If criticism is to produce limits (for literature is the unseparated and unseparable corpus of literary criticism ) constructing a critical discourse not only on A Hora da Estrela1 (1977; The Hour of the Star), Clarice Lispector´s last narrative published before her death, but rather on Clarice´s entire corpus involves operating on limits that proves extremely problematic. Or -inclusive, exclusive, equivalent disjunction- to write with Clarice: "A explicação de um enigma é a repetição do enigma. O que Es? E a resposta é: Es."2 The explanation of an enigma is the repetition of the enigma. What is That? And the answer is: That.. It is extremely tempting to identify with her writing, to incorporate the Claricean corpus as in the same operation of imitation/incorporation that her own literature raises, such is the perimetric peril that threatens myself who writes this. And thus, Hélène Cixous herself writes L´heure de Clarice Lispector, defies the limits of criticism or the identity of the genre, and, at the same time, she produces from that very limit.
If the question of Claricean literature touches contagiously upon its criticism -How should one place oneself vis- à-vis a corpus without projection or identification, from a critical distance that may also bring one near to that (other) which I desire to make mine? (And the question regarding why I desire it fades out with why do I write) - , this is the contagion as a dangerous limit, as a seduction that entraps one in the syntax of the feminine gesture.
Perhaps one´s transformation into another turns out to be impossible, and the possible place to speak is on the verge of one´s self, according to the lectio (lesson and reading) of the tale of heterophagous passion in A Paixão segundo G. H., in which such desire-hunger entails appropriation of the other, and whose final outcome is the (self)same, as Elena Carrera writes: "eating the other, vomiting the self"3.
My reading of A Hora da Estrela runs over or about the limit, which begins by approaching the question of topology: Where is I?
Liminal- The limits
If a limit is that which institutes an outside and an inside, that which enforces an inclusion and an exclusion, I would like to read A Hora da Estrela as a novel of limits or rather as a liminal novel, a novel that may pose another way of thinking the limit: as a frontier or as a zone of indetermination, that cannot be one and can neither be the other, but a constant movement betwixt and between them, the space carved by the negation of selfsame and of the relation between one and the other. I read it as liminal novel, on the one hand, as it places itself from its titles´ very first hesitation (OU) OR on the lintel of literature: the text, on the lintel of Cordel literature, conceives itself as belonging to the testimonial genre, the "REGISTRO DOS FATOS ANTECEDENTES" THE RECORD OF PRECEDING EVENTS- perhaps as a parody to some documentary fiction so much in fashion in the context of the 1970s. On the other hand, a testimonial novel on the limit, scraping its borders, insofar as it effectuates a fictionalisation of the other, an other who bears the signs of extreme exclusion and otherness: a Macábea who is outside the patriarchal, the literary and the aesthetic system; so an extraneous Macabéa, so other: so woman, so nordestina, so poor, so ugly, so almost illiterate, so replaceable, just another :"Nem se dava conta de que vivia numa sociedade técnica onde ela era um parafuso dispensável" (29) She didn´t even realise that she lived in a technical society where she was a dispensable fuse.
The construction of this fictional other, the device at stake in the " criação de uma pessoa inteira que na certa está tão viva quanto eu"(19) the creation of a whole person who is certainly so alive as me, seems not to cast the narrator-author out of the possibility of truth "é claro que a história é verdadeira embora inventada" (12) it is clear that the story is true though invented or out of the possibility of testimony4, tinged with a modality of its own. In fact, fiction seems to consciously communicate the apory of historical understanding: the non-coincidence between facts and truth, between verifying and understanding. (Agamben: 9)
Fiction, having a non-contradictory status with life, reality, and testimony, is rather the place of possibility that enables one to cross certain boundaries and to evince the threshold from which one writes, when one writes of something that is beyond one´s self - reality or the other:
Transgredir, porém, os meus própios limites me fascinou de repente. E foi quando pensei en escrever sobre a realidade, já que essa me ultrapassa. Qualquer que seja o que quer dezir "realidade". (17)
Yet transgressing my own limits suddenly fascinanted me. And it was then that I thought of writing about reality, for it goes beyond me. Whatever it is that "reality" means.
As such, this writing sustains a tension between possibility, the pouvoir- être autre5, and ánanke, the " preciso registrar os fatos antecedentes" (12,my emphasis) I need to record the preceding events , or between desire and hunger as the two extremes of appetite. On the one hand, desire as appetite for luxury, the luxury of bourgeois leisure that allocates literature for "tourism of the other" ; literature as a space that allows him to step out of his self in some way and practise such exoticism. On the other hand, this other, not-one, not the (self)same, on whose inequality desire - a literary and necessarily bourgeois desire - feeds ("É paixão minha ser o outro. No caso a outra. "; 29) It is my passion to be the other. In this case, the female other. is a female other marked or inscribed by hunger : what does hunger mark or inscribe? does hunger know how to write? Hunger eats paper. This same need (of the other) is also the need that brings this writing close to testimony, and that effectuates violence on the boundaries of the self: Something which is outside or beyond ("Vejo que escrevo aquém e além de mim", 72)I see that I write that one who is beyond me introduces itself with violence: "Eu não inventei essa moça. Ela forçou dentro de mim a sua existencia." ( 29-30, my emphasis). I didn´t invent that girl. She forced her existence inside me.
In this movement, the narrator-author does not be-come the other because, though this is not accomplished, there is a tendency to cross boundaries: "mas eu que não chego a ser ela," (32) but I who doesn´t come to be her, but rather that other speaks: The one who speaks seems to be myself but I am not. It is a she who speaks in me.
And what would it mean to become her? Becoming menina-infante (83)infant girl, this is, leaving speech for muteness. For Macabéa is a dactylographer who cannot copy, only stain; not only does she lack symbolic capital or ignores and even fears words (cultura, efemérides, eletrônico), but also she cannot master the articulation of the language and of its consonant groups. Moreover, she is almost without voice ("Ela falava, sim, mas era extremamente muda"; 29) She spoke, yes, but she was extremely mute; she cannot even access the inarticulated extreme of language and because ELA NãO SABE GRITAR
Então eu grito.
Grito puro e sem pedir esmola.(13)
SHE DOESN´T KNOW HOW TO SCREAM
Then I scream.
Pure scream and without begging alms.
And the scream is a form of being or of beginning to be: " mulher nasce mulher desde o primeiro vagido" (84) a woman is born woman from the very first cry.
Macabéa, nourished and supported by a breath of life, is "apenas matéria viviente em sua forma primária"(38)only living matter in its primary form. She is human, but at the limit: at the limit of the organic - the life of circulation, secretions, digestion -, she is that life that begins and outlives animal life. "Era apenas fina matéria orgânica. Existía. Só isto."(39) She was only fine organic matter. She existed. Only this. Through her, muteness runs as the stream of de-subjectivation: she is replaceable, she is not unique. She pisses her pants. She belongs to a species - the "nordestina" - and that paradigmatically opposes itself to a race- the human race. Kingdom of the organic: she is capim, imperceptible minute grass, invisible because almost nothing. Deracinated capim nordestino in Rio de Janeiro.
And she is the true witness, the witness of her poverty, of her radical marginality. And as such she is defined by a paradox that, according to Primo Levi, announces Macabéa as the integral witness: for if, on the one hand, she is that one who cannot give testimony because she is pure primitive life, on the other hand, that one who cannot give testimony is the true witness.
This leads us to the impossible locus of testimony: from the inside, one cannot bear witness because one has no voice, and, from the outside, the one who does have speech is an outsider, by definition excluded from the experience, which is what is at stake here: being marginal. And how the question of marginality is raised.
The outside and the inside, the one who lives and the one who speaks, the one who is included and the excluded one being separated, the testimony that Rodrigo S. M. writes of Macabéa is the ethos of this separation. From this point on, these two will entwine themselves in a non- relation that the testimonial tension enforces, a tension proper to a locus where there is paradoxically neither inside nor outside, but only complex topological relations.
Under the right to scream, Rodrigo S. M., the narrator-author, bears witness to an absent
testimony that is missing, he appoints himself as delegate or spokesman of a witness that, at the same time, re-presents a whole group, the myriad young women who are all as replaceable as Macabéa.
What does witnessing mean? If, on the one hand, to bear witness gives rise to a movement by which he /she who lacks speech makes the one who can speak speak as well as to a movement, inseparable from the first one, in which the one who speaks bears the impossibility of speaking in his very own speech - since he tells things he has not himself experienced - such a movement is displayed by the narrator on several occasions:
Como é que sei tudo o que vai se seguir e que ainda o desconheço, ja que nunca o vivi?(12)
E eu que estou contando esta história que nunca me aconteceu e nem a ninguém que eu conheça? Fico abismado por saber tanto a verdade.(57)
How is it that I know everything that is to come and yet I ignore it, for I have never lived through it?
And me, I am telling this story which never happened to me nor to anybody I know. I am flabbergasted by knowing the truth so much.
But, on the other hand, the narrator also displays a resistance to poach, as "A moça é uma verdade que eu não queria saber"(39).The girl was a truth that I did not want to know, he resists this strain, like a wound caused by that truth incarnated in Macabéa. To this narrator, bearing witness will mean a discontinuing movement, a continuity severed by displacement moves in which he will try to exit that impossible, straining locus, and he will intend to re- enter his own, a proper place where one can satiate one´s appetite for nurture and flamboyancy of luxury: "Mas porque trato dessa moça quando o que mais desejo é trigo puramente maduro e ouro no estio?" (25)But why do I deal with that girl when the thing I desire most is purely ripe golden wheat in the summer?
Desistance insists. If the narrator resists or even counteracts and thus comes back to his self, Macabéa cannot be heard: "Desculpai -me mas eu vou continuar a falar de mim que sou meu desconhecido, e ao escrever me surpreendo un pouco mais pois descobri que tenho um destino." (15)
Excuse me, but I am going to continue speaking about me because I am unknown to myself, and in writing I surprise myself a bit more for I discovered that I have a destiny.
Nevertheless, silence cannot be but stressed, for it is one of the borders of testimony- testimony being located between speech and silence. And yet still, silence has another dimension to it in the novel because if, firstly, it is the impossibility of speech proper to Macabéa´s witnessing, silence would also seem to inscribe the margin proper to marginality: stating that this witness is a subaltern implies that she, as such, cannot but speak in the language of her master. This means that if this one who is below another takes in fact the floor and, stepping out of her muteness, she speaks up, one cannot make out what she says without also hearing that it is made up of the very same that supresses her. Perhaps a "paradox of the subaltern" might be stated thus: she cannot but speak and be heard in the same gesture that silences her.
In the novel, the testimonial is constantly problematized and its functioning displayed, insofar as it exhibits the discontinuing movement, as the text creates a tension in itself by giving and taking away that so peculiar - particular and not - locus; until along with the game of mirroring, the text sets forth a vertigo, a sort of mise en abyme, and it explodes: "Este livro é feito sem palavras. É uma fotografia muda. Este livro é um silencio. Este livro é uma pregunta." (17) This book is made without words. It is a mute photograph. This book is a silence. This book is a question.
A question that is in the first place the question of this writing, the question of the other border of testimony, writing: for, as Agamben puts it, " the mute and the speaker, the no-man and the man enter, in testimony, a zone of indeterminacy where it is impossible to assign a subject-position and to identify (...) the true witness." (Agamben: 127)
Where is I? This is the question of writing; the question that Rodrigo S. M. constantly asks and that he explodes with the violence of being subject of the testimony, that is, of giving testimony to a de-subjectivation: "A ação desta historia terá como resultado minha transfiguração em outrem e minha materialização enfim em objeto." (20) The action of this story will result in my transformation into another and finally in my materialization into object.
And if de-subjectivation, Agamben remarks, means that there is no proper subject of the testimony - i.e., that the one who has the Erlebnis does not coincide with the one who speaks - the novel does not but entrust such deferring or différance insofar as it is constructed as a locus/threshold severed between the two streams constantly on stream in enunciation - subjectivation and de-subjectivation - and thus shows the violence of this non-coincidence. The "impossible intimacy" that constitutes the testimony and its double movement is, according to Agamben, expressed in the perpetual shifting from subjectivation to de-subjectivation, and the devices associated to them - possibility and ánanke, or pouvoir-être and precisar.
Such a strained impossible space, like the locus of testimony that founds the possibility of the poem and its violence, lodges (and dislodges) this writing, which in turn processes it and itself in the threshold of poetry and prose.
Where is I? This - the - question of the book is definitely not the only one in the text ; it multiplies itself in questions that he who writes asks himself - and, ultimately, all these question marks certainly mark out how the question of marginality is raised: "Para que escrevo?" (36), "Por que escrevo?"(18), "como escrevo?"(18) What do I write for? Why do I write? How do I write?.
These questions manifest an evident preoccupation on behalf of the spokesman who writes out of ánanke or "por força de lei" (18) by force of law, as well as a calling into question the problematic claim of documentary pretension, considering that the book is a "document" made with words. Even in the face of como escrevo it is alleged that "Mas quando escrevo não minto"(18), But when I write I do not lie, it is precisely this very first adversative conjunction that seems to warn us against the impossibilty of earnestness, as if it were inevitable to write without having the words to lie for me: "Sim, mas não esquecer que para escrever não-importa-o-quê o meu material básico é a palabra."(14) Yes, but do not forget that in writing no-matter-what my basic material is the word.
Against the writing´s uncertainty that arises out of its incapacity to authenticate itself, the movement of making a book without words tries to break out of the anguish of language, and become photography.
Photography is maybe the mimetic art par excellence; as analogon, according to Barthes6, in photographs the power of authentication has phenomenological primacy on the power of representation. And even if photographs cannot resign the order of signs, the fact is that a picture refers to something necessarily real, never metaphoric, that presents itself before the lens. Photography supplies evidence and enables the ontological principle of visibility that the novel states to materialize: to be is to be perceived, for if "ela não é para ninguém." (68) she is for nobody
Preciso tirar vários retratos dessa alagoana. E também porque se houver algum leitor para essa história quero que ele se embeba da jovem assim como um pano de chão todo encharcado.(39, my emphasis)
I need to take several pictures of that alagoana. And also because if there might be a reader for that story I want him to imbibe that girl like a floor-cloth all soaked up in puddle water.
As the narrator puts it, he needs to (he has to) photograph Macabéa in order to bring her into existence and make her visible - because she doesn´t exist for anybody : only at the time of her death, the instantaneous hour of the star, will she gain her stellar visibility: "Agora pelo menos a espiavam, o que lhe dava uma existência."( 81) Now at least they were peeping at her, which gave her an existence.
From this modality of testimony, signed once again by ánanke, the narrator attempts to create a document and goes to the rescue of photography to constitute this proof of existence. For a picture, thanks to the chemical artifice that enables the capture and print of the light beams emitted by an object, is literally an emanation of the referent, Barthes says, that "comes to impress me as the deferred rays of a star".( Barthes:1166)
As a matter of fact, photography will constitute this writing: not only in the sense that the writing performs a mise en discours of Macabéa´s pictures, each one following another in miserable succession through these pages like an album of disgrace, but also meaning that the noema7 of photography becomes a constructive principle of the text: If, on the one hand, it builds a carnal and impalpable bridge to the real body, in spite of this bridging with pure light that should materially soak up the recipient, there is, on the other hand, a necessary distance that the art of photography engenders. A distance which is not only evoked as a safeguard at its reception ( "It´s only a picture"), but a necessary distance between the photographer and the photographed subject-object, for taking a picture is, to borrow Sontag´s8 words, a soft murder: a predatory, intruding activity that predates by seeing or knowing someone in a way they never see or could ever know themselves.
From a distance - and such distance is full of violence: the picture "even replenishes my sight by force", Barthes writes - the act of photographing thus turns the subject into an object capable of symbolic possession. Photography, which in its noema performs the discontinuing movement of this writing, simultaneously a pseudo-presence and a certificate of irremediable absence, is a "twilight art" for Sontag - between and betwixt, once again. Photography moves between telling the truth of the horrible and beautifying it with the desire of taking its picture, for the act of taking it somehow dignifies the disgrace of the object : How ugly you are. You, your ugliness and your poverty fascinate me; I want a picture of you. And with this picture you shall begin to exist, to exist for others. "Sim, estou apaixonado por Macabéa, a minha querida Maca, apaixonado pela sua feiúra e anonimato total pois ela não é para ninguém". (68) Yes, I am in love with Macabéa, my dear Maca, in love with her ugliness and total anonymity for she is for nobody.
Between denouncement and consecration, photos freeze the flux of time and, with a click, discontinue it and transform it into a singular instant, a mute condensation of space and time. And if the star10 is the figure in which time has become space, this writing tries to depict such a thing: "Vivia en camara leeeenta, lebre puuuulando no aaaar sobre ous oooouteiros" (34) She lived in sloooow motion, hare spriiiiiinging into the aiiiiir over the hiiiills.
This writing that wants itself to be the tale of the instantaneous hour of the star or of the death - "Pois na hora da morte a pessoa se torna brilhante estrela de cinema, é o instante de glória de cada um"(29) For in the time (literally, hour) of death the person becomes shining movie star, it is the instant of glory of everyone- joins photography in a poetics of the instant. A writing that also wants - against the ineluctable temporality of speech - to be atemporal, or rather purely aspectual, like the aorist that Barthes thinks for photography:
"Quero acrescentar, à guisa de informações sobre a jovem e sobre mim, que vivemos exclusivamente no presente pois sempre e eternamente é o dia de hoje e o dia de amanha será um hoje, a eternidade é o estado das coisas neste momento".(18)11
I want to add, as information about the girl and me, that we live exclusively in the present for it is today forever and ever and tomorrow will be a to-day, eternity is the state of things at this moment.
A writing that is as well - according to Sontag´s words, though in a deviated sense to the picture´s - a "negative epiphany", the epiphany of shining death that needs the testimonial story of a life, and whose imminence is signed as immediate12 by its visibility:
Como eu irei dizer agora, esta história será o resultado de uma visâo gradual -há dois anos e meio venho aos poucos descobrindo os porquês. E visâo da iminencia de. De quê? (...) Como que estou escrevendo na hora mesma de ser lido. Só não inicio pelo fim que justificaria o começo -como a morte parece dizer sobre a vida - porque preciso registrar os fatos antecedentes. (12)
As I am now going to say, this story is the result of a gradual vision - for two and a half years I have been discovering little by little the reasons why. It´s the vision of the imminence of. Of what? (...) Like I am writing at the same hour I am read. I just don´t start with the end that would justify the beginning - as death seems to say about life - because I need to record the preceding events.
Writing defies the temporality of its reception, for reading is always performed anachronically in relation to writing; anachronism is reading´s proper temporality. Defiance, therefore, of the reading pact that literature entails in its very definition; a defiance which is an attempt to annihilate the reading pact - which backfires and gains evident preeminence - and that can be read in a similar movement:
O que se segue é apenas uma tentativa de reproduzir três páginas que escrevi e que minha cozinheira, vendo as soltas, jogou no lixo para o meu desespero - que os mortos me ajudem a suportar o quase insuportável, já que de nada me valem os vivos. Nem de longe consegui igualar a tentativa de repetiçâo artificial do que originalmente eu escrevi sobre o encontro com o seu futuro namorado. É com humildade que contarei agora a história da história. Por tanto se me perguntarem como fui direi: nâo sei, perdi o encontro.(42)
What follows is only an attempt to reproduce three pages that I wrote and that my cook, seeing them scattered, threw away to my despair - may the dead help me bear the almost unbearable, for the living are of no use at all. Not even by far could I equal the attempt of artificial repetition of what I originally wrote on the encounter with her future boyfriend. It is with humbleness that I will now tell the story of the story. Hence if they should ask me how it was I would say: I don´t know, I lost the encounter.
In this passage, instead of showing an object photographically, what gains total visibility is the laboratory of the writer who processes that picture. Situated there, this writing tries to annihilate the frame between process and product and situates itself in indeterminacy, between what is narrative and what is not, or rather in the lack of narrative. It exhibits itself anew as liminal writing: on the lintel of literature, under the imminence of violating its materiality and temporality (explosão) and treating them with the violence of an explosion with the very procedure that in showing and pointing, tears it. Estrela de mil pontas. Star of a thousand points.
And in the same way as in the starry sky that we see at night stars shine encircled by dense darkness, which, in the opinion of cosmologists, is nothing but the testimony of the time in which they did not shine yet, the witness´ speech also bears witness to a time in which he was not human yet. Or, in the same manner, according to an analogous hypothesis, that in the universe in the phase of expansion, the remotest galaxies travel away from us at higher speeds than its light´s, which does not reach us, so that the darkness that we see in the skies is nothing but the invisibility of this light, we find in Levi´s paradox, the integral witness is that one who we cannot see, the Muslim. (Agamben:169-70)
If A hora da Estrela writes itself as a testimony that cannot be denied, for it speaks from an impossibility of speaking (and no-one can enter no-one´s heart: "Ninguém pode entrar no coração de ninguém",64); if the movement of photographing that which one cannot see in order that it can be seen situates it on the lintel of literature and, at the same time, tilts this writing to testimony, as the only locus where it can be accounted for the light of a body which, like a star, reaches us deferred and is sign of its death, the novel writes thus the useless pretension of document: Not only because testimony is not proof -it is not judicial, it is ethical - but rather because the narrative writes, against the ontological principle of visibility, another one which compellingly displaces visibility for belief: "porque acreditava, eles existiam"(39)Because she believed, they existed.
Because if truth is beyond facts - and that beyond is perhaps the impossible locus of testimony -, if there is something about the body and about experience that can be neither photographed nor told, A hora da estrela writes, in the face of facts or proofs of existence of the (female) other, another existing which, even in its fiction, one has to intransitively believe so that it subjectively predicates: Acreditar chorando.
To believe crying and by believing, to be.
Agamben, Giorgio, Lo que queda de Auschwitz: El archivo y el testigo (Homo
sacer III), tr. Antonio G. Cuspinera, Pre-textos, Valencia, 2000.
(First Italian edition: Quel che resta di Auschwitz : L'archivio
e il testimone (Homo sacer III), Brossura, Bollati Boringhieri,1998.
Aguilar, Gonzalo, "Rodolfo Walsh, más allá de la literatura", Punto de Vista, Year XXIII, no. 67, August 2000, Buenos Aires.
Barthes, Roland, La Chambre claire. Note sur la Photographie (1980), in: Oeuvres Complètes (III), Seuil, Paris, 1993.
Carrera, Elena, "Heterophagous passion : eating the other, vomiting the self", in: Inequality and difference in Hispanic and Latin American cultures,ed. by Bernard McGuirk and Mark I. Millington Lewiston, NY, 1995.
Cixous, Hélène, L'heure de Clarice Lispector; précédé de Vivre l'orange
Des Femmes (Essai), Paris, 1989.
Lispector, Clarice, A hora da estrela (The Hour of the Star), Rocco, Rio de Janeiro, 1999.
----------A paixão segundo G. H. (The Passion according to G. H.), Rocco, Rio de Janeiro, 1998.
Sontag, Susan, On photography, Penguin Books, London,1979.
Clara Masnatta, University of Buenos Aires (UBA), Argentina. Not only does she
research but she also practises the art of translation and liminality. She
lives between Buenos Aires and Berlin.
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