Clarice Lispector

From Wikiquote
Jump to navigation Jump to search
Clarice Lispector (1969)
Everything in the world began with a yes. One molecule said yes to another molecule and life was born.

Clarice Lispector (December 10, 1920December 9, 1977) was a Brazilian writer. Acclaimed internationally for her innovative novels and short stories, she was also a journalist and a translator. A legendary figure in Brazil, renowned for her uncommon and unique writing style, her great personal beauty — the American translator Gregory Rabassa recalled being "flabbergasted to meet that rare person who looked like Marlene Dietrich and wrote like Virginia Woolf," — and her eccentric personality.


  • At first she dreamed of sheep, of going to school, of cats drinking milk. Little by little she dreamed of blue sheep, of going to school in the middle of the woods, of cats drinking milk from golden saucers. And her dreams became increasingly dense and acquired colours that were difficult to dilute into words.
  • Perhaps I have not been made for the pure, expansive waters, but for those which are small and readily accesible. And perhaps my craving for another source, which gives me the expression of someone in search of food, perhaps this craving is a whim - and nothing more. Yet surely those rare moments of self-confidence, of blind existence, of happiness as intense and serene as an organ playing - surely those moments prove that I am capable of fulfilling my quest and that this longing which consumes my whole being is not merely some whim? Moreover, that whim is the truth!
  • Yet around her things were living so violently sometimes. The sun was fire, the earth solid and possible, plants were sprouting alive, trembling, whimsical, houses were made so that in them bodies could be sheltered, arms would wrap around waists, for every being and for every thing there was another being and another thing in a union that was a burning end with nothing beyond.
    • The Chandelier (1946) Translated into English by Benjamin Moser and Magdalena Edwards
  • A house is not only constructed with stones, cement etc. A man’s way of looking constructs it too.
    • The Besieged City (1949) Translated into English by Johnny Lorenz
  • Was that, then, the way we do things? "Not knowing"— was that the way the most profound things happened? ... Was the secret of never escaping from the greater life the secret of living like a sleepwalker?
  • Reality prior to my language exists as an unthinkable thought. . . . life precedes love, bodily matter precedes the body, and one day in its turn language shall have preceded possession of silence.
  • Whether she won or lost, she would continue to wrestle with life. It would not be with her own life alone but with all of life. Something had finally been released within her. And there it was, the sea.
    • An Apprenticeship, or The Book of Delights (1968)
  • There it is, the sea, the most incomprehensible of non-human existences.
    • An Apprenticeship, or The Book of Delights (1968)
  • Everything in the world began with a yes. One molecule said yes to another molecule and life was born. But before prehistory there was the prehistory of prehistory and there was the never and there was the yes. It was ever so. I do not know why, but I do know that the universe never began.
  • I only achieve simplicity with enormous effort. So long as I have questions to which there are no answers, I shall go on writing.
  • My life, the most truthful one, is unrecognizable, extremely interior, and there is no single word that gives it meaning.
  • Who hasn't asked oneself, am I a monster or is this what it means to be human?
  • Traduzo, sim, mas fico cheia de mêdo de ler traduções que fazem de livros meus. Além de ter basntante enjôo de reler coisas minhas, fico também com mêdo do que o tradutor possa ter feito com um texto meu...
    • I do translate, but I get filled with fear when reading translations of my books. Besides feeling quite nauseous when rereading my own work, I also become afraid of what the translator may have done to my text...

A Breath of Life (1978)


Translated from the Portuguese Um Sopro de Vida

  • Do you ever suddenly find it strange to be yourself?
  • 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.
  • I've never been free in my whole life. Inside I've always chased myself. I've become intolerable to myself. I live in a lacerating duality. I'm seemingly free, but I'm a prisoner inside of me.
  • beauty is like that, it is a fraction of a second, quickness of a flash and then immediately it escapes.
  • I'm afraid to write. It's so dangerous. Anyone who's tried, knows. The danger of stirring up hidden things - and the world is not on the surface, it's hidden in its roots submerged in the depths of the sea. In order to write I must place myself in the void. In this void is where I exist intuitively. But it's a terribly dangerous void: it's where I wring out blood. I'm a writer who fears the snare of words: the words I say hide others - Which? maybe I'll say them. Writing is a stone cast down a deep well.
  • Danger is what makes life precious. Death is the constant danger of life.
  • Sometimes writing a single line is enough to save your own heart.
  • I really like things I don't understand: when I read a thing I don't understand I feel a sweet and abysmal vertigo.
  • The difference between the insane and the not-insane person is that the latter doesn't do or say the things he thinks.
  • Suffering for a being deepens the heart within the heart.
  • These fragments of book mean that I work in ruins.
  • I must live little by little, it's no good living everything at once.
  • And I scream: I feel, I suffer, I am happy, I am moved. Only my enigma interests me. More than anything, I search for myself in my great void.
  • “At this moment” is a rare thing because only sometimes do I step with both feet on the land of the present; usually one foot slides toward the past, the other slides toward the future. And I end up with nothing.
  • What an effort I make to be myself. I struggle against a tide in a boat with just enough room for my two feet in a perilous and fragile balance.
  • I don't have anything to nourish me: I eat myself
  • Life has no adjective. It's a mixture in a strange crucible but that allows me on the end, to breathe. And sometimes to pant. And sometimes to gasp. Yes. But sometimes there is also the deep breath that finds the cold delicateness of my spirit, bound to my body for now.
  • Let the author beware of popularity, otherwise he will be defeated by success.
  • I wonder: why does God demand our love? possible answer: so that we might love ourselves and in loving ourselves, forgive ourselves.
  • He who emphasizes the ritual of faith can lose the point of faith.

An Apprenticeship or The Book of Pleasures (1968, translated into English 1986 and 2021)


quotes from the translation from the Portuguese by Stefan Tobler, 2021

  • …the greatest obstacle to my progress is me. I myself have been the biggest difficulty in my path. It’s with enormous effort that I’m able to overcome myself.
  • Ah how much easier to to bear and understand pain than that promise of spring’s frigid and liquid joy. And with such modesty she was awaiting it: the poignancy of goodness.
  • There could only be a meeting of their mysteries if one surrendered to the other: the surrender of two unknowable worlds done with the trust with which two understandings might surrender to each other.
  • we were only made for the little silence, not for the silence of the stars.
  • Humility in living isn’t my strong point. But when I write I’m fated to be humble. Though within limits. Because the day I lose my own importance inside me — all will be lost.
  • Remembering that day, which she saw again, she thought that from now on this was all she wanted from the God: to rest her chest on him, and not say a word.
  • Oh God! Having just one life was so little.
  • Could love be giving your own solitude to another? Because that's the ultimate thing you can give of yourself.
  • I’m an insurmountable mountain along my own path. But sometimes through a word of yours or a word I read, suddenly everything becomes clear.
  • it's only when we forget all our knowledge that we begin to know

Interview (1977)


Translated into English by Benjamin Moser

  • I was born in Ukraine, but already fleeing. My parents stopped in a village that’s not even on the map, called Chechelnik, for me to be born, and came to Brazil, where I arrived when I was two months old. So calling me a foreigner is nonsense. I’m more Brazilian than Russian, obviously.
  • when I learned to read and write, I devoured books, and I thought that they were like trees, like animals, something that is born. I didn’t know there was an author behind it all. Eventually, I discovered that that’s how it was, and I said, “I want that, too.”
  • I was what I still am, a daring shy person. I’m shy, but I throw myself into things.
  • Without yet realizing that, for me, form and meaning are one single thing. The phrase arrives already made.
  • what interests me is jotting things down. Putting it all together is a bore.
  • (Between Ermelinda and Vitória, in “The Apple in the Dark,” which is more Clarice?) CL: Maybe Ermelinda, because she was fragile and scared. Vitória is a woman that I’m not. I’m Martim.
  • I don’t reread. It nauseates me. When it’s published, it’s like a dead book—I don’t want to hear anything more about it. And, when I read it, I think it’s weird, I think it’s bad, that’s why I don’t read it. I also don’t read the translations that they do of my books, in order not to get annoyed.
  • I don’t write as a catharsis, to get something off my chest. I never got anything off my chest in a book. That’s what friends are for. I want the thing itself.
  • I never know beforehand what I’m going to write. There are writers who start writing only when they have the book in their head. Not me. I just follow along, and I don’t know where it’s going to end up. Then I start understanding what I wanted.
  • When I’m not working, I read a review, and it’s all fine. When I’m working, a review of my work interferes with my intimate life, so I stop writing in order to forget the review. Even the positive ones, since I take care to cultivate humility. So sometimes I even feel attacked by praise.
  • I am not a professional writer, because I write only when I want to.
  • (You never felt a violent impact from a book?) CL: A bit, sometimes. I felt it with “Crime and Punishment,” by Dostoyevsky, which gave me a real fever. “Steppenwolf” turned me upside down.
  • I don’t know how to explain it, but prizes are outside of literature—by the way, “literature” is a hateful word—yes, they’re outside the act of writing. You receive it the way you receive a hug from a friend, with a certain pleasure. But it has nothing to do with—(It’s circumstantial?) CL: Yes.
  • (You, as a person, in the context of the world today, do you feel like part of society, or do you feel solitary?) CL: Well, I have friends, friendships, but writing is a solitary act. Outside the act of writing, I get along with people. (So you don’t feel solitude?) CL: Sometimes, sometimes, even quite deeply. Alceu Amoroso Lima wrote something that’s been repeated a lot, that I was in a tragic solitude in Brazilian letters.
  • (You even said that your liberation would be being able not to write.) CL: Of course! Writing is a burden!
  • I want to know, what will that matter after I die? (Well, the main value it has is that your name will remain in Brazilian literature.) CL: You think it will? I don’t write for posterity.
  • What’s natural is supernatural, too. Don’t think that it’s very far off. What’s natural is already a mystery.

Quotes about Clarice Lispector

  • A dearth in published literature exists despite the multitude of noteworthy female authors who share the Latin American Jewish identity; writers like Angelina Muñiz, Clarice Lispector, and Margo Glantz. The long-time omission of these authors from anthologies likely reflects how they have historically been afforded less recognition and renown than their male counterparts.
    • Marjorie Agosín Introduction to the second edition of The House of Memory: Stories by Jewish Women Writers of Latin America (2022)
  • Clarice Lispector spent the first two months of her life in the town of Chechelnik in Ukraine. This is a small, short fact. The interesting question, unanswered in the places I've looked for it, is: At what age did she enter the Portuguese language? And how much Russian did she bring with her? Any Yiddish? Sometimes I think this is what her work is about . . . one language trying to make itself at home in another. Sometimes there's hospitality, sometimes a quarrel
  • (There isn't a mean bone in the body of Lispector's work.) But there is sadness, aloneness (which is a little different than loneliness). Some of the characters try desperately to get out of the stories. Others retreat into their own fictions-seem to be waiting and relieved by Lispector's last embracing sentence. Lispector was lucky to have begun to think about all these lives (men's lives as well as women's) in the early years of the women's movement, that is, at a time when she found herself working among the scrabbly low tides of that movement in the ignorance which is often essential to later understanding. That historical fact is what has kept her language crooked and clean.
Wikipedia has an article about: