Sunday, October 29, 2017

Addicted to the condiment of the word

Ah, speaking to me and to you is being mute. Speaking to the God is the mutest that exists. Speaking to things, is mute. I know this sounds sad to you, and to me too, since I am still addicted to the condiment of the word. And that is why muteness hurts me like a dismissal.
I adore this book. I want to read it again. The Passion According to G.H., by Clarice Lispector, is a mystical, and sometimes mystifying, marvel.

But this book is not for everybody.

This is the story of woman who finds a cockroach. They stare into each other's being. This novel is about those minutes that turn into hours.

My love for this book is more about the reading experience it gave me than about the book itself. I can imagine failing miserably with this book at another time in my life.

While it is short enough to read in a weekend, it plunges to existential depths in liquid time. It did me good to read it over months, chapter by chapter, often rereading pages. It took me deep into myself, but also brought me out of myself. This book was a tool for introspection.

After a couple days of (mostly) sober reflection, I realize that the ending is a little disappointing, as a novel. What's astounding is that this should be considered a novel at all; it's a philosophical treatise, more Kierkegaard than Kafka. But amazingly, for most of the book, I turned pages based on that novelistic framework: what's going to happen next? how will it end?

As the novel closes there are some loose threads: Does the cockroach die*? (Can we consider G.H. to be a death-eater, a sin-eater?)

*[A few reviews summarize the ending — SPOILER ALERT — thusly: G.H. eats the dead cockroach. My reading tells me this: she eats the white matter that spurted from its body (this is a sexual passion before it is a religious one). She eats "of the roach," the paste of the roach, the roach's matter. G.H.'s initial slam did not kill the roach instantaneously; all G.H. learns she learns from the living roach, she describes the roach as dying (are we not all dying?), but there is no dead body. Fellow readers, what say you? And does it matter in terms of G.H.'s experience (I think it might)?]

How did G.H. get from yesterday to today? How did she leave the room? Presumably she is at a desk, writing about her experience. And now that's done, will she go dancing?
(I know one thing: if I reach the end of this story, I shall go, not tomorrow, but this very day, out to eat and dance at the "Top-Bambino," I furiously need to have some fun and diverge myself. Yes, I'll definitely war my new blue dress that flatters me and gives me color, I'll call Carlos, Josefina, Antonio, I don' really remember which of the two of them I notices wanted me or if both of them wanted me, I'll eat crevettes à la whatever, and I know because I'll eat crevettes, tonight, tonight will be my normal life resumed, the life of my common joy, for the rest of my days I'll need my light, sweet and good-humoured vulgarity, I need to forget, like everyone.)
This paragraph is so out of step with the rest of the book. (Later she decides against the blue dress in favour of the black and white one [p183].) Is this the old G.H.? Or the new G.H.? Do we all so desperately need to forget? (Yes!)

The first sentence of each chapter repeats the last sentence of the preceding chapter, which effectively pulls the reader along. While there's no secret message here, this list of first sentences provides an interesting summation of the novel's contents.
— — — — — — I'm searching, I'm searching.
Because a world fully alive has the power of a Hell.
Only I will know if that was the failure I needed.
Then I headed into the dark hallway behind the service area.
Then, before understanding, my heart went gray as hair goes gray.
That was when the cockroach began to emerge.
Each eye reproduced the entire cockroach.
I had reached the nothing, and the nothing was living and moist.
Forgiveness is an attribute of living matter.
I had committed the forbidden act of touching the unclean.
Then, once again, another thick millimeter of white matter spurted out.
Finally, my love, I gave in, and it became a now.
Since what I was seeing predated humanity.
Neutral crafting of life.
No longer even fear, no longer even fright.
Give me your hand:
Prehuman divine life is of a presentness that burns.
I was seeking an expanse.
I suddenly turned to the interior of this room which, in its burning, at least was not populated.
But there is something that must be said, it must be said.
Because inside myself I saw what hell is like.
Hell is my maximum.
I was eating myself, I am who am also living matter of the Sabbath.
She would feel like the lack of something that should have been hers.
Because the naked thing is so tedious.
I must not fear seeing humanization from the inside.
Infinitely increasing the plea that is born of neediness.
The taste of the living.
Our hands that are coarse and full of words.
Because I haven't told everything.
The divine for me is whatever is real.
All that is missing is the coup de grâce — which is called passion.
Giving up is a revelation.
The last sentence is:
And so I adore it. — — — — — —
The dashes bring us full circle to the start of the novel, suggesting there might be something cyclical thematically as well.

G.H. starts the book claiming to have lost something. Her humanity? Her inhumanity? What has she become?

The convoluted sentence structure (not to be mistaken for convoluted thought; in fact, Lispector (and her translator, Idra Novey) wields a precision of language in verbing and positioning subject and object in relation to each other) brings to mind Kierkegaard or Kant. Some of the concepts Lispector dances with: transcendence, consubstantiation, immanence. Being and nothingness. Divinity and humanness.

In addition: notions of time and history, and indirectly the cultural trappings of art and sexuality. Beauty.

It made me lose my bearings and helped me find them again.

Previous Passion posts
This book is like any other book
I lost my human form for several hours
Everything there was sliced-up nerves
I, whatever that was
A belly entirely new and made for the ground
The simple moistness of the thing
Feeling with hellish voracity

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