Un(der)known Writers: Clarice Lispector

Animals don’t laugh. Though sometimes dogs laugh. Besides their panting mouths their smile is transmitted by eyes that start to shine and become more sensual, while their tails wag in joyous expectation. But cats never laugh. A “he” I know wants nothing more to do with cats. He’s through with them forever because he had a certain female cat who periodically got frenzied. When she was in heat her instincts were so imperative that, after long and plangent meows, she would throw herself from the roof and injure herself on the ground.

 

Sometimes I get electrified when I see animals. I’m now hearing the ancestral cry within me: I no longer seem to know who is the creature, the animal or me. And I get all confused. It seems I get scared of facing up to stifled instincts that I’m forced to acknowledge in the presence of the animal.

 

I knew a “she” who humanized animals talking to them and giving them her own characteristics. I don’t humanize animals because it’s an offenseyou must respect their natureI am the one who animalizes myself. It’s not hard and comes simply. It’s just a matter of not fighting it and it’s just surrendering.

 

Nothing is more difficult than surrendering to the instant. That difficulty is human pain. It is ours. I surrender in words and surrender when I paint.

 

Holding a little bird in the half-closed cup of your hand is terrible, like having the trembling instants inside your hand. The frightened little bird chaotically beats thousands of wings and suddenly you have in your half-closed hand the thin wings struggling and suddenly you can’t bear it and quickly open your hand to free the light prisoner. Or you hand it quickly back to its owner so that he can give it the relatively greater freedom of the cage. BirdsI want them in the trees or flying far from my hands. I may one day grow intimate with them and take pleasure in their lightweight presence of an instant. “Take pleasure in their lightweight presences” gives me the feeling of having written a complete sentence because it says exactly what it is: the levitation of the birds.

-Clarice Lispector, from Água Viva, translated from the Portuguese by Stefan Tobler. Available from New Directions