Phi Fic #16 Stories by Clarice Lispector

This time we discuss two works by the remarkable Clarice Lispector—born to a Jewish family in Ukraine shortly before they emigrated to Brazil, where she became one of its most important writers. We read two of her works, the novella The Hour of the Star (1977), and the short story “The Departure of the Train” (1974).

I know there are girls who sell their bodies, their only real possession, in exchange for a good dinner instead of a bologna sandwich. But the person I’m going to talk about scarcely has a body to sell, nobody wants her, she’s a virgin and harmless, nobody would miss her. –The Hour of the Star

In The Hour of the Star, the narrator continually breaks the fourth wall as he obsessively addresses the reader about Macabea, the story’s primary character, whom Lispector describes as “… a girl who was so poor that all she ate was hot dogs… The story is about a crushed innocence, about an anonymous misery.”

In the short story “The Departure of the Train,” Lispector writes about two women who meet on a train—the first, a young woman escaping her boyfriend’s overbearing intellect and lack of sensual passion; and the other, an elderly woman escaping her daughter’s negligence to return to her more loving son:

Donna Maria Rita was so ancient that in her daughter’s house they were accustomed to her as if to an old piece of furniture…. Since [she] had always been an ordinary person, she thought that to die was not a normal thing. To die was surprising. –”The Departure of the Train”

Join us as Daniel explains that while The Hour of the Star is “very intellectual, very heady” he’s never read anyone who writes with this sensuous quality; Nathan observes that the narrator is the only one in the novella who really sees this girl, that the world doesn’t see her—“she’s the grass.” Laura comments on Lispector’s “passion for the void” in her writing, while Mary notes that both women in “The Departure of the Train” were traveling from emotionally cold relationships to warmer ones—to people who were more loving and affectionate. And Cezary speaks for all of us when he describes Lispector’s writing as “maddeningly brilliant.”

In his 1989 L.A. Times review of Soul Storm, Richard Eder wrote of Lispector’s characters: “Lispector has not lodged her own poetic and subtle qualities in them; she has found their ‘ordinariness’ in herself. She hasn’t given them spunk, or fight or hidden wit. She hasn’t brought them, one by one, to her writer’s table and made them unforgettable by processing them with art. She has stripped herself of art and gone to them. She has made herself as foolish and uncertain at her typewriter as they are in the street, cabaret, or bedroom.”

Benjamin Moser, author of Lispector’s biography, Why This World: A Biography of Clarice Lispector, calls her the “most important Jewish writer since Kafka.”

Here’s a link to the only televised interview with Lispector, in 1977. She died later that year. And here’s some info on the jabuticaba tree.

Thanks to Christopher Nolen for our music.

Please note: We had some technical problems that cut off Laura a short way into our talk.

If you have thoughts, recommendations, or questions that you want to send our way, please do via
Image of Clarice Lispector pulled from the cover of The Complete Stories (2015).

1 thought on “Phi Fic #16 Stories by Clarice Lispector

  1. for a real philosophical headtrip check out R.S. Bakker’s novel Neuropath

    from a review essay by
    “The Argument in Neuropath goes something like this. Consciousness is severely limited. It is a very recent evolutionary adaptation, superimposed upon a wide array of older neural processes of which it is unaware, and which it cannot possibly grasp. We are only conscious of a very thin sliver of the external world; and even less of our internal, mental world. Most of our “experience” of the inner and outer world is a neurally-based simulation that has been evolutionarily selected for its survival value, but the actual representational accuracy of which is highly dubious. We are not conscious, and we cannot be conscious, of the actual neural processes that drive us. And indeed, nearly all our explanations and understandings of other people, of the world in which we live, and above all of ourselves are delusional, self-aggrandizing fictions. It’s not just that we misunderstand our own motivations; but that such things as “motivations” and “reasons” for how we feel and what we do actually don’t exist at all. Everything that we say, think, feel, perceive, and do is really just a consequence of deterministic physical (electro-chemical) processes in our neurons. “Every thought, every experience, every element of your consciousness is a product of various neural processes” (pp. 52-53). In particular, “free will” is an illusion. We never actually decide on any of our actions; rather, our sense of choice and decision, and the reasons and motivations that we cite for what we do, are all post-hoc rationalizations of processes that happen mechanistically, through chains of electrochemical cause-and-effect. All our rationales, and all our values, are nothing more than consolatory fictions..”


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