maid who had quit the day before. She was having breakfast, deciding her day, she remembers.

She reflects on, trying to recapture, who she was before. In a photo, her face revealed a silence: The Mystery (mystery of faith?). "Courage isn't being alive, knowing that you're alive is courage." Here we are with the problem of self-awareness.

We learn that her suitcases are initialed G.H. We learn definitively that she is a woman (p 18). A so-called successful person, a sculptor. Her reputation placed her socially between men and women, "which granted me far more freedom to be a woman, since I didn't have to take formal care to be one." This was written in 1964.

More about the truth and false truths. How we reflect each other. Here personal life has "a light tone of pre-climax." Is this suggested sexually? Is that the kind of passion this book is addressing after all?
My question, if there was one, was not: "Who am I," but "Who is around me." My cycle was complete: what I lived in the present was already getting ready so I could later understand myself. An eye watched over my life. This eye was probably what I would probably now call truth, now morality, now human law, now God, now me. I lived mostly inside a mirror. Two minutes after my birth I had already lost my origins.
She describes her apartment, like herself, moist shadows and light. Elegant, ironic, witty. "Everything here actually refers to a life that wouldn't suit me if it were real" (p 22). She herself lives in quotation marks (p 23). She is a replica of herself. (Are we preparing to meet the real self?) She was devoted to not being.

The third chapter starts with G.H.'s plan to clean the apartment, starting with the maid's room. Before starting, she pauses and looks around her:
I was seeing something that would only make sense later — I mean, something that only later would profoundly not make sense. Only later would I understand: what seems like a lack of meaning — that's the meaning. Every moment of "lack of meaning" is precisely the frightening certainty that that's exactly what it means, and that not only can I not reach it, I don't want to because I have no guarantees. The lack of meaning would only overwhelm me later. Could realizing the lack of meaning have always been my negative way of sensing the meaning? it had been my way of participating.
(Participating in meaning? in life?)


Anthony said...

Your unpicking The Passion tempts me to reread this mysterious novel. It is such an elusive work. Lispector, of all writers, strains what is even possible with language

Anonymous said...

I think the three thousand year line is a reference to humans evolving to their current form roughly three thousand years ago.