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Authors: Clarice Lispector

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BOOK: Agua Viva
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What I do by involuntary instinct cannot be
described.

What am I doing in writing to you? trying to
photograph perfume.

I’m writing to you seated beside an open window up in my
studio.

I’m writing you this facsimile of a book, the book of
someone who doesn’t know how to write; but that’s because in the lightest realm
of speaking I almost don’t know how to speak. Particularly speaking to you in
writing, I who got used to your being the audience, however distracted, of my
voice. When I paint I respect the material I use, I respect its primordial fate.
So when I write you I respect the syllables.

New instant in which I see what is coming. Though to
speak of the instant of vision I must be more discursive than the instant: many
instants will pass before I unfold and exhaust the single and quick complexity
of a glance.

I’m writing to you in time with my breath. Shall I
always be hermetic as in my painting? Because it seems you have to be terribly
explicit. Am I explicit? I don’t really care. Now I’m going to light a
cigarette. Perhaps I’ll go back to the typewriter or perhaps I’ll stop right
here forever. I, who am never good enough.

I came back. I’m thinking about turtles. Once I said by
pure intuition that the turtle was a dinosauric animal. Later I read that it
really is. I have the strangest thoughts. One day I’ll paint turtles. They
interest me a lot. All living beings, except man, are a scandal of astonishment:
we were modelled and a lot of raw material was left over—
it
—and so
the beasts were formed. Why a turtle? Maybe the title of what I’m writing you
should be a little like that and in the form of a question: “What about
turtles?” You who are reading me would say: it’s true that it’s been a long time
since I thought about turtles.

I suddenly got so distressed that I might just say enough
already and finish what I’m writing to you, it’s more based on blind words. Even
for unbelievers there’s the instant of despair that is divine: the absence of
the God is an act of religion. At this very instant I’m asking the God to help
me. I’m needing. Needing more than human strength. I am strong but also
destructive. The God must come to me since I haven’t gone to Him. Let the God
come: please. Though I don’t deserve it. Come. Or perhaps those who least
deserve Him need Him most. I’m restless and harsh and hopeless. Though I have
love inside myself. It’s just that I don’t know how to use love. Sometimes it
scratches like barbs. If I received so much love inside me and nonetheless am
restless it’s because I need the God to come. Come before it’s too late. I’m in
danger like every person who lives. And the only thing I can expect is precisely
the unexpected. But I know that I shall have peace before death and that one day
I shall taste the delicateness of life. I shall notice—as we eat and live the
taste of food. My voice falls into the abyss of your silence. You read me in
silence. But in this unlimited silent field I unfurl my wings, free to live. So
I accept the worst and enter the core of death and that is why I’m alive. The
feeling core. And that
it
makes me quiver.

Now I shall speak of the sadness of flowers so as to feel
more of the order of whatever exists. Before I do, I’ll give you the nectar with
pleasure, sweet juice that many flowers contain and that insects seek with
greed. The pistil is the flower’s female organ that generally occupies the
centre and contains the beginnings of the seed. Pollen is fertilizing powder
produced in the stamens and contained in the anthers. The stamen is the flower’s
masculine organ. It’s composed of the filament and the anther in the lower
section surrounding the pistil. Fertilization is the union of the two elements
of reproduction—masculine and feminine—from which comes the fertilized
fruit. “And Yahweh God planted a garden in Eden which is in the East, and there
he put the man whom He had formed” (Gen. II-8).

I want to paint a rose.

Rose is the feminine flower that gives herself wholly and
such that the only thing left to her is the joy of having given herself. Her
perfume is a crazy mystery. When inhaled deeply it touches the intimate depth of
the heart and leaves the inside of the entire body perfumed. The way she opens
herself into a woman is so beautiful. The petals have a good taste in the mouth
—all you have to do is try. Yet rose is not
it
but
she
. The
scarlet ones are of great sensuality. The white ones are the peace of the God.
It’s very rare to find white ones at the florists’. The yellow ones are of a
happy alarm. The pink ones are in general fleshier and have the perfect color.
The orange ones are produced by grafting and are sexually attractive.

Pay attention and as a favour: I’m inviting you to move
to a new kingdom.

Now the carnation has an aggressiveness that comes from a
certain irritation. The ends of its petals are rough and impudent. The
carnation’s perfume is somehow mortal. Red carnations bellow in violent beauty.
The white ones recall the little coffin of a dead child—that’s when the scent
becomes pungent and we turn our heads away in horror. How to transplant the
carnation onto canvas?

The sunflower is the great child of the sun. So much so
that it knows how to turn its enormous corolla toward the one who made it. It
doesn’t matter if it’s father or mother. I don’t know. I wonder if the sunflower
is a feminine or masculine flower? I think masculine.

The violet is introverted and its introspection is
profound. They say it hides away out of modesty. Not true. It hides away in
order to capture its own secret. Its almost-not-perfume is a smothered glory but
demands that people seek it. It never shouts its perfume. Violet says frivolous
things that cannot be said.

The golden everlasting is always dead. Its dryness
aspires to eternity. Its name in Greek means: sun of gold. The daisy is a happy
little flower. It is simple and on the surface of the skin. It has but a single
layer of petals. Its centre is a child’s game.

The beautiful orchid is exquise and unpleasant. It isn’t
spontaneous. It needs a glass dome. But it is a magnificent woman and that
cannot be denied. Nor can it be denied that it is noble because it is epiphytic.
Epiphytes are born on other plants without however taking nutrition from them. I
was lying when I said it was unpleasant. I adore orchids. They’re born
artificial, they’re born art.

The tulip is only a tulip in Holland. A single tulip
simply is not. They need an open field in order to be.

Cornflowers only grow amidst the wheat. In their
humility they have the audacity to appear in various shapes and colors. The
cornflower is biblical. In the nativity scenes of Spain it isn’t separated from
the stalks of wheat. It is a little beating heart.

But angelica is dangerous. It has the perfume of the
chapel. It brings ecstasy. It recalls the Host. Many wish to eat it and fill
their mouths with the intense sacred scent.

Jasmine is for lovers. It makes you want to put an
ellipsis now. They walk holding hands, swinging their arms and giving each other
gentle kisses to the fragrant almost-sound of jasmine.

Bird-of-paradise is pure masculinity. It has an
aggressiveness of love and of healthy pride. It seems to have a cock’s comb and
his crow. It just doesn’t wait for dawn. The violence of your beauty.

Night jessamine has a perfume of the full moon.
It’s phantasmagoric and a bit frightening and is for people who like danger. It
only emerges at night with its dizzying scent. Night jessamine is silent. And
also belongs to the deserted street corner and in the dark and the gardens of
houses whose lights are off and windows are shut. It’s highly dangerous: it’s a
whistle in the dark, which no one can bear. But I can bear it because I love
danger. As for the succulent flower of the cactus, it is large and scented and
of a vivid color. It’s the succulent revenge that the desert plant makes. It is
splendor being born of the despotic sterility.

I can’t be bothered to speak of edelweiss. Because it’s
found at an altitude of three thousand four hundred metres. It’s white and
woolly. Rarely reachable: it’s aspiration.

Geranium is the flower of window boxes. You find it in
São Paulo, in the neighborhood of Grajaú and in Switzerland.

Giant water lilies are in the Botanical Gardens in Rio de
Janeiro. Enormous and up to two metres in diameter. Aquatic, they’re to die for.
They are the Amazonian: the dinosaur of flowers. They give off great calm. Both
majestic and simple. And despite living on the water’s surface they cast shade.
What I’m writing you is in Latin: de natura florum. Later I’ll show you my study
already transformed into a linear design.

The chrysanthemum is of a deep happiness. It speaks
through its color and its unruly shock of hair. It’s a flower that untidily
controls its own wildness.

I think I’m going to have to ask permission to die. But I
can’t, it’s too late. I heard “The Firebird”—and drowned entirely.

I must interrupt because—didn’t I say? didn’t I
say that one day a thing would happen to me? Well it just happened. A man called
João spoke to me on the phone. He grew up in the depths of the Amazon. And he
says that there’s a legend there about a talking plant. It’s called the tajá.
And they say that once indigenous people have charmed it in a ritual way, it may
even say a word. João told me something that has no explanation: once he came
home late and when he was walking down the hall where the plant was he heard the
word “João.” So he thought it was his mother calling him and replied: I’m
coming. He went upstairs but found his mother and father snoring and sound
asleep.

I’m tired. My tiredness comes often because I’m an
extremely busy person: I look after the world. Every day I look from my terrace
at a section of beach and sea and see the thick foam is whiter and that during
the night the waters crept forward uneasy. I see this by the mark which the
waves leave upon the sand. I look at the almond trees on the street where I
live. Before going to sleep I look after the world and see if the night sky is
starry and navy blue because on certain nights instead of being black the sky
seems to be an intense navy blue, a color I’ve painted in stained glass. I like
intensities. I look after the boy who is nine years old and dressed in rags and
all skin and bones. He will get tuberculosis, if he doesn’t already have it. In
the Botanical Gardens, then, I get worn out. With my glance I must look after
thousands of plants and trees and especially the giant water lily. It’s there.
And I look at her.

Note that I don’t mention my emotional impressions: I
lucidly speak about some of the thousands of things and people I look after. Nor
is it a job because I don’t earn any money from it. I just get to know what the
world is like.

Is it a lot of work to look after the world? Yes. For
example: it forces me to remember the inexpressive and therefore frightening
face of the woman I saw on the street. With my eyes I look after the misery of
the people who live on the hillsides.

You will no doubt ask me why I look after the world. It’s
because I was born charged with the task.

As a child I looked after a line of ants: they walk
single file carrying a tiny piece of leaf. That doesn’t keep each one from
communicating something to the ones coming the other way. Ant and bee are not
it
. They are
they
.

I read the book about the bees and ever since have looked
after the queen bee most of all. Bees fly and deal with flowers. Is that banal?
I saw it myself. Noting the obvious is part of the job. Inside each little ant
fits a whole world that will escape me if I’m not careful. For example: an
instinctive sense of organization, language beyond the supersonic, and feelings
of sex fit in the ant. Now I can’t find a single ant to look at. I know there
wasn’t a massacre because otherwise I’d have already heard.

Looking after the world also demands a lot of patience: I
have to wait for the day when an ant turns up.

I just haven’t found anyone to report back to. Or have I?
Since I’m reporting back to you right here. I’m going to report back to you
right now on that spring that was so dry. The radio crackled as it picked up
your static. Clothing bristled as it let go of the electricity of the body and
the comb raised magnetized hair—that was a hard spring. It was exhausted by
the winter and budded all electric. Wherever it was it headed afar. There had
never been so many paths. We spoke little, you and I. I don’t know why the whole
world was so annoyed and electronically able. But able to what? The body heavy
with sleep. And our big eyes inexpressive as the wide-open eyes of a blind man.
On the terrace the fish was in an aquarium and we drank juice in that hotel bar
overlooking the landscape. With the wind came the dream of goats: at the next
table a solitary faun. We looked at our glasses of ice-cold juice and dreamed
statically inside the transparent glass. “What did you say?” you were asking. “I
didn’t say anything.” Days and more days passed and everything in that danger
and the geraniums so scarlet. An instant of tuning-in was all it took and once
again we picked up the ragged static of spring in the wind: the goats’ impudent
dream and the fish all empty and our sudden inclination to steal fruit. The faun
now crowned in solitary leaps. “What?” “I didn’t say anything.” But I noticed a
first rumble like that of a heart beating beneath the earth. I quietly put my
ear to the ground and heard summer forcing its way in and my heart beneath the
earth—“nothing! I said nothing!”—and I felt the patient brutality with which
the closed earth was opening inside in birth, and I knew with what weight of
sweetness the summer was ripening a hundred thousand oranges and I knew that the
oranges were mine. Because that is what I wanted.

BOOK: Agua Viva
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