Clarice Lispector’s “Agua Viva”: Oyster, Rose, and Time

In the center of “Agua Viva” a round curving flower unfolds, falling outward, foreshadowed by the oyster and turtle, by animals and insects. But “not having been born an animal,” Clarice is free to experiment, for “the animal never substitutes one thing for another,” never, in other words, uses metaphor, and so animals are better able to capture the “it” of time, and we want to watch them, but we must be careful not to “humanize animals because it’s an offense – you must respect their nature – I am the one who animalizes myself” (42-45).

There are 376 paragraphs in 88 pages of text (the writing begins on page 3). Each paragraph is a petal curling away from the center of the text.

Animals with paragraphs: oyster, owl, horse, wolves, turtles, tiger.

Flowers with paragraphs: rose (“The way she opens herself into a woman is so beautiful.”); carnation (“The white ones recall the little coffin of a dead child…and we turn our heads away in horror.”); sunflower; violet; daisy; orchid (“…exquise and unpleasant.”); tulip; cornflower (“biblical”); angelica (“dangerous”); jasmine; bird-of-paradise; night jessamine; edelweiss; geranium; water lilies; chrysanthemum (“deep happiness”) (49-53).

As with James Joyce, more dangerous writing: “Yes, what I’m writing you is nobody’s. And this nobody’s freedom is very dangerous. It is like the infinite that has the color of air” (76).

A maid and a cook appear momentarily, cursorily; what for? (75, 78). They witness the writing. Clarice has a job, “to look after the world” (54).

Ants appear, and bees. The voice treads water “beyond thought” (35, 41, 59, 61, 64, 73, 79).

How can we ask a text that occurs only in the moment to have a plot? Aphorism, definition, examples and illustration, clear and concise description. Insects, bugs. Without plot comes freedom: “Whoever isn’t lost doesn’t know freedom and love it” (65).

The end is a mirror (70) and a beatitude of nothing (82), sleep and waves, sadness. But begin being again, “with such profound happiness. Such a hallelujah” (3, 29), a jazz.

The narrator, a voice without narration, talks of writing and reading, first and second person. Time stops with the writing, close in, close up: “Insects, frogs, lice, flies, fleas and bedbugs” (35).

The narrator is a painter who writes. The writer’s doubt (34, 38, 48) is the reader’s joy: “The ‘freedom’ frees itself from the slavery of the word” (84). Yes, contradictions and connections, threads of paragraphs.

“Agua Viva,” by Clarice Lispector. Translated from the Portuguese by Stefan Tobler. Introduction by Benjamin Moser. Written in 1973. First published by New Directions as NDP1223 in 2012.

Related posts: Bob Dylan and Clarice Lispector: Bewildering, Transfigured, & RedeemedJames Joyce on Writing: “write dangerously”

This Toads post picked up and reposted at berfrois on 25 Oct 2012: Check it out!

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