Near to the Wild Heart
by Clarice Lispector – (Tr: Giovanni Pontiero)
1943 / 192 pages (new trans 2012)
rating – 8.5 / existential lit?
This came up in a reading group and because I’ve never read anything by Lispector and she’s from Brazil I thought I’d give it a shot. I expected a lot of stream-of-consciousness and I’m not fond of being all taken over by the workings of the mind of a fictional character – however the author thinks that character thinks. It feels really claustrophobic. (I’ve never met a stream of consciousness character who thinks anything like I do.)
Anyway, it’s certainly not all stream-of-consciousness from a character known as Joana but it’s close. There is no real plot – just a fairly young woman remembering chunks of her life while experiencing a few other chunks and focusing on her interior thoughts and feelings. She really wants to be free but can’t find the self and she’s seeking an authenticity of a physical self as well as an emotional, mental and spiritual self.
So it basically becomes page after page of Joana going on about her feelings, some thoughts and a few actual events. She’s desperately seeking what it feels like to be herself physically and emotionally, and this is not too different from the existentialists of Lispector’s day except where they were seeking something called “meaning,” and Joana is seeking selfhood and freedom. (Very close when you come down to it.)
I suppose writing like this gives the author time to really completely develop a character as fully as possible – at least the interiors. No idea. Lispector has said that Joana is herself.
It starts out in a memory of a time when she was about age 11 or so – a guess – her mother has died, she’s with her father, bored, playing, writing poems and running a bit “wild,” in the opinion of her father.
In the next chapter she’s grown and says she feels like a little animal wanting to be free and like her whole life has been an error. Her future marriage to Octavio is mentioned. But there are lots of animals mentioned and she apparently connects with them on some level.
“Pity is my way of loving. Of hating and communicating. It is what sustains me against the world, just as one person lives through desire, another lives through fear. Pity for things that happen without my knowledge.”
The narrative moves on to “Mother,” another chapter in which Joana is very young. Her mother is deceased but her father explains about the mother to an old male friend and Joana experiences fear. I sense a desire to be very realistic (detailed for realism) about feelings – de Profundus.
And back to Octavio – her husband and her desire to be free
Just as the space surrounded by four walls has a specific value, provoked not so much because it is a space but because it is surrounded by walls. Otávio made her into something that wasn’t her but himself and which Joana received out of pity for both. . . Besides: how could she tie herself to a man without allowing him to imprison her? How could she prevent him from developing his four walls over her body and soul?
When Octavio finds another woman Joana seems not to care but she finds another man and has her own misadventure. Spinoza’s amorality is what she comes up with.
It’s nicely written although I’m sure quite a lot is lost in the translation. The chapters or episodes are short and at first they alternate between some current time and the past.
Then it gets very strange – it’s all words about feelings of a woman who is not entirely present for anyone because she has no basic understanding of herself and that becomes her basic struggle. Words themselves seem to mess her up. She struggles against her parents, against the school, against men, against death.
An excellent review of the new translation at:
Three Percent: http://www.rochester.edu/College/translation/threepercent/index.php?id=4152
and a blurb at The Guardian: http://www.theguardian.com/books/2012/sep/23/wild-heart-clarice-lispector-review