Thursday, July 19, 2012

the fate of my voice

This past week I've been reading myself to sleep with the new Clarice Lispector translations. I'm reading them very slowly, which is what you do when you allow a book to save your life. Does that sound too dramatic?  C.L. has been saving my life for a long time now.  I wouldn't have written Hive without her.

It's funny that the first thing I read this morning was a post by a friend, writing about reading Alice to her daughter at bedtime.  The teacup photos (an accidental theme of mine) always seem to remind people of Alice, which makes sense.

If you like Alice, you would like Clarice.  Though I don't recommend reading her books to your small children.

I finished The Hour of the Star which is translated by Benjamin Moser this time, a couple of nights ago.  Now there's a bedtime story by God. I can't really talk about it yet.  I've read the previous translation several times but I want this one to slowly sink into me and I'll need to read it again.  It's a difficult book to talk about and maybe it should just be read. Do me a favour and just read it. Please. Maybe it's the book that most influenced my (unfinished) novel about the young girl working in the second hand store who is obsessed with the museum of bags and purses.  I'm still trying to gather the courage and the time to finish it.  I hope they coincide.  Courage and time.

Of course, the book, the new translation, that I was most eagerly waiting for was A Breath of Life. God.  Because this is the first time it's been translated into English.  

If you have read Hive, then please read A Breath of Life and tell me what you see there.  Well, there are comparisons to be made.  But C.L. is so beyond me.  Still, as I've recently told a friend via email, there are times when I've been so freaking depressed that I had to publish Hive the way I published Hive.  Other times, it's felt empowering, exhilarating and gorgeously defiant.  Recently a few friends who have read it have told me the most amazing things - that the book has had such glorious affect on them and that they were enraptured etc.  In reading their descriptions, I was thinking - that's exactly the affect C.L. has always had on me.  So.  A sign.  And then, reading this new translation.  Reading this breath of life.  

It seems strange even to me, that I wrote Hive before reading it.  But maybe I'd somehow internalized its possibility while writing the possibility of my art forger.

To begin with.  I love the two letters that act as a preface to the book. It's exactly the sort of writing she would have loved.  I think.  Benjamin Moser writes to the film maker Pedro Almodovar.  "The people I love, in my experience, always end up loving one another."

And in Almodovar's reply, explaining why he cannot in fact write a preface:  "Sometimes because the book didn't interest me and sometimes because the book interested me too much, as in the case with A Breath of Life."

The works of C.L. require love, nothing more.

"I write as if to save somebody's life. Probably my own. Life is a kind of madness that death makes. Long live the dead because we live in them."  

"Suddenly things no longer need to make sense. I'm satisfied with being.  Are you?  Certainly you are. The meaningless of things makes me smile complacently. Everything surely must go on being what it is."  

~ Clarice Lispector, A Breath of Life

"Does 'writing' exist in and of itself? No. It is merely the reflection of a thing that questions. I work with the unexpected. I write the way I do without knowing how and why - it's the fate of my voice. The timbre of my voice is me. Writing is a query. It's this: ?"


I worry a stupid amount, which is ridiculous, about people finding my book.  Because I think the right readers find the books they need when they need them.

I'm grateful that A Breath of Life has found me.  With a huge thank you to Benjamin Moser who made its finding possible.


  1. I think you have SUCH beautiful brains. Thanks for this post.

  2. And we are grateful your writing has found us.

  3. Ah those are the words I was looking for.....beautiful brains! Indeed Shawna, your writing takes me into another level of thought.

  4. oh you lovelies! i certainly am getting a big head thanks to you : ) xo


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