In 2015, I bought Katrina Dodson’s translation of The Complete Stories of Clarice Lispector, even though I didn’t really know who Lispector was at the time. There was a buzz around this book. Every time I’d go in to Skylight Books (in Los Angeles), I’d see it on the bestseller shelf, and there was something about her eyes, which stared out from the book cover.
I read the collection in its entirety during a semester in my MFA program at Antioch University Los Angeles, in which I was concentrating on literary translation. It was harrowing, but I couldn’t stop. I’d read in public and then shut the book and stare at passersby, forlorn, like a ghost. I’d snap at people for no reason (embarrassing but true)—I learned I had to give myself time to adjust after reading Lispector, before entering the world of people. I wrote a critical paper about animals and identity in Lispector’s short fiction, but I couldn’t explain why she got under my skin, and still can’t, really.
Without Katrina Dodson, Clarice Lispector never could have gotten under my skin. Among other awards, Dodson won the 2016 PEN Translation Prize for her translation of The Complete Stories. Alongside the rest of the New Directions series of new Lispector translations, Dodson’s translation of these stories helped extend Lispector’s appeal beyond those who were interested in Brazilian literature, or Latin American works in translation. I met Dodson at the 2016 Conference of the American Literary Translators Association, where I heard her give talks in panels about the etiquette of sharing authors with fellow translators, and on translation as performance, where she talked about how absorbing herself in the distinctive work of an author as revered as Lispector sometimes felt like she was channeling “Clarice” (first name only, as she is known in Brazil).
In February 2017, I got the chance to talk to Dodson via Skype about Clarice Lispector, the book that kicked off her career in literary translation, and the life of a translator.
Lauren Kinney: How did you get started translating? Did you translate before you were in graduate school, and how did your academic studies shape your translation practice?
Katrina Dodson: My first experience with translating was taking Latin class as part of my PhD requirement in comparative literature [at University of California Berkeley]. You have to take a classical language. I’ve always been interested in languages, but with Latin, because it’s a dead language, most of what you do is translate the classics of Latin literature, so, speeches by Cicero, poetry by Catullus. I really enjoyed it, and I think, at that moment, I still hadn’t thought about it as opening up this line of translation. The first time I translated something closer to my literary interests was actually Clarice Lispector.
Coming through a comparative literature department, you’re always in dialogue with people who don’t speak the same languages that you do. In different seminars, when I had a professor who didn’t speak Portuguese, I would have to find a translation of the work that I was writing on. And so, it was a mix of being dissatisfied with some of the Clarice Lispector translations of stories I was reading and writing about, and then also just an attempt to understand her stories better. “The Egg and the Chicken” is one of my favorite stories, and I think it’s one of her most puzzling stories. I translated that, and I translated another short story called “Temptation,” about a red-haired girl that has this encounter with a red-haired dog. Those were just in notebooks. It wasn’t until I met a friend-of-a-friend who was a literary agent that I started thinking about translation more. He asked me to be a scout for books that were written in Portuguese by authors who would be interesting to translate into English.
Shortly after I met him, I went to Brazil that summer for research, and I went to a major literary festival in Paraty. It’s called FLIP, the Festa Literária Internacional Paraty. I went to a panel, and I heard two young authors, Emilio Fraia and Vanessa Barbara, read from their [collaborative] novel and talk about it. I just felt this shared humor and sensibility and thought, “Hey, you know, I’m doing this scouting for this person, but what if I also try to translate something myself.” I introduced myself to them, and that became the first thing that I translated for publication: the novel that they wrote together. That was in Two Lines. Do you know Two Lines?
LK: The press?
KD: Yeah, it’s the Center for the Art of Translation, and they have a yearly anthology of literature in translation. I actually sent the sample to McSweeney’s. They weren’t interested, but they sent it off to the editors of Two Lines, because we’re all in San Francisco. You start close to home with people you know. But Two Lines accepted that excerpt, and that got me started. Those two authors independently got their stories accepted into the Brazilian Granta, so when the English Granta decided to translate the Best of Young Brazilian Novelists issue (Granta 121), they asked me to translate the selections from those two authors, because they knew I had a relationship with them. That’s how it all started—it’s one thing that leads to another. Then I met Benjamin Moser while he happened to be in Rio. I was there on a Fulbright, and I had been interested in translating some Clarice Lispector, but some smaller, less-known pieces, like crônicas, for a small press. I didn’t know anything about rights at the time. We talked, and he liked me. Almost a year and a half later, he invited me to do The Complete Stories. That was after my work in Granta had come out, and we had a correspondence, so he had a sense of how I worked, and what our dynamic was together.
Short answer is: by accident.
LK: What is the difference between translating short and longer fiction?
Clarice Lispector has a very coherent voice. It’s a very strong voice. … But over the course of eighty-five stories, she’s doing different voices, different characters. Her style changes. That’s what made it a really breathless operation to do all of those stories in just two years’ time.
KD: The nice thing about translating a longer continuous work is you really have time to develop a voice and become immersed in the text. It’s a similar dynamic to working with the same author again. You already have a sense of their voice, and what your voice for them is in English. That was one of the big challenges of doing The Complete Stories: I had to start over again eighty-five times. Clarice Lispector has a very coherent voice. It’s a very strong voice. She has a strong sense of rhythm that has variations, but it’s still very recognizable as “her” over this forty-year career. But over the course of eighty-five stories, she’s doing different voices, different characters. Her style changes. That’s what made it a really breathless operation to do all of those stories in just two years’ time. But I think I got so much faster doing it, because when I translated the stories for Granta, one was eight pages and the other was slightly longer. It took me about a month to do each single story. [Laughs] There is a momentum that accumulates when you do a longer work, even when it’s separate stories.
Right now I am editing someone else’s translation of a poetry collection by a really great poet, Ana Cristina Cesar. She died in 1984, and this collection is from ’82. She committed suicide at the age of thirty or thirty-one. She’s a mix of Sylvia Plath and Gertrude Stein, and a major reference point for all the young Brazilian poets writing today. And the other thing I’m doing is a novel, this experimental modernist novel from 1928 called Macunaíma. That’s a big challenge to do, but because it’s just one novel straight through, I’m able to take things that I’ve invented and worked out for one chapter and apply it across the book, in a way that was harder to do with the Lispector stories.
LK: What do you recommend to translators, beginners or otherwise, who are looking to develop their craft?
KD: I’d say, one, be really aware of your own tastes. I say, read widely, but be aware of what kinds of voices or stories or styles or writers appeal to you, and hone that. It’s important to be aware of what you do well. For me, I know I do humor really well, and I gravitate towards things that are a bit strange, a bit experimental, a bit, maybe, perverse, but also comic. For me, Clarice Lispector’s stories are what I most wanted to do. But I also have a good ear for rhythm, so I gravitate towards authors whose words you can feel in your body. Knowing what you respond to helps you know what to pursue and what to say no to, in terms of your work. I would also read and watch a lot of interviews or writing by other translators.
I didn’t do an MFA. I don’t think you need to do an MFA in translation, but I do think it’s a way to fast track your development and get an instant community. I had that through doing the doctorate, but not in translation, so I was teaching myself by reading a lot of essays about translation.
I also read and watched a lot of interviews when I had questions like: how taboo is it to look at a previous translation of the work that you’re also translating? Do other people do this? How far should you go? I watched a great panel at Columbia University. It was a panel on retranslating the classics with Edith Grossman, Wyatt Mason, who was doing a new translation of Montaigne, and the couple that does all the Russian classics, Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky. For me, it was really instructive to hear these very established translators talk about even just their workday and their approach. In that sense, you become more aware of your own process, and what works for you and what doesn’t. It’s just nice to hear from other translators what their challenges are on a practical, everyday level.
LK: In preparing to translate The Complete Stories, did you read previous translations beforehand?
KD: I was familiar with Clarice Lispector’s work and the criticism around her. I had studied her and been reading her since my early twenties, even before I went to graduate school. I had known her for already thirteen years, so I felt very comfortable with my knowledge of the range of her work. I had also taught some of her stories, and wrote about some of the translations, especially Elizabeth Bishop’s translations, because my dissertation was on Elizabeth Bishop. She published translations of three Lispector stories.
I was aware of the translations of the stories but I was careful not to go back and look at them until I had finished a polished draft. Even then, I went to look at places where I was having trouble to see what someone else did, when I was curious about the tone. It was almost like having a ghost editor—you see someone else’s suggestions for how to solve a translation problem. Almost always when it’s a situation that calls for creativity, no two people will think of the same solution, but oftentimes I would see something else, and it would give me an idea for a third solution that I thought was better. There were times when I would see [the other translators’] mistakes on simple things, or they would help me catch my mistakes. That’s one benefit of coming after—you can check in with other translations and do these little checks that an editor would do for you.
I did read all of the other translations in the same series from New Directions that I was joining. The Complete Stories was the sixth book to be translated in this new series, and I’d already read the others. I read The Hour of the Star and then the four novels that came out at the same time, and so that helped me get a sense of what the “Clarice house style” was, but at the same time it let me see what the distinct variations were among the translators, because whether you realize it or not, your voice and your use of language is your own, even if you try to neutralize it, or write outside of what you think is your own voice. There was a translator from Australia, one from England, one from Houston, one from Pennsylvania. We have all different kinds of regional, international Englishes, and that comes through in each person’s individual translation. (The constant is Benjamin Moser as editor.) It helped clear up some questions about, say, how literal or not to follow her punctuation or the idiosyncrasies of her voice. That’s a really unique situation in that I was not translating in a total vacuum—it’s a part of a series —so that was important for me to understand where this translation fit in with the others and how readers were going to put them all together to make this tessellated portrait of Clarice Lispector.
LK: That makes sense. I’ve also heard you talk about channeling Clarice Lispector as you translated her work, both to conjure her distinctive voice and also to feel, perhaps, less intimidated by the task. I was wondering if you feel the same sense of channeling an author when you’re translating someone who’s not Clarice Lispector, or if there are other translation metaphors that resonate with you in those cases?
KD: I think that it varies from author to author. It’s very different to translate a famous dead writer or poet than to be translating a living one, of course. I’d say that when you’re translating someone, it’s such an intimate relationship, and you’re thinking about them all the time, and what went through their head as they were writing and what their voice was like, and you feel that you’re trying to tap into the current of life that is in their work. I can say that right now, working on these other authors’ work, I have Ana Cristina Cesar in my head. I have lines of her poetry in my head all the time. I think about what kind of person she was. I have Mário de Andrade, who wrote Macunaíma—I’m thinking about him also all the time, and to what degree he was being ironic in places, or when he was having fun, or when he was kind of agonizing over pieces of his masterpiece novel. So you’re always kind of haunted.
But I do think that there was something particularly strong about the idea of this intimate communion with Clarice, as she’s known in Brazil. She’s known by her first name, so you can just call her Clarice. [Laughs.] The reason that it’s so much stronger with her is that she has a very intimate voice in her writing. It sounds like she’s whispering directly into your ear like a lover or sister or mother. In a lot of her writing, she has these moments that feel like she’s just thinking with you, or revealing these deep philosophical or spiritual truths that she’s come to.
[Lispector] had religion and spirituality all around her. On top of that, in Rio, you have also a strong current of Afro-Brazilian religions—she writes about Candomblé, which is sometimes called Macumba, in some of her stories. There’s a strong current of spirituality in her work, and she was interested in the occult. She went to a fortune-teller. She was interested in astrology.
I think of her as something of a mystic. She came from a Jewish family that escaped the pogroms in what’s now Ukraine, and grew up in a Jewish household in one of the most Catholic countries in the world. She had religion and spirituality all around her. On top of that, in Rio, you have also a strong current of Afro-Brazilian religions—she writes about Candomblé, which is sometimes called Macumba, in some of her stories. There’s a strong current of spirituality in her work, and she was interested in the occult. She went to a fortune-teller. She was interested in astrology. She’s always talking about magic and witches, and she was invited to the First World Congress of Sorcery in Bogotá in 1975.
Even if you were a person who had learned through academia or a more secular upbringing to be skeptical or wary of being overly mystical or judged for thinking that you’re communing with the dead, it’s just something that she brings out in you.
This was my first book-length translation. Going from academia and writing in a scholarly context where you have to ground everything you write in all kinds of research and footnotes and facts or, some kind of grounded subjectivity—for me it was liberating and an important creative awakening to be able to approach this work, which I knew very well, from the perspective of translation. Part of this ability to think about what it means to channel someone’s voice, or to feel an intimate relationship to this writer, freed me to be able to think about having a closer relationship to Clarice Lispector in her work without shutting down that line of thinking or feeling as irresponsible as I would as a scholar.
It was such an enriching experience to think about her work on a deep level and intuit what she was doing in her writing, to understand it in order to reproduce it, rather than to write about it in an analytical way, which ends up shutting doors or giving premature answers to these questions that she opened up.
Just one caveat to that is that I think people should be writing about her both inside and outside of academia. I’m excited to see what these new translations generate in terms of thinking about her work. It’s very fraught, especially for me personally, to try to write about her in a more analytical way, but that doesn’t mean that it’s not worth trying to understand her from many different angles. I’ve been invited to a Clarice Lispector academic conference at Columbia University. They’ve invited me to give a paper, so I’m thinking of it as an opportunity to think about her both from my experience translating her but also from a scholarly perspective at the same time.
LK: You’ve avoided doing that so far, since you’ve been translating her?
KD: The way I’ve written about her, for example in my translator’s note and in various lectures I’ve given at different universities, is somewhere in between. That’s exciting for me. Anytime we’re able to fuse our different areas of knowledge and training, it’s very satisfying. I don’t think of myself as just a translator or just a scholar; I also think of myself as a writer. It’s exciting to try to figure out how to think and write about Clarice Lispector on a deep level that draws on this intimate reading experience I’ve had of her through translation, but also takes into account things that other people have written about her—things about her role in Brazilian literature or in world literature.
For example, for this conference, I’m thinking about the role of voice in Clarice Lispector. In a practical sense, I thought about what made her voice so strong and coherent as I was translating in order to reproduce it. But I’ve also given papers about translation as performance and how in some ways, it’s like you’re interpreting a script, or you’re like a musician or a singer interpreting a score. These things are coming out of my own experience, but I’ve also been reading more in translation theory, and I’m looking to read more on other theorizing of voice in literature to expand and ground my thinking.
I’m writing an essay about the translation that’s based on this translation notebook I was keeping. I kept this journal for the whole two years, just writing down random Google searches, or interesting translation challenges that were coming up, or things that were going through my brain. That document is both very personal and a more analytical look at the practices of translation, and the things that I was noticing about Lispector’s work that I had never thought about before translating her. That essay and that book will be some hybrid of personal writing mixed with theory of translation, and it would be a book for people who are interested in understanding Lispector’s work more, and thinking about it on a different level.
LK: I love that idea of keeping a translation notebook. I might steal that idea. It seems very useful.
KD: It’s very useful. What language are you translating from?
LK: Spanish. I have done one semester of that so far. Antioch’s MFA program is low residency, so I had a mentor, and sent pages to him and then he’d give me notes. I have been struggling to imagine what it will be like when I don’t have someone to send things to and have a conversation.
KD: I’m a mentor now in the Mills MFA program, also low-res, so it’s a similar thing. My student translates Francophone literature. It’s such a solitary practice and there are so many little decisions and little trails of research that you do on so many different levels. There’s so much stuff going through your head that it’s nice to let it out somewhere without thinking about organization or the logic of what you’re writing.
I call it a notebook because it sounds good, but I just had a Word document open whenever I was translating, and it was just a dump. Something would come into my head, or something funny would happen. No one was accompanying me the whole time. When I laughed with myself, or wanted to remember something for later, I would write the date and then write down whatever observations were going through my head. I do think that it is a good way to become more aware of your process and what you’re doing.
For me, it’s a nice document of my development over this two-year project, because so much changed. It took me six months to translate the first two collections. (The stories come from nine different collections.) And then with everything else, I got faster and faster and faster and faster.
But I think there’s a lot of self-doubt in the beginning, a lot of fear and anxiety. I can even track in that journal the point when I felt like I really had it, and her voice had come together, and I had internalized a lot of decisions I was making based on various algorithms of dictionaries, internet searches, and this Excel spreadsheet of key words and how I was translating them. At a certain point, something switched and I had more clarity about what directions to take. In some ways that didn’t happen till I was going through the edits. I sent Benjamin Moser one collection as I was working on it, and he sent me back edits so I could see what direction he was going in, but then I just translated the whole entire thing and didn’t see his edits until the very end. It was in going through his edits and figuring out, okay, that’s a good idea, that sounds good to me. Okay, definitely no, that’s not the voice, definitely not this… It was great to respond on a gut level to the edits and feel what was automatically better, [what] streamlined things, and what didn’t work for me. It would make me dig for a new solution.
What you were saying about how you’re in dialogue with your mentor right now—I’ve actually never done a translation without being in dialogue with someone. Maybe Macunaíma, the one I’m doing now—but I always at least have an editor. The young authors also speak English and so we would talk about the text a lot. This poetry collection I’m editing, it’s with Brenda Hillman, the poet, and we’re working on it with another Brazilian poet, so the three of us are always in dialogue, and I always have a group of colleagues on the Portuguese side and on the English side whom I send questions to and where we have things going back and forth.
LK: I’ve been reading short fiction by Joy Williams lately, and she wrote a list of eight essential attributes of the short story, and number four is “An animal within to give its blessing.”
KD: Ha! I love that. [Laughs]
LK: And every single story of Joy Williams that I’ve read has an animal, even if it’s just mentioned in passing. Number five on Williams’s list is “Interior voices which are or become wildly erratically exterior.” Both of these things remind me of Lispector, although unlike Williams, Lispector’s characters seem to act out their inner worlds erratically without explaining them, necessarily. I think those two things are related in Lispector’s writing—the animals and the erratic human characters—something about beings who don’t communicate with words. I wanted to ask you about what you see the role of animal characters in her stories are.
KD: I love this question, and I want to get the reference! I’ve been meaning to read Joy Williams for a while now. Ever since The Visiting Privilege came out, people keep telling me that I would love her and I keep hearing people rave about her. You just pushed me over the edge, so I need to get that book today. [Laughs]
LK: That’s what I just read: [The Visiting Privilege].
KD: Which story is it from?
LK: This was a list she wrote to Lincoln Michel when he interviewed her for VICE, trying to explain where her stories come from.
KD: Those two things speak to a lot of what is powerful and so absorbing in Clarice Lispector’s writing, and especially in the stories. There are animals everywhere, and one of the things I love most about her is the way that she writes about animals. She gets their movements, the tilt of a head of this animal called the coati in “The Buffalo.” It’s so perfect.
I was actually just in the Amazon and I met one of these coatis. They’re like a cross between a fox and a possum and a raccoon. They’ve got this little long nose, so adorable. And it tilts its head in this quizzical way in that story, and it kills me. All the monkeys, the chickens. Her animals are both very animal and at the same time feel very human because she imbues them with so much personality—but stops short of completely anthropomorphizing them. It’s always a joke. In the story “A Chicken,” the chicken is almost like a woman. She’s almost human, but then all of a sudden, she’ll be apathetic and blinking, with her little button eyes, just like a chicken. Then they just eat her. There’s a lot of humor and affection, and also deep philosophical truths about the condition of being and living in the world, in the way Lispector depicts animals.
There’s some way in which she’s writing in a grammar, a style, and a logic that defy what we think of as logical or rational, but because her interior voice does become exterior and it’s so coherent and seductive, it draws the reader into its world, until the logic of that interior world surrounds you.
So much of her writing is trying to get beyond language and the way it shuts down understanding and feeling and experience. It’s one of the central conundrums in her work; she writes with this deep suspicion of language and what it shuts down, even as it is the medium that she’s chosen to work in. But that’s also why she’s always tripping up your reading with strange commas or new combinations of words, or words that seem like they’re just the wrong word in the situation, but that make you stop and think—I give some examples in my translator’s note. There’s some way in which she’s writing in a grammar, a style, and a logic that defy what we think of as logical or rational, but because her interior voice does become exterior and it’s so coherent and seductive, it draws the reader into its world, until the logic of that interior world surrounds you.
A story like “The Imitation of the Rose” is incredible. You’re really inside this woman’s head. It’s about a housewife, Laura, who has recently returned from a mental institution. You don’t know exactly what the nature of her episode or crisis was, but you can tell that everyone around her is walking on eggshells, and she’s got to drink her milk every day, and she’s trying to hold on to this sense of a banal self and her role as a housewife and a normal woman. She wears brown, and she’s not supposed to be special in any way. It’s such a strange story because if you try to explain the story, you say, “This is a story about mental illness, and it’s about a woman who had a mental breakdown, and she and her husband and everyone around her are trying to keep her on the straight and narrow, keep her part of sane society.” But if you’re inside the logic of the story and her head, there’s all this stuff about her trying not to be brilliant and shining and special and original, like there’s something about her that’s too bright and too much for the boring people around her. But they also read that as a sign of there being something wrong with her. It’s an incredible story.
Clarice Lispector used to be married to a diplomat. She had this whole life before they got divorced and she went back to Brazil in which she lived in Italy, Switzerland, and D.C. She had to be this conventional diplomat’s wife, and put roses in the finger bowls, shake hands, and have this plastered smile on her face. In one of her letters to her sisters, she talks about a woman in her circle who uses this adjective “original” to describe things that make her uncomfortable, like artists or ideas, and she’s always saying about Clarice, “She’s so original.”
[Laughter] It’s this suspicious adjective to use against people who are different, and so Clarice thinks, I try not to be original but I guess I’m just too “original” for this woman and these people. That’s something I think about in a story like that, one that has an incredible way of surrounding you and making you feel as if you’re losing your own mind and your grip on reality, just by being inside the mind of this woman.
LK: You mentioned understanding. There is a lot of talk these days about how fiction increases readers’ capacities for empathy, as a defense of literature, when it seems like the appetite for literature and people’s capacity for empathy is embattled. I thought about that as I was reading your translation of her stories. You said that Lispector’s writing is meant to disrupt understanding. Do you think we’re meant to empathize with her characters, and do you empathize with her characters?
KD: I get so tired out by the need to defend literature’s usefulness in terms of these measurable, moral and productive terms. Obviously this is important for humanity, thinking about our own interior experiences and how they bump up against other people’s interior and exterior experiences, so I always feel tired out by the weak position of literature and always having to defend it in this capitalist society, or usefulness-driven society.
That said, Clarice Lispector, even despite some of her more abstract or impenetrable work, also had a very deep feeling for her fellow humans, and that comes out most clearly in the [short] stories. It comes out throughout her novels, especially The Hour of the Star and its character, Macabéa. Both started out poor in the Northeast, which was part of Clarice Lispector’s history, but this character is from a totally different social and educational class than what Lispector ended up in. I think it’s all over her work, but what draws me to the [short] stories especially is that there’s a lot of humor and affection for human frailty and hypocrisy, human struggle and pain. There’s specifically a lot about women’s everyday lives, especially in Brazil in the ’40s, ’50s, ’60s, through the ’70s—a lot about the struggles women faced with having to live up to these ideals of what a “perfect woman” should be, and being defined as a mother, a wife, and not being able to realize her own potential as an individual. The ways that women are condescended to.
There’s a short story, which is more of a crônica, called “Mineirinho,” about an escaped convict in Rio who was shot down by the police in the ’60s—killed with thirteen shots, no trial, just killed—and his body was tossed in the forest in a different part of Rio than where he got shot down in the favelas. It made headlines in its time. I find that crônica brutal and so powerful because she’s asking, what does it mean to be safe in our apartments in the bourgeois neighborhood of Copacabana and witness someone who was gunned down? You feel her anguish—I think it’s what a lot of us are feeling now, and in the last few years of attention on problems of police brutality. You want to scream; no words will contain this combination of outrage. But you also feel guilt and impotence as a witness to these things, and as someone who might be less vulnerable than these other bodies. I don’t think that Lispector had an agenda to make people empathize with these other characters—she’s sometimes been accused of being apolitical. I think that she never really had a political or moral agenda that she wanted to put forth in her writing—you’re not meant to do anything but just read her work and be open to it—but I do think that it’s very clear that she had a deeply ingrained sense of justice and a sense of outrage to injustice. It comes out in so many subtle ways in her writing. Then, at other times, it will explode in a more overt way, like in “Mineirinho” or in The Hour of the Star.
There was just something else I wanted to say about animals and erratic characters. That’s an apt juxtaposition in that part of the humor, empathy, and wisdom in her stories comes from her understanding of all the ways that we act outside of the limits of what we’ve been taught by language, or “rational thought.” There are so many ways in which [her characters] act impulsively, or in these funny, petty ways, or lose sense of what they’re doing from a human, social point of view. That’s where the human and the animal, or the animal and the human, meet up: in these moments when a character, whether human-animal or animal-animal, is acting in these ways that make total sense in the context of the story and Lispector’s narration, but which, from a perspective of someone who’s thinking about the rules of society, seem totally erratic, insane, or out of the blue. But there are so many ways in which we act and we can’t explain. [Laughs] That is a great wisdom of Clarice Lispector’s writing. She understood on an intuitive level, and she was very interested in these outbursts of passion or impulse that happen in our daily lives that are unexplainable.
I do think that’s why we keep going back to her stories and her writing with the desire to explain them. A lot of readers understand her stories on an instinctive level, but find them hard to explain if you try to break them down.
She gave a famous TV interview in the year that she died: 1977. The interviewer asks her about the difficulty of some of her books, like The Passion According to G.H., and she says it’s not about intelligence, but about an inability to enter into the writing. She says there’s a teacher at this very prestigious private high school in Rio, who says he’s read The Passion According to G.H. four times and still can’t understand it. Meanwhile there’s an eighteen-year-old girl who says that it’s her bedside reading, and one of the most important books to her; she’s been able to enter into it on an instinctive level. That’s another reason that there are so many ways to enter into Lispector that are outside of a scholarly approach, or even a rationalized, analytical approach. There are many ways to enter into her writing without having to be able to explain everything that’s going on in her stories in a sentence-by-sentence level.