The Line of Mystery and Fire: The Passion According to G.H. by Clarice Lispector

The Passion According to G.H.

The Passion According to G.H.
BY Clarice Lispector
TRANSLATED FROM THE PORTUGUESE
BY Idra Novey
(New Directions, 2012)


From the Publisher:

The Passion According to G.H., Clarice Lispector’s mystical novel of 1964, concerns a well-to-do Rio sculptress, G.H., who enters her maid’s room, sees a cockroach crawling out of the wardrobe, and, panicking, slams the door — crushing the cockroach — and then watches it die. At the end of the novel, at the height of a spiritual crisis, comes the most famous and most genuinely shocking scene in Brazilian literature…”

Spirituality is a difficult subject to pin down and an even harder one to talk about. The average human does not live in a permanent state of receptiveness to whatever is beyond the cage of the self, and when a profound experience does happen to “un-selve” her, she might spend the rest of her life trying to describe it. Clarice Lispector’s The Passion According to G.H. is the record of one woman’s struggle to give voice to such an epiphanic moment, and to make out the contours of what, if anything, might lie beyond the reach of conventional language. The novel is narrated by a wealthy Brazilian sculptor, G.H., who is not so much a three-dimensional entity as she is a state of mind traced out through bracingly strange and allusive prose. There is barely any plot to speak of. Rather, the narrative reads like the interior monologue of someone undergoing a spiritual and physical metamorphosis. Lispector had certainly read her Kafka, and while his Metamorphosis is an obvious influence, she is attempting something quite different. The Passion According to G.H. is the record of one woman’s struggle to give voice to such an epiphanic moment, and to make out the contours of what, if anything, might lie beyond the reach of conventional language. From the very beginning, when she asks the prospective reader to “give me your hand,” the narrative hinges on the reader’s participation in G.H.’s search for her true identity. “I am now going to tell you how I entered the inexpressive that was always my blind and secret search,” Lispector writes, “How I entered whatever exists between the number one and the number two, how I saw the line of mystery and fire, and which is surreptitious line. A note exists between two notes of music, between two facts exists a fact, between two grains of sand no matter how close exists an interval of space, a sense that exists between senses — in the interstices of primordial matter is the line of mystery and fire that is the breathing of the world, and the continual breathing of the world is what we hear and call silence.”

One of Lispector’s most unclassifiable texts, The Passion According to G.H. has just been republished by New Directions with a foreword by Caetano Veloso and in a rigorous new translation by Idra Novey (greatly improved upon the 1988 translation by Ronald Sousa, who opted to “correct” Lispector’s unconventional grammar and syntax). When the novel was originally published in 1964, Lispector already occupied an important place in Brazilian literature. Her debut novel, Near to the Wild Heart, published when she was only twenty-three, had been a critical sensation, and her story collection, Family Ties, found such a wide audience that “Clarice” became a kind of national treasure, recognizable by her first name alone. But Lispector could not stop herself from taking risks on the page, and although The Passion has several elements in common with her earlier books, it also marks a departure for Lispector towards more experimental, fragmentary work.


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