I came across Clarice Lispector on the Writers No One Reads tumblr. The expression on her face in that photo is probably what captured me; fierce and arrogant*. It's a face that says:
Someone read my stories and said that that wasn't literature, it was trash. I agree. But there's a time for everything. There's also a time for trashI randomly chose a title from the TPL catalogue, and away we went with Soulstorm.
This collection really does sweep through like a violent weather event. Lispector says in her introduction that the stories in Soulstorm were written on commission, something she was not used to doing. Invigorated by the challenge, she wrote most of the stories in the span of a few days, and the collection bears the mark of her fervor; one feels pushed forward by the momentum.
The pieces in Soulstorm are quite short, for the most part, and swing between erotically-charged fantastic realism and (what I assume are) Lispector's true-to-life ruminations and re-telling of anecdotes. There's little cohesion between the two, but what's interesting, in reading Soulstorm, is a sense that one is watching the manic progress of a creative endeavor. It's as if Lispector must stop and give herself a break from the darkly speculative fictions she creates with slower—but equally distressing— observations of the world.
The first story is of a woman who decides to become a prostitute after losing her virginity to a spirit called Ixtlan. Some pages later, Lispector includes a brief anecdote, told as if she was sitting at coffee, about a woman jilted by her fiance. Of the tale, she writes:
The realism here is invented. I beg your pardon, for besides recounting the facts I also guess, and what I guess I write down. I guess at reality. but this story isn't my baby.It's a very strange book, Soulstorm.
The most interesting piece is "Where You Were at Night," which very neatly brings together the two sides of Soulstorm:the fantastic and the ordinary. Initially, "Where You Were at Night" seems to be an interpretation of a lawless and erotically-carnivorous Sadean society**. Initially I felt this story went too far, taking the earlier fantastical themes to an overly strange place, since most of the book kept at least one foot in the Real. It's the longest story in the collection, and the descriptions of the rather grotesque Bacchanal, presided over by the androgynous god Xanthippe, seem to go on forever. Then, "[d]awn: the egg came whirling slowly from the horizon into space. It was morning[.]" We are returned to the world as we know it. Each actor in the "dream" is accounted for, and placed neatly back into their daily routine, most without memory of the nightmare acts. Nearly the same amount of space is dedicated to the mundanity of everyday life as was given to the overnight activities. I'm not sure why this affected me so much, but it's the piece that has stuck with me, weeks later. She ends the story with:
All that I have written here is true—it exists. There exists a universal mind that has guided me. Where were you at night? No one knows. Don't try to answer—for the love of God. I don't want to know your answer.
I still don't know what to make of this odd collection. It feels more like watching a process at work, than a work itself. I know that I'm going to have to read more of Clarice Lispector to get some sort of grip on how she "normally" writes, in order to put this work in context. By her own admission it was created in unusual circumstances, so I'm definitely interested to see how that affected her writing, if at all.
*Incidentally, I have a similar story about Anne Sexton and this photo.
**I was reminded quite a lot of the character Jude Mason's book in A.S. Byatt's Babel Tower