Monday, October 10, 2005

Clarice Lispector, Mother of Blogs

LispectorPerhaps someone has already written (about) this, but I was thinking today as I rereading sections of the Pernambucan author Marilene Felinto's The Women of Tijucopapo for tomorrow's class, and also preparing for the the visit tomorrow of Hélène Cixous, who has done so much to popularize and promote the work of the late Brazilian author Clarice Lispector (1920-1977), that what Lispector in particular accomplished with her crônicas, or daily/weekly newspaper pieces on a variety of topics, was to anticipate the blog form before there was the technical means to do so. (Of course one could trace out other antecedents going even further back, but Lispector's style and approach provide, I think, one very important originary point.)

New Directions published a selection of Lispector's translated crônicas (Selected Crônicas) in 1996, and what is fascinating to note as you read them is how much like (and yet different from) many contemporary blog entries they are. Instead of satisfying the demands of the traditional opinion column, which she had done years earlier, or the more formally consistent regular pieces by her male colleagues, Lispector's crônicas comprised sometimes meandering, autobiographical, often confessional musings, short stories and sketches, dream narratives, poems, gossip, and so on from 1967 to the early 1970s in the Jornal do Brasil, one of Rio de Janeiro's major newspapers. Many of the works hold a mirror up to Lispector's amazing but occasionally difficult life: as an immigrant (born in Tchechelnik, Ukraine, her family arrived in the northeast of Brazil--first Alagoas, then Pernambuco--when she was only two months old); as the wife of a diplomat who didn't truly understand her aims in life; as a single mother of young children; as a survivor of a terrible accident (she nearly burned herself up when she fell asleep smoking and her mattress caught fire); as a person interested in the eternal verities of life, love, suffering, and death; as someone struggling to write herself into language and a literature.

Lispector's SignatureThe works often served as leads for her published literary short stories and novels; fragments, obsessions, explorations, theses occur in the journalistic pieces and then reappear in similar and altered form in the longer works. Though Lispector's prose fiction has won international acclaim for its metaphysical profundity and feminist focus, another of its most noteworthy qualities is its earthiness, its openness, its indeterminacy, its literal rawness at times, which can be found in abundance in the crônicas. There is also a concern with the poor, who then, as now, constituted a majority in Brazil, and who appear most famous in her longer work in the character of the northeastern immigrant to the big city, Macabéa, whose brief life, humiliation and transcendence lie at the center of one of Lispector's most unforgettable works, The Hour of the Star (A hora da estrela). In that remarkable work, as in the crônicas, the author breaches the traditional authorial wall, the sociological or anthropological distance often employed (or deployed) when writing (about) the Other, to implicate the narrator, and by extension herself, a radical act of resituation and location. Lispector creates the preparatory space for this in her earliest works, but also in the pieces she wrote as a cronista, as the Ur-blogger. No Narcissus, no navel-gazing, but before the reading public (still smaller then as now than the total population in Brazil), she inspected the self, often with great clarity, creativity, and force.

I sometimes wonder what she might have written had she not died from cancer the day before her birthday in 1977, and tonight I wonder what she might have thought--and done--had she lived long enough (she'd be 85, so it's not inconceivable) to experience the birth, growth and ubiquity not only of the Internet, Websites, and e-mail, but of the (We)blog itself. Perhaps she might have taken an interest in trying the medium out, and those would have been fascinating crônicas indeed.

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