Books That Would Prefer Not To

Alejandro Zambra, Not to Read, 2018

Books say no to literature. Some. Others, the majority, say yes. They obey the market or the holy spirit of governments. Or the placid idea of a generation. Or the even more placid idea of a tradition. I prefer books that say no. Sometimes, even, I prefer the books that don’t know what they are saying.

. . . [W]e write only when others haven’t written the book we want to read. That’s why we write one of our own, one that never turns out to be what we wanted it to be. We say no to literature so that literature, for its part, will say no to us. So the book will be, always, a space that we weren’t expecting: a way out, but not the way we were expecting.

‘Not knowing how to write could perhaps be exactly what saves me from literature,’ says Clarice Lispector, again. In the non-fiction chronicles of A Descoberta do Mundo [Discovery of the World], Lispector insists on the desire that her stories not be stories, that her novels not be novels, and not out of any attachment to a forced experimentalism or to the kind of commonplaces that literary workshops return to again and again, with admirable patience: Lispector does not seek to surprise or captivate the reader.

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Letting Words Fail

Alison Entrekin, “Clarice Lispector’s ‘New World of Feeling,'” Music & Literature 4 (2014)

If anything, one senses in places that language is an insufficient medium, so to speak, and that she would rather let words or grammar fall short of what she wants to say than try to house what she has to say within the limitations of language. Or, as the character Joana hints in Near to the Wild Heart, “The moment I try to speak not only do I fail to express what I feel but what I feel slowly becomes what I say.”

Not a Plain Is

Rachel Kushner, “Lipstick Traces,” Bookforum December/January 2013

I suspect the reason Lispector’s philosophical fiction has inspired such dramatic devotion is that people feel she is talking to them, about the most basic but complex human experience: consciousness, the alienating strangeness of what it is to be alive. She attempts to capture what it is to think our existence as we are in it — in the “marvelous scandal,” as Lispector puts it, of life. We are not a plain is, but an awareness of this is, which is to say totally cut off from the world by the human capacity to conceive our part in it.

Droll, Mischievous and Wonderfully Intelligent

Douglas Glover, “Fifty Shades of Grey Matter: Fiction,” Numéro Cinq 8 June 2013

Droll, mischievous and wonderfully intelligent confection, a Modernist riposte to the vacancy (absence) of E. L. James’s Fifty Shades of Grey, in which Gabriel Josipovici has a walk-on role and the protagonist images himself as Caspar Friedrich’s Wanderer AND Roy Scheider in Jaws in the same instant and someone wears a Clarice Lispector frock. It all begins with a mother telling a bedtime story, yes, yes, a scene of sadistic psychic violence like none other. Brilliantly witty. Deploys many of the Modern erotic positions: sex and text, love as desire for absence, and self as ghost (we all have that sense of the self being something that haunts itself). The teaser below accurately describes love and art, or maybe not. By Andrew Gallix who edits 3AM Magazine.

Your heart still skips like a trip of jackrabbits in the Arizona desert, where we carved our names on a bench close to the abyss. But when I look at you, well, I just feel dead inside. It has to be like this and no other way; otherwise it wouldn’t be art, would it? I’m in love with Jay now: I feed him mini Milano cookies and give him snug harbor. Anyway, I was never quite all there, was I? Long before we met, I was a character in one of your stories — ‘Sweet Fanny Adams.’ Young man goes looking for girl of his dreams in order to break up straight away. ‘At last,’ he says upon meeting her, ‘I have found my sense of loss.’ See? I haven’t forgotten. I started off as fiction, and to fiction I have returned. Our relationship was only a movement towards my disappearance. I am your sense of loss: the self-effacing subject of your work…”

“Emilie…” said Valentin.

“When you say my name, you retain nothing of me but my absence. And nobody is present behind these words I speak.”

Read the rest.