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Authors: Clarice Lispector

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BOOK: Agua Viva
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I’m proud that I can always feel a change in the weather
coming. There’s a thing in the air—the body alerts me that something new is
coming and I bristle all over. I don’t know why. That very spring I was given
the plant called primula. It’s so mysterious that in its mystery is contained
the inexplicable part of nature. It doesn’t look at all unique. But on the
precise day when spring starts its leaves die and in their place are born closed
flowers that have an extremely dumbfounding feminine and masculine perfume.

We’re sitting nearby and vaguely watching. And suddenly
they start leisurely opening and surrendering to the new season in front of our
aghast eyes: it’s spring that is moving in.

But when winter comes I give and give and give. I bundle
up quite a lot. I hug nests of people to my warm breast. And you hear the noise
of someone having hot soup. I am now living rainy days: the time nears for me to

Can’t you see that this is like a child being born? It
hurts. Pain is exacerbated life. The process hurts. Coming-to-be is a slow and
slow good pain. It’s the wide stretching as far one can go. And your blood
thanks you. I breathe, I breathe. The air is
. Air with wind is
already a he or she. If I had to force myself to write you I would be so sad.
Sometimes I can’t stand the strength of inspiration. Then I paint with a heavy
heart. It’s so good that things don’t depend on me.

I’ve spoken a lot about death. But I’m going to speak to
you about the breath of life. When a person is already no longer breathing you
give mouth-to-mouth resuscitation: you place your mouth upon the other person’s
and breathe. And the other starts to breathe again. This exchange of breaths is
one of the most beautiful things that I’ve ever heard about life. In fact the
beauty of this mouth-to-mouth is dazzling me.

Oh, how uncertain everything is. And yet part of the
Order. I don’t even know what I’ll write to you in the next sentence. We never
say the final truth. May whoever knows the truth come forward. And speak. We
shall listen contritely.

. . . suddenly I saw him and he was such an
extraordinarily handsome and virile man that I felt a joy of creation. Not that
I wanted him for myself just as I don’t want for myself the boy I saw with the
hair of an archangel running after a ball. I just wanted to look. The man looked
at me for an instant and smiled calmly: he knew how beautiful he was and I know
that he knew that I didn’t want him for myself. He smiled because he felt no
threat at all. Because beings exceptional in any way are subject to more dangers
than your average person. I crossed the street and took a taxi. The breeze made
the hairs on my neck stand up. And I was so happy that I huddled in the corner
of the taxi out of fear because happiness hurts. And all that caused by having
seen the handsome man. I still didn’t want him for myself—what I like are
people who are a little ugly and at the same time harmonious, but he somehow had
given me a lot with his smile of camaraderie among people who understand each
other. I didn’t understand any of this.

The courage to live: I keep hidden what needs to be
hidden and needs to irradiate in secret.

I hush.

Because I don’t know what my secret is. Tell me yours,
teach me about the secret of each one of us. Not a slanderous secret. It’s just
this: secret.

And it has no formulas.

I think I’ll now have to beg your pardon to die a little.
Please—may I? I won’t be long. Thank you.

. . . No. I didn’t manage to die. Am I ending this
“word-thing” here by a voluntary act? Not yet.

I am transfiguring reality—what is it that’s escaping
me? why don’t I reach out my hand and take it? It’s because I only dreamed of
the world but never saw it.

What I’m writing to you is contralto. It’s
negro-spiritual. It has a choir and lit candles. I’m now having a dizzy spell.
I’m a bit afraid. Where will my freedom lead me? What is this that I’m writing
to you? That leaves me all alone. But I go and pray and my freedom is ruled by
the Order—I’m already without fear. All that’s guiding me is a sense of
discovery. Beyond what’s beyond thought.

Following myself along is really what I’m doing when
writing to you and now: following myself without knowing where it will lead me.
Sometimes it’s so hard to follow myself along. Because I’m following something
that’s still nothing more than a nebula. Sometimes I end up giving up.

Now I’m afraid. Because I’m going to tell you something.
Wait until the fear passes.

It passed. It’s this: dissonance is harmonious to me.
Melody sometimes wears me out. And also the so-called “leitmotif.” I want in
music and in what I write to you and in what I paint, I want geometric streaks
that cross in the air and form a disharmony that I understand. Pure
My being is completely absorbed and grows slightly intoxicated. What I’m telling
you is very important. And I work while I sleep: because that is when I move
inside the mystery.

Today is Sunday morning. On this Sunday of sun and
Jupiter I am alone in the house. I suddenly doubled over as if in the deep pain
of childbirth—and saw that the girl in me was dying. I shall never forget that
bloody Sunday. It will take time for the wound to heal. And here I am tough and
silent and heroic. Without a girl inside me. All lives are heroic lives.

Creation escapes me. And I don’t even want to know so
much. That my heart beats in my breast is enough. The impossible living of the
is enough.

Right this minute I feel my heart beating out of control
inside my breast. It’s reasserting itself because in the past few sentences I
was just thinking on my surface. So the basis of existence turns up to wash over
and erase the traces of the thought. The sea erases the traces of the waves on
the sand. Oh God, how happy I’m feeling. What ruins happiness is fear.

I get scared. But my heart’s beating. The inexplicable
love makes the heart beat faster. The sole guarantee is that I was born. You are
a form of being I, and I a form of being you: those are the limits of my

I’m in a pleasure to die for. Sweet prostration as I
speak to you. But there’s the waiting. Waiting is feeling voracious about the
future. One day you said you loved me. I pretend to believe it and live, from
day to day, in joyful love. But remembering with longing is like saying farewell
once again.

A fantastical world surrounds me and is me. I hear
the mad song of a little bird and crush butterflies between my fingers. I’m a
fruit eaten away by a worm. And I await the orgasmic apocalypse. A dissonant
throng of insects surrounds me, light of an oil lamp that I am. I then go too
far in order to be. I’m in a trance. I penetrate the surrounding air. What a
fever: I can’t stop living. In this dense jungle of words that thickly wrap
around whatever I feel and think and live and transform everything I am into
something of mine that nonetheless remains entirely outside me. I’m watching
myself think. What I wonder is: who is it in me who is even outside of thinking?
I’m writing you all this because it’s a challenge which I have to accept with
humility. I’m haunted by my ghosts, by whatever is mythic and fantastical—life
is supernatural. And I walk on a tightrope up to the edge of my dream. Guts
tortured by voluptuousness guide me, fury of impulses. Before I organise myself,
I must disorganize myself internally. To experience that first and fleeting
primary state of freedom. Of the freedom to err, fall and get up again.

But if I hope to understand in order to accept things—
the act of surrender will never happen. I must take the plunge all at once, a
plunge that includes comprehension and especially incomprehension. And who am I
to dare to think? What I have to do is surrender. How is it done? I know however
that only by walking do you know how to walk and—miracle—find yourself

I, who manufacture the future like a diligent spider. And
the best of me is when I know nothing and manufacture whatever.

Because I suddenly see that I know nothing. Is the blade
of my knife getting blunt? I think it’s more likely that I don’t understand
because what I’m seeing now is difficult: I’m stealthily entering into contact
with a reality that is new to me and still doesn’t have corresponding thoughts,
and much less any word that signifies it. It’s more of a feeling beyond

How can I explain it to you? I’ll try. It’s that I’m
perceiving a crooked reality. Seen through an oblique cut. Only now have I
sensed the oblique of life. I used to only see through straight and parallel
cuts. I didn’t notice the sly crooked line. Now I sense that life is other. That
living is not only unwinding rough feelings—it’s something more bewitching and
gracile, without losing its fine animal vigor for that. Upon this unusually
crooked life I have placed my heavy paw, causing existence to wither in its most
oblique and fortuitous and yet at the same time subtly fatal aspects. I
understood the inevitability of happenstance and that is no contradiction.

The oblique life is very intimate. I shall say no more
about this intimacy so as not to harm thinking-feeling with dry words. To leave
the obliqueness in its own uninhibited independence.

And I also know a way of life that is gentle pride, grace
in movements, slight and continuous frustration, with a skill in avoidance that
comes from a long and ancient history. As a sign of revolt only a weightless and
eccentric irony. There’s a side to life that is like drinking coffee on a
terrace in the coldness of winter and wrapped in wool.

I also know a way of life that is slight shadow unfurled
in the wind and swaying slightly over the ground: life that is floating shadow,
levitation and dreams in the open day: I live the richness of the earth.

Yes. Life is very oriental. Only a few people chosen by
the inevitability of chance have tasted the aloof and delicate freedom of life.
It’s like knowing how to arrange flowers in a vase: almost useless knowledge.
That fleeting freedom of life must never be forgotten: it should be present like
a fragrance.

To live this life is more an indirect remembering than a
direct living.

It resembles a gentle convalescence from something that
nonetheless could have been absolutely terrible. Convalescence from a frigid
pleasure. Only for the initiates life then becomes fragilely truthful. And is in
the instant-now: you eat the fruit during its ripeness. Could I no longer know
what I’m talking about and is everything escaping me without my noticing? I do
know—but cautiously because I’m a hair’s breadth from not knowing. I feed
myself delicately with trivial daily life and drink coffee on the terrace on the
threshold of this dusk that looks sickly only because it’s sweet and

Oblique life? I am well aware that there is a slight
detachment between things, they almost collide, there is a detachment among the
beings that lose one other amongst words that almost don’t say anything more.
But we almost understand one other in this light discord, in this almost that is
the only way to stand full life, since a sudden face-to-face encounter with it
would frighten us, scare off its delicate spider’s web threads. We are askance
in order not to jeopardise what we foresee is infinitely other in this life of
which I speak to you.

And I live to the side—a place where the central light
doesn’t burn me. And I speak quietly so that ears have to pay attention and hear

But I also know of yet another life. I know and
want it and devour it ferociously. It’s a life of magical violence. It’s
mysterious and bewitching. In it snakes entwine while the stars tremble. Drops
of water drip in the phosphorescent darkness of the cave. In that dark the
flowers intertwine in a humid fairy garden. And I am the sorceress of that
silent bacchanal. I feel defeated by my own corruptibility. And I see that I am
intrinsically bad. It’s only out of pure kindness that I am good. Defeated by
myself. Who lead me along the paths of the salamander, the spirit who rules the
fire and lives within it. And I give myself as an offering to the dead. I weave
spells on the solstice, spectre of an exorcised dragon.

But I don’t know how to capture what’s happening now
except by living everything that happens to me here and now and whatever it may
be. I let the free horse run fiery in its pure noble joy. I, who run nervously
and only reality delimits me. And when the day reaches its end I hear the
crickets and become entirely full and unintelligible. Then come the early hours
bulging full of thousands of blaring little birds. And each thing that happens
to me I live it here by noting it down. Because I want to feel in my probing
hands the living and quivering nerve of the today.

Beyond thought I reach a state. I refuse to divide it up
into words—and what I cannot and do not want to express ends up being the most
secret of my secrets. I know that I’m scared of the moments in which I don’t use
thought and that’s a momentary state that is difficult to reach, and which,
entirely secret, no longer uses the words with which thoughts are produced. Is
not using words to lose your identity? is it getting lost in the harmful
essential shadows?

I lose the identity of the world inside myself and exist
without guarantees. I achieve whatever is achievable but I live the unachievable
and the meaning of me and the world and you isn’t obvious. It’s fantastic, and I
handle myself in these moments with immense delicacy. Is God a form of being?
the abstraction that materializes in the nature of all that exists? My roots are
in the divine shadows. Drowsy roots. Wavering in the dark shadows.

And suddenly I feel that we shall soon part. My
frightened truth is that I was always yours alone and didn’t know it. Now I
know: I’m alone. I and my freedom that I don’t know how to use. Great
responsibility of solitude. Whoever isn’t lost doesn’t know freedom and love it.
As for me, I own up to my solitude that sometimes falls into ecstasy as before
fireworks. I am alone and must live a certain intimate glory that in solitude
can become pain. And the pain, silence. I keep its name secret. I need secrets
in order to live.

BOOK: Agua Viva
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