The traps for reality

Studies analyze what are the social relations in the works of Clarice Lispector

The texts of Clarice Lispector (1920-1977) provide vast material for enjoyment by both the formalists and the contentists, but the critical reception, as a rule, has tended to analyze the form of the social aspects. Running contrary to this line, are the doctorate theses of Luiz Antonio Magalhães, Commonplace and Perception in Clarice Lispector, and of Maria Angela Bacellar, Clarice Lispector and the Figurations of Women, projects financed by FAPESP.

If all of the work of Clarice is a “romance of existential education” (term of the critic Alfredo Bosi), and the word is important for an understanding of her complexes and abstract writings, this is not the whole story. “The study of the social relations was not totally explored by the critics. Anthropology, sociology and history are fundamental in confronting the interpretative challenge of work as rich as that of Clarice.” explains Dr. Magalhães, a researcher of literary theory of the State University of Campinas (Unicamp). In the work of Clarice, housewives lived their moments of rebelliousness, of epiphany.

To observe these characters and to elaborate the script of a full-length film that privileges the thesis was the challenge of Maria Angela Bacellar, a researcher in the area of cinema at the School of Communications and Arts of the University of São Paulo (ECA-USP). “The storyteller Clarice is of extreme modernism and consciousness, and not to cover this aspect in the cinema is to deny a significant part of the revolution of the writer.”, she observes. The first challenge of the two researchers was to select the corpus of the work. Clarice left a vast amount of work, which covers romances, short stories and chronicles, children’s books. Dr. Magalhães decided to expand his research beyond the volume of short stories Laços de Família (Families Ties).

He analyzed the romance A Maçã no Escuro (Apple in the Dark), but, here and there, makes reference to other texts such as those of Felicidade Clandestina ( Clandestine Happiness), Onde Estiveste de Noite? (Where Was I at night), A Hora da Estrela (The Hour of the Star), A Paixão Segundo G.H. (Passion According to G.H.) and the chronicles of A Descoberta do Mundo (The Discovery of the World). “Home is the place where routine lays its roots, the usual, as Clarice shows. It is the environment of the known, of the foreseeable, in which are readily available objects that disappear in front of our eyes, because out of habit, we are already blind from seeing them so often. However, it is here that writing surges forth to prove that a stone is a stone and to reinvent life.”, he alerts.

In A Hora da Estrela, (The Hour of the Star) a book published in 1977, we have the main character Macabéa. The needs of the character are total: she is described as ugly; neither white nor black but brownish; she has TB; from the poor northeast living in Rio de Janeiro. According to the story teller, she was “an incompetent for life”, “so young and already rusty”. Macabéa centers within herself economic, physical and intellectual poverty. This context of misery appears to be more than enough to give incentive to a social reading, but this is a trap that Dr. Magalhães wants to avoid. The researchers, Drs. Magalhães and Maria Angela, followed the critical advice of Master Antonio Candido: the social aspect must not be taken outside, externalized, but taken as a factor of the artistic construction itself.

“Dogmatic proselytizing is lamentable in any sphere, above all in literature, whose function is to filter the skies of ideological dust as much as possible. I don’t discard the critical feminist, who tries to analyze the presence of feminist figures, so remarkable in Clarice’s works. However, at times, I agree that there is exaggeration.”, explains Dr. Magalhães. “The work of Olga de Sá, A Escritura de Clarice Lispector, The Scripture of Clarice Lispector has already observed the pros and cons, among others, of this type of criticism of the work of Clarice Lispector.”, observes Dr. Maria Angela.

Clarice in the movies
For Dr. Magalhães, the movie adaptations of the works of Clarice tend towards a reality bias. Though he praises the version of A Hora da Estrela (The hour of the Star), at the hands of Suzana Amaral because of the beautiful and sensitive interpretations, Dr. Magalhães has some misgivings . “It is difficult not to perceive when the work loses in complexity and density with the elimination of the narrator, Rodrigo SM, and of his clash with the language and life, the language as a moment of life and death.”, he analyzes.

The researcher Maria Angela Bacellar agrees with Luiz Antonio Magalhães on the point that erasing the narrator oversimplifies the script . “By not facing the question of the narrator, an option is made for conventional cinema, even classic. But the cinema is, or should be, the privileged stage for the bringing about some narrative procedures of modern literature, such as the flow of conscience.”, she points out. “There are market pressures that inhibit an alternative treatment of the movie language. It loses a lot with this, because Clarice is before everything else a modern, inciting writer. To throw away this aspect is to reduce her work to a romance of the 19th century.”, observes Dr. Maria Angela.

To fill this gap, Dr. Maria Angela says that she is writing a script for a film “outside of the market and of whatever type of convention”. In the project, she is intends to make screenplays of ten stories by Clarice Lispector that represent women as lead figure. What brings together so many stories are the female profiles. We are speaking of the figure of a housewife who, submitted to a mediocre and banal routine, unveils herself existentially. These are women who live experiences on the edge and are regarded as mad (that is the case in A Imitação da Rosa – The Imitation of the Rose) who return to normality (Amor – Love), break with social conventions, abandoning the family (Os Laços de Família – Families Ties) or have a finale of tragic heroines (as happens with the protagonist of Os Obedientes – The Obeying).

Dr. Maria Angela had already worked with movie adaptations in her dissertation for her masters thesis, The Key – An Adaptation for the Cinema Based on Three Stories by Lygia Fagundes Telles, defended in 1995 at ECA-USP. However, she felt that the greater challenge was that of making an intersemiotic translation of a more complex work such as that of Clarice. Before entering into the scripts proper, Dr. Maria Angela carried out a meticulous study of some of the intersemiotic translations of literature for the cinema, such as: A Hora da Estrela – The Hour of the Star by Suzana Amaral, O Corpo – The Body by José Antonio Garcia, and Clandestina Felicidade – Clandestine Happiness, a short film by Marcelo Gomes.

Would it be possible to give an account of the internal feelings of the personalities only through visual resources? To help to reach this state, the researcher has used, above all, in the modern theorizations of the writer and theorist Gérard Gennete and found her inspiration in various productions by Ingmar Bergman. “His films are cinema in the pure state.”, she says.

Mysteries of Clarice
Did the obsession of Clarice for the theme of family relations had to do with her own experience of life, of her Russian and Jewish roots, but in love with the Brazilian North East? “To write is to try to understand, to reproduce the unproduceable, and to feel up until the final end the sentiment that would otherwise remain vacant and suffocating.” An aspect of self understanding as the writer herself defined in various of her stories.

As the biographies report, Clarice Lispector was born in Tchetchelnik, Ukraine (ex-USSR), in 1920. “A town so insignificant that it does not even feature on the map.”, recalled. As a newly born, she came to Brazil with her parents who settled down in Recife. In 1934 the family moved to Rio de Janeiro, where Clarice did her secondary and preparatory schooling. Already during her time at the National School of Law of the University of Brazil, she caused confusion with her first romance, Perto do Coração Selvagem – Near the Wild Heart, refused at that time by the editor José Olympio. She published it the following year through the publishing house A Noite and received the Graça Aranha Award. In 1944, she went with her husband to Naples where she helped in a hospital looking after Brazilian soldiers who had joined the Brazilian Expeditionary Force. On her return to Brazil she wrote O Lustre – The Lamp, published in1946. After long stays in Switzerland and the United States, the writer settled down in Rio where she stayed until her death.

Does this mixture of places, religious origins, influences, a suffered loss of her mother when she was nine years of age, the worldwide trips with her diplomat husband, this itinerant life influence her work in which the theme of family comes up obsessively? “No doubt the answer is yes. The movement that perhaps had come from the structuralism of erasing the presence of the author had already been reversed. The process of understanding the real author can help a lot in understanding the work itself, what is within it and what is surrounding it.”, he says.

However, the researcher advises of the dangers of these crossed wires between author/life/work. The risk is to fall into biographism, to explain the work through events in the life of the author. “Absurd ideas were put forward in the past, such as to propose that the fictional diction of Machado de Assis came from his speech defect or the conclusion that Augusto dos Anjos must have been a potential murderer to have written what he wrote.”, he explains.

In the cinema, some adaptations have run this risk. Dr. Maria Angela Bacellar points to the film by Marcelo Gomes, that mixes fiction and biography “We are dealing with a book adaptation of the short story ‘Clandestine Happiness’, where they mix in biographical references obtained above all through the recent biography Clarice, Uma Vida que se Conta, – Clarice, A Life that Counts by Nádia Batella Gotlib (1995).”, she explains.

A reinvented life
Dr. Magalhães says that to write something new about Clarice Lispector, one of the most studied authors of our literature, is a challenge proportional to the work. The critic points out the necessity of democratizing the texts of Clarice and of re-reading them from new angles, above all in a time of globalization. “A rich and plural work such as that of Clarice always has something to give because it engenders and disseminates feelings that allow for an enormous range of exploration. It serves both to interpret the disenchantment of the process of globalization today, and for this world founded on a type of rationality that represses aspects such as sensuality and sensibility, contrary to logic.”, she believes.

At the moment Maria Angela Bacellar is finishing up the screenplays. Could it be that we will have new adaptations of the work of Clarice in the cinema? ” I intend, above all, to finish the thesis and defend the work, I am not worried about how things will go afterwards. I have had a positive reception in seminars and among other researchers, who believe that scripting texts of Clarice to be exciting, but I am clearly aware that I am going in the opposite direction to the cinema of commercial appeal.”, she explains.

Dr. Magalhães is also redrafting the final version of his thesis . He intends to publish parts of the work in the form of articles or essays, and more than this, he hopes to contribute “to extending to the maximum the impact that the masterpiece will have upon the reader’s intelligence and sensibility”, which he considers to be the prime duty of a critic.

The projects
1. Commonplace and Perception in Clarice Lispector; Modality Doctorate scholarship; Coordinator Dr. Luiz Antônio Magalhães – Unicamp; Investment R$ 12,000.00
2. Clarice Lispector and the figurations of women (nº 97/12763-4); Modality Doctorate scholarship; Coordinator Dr. Maria Angela Silva Bacellar – ECA-USP; Investment R$ 12,000.00