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Examining Whiteness: Reading Clarice Lispector Through Bessie Head and Toni Morrison
 978-1906540470,  1906540470

Table of contents :
Cover......Page 1
Half Title......Page 2
Title......Page 6
Copyright......Page 7
Contents......Page 8
Dedication......Page 9
Acknowledgements......Page 10
Copyrights and Translations......Page 12
Introduction: Clarice Lispector, Subjectivity and the National......Page 14
The Threshold of the Unspeakable......Page 17
The Pathological as a Way into the National......Page 38
PART I......Page 52
1 A Question of Power: Unspeakable Miscegenation......Page 53
2 Haunting in Toni Morrison's Beloved......Page 71
PART II......Page 92
3 Welcoming the Ghost: Haunting in A paixão segundo G.H.......Page 93
4 Whiteness and the Construction of Subjectivity in O lustre......Page 112
5 Modernization and the Phantasmagoria of Commodities in A cidade sitiada......Page 139
6 Whiteness and Masculinity in A maçã escuro......Page 164
7 Racism and the Performance of Whiteness in A hora da estrela......Page 180
Conclusion......Page 202
Works Cited......Page 207
Index......Page 212

Citation preview

Examining Whiteness Reading Clarice Lispector through Bessie Head and Toni Morrison

LEgEnda legenda , founded in 1995 by the European Humanities Research Centre of the University of Oxford, is now a joint imprint of the Modern Humanities Research association and Routledge. Titles range from medieval texts to contemporary cinema and form a widely comparative view of the modern humanities, including works on arabic, Catalan, English, French, german, greek, Italian, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish, and Yiddish literature. an Editorial Board of distinguished academic specialists works in collaboration with leading scholarly bodies such as the Society for French Studies and the British Comparative Literature association.

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Editorial Board Chairman Professor Colin Davis, Royal Holloway, University of London Professor Malcolm Cook, University of Exeter (French) Professor Robin Fiddian, Wadham College, Oxford (Spanish) Professor Paul Garner, University of Leeds (Spanish) Professor Andrew Hadfield, University of Sussex (English) Professor Marian Hobson Jeanneret, Queen Mary University of London (French) Professor Catriona Kelly, New College, Oxford (Russian) Professor Martin McLaughlin, Magdalen College, Oxford (Italian) Professor Martin Maiden, Trinity College, Oxford (Linguistics) Professor Peter Matthews, St John’s College, Cambridge (Linguistics) Dr Stephen Parkinson, Linacre College, Oxford (Portuguese) Professor Suzanne Raitt, William and Mary College, Virginia (English) Professor Ritchie Robertson, The Queen’s College, Oxford (German) Professor Lesley Sharpe, University of Exeter (German) Professor David Shepherd, Keele University (Russian) Professor Michael Sheringham, All Souls College, Oxford (French) Professor Alison Sinclair, Clare College, Cambridge (Spanish) Professor David Treece, King’s College London (Portuguese) Managing Editor Dr Graham Nelson 41 Wellington Square, Oxford ox1 2jf, UK [email protected] www.legenda.mhra.org.uk

Examining Whiteness Reading Clarice Lispector through Bessie Head and Toni Morrison ❖ Lucia Villares

Modern Humanities Research Association and Routledge 2011

First published 2011 Published by the Modern Humanities Research Association and Routledge 2 Park Square, Milton Park, Abingdon, Oxon OX14 4RN 711 Third Avenue, New York, NY 10017, USA

LEGENDA is an imprint of the Modern Humanities Research Association and Routledge Routledge is an imprint of the Taylor & Francis Group, an informa business

© Modern Humanities Research Association and Taylor & Francis 2011 ISBN 978-1-906540-47-0 (hbk) All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, including photocopying, recordings, fax or otherwise, without the prior written permission of the copyright owner and the publisher. Product or corporate names may be trademarks or registered trademarks, and are used only for identification and explanation without intent to infringe.

Contents ❖

Acknowledgements Copyrights and Translations Introduction: Clarice Lispector, Subjectivity and the National The Threshold of the Unspeakable The Pathological as a Way into the National

part i 1 A Question of Power: Unspeakable Miscegenation 2 Haunting in Toni Morrison’s Beloved

ix xi 1 4 25 40 58

part ii

3 4 5 6 7

Welcoming the Ghost: Haunting in A paixão segundo G.H. Whiteness and the Construction of Subjectivity in O lustre Modernization and the Phantasmagoria of Commodities in A cidade sitiada Whiteness and Masculinity in A maçã no escuro Racism and the Performance of Whiteness in A hora da estrela

126 151 167

Conclusion Works Cited Index

189 194 199

80 99

to my parents helena e luiz

Acknowledgements v

I feel immense gratitude to a lot of people whose sympathetic reading and listening gave me the confidence to write this book; some of them are anonymous, others are not. The first version of this book has been presented as a PhD dissertation to the University of London. I have been extremely lucky to have had not one, but three supervisors whose trust and open mindedness have been of immense value to me. Carol Watts provided a crucial safe place to rehearse my initial ideas on the two English writers discussed here; David Treece the corrections and insights that kept me on my track; Jo Labanyi the reassurance and the direction that allows me now to look back at my years as a PhD student and see it for what it was: a time of plenty. My special thanks also to Hilary Owen, for her careful and supportive reading of the thesis and her advice in many occasions. I am deeply appreciative of the Art and Humanities Research Board for providing me with the valuable financial support I needed to carry out this research. I would also like to thank Clare College Cambridge, Alison Sinclair, and Santander Bank for their generous support while preparing this book. Three sections of Examining Whiteness were published previously in slightly different form. Chapter 3 appeared as ‘The Black Maid as a Ghost: Haunting in A paixão segundo G.H.’ in Closer to the Wild Heart: Essays on Clarice Lispector, edited by Claudia Pazos Alonso and Claire Williams. Chapter 7 appeared in the Journal of Iberian and Latin American Studies’ special issue entitled ‘Latin American Women’s Writing, Then and Now’, edited by Thea Pittman and Chapter 5 in the Bulletin of Hispanic Studies. I thank the editors for their corrections and helpful comments. I thank the various conference organizers, chairs and audiences who provided the opportunity to test my ideas and the stimulating intellectual environment to refine them, both during and after the completion of my PhD. I have also benefitted immensely from the comments of many colleagues here and in Brazil. My special thanks to Nadia Batella Gotlib, Maria Augusta Fonseca and Berta Waldman for finding time to see me and discuss my initial ideas. Closer to home, I thank my family and friends, here and in Brazil. Special thanks to Márcia May Morrissy for the encouraging words at crucial moments, and to Beth Silva, for her careful reading of long parts of the book and her encouraging advice. I would also like to thank my father, Luiz, for helping me find books in Brazil. I am also extremely grateful to my children, Laura and Leo, for coping for so long with such an absent-minded mother and for providing me with the distractions I needed in order to keep my mind reasonably sane. Most of all, I would not be able to complete this work without the love, patience and unconditional support of my husband Richard.


Extracts from the published books by Clarice Lispector: A paixão segundo G.H., O lustre, A cidade sitiada, A maçã no escuro and A hora da estrela are in the copyright of the heirs of Clarice Lispector and are reproduced by kind permission of Agencia Literaria Carmen Barcells. Extracts used in Chapter 3 from the English translation of A paixão segundo G.H are by Ronald W. Souza and are reproduced by kind permission of University of Minnesota Press. Chapter 3, ‘Welcoming the Ghost: Haunting in A paixão segundo G.H.,’ first appeared as ‘The Black maid as a Ghost: Haunting in A paixão segundo G.H.’ in Closer to the Wild Heart: Essays on Clarice Lispector, edited by Claudia Pazos Alonso and Claire Williams, published by Legenda, Oxford, in 2002; Chapter 5, ‘Modernization and the Phantasmagoria of Commodities in A cidade sitiada’ first appeared in Bulletin of Hispanic Studies, 87: 84 (2010); Chapter 7, ‘Racism and the Performance of Whiteness in A hora da estrela’, first appeared in Journal of Iberian and Latin American Studies’ special issue entitled ‘Latin American Women’s Writing, Then and Now’, edited by Thea Pittman, published by Routledge, 2008; reprinted by permission of the publishers. The translations of all the extracts of criticism in Portuguese, and of the extracts from the novels O lustre and A cidade Sitada used in Chapter 4 and Chapter 5 are by Lucy Phillips and are published by kind permission of the author. The translations of the extracts from A paixão segundo G.H. used in Chapter 3, are by Ronald W. Souza; the translation of the extracts from A maçã no escuro and A hora da estrela, used in Chapters 6 and 7, and of quotations from Jean-Paul Sartre and Arthur Rimbaud on pages 17 and 25, are my own.


Clarice Lispector, Subjectivity and the National I think no writer ever plans a career in writing, an often miserable occupation filled with anguish, mental blocks and physical and mental exhaustion. [...] this slow unfolding of writing talent is most aptly described by the French writer, Albert Camus: ‘So you think what you have is your own? What is your own comes to you bit by bit.’ Bessie Head, 1990: 94

Criticisms of the Brazilian writer Clarice Lispector (1920–1977) have so far failed to elucidate an aspect that is salient in her fiction. This is the subjective crisis, and the related narrative crisis, that much of Lispector’s fiction presents. In most of her novels the linearity of narrative is interrupted because the protagonist undergoes some sort of personal crisis. This works in her texts as a double-edged sword: both a strength and a problem. Critics have praised it, described it, placed it in different literary and critical contexts, interpreted it from different points of view, but this remains insufficiently explained. When I started this research my objective was not to demonstrate the quality of Lispector’s work. I was more interested in the position she occupied in the Brazilian literary canon: that of Brazil’s foremost woman writer. My main concern was with what she has come to represent in and outside Brazil. Her efforts to belong to Brazil and her achievements as a writer, both in Brazil and internationally, were obvious to me. Despite the fascination that Lispector’s texts continue to generate up to the present moment, critics always note her ‘desterritorialização’ [deterritorialization], her ‘exile’, her ‘universality’, her ‘nomadism’ — as if the construction of Lispector’s belonging could have happened despite or outside the social and political environment of the nation. The problem with this kind of perspective is that it seems to shift the focus away from the fact that people do not exist in isolation from the cultural environment — nationally bounded — where they were shaped or shape themselves. Most of all, and this is what really sustained my motivation through the research, this kind of perspective also allows one to imagine that it was easy, or natural, for Lispector as a writer, to become a Brazilian and to come to occupy the position she now has in the Brazilian and international literary canons. In other words, despite being considered by many as the most important Brazilian woman writer, Lispector is not really understood as a national writer. Despite her name often being evoked as an example of a woman writer in Brazil, as soon as critics start to look at her work, her belonging to the nation seems to magically fade away. Her writing is often praised as ‘écriture’, a concept denoting a pertinent and necessary arrangement of words (or



signs) with its own particular syntax and meanings. The use of this term, however, allows readers to perceive her texts as if they could somehow f loat above reality, with no national body. One cannot understand this problem without looking at Lispector’s writings from multiple perspectives that do not exclude aspects of, or lose sight of, the complexities involved in the processes of constructing one’s belonging in a national context. Lispector was born in the Ukraine, to a Jewish family. They emigrated in February 1921 when she was two months old, to the city of Maceió in the northeastern Brazilian state of Alagoas (Gotlib, 1995: 62).1 To tackle the question of recognition of Lispector’s national belonging, one needs to bear in mind what it meant to be both a woman writer and a Jewish foreigner, in a country such as Brazil was at the time Lispector lived, wrote and published. It is true that she lived abroad for many years (she followed her diplomat husband to Europe from 1944 to 1950, and to Washington from 1952 to 1959) but so too, for example, did the renowned Brazilian poet João Cabral de Melo Neto, who spent many years outside Brazil. This poet, however, is never referred to as a ‘foreigner’, despite his use of Spanish Andalusia and other exotic locations as material for his poems. Would the fact that Lispector was not born in Brazil explain the problem? I suggest that the problem was more outside Lispector than inside herself or her work. Like most writers and artists, she ref lected, articulated, tracked, criticized, in artistic language, her experience inside a national context. She was becoming (or trying to become) a national subject; and this is rarely easy for those who start from a position similar to hers, the position of the ‘outsider’. I will interpret Lispector’s texts taking her biography into account, although I do not intend to present a biographical account of her life here. Most of this book will deal with the ways in which Lispector’s texts raise questions concerning the relation of Brazil’s African ethnic component to notions of what constitutes the Brazilian nation. It will soon become clear that whiteness is an important element in her texts. I will focus my analysis on five of Lispector’s novels, following the appearance of symptoms of unexamined whiteness in her work.2 The novels will be therefore read in the following order: A paixão segundo G.H. [The Passion according to G.H.] (1964), O lustre [The Chandelier] (1946), A cidade sitiada [The Besieged City] (1949), A maçã no escuro [The Apple in the Dark] (1961) and A hora da estrela [The Hour of the Star] (1977). Because of its length, the novel as a genre allows for an expansion of the narrative in which the problem I am trying to trace (the protagonist’s subjective crisis and the con­se­quences it has for the narrative) becomes more explicit. I suggest that the length of the novels, and the exploratory work that this format enables, allowed them to function as a kind of ‘laboratory’ where Lispector was able to examine a sub­jective crisis. The experimental work undertaken in the novels permitted Lispector to condense this problem in her short stories. Hence the power of these short texts and the popularity they brought the writer in Brazil at the time of their publication. By repeatedly creating such imaginary spaces, Lispector was describing a problem. The protagonists of her novels are mostly individuals whose subjectivity is somehow at risk, who are facing problems of agency. Whatever perspective one adopts to



examine these narrative situations, it is clear that Lispector is producing images of a certain paralysis. She is saying to the readers that there is an obstruction blocking the individual’s possibilities of engaging with his or her surrounding world. She is also attempting to express this individual’s struggle. I will refer now to some of the main critics of Lispector, emphasizing what they have in common and what is still left unexamined. What these critics share can be summarized in two points. First: a tendency to place Lispector outside the nation, to re-instate her condition as a foreigner. Second: a tendency to stop at the threshold of the ‘unspeakable’, going no further than merely identifying Lispector’s intention of narrating that which cannot be narrated. Carlos Mendes de Sousa, for example, refers in 2000 to a ‘despaisamento terri­ torial’: Se a novidade de Clarice Lispector advém em grande medida daquilo para que insistentemente iremos chamar a atenção — a assunção do seu lugar a partir de um despaisamento territorial — esse despaisamento projectar-se-á na afirmação do território-língua, território devindo escrita. (de Sousa, 2000: 25–26) [If Clarice Lispector’s novelty is largely a result of that which we will insist on drawing attention to — her ascent from a position of territorial dépaysement — this dépaysement will project itself onto the affirmation of the languageterritory, territory becoming writing.]

Fábio Lucas, in 1976, emphasizes how Lispector stood out as a unique writer: tendo publicado o seu primeiro romance, Perto do Coração Selvagem, em 1944, Clarice Lispector já surgiu como um caso estranho no cenário brasileiro. Daí por diante, sua prosa foi-se destacando da narrativa costumeira, que trilhava caminhos até então muitas vezes percorridos. (Lucas, 1976: 13) [With the publication of her first novel, Perto do Coração Selvagem [Close to the Savage Heart], in 1944, Clarice Lispector immediately emerged as a strange case on the Brazilian stage. From then on, her prose was to distinguish itself from the established narrative tradition, which was treading paths that were already very well-worn.]

These are very precise and useful descriptions of Lispector’s texts when examined from a certain perspective. Accepting these, my intention, however, is to shift the angle of critical examination in order to illuminate some unexplored areas of her writing. To put things simply, we could say that the goal — or at least the consequence — of the criticism devoted to her work in the period from the date of publication of her first novel Perto do Coração Selvagem [Near to The Wild Heart] (1944) to the end of the 1970s was her being accepted as a major figure in the Brazilian literary canon. Hélène Cixous, in 1979, introduced a feminist perspective in the reading of Lispector’s work and simultaneously brought it into the international arena. However, despite the extraordinary amount of criticism produced since the late 1970s, the problem of Lispector’s belonging or not belonging to the nation has not yet been clarified. The reason for the subjective and narrative crisis found in Lispector’s work cannot, I contend, be reduced to her universality, her condition as a woman writer, her philosophical inclinations, or to her literary style. The reason for this crisis, I



suggest, lies in Lispector’s engagement with and ref lection on the vida íntima [inner life] of the nation. As a writer deeply committed to her national environment, Lispector develops the quality that Machado de Assis (1839–1908) referred to in his famous essay ‘Instinto de nacionalidade’ (1873): ‘o que se deve exigir do escritor, antes de tudo, é certo sentimento íntimo, que o torne um homem do seu tempo e do seu país’ (Machado de Assis, 1973: 804) [what must be demanded of the writer, above all, is a certain intimate feeling, which makes him a man of his time and of his country]. There are two reasons why Lispector stands out in Brazil as a writer who goes against the established literary canon, despite her eventual admission into it. First, the rupture of narrative that her novels present. Second (which has not yet been recognized) because Lispector’s fiction looks at the issue of subjectivity and the nation in a very unorthodox way. Her texts ref lect and describe in detail the experience of being Brazilian through the multiple intersections of gender, race and class. The subjective crisis her texts seem obsessively to return to, to re-picture, re-consider, re-narrate, is linked to the subjective experience of the nation; that is, it is linked to the question of how a subject, at a certain moment, in a certain place, in Brazil, relates to a certain idea of what being Brazilian means. These two points (the rupture of narrative and the experience of the ‘inner life’ of the nation) are interconnected. They are, in fact, two sides of the same coin. But one side of the coin, her connection, her personal articulation of national issues, instances and problems, has remained in the shadows, unexamined. Critics have not done justice to Lispector’s efforts to belong. Her ambivalent, ambiguous position as a writer who belongs to the canon but is seen as an outsider is not due to what her texts are, but to the fact that her texts are dealing with issues that are difficult to incorporate into accepted notions of what being Brazilian means. Lispector’s ambivalent position (that of belonging but not quite) is at the heart of her narratives; her protagonists mirror and ref lect this ambivalence, this discomfort. It is also at the heart of her narrative structures. The Threshold of the Unspeakable I will now devote some attention to existing criticism on Lispector, highlighting where necessary the limitations that these critical approaches present. I will then explain why I felt it necessary to adopt the approach of reading Lispector through two other female writers, from different national contexts and with a very different ethnic history. Antonio Candido, in his famous 1944 essay ‘No raiar de Clarice Lispector’, pub­ lished just after the publication of Lispector’s first novel Perto do Coração Selvagem that same year, praises the book for its resistance to the ‘conformismo estilístico’ [stylistic conformity] of the period, and describes this new narrative style as a kind of writing where ‘a língua adquire o mesmo caráter dramático que o entrecho’ (Candido, 1970: 129) [language itself becomes as dramatic as the plot]. Candido offers a critical view of the established literary values of the time, based mostly on the naturalist prin­ciple that literature should offer a believable representation of reality, language being a transparent veil through which one can attain an objective



view of the world. His essay tries to incorporate and understand a novel that is clearly perceived as foreign, as a strange new element in the literary landscape of the time. The issue of Lispector’s not-belonging to the Brazilian canon and the critic’s desire to recognize and describe the qualities of her work, and therefore incorporate her into what was considered good Brazilian literature of the time, is explicit. Candido praises the originality of her style and considers this novel ‘uma tentativa impressionante para levar a nossa língua canhestra a domínios pouco explorados’ (Candido, 1970: 127) [an impressive attempt to take our clumsy language into little explored territory]. He also refers to her search for the ‘meaning of life’, adding that the attempts get her no nearer to her goal, but lead her instead to a particular ‘timbre que revela as obras de exceção e que é a melhor marca do espírito sobre a resistência das coisas’ (Candido, 1970: 128) [tone which identifies works of exception and which is the best sign of spirit in the face of the resistance of objects]. He also adds that the protagonist refuses to learn the lesson of appearances and that she struggles for an ‘estado inefável, onde a suprema felicidade é o supremo poder, porque no coração selvagem da vida pode-se tudo o que se quer, quando se sabe querer’ (Candido, 1970: 130) [ineffable state, where supreme happiness is the supreme power, since within the savage heart of life everything one desires is possible, when one knows how to desire]. Fabio Lucas, in his 1976 essay entitled ‘Clarice Lispector e o impasse da narrativa contemporânea’, describes the kind of traditional narrative from which Lispector’s first novel represented such a radical departure: A prosa narrativa construía-se sobre matizes preexistentes, enquadrada por concepção e procedimentos consagrados, mostrando-se herdeira de um realismo transparente, referenciada de um modo claro a uma realidade anterior, que se buscava reduplicar mediante uma representação verista, tanto quanto possível. Vivia-se ainda sob os ref lexos da imediação sensória como novo critério do real. Dir-se-ia que a narrativa não prescindia da base diegética: certo tempo ‘histórico’, certo lugar ‘geográfico’, uma temporalidade ‘real’; portanto, uma racionalidade instituída. (Lucas, 1976: 13; my emphasis) [Narrative prose based itself on pre-existing nuances, conforming to established notions and methods, showing itself to be heir to a transparent realism, with clear reference to a former reality, which it sought to reproduce using, as much as possible, a realist representation. The ref lexes of sensory immediacy as a new criterion of the real still reigned. One might say that the narrative could not do without the diegetic base: a specific ‘historical’ time, a specific ‘geographical’ place, a ‘real’ temporality and therefore an established rationality.]

If we look carefully at Lucas’s words we can see that he is emphasizing the fact that Lispector’s first novel broke with a racionalidade instituída [established rationality] in relation to narrative prose. Lucas uses the term as part of his explanation for the expression base diegética [diagetic base]. According to Lucas, unlike the writers who preceded her, Lispector wrote from a perspective that did not rely entirely upon this ‘diagetic base’ (Lucas, 1976: 13). He explains that this means a specific sense of history and time. What is at stake here is the issue of what reality and truth, as historically represented in Brazilian literature up to that moment, might be. So, according to Lucas, from her first novel, Lispector wrote from a new and specific



historical position. To put it another way, he is referring to a rupture with a certain notion of truth. After referring to the impact caused by Lispector’s first novel, Lucas moves on to consider the fact that, at the moment he was writing, Lispector had already published six books. He clearly describes narrative disruption earlier as common to Lispector’s novels: Enquanto escrita, o texto de Clarice Lispector torna-se mais e mais contem­ porâneo de uma tendência moderna: o desprezo progressivo do apoio factual para formar a seqüência narrativa e a abolição da personagem como condutor da ação e do relato assim como corporificador do núcleo narrativo, em torno do qual se aglutinam os demais elementos e se realiza a tensão dramática. (Lucas, 1976: 14) [As writing, Clarice Lispector’s text is increasingly in line with a modern tendency: that of progressive disdain for the need for the existence of factual support for a narrative sequence; together with the abolition of character as the driving force behind action and narrative or as the embodiment of the narrative nucleus around which other elements are amassed and dramatic tension is realized.]

In the same essay, Lucas refers to Lispector’s two recently published novels, A paixão segundo G.H. (1964) and Uma aprendizagem ou o livro dos prazeres (1969). At this point he will touch on an aspect that returns time and again when critics deal with her texts, that of the unspeakable: aí então o narrador afivela a máscara do escritor e procura narrar a crise da narrativa como impedimento básico: a linguagem se torna um processo de desvela­mentos sucessivos, de descobrimentos e surpresas, por entre matizes e sutilezas, até o nada central, o silêncio. [...] Vê-se claramente como a narradora gravita entre a ‘posse do silêncio’ e a restauração do indizível. (Lucas, 1976: 16, 17) [here then the narrator puts on the mask of the writer and attempts to narrate the crisis of the narrative as a basic stumbling block: language becomes a process of successive unveilings, of discoveries and surprises, through nuances and subtleties, until the central nothing, silence. [...] One can clearly see how the narrator gravitates between the ‘possession of silence’ and the restoration of the unspeakable.]

I will argue that all these narrative aspects to which Lucas refers are relevant to the question of the nation: they ref lect how an author — in this case Lispector — understands and views her position as a subject within the nation. In other words, the narratives ref lect and depend on the position that the author, as the ultimate subject of a narrative, experiences in relation to the nation. Established notions of nationhood and nationality, in their relation to subjectivities, are always at stake. Lispector was indeed writing from a new historical position: one where she was trying to break with what was considered acceptable in terms of literary language inside a specific national context. Roberto Schwarz’s essay entitled ‘Perto do Coração Selvagem’ (written in 1959 but published in 1965) already emphasized the relevance of the particular narrative structure presented by Lispector’s first novel. Like Candido, Schwarz also ends at a point where emptiness takes over: ‘o vazio em que se instala o arbítrio é o tema da obra’ (Schwarz, 1965: 40) [the void in which choice is located is the novel’s theme].



Schwarz’s essay starts by criticizing the German poet Gottfried Benn for his ideas celebrating the death of the literary character and, as a result, the fact that novels have supposedly lost their raison d’être. Por que, pergunta Gottfried Benn, entulhar de pensamentos uma personagem, quando personagens não há mais? Por que inventar pessoas, nomes, relações — logo agora quando perderam sua importância? [...] a construção de engrenagens literárias mais ou menos complicadas perderia a sua importância em face do mergulho às raízes e fontes de nossa humanidade. Fica implícita [...] a noção de um substrato essencial, alheio à complicação novelesca e muito mais importante que ela. A iluminação desse substrato seria a missão da literatura de nossos dias, missão para a qual está mais aparelhado o poema que a estória narrada. (Schwarz, 1965: 37) [Why, asks Gottfried Ben, cram a character full of thoughts, when there are no longer any characters? Why invent people, names, relations — just now when they have lost their importance? [...] the construction of literary devices of varying degrees of complexity would become unimportant compared to the descent to the roots and sources of our humanity. The notion of an essential substratum, separate from and much more important than any novelistic complication, is implicit. The illumination of this substratum is the mission to which contemporary literature aspires, a mission for which poetry is better equipped than the narrative account.]

The point Schwarz is making is that, for Benn, the only possible literary genre would therefore be poetry. In my view, this philosophical position could be roughly described today as essentialist; that is, one that, rather dubiously, assumes the existence of an ‘essential substratum’ which, repeating Schwarz’s words, is ‘separate from and much more important than any novelistic complication’ (Schwarz, 1965: 37). The Brazilian critic also refers to the essay ‘Erzählen oder Beschreiben’ [‘Narrate or describe’] in Schicksalswende [‘Twist of Fate’] where, according to him, Gyorgy Lukács explains that: é da natureza das essências serem iguais a si mesmas, — descritíveis, portanto, mas inenarráveis, já que não se modificam nem têm gênese. Enredo e decurso (e portanto o tempo) ficam reduzidos à função de criar uma inútil coerência entre momentos, entre os raros momentos essenciais em que o subtrato transpareceria no mundo empírico. Note-se que também este mundo empírico perde a solidez e passa a um papel dúbio, o de cortina semitransparente, vedando e revelando os recintos da humanidade como tal. (Schwarz, 1965: 38) [it is in the nature of essences to be equal to themselves — describable, therefore, but unnarratable, since they do not change nor have any genesis. Plot and narration (and thus time) are reduced to the function of creating a useless coherence between moments, between those rare essential moments in which the substratum becomes apparent in the empirical world. Note that this empirical world also loses solidity and takes on a dubious role, that of a semitransparent curtain, veiling and revealing the recesses of humanity as it is.]

Schwarz’s reference to Lukács in relation to Lispector’s text is extremely relevant, because it highlights her narrative intentions with regard to the national. Fredric Jameson, in his famous essay ‘Third World Literature in the Era of Multinational Capitalism’, argues that ‘all third world texts are necessarily [...]



allegorical, and in a very specific way: they are to be read as what I will call national allegories.’ According to Jameson, in third-world cultures the relation between what is seen as subjective, public or political is fundamentally different from the ways these categories are experienced in the so-called ‘developed’ countries: Third-world texts, even those which are seemingly private and invested with a properly libidinal dynamic — necessarily project a political dimension in the form of national allegory: the story of the private individual destiny is always an allegory of the embattled situation of the public third-world culture and society. ( Jameson, 1986: 69)

I do not believe that Lispector’s intention is primarily allegorical, although her novels can be read (and have been read, as, for example, in the case of Paulo de Medeiros’s interesting reading of A paixão segundo G. H. and A hora da estrela, discussed in Chapter 3) as allegories of the nation. I am more inclined to agree with Neil Larsen who, in his critique of Jameson’s ideas, says that not all ‘third world literature’ necessarily undertakes such a form of national representation, however, and, indeed, it may be just as typical of the narrative of ‘developing nations’ to refuse the ‘nation’ as such an abstract, so to speak, thematic a priori. (Larsen, 2001: 19)

Lispector is engaged more in imaging the nation than in imagining it. The difference lies in the fact that her works express the experience of the ‘national’ instead of creating (or imagining) a narrative of what the national is, or should be. Lispector does not write from an a priori essentialist position. She does not write from the perspective of someone who holds the key to the essence of what ‘being Brazilian’ means. If this were the case, the empirical world would, as Schwarz’s text suggests, lose its solidity, its relevance, which it does not. Lispector’s protagonists are constantly in contact with their physical surroundings. The coherence that Lispector is trying to preserve is not one between these surroundings and an essence, but the coherence between narration and her experience of living in and with the nation. I would argue that the periods during which she lived outside Brazil served to render her internalized experience of the nation more acute, rather than to dilute it. Schwarz clarifies that he does not agree with Benn’s position and praises Lispector for the relevance of her first novel: Não somos partidários desta colocação de Benn, que deveria, por sua vez, ser interpretada; uma vez aceita, porém, considerados desimportante o mundo empírico e inócua a invenção de acidentes emocionantes, serão poucos os romances que permanecem possíveis. O critério pode não selecionar qualidade, mas certamente seleciona ambição: são raros os escritores que, desprezado o circunstancial a bem de uma esfera que o preceda, tenham o que dizer. (Schwarz, 1965: 38) [I don’t agree with Benn’s proposal, which should, in turn, be subject to interpretation — once accepted, however, and the empirical world considered unimportant and the invention of emotional events considered incidental, few novels would still be possible. This criterion may not choose quality, but it will certainly select ambition: there are not many writers who, having scorned the circumstantial in favour of a domain which precedes it, have anything to say.]



Here, Schwarz is criticizing Benn’s essentialist position and praising Lispector’s novel for her non-essentialist perspective. But he also praises her for not giving up the effort of narration. He additionally highlights — and this is important — that Lispector’s narrative has a particular shape, a particular internal structure that is, in itself, relevant: that of a star, or a sequence of stars. The process Schwarz describes above with extreme clarity could be understood today as part of the construction of the self through narrative in a specific national context. Schwarz refers to the shape of the narrative in Perto do Coração Selvagem as follows: ‘O anseio de escrever um livro estrelado, em que os momentos brilhem lado a lado sem articulação cerrada, levaria à desordem não fosse ele mesmo significativo’ (Schwarz, 1965: 39; my emphasis) [the desire to write a book sprinkled with stars, in which moments shine side by side without a closed articulation, would lead to disorder if it were not itself significant]. This graphic image is extremely pertinent, as it ref lects the perspective of a subject constructing a sense of belonging in a new environment. Prisms and stars are both shapes in which different perspectives converge, either in a structure (in the case of a prism) or in a centre (in the case of a star). The anthropologist Valentina Napolitano, studying the experience of Mexican urban migrants in the contemporary United States, has coined the term ‘prisms of belonging’ to describe how subjects deal with their experience of displacement: These exist at the interface of cognition, history, and memory, and are expressed in the ways people talk about and experience spaces such as the home, the neighborhood, the city, and places of origin, as well as in the way these places are ‘revisited’. They are important because under different circumstances people express different situated selves. The purpose of prisms of belonging is to indicate the heterogeneous perceptions, feelings, desires, contradictions, and images that shape experiences of space and time. Prisms of belonging have a three dimensional nature: they are spatial and temporal; they combine cognitive-emotional experiences, memory, and history; and they link self-understanding to the process of migration and urbanization. (Napolitano, 2002: 9)

I will argue that Lispector’s protagonists engage in introspective explorations — and therefore disconnect from the outside world, disrupting action and the linearity of the plot — because they need constantly to rebuild their subjectivities at the interface between a multitude of external factors with which they have to negotiate in their continued attempt to survive and belong. One could argue that since Lispector came to Brazil when she was very young she therefore always belonged. But the fact of coming from an immigrant family leaves its long-term marks even on the children born after arrival in the host country. Napolitano explains that prisms of belonging are important not only for first generations of immigrants. They become part of the cultural repertoire through which members of the second generation interpret their experience (sometimes through contesting these configurations). Napolitano emphasizes the complexity of this construction process in urban environments — something that is crucial for our understanding of Lispector’s texts. As we will see later, many of Lispector’s novels are situated in a space that is in between the urban and the rural; most of their



protagonists oscillate between these two spaces: [Prisms of belonging] have a history of production and appropriation and are read generationally: they are produced by migrant subjects, but urban living and new generations take over their reproduction. Especially in relation to dynamics of religious affiliation and belonging, prisms of belonging are not only the experience itself but also the contested interpretation through which experience is categorized. Prisms have a refractive and, to some extent, elusive nature; what we can see through them depends on the angle we are looking through. (Napolitano, 2002: 10)

Napolitano highlights how the notion of prisms of belonging can help us understand the subjective experience of migration: Prisms of belonging are particularly useful in understanding how migration can be described as both an experience of self-empowerment and a loss of power, and how places can become the symbols of embodied experiences of living, thinking and feeling. (Napolitano, 2002: 10)

Lispector’s protagonists experience both empowerment and loss of power in the face of others and of the changing social environment where they are located. Brazil, and more specifically urban Brazil, becomes the space to which many of these protagonists want, and need, to belong. As stated before, the uniqueness of Lispector’s texts is intrinsically linked to how the protagonists experience the physical and social space that surrounds them. This space is often experienced not simply as a locality, as a region, but as part of the nation. Before introducing the idea of prisms of belonging Napolitano raises the problematic nature of concepts such as self and experience. She writes, drawing from Joan W. Scott: We have learned through feminist thinking that experience cannot be taken at face value, and that ‘it is not individuals who have experiences, but subjects who are constituted through experience’. We have learned to distinguish between selves and subjects. Consequently what were once defined as collective selves, such as ‘women’ or the ‘urban poor’, were then studied as subjects because they are not givens; rather, they are produced through a historical process [...]. Ascribed categories such as gender have been reconceptualized as performative processes — in the making and always open-ended — with potential for reversal. Difference is always related to what is made meaningful and embodied in a local context. (Napolitano, 2002: 6)

Napolitano explains some of the reasons why it was important, in her research, to create the concept of ‘prisms of belonging’: Questions of self-transformation emerged, for instance, when I had to confront what exists beyond and before language, such as [...] when I discuss the condition of ‘not knowing’ of womanhood in transformation. That is to say, the gap between the unknown (a desire to be different without yet knowing how) and the known (the available social positioning) is a place of anxiety and uneasiness that becomes part of the process of transformation. I needed a language of a phenomenological self to account for the instances when language breaks down and transformations take place. (Napolitano, 2002: 8)



Lispector’s situation as a member of a family of Jewish immigrants during the 1920s in Brazil is not the same as that of a Mexican immigrant in California at the beginning of the third millennium. Napolitano’s description, however, of a ‘place of anxiety and uneasiness’ that is part of a process of transformation depicts very well a position that Lispector certainly occupied. In the above quotation, Napolitano also refers to the need to confront what exists before and beyond language, which are certainly elements that also fit the experience that is conveyed in Lispector’s work. Language is in itself an important element to be considered, as it is ultimately the main artistic material that an author has at his or her disposal. Many critics (De Sá, 1979; Nunes, 1989; Cixous, 1989; Curi, 2001) refer to Lispector’s escritura. Lispector explored what Napolitano refers above as ‘the instances where language breaks down’ and this explains the relevance of the notion of escritura (literally scripture, and in French écriture). It is however, important to examine also the notions of self and subject, especially when one bears in mind Lispector’s personal history and the fact that situations of displacement will certainly impinge on processes of self-transformation. In a lecture given at the Institute of Romance Studies, University of London, in June 2000, Napolitano explained three different conceptions of the self and the subject. The first, based on the philosophy of Kant and Descartes, is one that sees identity as a stable element, differentiated from the individual’s environment. The second is a subject that is defined through a dialectical relationship with the collectivity it is connected to. The third is one that she calls post-modern, where there is no solid centre for the self but a continuous process of transformation. Lispector’s texts problematize the meaning of subject, subjectivity and identity. Her critics have insisted, with reason, that her texts are attempts to answer the question ‘who am I?’ (Nunes, 1998: 46). My intention here is to ask why this deep questioning of self, subject and identity is so crucially present, necessary and compelling in her texts. I hope to demonstrate that her obsession with the question is firmly articulated and embedded in a national imaginary which imposes on the self or subject notions of what these should be. Lispector’s questioning is made necessary by her being in tension, in conf lict, with the national imaginary surrounding her. Simone Curi’s interpretation of Lispector’s writings as an escritura nômade [nomadic écriture] is extremely pertinent to this idea: [...] não é o deslocamento o que dá sentido ao nomadismo, como habitualmente se pensa. Os sedentários também realizam movimentos, mas o que segmenta o percurso destes são dois pontos predeterminados: a saída e o objetivo. Todavia, o nômade não se desloca desde um ponto de partida até um ponto de chegada, ele está em movimento absoluto, o que quer dizer também imobilidade, não havendo pois referencial fixo com relação ao qual se possa definir um movimento de afastamento ou aproximação. O nômade seria, pois, puro movimento, extático. (Curi, 2001: 34) [it is not displacement that defines nomadism, as is commonly thought. Sedentary people also carry out movements, but what divides their journey are two predetermined points: departure and objective. The nomad, however, does not move from a point of departure to a point of arrival, he is in absolute


Introduction movement, which can also mean immobility, there not being a fixed reference point in relation to which one could define a moving away from or towards. The nomad could thus be defined as pure movement, ecstatic.]

Curi also explains in a note that Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, in A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia, defined nomadic space following Toynbee’s concept of nomadism. These are her words: Deleuze, em entrevista, descreve o encontro: ‘Fiquei impressionado com uma frase de Toynbee: “os nômades são os que não se mexem, eles tornam-se nômades porque se recusam a ir embora”.’ (Curi, 2001: 34; my emphasis) [Deleuze describes the encounter in an interview: ‘I was struck by a phrase of Toynbee’s: “nomads are those who do not move, they become nomads because they refuse to leave”.’]

The words I highlighted in this quotation show that understanding Lispector’s writing as a ‘nomadic écriture’ does not contradict my point about Lispector’s intimate experience of and connection with the national environment, nor her insistence on emphasizing her belonging to the nation. Curi draws a connection between a sedentary territory and an established literature: Poder-se-ia relacionar a literatura estabelecida ao território sedentário. Espaço literário quadriculado em precisas delimitações. É dizer, espaço literário cerrado sobre si mesmo, por enquadramentos, esquadrinhamentos, passagens entre fronteiras. Contrapondo-se a ele, um espaço deslizante, marcado apenas por traços que se apagam e se deslocam com o trajeto, do âmbito do nomadismo, e ao qual assimila-se a literatura menor. Tanto em um território quanto em outro existem pontos, limites e superfícies. Contudo, enquanto no espaço estriado as linhas e trajetos tendem a estar subordinados a pontos — se vai de um ponto a outro — no liso, ao contrário, os pontos estão subordinados ao trajeto. (Curi, 2001: 34–35) [One might compare established literature to sedentary territory. A literary space divided up into precise squares. That is, a literary space closed in on itself, by frames, squares, movements between borders. Counterposed to this, in the world of nomadism — to which minor literature can be compared — one finds a slippery space, barely marked out by lines which fade and shift as the journey progresses. In both territories there are points, limits and surfaces. However, in the marked out space, the lines and paths tend to be subordinate to points — one goes from one point to another — in the smooth space, on the contrary, the points are subordinate to the path.]

Curi makes use of Deleuze and Guattari’s differentiation between ‘major literature’ and ‘minor literature’. In ‘major literature’ one proceeds from content to expression, looking for the best way of expressing a pre-established concept or idea. On the other hand, with ‘minor’ or ‘revolutionary literature’, which is what, according to Curi, Lispector develops, one starts by expressing and only finds out the concept at a later stage: Uma escritura menor como marca de singularidade; à procura de uma saída por onde fazer fugir todas as categorias, identidades, diluir as fronteiras, o gênero; enfim, o literário. Uma escritura menor, não de uma língua ou de um gênero menor,



mas antes a que uma minoria faz em uma língua maior: traçar um mapa original, produzir o real, a vida. (Curi, 2001: 37; my emphasis) [A minor writing as a mark of singularity; in search of an exit through which to make all categories, identities disappear, to dilute borders, the genre; literature, in short. A minor writing, not of a minor language or genre, but, instead, that which a minority creates in a major language: to devise an original map, produce reality, life.]

So, Curi roots the revolutionary power of Lispector’s writing in the author’s perspective as an outsider, in her foreignness in relation to the language spoken in Brazil. One could conclude that the strength of Lispector’s texts comes from this powerful, and revolutionary, commitment to express her personal experience inside Brazil, from her particular perspective. I want to emphasize the ways in which Lispector’s texts portray the connections between language, subjectivities and the process of constructing personal identities. Maria Manuel Lisboa, in an essay on the Portuguese writer Maria Judite de Carvalho, gives a very clear explanation of Jacques Lacan’s theory of the process of identity formation through language (a revision of Sigmund Freud’s theory of the Oedipus complex and psychosexual development): According to Lacan, the Oedipal crisis precipitates the end of the dominance of the Imaginary (the pro-Oedipal fusion with the body of the mother), and the entry into the Symbolic, the realm of the masculine to which is associated the acquisition of language. During the Oedipal crisis the father disrupts the dyadic unity between mother and child and forbids access to the mother’s body. (Lisboa, 1996: 107)

Many feminists have used Lacan’s theories to understand the specificities of female subjectivities. Lisboa, quoting Cora Kaplan, explains how the Law of the Father imposes itself upon women through the acquisition of language: Through the acquisition of language we are transformed into social beings but it is also through language, itself implicated in the Law of the Father, that the restrictions which society imposes upon women are articulated. Language belongs to the Symbolic Order which itself encompasses the abstract relations of a given social network. ‘Each time we speak we are also spoken.’ (Lisboa, 1996: 108)

These elements are relevant because they will contribute to defining a space and a place of exclusion that most women occupy, as do many men as well, as excluded ethnicities and sexualities. As Lisboa demonstrates below referring to Patricia Waugh, women are left in a ‘Catch-22’ situation where they are either pathologized or have to ‘masquerade’ (adopt identities that are experienced as false) in order to engage with ‘an alien rationality’: Thus women, faced with a language which voices the loss of that which within the Symbolic articulates the relations of power, the phallus, realize that language may belong to them by virtue of their human status, but it does not belong to them by virtue of their sex. And, still according to this rationale, ‘women either remain in the dyad of the mother–infant bond, accepting madness or invisibility, or allow their identification within the symbolic order and “masquerade” within the terms of an alien rationality’. (Lisboa, 1996: 108)



This focus on the particularities of language is important as it problematizes further the relationship between identity, culture and place. Returning to Napolitano’s research on Mexican immigrants in the US, I follow her insistence that culture (and, by extension, also the national space) should be understood as something other than ‘an ordered domain shared by a group of people’. The new understanding she advocates instead ‘makes it possible to see culture as an open-ended and unfinished process which is contingent and political’ (Napolitano, 2002: 2). Here it is important to explain the difference between the notions of space and place, and what distinguishes one from the other. I will refer to places not simply in the geographical, physical sense, but as notions that incorporate relevant cultural, historical, social and political dimensions. This is necessary because we are dealing here with nationality and nationhood, and their consequences in terms of how subjects experience belonging and how people construct personal national identities. Kate Darian-Smith and her co-authors explain in their joint introduction to Text, Theory, Space; Land, Literature and History in South Africa and Australia that ‘it is through the cultural processes of imagining, seeing, historicizing and remembering that space is transformed into place, and geographical territory into a culturally defined landscape’ (Darian-Smith, 1996: 3). Erica Carter and her co-authors, on whom Darian-Smith draws, clarify the difference between places and spaces, and the significance they have in the symbolic and psychic dimensions of people’s identifications: It is not spaces which ground identifications, but places. How then does space become place? By being named; as the f lows of power and negotiations of social relations are rendered in the concrete form of architecture; and also, of course, by embodying the symbolic and imaginary investment of a population. Place is space to which meaning has been ascribed. (Carter, 1993: xii)

As previously announced, I will argue that the subjective crisis that Lispector’s protagonists experience — a crisis that is often experienced as being excluded from normality and the national — is in fact part and parcel of a struggle to live in a national territory and engage with a national imaginary. If not for fear of exclusion, what other reason would the character Laura, for example, in the short story ‘A Imitação da Rosa’ published in Laços de família [Family Ties] (1960), have to try so hard to hang on to sanity, considering that when ‘mad’ she felt a lot more powerful? Schwarz, in the essay quoted above, explains how the lack of causality in Lispector’s first novel ref lects a condition of isolation. The novel does not give the reader the history of this isolation but narrates in detail the moments when it manifests itself most intensely: Joana observa-se, lúcida e fina, mas não se alcança. Mais que apresentar ao leitor o histórico do isolamento, Clarice Lispector micro-relata os momentos em que este mais se manifesta. O romance é por isso mesmo desprovido de estrutura definida (o que nada tem a ver com carência). Seus episódios não se ordenam segundo um princípio necessário; agem por acúmulo e insistência; é na diversidade exterior das experiências sucessivas que melhor reconhecemos



a unidade essencial da experiência de Joana, e o conseqüente desaparecer do tempo como fonte de modificação. (Schwarz, 1965: 38) [ Joana observes herself, lucid and refined, but does not get through to herself. Rather than present the reader with the history of this isolation, Clarice Lispector micro-relates the moments in which it is most evident. Precisely because of this, the novel does not have a defined structure (which is not at all the same as a lack). Its episodes are not ordered according to a necessary principle; they proceed as a result of accumulation and perserverance; it is in the external diversity of successive experiences that we most clearly recognize the essential unity of Joana’s experience, and the resulting disappearance of time as a source of modification.]

Schwarz will finally point to the internal division in Lispector’s first protagonist in the following words: Joana, como já dissemos, experimenta solidão em face dos outros e de si mesma. Desdobrada em inteligência e núcleo, assiste-se e se interpreta. Com finura extrema compreende e ilumina seu próprio modo de ser, que não pode mudar, que dela independe. Essa descontinuidade entre lucidez e ser efetivo (em outras palavras, a solidão da consciência em relação á sua base material) é o vazio em que se instala o arbítrio e é o tema da obra. Joana vê-se mas não se guia, voa às cegas com olhos abertos. (Schwarz, 1965: 40) [ Joana, as we already stated, is isolated from others and from herself. Her intelligence and nucleus unfurled, she observes and interprets herself. With extreme finesse she understands and illuminates her own character, which cannot change and which is independent of her. This discontinuity between lucidity and actual being (in other words, solitude of conscience in relation to its material base) is the emptiness in which choice is located and is the novel’s theme. Joana sees herself but does not guide herself; she f lies blindly with her eyes open.]

Schwarz also emphasizes Joana’s fragmentation into two elements ‘inteligência e núcleo’ [intelligence and nucleus]. This division, if extreme, could be experienced as a loss of identity disempowering the subject and preventing the development of agency. Schwarz refers to the theme of the book as being ‘o vazio em que se instala o arbítrio’ [the emptiness where choice is installed]. Protagonists who cannot choose cannot be agents, and subjectivity without agency is paralysis. The ability to choose, the question of ‘arbítrio’ [choice], is therefore paramount. Benedito Nunes in O Drama da Linguagem — a volume published in 1989 but partly based on articles published in 1973 — describes in similar words this inner fragmentation, but now applying it to all of Lispector’s characters: Espectadoras de seus próprios estados e atos, que têm a nostalgia da espontaneidade, enredadas em suas vivências, essas personagens obedecem à necessidade de um aprofundamento impossível, e perdem-se entre os múltiplos ref lexos de uma interioridade que se desdobra como superfícies espelhada e vazia em que se miram. (Nunes, 1989: 105) [Spectators of their own states and actions, who are nostalgic for spontaneity, wrapped up in their own experiences, these characters obey the necessity for an impossible exploration, and are lost amongst the multiple ref lections of an


Introduction interiority which unfolds like polished and empty surfaces in which they gaze upon themselves.]

Nunes is clearly addressing the problem of pathology: the loss of a sense of personal identity. He refers to o naufrágio da introspeção [the sinking process of introspection] in relation to the subjective crisis that the character G.H. experiences in A Paixão segundo G.H.. In the following quotation it is clear that Nunes is describing a process that, through introspection, and G.H.’s alienation from herself, leads to a loss of the self and its plunge into the unconscious, and consequently to what we normally refer as a ‘pathological’ state: A via introspectiva, num grau paroxístico que leva ao paradoxo na linguagem, inverte-se, pois, na consciência de si alienada. Pelo naufrágio da introspecção, a personagem desce às potências obscuras, perigosas e arriscadas do inconsciente, que não tem nome. (Nunes, 1989: 168) [The path of introspection, in a paroxysmal step which leads to paradox within language, is inverted, thus, in the conscience which is alienated from itself. In the sinking process of introspection, the character descends to the nameless dark, dangerous and hazardous powers of the unconscious.]

Schwarz and Nunes are both referring to an alienation at the core of Lispector’s texts. What do they mean by this, and what connections does it have with the national and its relation to the pathological? In O Drama da Linguagem, Nunes interprets Lispector’s work in the light of existentialist philosophy. He compares Lispector’s nausea and Sartre’s experience of nausée in order to indicate the difference between the two authors. He grants to Lispector’s nausea a mystical perspective that is absent from Sartre’s work: O valor da náusea em Clarice Lispector remete-nos a uma atitude perante as coisas e o ser em geral, que difere da sartriana. Conforme veremos, a perspectiva mística suplanta a existencial inerente à temática da obra. Mas em conseqüência disso, a subjetividade, e portanto a experiência interior, perderão o privilégio ontológico que o existencialismo propriamente dito lhe outorga. As relações práticas parecem consolidar e agravar, no mundo de Clarice Lispector, uma alienação sem remédio enraizada na própria existência individual. (Nunes, 1989: 101; my emphasis) [The meaning of nausea in Clarice Lispector leads us to an attitude with respect to objects and being in general, which differs from that of Sartre. As we will see, the mystical perspective supplants the existential perspective inherent in the work’s theme. However, as a consequence of this, subjectivity, and therefore internal experience, go on to lose the ontological privilege bestowed on them by ‘true’ existentialism. Practical relations seem to consolidate and aggravate, in Clarice Lispector’s world, an incurable alienation rooted in the very existence of the individual.]

Nunes explains that, to a certain extent, Lispector’s and Sartre’s uses of the experience of nausea are similar, in the sense that in each case it forces the subject into a rupture with practical life: Em Sartre como em Clarice Lispector, a náusea, que neutraliza o poder dos sím­ bolos, é o ponto de ruptura do sujeito com a praticidade diária. (Nunes, 1989: 121)



[In Sartre as in Clarice Lispector, nausea, which neutralizes the power of symbols, is the point at which the subject breaks with daily practicalities.]

Nunes also highlights in Sartre’s work the possibility of agency and therefore the possibility of an ethics, something that, as we will see, will prove absent in Lispector’s writing: Mas a experiência da náusea é, no romance de Sartre, a experiência do absurdo [...]. Essa revelação do Absurdo levará a uma ética da liberdade, que fará de cada homem, como mediador da liberdade dos outros, o agente do sentido e do valor, totalmente responsável pelo destino comum. (Nunes, 1989: 121) [However, the experience of nausea is, in Sartre’s novels, the experience of the absurd [...]. This revealing of the Absurd will lead to an ethics of liberty, which will make everyone, as the mediator of the liberty of others, the agent of meaning and value, totally responsible for the common destiny.]

Nunes further highlights how, in Sartre’s philosophy, the possibility of choice is crucial: Choisir d’être ceci ou cela, c’est affirmer en même temps la valeur de ce que nous choisissons... Ainsi je suis responsable pour moi-même e pour tous, et je crée une certaine image de l’homme que je choisis. En me choisissant, je choisis l’homme. (cited in Nunes, 1989: 121) [In choosing being this or that, we also ascertain the value of what we choose... In this way, I become responsible for myself and for everyone; and I create a certain image of Man that I have chosen. In choosing myself, I choose this Man.]

According to Nunes, contrary to Sartre’s belief in the possibility of choice and therefore of an ethics, Lispector’s perspective further disempowers the subject: Pesa sobre a subjetividade a carga de uma alienação permanente, que as relações e sistemas agravam, porque aprofundam esse estado de ruptura, revestindo-nos do ‘individual inútil’, de um eu objetificado que nos fecha tanto aos outros, que somos nós, quanto a nós mesmos, que já somos aquilo que se opõe à nossa individualidade, ameaçando anulá-la. (Nunes, 1989: 128) [Subjectivity is weighed down by the burden of a permanent alienation, which is aggravated by relationships and systems, since they intensify this state of rupture, turning us once more into the ‘useless individual’, an objectified ‘I’ which shuts us off both from others, who are us, and from ourselves, who have already become that which is opposed to our individuality, and threatens to abolish it.]

All three critics (Schwarz, Nunes and Lucas) refer to an idea of absence or lack in Lispector’s texts. We have seen above that Nunes refers to ‘uma alienação sem remédio enraizada na própria existência individual’ [an incurable alienation rooted in individual existence itself ] (Nunes, 1989: 101). Schwarz, Lucas and Candido express a similar idea through words such as ‘void’ (Schwarz, 1965: 40), ‘alienation’, ‘silence’, nada central [central nothing] and the inefável [ineffable] (Lucas, 1976: 16; Candido, 1970: 130). From different points of departure, these critics coincide in suggesting that Lispector is trying to express what can only be articulated in the literary language that she creates.



Thus, as previously noted, when analysing Lispector’s style these critics stop at the threshold of the unspeakable: the moment when language fails, when silence becomes overwhelming. They also indicate that this threshold is a place of paralysis where agency becomes impossible. Despite their efforts to understand and validate this paralysis, the problem remains: what is it that makes the protagonists opt for an introspective mood instead of one where they might engage with the outside world? Lispector is indeed dealing with the boundaries of language and touching upon the unspeakable. However, one cannot stop the critical analysis at this point. What exactly is Lispector trying to say that cannot be expressed? What exactly cannot be spoken? It is clear that one is reaching here the limitations of accepted language, of what can be expressed in a given context. Alfredo Bosi, in his História concisa da Literatura Brasileira, published in 1970, faced the difficult task of trying to integrate Lispector into the Brazilian literary tradition consolidated in the 1930s. The critic analyses Brazilian literature of that period in terms of the degree of tension between the writer and society, assuming that there are always homologies between the structure of a literary work and the social structure into which the author is inserted. Bosi starts by describing three categories of text. The first one he calls ‘novels of minimum tension’. In this instance the conf lict appears solely at the level of verbal and emotional opposition. The characters do not detach themselves from the structure and landscape that condition them. Bosi’s second category is that of ‘novels of critical tension’. Here, the hero resists the pressures of nature and social environment. In the third category, which he calls ‘novels of internalized tension’, the hero does not face the conf lict between self and outside world. He/she escapes from it and conf licts are internalized. Bosi does not place Lispector in any of these categories, but in a fourth one that he creates especially for her and for the well-known Brazilian writer Guimarães Rosa (1908–1967): that of ‘romances de tensão transfigurada’ [novels of transfigured tension]. Bosi points out that these writers break the boundaries of genre, of what had previously been understood as a novel: ‘O conf lito, assim ‘resolvido’, força os limites do gênero romance e toca a poesia e a tragédia’ (Bosi, 1970: 440) [The conf lict, thus ‘resolved’, breaks out of the boundaries of the novel as a genre and touches on poetry and tragedy]. Here again, the analysis stops as the critic reaches the limit of a literary genre. Bosi is here referring to a rupture in both the novel’s narrative structure and literary tradition. However, he does not take the next step of going on to show the connections between these ruptures and the national environment in which Lispector was living and writing. Hélène Cixous, by contrast, deals with the problem of the unspeakable from a different point of view, seeing it as a limitation of the Symbolic order. Her view of Lispector’s work is extremely problematic. Apart from detaching Lispector’s texts completely from the historical ground of their Brazilian environment, Cixous also takes possession of Lispector’s work in such a way that the borders separating Lispector’s and Cixous’s identities as writers are dissolved. By reading Lispector as an example of her concept of écriture feminine, Cixous places Lispector’s writing outside what Lucas referred to as ‘racionalidade instituída’ [established rationality];



this is viewed, from her post-Lacanian feminist perspective, as the world of the masculine (in Lacanian language, the order of the Symbolic). The following passage from her famous essay ‘The Laugh of the Medusa’ describes graphically the space that this ‘feminine’ economy occupies: Now women return from afar, from always: from ‘without’, from the heath where witches are kept alive; from below, from beyond ’culture’; from the childhood which men have been trying desperately to make them forget, condemning it to ‘eternal rest’. (Cixous, 1983: 281)

She goes on to clearly place this ‘feminine space’ outside a certain ‘history of rationality’ identified as masculine: Nearly the entire history of writing is confounded with the history of reason, of which it is at once the effect, the support, and one of the privileged alibis. It has been one with the phallocentric tradition. It is indeed that same self-admiring, self-stimulating, self-congratulatory phallocentrism. (Cixous, 1983: 283)

I do not doubt the importance that these ideas have had in terms of stimulating and motivating women writers to express their personal experiences within their own artistic language. It is obvious that Cixous’s ideas have contributed enormously to widening the possibilities of expression for women. They have also contributed to broadening the readership of Lispector’s texts. However, I do not agree with Cixous’ tendency to essentialize and idealize the feminine, while at the same time romanticizing the so-called pre-Symbolic world. In the excerpts below from her study L’Heure de Clarice Lispector, one can clearly see how Cixous uses Lispector’s texts as an example of écriture féminine. This is how she describes her first contact with Lispector’s texts: A woman’s voice came to me from far away [...] this voice was unknown to me, it reached me on the twelfth of October 1978, this voice was not searching for me, it was writing to no one, to all women, to writing, in a foreign tongue, I do not speak it, but my heart understands it, and its silent words in all the veins of my life have translated themselves into mad blood, into joy-blood. (Cixous, 1989: 10)

Here we can see how Cixous describes her first encounter with Lispector’s texts as revelation of the feminine to other women. The last sentence describes a process of symbiosis between Lispector’s words and Cixous’s blood, pictured as a domain where both madness and joy co-exist. Lispector’s texts are pictured as written by an author whose identity merges with that of Cixous and that of all women. The supposed readers are also seen as being ‘all women’. This process of dilution of difference intensifies as Cixous continues. Lispector’s texts lose their structure, melting into the formlessness of a Clarice-land, identified as a general ‘us-women’: Then if I had heard Clarice, I would have had access to the Clarice-land in a f lash. For Clarice supposes us: the Clarice power, her animated space, full of freshness and of warmths, supposes women, supposes us living, primitive, complete, before all translation. (Cixous, 1989: 46)

The process of identification and dilution of difference between the author and her



subject is explicitly intentional: I want to be able to say: Clarice. And for Clarice to call you too. To tell you what she means. I need to claricesay to you. To say her to you claricely: under her inf luence. To recall to you: Clarice! It’s a mater of risings. Of telling you all that I name Clarice. All that is called Clarice. And may you too be able to call yourselves Clarice. Clarice recalls. She recalls us. She is force. A gentle torrential woman-force, of gentle, complex and harmonious forces like music [...]. (Cixous, 1989: 64)

Marta Peixoto and Elena Carrera among others have criticized Cixous for carrying out a reductive appropriation of Lispector’s texts in order to prove her own feminist theories. Peixoto takes Cixous’s reading of Lispector’s texts to task as follows: Whereas on the surface Cixous offers Lispector praise, warmth, and a generous receptivity — a nurturing text modeled after the very pattern she ascribes to Lispector — she also silences Lispector by muting and replacing her words. It is perhaps the point of Cixous’s fictional presentation of Lispector to make her into a presence that fits exactly the measure of Cixous’s need: she appears only as filtered through the subjectivity of an autobiographical narrator. Although the remarkable inf lections of Lispector’s voice are what attract Cixous, her voice is absorbed into Cixous’s text: quotations are almost entirely omitted, buried or transformed. (Peixoto, 1994: 43)

Peixoto summarizes her critique in the following terms: The mode of this celebration, however, rests on a disquieting erasure and appropriation of another woman’s words. That woman’s otherness is entirely disallowed and effaced to the extent that it does not coincide with the feminine libidinal economy that Cixous charges her with representing. Cixous’s openness is open only to elements of sameness, not alterity. (Peixoto, 1994: 45)

Quoting Verena A. Conley’s study of Cixous, Carrera expresses a similar point of view: Lispector is, in sum, idealized by Cixous as ‘a woman who says things as closely as possible to a feminine economy, that is to say, one of the greatest generosity possible, of the greatest virtue, of the greatest spending’. But then Cixous may be found guilty of not leaving much space for Lispector to be other than that. (Carrera, 1999: 93)

In agreement with and building on Peixoto’s and Carrera’s critiques, I want to shed some light on the implications of the treatment Cixous gives to pathology in relation to nationhood. Cixous simply inverts the values of a masculine order identified with the language of the Symbolic order and of an excluded domain where the feminine and Lispector’s texts are located. She emphasizes the non-Symbolic, non-logical elements, praised as écriture féminine. This écriture lacks articulation with the so-called masculinist, logical, Symbolic world that is rejected by Cixous on feminist grounds. The result is that possibilities of change in the so-called masculine domain of the Symbolic in the nation are made impossible or postponed forever. In so doing, Cixous ignores any link that might exist between Lispector’s texts and her Brazilian national environment. More recent critics have similarly failed to deal adequately with this issue.



In her introduction to a collection of articles by Cixous, Susan Rubin Suleiman refers to the writer’s declaration, in an interview, that she was interested in a process of de-nationalization (Suleiman, 1991: xii). Cixous’s attempt to ‘de-nationalize’ Lispector bypasses the possibility that the latter may have wanted to assert her nationality. There is significant biographical evidence of Lispector’s attempts to become naturalized as a Brazilian citizen. At the age of 21 she wrote a letter to President Getúlio Vargas in order to hasten the process of acquiring Brazilian nationality, introducing herself thus: Uma russa de 21 anos de idade e que está no Brasil há 21 anos menos alguns meses. Que não conhece uma só palavra de russo mas que pensa, fala, escreve e age em português, fazendo disso sua profissão e nisso pousando todos os projetos do seu futuro, próximo ou longínquo. [...] Que deseja casar-se com brasileiro e ter filhos brasileiros. Que, se fosse obrigada a voltar à Rússia, lá se sentiria irremediavelmente estrangeira, sem amigos, sem profissão, sem esperanças. (cited in Ferreira, 1999: 89) [A 21-year-old Russian woman who has lived in Brazil for 21 years, minus a few months. Who doesn’t know a single word of Russian but who thinks, talks, writes and acts in Portuguese, building her profession out of it, and using it to set out all her projects for the future, whether short or long term. [...] Who hopes to marry a Brazilian and have Brazilian children. Who, if obliged to return to Russia, would feel herself to be irredeemably foreign there, lacking friends, profession, hope.]

The following passage, in the same letter, makes explicit the fact that, whatever the outcome of the naturalization process, she already considered herself Brazilian: Se trago a V. Ex.ª o resumo dos meus trabalhos jornalísticos não é para pedir-lhe, como recompensa, o direito de ser brasileira. Prestei estes serviços espontânea e naturalmente, e nem poderia deixar de executá-los. Se neles falo é para atestar que já sou brasileira. Posso apresentar provas materiais de tudo o que afirmo. Infelizmente, o que não posso provar materialmente — e que, no entanto, é o que mais importa — é que tudo que fiz tinha como núcleo minha real união com o país e que não possuo, nem elegeria, outra pátria senão o Brasil. (cited in Ferreira, 1999: 89–90) [If I show Your Excellency my journalistic resumé, it is not to ask you, as a reward, for the right to be Brazilian. I gave these services spontaneously and naturally; I simply couldn’t have avoided giving them. If I mention them, it is to prove that I am already Brazilian. I can provide material proof of everything that I state. Unfortunately, what I cannot prove materially — and which, however, is what is most important — is that the essence of everything that I have done has been my real union with the country and that I do not possess, nor would I choose, any home other than Brazil.]

In an essay on Lispector’s texts and madness, Sandra Regina Goulart Almeida refers to the historical connection between madness and women: Hysteria, madness, insanity and depression have been historically inscribed as negative spaces inhabited primarily by women. Even the etymology of the


Introduction word ‘hysteria’ which goes back to the Greek word ‘uterus’, reiterates the antiquated notion that disturbances of the womb were responsible for women’s mental illnesses. (Almeida, 1999: 101)

Later in this essay, referring to Cixous’s work on Lispector, Almeida explains that this position can also have its creative aspects: Insanity grants the female subject a close attachment to the body of the mother and places outside language, within a silence that becomes, through its association with the maternal semiotic, productive and meaning ful. [...] Hysteria and madness can, therefore, as the surrealists believed, be situated as a place of expression and production of meaning outside the rigid logic of the symbolic. (Almeida, 1999: 104, 105; my emphasis)

She explores the consequences of this in Lispector’s texts. The metaphor of madness is a prevalent issue in Lispector’s works. Through the voices of her female characters, Lispector addresses the notion that madness has been traditionally employed to reinforce women’s marginal and inferior position in society. As she seems to be conscious of the possible danger that ‘insanity’ may present for women and the woman writer, her female characters often voice her concern about the double-bind of writing about madness and being simultaneously inside and outside the order they so strongly try to undermine. Aware of the difficulty of trying to represent that which is inherently unrepresentable, Lispector explores the metaphor of madness in terms of women’s exclusion from language and their attempt to find a discourse of their own. (Almeida, 1999: 106)

Almeida explains Julia Kristeva’s notion that poetic language operates through the same process as madness, hysteria and depression, producing a ‘ “semiotization of the symbolic” which is in itself a revolutionary act.’ (Almeida, 1999: 105) Later, however, the critic refers to the need to understand the risks that a rupture with the ‘symbolic’ order can entail: Phyllis Chesler, for example, cautions against the danger of romanticizing madness as a form of political protest and social transgression. For her, madness is the very means through which society deprives women of the capacity to protest and voice their needs. Kristeva also points out that in madness, insanity and depression, the subject effectuates [sic] a complete break with the symbolic, that is, an exclusion from the signifying process that can bring the destruction of the subject. (Almeida, 1999: 106)

Almeida here echoes the point I raised earlier: the danger of idealizing and essentializing the feminine and therefore undermining the possibilities of social transformation, since society remains patriarchal and the so-called Symbolic order remains intact as the dominant language. Here, again, I wish to argue that we need to integrate language and history and to understand that history is experienced and lived inside and in connection to national spaces. From the 1990s onwards, a new critical perspective developed in relation to Lispector’s texts. Authors such as Berta Waldman (1998), Nelson Vieira (1995, 1998) and Regina Zilberman (1998) started to take into account Lispector’s Jewish ethnic origins in their readings of her texts. In an article published in 2001, Waldman refers



to an interview that Lispector gave in 1976, one year before her death. According to Waldman, Lispector had declared ‘eu sou judia, você sabe, embora não acredite que o povo judeu seja o povo eleito por Deus. Eu, enfim, sou brasileira, pronto e ponto’ (Waldman, 1998: 93) [I am a Jew, you know, although I don’t believe that the Jewish people are God’s chosen people. I am, in short, Brazilian, end of story]. 3 She notes that Lispector and her family emigrated to Brazil in a period when, for the oligarchies in power in Brazil, ‘interessavam os estrangeiros que trabalhassem com afinco, que se integrassem ao ambiente e assumissem os valores locais, pouco interferindo nos costumes e valores estabelecidos’ (Waldman, 1998: 94) [they were interested in foreigners who would work hard, integrate themselves into the environment and adopt local values, interfering little with established customs and values]. In other words, their cultural differences had to be ignored in order to integrate them into the national workforce. We should take this into account when considering Lispector’s attempts to become naturalized as Brazilian. Maria Luíza Tucci Carneiro demonstrates the strength of anti-Semitism during the first period of the Vargas government (1930–1945), when Lispector was growing up in the Northeast of Brazil and subsequently in Rio de Janeiro where she moved in 1933: a aventura anti-semita vivenciada pela Era Vargas é um dos capítulos signi­ ficativos na nossa História, representando impressionante regressão cultural e intelectual. A ditadura estadonovista dispôs do anti-semitismo como instrumento político a serviço do poder, manipulando interesses ao nível das relações internacionais e nacionais. Da mesma forma, o movimento integralista e o grupo católico reacionário adotou-o como signo integrado ao seu universo doutrinário. Neste contexto emergiu a imagem do judeu como encarnação do mal, identificado como perigo vermelho e como fator de desagregação social. (Carneiro, 1988: 418) [The anti-semitic episode experienced during the Vargas era is a significant chapter in our History, representing a striking cultural and intellectual regre­ ssion. The Estado Novo dictatorship used anti-semitism as a political instru­ ment in the service of power, manipulating interests at the level of international and national relations. In the same way, the integralist movement and the reactionary Catholic sector adopted it as a symbol which became part of their doctrines. It was this context that saw the emergence of the Jew as the embodiment of evil, identified as the red menace and as a factor in social disintegration.]

Waldman also draws our attention to the nationalist discourses of that period which contributed to the stigmatization of Jewish people in Brazil at that time: [...] dada a inequívoca vocação urbana e industrial dos judeus, eles alcançaram uma rápida ascensão econômica e intelectual, destacando-se na academia, no comércio, na indústria nascente, sendo imediatamente apontados como capitalistas gananciosos e comunistas demoníacos, num contexto onde o discurso nacionalista alardeava ‘o Brasil para brasileiros’. (Waldman, 1998: 94) [ as a result of their unequivocal urban and industrial vocation, the Jews rose rapidly in economic and intellectual terms, distinguishing themselves in the academic world, in commerce, in the nascent industry of the period, and were


Introduction immediately labelled as greedy capitalists and demoniacal communists, in a context in which nationalist discourse clamoured ‘Brazil for the Brazilians’.]

Other critics have related the experience of being Jewish to the process of exclusion, of being seen as the Other in Brazilian society. Vieira, for example, has studied Lispector together with two other Brazilian writers of Jewish origins (Moacyr Scliar and Samuel Rawet): None of the Brazilian-Jewish writers in this study believes that nationalism should be sacrificed for ethnicity, but their narratives do point to forces of national homogeneity and social oppression that preclude a true recognition of otherness. (Vieira, 1995: 199)

Vieira also notes the importance of homogeneity as a feature of national repre­ sentation in Brazil: for Brazil the issue of homogeneity is tied to the image of identity promoted by power-privileged groups who abuse their hierarchical position at the expense of difference. Like other nations who have monopolized political violence to maintain social order, modern Brazil is often virulent and authoritarian. (Vieira, 1995: 199)

It could be argued that Vieira’s view above comprises too general an approach to a problem that is always experienced in specific, localized terms. One needs to clarify the role of the state in this matter, examining which parts of the population have political representation and which sections are effectively excluded from it and on what basis. This brings me to the main difficulty with Vieira’s perspective: namely, that it ignores the fact that Lispector’s texts clearly acknowledge the presence of an excluded ethnicity that, in terms of numbers, represents a much larger proportion of excluded Brazilians than the Jewish people, that is those of African descent. Vieira’s homogenizing of Jewish exclusion can also lead to a simplified view which ignores the fact that, in political and economic terms, many Jewish people (but not all) managed to reach fairly comfortable and powerful positions, something that cannot be said for blacks in Brazil, who on the whole comprised the poorest groups. The main point I wish to make is that Lispector’s views on ethnicity as a component of Brazilian nationhood, although never explicitly stated, are nonetheless articulated in her texts, mainly through characterization. I will discuss the matter of Jewishness in the last chapter on A hora da estrela. The second quotation from Vieira raises an important question with regard to the construction of Brazilian national identity: the need to create a notion of homogeneity. This is important since it sustains essentialist notions of nationhood which impact on nationalistic discourses. Vieira writes: The drive for cultural homogeneity stems primarily from a ruling class that identifies imitation and cohesion as a bourgeois ideal irrespective of or blatantly disregarding the panorama of social differences that ref lect the country’s diversity. (Vieira, 1995: 12)

Vieira praises Lispector for her ability to see ‘beyond [Brazilian] culture’s blind spots’ (Vieira, 1995: x). Yet, contrary to Vieira, I argue that in this field the principal blind



spot in Brazil is the issue of whiteness as opposed to Jewishness or blackness. The fact that whiteness remains unexamined in Brazil is crucial to the understanding of Brazilian society. A study of Lispector’s texts can contribute powerfully to making unexamined whiteness visible. To summarize, one could say that Lispector was indeed tackling the problem of how to say something that is experienced as impossible to say: the limitations of spoken, written and literary language are clearly at stake in her work, as many critics have described and explained. My argument is that this unspeakable element needs to be related to concepts of nationhood in Brazil and specifically to the discourses on ethnicity that have been so fundamental to it. In order to tackle this question of the unspeakable within the discourses on the Brazilian nation, I have found it useful to look outside Brazil. I have therefore, in Part I of this book, turned to the work of two non-Brazilian women writers who wrote about the nation from a position of ethnic exclusion, focusing on what is experienced as pathological, on instances of internal fragmentation: Bessie Head and Toni Morrison. By reading Lispector’s work through concepts developed by Head and Morrison, and elaborated by critics of their work, I aim to demonstrate how Lispector’s texts are structurally embedded in concepts of the national — that is, how they articulate the experience that Machado de Assis referred to as the ‘sentimento íntimo de nacionalidade’ [intimate feeling of nationality]. I must, however, clarify at the outset that this is not a comparative study. My intention is to use the work of two non-Brazilian women writers as a platform from which to develop insights regarding a position of exclusion in relation to national myths and ideologies that involve notions of ethnicity and race. Some comparative work has been necessary in order to respect the differences and acknowledge the similarities between these writers and Lispector. My main focus of attention, however, is Lispector’s work and her position as a writer in post 1930s Brazil: this will form the basis of the last five chapters of the book. The Pathological as a Way into the National ‘Je finis par trouver sacré le désordre de mon esprit’ (Rimbaud, 1984: 141) [I ended up by considering sacred the disorder of my spirit]

Individuals are always connected, like it or not, to specific national contexts. Lispector, writing in Portuguese and in Brazil, had no option but to face the linguistic and literary conditions in which the construction of a Brazilian national identity had taken place. The language Lispector used, as well as the literary tradition she had to draw on in order to write, bound her to a specific national and literary history. This was not a matter of personal choice (despite Lispector’s declarations about her early love for the language and her later efforts to acquire Brazilian nationality) but a matter of necessity. Because my aim is to understand the difficulties regarding agency that Lispector’s protagonists experience, I have found it useful to look at Judith Butler’s ideas on power and subjection, drawn from Michel Foucault’s theorization of the subject:


Introduction We are used to thinking of power as what presses on the subject from the outside, as what subordinates, sets underneath, and relegates to a lower order. But if, following Foucault, we understand power as forming the subject as well, as providing the very condition of its existence and the trajectory of its desire, then power is not simply what we oppose but also, in a strong sense, what we depend on for our existence and what we harbor to preserve in the being that we are. [...] subjection consists precisely in this fundamental dependency on a discourse we never chose but that, paradoxically, initiates and sustains our agency. (Butler, 1997: 2)

My supposition is that the crisis that Lispector’s protagonists experience, their loss of agency, may be connected with a sudden rupture with a silent discourse on what being a national subject entails. My intention is to highlight the connections these moments may have with the intimate experiencing of the nation that I have referred to above in relation to Machado de Assis’ essay. I will not claim that race was a major preoccupation in Lispector’s mind throughout her whole writing life, as it was for Bessie Head and Toni Morrison. Race, however, is central to one of Lispector’s most celebrated novels (A paixão segundo G.H., 1964) and a crucial element for understanding the protagonists of at least two of her other novels (O lustre, 1946 and A hora da estrela, 1977). I employ the term ‘race’ quite intentionally, instead of ‘ethnicity’, because my preoccupation is related to the persistence of racism in Brazil, the construction of the notion of race in Brazilian history, and its resilience in people’s minds despite the success of the post 1930s national ideology of ‘racial democracy’. My focus will be the exploration of subjective experience within a national context where individuals are in contact with specific discourses on the national. These discourses often support state ideologies and involve racial or ethnic constructions. In this context Butler’s concept of vectors of power and their articulation (including specific and localized constructions) can be useful: It seems crucial to resist the model of power that would set up racism and homophobia and misogyny as parallel or analogical relations. The assertion of their abstract or structural equivalence not only misses the specific histories of their construction and elaboration, but also delays the important work of thinking through the ways in which these vectors of power require and deploy each other for the purpose of their own articulation. (Butler, 1993: 18)

Vectors of power are normalizing social forces operating through discursive formations circulating in society. Through the process of subjection these normalizing forces are internalized in one’s psyche, often unconsciously, as a constitutive part of one’s self and personal identity. They become an integral part of one’s subjectivity. Bearing in mind Butler’s words on power and subjection quoted earlier, the importance of vectors of power in terms of empowering or disempowering individuals becomes clear. Racism, homophobia and misogyny are the three examples that Butler gives. I am convinced that in the case of Brazil, and specifically in the work of Lispector, further vectors of power, nationalism and class, are also crucial in the formation of subjectivities. I used the word ‘pathology’ in reference to these processes because my attempt is to understand moments of subjective crisis in the context of an unexamined racist



logic. For the logic of racism to prevail, whiteness, as a system of values based on an interpretation of skin colour, has to remain unexamined. The unexamined and often unconscious logic of whiteness enables the individual to understand his/her surroundings and to find a position there. The individual feels that he/she has a personal identity that is integrated into a national identity (often through regional identifications). This is the domain where so-called ‘sane’, ‘normal’ thinking operates. The pathological appears when this logic is broken, often through whiteness becoming visible and being examined. The individual’s sense of having a personal identity and of being a subject belonging to a national context is thrown into crisis. To ensure psychological survival, this subjectivity needs to be reconstructed, hence the need for deep internal investigation. The question ‘who am I?’ is motivated not by philosophical curiosity or concerns of literary style, but because of a need to preserve one’s sense of personal integrity as a subject. The consequences of this for literary language — resulting in the particular syntax of Lispector’s texts — are deeply ingrained in the protagonist’s need to understand him/herself as a subject belonging to a particular social context. Discourses on nationality impose models of what the national subject should be and this is where ethnicity intervenes. My intention is to highlight what happens to the subjectivity of Lispector’s protagonists when they confront contradictory discourses: an officially accepted version of the national (that of Brazilians as a mestizo ‘race’) and a daily practice that denies it (the logic of an unexamined Brazilian version of whiteness that is, as I shall explain, not incompatible with the notion of a certain performance of morenidade).4 Haunting is important because it brings out unexamined and unspoken aspects of daily life; and, in our case, the presence of unexamined whiteness, which, if it were not for haunting, would have remained unconscious. Whiteness should be understood as a localized concept. One needs to take into account the importance, in Brazil, of the foundational myth that Brazilians are a mestizo ‘race’. The model of whiteness in Brazil is not the same as the ethnic model celebrated in the national societies that informed the works of Head and Morrison, that is, South Africa at the time of apartheid or the United States. Instead, in Brazil, mainly since the 1930s, whiteness has become an internalized and unexamined code. Ruth Frankenberg’s description of whiteness in localized terms, articulating with other social hierarchies such as gender and class, is very useful in helping understand this: Whiteness changes over time and space and is in no way a transhistorical essence. Rather, as I have argued, it is a complexly constructed product of local, regional, national and global relations, past and present. Thus, the range of possible ways of living whiteness, for an individual white woman in a particular time and place is delimited by the relations of racism at that moment and in that place. And if whiteness varies spatially and temporally, it is also a relational category, one that is coconstructed with a range of other racial and cultural categories, with class and with gender. This coconstruction is, however, fundamentally asymmetrical, for the term ‘whiteness’ signals the production and reproduction of dominance rather than subordination, normativity rather than marginality, and privilege rather than disadvantage. (Frankenberg, 1994: 236, 237)



When using the term ‘whiteness’ in relation to Brazil, I will be referring to a particular construction of an ethnic model that privileges white people and that, as stated above, is not necessarily incompatible with the idea of a Brazilian morenidade. It is important to see that whiteness in Brazil is always experienced differently from American or European models of whiteness (the latter, of course, being inf lected differently in the various European nation-states, for the point is that ethnic models are inextricably entwined with ideas of nation). Whiteness in Brazil needs to be ‘made Brazilian’. Its connections with class are also extremely important. It is crucial to bear in mind that whiteness needs to be constantly performed even when the person’s skin colour is white. Judith Butler’s concept of performativity can assist in this endeavour. Perform­ ativity is not something that the subject controls. Following Foucault’s notion of the effects of power in the process of subject formation, ‘performativity must be understood not as a singular and deliberate “act”, but, rather, as the reiterative and citational practice by which discourse produces the effect that it names’ (Butler, 1993: 2). Butler also emphasizes the importance of understanding performativity [...] as that reiterative power of discourse to produce the phenomena that it regulates and constrains [...] (Butler, 1993: 2). In the course of my reading of Lispector’s texts three main perceptions have emerged. First, that references to blackness or non-whiteness in Lispector’s work make unexamined whiteness visible. Second, that Lispector’s work shows how, in Brazil, although miscegenation has been stressed as a positive value, in practice members of all ethnicities (white, mixed-race, black or others) have to successfully perform whiteness in order to be accepted. Third, that whiteness is bound up with the notion of Brazil as a modern nation. The major problem of the post 1930s period in Brazil is that racism and the idea of racial difference became a blind spot, relegated to the zone of the unspeakable and therefore unacknowledged and unquestioned. Racial difference, and the antagonisms it can entail, became a taboo subject in Brazil after 1930, because concepts of the national disguised it and silenced it. This is clearly seen as, since Independence (1822), the African presence in Brazil has been historically assimilated into constructions of the nation. During the period from Independence to the end of the nineteenth century Brazil experienced the contradictory coexistence of liberal ideas imported from Europe and the embarrassing fact that the economy was based on sugar plantations depending entirely on slave labour. Modern liberal ideas inspired by the universal principles of the French Revolution, sustaining that all individuals enjoyed free labour rights and equality before the law, co-existed, as says Roberto Schwarz’s in his famous essay ‘As idéias fora de lugar’ [Misplaced Ideas], with the ‘fato “impolítico e abominável” da escravidão’ (Schwarz, 1981: 13) [‘impolitic and abominable’ reality of slavery]. Despite the modern liberal ideology that inspired all the newly emancipated nations of the Americas, including Brazil, the country could not be a ‘modern nation’ because its main economic activity contradicted the modernizing liberal ideas of the time. This state of affairs was partly a consequence of the fact that, instead of being the result of popular movements and revolts, independence in



Brazil resulted basically from an agreement between the Brazilian agrarian elite and the Portuguese royal family. But the fundamental problem was the racially structured hierarchy of the institution that sustained the economy: the plantation. From the time of the Abolition of Slavery (1888) and the First Republic (1889), positivist ideology came to play an important role. Embracing social Darwinism, positivism promoted heavily modernizing policies. Slavery was definitively not on the Republic’s agenda, at least, not overtly. The main problem for the Brazilian elite at the time was how to integrate the black masses into a nation that saw itself as modern and white. Unlike the period of the Empire, when the black population was simply oppressed, it now needed to be integrated into the nation. Antonio Sérgio Alfredo Guimarães explains: O fato é que, no Brasil Colônia e no Brasil Império, não houve lugar para o negro no imaginário português ou brasileiro. País que se queria branco. O Brasil se esforçava para realmente brutalizar os negros que importava da África como escravos e os que aqui nasciam. [...] À maioria dos negros ficou reservado o espaço maior da subalternidade, da inferioridade, da violência. Apenas na República, tardiamente finda a escravidão, a elite se colocou o problema de como integrar simbólica e materialmente os negros à nação. (Guimarães, 2000: 25–26) [The fact is that in Colonial Brazil and in Imperial Brazil, there was no place for blacks in the Portuguese or Brazilian imaginary. It was a country that wished to be white. Brazil endeavoured to truly brutalize the blacks that it imported from Africa as slaves as well as those that were born here. [...] The greater part of the black population was consigned to the greatest space of subalterneity, of inferiority, of violence. Not until the Republic, with slavery finally at an end, did the elite pose itself the problem of how to symbolically and materially integrate blacks into the nation.]

In fact, Guimarães’s idea that, after the abolition of slavery, the elite tried to inte­ grate the black population into the nation is rather problematic. Scientific racism, which was very popular at the time, proposed the progressive substitution of blacks by a whiter population, encouraging not integration but de-Africanization. The integration of the black population would only become part of the government agenda with the populism of the Vargas regime after 1930. Thomas Skidmore describes the period from 1880 to 1920 in the following terms: during the high period of racist thought — 1880 to 1920 — the whitening ideology gained scientific legitimacy, because racist doctrines came to be interpreted by Brazilians as supporting the view that the ‘superior’ white race would prevail in the process of racial amalgamation. (Skidmore, 1993: 46)

The same point is made by Vivien Schelling: Latin American political and intellectual elites at the turn of the nineteenth century conceived of progress and civilization as inextricably linked with the whitening — the cultural and biological de-indigenisation and de-Africanisation — of their societies. (Schelling, 2000: 11–12)

In the 1920s scientific racism started to lose credibility. However, the notion that



the Brazilian population was becoming white did not disappear. As Skidmore explains: The 1920’s and 1930’s in Brazil saw a consolidation of the whitening ideal and its implicit acceptance by the idea-makers, and social critics. [...] interestingly, most writers did not come out and state unambiguously that race made no difference and therefore the question should be ignored. Rather they said that Brazil was progressively whitening, and therefore the problem was being solved. (Skidmore, 1993: 171)

During the decade of the 1930s the country would experience important political changes, with consequences for national ideology. Roughly speaking the so-called 1930s revolution replaced the Old Republic, forcing the old agrarian oligarchies (mainly linked to coffee growing) to negotiate with the urban middle classes. It is important to remember that the Vargas years (1930–45), which preceded Lispector’s first publications, were a period of intense nation building and strengthening of the nation state. From this period on, the concept of a national citizen started to be disseminated. Belonging to the nation or becoming a national subject became an imperative, one that Lispector could not escape. Ruben George Oliven describes this process and also highlights the state commitment to industrialization and the creation of national labour legislation, as well as the development of a centralized education network: It was during this period that a more centralized State apparatus was created and power increasingly shifted from the regional sphere to the national [...]. On the social level, the State regulated relations between capital and labour, creating labour legislation and a Ministry of Labour. [...] It also created the Ministry of Education, to whom a fundamental role in the creation of nationhood would fall, to be achieved through the standardization of the educational system. This included the introduction of national elements to the school curriculum and the cultural weakening of ethnic minorities [...]. (Oliven, 2000: 62)

Being part of the nation became paramount for all individuals. This was a period when people, even those who were politically and socially excluded, could not ignore the fact that they were part of a country named Brazil. Being a national subject was now a cultural necessity, not a matter of choice. In 1933, the writer and sociologist Gilberto Freyre published his famous book Casa grande e senzala, providing a positive interpretation of what had so far been seen as the source of much of the country’s malaise: the non-European elements in its population’s ethnic composition. If miscegenation was seen before as a way of avoiding the problems associated with blackness, now it came to be interpreted positively as a harmonizing and integrating mixture regarded as the essence of being Brazilian. According to the sociologist Renato Ortiz, in his book Cultura brasileira e identidade nacional (1985), Freyre’s theory was to plug a gap in the construction of the nation’s identity. The theory of Brazil as a racial democracy would fill a space that the country’s modernization and nation building had left blank. Freyre’s positive attitude towards the mestizo would be instrumental in providing the elements for the construction of a national racialized subject. This is how Ortiz explains the process:



Gilberto Freyre transforma a negatividade do mestiço em positividade, o que permite completar definitivamente os contornos de uma identidade que há muito vinha sendo desenhada. [...] A ideologia da mestiçagem, que estava aprisionada às ambigüidades das teorias racistas, ao ser reelaborada pode difundir-se socialmente e se tornar senso comum, ritualmente celebrado nas relações do cotidiano, ou nos grandes eventos como o carnaval e o futebol. O que era mestiço torna-se nacional. (Ortiz, 1985: 41) [Gilberto Freyre transformed the negative aspects of the mestizo into positive ones, which allowed the final, definitive touches to be made to the contours of an identity whose design had been worked on for a long time. [...] Once re-elaborated, the ideology of mestizage or the mixing of races, which had been trapped by the ambiguities of racist theories, could be spread through society and turned into common sense, ritually celebrated in daily relationships, or in major events such as carnival or football. The mestizo became the national.]

So, from that moment, the mestizo becomes ‘the national’. We could say that there is a cultural construction taking place here: to belong to the nation, to become part of the national, one has to conform, adapt and negotiate with a certain cultural construction: that of a national subject associated with the notion of the ‘good mulatto’ or ‘good mestizo’.5 Guimarães explains: A idéia fundamental da nova nação é a de que não existem raças humanas, com diferentes qualidades civilizatórias inatas, mas sim diferentes culturas. O Brasil passa a pensar a si mesmo como uma civilização híbrida, miscigenada, não apenas européia, mas produto do cruzamento entre brancos, negros e índios. O ‘caldeirão étnico’ brasileiro seria capaz de absorver e abrasileirar as tradições e manifestações culturais de diferentes povos que para aqui imigraram em diferentes épocas; rejeitando apenas aquelas que fossem incompatíveis com a modernidade (superstições, animismos, crendices etc.). (Guimarães, 2002: 118) [The fundamental idea of the new nation was that there were no human races, with differing innate qualities of civilization, but that there were different cultures. Brazil came to think of itself as a hybrid, miscegenated civilization, one which was not just European but which was the product of a cross between whites, blacks and indians. The Brazilian ‘ethnic melting pot’ would be capable of absorbing and making Brazilian the traditions and cultural manifestations of various peoples who emigrated to the country during different periods, rejecting only those that were incompatible with modernity (superstitions, animisms, foolish beliefs etc.).]

Emilia Viotti da Costa expounds some implications of Freyre’s ideas: [Freyre] rebuked those who were concerned about the possible negative effects of ethnic amalgamation. He reaffirmed confidence in the social and intellectual capacity of the mulatto. It was precisely in the process of miscegenation, Freyre thought, that Brazilians had found a way of avoiding the racial problems that tormented Americans. (Viotti da Costa, 1985: 234)

Ortiz highlights how Freyre’s ideas were useful at a time when the country was changing and the old racial theories could not be useful anymore. It is in this sense that Freyre’s theory would fill a gap in the construction of the nation’s identity:


Introduction Com a Revolução de 30 as mudanças que vinham ocorrendo são orientadas politicamente, o Estado procurando consolidar o próprio desenvolvimento social. Dentro deste quadro, as teorias raciológicas tornam-se obsoletas, era necessário superá-las, pois a realidade social impunha um outro tipo de interpretação do Brasil. A meu ver, o trabalho de Gilberto Freyre vem atender ‘esta demanda social’. (Ortiz, 1985: 40) [With the 1930 Revolution, the changes that had been taking place became politically orientated with the State attempting to consolidate social development itself. Within this scenario, raciological theories became obsolete, it was necessary to go beyond them since social reality imposed another kind of interpretation of Brazil. In my opinion, Gilberto Freyre’s work answered ‘this social demand’.]

Carmen Miranda (1909–1955), the Portuguese-born Hollywood actress with her whitened version of Brazilian samba dance and music, is a prototype of this model of miscegenation celebrated during the Vargas period. Denise Ferreira da Silva refers to it as an eschatological miscegenation: [...] o sujeito nacional emerge a partir da enunciação do outro racial. [...] No Brasil a construção do mestiço como sujeito racial teve a pressuposição de que o agente da história era o português branco e os outros eram subordinados a ele, mas em processo de eliminação. [...] olho para a miscigenação como um significante escatológico, já que nesses movimentos, os elementos não-brancos, não-europeus tendem a desaparecer. (Da Silva, 2002: 43,44) [[...]the national subject emerges as a result of the articulation of the racial other. [...] In Brazil, the construction of the mestizo as a racial subject presupposed that the agents of history were the white Portuguese and that everyone else was subordinated to them, but in a process of elimination. [...] I see miscegenation as a eschatological signifier, since in these movements the non-white, nonEuropean elements tend to disappear.]

Whitening, although not an explicit policy, as under the First Republic, remained as a desired ideal. Morenidade [brownness] was tolerated, even celebrated, because of the non-articulated notion that the Brazilian population was, in the course of time, becoming white. Lília Moritz Schwarcz, discussing racism in Brazil, refers to the important change that occurred with the assimilation of Freyre’s ideas after the 1930s. The scientific racism that predominated during the First Republic became unpopular and could not remain explicit or be used in state propaganda. These ideas, however, were not abolished, as Schwarcz explains: As teorias raciais deixam de ser modelos científicos, mas não são abolidas. Passam para o dia-a-dia, transformam-se em códigos internalizados e, portanto, jamais afirmados; eficientes porque invisíveis e silenciosos. [...] No Brasil o racismo não está nas leis, não está no Estado, mas disseminado no cotidiano. [...] O responsável por esta mágica foi Gilberto Freyre que, de alguma maneira, nos anos 30, tentou transformar a nossa grande desgraça em fortuna. Somos um país diferente porque somos mestiços. Mas o que aconteceu entre nós? De alguma maneira o racismo passou da esfera pública para a esfera privada. (Schwarcz, 1998: 95; my emphasis) [Racial theories were no longer scientific models, but they were not abolished.



They became part of everyday life, transformed into internalized codes and, therefore, never affirmed, effective because they are invisible and silent. [...] In Brazil, racism is not to be found in law, nor in the State, but it permeates the everyday. [...] The person responsible for this magic trick was Gilberto Freyre who, somehow, in the 1930s, tried to turn our great misfortune into fortune. Our country is different because we are mestizos. But what has happened to us? Somehow, racism has moved from the public to the private sphere.]

This is the point that Lispector’s novels will develop: the moments when the subject, in its attempts to belong, confronts these internalized codes which are, quoting Schwarcz again, ‘efficient because they are invisible and silent’. In other words, the logic of unexamined whiteness, sustaining racism, is internalized and not articulated; it works and is sustained by the fact of not being explicit. When this logic becomes explicit the subject risks losing its personal identity and its connection with the social norms surrounding it. This is where the notion of the pathological intervenes. At this point, it is useful to go back to the nineteenth-century Brazilian writer Machado de Assis in order to understand this experience. Viotti da Costa refers to an episode regarding Machado in order to illustrate the paradoxes of social mobility for non-whites inside Brazilian society. She explains that when he died (1908) one of his friends wrote an article in his honour referring to the writer as ‘the mulatto Machado de Assis’ (Viotti da Costa, 1985: 241). Joaquim Nabuco (1849–1910), an important politician of the time, read the article and strongly recommended that the word ‘mulatto’ be omitted: ‘For me Machado was a white and I believe he thought so about himself ’ (quoted by Viotti da Costa, 1985: 241). It was common knowledge at the time that Machado was a mulatto. This, however, could not be acknowledged publicly. His mestizo origins seem to have been the source of a lot of personal anguish: He lived the ambiguity of his situation and performed conscientiously the role he was supposed to play in the community of whites of which he had become part. Machado would not have liked to be called a mulatto, an expression which would uncover the fiction of his public self. (Viotti da Costa, 1985: 242)

One could therefore argue that Machado’s sense of a personal identity depended on performing whiteness so that he could pass as white. His public self was, in that sense, a fiction, something that depended on excluding and denying the non-white part of his personal identity. As Da Silva explains, miscegenation in Brazil had an eschatological aspect since it involved rejecting or expelling the non-white aspects of one’s identity. Viotti da Costa confirms this: ‘Socially mobile blacks had to pay a price for their mobility: they had to adopt the white’s perception of the racial problem and of themselves. They had to pretend they were whites’ (Viotti da Costa, 1985: 240). As we will see, an important part of this process is keeping whiteness unexamined and unmarked. Being white becomes a synonym for being normal, natural and human; only non-whiteness is socially marked. Because society is built upon racialized assumptions and notions of identity, examining whiteness makes racial domination visible and this has a dramatic effect: individuals lose their sense



of personal identity; they do not know where they stand or how to understand reality. Machado de Assis’ short-story ‘O espelho’ (published in 1882) can be read as an exploration of the implications of race in the individual’s sense of personal identity. In this text, a young army officer named Jacobina (the narrator himself when he was younger) has recently been promoted. His aunt, very proud of her nephew’s new social status, invites him to spend some time with her at her farm. She puts a big mirror in his room, so that he can admire himself in his new military attire. Everybody around him refers to him by his military title rather than his name. These external attentions have an effect on his sense of self: ‘O alferes eliminou o homem. [...] A única parte do cidadão que ficou comigo foi aquela que entendia com o exercício da patente: a outra dispersou-se no ar e no passado’ (Machado de Assis, 1982: 146) [The second-lieutenant eliminated the man. [...] The only part of the civilian which remained in me was that part which was connected to the duties of my rank: the rest evaporated into the air and the past]. Unexpectedly the aunt has to leave the farm. The young man is left alone for several days. The absence of external approval and admiration from his aunt undermines his self-confidence. The slaves’ deference to him however, compensates for this: ‘Os escravos punham uma nota de humildade nas suas cortesias, que de certa forma compensava a afeição dos parentes e a intimidade doméstica interrompida’ (Machado de Assis, 1982: 146) [The slaves injected a note of humility into their courtesies, which to some extent compensated for the suspension of the affection of his relatives and of domestic intimacy]. The next day, however, the protagonist realizes that the slaves have run away, and he finds himself totally alone. He spends eight days in complete agony, not knowing who he is nor what to do. ‘Era como um defunto andando, um sonâmbulo, um boneco mecânico’ (Machado de Assis, 1982: 147) [I was like a dead man walking, a sleepwalker, a mechanical puppet]. In despair he looks at himself in the mirror, searching for reassurance. All that he can see are dispersed, fragmented shadows, as if there were nobody there: ‘O [...] vidro [...] não me estampou a figura nítida e inteira, mas vaga, esfumada, difusa sombra de sombra’ (Machado de Assis, 1982: 148) [The [...] mirror [...] did not show my impression clearly and fully, but as a vague, soft, diffuse shadow of a shadow]. It is important to note that the author carefully signals a distinction between what is physically ref lected and what is seen by the subject: ‘A realidade das leis físicas não permite negar que o espelho reproduziu-me textualmente, com os mesmos contornos e feições. Assim devia ter sido. Mas tal não foi a minha sensação’ (Machado de Assis, 1982: 148) [The reality of the laws of physics make it impossible to deny that the mirror was ref lecting me textually, with the same outlines and features. That was as it should have been. But that was not my sensation]. It appears that, without his military attire, the concrete features of the subject’s body became more visible, but this was something the subject could not incorporate, could not accept. Most of all, these features would not constitute a viable identity, a ‘precise and whole figure’. In despair, the protagonist put on his army uniform and checked his image again. This time he was all there: the army uniform gave him back his public self. To his relief, the protagonist recovers his lost sense of identity: ‘o vidro



reproduziu a figura integral; nenhuma linha de menos, nenhum contorno diverso, era eu mesmo, o alferes, que achava, enfim, a alma exterior’ (Machado de Assis, 1982: 148) [the mirror reproduced the whole figure, not one line less, not one outline different, it was really me, the second-lieutenant, who found, in short, his exterior soul]. Taking into consideration Machado’s personal experience, one could interpret this story in racial terms. The army uniform allowed the protagonist to perform whiteness; it was the public confirmation of his acceptance as white. Without it, without the confirmation of the aunt’s gaze, and without the slaves’ subservience as confirmation of his superior status, the character is left alone with his personal self. This situation is unbearable: he cannot see or construct his own (real) selfimage outside the framework of whiteness. Only the public image is accepted, and performing it by means of putting on the uniform brings order back to his psyche. When Machado’s protagonist regains his public self, he also recuperates the ability to understand his surroundings, to name objects and people, to interact with his environment. The subject recovers his connection with language as a cognitive instrument: ‘enfim sabe-se que este é Fulano, aquele é Sicrano; aqui está uma cadeira, ali um sofá. [...] Não era mais um autômato, era um ente animado’ (Machado de Assis, 1982: 148) [finally one knows that this is Tom, that is Dick, this is a chair, that is a sofa. [...] I was no longer an automaton, I was an animate being]. Performing whiteness gives one not just a sense of a viable personal identity, but functions as a ‘passport’ to understanding and interacting with the white world. Machado’s short story illustrates how deeply personal identity and subjectivity depend on a public self that is seen as integrated into a wider national context. It shows how subjectivity needs to conform to a notion of what the national subject is supposed to be. The last quotation also highlights how important in this process is the subject’s contact with language, particularly the cognitive aspect of naming people and objects as a way of understanding not just the world surrounding the individual, but the individual’s position in this world as a subject. I want to highlight the importance of language here because, in Lispector’s case, critics have often mentioned a collapse of literary narrative connected to reaching what I have referred to as the threshold of the unspeakable. The important point to retain is that language, whether literary or not, is always a cognitive instrument. In those instances where the subject approaches or reaches a taboo area, language and narrative lose their practical supports and the process of naming becomes unstable. In a 1993 lecture, which includes an analysis of this same short story, John Gledson emphasizes the fact that Machado describes in detail the mirror’s baroque frame and its origins dating back to when King João VI arrived in Brazil in 1808, f leeing the Napoleonic forces that had invaded Portugal. This episode is important in Brazilian history as the symptom of a certain frailty — Gledson uses the word ‘precariousness’ (Gledson, 1994: 8) — in the contemporaneous notion of a Brazilian nation; a frailty that Machado detects. According to Gledson, the story shows ‘how literature posed, in a form which is perhaps necessarily covert, the problem of Brazil’s existence as a nation, in a deeper sense of a community embracing all of its



citizens.’ (Gledson, 1994: 6–7) Gledson interprets the passage where Jacobina cannot see himself in the mirror thus: To use Machado’s metaphor: for the first time, the country saw itself in the mirror. I think that that is his metaphor [...], and that he may be pointing to a kind of national angst, a sense that, as with Jacobina’s mirror image, Brazil is somehow not there, at least on the level of myth and tradition to which the mirror explicitily belongs: but national identity is after all built out of such myths and traditions. (Gledson, 1994: 6)

Gledson goes on to discuss whether or not a national ideology existed in pre-1930s Brazil: for most of the first hundred or so years of Brazil’s existence as an independent country, say from 1822 to about 1930, it would be by and large fair to say that there existed no such thing as a national ideology, in the vital sense which concerns me today, one which embraces every section of the population, including slaves and their descendants. [...] [during this period in Brazilian history] the crucial fact is that the blacks were omitted from the so-called national ideology. (Gledson, 1994: 8–9)

I agree with Gledson’s reading of the short story. However, because my concern is with the subjective reactions to unexamined discourses on race, I have focused on Jacobina’s subjective experience in another way. If we bear in mind the need to obliterate Machado’s African origins from public view, as expressed in Nabuco’s reaction to the article written about Machado after his death, we can see that the character could be expressing a problem that Machado is likely to have experienced himself. The crisis that Jacobina experiences in this short story may, I suggest, help us understand the subjective dilemma that Lispector’s protagonists experience in their connections with the nation. Obviously there are many differences between how Lispector’s characters may have experienced this post 1930 and Machado’s characters in the late nineteenth century. However, it seems clear to me that there are also many similarities. We could draw comparisons between the personal crisis that Machado describes in this short story and that experienced, for example, by Lispector’s character G.H. in A paixão segundo G.H.. I will develop this point further in the second chapter of this book, where I discuss Bessie Head’s novel and in Chapter 4, on Lispector’s A paixão segundo G.H.. My argument is that the crises experienced by Lispector’s characters are connected with the pathology of racism; with codes ingrained in society as part of the unspeakable, remaining therefore unexamined. As we have seen, the ideology of a racial democracy obscured even further the notion of ethnic differences by promoting the concept of the existence of a homogenous population in Brazil. For this reason I will use the texts of two non-Brazilian black or mixed-race female writers as a way of introducing ideas on the relationship between race, nation, and identity, particularly female identity, that can productively be drawn on in order to throw into relief the implicit racial sub-text to Lispector’s work. In Chapter 1 I discuss Bessie Head’s novel A Question of Power (1974). Her narration



of an episode of mental illness is important because it raises the need to integrate the unspeakable into a narrative that is also an argument. Her insistence on this shows how the pathological needs to be incorporated into literary language in order to lose its pathological status, forcing us to examine how pathology is embedded in national histories. The text is an autobiographical narrative by a mixed-race writer born into a deeply segregationist society (South Africa, in 1937) to a white mother who, by having an affair with a black man, had broken the taboo on miscegenation. Drawing on Judith Butler’s theory on identity formation I deal with an instance of someone who was born because her mother had stopped performing the model of whiteness imposed by the apartheid government. The novel reveals the pathological dimension I have outlined, making explicit its connections with a national ideology based on racial constructions. It also brings to the surface the need to try to understand the traumas linked to nation formation, and the consequences of such traumas for literary language. All of these elements are connected to the writer’s personal experience inside and outside her nation of birth, and to her need to construct a notion of belonging within the new national context of Botswana, the country to which she emigrated. In Chapter 2 I examine Toni Morrison’s novel Beloved (1987). I also refer to two subsequent novels Jazz (1992) and Paradise (1999) and to two of her critical works: Playing in the Dark: Whiteness and the Literary Imagination (1992) and ‘Unspeakable Things Unspoken: The African Presence in American Literature’ (1989). Morrison’s writings reinforce and take further many of the issues raised by Head’s A Question of Power. The need to understand and integrate the traumatic experience of black people into US national history has been one of Morrison’s main preoccupations. In this chapter I develop the notion of ghosts, and their importance in terms of cultural history and the understanding of trauma. Morrison is important also because of her explicit articulation (making visible) of processes involved in contemporary racism, and because of her position as a black writer in the United States, writing about the history of the literary canon of the nation where she was born, exposing the difficulties involved in constructing a sense of national belonging. I then move on to analyse five of Lispector’s novels, and the links between them, on the basis of the insights on race, nation and identity that I have gained from the examination of the work of Head and Morrison. In my reading of Lispector’s texts I focus on the function in the narrative, and in the protagonist’s psyche, of characters marked as non-white. I also consider the function of the encounters between Lispector’s protagonists and non-white characters in relation to the protagonist’s position as an agent in the plot. Here, I pay attention to references to skin colour in general, and to other phylogenic references such as hair colour and texture. I also take into account the role of the narrator, especially in cases where the narration itself is made explicit and visible. What emerges from this discussion of Lispector’s novels is that, in Brazil, during the period that she was writing about, skin colour seemed to matter a lot less than the ability to successfully perform whiteness. In Chapter 3 I explore the experience of haunting of the narrator/protagonist G.H. in A paixão segundo G.H., highlighting the racial, gender and class implications of this experience of haunting for the character’s sense of personal identity and of



belonging to the Brazilian nation. In Chapter 4 I analyse Lispector’s second novel, O lustre, foregrounding the importance of performing whiteness in terms of the early development of the protagonist’s personal identity and her sense of belonging to the modern environment of the city. In Chapter 5 I undertake to read A cidade sitiada through its construction of a ‘phantasmagoria of the dream world of commodities’ (Frisby, 1985: 209), seen as a crucial aspect of the modernization process in Brazil. I focus on the racial aspects of this cultural construction and its connections with the modernizing policies of the Vargas period (1930–45), arguing that the novel’s stress on hypervisibility constructs another racialized form of haunting. Chapter 6 is concerned with a reading of A maçã no escuro, where I examine the male protagonist’s experience of social transgression and exclusion, exploring the limitations of this experience in terms of race and gender. I focus on the internalization by Martim, the protagonist, of unexamined (and unconscious) codes of masculinity and whiteness. My reading of a A hora da estrela, in Chapter 7, calls attention to the presence of racism and the need to perform whiteness in Lispector’s last novel, and to the existence of a specific form of racism against the figure of the Northeasterner, which resists integration into the notion of Brazilianness. The conclusion refers to the three main concepts that move my analysis of Lispector’s work, as informed by my reading of Bessie Head and Toni Morrison: performativity, the need to belong to the nation, and haunting which reveals the presence of unexamined whiteness. The conclusion also stresses the relevance of race in Lispector’s work, an aspect that contradicts the traditional interpretation of her texts as disconnected from the country’s political reality. Notes to the Introduction 1. See also Benjamin Moser’s biography entitled Clarice, uma biografia, trans. by José Geraldo Couto (São Paulo: Cosac Naify, 2009). 2. Whiteness is unexamined when it functions as a synonym of ‘being human’; while other ethnicities are marked and examined as different, being white is taken as an undiscussed norm. 3. Waldman uses these words as the epigraph to her article ’O estrangeiro em Clarice Lispector: uma leitura de A hora da estrela’. 4. Mestizo is the word used in the Spanish and Portuguese empires in Latin America to refer to people of mixed European and other Amerindian ancestry. In Brazil, the equivalent word mestiço came also to denote any mixing of ethnicity. Morenidade is a Portuguese noun derived from the adjective moreno/a which rather ambivalently denotes both dark skin and dark hair. This adjective differs from mulatto/a, which denotes darker skin due to the presence of African mixture. 5. It is important, here, to clarify that the word mulatto/a in Brazil refers to an ethnic mixture where the presence of the African — despite being ‘diluted’ with white European blood — is obviously present. It is different from the adjective moreno/a which allows for a lot more of ambiguity and does not proscribe the possibility of the absence of African roots, making it easier to articulate the idea of morenidade to the performance of whiteness.

Pa rt I v



A Question of Power: Unspeakable Miscegenation Pathology is the place where history talks its loudest, most grating voice. Jacqueline Rose, 1998: 109

As explained in the introduction my aim is to investigate the unspeakable in Lispector’s fiction, arguing that mentioning racial difference was taboo in Brazil at the time when she was writing. Lispector’s work touches on this taboo area, developing the tensions arising from instances where racial difference interferes with subject formation. The obsession with the question ‘who am I?’ and the consequences that this has for the protagonist’s agency and development of the plot is partly due to the fact that the subject confronts whiteness, and this confrontation contradicts and invalidates the common-sense notion of a mestizo race, according to which racial difference should be irrelevant. In this confrontation the subject loses her sense of belonging to a national community: hence the crisis and the need to reconsider who she is. In this chapter I will develop several notions that have emerged from my reading of the novel A Question of Power by the South African writer Bessie Head, which have helped me explore the question of racial difference in Lispector’s texts. I will also refer to Head’s short-story ‘Life’, first published in the anthology The Collector of Treasures and Other Botswana Village Tales (1977). A Question of Power takes us straight into the space of pathology that we will investigate in relation to Lispector. This novel depicts the psychological fragmentation of a self as a result of a radical situation of exclusion. The ban on miscegenation, an important element for the maintenance of the South African regime of racial segregation based on white supremacy, is at the core of this situation. The novel is also important because of Head’s insistence on integrating the protagonist’s experience into a rational argument. As I will go on to explain in more detail, Head does not romanticize the pathological experience but insists on explaining it in rational terms, inserting the pathology into an historical context. Another element that is highlighted in this narrative is the importance of belonging to a community in order to develop a sense of being a subject. The idea that individuals need to belong in order to be is therefore crucial. A Question of Power is Head’s attempt to narrate her own experience of mental breakdown. The novel shows how vectors of power, as described previously, work together and reinforce each other, maintaining a hierarchical power structure

A Question of Power


through which a particular racial, gender and social stratification is preserved. This status quo is maintained through discursive practices that determine what is under­ stood as human and normal, excluding what does not conform to this notion. The extreme position of exclusion in the case of Bessie Head’s A Question of Power illuminates the ways in which unspeakability works. The book shows how social stratification operates to maintain a specific status quo identified with a certain vision of the nation and reveals the articulations and processes described above. Using the metaphor of Machado de Assis’s mirror, where the baroque frame, together with the army uniform, gave the protagonist the parameters through which he could understand himself and his surrounding world, A Question of Power illuminates what lies behind the mirror, showing articulations that must remain invisible in order that the framework and the mirror can continue to work. When these articulations are exposed the framework collapses, and some of the ‘magical’ power of the mirror is revealed. The mirror becomes a social artefact with a function that goes far beyond the physical process of ref lecting a visual reality. As a social artefact it relies heavily on social constructions. It does more than reveal appearances to a subject, appearances which, if it were not for the mirror itself, would be visible only to another. The mirror embodies a function that is cultural and political as well as social; it confirms (or denies) to the subject his/her acceptable human condition. Bessie Head was born in 1937, at a time when miscegenation was illegal in South Africa. Her white mother, Bessie Amelia Birch, became sexually involved with a black man working on her family’s farm and became pregnant. Her family put her in a mental hospital, where she gave birth to Bessie, who was then given to a foster family. Bessie’s mother never left the mental institution and died when her daughter was six years old. Bessie Head grew up believing that her foster mother was her biological mother. When she was thirteen, social workers removed her to a missionary school. She was then told about her biological mother and her ‘mental illness’. This knowledge came as a shock to Head, especially because it was presented as a foregone conclusion that Head herself was bound to become mad. Later on in her life, soon after leaving South Africa in 1964 on a one-way exit permit to work as a teacher in Botswana, Head experienced two episodes of mental breakdown. At that time she was a single mother refugee living with a young son. She lived under this precarious refugee status for almost fifteen years, being granted citizenship of Botswana only in 1979, during which time she had written and published three novels and a collection of short stories. She died in 1986, aged 49. A situation of total exclusion or exile is the point of departure of Bessie Head’s writing in A Question of Power. The word ‘exile’ here has at least three connotations. First, ‘exile’ in the physical, geographical sense of the individual who leaves her country of origin. Second, ‘exile’ in the more drastic sense of the individual who, as Franz Fanon puts it, has no ‘ontological resistance in the eyes of the white man’ (Fanon, 1986: 110); who, in other words, has been deprived of the right to belong to the human category. Thirdly, the book deals with exile in the psychological sense of having lost the ability to communicate, to confer meaning on expression; that is, being exiled from what is considered normality, not simply in terms of behaviour but in terms of language. The result is a book that challenges the reader


A Question of Power

enormously, as it seems to contradict, from the start, the assumption that literature should facilitate communication and ‘welcome’ the reader. Here, communication between author and reader is not taken for granted. The reader is summoned to participate in an imaginary space where communication itself is at stake. Judith Butler’s notion of the subject as constructed by exclusion is central to my reading of Head’s novel. According to Butler, subjectivity is constructed by rejecting and expelling what is considered not-human: creating a ‘constitutive outside’ in opposition to which one builds one’s own subjectivity. Butler’s claims that ‘sexual differences are indissociable from discursive demarcations’ and that ‘sex not only functions as a norm but is part of the regulatory practice that produces the bodies it governs’ (Butler, 1993: 1) are important for an understanding of Head’s novel in that they explain the main character’s internalized sense of rejection and her disempowered position in relation to the plot. As Desiree Lewis puts it, the novel rejects the position of a ‘sovereign writing subject and makes visible and powerful its muted other’ (Lewis, 1996: 74). A ‘sove­ reign writing subject’ occupies a space of enunciation, a right to speak, and relies on a ‘muted other’: a ‘constitutive outside’ in Butler’s terms. Head’s novel is written from the point of view of the constitutive outside. The purpose of the text is to give voice to (and create a discursive space for) something that seemingly had no place, no voice, no ontological resistance within the discursive space of whiteness. Part of the internal subjective drama that Head exposes in A Question of Power is the struggle experienced by a mixed-race female outcast as she builds up a sense of her self-worth and a form of belonging to a social community. At the core of the novel’s argument is the idea that it is impossible to have a personal identity without having a sense of belonging to a social group. Under white supremacist regimes, the notion of an autonomous, independent, ‘free’ individual — as Toni Morrison makes clear in relation to the US — is a white construction that relies on having many outcast, expelled ‘constitutive outsiders’, who are often black. Robert Nixon points out how Head’s writing — in particular the books based on her research into oral history in Botswana, such as Serowe: Village of the Rain Wind (1981), The Collector of Treasures (1977), and Tales of Tenderness and Power (1990) — helped her create a sense of origin and belonging: ‘The act of writing both fiction and an oral history of her adopted village helped this denationalized orphan improvise a genealogy.’ (Nixon, 1995: 159) Developing Nixon’s idea of Head’s need to ‘improvise a genealogy’, I would add that — despite A Question of Power being a radically different kind of literary work from those which Nixon selects as her major books — this novel represents a crucial step within Head’s work towards her creating a genealogy for herself in a new environment. In A Question of Power, Elizabeth, the protagonist, interacts in a similar manner with ‘real people’ (such as her son Shorty, an American charity worker named Tom, an African woman named Kenosi, the authoritarian charity coordinator Camilla, and the doctor), and with her internal ghosts or ‘soul personalities’, such as Dan and Sello or Medusa. The narrative interweaves scenes in which Elizabeth confronts her ghosts and others in which she tries to carry on a normal life, undertaking productive activities, either as a teacher or as a worker in a community agricultural

A Question of Power


project. The reader gets a very concrete picture of the hellish experience of trying to develop a sense of self-worth, while having to deal with destructive internal figures such as Dan and Medusa. The relative internal peace that the protagonist achieves at the end of the novel — after being sent to a mental hospital twice — is due to the presence of positive ‘real’ figures such as Tom and Kenosi, who support and accept Elizabeth as she is — and the positive internal figure of Sello, who manages to neutralize the destructive effect of Dan. Despite Elizabeth’s brutal internal fragmentation, which incarcerated her in solitude and isolation, she is constantly involved with the practical world around her: trying to work, to feed her child, to get on with her domestic chores. This allows her to build up positive social connections and to develop a measure of agency and empowerment. As the novel ends, it is clear that Elizabeth has finally managed to create for herself a sense of belonging: ‘As [Elizabeth] fell asleep, she placed one soft hand over her land. It was a gesture of belonging’ (Head, 1974: 206). The novel depicts a situation where outside and inside have equal weight in terms of the narrative. The narrator does not draw a safe border between these two zones. Elizabeth’s internal struggles do not take place in a separate narrative domain, as if they were dreams, hallucinations, or simply thoughts. Consequently, the reader is forced to confront concepts such as ‘normality’, ‘reality’ and ‘fantasy’. Many questions surface: What distinguishes reality and fantasy? What exactly is normality? Is it a body of normative notions of identity which shape individuals so that they conform to a status quo, or is it a necessary common ground for human co-existence? The novel oscillates between these two points without dismissing either: ‘One might propose an argument then, with the barriers of the normal, conventional and sane all broken down, like a swimmer taking a rough journey on wild seas’ (Head, 1974: 15; my emphasis). This is the narrator’s invitation to the reader, which is also a warning about the dangers of embarking on a reading journey in which the borders separating interior reality (fantasy) and exterior reality (reality) have been punctured. Head’s use here of the word ‘argument’, qualifying the narrative as a logical, rational, conscious process, is very important. Despite being a novel that deals with unconscious processes, A Question of Power is not surrealist nor does it incorporate literary devices such as ‘stream of consciousness’ which might have provided an established literary space for such elements. Why did Head not make use of such a literary device, which is, after all, part of the modernist tradition? Through ‘stream of consciousness’, a narrator can incorporate unconscious elements into the narration, without deeply touching the narrative action. Action — and therefore the character’s agency — is preserved; the narrator allows elements of the unconscious to penetrate the narrative without fully disturbing the plot, as they remain somehow encircled and contained inside the character’s or the narrator’s voice. It is intriguing that Head — attempting to write about her own experience of mental breakdown — so fully managed to avoid this literary device. This appears to be a preventive measure, reinforcing her strategy of creating a novel that is an argument. Head is not satisfied with drawing an aesthetic space where unconscious elements can simply interact with the logic of an action that remains estranged or distanced from these elements. The project here is a more


A Question of Power

radical and painful one. Head is trying to incorporate what is illogical — seen as outside language and not making sense — into the logic of consciousness. Stream of consciousness allows for an idealization of the unconscious. Head, however, does not linger in the unconscious as a provisional suspension of consciousness. The unconscious thus plays a more effective role in the plot than would be allowed by the use of stream of consciousness. The ‘soul figures’ appear as ghost-characters who almost take control of and drive the narrative, while the narrator retains a position of reserve — albeit always holding on to consciousness. The narrator in A Question of Power never gives up her attempt to understand, to think and explain. But who exactly is this narrator? We are dealing here with an autobiography. This restricts the narrator to telling the biographical ‘truth’, necessarily limiting her freedom to expand into fiction. The narrator cannot divest herself of who she is and what she has experienced. But the question of who the narrator is remains. It seems that one of the purposes of the novel is to answer this almost impossible question. We can perhaps be more certain about who this narrator is not. We could argue that the narrator is not Elizabeth, because Elizabeth is a character to whom the narrator refers. However, because it is a well-known fact that this book is autobiographical,1 Elizabeth being the character that Head created to represent herself, it follows that the narrator is necessarily mixed up with Elizabeth herself. One could say that this is a narrative complexity typical of any autobiographical narrator. However, here we are dealing with ghosts depicted as characters operating in the narrative at the same level as the other ‘real’ characters. These ghosts are not placed in a space of dream, fantasy, or the super-natural. In fact, from a certain point of view these invading entities are not ghosts, because they play a role too important in a plot that aspires to be an argument and therefore a plot that needs to be seen as logical, almost scientific. These ‘soul personalities’ are based on real people Elizabeth encountered in the village of Motabeng. When the novel ends, we as readers can imagine that they continue to live their lives there. Sello and Dan (and to a certain extent Medusa and all the other invading entities that the reader encounters during the novel) are not necessarily ‘killed’ or expelled by the narrator from the imagined community of Motabeng. They, are, however, expelled from their ‘invading position’ inside Elizabeth’s mind. In fact, the narrator refers to these entities as ‘soul personalities’, rather than ghosts. It is evident that, in terms of the plot, they have more power to intervene in the action than any of the ‘real characters’ such as Elizabeth, Tom, Kenosi or Camila. What the novel seems to be saying is that there is no way of avoiding pathology, yet it is through pathology that the fictional and the biographical merging of author, narrator and protagonist finds its meaning. As will be explained later when discussing Jacqueline Rose’s analysis of this novel, to avoid pathology is to render impossible a ‘genealogy’, to block the route which allows us to place outcast voices inside history. How does an individual who is cast as an outsider from the earliest moments of her life build for herself a sense of identity, of belonging? And what are the consequences in terms of national identities? Nations are territories that function as

A Question of Power


spaces with symbolic and imaginary meanings. Here it is useful to return to Erica Carter’s definition of ‘place’ as a ‘space to which meaning has been ascribed’ (Carter, 1993: xii), and to Kate Darian-Smith, Liz Gunner and Sarah Nothall’s explanation that ‘it is through the cultural processes of imagining, seeing, historicizing and remembering that space is transformed into place, and geographical territory into a culturally defined landscape’ (Darian-Smith, 1996: 3). It was necessary for Head to write A Question of Power so that she could re-create herself and the place she occupied in her new social environment. The book clearly describes a transition from an initial situation of isolation to one of increasing social integration. Elizabeth’s activities in the Motabeng development project gave meaning to her position in her new environment. Having recently entered Botswana as a refugee f leeing the South African regime, Head’s position is one of almost total dispossession. A Question of Power is her successful attempt to create a ‘place of enunciation’ for herself. To position herself as a speaking subject, her protagonist needs to entertain a dialogue with the internalized male figures of Dan and Sello, figures which seem to displace her from the position of a ‘speaking subject’. The power that these internalized figures have in her psyche needs to be neutralized to give way to her own subjectivity. A Question of Power describes this agonizing process. Because my concern is with the connection between race, nation and identity, it is useful to return here to Judith Butler’s notion of ‘vectors of power’. In order to understand Head’s pathological experience as described in this novel, one needs to conceive of misogyny and racism as vectors of power interfering with, and articulating, the construction of subjectivities. According to Butler, this works against the ideas of some feminists such as the French philosopher Luce Irigaray, for whom gender and sexual difference are all encompassing categories; that is, categories to which other notions such as race would be subordinated (Butler, 1993: 167). Sexuality and gender, for Butler, are spaces where boundaries and notions of race are constructed and maintained, or — alternatively — deconstructed and challenged. Butler argues for the need to rethink the scenes of reproduction and, hence, of sexing practices not only as ones through which a heterosexual imperative is inculcated, but as ones through which boundaries of racial distinction are secured as well as contested. Esp­ ecially at those junctures in which a compulsory heterosexuality works in the service of maintaining hegemonic forms of racial purity [...]. (Butler, 1993: 18)

It is thus important to identify and analyse the points where gender, race and sexuality intersect with each other. In the opening of her article ‘Passing, Queering: Nella Larsen’s Psychoanalytic Challenge’, Butler refutes the idea of sexual difference as ‘the question for our time’ proposed by Irigaray. According to Butler: This privileging of sexual difference implies not only that sexual difference should be understood as more fundamental than other forms of difference, but that other forms of difference might be derived from sexual difference. (Butler, 1993: 167)


A Question of Power

Butler offers an alternative way of thinking where alternative sexualities (in this case, homosexuality) and miscegenation converge: What would it mean, on the other hand, to consider the assumption of sexual positions, the disjunctive ordering of the human as ‘masculine’ or ‘feminine’ as taking place not only through a heterosexualizing symbolic with its taboo on homosexuality, but through a complex set of racial injunctions which operate in part through the taboo on miscegenation. Further, how might we understand homosexuality and miscegenation to converge at and as the constitutive outside of a normative heterosexuality that is at once the regulation of a racially pure reproduction? (Butler, 1993: 167)

In her article ‘The Cardinals and Bessie Head’s Allegories of Self ’, Desiree Lewis emphasizes the importance of the prohibition on interracial sex — made official in South Africa through the Immorality Act of 1927, amended in 1950 — in Head’s ‘ongoing concern with liberating identities for marginalized subjects’. Lewis shows how the taboo attached to Head’s interracial origins — her own illegal conception being experienced as unspeakable — is central to her work: In both her fiction and the autobiographical accounts within her letters, Head returns again and again to a narrative about the illicit union between a socially superior mother and a subordinate father, the mother’s trauma after being made to relinquish her child, and the daughter’s rejection by her mother’s family and stigmatization by society. (Lewis, 1996: 73)

So a racialized and gendered trauma seems to be at the origin of Head’s personal history and also at the centre of the novel that is seen by most critics as her major work. The relevance of the mother in the novel points to the importance of the prohibition on miscegenation and its articulation with gender. The act of Bessie Amelia Birch (Head’s mother) defies both the social policing of her sexuality, a gender issue, and the race laws of South Africa at the time. How does A Question of Power articulate the drama of a female character whose origins are taboo? Here one needs to have in mind Butler’s notion of performativity as central to the process of identity formation. According to Butler — as explained in my introduction — identities are not fixed but have to be constantly performed and reiterated. The idea of passing (as in passing for, or as; being understood as) is related to the notion of performativity. Elaine Ginsberg explains that passing reveals the fact that gender always has a dual aspect. Most of what she says about gender identities also applies to racial identities: [Passing shows that gender and racial identity] is, from one perspective performative, neither constituted by nor indicating the existence of a ‘true self ’ or core identity. But, like racial identity, gender identity is bound by social and legal constraints related to the physical body. [...] The law and social custom insist on the relationship between an individual’s gender identity and his or her physical being, and when that relationship is subverted, the cultural logic of gender categories — and privileges — is threatened. (Ginsberg, 1996: 2)

Judith Butler explains her notion of the articulation of gender and race by studying

A Question of Power


Nella Larsen’s short-story ‘Passing’, where the protagonist Clare passes as white. Clare is married to a white man who would never accept the ‘public exposure of her colour’ (Butler, 1993: 169). When her husband catches her socializing with black people, Clare mysteriously falls through a glass window and dies. We could draw a parallel between the position of Head’s mother, both in real life and as fictionalized in the novel, and that of Larsen’s protagonist Clare. We must, however, be aware that that there is a difference between these two characters. Clare is black, but passes as white. Elizabeth’s mother is white, but by infringing the rule of racial segregation, she stops performing whiteness. Therefore, she loses her status as white and is excluded. Both Clare and Elizabeth’s mother, are, therefore, characters that cannot survive inside the ‘logic of whiteness’. The act of Elizabeth’s mother, an act through which Elizabeth herself was conceived, articulates gender and race in a single movement. It defies a normative, social status quo within which both women, mother and daughter, are positioned as individuals. Within this status quo, sexuality is focused mainly on its procreative function and is supposed to reproduce established racial boundaries. Consequently, Elizabeth’s mother’s act of defiance needs to be forgotten, erased from public and private memory. It needs to be silenced under the label of madness. If Clare, Larsen’s character, needs to die, Elizabeth (and Head as well, if we allow ourselves for a moment to ignore the boundaries separating narrative and biography) is not allowed to be born. Following Butler’s argument, identities do not exist in themselves, they need to be performed. Clare can pass as white because she performs whiteness successfully. However, her socializing with black friends interrupts this performance, and she cannot pass anymore. Bessie Head’s mother is white, but her whiteness also needs to be performed. In getting sexually involved with a black employee she also interrupts her performance and loses her status as white. Lewis emphasizes the importance of the mother figure in Head’s psyche and work, commenting that in most of her published writing (the novel The Cardinals is the only exception) Head dismisses the importance of the father in order to identify with the mother. The figure of her mother — someone who defied a racist environment and experienced the stigmatization of ‘madness’ as a consequence — is a constant source of inspiration for her: Dismissing the father, Head forges a determined orientation toward a mother figure silenced by master narratives of apartheid, psychic reports and the prejudice of her family. (Lewis, 1996: 73)

As we will see, this mother figure, despite her brief appearance, plays a crucial role in the novel. Right at the beginning of the novel the reader is introduced to three characters: Sello, Dan and Elizabeth. The reader is also told of Elizabeth’s inner battles caused by ‘the things of the soul’. The moments of madness are mentioned as events that happened somewhere in an indistinct past: ‘it had taken her a year of slow, painful thought to say at the end of it: “Phew! What a load of rubbish” ’ ‘The nightmare was over. Dan was over’ (Head, 1974: 13, 14). During the five first pages, the picture of an internal nightmare is slowly insinuated into the reader’s mind. Things seem to be somehow under control. However, this


A Question of Power

apparent balance — as if the pain of the experience of mental breakdown were set in the past, as something that has been ‘sealed’ and understood — does not last for very long. As the narrator leads us into Elizabeth’s past (mirroring, as we know, Head’s personal experience), this balance starts to break. The experience of her mother will play an important role in Head’s pathological experience. We are told how Elizabeth, as a small child, was given to a foster mother who brought her up to believe she was her real mother: ‘They had kept the story of her real mother shrouded in secrecy until she was thirteen’ (Head, 1974: 15). The realization of this biological truth, revealed by the principal of the missionary school, is traumatic for Elizabeth: ‘Elizabeth started to cry, through sheer nervous shock’ (Head, 1974: 16). The principal imposes on the young girl the transference of mental illness through a generational, almost biological determination: ‘You must be very careful. Your mother was insane. If you’re not careful you’ll get insane just like your mother’ (Head, 1974: 16). The school principal, in imposing mental illness on Elizabeth as a necessary fate, reinforces the discourses that impose normative notions of sexual and racial identity, condemning as ‘mad’ those who defy those boundaries. Her persecution by the principal turns Elizabeth’s life at school into a nightmare. However, she is not yet insane. The apparition of the mother summoning her to share the stigma of insanity increases the danger of psychological unbalance. In the narrator’s words: At the time, she had merely hated the principal with a black, deep bitter rage. But later when she became aware of subconscious appeals to share love, to share suffering, she wondered if the persecution had been so much the outcome of the principal’s twisted version of life as the silent appeal of her dead mother: ‘Now you know. Do you think I can bear the stigma of insanity alone? Share it with me.’ (Head, 1974: 17)

The ‘summons’ of the mother to ‘share the stigma’ also motivates Head’s narrative; it is also a summons to explain how pathology is ingrained in history. Head refers to her mother in one of her letters to Randolph Vigne by saying: ‘I still say she belongs to me in a special way and there is no world yet for what she has done. She has left me to figure it out’ (Head, 1988: 65). Lewis quotes this passage to show the importance — and the parallel — between the mother’s and daughter’s subjugation: By turning to the mother as the point of origin, Head identifies her own cultural inscription and that of Elizabeth, the central character of A Question of Power, locating parallel processes of subjugation in mother and daughters. [...] The maternal narrative consequently locates an identity for a marginalized subject in a space silenced by the dominant narratives: there is ‘no world as yet for what she has done’. (Lewis, 1996: 74).

The novel is thus driven by an urge to ‘figure out’ a world which might contain her rebellious mother, her interracial relationship, and the resulting baby — in other words, a world where the biographical Head and the fictional Elizabeth could belong as subjects in their own right. One of the accusations that the malignant internal figures Dan and Medusa repeatedly throw at Elizabeth is that she has no body. Part of their technique of

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torture is to remove Elizabeth’s right to possess not just her own body but any body at all. In this respect, Judith Butler’s views on ‘sex’ as a regulatory ideal which plays a key role in the process of formation of subjectivity can help us understand Elizabeth’s psyche. Rethinking the concept of materiality in the light of Foucault’s theory of power and sexuality, in Bodies that Matter Butler defines ‘sex’ as follows: ‘Sex’ is [...] not simply what one has, or a static description of what one is: it will be one of the norms by which the ‘one’ becomes viable at all, that which qualifies a body for life within the domain of cultural intelligibility. (Butler, 1993: 2)

The South African apartheid regime relied on normative heterosexual and racially segregated identities to construct the normative white subject. Elizabeth’s body did not conform to the normative identities that racial segregation reinforced; she was neither black nor white; her status was one of being ‘in between’, at the border, a space that contested the logic of segregation. The need to write A Question of Power comes from the need to confer a domain of ‘cultural intelligibility’ to a body — and therefore to a subject, an individual — that was by definition displaced, expelled outside accepted discourses. As Butler states: the limits of constructivism are exposed at those boundaries of bodily life where abjected or delegitimated bodies fail to count as bodies. If the materiality of sex is demarcated in discourse, then this demarcation will produce a domain of excluded and delegitimated ‘sex’. Hence, it will be as important to think about how and to what end bodies are constructed as it will be to think about how and to what end bodies are not constructed and, further, to ask after how bodies which fail to materialize provide the necessary ‘outside’, if not the necessary support, for the bodies which, in materializing the norm, qualify as bodies that matter. (Butler, 1993: 16)

Dan is first presented to the reader (in the novel’s third paragraph) as follows: He had been standing in front of her, his pants down, as usual, f laying his powerful penis in the air and saying: ‘Look, I’m going to show you how I sleep with B... she has a womb I can’t forget. When I go with a woman I go for one hour. You can’t do that. You haven’t got a vagina... (Head, 1976: 13)

It is important to note the obsession Dan seems to have for the female reproductive organ par excellence: the womb. He is extremely sexually active (by contrast with Sello, who is almost disembodied) but he is not interested in giving pleasure. Even his own sexual pleasure is relegated to the need to f launt, exhibit, comment and boast. Later we are presented with one of the many women who serve as Dan’s sexual objects. This woman is called ‘The Womb’. The reproductive organ seems to encapsulate all the importance she has, as a woman, for Dan, the man who names her and possess her. This is how the narrator describes the relationship: The Womb, one of his favourites, had to be made a little classy. She’d achieve this classiness by taking some of Elizabeth’s dresses for her own. [...] The dress had to be given to The Womb because she had acquired a greater status than Elizabeth. She had contractions in her womb that were so exciting, and ah, he was so charmed by them! (Head, 1976: 165–66)

Medusa, another internal figure and Sello’s powerful wife who reduces him to


A Question of Power

a ‘spineless, backboneless man’ (Head, 1976: 43), also takes pleasure in showing Elizabeth how the latter’s body is unsatisfactory: Medusa was smiling. She had some top secret information to impart to Elizabeth. It was about her vagina. Without any bother to decencies she sprawled her long black legs in the air, and the most exquisite sensation travelled out of her towards Elizabeth. It enveloped Elizabeth from head to toe like a slow, deep, sensuous bomb. It was like falling into deep, warm waters, lazily raising one hand and resting in a heaven of bliss. Then she looked at Elizabeth and smiled, a mocking superior smile: ‘You haven’t got anything near that, have you?’ The mocking smile remained permanently attached to her face. It was maddening because it was even there when Elizabeth had her first mental breakdown, but it was not maddening to her to be told she hadn’t a vagina. She might have had it, but it was not such a pleasant area of the body to concentrate on, possibly only now and then if necessary. (Head, 1976: 44)

Elizabeth’s body is sexually, and sensuously, disempowered. The other female figure (Medusa) is able to transmit ‘exquisite’ sensations by simply exposing her sexual attributes. Like Dan, Medusa seems to take pleasure in f launting, exhibiting herself. What do these two figures represent in terms of Elizabeth’s own sexuality? The situation the novel describes is that of a body (Elizabeth’s) that does not matter, that is not supposed to count. Because Elizabeth’s body does not matter it has no matter (‘You haven’t got a vagina,’ both Medusa and Dan repeat to her several times). Elizabeth’s body is one that, following Butler’s argument, is ‘not constructed’ in cultural terms. By failing to materialize, Elizabeth’s body provides the ‘necessary “outside” ’ for those bodies that materialize the norm (whether black or white). For that reason, this is a body (and a subject) that cannot be constructed except by opposing — and resisting — the internalized ‘voices’ that represent the norm. The process of fierce internal opposition and resistance that Elizabeth is forced to undertake is, at the end of the day, what this narrative is all about. Dan and Medusa throw at Elizabeth basically two kinds of accusation: that she is not really African, and that her body is either unsatisfactory (‘you don’t have a womb like that’, ‘you cannot transmit these pleasurable sensations’) or incomplete (‘you don’t have a vagina’). Following Butler’s argument, we can interpret the accusations of Dan and Medusa as two sides of the same coin. Elizabeth could not have a body, in the sense that her body could not be constructed inside a cultural environment where racial segregation and white supremacy were paramount. In Botswana, despite the country being subjected to white colonization, the vast majority of the population was black. Having been raised in a country where she was seen as neither black nor white, one can understand that, after leaving the ‘coloured’ communities of Cape Town, in South Africa, it would be extremely difficult for Elizabeth to integrate in Botswana. Sello, despite being one of her ‘invading entities’ plays a crucial role in Elizabeth’s process of integration, as he represents a powerful local black individual who does not reject Elizabeth. He is the gate-keeper who enables Elizabeth to penetrate this ‘new’ (for Head and Elizabeth) African community. It is pertinent that the book, instead of opening with an incursion into the mind

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of the main character starts, instead, with a description of Sello, which immediately serves as indication of the lack of agency from which Elizabeth suffers: It seemed almost incidental that he was African. So vast had his inner per­ ceptions grown over the years that he preferred an identification with mankind to an identification with a particular environment. And yet, as an African, he seemed to have made one of the most perfect statements: ‘I am just anyone’. (Head, 1976: 11).

Sello’s main feature is that of being African and, at the same time, being simply human. Having in mind the set of difficulties that black individuals face in constructing their own personal identity in a cultural environment that insists on positioning them as ‘constitutive outsides’ of the human category, one can see that the connection that the figure of Sello provides by being simultaneously African and human is, in itself, extraordinary. He is the positive internalized figure who calms and soothes Elizabeth’s psyche: And Sello added: ‘Elizabeth, love isn’t like that. Love is two people mutually feeding each other, not one living on the soul of the other like a ghoul!’ The words sank deep into her battered mind. She repeated them again. [...] Something was giving way. The pain in her chest subsided. The storm in her head subsided. She actually felt a sensation of being lifted and f lung clear out of purgatory. (Head, 1974: 197–98)

Bearing in mind Butler’s conception of subjectivity as a construction in which sexual and racial normative identities have to be challenged, we can understand the psychic role that these invading figures play in Elizabeth’s mind. We can also understand how the narrative, by allowing space for the negative entities of Dan and Medusa to expose themselves, creates the psychological space in which Sello, the positive internal figure, can stimulate and support Elizabeth’s psychological healing. Sello represents the possibility that an individual might be black and human at the same time. This position — if we bear in mind the discursive impositions determined by racial segregation and white supremacy — is hard to achieve. Sello has the function of enabling Elizabeth to hold on to a positive internal black figure, freeing her from the stereotypes of blackness imposed by racist discourses. We could say that, in A Question of Power, Head deals with a situation where the construction of a national identity is necessarily a traumatic process in itself. Ato Quayson, in his article ‘Symbolisation Compulsions: Freud, African Litera­ ture and South’s Africa’s Process of Truth and Reconciliation’, notes that: Viewed from an ex-centric perspective, the African postcolony is a place not of any straightforward political and social integration but rather of violence and death, such that to attempt to transcend this space of death requires a careful understanding of the trauma that in fact produced the nation in the first place and which, on current evidence, is still pertinent to its understanding across the continent. (Quayson, 2001: 193)

He adds: No easy solution to the traumas of apartheid is possible [...] in fact this restless disorder of memory is to be taken as constitutive of a new political imaginary. (Quayson, 2001: 194)


A Question of Power

At the centre of the nation’s formation, Quayson places an experience of trauma, which is also the position Head seems to embrace. This is a nation that does not allow for political and social integration; since the experiences of death, exclusion, condemnation are endemic to its constitution. The malignant figure of Medusa, forcing Elizabeth into a ‘constitutive outside’, seems to be one of the ways through which Elizabeth experiences the nation. Nearly every nation had that background of mythology — looming, monstrous personalities they called ‘the Gods’, personalities who formed the base of their attitudes to royalty and class; personalities whose deeds were hideous and yet who assumed powerful positions, presumably because they were in possession of thunderbolts, like the Medusa. (Head, 1976: 40)

Pathology — and its use by the discourse of whiteness — is central to Head’s writing and experience. As the epigraph to this chapter taken from Jacqueline Rose suggests, the narrative that A Question of Power develops is one that links pathology and history by giving a discursive space to elements kept outside official historical discourses of colonization. A Question of Power offers us insights into some aspects of this ‘new political imaginary’ where a disorder of memory is endemic. We can connect the experience of trauma as placed at the birth of the nation itself with Rose’s emphasis on the need to integrate fantasies into the understanding of political identities: ‘It is central to the argument of this book that there is no way of understanding political identities and destinies without letting fantasy into the frame.’ (Rose, 1998: 4) Re-shaping Freud’s notion of fantasies as ‘psychical façades which bar the way to memories’ (Rose, 1998: 5), Rose goes on to posit that ‘fantasy is also a way of re-elaborating and therefore of partly recognizing the memory which is struggling, against the psychic odds, to be heard’ (Rose, 1998: 5). She adds that ‘politics cannot divest itself of its affective colours, it cannot step free of its subjective undercurrents’ (Rose, 1998: 7). The ghosts that invade Elizabeth’s psyche are thus part of a political imaginary and her experience of mental illness has an historical dimension that demands to be understood. Rose seems to be saying something similar when she says that: ‘To read A Question of Power as a ghost story is not to bypass the question of madness, but to enter directly into its political and historical dimension’ (Rose, 1998: 107). It is through the cultural significance of ghosts that Rose connects this novel and Toni Morrison’s novel Beloved, a book that I will analyse in my next chapter: Bessie Head’s novel can be put alongside Beloved as a novel of transgenerational haunting where the woman becomes the repository of an unspoken and unspeakable history. [...]. The personal drama — the mother’s incarceration, insanity as stigma — passes into the daughter, where it re-emerges as the history of a race (which it always already was) [...] Neither hidden from history, nor invisible to history (the more familiar feminist vocabulary), the woman in Bessie Head’s novel is instead the place where the hidden and invisible of history accumulates; she is the depot for the return of the historical repressed. (Rose, 1998: 107–08; my emphasis)

The point that Rose seems to be making is that seeing the ghosts as repressed

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historical material does not invalidate the existence, nor the relevance, of mental illness. In other words, seeing the cultural and historical material contained in these psychic projections does not in itself resolve the matter of pathology. Indeed, as Quayson suggests in the quotation above, we can take the argument further and say that this pathology is engrained, embedded, in the notions of nationhood that national subjects carry within them. Rose compares Head’s novel to the second version of Wulf Sachs’s Black Hamlet, commenting that Sachs de-pathologizes his patient to free him into his political dimension — he moves the diagnosis of insanity from the individual onto colonial history. For Bessie Head this is not a viable opposition. Pathology is the place where history talks its loudest, most grating voice. (Rose, 1998: 109)

So pathology is a space where the repressed contents of history re-emerge and should be seen and treated as such. Head seems to want to emphasize the need to preserve a space for the subjective, troubled and traumatized mind to be expressed in full. It is not enough to simply blame colonial history or the pathology it has caused; one has to inquire into how this process takes place inside the construction of subjectivities and identities. Failing to do so allows one to overlook the subjective aspects of this historical process and the subjective connections between personal and collective histories. For the excluded, trauma and pathology are a constant presence that cannot simply be erased from memory. Taking Rose’s and Quayson’s ideas further, we can conclude that in order to fully understand how subjectivities are constructed from a position of exclusion, one needs to learn to read and understand traumatized language, since the unspeakable speaks through traumatized language. Quayson uses the term ‘symbolisation compulsion’ to describe the consequences of trauma embedded in the language of some South African writers: Symbolisation compulsion is the drive towards an insistent metaphorical register even when this register does not help to develop action, define character or spectacle, or create atmosphere. It seems to be a symbolisation for its own sake, but in fact is a sign of a latent problem. (Quayson, 2001: 197)

The problem with agency that many of Lispector’s protagonists experience may, I suggest, be an example of such a ‘symbolisation compulsion’; that is, the need to re-structure one’s subjectivity may be expressing a latent trauma connected to the ‘intimate experience of the national’ — the sentimento íntimo de nacionalidade — that I mentioned in my introduction, in reference to Machado de Assis. There are obvious differences between Brazilian and South African racial policies. In Head’s case segregationist policies were explicit, since the state had adopted racist policies. In Lispector’s case, however, the Brazilian state has not been openly racist. On the contrary, as we have seen, the national ideology celebrated miscegenation, masking the existence of racial differences and racial conf licts. But this national ideology co-existed with racism disseminated throughout everyday life, invisible and unexamined. Returning to Machado’s use of the mirror and its frame as a metaphor for the national and for the individual’s understanding of himself as a subject on the basis of


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his image in the mirror, we could say that Head’s story, by exploring the pathology experienced by the individual in a position of exclusion, illuminates the invisible pathological mechanisms that sustain the mirror; in her case, the mirror of South African apartheid, with its specific, explicit frame. In this mirror Elizabeth’s — and Head’s — image would be forever lost. In Lispector’s case we are dealing with a different situation, a different national ideology with clear racial implications. This is a third mirror, different from that of Head and that of Machado. The fact that its frame is less explicit does not mean that the trauma is less keenly felt; indeed, the lack of explicitness may make it harder to deal with. The issues examined here in relation to Head, which explain the pathological mechanisms behind the mirror (the need to belong in order to construct a subjectivity; Butler’s notions of ‘performativity’, ‘vectors of power’ and ‘bodies that matter’; the need to understand a traumatized language, expressing a trauma embedded in the national), are all elements that will be present in my reading of Lispector’s texts. They will function as lanterns that I will use to illuminate the unspeakable, invisible side of Lispector’s mirror. Machado’s metaphor of the mirror explores the connections between the nation and personal identity. The fact that Jacobina needs to put on his uniform to regain his sense of having a subjectivity is indicative of how Butler’s mechanisms of subjection operate. In putting on his uniform, Jacobina embodies the ideology of the national; he becomes someone. Without it his features, although physically visible, are not meaningful because they are not ideologically consistent, since Jacobina cannot integrate them into the notion he had of himself; they have to be ignored so that Jacobina can preserve his sense of being someone. It could be argued that Head’s novel A Question of Power shows us what would be necessary for Jacobina to see himself as a viable subject without his uniform. Head is exploring a process whereby through plunging deeply into pathology, she is finally able to reconstruct a genuine sense of belonging to a community. However, contrary to Gledson’s reading of Machado’s story (the fact that, in the early 1880s prior to the Republic and the abolition of slavery, the country looked at itself as a nation for the first time without there being such a thing as a national ideology), in Head’s case the mirror ‘works’ for the subject Elizabeth despite the existence of a national ideology, because of a strong sense of belonging to a local — and rural — community. In this sense, taking the metaphor of the mirror further still, we could say that Head’s novel constructs a fourth mirror: one where the notion of subjectivity is not linked to the national dimension but to what Robert Nixon has called Head’s rural transnationalism. The nation state is portrayed in Head’s texts from a radical position of exclusion: one that does not allow her, as a subject, to expand her sense of belonging beyond the rural communities with which she was in direct contact. Unlike Lispector — and Toni Morrison, as we will see in the next chapter — we could say that Bessie Head aspired to situate herself outside or beyond the nation. Nixon argues that Head did not conceive of the nation as anything other than a bureaucratic institution. Given that she lived as a political refugee for almost fifteen

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years, it seems valid for Nixon to apply to Head his ref lections on the difficult process of naturalization in the US: Anyone who has struggled through that labyrinthine paper tunnel can testify to the perversity of construing the process of nationalization as a form of integrating people to something natural. The discourse of ‘undocumented immigrant’ depicts much more accurately outsiders’ experience of the nation as a bureaucratic, not an organic phenomenon. (Nixon, 1996: 159)

Because of her commitment to rural Southern Africa and her general distrust of nation states, Nixon suggests that Head re-created her life in Botswana, not in the sense of belonging to one nation, but as a ‘transnational writer’: (Nixon, 1995: 159). In another article, Nixon explains what he understands by Head’s transnationalism: she recognized the nation as a contingent and laboriously fabricated site, subject to all manner of violent reinvention. It was her angularity to the nation that encouraged Head to recognize other lines of geographical, historical, and cultural connection that nationalism typically obscures. Thus her writing gives voice to the distinctive experiences of refugees and other embattled itinerants whose lives are often circumscribed less by nation-space than by a shuttling rural transnationalism. (Nixon, 1996: 252)

Another important point that Nixon makes is that Head, unlike most South African authors exiled by apartheid who migrated to large metropolises in the so-called ‘First World’, Head’s exile was similar to that of non-literary refugees, who ‘crossed over into neighbouring countries, where they remained vulnerable to the predations of South Africa’s regional imperial designs’. As Nixon stresses: ‘for them, exile was principally a rural, not a metropolitan plight.’ (1996: 243) He continues: ‘Head is the only black South African writer — writing in English — to have grown up in the city and to have transformed herself into a rural writer, in her case by crossing over into a frontline state.’ (1996: 250). Bearing in mind that, as I have shown in my introduction, Lispector clearly considered herself Brazilian, it is obvious that Head’s position in relation to the nation was very different. This is important, since a commitment to modernization was central to the national ideologies of the three nation-states where the three writers I am dealing with here were born: Brazil, the US and South Africa. It also signals an important difference between Head’s and Lispector’s positions in relation to progress, development, and urbanization. These were, after all, components of modernization and important elements in the national ideology of the Vargas state. It is important to emphasize that, in A Question of Power, Elizabeth’s notion of belonging develops in a rural space, through community work. She seems to deeply distrust the effects of modernization in disrupting authentic tribal and rural customs. When, for example, Elizabeth’s North American friend Tom shows his enthusiasm for the Black Power movement in the United States because ‘The only people in my country who support rapid economic development are the Black Power people...’ (Head, 1974: 132), Elizabeth sticks to her distrustful position based on what might be considered a rather idealized notion of humanity existing beyond or prior to politics:


A Question of Power ‘I’ve got my concentration elsewhere,’ she said. ‘It’s on mankind in general, and black people fit in there, not as special freaks and oddities outside the scheme of things, with labels like Black Power or any other rubbish of the kind.’ (Head, 1974: 133)

I suggest that Head can only reject progress and modernization because she utterly rejects the need to engage with the national as such. Head’s sceptical position in relation to progress and modernization, seen as leading to the destruction of African rural traditions and values, is made explicit in her short story entitled ‘Life’ in the anthology The Collector of Treasures and Other Botswana Village Tales. This is the story of a woman called Life who lived in Johannesburg and, following Botswana’s frontier agreements with South Africa, was forced to return to the rural village where she was born: In 1963, when the borders were first set up between Botswana and South Africa, pending Botswana’s independence in 1966, all Botswana-born citizens had to return home. Everything had been mingled up in the old colonial days, and the traffic of people to and fro between the two countries had been a steady f low for years and years. [...] Life had left the village as a little girl of ten years old with her parents for Johannesburg. [...] Life had had the sort of varied career that a city like Johannesburg offered a lot of Black women. She had been a singer, beauty queen, advertising model, and prostitute. (Head, 1977: 37, 39)

Life is received very warmly by the local women, who are impressed by her smart clothes and the amount of money she possesses: ‘How is it you have so much money, our child?’ one of the women at last asked, curiously. ‘Money f lows like water in Johannesburg,’ Life replied, with her gay and hysterical laugh. ‘You just have to know how to get it.’ The women received this with caution. They said among themselves that their child could not have lived a very good life in Johannesburg. Thrift and honesty were the dominant themes of village life and everyone knew that one could not be honest and rich at the same time; they counted every penny and knew how they had acquired it — with hard work. (Head, 1977: 38, 39)

Soon Life’s beauty and sexual availability seduce the local men and she sets up in business as a prostitute. Her habits shock and disturb the traditional village values, but she is very successful. She attracts the attention of the most powerful man in the village, Lesego, who offers her a marriage proposal. She agrees but never really fits into the role of a traditional wife. When she is found having sex with another man, Lesego kills her. The short story ends showing how Lesego impressed the white judge and was given a rather short prison sentence: The judge, who was a white man, and therefore not involved in Tswana custom and its debates, was as much impressed by Lesego’s manner as all the village men had been. ‘This is a crime of passion,’ he said sympathetically. ‘So there are extenuating circumstances. But it is still a serious crime to take a human life so I sentence you to five years imprisonment...’ (Head, 1977: 46).

The short story shows the destructive effect that modernization can have on rural

A Question of Power


African traditions. In this short story, the whole problem seems to have been triggered by Life’s forced migration back from Johannesburg, linking involuntary displacement and the setting up of Botswana as a modern nation. I regard Head’s position towards the nation as rather idealized. I do not think that it is possible to ignore the strength that nation-states have on subjects and communities. Head’s position is close to the vision of a feminized migrancy that Jacqueline Rose criticizes in Virginia Woolf: When Virginia Woolf wrote that women are fortunate to be denied that full ‘stigma of nationhood’, that a woman wants no country, ‘as a woman my country is the whole world’, she offered a vision of feminized migrancy which is tempting to lift as a solution to the political ills of the contemporary world [...]. (Rose, 1998: 13).

Rose refers to the writer Muriel Spark, whose verses she quotes as one of her epigraphs to the introduction to State of Fantasy: The epigraph from Spark is therefore also there as a caution, for its reminder that the encounter with modern statehood cannot be indefinitely deferred. ‘You have too long deferred / your visit to the modern state’. You can’t, even as a woman, just f loat off. (Rose, 1998: 13)

Head seems to inhabit this idealized space where, adapting Spark’s words, one can defer, forever, one’s visit to the ‘modern state’. As we will see in the following chapters, Toni Morrison’s and Lispector texts take a different position in relation to the national: one where the need — and the wish — to integrate into the nation is, although highly problematic, undeniably present. Morrison and Lispector do not reject the modern; sometimes they long for it while at other moments they merely accept it as a given. Note on Chapter 1 1. The novel itself, at least the 1974 edition that I have used, is not presented as an autobiography, but the connections between the facts narrated and Head’s biography are so many and so exact that it is obvious to the reader of today that this is an autobiographical text. The edition of her subsequent book, the collection of short stories The Collector of Treasures (1977), refers to A Question of Power as Head’s ‘intense and powerful autobiographical work’ (front page). In her autobiographical writings entitled A Woman Alone (1990) Head says: ‘My third novel, A Question of Power, has such an intensely personal and private dialogue that I can hardly place it the context of the more social and outward-looking work I had done.’ (Head, 1990: 69) Strictly speaking, however, it is true that a reader unfamiliar with Bessie Head’s personal history could read this novel as pure fiction.



Haunting in Toni Morrison’s Beloved We can agree, I think, that invisible things are not necessarily ‘not-there’; that a void may be empty, but it is not a vacuum. In addition, certain absences are so stressed, so ornate, so planned, they call attention to themselves; arrest us with intentionality and purpose, like neighborhoods that are defined by the population held away from them. Toni Morrison, 1989: 11

My intention in this chapter is to study how pathology is embedded in national history and how it interferes in the construction of subjectivities. The protagonist’s agency — my main concern in relation to Lispector’s novels — will also be one of my preocupations in this chapter. This will be achieved through an exploration of the notion of haunting in Toni Morrison’s novel Beloved (1987). I will refer to Morrison’s critical writings, the article ‘Unspeakable Things Unspoken: The Afro-American Presence in American Literature’,’(1989) and the book Playing in the Dark: Whiteness and the Literary Imagination (1992) . I will also refer to the novels Jazz (1992) and Paradise (1997), which are subsequent to Beloved and, with it, form a trilogy. The appearance of ghosts is, in the writers I am discussing, linked to a trauma embedded in national history and to the notion of the unspeakable. In the previous chapter, on Bessie Head, I showed how pathology is embedded in a certain national narrative based on racial segregation and white suprematism. We have seen how Head’s extreme position of exclusion led her to take a view that is extremely sceptical towards the idea of nations. With Morrison, the problem of pathology is also connected to white suprematism but, in her writing, the nation acquires a relevance and importance that is absent in Head’s texts. My intention in analysing these two non-Brazilian writers in connection with Lispector’s texts is to highlight aspects of the unspeakable; to identify elements that help us deal with racial and ethnic difference in the context of Brazil where discourses on the national imaginary have disguised racist practices embedded in everyday private life. By looking at how Morrison deals with haunting, I hope to throw into relief the implicit racial subtext of Lispector’s work. The first and main ‘tool’ that Morrison’s texts provide us with is the notion of ghosts and haunting in terms of collective memory. As Jacqueline Rose has suggested, ‘Beloved is a novel of transgenerational hauting where a woman becomes the repository of an unspoken and unspeakable history’ (Rose, 1998: 108). Morrison makes explicit the role that memory — and more specifically, as we will see later,

Haunting in Toni Morrison’s Beloved


her notion of rememory — has in shaping collective and personal identities. (In Morrison’s text memory plays a more important role than in Head’s novel A Question of Power.) Through haunting, Morrison undermines historical narratives based on white suprematism, ‘remak[ing], demystify[ying] and transform[ing]’ the character of history as the master narrative’. (Wallace, 1991: 139) By trying to express what is being forgotten and repressed as ‘not there’, Morrison gives physical and material existence to aspects of the past that have been obliterated from public memory. The unspeakable is a constitutive, apparently invisible, part of what is being publicly stated and recognized. As she clearly explains in the passage used as the epigraph to this chapter, when writing about the African-American presence in American literature, something invisible is not necessarily absent from collective eyes; on the contrary, some absences are so full of intentionality that they cannot remain ignored. One could transfer Morrison’s description of this ornate absence to the relative absence of Afro-Brazilian authors in the Brazilian literary canon; or to the apparently minor importance given to Afro-Brazilian characters in Lispector’s work. This is what Morrison has to say about this absence in terms of US literature: Looking at the scope of American literature, I can’t help thinking that the question should never have been ‘Why am I, an Afro-American, absent from it?’ It is not a particularly interesting query anyway. The spectacularly interesting question is ‘What intellectual feats had to be performed by the author or his critic to erase me from a society seething with my presence, and what effect has that performance had on the work?’ ‘What are the strategies of escape from knowledge? Of willful oblivion?’ (Morrison, 1989: 11–12)

It is almost impossible not to apply this insight to Lispector’s work with its relative lack of black characters. As I explained before, later I will consider the AfricanBrazilian characters that do appear in Lispector’s texts, emphasizing not just their presence but the role they play in the narrative. First, however, we need to focus on the importance of ghosts in Toni Morrison’s work and their function in terms of cultural memory. Beloved is clearly a ghost story; one where haunting plays a crucial role. Set in Cincinnati, in the year 1873, the story opens with the description of a house (number 124 Bluestone Road) where a woman, Sethe, and her daughter, Denver, live in state of tension with the ghost of a baby girl. They are isolated from the surrounding neighbours, who are scared of approaching the house: ‘outside a driver whipped his horse into the gallop local people felt necessary when they passed 124’ (Morrison, 1997: 4). The arrival of Paul D, an old friend of Sethe, triggers the narrative. His arrival, and the fact that he expels the ghost out of the house, destroys the initial precarious balance. Part of this precarious balance was based on Sethe struggling, but barely succeeding, to repress her memories in order to keep her past disconnected from her present: ‘she worked hard to remember as close to nothing as was safe. Unfortunately her brain was devious’ (Morrison, 1997: 6). Expelling the ghost will open the space for the arrival of a strange figure, in chapter 5, presented to readers as ‘a fully dressed woman’ who ‘walked out of the water’ (Morrison, 1997: 50).


Haunting in Toni Morrison’s Beloved

Later on the reader will be given hints that this figure could be the embodiment of Sethe’s baby daughter, now grown up. When prompted for her name, this figure will say she is called Beloved. In the previous pages, we read that Sethe had agreed to be raped in order to have the word ‘Beloved’ engraved on a stone to be placed by a grave. At that stage the readers do not yet know the circumstances of the baby girl’s death, but many hints are given. Indeed, the whole novel is built around a traumatic scene that escapes from memory and from narration; an event that is never fully or completely described, but has to be constructed through fragments in the mind of the reader. As the novel progresses the readers gradually come to realize that Sethe has killed her baby girl in an act of despair, when, after having managed to escape from her masters by crossing the river Ohio from the south to the north of the US, she realized that she and her children were going to be taken back into slavery. Beloved is based on the real story of Margaret Gardner, a fugitive slave who killed her daughter in similar circumstances. This story was widely publicized during the Abolitionist campaign (1830–63), as an illustration of the horrors that slavery entailed. Quoting from Morrison’s novel, Mae G. Henderson describes an important concept: ‘At the outset of the novel, Sethe’s “future was a matter of keeping the past at bay”; her aim was to protect her children from “rememory”.’ (Henderson, 1999: 85) This concept is described in the novel and refers to the presence of the past in the present. Haunting is understood not simply as a hallucination, but as the material and necessary presence of what has been obliterated from memory through a process of collective amnesia. Morrison alludes to it in the following passage: I thought this [Beloved] has got to be the least read of all the books I’d written because it is about something the characters don’t want to remember, I don’t want to remember, black people don’t want to remember, white people don’t want to remember. (quoted in Rushdy, 1998: 142)

Ashraf Rushdy refers to Morrison as a participant in and theorist of a ‘black aesthetic of remembering’ (Rushdy, 1998: 141), explaining that: Speaking about the writing of Beloved, [Morrison] declares her wish to invoke all those people who are ‘unburied, or at least unceremoniously buried’ and go about ‘properly, artistically, burying them’. However, this burial’s purpose, it would appear, is to bring them back into ‘living life’. (Rushdy, 1998: 142)

Rushdy quotes Morrison in order to explain her notion of a reconstructive memory: ‘Memory (the deliberate act of remembering) is a form of willed creation. It is not an effort to find out the way it really was — that is research. The point is to dwell on the way it appeared and why it appeared in that particular way.’ This concern with the appearance, with the ideology of transmission, is though only part of the overall trajectory of [Morrison’s] revisionary project. Eventually her work, she states, must ‘bear witness and identify that which is useful from the past and that which ought to be discarded.’ It must, that is, signify on the past and make it palatable for a present politic — eschewing that part of the past which has been constructed out of a denigrative ideology and reconstructing that part which will serve the present. (Rushdy, 1998: 140)

Haunting in Toni Morrison’s Beloved


Thus haunting has a reconstructive function; it transforms our conception of the past and of the present. As Rushdy also explains, quoting from one of the novel’s last paragraphs: Beloved is more than just a character in the novel [...]. She is the embodiment of the past that must be remembered in order to be forgotten; she symbolises what must be reincarnated in order to be buried, properly: ‘everybody knew what she was called, but nobody anywhere knew her name. Disremembered and unaccounted for, she cannot be lost because no one is looking for her.’ (Rushdy, 1998: 144–45)

It is important to note that throughout the novel the readers are never told the actual name of the girl who was killed. Morrison’s subsequent lines of the paragraph quoted above by Rushdy make explicit the forging of collective amnesia: How can they call her if they don’t know her name? Although she has claim, she is not claimed. In the grass where long grass opens, the girl who waited to be loved and cry shame erupts in her separate parts, to make it easy for the chewing laughter to swallow her all away. (Morrison, 1997: 274)

This is the second paragraph in the novel’s final chapter and it is followed by a single sentence that will be repeated, like a refrain, three more times before the narrative ends: ‘It was not a story to pass on.’ This refrain separates the last three paragraphs of the novel. The paragraph following the first refrain describes a process of collective forgetting: ‘They forgot her like a bad dream. [...] Remembering seemed unwise.’ (Morrison, 1997: 274) The refrain is then repeated a second time. The following paragraph, however, will show how this collective forgetting was fragile, open to fissures and haunting: So they forgot her. Like an unpleasant dream during a troubling sleep. Occasionally, however, the rustle of a skirt hushes when they wake, and the knuckles brushing a cheek in sleep seem to belong to the sleeper. Sometimes the photograph of a close friend or relative — looked at too long — shifts, and something more familiar than the dear face itself moves there. They can touch it if they like, but don’t, because they know things will never be the same if they do. (Morrison, 1997: 275)

Here the refrain is transformed into ‘This is not a story to pass on’. The dem­ onstrative ‘this’ replaces the indefinite and neutral ‘it’ in a clear reference to the novel Beloved itself and the process of reconstructive memory it seeks to restore. The change from the past tense ‘was’ to the present tense ‘is’ links the events of the past (mid-nineteenth century) to the present (late twentieth century), emphasizing the resilience of traumatic memory. These refrains stand clearly as separate lines from the previous paragraphs, like verses in a poem. At the very end of the novel the refrain will be replaced by the word ‘Beloved’ also on its own, in a separate line forming the novel’s last word. The girl who could not be called because nobody knew her name is now aesthetically buried and named through the affective term ‘beloved’, rather than her actual name. The first paragraph of this last chapter expresses graphically the difference between the loneliness involved in mourning a loss (be it personal or collective) and the devastating and alienating effect that obliteration can have on people and


Haunting in Toni Morrison’s Beloved

communities: There is a loneliness that can be rocked. Arms crossed, knees drawn up, holding, holding on, this motion, unlike a ship’s, smooths and contains the rocker. It’s an inside kind — wrapped tight like skin. Then there is a loneliness that roams. No rocking can hold it down. It is alive, on its own. A dry and spreading thing that makes the sound of one’s own feet going seem to come from a far-off place. (Morrison, 1997: 274)

The latter kind of loneliness is the one that is open to haunting, ultimately because it has not been fully acknowledged. This is how Sethe explains the concept of rememory to her daughter Denver: ‘Some things go. Pass on. Some things just stay. I used to think it was my rememory. You know. Some things you forget. Other things you never do. But it’s not. Places, places are still there. If a house burns down, it’s gone, but the place — the picture of it — stays, and not just in my rememory, but out there, in the world. What I remember is a picture f loating around and outside my head. I mean, even if I don’t think it, even if I die, the picture of what I did, or knew, or saw is still out there. Right in the place where it happened.’ ‘Can other people see it?’ asked Denver. ‘Oh yes. Oh, yes, yes, yes. Someday you be walking down the road and you hear something or see something going on. So clear. And you think it’s you thinking it up. A thought picture. But no. It’s when you bump into a rememory that belongs to somebody else.’ (Morrison, 1997: 35–36)

Sethe then refers to Sweet Home, the farm where she used to live as a slave before she managed to escape to Cincinatti: Where I was before I came here, that place is real. It’s never going away. Even if the whole farm — every tree and grass blade of it dies. The picture is still there and what’s more, if you go there — you who never was there — if you go there and stand in the place where it was, it will happen again; it will be there for you, waiting for you. So, Denver, you can’t never go there. (Morrison, 1997: 36)

As we can see, Morrison is developing a concept of memory that is broader than the notion of an intimate, individual, mental act of recall. Rememory is something that reaches beyond personal and voluntary memory; it has a materiality that one cannot avoid encountering. It also forces us to reconsider how the past has been previously pictured, leading us to picture the present differently. Haunting brings hidden and forgotten voices of history into the material present. Ghosts are not contained by the personal or the spiritual world, but spread and present in every corner of our daily lives. Discussing Morrison’s novel and referring to the confusion that the ghost of the dead girl brought to the house at 124 Bluestone Road, Avery Gordon explains: The ghost is not living in the spirit world. It is living, and not too graciously at that, in the real world of day jobs, burnt toast, sibling rivalry, sought-after love and companionship, adjudging neighbors, and something will have to be done about that. (Gordon, 1997: 168)

Avery Gordon explains the material importance of haunting in terms of social memory and history.

Haunting in Toni Morrison’s Beloved


For Morrison’s social memory is not just history, but haunting; not just context, but animated worldliness; not just the hard ground of infrastructural matters, but the shadowy grip of ghostly matters. It is not just in my rememory, but out there, in the world, right in the place where it happened. The picture of the place is not personal memory as we conventionally understand it, private, interior, mine to hoard or share, remember or forget. The picture of the place is its very sociality, all the doings, happenings, and knowing that make the social world alive in and around us as we make it ours. It is still out there because social relations as such are not ours for the owning. (Gordon, 1997: 165–66)

Haunting clearly undermines the border between collective and personal memory. Personal, intimate, present experience is woven into a broader network of meanings, where one becomes part of a wider social and historical context. Gordon understands haunting through Walter Benjamin’s perspective of a messianic history, where, in contrast to the history of the rulers — which is generally fully documented and publicized — the history of the ‘losers’ has left few traces and this lack is waiting to be redeemed. She quotes the following passage from Benjamin’s ‘Theses on the Philosophy of History’ (1939): There is a secret agreement between past generations and the present one. Our coming was expected on earth. Like every generation that preceded us, we have been endowed with a weak Messianic power, a power to which the past has a claim. That claim cannot be settled cheaply. Historical materialists are aware of that. (cited in Gordon, 1997: 164)

So haunting is part of our debt to a past that demands to be accounted for. It expands our connections with others and our presence in time; the personal becomes interpersonal and social; the present streches into the past and the future. You have bumped into somebody else’s memory; you have encountered haunting and the picture of it the ghost imprints. Not only because this memory that is sociality is out there in the world, playing havoc with the normal security historical context provides, but because it will happen again; it will be there for you. It is waiting for you. We were expected. All therein lies the frightening aspect of haunting: you can be grasped and hurled into the maelstrom of the powerful material forces that claim to you whether you claim them as yours or not. (Gordon, 1997: 166)

In Beloved this painful reconnection with a past that has been obliterated from memory is part of a healing process. As Henderson explains: the principal character in Beloved struggles with a past that’s part of a white/ male historical discourse. Lacking a discourse of her own, Sethe must transform the residual image (rememories) of her past into a historical discourse shaped by narrativity. (Henderson, 1999: 85)

Because of the narrativization that rememory allows for, we can say that Beloved — despite the violence the novel contains — is basically an optimistic story. Henderson describes this process as follows: against [...] forms of physical, social and scholarly dismemberment, the act of (re) memory initiates a reconstitutive process in the novel. [...] rememory functions to recollect, re-assemble, and organize the various discrete and heterogeneous


Haunting in Toni Morrison’s Beloved parts into a meaningful sequential whole through the process of narrativization. (Henderson, 1999: 89)

Beloved narrates the mourning of a loss. Beloved, the ghost of a beautiful woman is the embodiment of the girl who was killed. However, she also embodies a much bigger loss, one that encapsulates all the losses that slavery entailed. Some time after the arrival of Beloved, Sethe leaves her job and becomes totally absorbed in a symbiotic relationship with Beloved. At the end of the novel, Sethe’s surviving daughter, Denver, summons the black community to intervene and help her mother out of this all-consuming relationship with the dead girl’s ghost. A group of black women approaches the house and Beloved disappears. Paul D returns and Sethe tells him that Beloved, her ‘best thing’, has left her. His reply leads to the following dialogue: ‘Aw, girl. Don’t cry.’ [...] ‘Sethe,’ he says, ‘me and you, we got more yesterday than anybody. We need some kind of tomorrow.’ He leans over and takes her hand. With the other he touches her face. ‘You your best thing, Sethe. You are.’ His holding fingers are holding hers. ‘Me? Me?’ (Morrison, 1997: 273)

The past is integrated into a ‘meaningful life-story’ (Henderson, 1999: 90), which allows for the opening of a different future, encapsulated in Sethe’s question ‘Me? Me?’ During this sequence, the importance of Denver becomes clear. She is the person who makes the connection between Sethe, Beloved and the surrounding black community. She is the person who goes to ask for help when help is needed. Rushdy refers to Denver as ‘the site of hope in Morrison’s novel. She is the daughter of history.’ (Rushdy, 1998: 145) As Gordon notes, Sethe’s obsession with her past as a slave on the Sweet Home farm irritates Denver. However, she cannot ignore what happened to her mother: Denver may not care about Sweet Home: ‘How come everybody run off from Sweet Home can’t stop talking about it? Look like if it was so sweet you would have stayed.’ But she is concerned that ‘the thing that happened that made it all right for my mother to kill my sister could happen again’ to her. Denver doesn’t know ‘what it is’ or ‘who it is,’ but she knows that it ‘comes from outside this house, outside the yard, and it can come right on in the yard if it wants to’. (Gordon, 1997: 166)

Denver knows that she is also indelibly linked to Beloved and slavery; she accepts the ghost of her sister but, at a certain stage, she leaves the yard for the external world in order to summon the black community and help bring her mother back into the present. Nonetheless, the plunge into the symbiotic relationship with the dead girl — reconnecting deeply with a past that has been repressed — is a necessary part of the healing process that Sethe experiences. When Beloved comes back, Sethe loses her own sense of identity in the relationship with her returning daughter. Denver also plays a part in this symbiosis. Drawing on the work of Melanie Klein, Jennifer

Haunting in Toni Morrison’s Beloved


Fitzgerald describes the process by which an infant acquires a sense of a separate self: Kleinian theory argues that a pre-Oedipal infant’s identity is constructed through a complex process during which it experiences very powerful, conf lictual emotions, which in an adult whould be diagnosed as paranoia, neurosis, even psychosis. The baby projects these emotions onto external ‘objects’, people with whom it comes into contact (in the first place, the primary caregiver, usually the mother), transforming these persons into fantasy objects, ‘imagos’. The fantasy objects are then introjected back into the infant’s own psyche. The process is only completed when the child has forged a sense of its own identity out of its experiences and fantasies, and has also recognised the autonomy of others, no longer as imagos but as individuals living their own separate lives. Thus self hood is socially constructed through interaction with others, aspects of whom have been internalised by the child as part of itself. (Fitzgerald, 1988: 113)

Interaction with others — especially the mother — is therefore crucial for the baby to grow out of the pre-Oedipal stage. How can a black individual, living under a status quo that does not recognize her as an individual, ever experience ‘the autonomy of others’ or develop a sense of being an ‘individual living his/her separate lives’? Moreover, given the fact that slavery forced so many black babies to be prematurely separated from their mothers, how can one expect black individuals to follow the same model of development experienced by white individuals? Fitzgerald chooses Klein’s object relations theory because it offers ‘a model of how social cultural and political forces become internalized’. Therefore Klein’s theory allows us to expand beyond the model of psychoanalysis that usually ‘isolates the psychic experience from differences of ethnicity and class’. (Fitzgerald, 1988: 110) Fitzgerald also reminds us of the gender issues involved the in psychoanalysis of mother–infant relationships. She notes that psychoanalysis focuses intensively on the interaction of infant and mother as if this existed as a freestanding relation, independent of the economic, political or social conditions which affect the circumstances of parenting. In doing so, it defines motherhood according to a very specific norm and places a huge burden of responsibility, not to say blame, on mothers. It pathologises non-normative families, privileging the healthy development of individual autonomy, highly valued by White Western capitalism. (Fitzgerald, 1988: 110)

To understand Morrison’s intention in the novel we need to detach ourselves from this model and focus on diferent kinds of interaction resulting from different experiences. In the novel, Beloved is the materialization of a girl who was killed by her mother, Sethe, before she was three years old. She is referred to as the ‘crawling already? baby’, not by her real name, which, as previously noted, will never be disclosed to the readers. The text clearly indicates that this little girl was killed long before she could develop an autonomous sense of self. We also know that Sethe was also separated from her mother at a very early stage of her life, so she was also deprived of this stage in her psychic development. According to Fitzgerald, this explains not just Beloved’s obsession with Sethe but also the reason for the infanticide in the first place:


Haunting in Toni Morrison’s Beloved Beloved’s obsession with Sethe can be characterized psychoanalytically as pre-Oedipal. [...] Beloved’s excessive dependence corresponds to the symbiosis of mother and infant Klein describes, a state in which the child does not yet recognise its separateness from the world, and in particular from the primary caregiver. [...] Object relations theory suggests that just as the infant refuses to see the mother as a separate individual, so the mother may be tempted to treat her child as part of herself. [...] Such a mother may well believe that she killed her child for its own good. (Fitzgerald, 1988: 114, 118)

In other words, one cannot expect Sethe to behave according to the model of ‘a mother’ deriving from the Freudian standard mentioned above. However, we cannot discard psychoanalysis altogether. The psychoanalytical reading is impor­ tant, because the key elements (pre-oedipal fantasies, the need for interaction in order to construct an autonomous self ) are still in operation. Morrison’s novel allows us to see this case of infanticide from a different perspective. Shifting the burden of pathology from the non-normative family onto slavery, the attitude of this particular mother can be seen from a new angle. It is also important to see the relationship between Sethe and Beloved in the context of Paul Gilroy’s notion of a black Atlantic culture, and to consider the place that suicide and death occupy in this historical perspective. In his discussion of the work of the modern black thinker, Frederick Douglass, Gilroy argues that, according to Douglass, ‘the slave actively prefers the possibility of death to the continuing condition of inhumanity on which plantation slavery depends’. (Gilroy, 1999: 63) Gilroy goes on to refer to ‘representations of death as agency that can be found in early African-American fiction’. (Gilroy, 1999: 63) We should note that the symbiotic relationship between Sethe and Beloved (in which Denver is also involved) reaches its climax when the character Stamp Paid hears Sethe and Beloved talking to each other, but cannot understand what they are saying. Stamp Paid is a friend of the family who saved Denver from being killed by her mother in a moment of despair. Through the ears of Stamp Paid, we hear what is going on inside the house: What he heard, as he moved toward the porch, he didn’t understand. Out on Bluestone Road he thought he heard a conf lagration of hasty voices-loud, urgent, all speaking at once so he could not make out what they were talking about or to whom. The speech wasn’t nonsensical, exactly, nor was it tongues. But something was wrong with the order of the words and he couldn’t describe or cipher it to save his life. All he could make out was the word mine. The rest of it stayed outside his mind’s reach. Yet he went through. (Morrison, 1997: 172)

What exactly is it that Stamp Paid cannot understand? As this central passsage of Morrison’s text shows, he cannot understand what is being said because, at this moment, he is approaching the threshold of the unspeakable and a deeply traumatized language. As Stamp Paid approaches the place the tone of the voices lowers and becomes a kind of murmur which, in his mind, is connected to the ‘female world’: When he got to the steps, the voices drained suddenly to less than a whisper. It gave him pause. They had become an occasional mutter — like the interior sounds a woman makes when she believes she is alone and unobserved at

Haunting in Toni Morrison’s Beloved


her work: a ‘sth’ when she misses the needle’s eye; a soft moan when she sees another chip in her one good platter; the low, friendly argument with which she greets the hens. Nothing fierce or startling. Just the eternal, private conversation that takes place between women and their tasks. (Morrison, 1997: 172)

Stamp Paid decides not to interfere, and then remembers how his friend Baby Suggs — Sethe’s mother-in-law, now dead — fell ill and got discouraged after Sethe killed the child. Stamp Paid remembers all the violence that was still being perpetrated against black people, despite the end of slavery as a legal institution: Whole towns wiped clean of Negroes; eighty seven lynchings alone in Kentucky; four colored schools burned to the ground; grown men whipped like children, children whipped like adults, black women raped by the crew; property taken, necks broken. (Morrison, 1997: 180)

When Stamp Paid approaches 124 Bluestone Road a second time, the narrator explains that despite the words being incomprehensible he has no problem in giving these words a meaning. He interprets the words as representative of the violence experienced by black people. The words he hears, despite being verbalized by Sethe, Beloved and Denver, do not belong exclusively to them any more. According to Stamp Paid’s understanding, they now belong to other black individuals who were either killed or suffered losses: although he couldn’t cipher but one word, he believed he knew who spoke them. The people of the broken necks, of fire-cooked blood and black girls who had lost their ribbons. What a roaring. (Morrison, 1997: 181)

The words are not comprehensible partly because they were outside ‘what could be said’, which, in turn, is determined by ‘what has already been said’. In terms of Foucault’s notion of discourse, what is being expressed there, at that moment, does not belong to any circulating discourses that Stamp Paid has come across so far. It is experienced as impossible to decipher but not impossible to give meaning to; hence not really impossible to understand. Stamp Paid, as we have seen, is in no doubt about what these words mean. Speaking the unspeakable, in this perspective, means breaching the notion that what one says belongs only to the individual who says it: here, as in the concept of rememory, the personal and the collective are mingled and inseparable; almost two sides of the same coin. Morrison’s text clearly shows how traumatized language — contained and repressed in the private world where the symbiosis is taking place, a domain that is seen, in this context, to belong to women — is actually voicing thoughts that also belonged to a man, Stamp Paid. Haunting, here, also dissolves established gender borders. These are the last references to Stamp Paid’s point of view, before the readers are presented with Sethe’s, Denver’s and Beloved’s perspective which covers the next four chapters: ‘Mixed in with the voices surrounding the house, recognizable but undecipherable to Stamp Paid, were the thoughts of the women of 124, unspeakable thoughts, unspoken.’ (Morrison, 1997: 199) These chapters represent the ‘plunge’ into the symbiotic relationship and loss. The first chapter develops Sethe’s point of view and opens thus:


Haunting in Toni Morrison’s Beloved Beloved, she my daughter. She mine. See. She come back to me of her own free will and I don’t have to explain a thing. I didn’t have to explain before because it had to be done quick. Quick. She had to be safe and I put where she would be. (Morrison, 1997: 200)

The following chapter presents Denver’s words. Denver was the baby that Sethe gave birth to during her horrific journey from the slave-owning South into the liberated North, trying to escape slavery. Sethe’s two sons and the ‘crawling-already?’ baby were sent to cross the Ohio before Sethe. Baby Suggs, Sethe’s mother-in-law, was already in Cincinatti and looked after Sethe’s children while waiting for Sethe to make the ‘crossing’ of the Ohio river. This is how Denver’s chapter starts: Beloved is my sister. I swallowed her blood right along with my mother’s milk. The first thing I heard after not hearing anything was the sound of her crawling up the stairs. She was my secret company until Paul D came. He threw her out. Ever since I was little she was my company and she helped wait for my daddy. Me and her waited for him. I love my mother but I know she killed one of her own daughters, and tender as she is with me, I am scared of her because of it. (Morrison, 1997: 205)

If we look at Beloved’s monologue, which makes up the next chapter, we can see how her voice and perspective go beyond her personal experience to represent the experience that came to be known as the Middle Passage: the loss, separation and death that African people experienced while crossing the Atlantic in slave ships, while they were transported from Africa to the Americas. Beloved describes the primal experience of being cramped in the boat and losing her mother and her father to the sea. This section marks a rupture with the normal syntax the book has been developing. Instead of the usual punctuation of commas and full stops we have gaps between words although it is divided into paragraphs like ‘normal’ prose. It is traumatized language ‘per se’: language trying to speak the unspeakable. There are many references to the horrific conditions on board a slave ship: I am always crouching the man on my face is dead his face is not mine his mouth smells sweet but his eyes are locked some who eat nasty themselves I do not eat the men without skin bring us their morning water to drink we have none at night I cannot see the dead man on my face daylight comes through the cracks and I can see his locked eyes I am not big small rats do not wait for us to sleep someone is thrashing but there is no room to do it in (Morrison, 1997: 210)

At the same time that the text portrays the rupture that the Middle Passage represented, it expresses the need to avoid such violent and premature rupture by advocating the need to return to the symbiotic link: ‘I am Beloved and she is mine [...] I am not separate from her [...] I cannot lose her again she goes in [...] she goes in the water with my face [...] I am looking for the join’. (Morrison, 1997: 210) At this moment the name ‘Beloved’ does not only refer to the fictional character, but represents a general experience of loss intrinsic to black experience. At the core of black cultural experience, it is not just a particular voice but a voice that stands for a ‘million’ particular losses. Claudine Raynaud refers to this same passage as follows:

Haunting in Toni Morrison’s Beloved


In Morrison’s Beloved, the evocation of the Middle Passage is no sea yarn. A layering of different moments painstakingly brought to the slave daughter’s consciousness, the passage takes the shape of a strange circular text composed of fragments of ‘images’ that hardly add up to a narrative.[...] Beloved, thrown beside herself, ab-jected, cast off, consciousness struggling with the senseless, encountering the unassimilable (like the body unable to keep down food). Morrison renders that encounter in four pages of a broken poetic borderline text, Beloved’s ‘unuttered thoughts’. (Raynaud, 1999: 70–71)

The fourth and last chapter of this central part of the novel is mostly structured as a sequence of poems, the first one being a piece of prose poetry. Up to this point the reader has been reading narrative prose; now the criterion of genre is also disrupted. Different narrative perspectives mingle so intensively that the text becomes a sequence of short lines that are more than separate phrases said by different speakers. On the other hand, because this poetic sequence is placed inside a piece of narrative prose, we read this poem in the context of the novel and its characters. We know that the ‘me’s’, the ‘selves’ referred to in the poem belong — at least in the first instance — to the three female protagonists: Sethe, Denver and the unnamed little girl who was killed. But they have not been differentiated: in this symbiotic place their personal self identities merge into the image of one undefined face, a representation of a sense of identity that needs to be either retrieved or constructed: Tell me the truth. Didn’t you come from the other side? Yes. I was on the other side. You came back because of me? Yes. You rememory me? Yes. I remember you. You never forgot me? Your face is mine. Do you forgive me? Will you stay? You safe here now. Where are the men without skin? [...] When I needed you, you came to be with me. I needed her face to smile. I could only hear breathing. [...] Watch out for her; she can give you dreams. She chews and swallows. Don’t fall asleep when she braids your hair. She is the laugh; I am the laughter. I watch the house; I watch the yard. She left me. Daddy is coming for us. A hot thing. Beloved You are my sister You are my daughter You are my face; you are me


Haunting in Toni Morrison’s Beloved I have found you again; you have come back to me You are my Beloved You are mine You are mine You are mine I have your milk I have your smile I will take care of you [...] (Morrison, 1997: 216)

As previously mentioned, the immersion in the symbiotic relationship — recon­ necting deeply with the past that has been repressed — is a necessary part of the healing process. By giving voice to the loss experienced by African people, Morrison throws into relief the presence of whiteness as an ideology. The violence of whiteness becomes explicit; the pathology moves from the pathologized subject (Sethe) to the pathology of racism. Returning to Stamp Paid’s reaction to the uncomprehensible words that Sethe, Beloved and Denver exchange, one can see how the ideology of whiteness that sustained slavery has placed the violence and brutality it generated inside the black Other. It is described as a ‘jungle’, therefore as an uncivilized, non-modern space that needed to be controlled. The following passage places the brutality back where it comes from: Whitepeople believed that whatever the manners, under every dark skin was a jungle. Swift unnavigable waters, swinging screaming baboons, sleeping snakes, red gums ready for their sweet white blood. In a way, he thought, they were right. The more coloredpeople spent their strength trying to convince them how gentle they were, how clever and loving, how human, the more they used themselves to persuade whites of something Negroes believed could not be questioned, the deeper and more tangled the jungle grew inside. But it wasn’t the jungle blacks brought with them to this place from the other (livable) place. It was the jungle whitefolks planted in them. And it grew. It spread. In through and after life, it spread, until it invaded the whites who had made it. Touched them every one. Changed and altered them. Made them bloody, silly, worse than even they wanted to be, so scared were they of the jungle they had made. The screaming baboon lived under their own white skin; the red gums were their own. (Morrison, 1997: 198–99; my emphasis)

In her critical essay Playing in the Dark: Whiteness and the Literary Imagination, Mor­ rison makes even more explicit what she understands as the presence of white­ness in North American literature. In analysing the texts of white American writers and the function of the African characters in these narratives, Morrison says: As a reader my assumption had always been that nothing ‘happens’: Africans and their descendants were not, in any sense that matters, there; and when they were there, they were decorative — displays of the agile writer’s technical expertise. I assumed that since the author was not black, the appearance of Africanist characters or narrative or idiom in a work could never be about anything other than the ‘normal’, unracialized, illusory white world that provided the fictional backdrop. (Morrison, 1990: 16)

Haunting in Toni Morrison’s Beloved


Whiteness becomes visible, like a fishbowl that gives shape to the water it contains: It is as if I had been looking at a fishbowl — the glide and f lick of the golden scales, the green tip, the bolt of white careening back from the gills; the castles at the bottom, surrounded by pebbles and tiny, intricate fronds of green; the barely disturbed water, the f lecks of waste and food, the tranquil bubbles traveling to the surface — and suddenly I saw the bowl, the structure that transparently (and invisibly) permits the ordered life it contains to exist in the larger world. (Morrison, 1990: 17)

Morrison is calling our attention to the power of this invisible and unexamined logic of whiteness. Whiteness, as an unexamined norm, as a synonym for being human, has important consequences for how people experience their sense of having a personal identity. Ross Chambers suggests that identity is only experienced as homogenous, solid and ultimately powerful when white. Part of its solidity comes from the fact of being invisible and unexamined. Matters of political power, notions of status, of belonging to a social group are determined by the invisible homogeneity of whiteness: In contrast to those whose identity is defined by their classificatory status as members of a given group, whites are perceived as individual historical agents whose unclassifiable difference from one another is their most prominent trait. [...] whereas nonwhites are perceived first and foremost as a function of their group belongingness, that is, as black or Latino or Asian (and then as individuals) whites are perceived first as individual people (and only secondarily, if at all, as whites). Their essential identity is thus their individual self identity, to which whiteness as such is a secondary, and so a negligible, factor. (Chambers, 1997: 192) The in(di)visibility of whiteness ensures that white people doing what is in effect their own brand of special-interest politics look like so many individual agents getting on with the business of expressing, exploring, negotiating, and even settling their legitimate differences — differences that define them not as white people (a classificatory identity) but as people. [...] whiteness is not a classificatory identity but just the unexamined norm against which such identities are defined, compared, and examined. [...] Whereas others may have group identities, white people as a group are just the unexamined. But there is more political strength in that than in all the identity politics in the world. (Chambers, 1997: 197)

Morrison highlights the fact that, against the background of unexamined whiteness, black people have always been denied an ontology, a sense of being someone. They had always been the Other upon which the unexamined white identity depended: Now that Afro-American artistic presence has been ‘discovered’ actually to exist, [...] it is no longer acceptable merely to imagine us and imagine for us. We have always been imagining ourselves. [...] We are subjects of our own experience, and, in no way coincidentally, in the experience of those with whom we have come in contact. We are not, in fact, ‘other’. We are choices. And to read imaginative literature by and about us is to choose to examine


Haunting in Toni Morrison’s Beloved centers of the self and to have the opportunity to compare these centers with the ‘raceless’ one with which we are, all of us most familiar. (Morrison, 1989: 8)

Acknowledging the presence of African people as subjects in their own right breaks the logic of a raceless world, it brings race into the foreground, disrupting the raceless logic of whiteness. In the following section on Lispector, we will see how black characters in Lispector work can also function as a way of making whiteness visible, of threatening the solid sense of identity which depends on whiteness remaining unexamined. We could therefore say, in the context of Morrison’s Beloved, that listening to haunting as a traumatized language forces us to review an historical context and to examine an unexamined racial logic. Our prevailing notions of what is normal and what is pathological also need to be re-examined. Morrison places these issues in the context of modernity: modern life begins with slavery... From a women’s point of view, in terms of confronting the problems of where the world is now, black women had to deal with post-modern problems in the nineteenth century and earlier. These things had to be addressed by black people a long time ago: certain kinds of dissolution, the loss of and the need to reconstruct certain kinds of stability. Certain kinds of madness, deliberately going mad in order, as one of the characters says in the book ‘in order not to lose your mind’. These strategies for survival made the truly modern person. (Quoted in Gilroy, 1999: 221)

So pathology is crucial to Morrison’s view on modernity (and post-modernity). She does not hesitate in pointing to slavery as the cause of this pathology: They’re a response to predatory western phenomena. You can call it an ideology and an economy, what it is is a pathology. Slavery broke the world in half, it broke it in everyway. It broke Europe. It made them into something else, it made them slave masters, it made them crazy. You can’t do that for hundreds of years and it not take a toll. They had to dehumanize, not just the slaves but themselves. They have had to reconstruct everything in order to make that system appear true. It made everything in world war two possible. It made world war one necessary. Racism is the word we use to encompass all this. (Quoted in Gilroy, 1999: 221)

So the psychological consequences of trauma (‘certain kinds of madness, deli­berately going mad [...] “in order not to lose your mind” ’) are intrinsic to Morrison’s understanding of the modern self. For Morrison, anti-racism implies a philo­soph­ ical revolution in terms of reconsidering our standards of thinking about who we are as modern individuals. It implies reconsidering our concepts of ‘madness’ or at least ‘certain kind of madness’ not as the negation or loss of our modern self, but as a necessary part of it. For Morrison, anti-racism implies a philosophical revolution in terms of recon­ sidering our notions of identity and subjectivity. Morrison rejects an old ontology (a theory, a science of being) where the black individual is not seen as a subject but as a mere Other. She positions herself as a writer writing from a different standpoint. Her thinking follows a tradition of black writing going back to the beginning of the twentieth century. In the article ‘Unspeakable Things Unspoken:

Haunting in Toni Morrison’s Beloved


The Afro-American Presence in American Literature’, published two years after the publication of Beloved, Morrison raises the need to re-introduce the word ‘race’ into the cultural debate about the African-American presence in (North) American Literature: ‘if all of the ramifications that the term demands are taken seriously, the bases of Western civilization will require re-thinking. Thus, in spite of its implicit and explicit acknowledgement, “race” is still a virtually unspeakable thing.’ (Morrison, 1989: 3) Thinking about ‘race’ and its deep implications for our understanding of culture forces us to question established notions of identity and self hood, based on an ontology which has seen blacks as Others. Morrison’s main concern in her book Playing in the Dark: Whiteness and The Literary Imagination (1990) is to demonstrate how this process works. Despite the popular notion that black people and black writers have been ‘excluded’ from the (North) American literary canon, Morrison — adopting a new perspective — demonstrates how the notion of white Americaness depended on the invention of an Africanism, a not-me in contrast to which the white American notion of self hood would be constructed. So, this Africanist presence, this Other, was not excluded but part and parcel of the process of building up a white (North) American identity. Morrison argues that: I want to suggest that these concerns — autonomy, authority, newness and difference, absolute power — not only become the major themes and presumptions of American literature, but that each one is made possible by, shaped by, activated by a complex awareness and employment of a constituted Africanism. It was this Africanism, deployed as rawness and savagery that provided the staging ground and arena for the elaboration of the quintessential American identity. Autonomy is freedom and translates into the much championed and revered individualism; newness translates into ‘innocence’; distinctiveness becomes difference and the erection of strategies for maintaining it; authority and absolute power become a romantic, conquering ‘heroism’, virility, and the problematic of wielding absolute power over the lives of others. All the rest are made possible by this last, it would seem — absolute power called forth and played against and within a natural and mental landscape conceived of as a ‘raw, half-savage world’. [...] This new white male can now persuade himself that savagery is ‘out there’. (Morrison, 1993: 44–45)

The idea of the autonomous, free individual depends on this Africanist presence that is seen as savage, needing to be ‘civilized’: The concept of freedom did not emerge in a vacuum. Nothing highlighted freedom — if it did not in fact create it — like slavery. [...] For in that construction of blackness and enslavement could be found not only the not-free but also, with the dramatic polarity created by skin color, the projection of the not-me. (Morrison, 1993: 38) Africanism is the vehicle by which the American self knows itself as not enslaved, but free; not repulsive, but desirable; not helpless, but licensed and powerful; not history-less, but historical; not damned, but innocent; not a blind acci­dent of evolution, but a progressive fulfilment of destiny. (Morrison, 1993: 52)


Haunting in Toni Morrison’s Beloved

To understand this process one has to recognize the need to see and discuss race: As for the culture, the imaginative and historical terrain upon which early American writers journeyed is in large measure shaped by the presence of the racial other. Statements to the contrary, insisting on the meaninglessness of race to the American identity, are themselves full of meaning. The world does not become raceless or will not become unracialized by assertion. The act of enforcing racelessness in literary discourse is itself a racial act. [...] Explicit or implicit, the Africanist presence informs in compelling and inescapable ways the texture of American literature. (Morrison, 1993: 46)

Morrison’s efforts to reject racelessness are part of a demand to examine whiteness. She raises the issue of needing to understand how racism works in terms of ontological (often unconscious) processes. These processes have much in common with Judith Butler’s theory of subject formation, discussed in my Introduction, whereby a ‘constitutive outside’ (an Other) is part and parcel of a process of identity formation based on exclusion. Since one of my main concerns in relation to Lispector’s fictional work is the issue of the protagonist’s agency and the elements that undermine it, it is important to mention that Beloved is the first novel in a trilogy, being followed by Jazz and Paradise, forming a sequence. The development of the trilogy, as we will see, has consequences in terms of Morrison’s view on the matter of agency and subjectivity. Morrison explicitly conceived the three novels as a sequence. The trilogy covers a period of African-American history starting from the mid nineteenth century when the emancipation of American slaves took place, through the 1920s to the 1970s. In terms of plot, the trilogy moves from a rather positive conception of subjectivity (Beloved) to a disempowerment of the subject associated with urbanization and modernization (Paradise). Beloved finishes on an affirmative note, suggesting the possibility that an ex-slave woman has survived trauma and is now empowered to get on with her life. In the two subsequent novels, this optimism will be seriously undermined. In Jazz, Violet and Joe have to compete, as protagonists, with the City (always referred to with a capital C), a kind of seductive, animated entity that attracts, threatens, entertains and transforms people. Set in Harlem, New York, in the first decades of the twentieth century, the novel describes a period of black effervescence, when the migration from the segregated South to big cities such as New York represented an improvement in the social status of black people. The story is told in fragments like pieces of jazz and it describes the difficulties that the black individual encounters as he or she moves into a modern city, losing his or her original roots and community connections. However it still ends with a breath of hope, for despite their difficulties Violet and Joe survive their traumatic experiences and manage to rebuild their lives and their relationship. They are not passive, they are agents of their own destiny. In Paradise the notion of a ‘protagonist’ is diluted. In some senses, all the characters seem to be equally important; some may be more positive than others but in relation to the overall plot none seems more important than the others. The

Haunting in Toni Morrison’s Beloved


only way one can identify any main characters in Paradise is to consider gatherings of people (the black town Ruby and the community of women, the Convent — also referred in the book with a capital C) as characters in their own right. The yearning for empowered subjectivity lingers as an unsatisfied desire in the prominent position given to the names of nine women involved in the story: Ruby, Mavis, Grace, Seneca, Divine, Patricia, Consolata, Lone, Save-Marie. In a sense Paradise undoes all that Beloved painfully builds up. It destroys any possibility of idealization of black communities for a start. The word ‘Paradise’ — the novel’s ironic title — suggests, in a first instance, Eden or a dream-like fantasy. However, at another level it can be also seen as an ironic allusion to the white North American dream. The novel, set during the seventies, describes a very isolated and fragile sense of self hood in relation to a purist black community (Ruby) built closely and defensively after traumatic experiences. This community does not allow for ethnic difference (mixed-race individuals were systematically rejected) and feels threatened by a multi-ethnic group of women settled nearby (the Convent). So Paradise brings the readers out of the environment of a big metropolis ( Jazz) to confront the borders of the invisible, but omnipresent, ‘white nation’. Two communities compete, immersed in a ‘huge container’ (the white nation) whose borders remain invisible. These communities absorb — and depend on — individuals who gather together from the length and breadth of an unclearly delineated geographical territory. One community (Ruby) retains those individuals who conform to its self-definition, keeping its homogeneity intact. The other community (the Convent) absorbs individuals at random, on account of their need to be healed. Ruby’s group identity depends on the notion of racial segregation: the Convent on the contrary, is clearly heterogeneous. This heterogeneity is in itself very threatening; it cannot survive. The broader logic of whiteness imposes racial segregation: Ruby as a community depends on being marked as black. This mark, in a broader sense, is part of the unexamined ideology of whiteness, where whiteness is a synonym of normality. The healing com­munity, the one that disrupts the logic of racialized marking, has to be destroyed. Morrison’s trilogy highlights the fact that the end of slavery did not bring the end of racism. The presence of whiteness as an all-encompassing unexamined ideology becomes paramount: the possibility of self-empowerment that Sethe was able to experience is undermined by the resilience of unexamined whiteness. Trauma is a crucial presence throughout the three novels of the trilogy. They are all constructed as prisms, their text being built up of fragments expressing different points of view. They are all constructed around a scene that evades narration, like the traumatic event that cannot be narrated, that cannot be contained in language. The delineation of the traumatic scene happens only in the mind of the reader; as he or she reconstructs — through imagination — the traumatic event, taking into account the different sides of the prism, the different points of view. The narrator — omniscient or not — never gives a direct account of what happened. This is a graphic representation of the history of the silenced: the process of redemption of something that to all accounts is lost. As Morrison herself has


Haunting in Toni Morrison’s Beloved

suggested: ‘memory (the deliberate act of remembering) is a form of willed creation. It is not an effort to find out the way it really was — that is research.’ (quoted in Rushdy, 1998: 140) Morrison’s enquiries into collective memory do not claim to establish ‘any true account of an historical event’, or ‘what had really happened’. They are about the resonance, the consequences, the persistence in personal and collective memory of something that has been lost and that, to a certain extent, will never be redeemed. Only mourning — or, to use Morrison’s own words, the ‘properly, artistically, burying’ of the dead — is possible. Welcoming, dwelling with, staying with the ghost is, according to Morrison, something that can be empowering and positive; and — in this context — clearly more important than action. Haunting forces trauma, with all its collective meanings, to be acknowledged; this disrupts the mechanisms of forgetting which sustain certain versions of the past and repress others into oblivion. At the start of the novel Beloved, Sethe is struggling to live in a situation where she needs to forget a traumatic experience and the pain it caused her. Forgetting was an intrinsic part of the mechanism that sustained a status quo. The persistence of the ghost shows the limitations — and the fragility — of using oblivion as the basis of balance and stability. Paul D, as a positive masculine character (and agent), expels the ghost and creates the stabilization necessary to trigger dramatic tension and drive the narrative. It is he who — rather unconsciously — intiates a process of change. The ghost returns at another level: now ‘dressed and materialised’, and with the same subjective status as the other characters in the novel. As a materialized rememory it now imposes itself upon a wider range of subjects, not just those who were directly linked to the killing of Sethe’s little girl. As a rememory, the killing belonged not just to Sethe’s, nor Denver’s, nor Beloved’s personal histories. Its traumatic meanings spread beyond the personal memories of those physically present at the traumatic scene of the killing. It belonged to a wide group of people who have experienced similar traumatic experiences; as we have seen, the borders between personal and collective memory are positively disturbed. If we take into account the events narrated in Beloved and Paradise, we can see that haunting de-stabilizes any notion of slavery as something that can be contained in the past — any illusion that abolition per se would solve the problems that slavery has created. The traumatic event in Paradise reveals the persistency of the logic of racial segregation in collective memory; it expands its presence out of the past towards the present. It reveals instances where the logic of whiteness persists far beyond the mid nineteenth century where Beloved’s initial account is situated. *





In the following chapters I will develop in more detail the argument that the subjective crisis that many of Lispector’s characters experience is rooted in a situation whereby internalized racist codes, articulating with other vectors of power such as class and gender, remain unexamined in Brazilian society. To do this I will draw on insights taken from my reading of texts by Bessie Head and Toni Morrison. In Chapter 1 we saw how pathology is grounded in history and how national ideologies based on racial constructions interfere with, and in Bessie Head’s case

Haunting in Toni Morrison’s Beloved


render impossible, the construction of a sense of belonging. We have seen the importance of Butler’s notion of performativity in the process of construction of subjectivities; thus, identity is not something one possesses but something that needs to be constantly performed. In this performance, different vectors of power articulate imposing regulatory norms. We have also seen how it is impossible to develop a personal identity without having a sense of belonging to a social group. Head’s extreme sense of exclusion left her with practically no option but to reject the ideas of nation and modernity altogether. Toni Morrison works in a different direction. Her writing relies on transforming existing notions of national history and national memory, showing how excluded elements are, in fact, constitutive parts of the nation. In her work haunting has a restorative and transformative effect on reality. As we have seen, the novel Beloved ‘rememories’ Margaret Gardner’s tragic and emblematic personal history, re-introducing her into the nation’s collective memory through a new perspective. Part of this new perspective is the need to re-conceptualize — or reconstruct — what the nation (US) represents. My reading of Morrison has enabled me to see that the unspeakable is not a problem of an individual subjectivity, but is grounded in collective trauma. Indeed, this is the lesson learned from my reading both of Head, who rejects the nation and modernity, and Morrison, who regards them as inescapable. What both writers have shown is that the modern nation state is grounded in unexamined whiteness. Lispector — like Morrison but unlike Head — does not dismiss the need to live within a national environment. The presence of the nation is explicit in many of her texts, through the use of the word Brazil (or its variants). I will now go on to explore these elements in Lispector’s work.

Pa rt I I v



Welcoming the Ghost: Haunting in A paixão segundo G.H. Civilisation depends on a subtle and complex code that is not the law. Selfregulation and personal responsibility are not easy virtues and we are not born to them. Religion tries to supply this want with obedience but art teaches us to be conscious. Jeanette Winterson, The Guardian, 26 June 2001

The subject matter of A paixão segundo G.H. [The Passion According to G.H.] (1964) — one of Lispector’s most discussed novels — is a deep subjective crisis experienced by the protagonist and narrator, G.H.. G.H. describes to the reader a process of loss and recovery of her sense of having a personal identity. This is presented to the reader on the novel’s second page: ‘Ontem [...] perdi durante horas e horas a minha montagem humana’ (Lispector, 1998d: 12) [Yesterday [...] I lost my human condition for hours and hours (Lispector, 1988: 19)]. Lispector, in this novel, describes a very similar crisis to the one experienced by Machado de Assis’s character, Jacobina, discussed in my Introduction. I refer to the moment when the protagonist of the short story ‘O espelho’ suddenly cannot recognize himself in his aunt’s mirror. My aim in this book is to explore the matter of the unspeakable in Lispector’s work, arguing that the problems with agency that many of her characters experience are connected to a sudden rupture with a silent discourse on what being a national subject means. A crucial part of this silent discourse is the need to keep whiteness unexamined, feeding the notion of a homogenous Brazilianness which, in ethnic terms, is seen as a harmonious morenidade. The matter of racial difference remains covered up, neither discussed nor problematized. Because such a situation is based on repression — the voice of Afro-Brazilians and their specific political presence having to be constantly denied and silenced — this status quo is vulnerable to haunting. We have seen, in relation to Morrison’s work, how listening to haunting as a traumatized language forces one to reconsider accepted versions of national history based on a racist logic. Part of this process is the need to keep whiteness unexamined. A paixão segundo G.H. describes precisely an instance where haunting — the return of something that has been repressed and expelled into a zone of the unspeakable, outside language — occurs, forcing the protagonist to face the matter of racial difference. G.H. is suddenly put in a position where her whiteness becomes visible, and her personal and national identity collapses. I hope to demonstrate in this chapter that, according to this novel, in Brazil, at the time that this book was

Welcoming the Ghost


written and published, having a sense of personal and national identity depended heavily on whiteness remaining unexamined. As we shall also see, this novel illustrates Judith Butler’s notion of vectors of power (class, race, gender as well as nationality) articulating the construction of subjectivities. In other words, through this novel we can clearly see how these four elements intersect, giving G.H. a sense of having a ‘normal’ identity. Haunting disrupts this logic, making these mechanisms of cultural and political construction explicit. Lispector’s novel, composed of 33 short chapters, is set in Rio de Janeiro. The main character and narrator G.H. is a middle-class woman — supposedly white. Readers assume that G.H. is white precisely because non-white characters have their skin colour explicitly marked as black and mulatta. The other two protagonists are Janair — an absent black maid who appears in the novel only as a virtual reality because she has resigned and left — and a cockroach. In the fourth chapter G.H. decides to clean the maid’s room. There she confronts an inscription that Janair has left on the wall. This inscription haunts the character/narrator G.H. as if it were a ghost. It creates a huge emotional upset in G.H. triggering in her a process of self-investigation and identity crisis. Borders separating race, class and group identities are crossed, creating a situation of disorder where the world as she knew it collapses. This collapse propels the main character into a journey through abjection, where she immerses herself in what is considered dirty, revolting, nauseating. The last 29 chapters of the novel describe G.H.’s interaction with the dying body of a cockroach. The last (and first) signs of the text are dashes — as if the author were — intentionally giving up the use of words and plunging into silence. The narrator G.H. spends the first three chapters preparing the readers for what she is going to tell them. The readers are not told exactly what happened to her, but are given the impression that it was of pivotal importance. She says at the start of the second chapter: Ontem de manhã — quando saí da sala para o quarto da empregada — nada me fazia supor que eu estava a um passo da descoberta de um império. (Lispector, 1998d: 23) [Yesterday morning — when I went out of the dining room to the maid’s room — I had no way of knowing that I was but a step away from discovering an empire. (Lispector, 1988: 15)]

This movement from the dining room to the maid’s room is — in itself — a crossing of borders. The social apartheid of Brazil is ref lected in the architectural structure of the traditional middle-class block of f lats. There are normally two separate lifts, one for servants and another for ‘residents’, and the f lats have service areas clearly separated from the social areas. Servants are only allowed into the social areas when they are on duty. It is interesting that the author uses the word ‘empire’: a possible reference to the notion of an empire built on racial exploitation. Naming — as a process bound up with the formation and sustainability of personal identities — is another important element in this novel. While the maid is endowed with a full first name, Janair, the main character/narrator, throughout the entire novel, is simply designated by her initials, G.H. This suggests that something


Welcoming the Ghost

is missing in the main character’s name that can only be completed by the ghostly presence of the maid. The memory of Janair’s image unsettles G.H.’s previously secure sense of identity and leads her to acknowledge its superficiality: O resto [...] o resto era o modo como pouco a pouco eu me havia transformado na pessoa que tem o seu nome. E acabei sendo o meu nome. É suficiente ver no couro de minhas valises as iniciais G.H. e eis-me. Também dos outros eu não exigia mais que a primeira cobertura das iniciais dos nomes. (Lispector, 1998d: 25) [The rest [...] The rest was how I had transformed myself little by little into the person who bears my name. And I ended up being my name. All you need to do is see the initials G.H. in the leather of my luggage to know that that’s me. And I never demanded of anyone else anything more than the mere coverage of the initials of their names. (Lispector, 1988: 12)]

Initials thus become a kind of superficial ‘masking’ identity. They ref lect a socially accepted identity that covers aspects of her psyche that are neither seen nor understood: ‘[...] acho que estou precisando de olhar sem que a cor de meus olhos importe, preciso ficar isenta de mim para ver’ (Lispector, 1998d: 27) [I think I just need to be able to look without the colour of my eyes mattering. I need to be able to get rid of myself to be able to see (Lispector, 1988: 19)]. G.H.’s description of her apartment, yet another external indication of status, is equally revealing: [...] o apartamento me ref lete. É no último andar, o que é considerado uma elegância. Pessoas de meu ambiente procuram morar na chamada ‘cobertura’. É bem mais que uma elegância. É um verdadeiro prazer: de lá domina-se a cidade. (Lispector, 1998d: 30) [the apartment ref lects me. It’s on the top f loor, which is considered elegant. People in my circle try to live in the so-called penthouse. It’s more elegant. It’s a real pleasure: you can command a city from up here. (Lispector, 1988: 22)]

Such a description gives us a clear sense of G.H. being part of an elite and enjoying the power that comes from it. Lispector plays with irony here, through the double meaning of the Portuguese word cobertura [pent-house/cover-up]. She is linking the cobertura das iniciais [cover-up of her initials] — a social mask that hides a more real sense of self — and the fact that she enjoys the ‘elegance of living in a penthouse’ (also cobertura). As the maid has left, G.H. decides to clean her room which, she expects, is probably filthy. On the way there, G.H. stops to smoke a cigarette while she looks into the rear central part of the building on to which all the service areas open. At this moment G.H.’s sense of normality starts to fade away. She sees this central area as an Egyptian ruin, onto which the hands of the labourers who built this block of apartments have been imprinted. Her sense of familiarity towards her environment begins to falter. Thus the space where the character/narrator is located starts to be described as non-Brazilian. As G.H. enters the maid’s room she is shocked by the amount of light it contains, its dryness and cleanliness. Then she confronts the inscription the black maid had left on the wall. This inscription — a drawing of the

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outlines of a woman, a man and a dog — shimmers with life as if it were haunted. This is how G.H. describes it: A rigidez das linhas incrustava as figuras agigantadas e atoleimadas na parede, como de três autômatos. Mesmo o cachorro tinha a loucura mansa daquilo que não é movido por força própria. [...] À medida que mais e mais me incomodava a dura imobilidade das figuras, mais forte se fazia em mim a idéia de múmias. (Lispector, 1998d: 39) [The lines’ rigidity fixed the outsized, crazy figures to the wall like three automatons. Even the dog had the tame insanity of something that is not powered by a force of its own. [...] As the figures’ harsh motionlessness bothered me more and more, the notion of mummies grew stronger and stronger. (Lispector, 1988: 31)]

Mummies, like ghosts, are ‘undead’. They retain the body material of the dead person, preserving the possibility of their coming alive again. Although the black maid has departed, her presence is still very strongly felt in the inscription that she has left on the wall: Coagida com a presença que Janair deixara de si mesma num quarto de minha casa, eu percebia que as três figuras angulares de zumbis haviam de fato retardado minha entrada como se o quarto estivesse ocupado. (Lispector, 1998d: 41) [Besieged by the presence of herself that Janair has left in a room in my home, I noticed that the three angular zombie figures had in fact kept me from going in, as though the room were still being occupied. (Lispector, 1988: 33)]

‘Zombie’ is also a word for the undead. Inhabitants of ruins, mummies, zombies: far from being simple drawings on the wall, these figures become full of a life of their own (Zumbi, in Portuguese, is also the name of a well-known black hero, Zumbi de Palmares, the best-known ‘quilombo’ in Brazilian history. Quilombos were communities of fugitive black slaves during colonial times). We might suppose that these drawings are alive because they convey Janair’s repressed voice. As the narrator says a bit further on: ‘O desenho não era um ornamento: era uma escrita.’ (Lispector, 1998d: 40) [The drawing was not a decoration, it was writing. (Lispector, 1988: 32)]. According to Brazilian social structures of the time, a black maid was probably illiterate and was certainly not supposed to have her own writing, or her own voice. Only in the late 1980s, twenty years after the novel’s publication, was the profession of domestic servant officially recognized and protected by labour legislation. This haunting inscription therefore challenged the status quo by giving Janair a means of expressing herself in a way that had not been possible until that point. Throughout the first four chapters, one can notice that each of the separate worlds of G.H. and Janair is associated with a range of imagery that reinforces the differences between them. As Solange Ribeiro de Oliveira usefully explained (De Oliveira, 1987), these images also draw a contrast between the humidity of Rio de Janeiro and the dryness of the Northeast. We also know that this is the region where Lispector had spent her early childhood, and which was the place of origin of many domestic workers in the big cities of Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo:


Welcoming the Ghost G.H’s world known dark dilettantism moist (Rio) well-fed rich

Janair’s world foreign light labour dry (Northeast) hungry poor

It is important to note that G.H.’s world is also the world where the narrator is used to living: it is the space of normalization. Janair’s space is where this normalization will be ruptured and called into question. G.H. only remembers the maid’s name — Janair — in chapter 4, after seeing the inscription that she left on the wall. It is also at this moment that readers have the first indication of Janair’s skin colour: ‘revi o rosto preto e quieto, revi a pele inteiramente opaca que mais parecia um de seus modos de se calar’ (Lispector, 1998d: 41) [I pictured again her quiet black face, pictured her completely opaque skin that seemed more like one of her ways of being silent (Lispector, 1988: 33)]. The drawing itself, described as an outline surrounding an ‘empty nudity’ suggests that Janair’s presence — as well as that of other African-Brazilians — has been obliterated from public memory, being pictured as a void that needs filling in: [...] quase em tamanho natural o contorno a carvão de um homem nu, de uma mulher nua e de um cão que era mais nu do que um cão. Nos corpos não estavam desenhados o que a nudez revela, a nudez vinha apenas da ausência de tudo o que cobre: eram os contornos de uma nudez vazia. (Lispector, 1998d: 38–39) [were charcoal outlines, in about life size, of a nude man, a nude woman, and a dog more nude than dogs really are. What the nudity disclosed was not drawn in on the bodies, the nudity came merely from the absence of all covering: they were the shapes of empty nudity. (Lispector, 1988: 31)]

G.H. discovers that despite having lived a long time quite close to this woman, she had never actually seen her as a person: ‘arrepiei-me ao descobrir que até agora eu não havia percebido que aquela mulher era uma invisível’ (Lispector, 1998d: 41) I [shivered to discover that till now I hadn’t noticed that that woman was an invisible woman (Lispector, 1988: 33)]. G.H. also discovers for the first time the real feeling that Janair nurtured towards her: De súbito, dessa vez com mal-estar real, deixei finalmente vir a mim uma sensação que durante seis meses, por negligência e desinteresse, eu não me deixara ter: a do silencioso ódio daquela mulher. (Lispector, 1998d: 40) [Suddenly, with, now, real discomfort, I finally allowed there to come over me a sensation that, through negligence and lack of interest, I had for a good six months not allowed myself to have: the sensation of that woman’s silent hatred. (Lispector, 1988: 32)]

This encounter with Janair is experienced as an irritating sound: the grating of fingernails against charcoal: Carvão e unha se juntando, carvão e unha, tranqüila e compacta raiva daquela mulher que era representante de um silêncio como se representasse um país

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estrangeiro, a rainha africana. E que ali dentro de minha casa se alojara, a estrangeira, a inimiga indiferente. (Lispector, 1998d: 43) [Charcoal and fingernails, charcoal and fingernails, calm, compact fury of the woman who was the representative of a silence as if she represented a foreign country, the African queen. And she had taken up lodging here in my home, that stranger, that indifferent enemy. (Lispector, 1988: 35)]

As an rainha africana [African queen] Janair loses her Brazilianness and becomes a foreigner. She is now seen as a subject in her own right, with her own feelings and voice: a queen, no less. She belongs, however, to another country. As an invisible maid Janair could be included in the national normality, could be seen as Brazilian. Now, as a black subject, with her own voice, her own writing and her own hatred, she is seen as an enemy, an outsider, a foreigner because G.H.’s notion of a national identity does not allow for the existence of an Afro-Brazilian. Janair is thrown outside the borders of the nation, outside the notion of national identity that G.H. carried within her. However, the recognition of Janair’s gaze prevents G.H. from reducing what she sees to a stereotype of the exotic: Havia anos que eu só tinha sido julgada pelos meus pares e pelo meu próprio ambiente que eram, em suma, feitos de mim mesma e para mim mesma. Janair era a primeira pessoa realmente exterior de cujo olhar eu tomava consciência. (Lispector, 1998d: 40) [For years I had been judged only by my peers and by my own circle, which were, in the final analysis, made by myself for myself. Janair was the first outside person whose gaze I really took notice of. (Lispector, 1988: 32)]

It is important to note that this confrontation with the foreign ‘African queen’ will change G.H. and her sense of normality in relation to her national identity. In other words, this confrontation with the foreign ghost will modify the way G.H. sees the nation. G.H. loses her sense of familiarity with the landscape that surrounds her. Later on, in chapter 12, G.H. refers to Brazil as a concept somehow in a state of suspension — a superficial, abstract notion: Era finalmente agora. Era simplesmente agora, assim: o país estava em onze horas da manhã. Superficialmente como um quintal que é verde, da mais delicada superficialidade. Verde, verde — verde é um quintal [...]. A superficialidade madura. São onze horas da manhã no Brasil. É agora. Trata-se exatamente de agora. Agora é o tempo inchado até os limites. [...] O tempo freme como um balão parado. [...] Até que num hino nacional a badalada das onze e meia corte as amarras do balão. E de repente nós todos chegaremos ao meio-dia. Que será verde como agora. (Lispector, 1998d: 80) [It was finally now. It was simply now. It was like this: the country was at 11:00 am. Superficially like a green yard, of the most delicate superficiality. Green, green — green is a yard. [...] Ripe superficiality. It is 11:00 am in Brazil. It is now. That means exactly now. Now is time swollen as far as it can be swollen. [...] Time quivers like a stationary balloon. [...] Until, with a national anthem, the tolling of 11:30 cuts the balloon’s restraining ropes. And suddenly we’ll all reach noon. Which will be green like now. (Lispector, 1988: 72)]

In his article entitled ‘Clarice Lispector and the Question of the Nation’ — to


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my knowledge, the only published critical mention to date of the racial elements contained in Lispector’s work — Paulo de Medeiros refers to this novel as follows: Written in a moment of crisis in Brazilian society, and published in the year of the coup that deposed Goulart, initiated the military regime and eliminated political parties, A paixão segundo G.H. could not help but be cryptic, and its lack of any direct reference to the nation must be viewed as symptomatic. (Medeiros, 2002: 147; my emphasis)

Although I agree with Medeiros’ description of this novel as ‘cryptic’, I do not agree with his view that there is ‘a lack of any direct reference to the nation’ in this novel. The passage I quoted above from Lispector is an obvious reference to Brazil as a country. It describes the country in a situation of paralysis, where the f low of time (and change) has stopped, and all that one could detect was a situation of an inf lated present (‘Now is time swollen as far as it can be swollen’). The word ‘superficial’ is repeated three times; in connection with the word ‘green’, the colour that covers most of the Brazilian f lag. The reference to the national anthem contributes to creating an ironical metaphor of the nation as an ideological construction: an empty discourse f loating above material history. Indeed, Medeiros explicitly states that he reads Lispector’s characters as representing the nation: A paixão segundo G.H. and A hora de estrela share many similarities, even though they are highly different texts. In both, I would argue, Lispector uses the figure of a woman to represent the Brazilian nation [...] (Medeiros, 2002: 147)

Although Medeiros’s suggestions above are not wrong, my reading of Lispector’s works starts from a different position. As I have already explained, I believe that Lispector’s intention is to image and not to imagine the nation. Returning to Lukács’s important distinction between description and narration, the point of departure for Lispector’s writing is not the need to describe what Brazil is or should be (an exercise that would engage her in trying to represent the nation), but to narrate her cultural, political and personal experience of living in and within the nation. Lispector’s text clearly refuses the nation as an a priori ideological concept. Neil Larsen’s critique of Fredric Jameson’s assumption that ‘third world texts’ are necessarily national allegories, also discussed in the Introduction, is relevant here. not all ‘third world literature’ necessarily undertakes such a form of national representation, however, and, indeed, it may be just as typical of the narrative of ‘developing nations’ to refuse the ‘nation’ as such an abstract, so to speak, thematic a priori. (Larsen, 2001: 19)

In my view this is the case of A paixão segundo G.H.. We can also see that G.H.’s surrounding landscape, the city of Rio de Janeiro, is described in chapter 18 as a strange, unmapped, unfamiliar landscape: Uma cidade de ouro e pedra, o Rio de Janeiro, cujos habitantes ao sol era seiscentos mil mendigos. [...] Aquela cidade estava precisando de um trabalho de cartografia. [...] Subindo o olhar para cada vez mais longe, por elevações sempre mais escarpadas, diante de mim jaziam gigantescos blocos de edifícios que formavam um desenho pesado, ainda não indicado num mapa. (Lispector, 1998d: 107–08)

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[A city of gold and stone. Rio de Janeiro, whose inhabitants were six hundred thousand beggars. [...] That city was in need of a map-maker. [...] As I lifted my gaze to ever more distant points, to even steeper heights, there arose before me gigantic blocks of buildings that formed a heavy design, one not yet shown on any maps. (Lispector, 1988: 99–100)]

The same character who, in the first chapter pictured herself as part of an elite now describes the city as being inhabited by beggars and placed outside any map. The confrontation with Janair’s inscription breaks the sensation of familiarity in which G.H. used to live, inside her social and racial group. The established cartography of Brazil did not include the town that G.H. was now able to see. G.H. has lost her sense of belonging, she had lost what used to be her imagined community. One could therefore say that G.H.’s sense of nationality is haunted: it is sustained by the fact that the racial Other, Janair, is politically and culturally absent. But because this absence is based on oblivion and repression, G.H.’s sense of belonging to Brazil as an imagined community is also experienced as fragile, vulnerable and superficial. In this sense Lispector’s metaphor could not be more appropriate: the nation is experienced as being as artificial and volatile as a hot-air balloon. Although this is not explicit in the novel, I believe that at the core of this experience of haunting is the fact that G.H. suddenly sees herself as white. Janair’s gaze is crucial in this process. Let us remember what G.H. says: ‘Janair era a primeira pessoa realmente exterior de cujo olhar eu tomava consciência.’ (Lispector, 1998d: 40) [ Janair was the first outside person whose gaze I really took notice of. (Lispector, 1988: 32)] The confrontation with the inscription — the ghost — is upsetting because it provokes the need to examine whiteness and at this moment, G.H., as a white individual, loses the status of being unexamined. In contrast, there is a paradox regarding the visibility of blackness and of black people. Despite the fact that blacks are invisible to society as individuals and as citizens, blackness as a racial marker is ostensibly visible. While whiteness is seen as normal, blackness is seen as different or abnormal. As Richard Dyer explains, one of the characteristics of whiteness is that of being ethnically unmarked; it is synonymous with normality, it does not need to be mentioned: As long as race is something only applied to non-white peoples, as long as white people are not racially seen and named, they/we function as a human norm. Other people are raced, we are just people. [...] There is no more powerful position than that of being ‘just’ human. The point of seeing the racing of whites is to dislodge them/us from the position of power, with all the inequities, oppression, privileges and sufferings in its train, dislodging them/us by undercutting the authority with which they/we speak and act in the world. (Dyer, 1997: 1, 2)

Janair’s ghost, introducing a different point of view (that of black consciousness), makes G.H.’s position as white explicit. Her whiteness becomes marked and these marks are far from f lattering. They are marks of violence, oppression, privilege and guilt. This is how the central character and narrator describes her own reaction: ‘Uma cólera inexplicável, mas que me vinha toda natural, me tomara: eu queria matar alguma coisa ali.’ (Lispector, 1998d: 43–44) [An unexplainable anger, but one that had come over me completely naturally, had taken hold: I wanted to


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kill something here. (Lispector, 1988: 36)] G.H. is possessed by a rage that is inexplicable but comes over her as if it were completely natural. This paradox is sustained only as long as her whiteness remains unexamined. In reality, G.H.’s rage is neither natural nor inexplicable. The appearance of naturalness is in fact socially and culturally constructed. G.H.’s rage is inexplicable because it is sustained by a status quo where whiteness should remain unexamined. G.H. cannot explain her rage because if she explained it (by admitting, for example, that she was furious because she had lost her position of white privilege) she would also be revealing the whole fiction surrounding white supremacy. Because the ideology of white supremacy is not confronted, G.H.’s rage can be experienced as natural despite being inexplicable. This process has consequences also in terms of how we understand identities. Quoting Ross Chambers’ article ‘The Unexamined’ in my last chapter on Toni Morrison, I noted how whiteness, by remaining unexamined, allows white people to retain the privilege of being perceived as individuals in their own right, of being socially unmarked, while raced people are seen first and foremost as part of their ethnic group: ‘[White people’s] essential identity is thus their individual self-identity, to which whiteness as such is a secondary, and so a negligible, factor’ (Chambers, 1997: 192). To cite Chambers again: In contrast to those whose identity is defined by their classificatory status as members of a given group, whites are perceived as individual historical agents whose unclassifiable difference from one another is their most prominent trait. [...] whereas nonwhites are perceived first and foremost as a function of their group belongings, that is, as black or Latino, or Asian (and then as individuals), whites are perceived first as individual people (and only secondarily, if at all, as whites). (Chambers, 1997: 192)

Once her whiteness becomes visible, G.H. loses her sense of identity: ‘Fico tão assustada quando percebo que durante horas perdi minha formação humana.’ (Lispector, 1998d: 14) [I become so scared when I realize that over a period of hours I lost my human constitution (Lispector, 1988: 6)]. Somehow, however, G.H. experienced the identity she had before as superficial, insufficient: Naquela manhã, antes de entrar no quarto, o que era eu? Era o que os outros sempre me haviam visto ser, e assim eu me conhecia. Não sei dizer o que eu era. (Lispector, 1998d: 23–24) [That morning, before I went into the maid’s room, what was I? I was what others had always seen me as, and that was the way I knew myself. I don’t know how to explain what I was. (Lispector, 1988: 16)] pouco a pouco eu havia me transformado na pessoa que tem o meu nome. E acabei sendo o meu nome. É suficiente ver no couro de minhas valises as iniciais G.H., e eis-me. Também dos outros eu não exigia mais do que a primeira cobertura das iniciais dos nomes. (Lispector, 1998: 25) [I had transformed myself little by little into the person who bears my name. And I ended being my name. All you need to do is see the initials G. H. in the leather of my luggage to know that’s me. And I have never demanded

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of anyone else anything more than the mere coverage of the initials of their names. (Lispector, 1988: 17)]

The naming of these two female characters, G.H. and Janair, represents two different, and possibly complementary, senses of identity. We could say that one completes the other. G.H. is just initials, social status, no subjectivity; Janair is just first-name, no surname, no family history. We have to remember, however, that Janair’s subjectivity only becomes visible after G.H. sees the inscription on the wall. Before that, Janair is referred to simply as ‘the maid’. So, following the logic of unexamined whiteness, before confronting the ghost G.H. had an identity which relied on her being part of an unexamined group where she could be seen as an individual. Janair, on the other hand, was seen not as an individual, but simply as part of her ethnic group, another black maid. The confrontation with the ghost creates a rupture: Janair gains a personal identity (her first name is remembered) revealing the superficiality of G.H.’s previous social identity. In her rage G.H. decides to wash the inscription away. She decides to empty and scrub the room. In this process she confronts a cockroach: an insect she finds utterly repulsive. The water here is important because, as we have seen, the space of normalization, the space that G.H. is used to inhabiting, is dark and humid. Janair’s room, separated from the rest of the f lat like a minaret, is a totally different space: O quarto parecia estar em nível incomparavelmente acima do próprio aparta­ mento. Como um minarete. Começara então a minha primeira impressão de mina­ rete, solto acima de uma extensão ilimitada. Dessa impressão eu só percebia por enquanto meu desagrado físico. (Lispector, 1998: 38) [The room seemed to occupy a level much higher than that of the rest of the apartment. Like a minaret. My first impression of a minaret began with this room: f loating above a limitless expanse. At the time, I perceived only my physical discomfort with that impression. (Lispector, 1988: 30)]

An element of Muslim architecture in the midst of Catholic Rio de Janeiro, geographically positioned above other buildings, this minaret is obviously a space detached from every day normality. Here it is interesting to return to Erica Carter’s distinction between spaces and place, the latter embodying symbolic and imaginary elements that are important in terms of personal and social identification. I cite Carter again here: It is not spaces which ground identifications, but places. How then does space become place? By being named; as the f lows of power and negotiations of social relations are rendered in the concrete form of architecture; and also, of course, by embodying the symbolic and imaginary investment of a population. Place is space to which meaning has been ascribed. (Carter, 1993: xii)

Following this distinction these social spaces are also, clearly, places. The novel is explicitly showing the symbolic and imaginary investment that these spaces have. In trying to drench Janair’s place with water G.H. is trying to dominate and repress her presence in it, thus destroying her presence as a separate identity and subjectivity.


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Further on, G.H. tries to squash a cockroach but fails to kill it. The cockroach holds very important symbolic meanings in the novel. Paradoxically, despite being repulsive, it attracts G.H. as if it were a part of herself she could not escape. G.H. plunges into an experience of abjection, culminating with her eating part of the white substance expelled by the dying body of the cockroach, as if whiteness had to not simply be examined but physically incorporated into G.H.’s body. Solange Ribeiro de Oliveira’s reading of this novel, dating from 1985, is very useful as it makes explicit the matter of class difference in Lispector’s work, rejecting the notion that she was a writer who was not concerned with social matters. This is how De Oliveira puts it, quoting the critic Fábio Lucas: Os críticos têm sido unânimes em reconhecer-lhe a importância para a renovação da ficção nacional [...]. Entretanto, todos eles omitem, ou mencionam de passagem, a relevância social de Clarice Lispector. Mesmo um livro como o de Fábio Lucas, cujo título, O Caráter Social da Literatura Brasileira, parece prometer tratamento diferente, apresenta uma imagem da escritora, adequada nos seus limites, porém incompleta: a de uma Virgínia Woolf do Brasil (Virgínia também teve os aspectos sociais da sua obra pouco estudados pelos críticos). Lucas vê em Clarice ‘um desligamento do contexto social’, caracterizando a escritora como a ‘romancista das sutilezas da alma, de miniaturas do comportamento humano, do registro de estados emocionais, que determinou uma renovação do romance psicológico entre nós.’ Para preencher essa lacuna da crítica, pareceu-nos útil examinar o aspecto da luta de classes, que A Paixão acrescenta à ficção de Clarice e que retorna nos romances seguintes. (De Oliveira, 1985: 9) [The critics have been unanimous in recognizing her importance in the revival of national literature. [...] However, all of them ignore, or mention only in passing, Clarice Lispector’s social relevance. Even a book such as that by Fabio Lucas, whose title The Social Character of Brazilian Literature seems to promise a different approach, presents an image of the writer which is adequate as far as it goes but which is, however, incomplete: it is that of a Brazilian Virginia Woolf (there are also social aspects within Woolf ’s work that have been little studied by critics). Lucas sees in Clarice ‘a detachment from the social context’, characterizing the writer as ‘the novelist of the subtleties of the soul, of the minutiae of human behaviour, of the register of emotional states, who started the revival of the psychological novel in Brazil.’ In order to address this critical vacuum, we feel it would be useful to examine the theme of class struggle, which is first introduced into Clarice’s fiction in ‘A Paixão’ and which returns in subsequent novels.]

De Oliveira analyses A paixão segundo G.H. in detail from this perspective: ‘A lembrança da empregada força a patroa a reexaminar sua própria vida passada, [...]. O que irrita G.H. acima de tudo é que a censura muda que lê no desenho fora expressada por alguém de uma classe social inferior.’ (De Oliveira, 1985: 60, 61) [The memento left by the maid forces the mistress of the house to re-examine her own past life, [...]. What irritates G.H. above all else is that the mute censure that she reads in the drawing should be expressed by someone of an inferior social class.] Her article, however, leaves the matter of race completely unexamined. De Oliveira interprets the hateful (and imagined) confrontation between G.H. and Janair in terms of a simple dialectic between oppressor and oppressed: ‘Esse ódio

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impessoal é, evidentemente, o ódio do opressor pelo oprimido, o ódio entre a que nunca teve privilégios e a que temia perder os que sempre tivera’ (De Oliveira, 1985: 61) [This impersonal hatred is, clearly, the hatred of the oppressor by the oppressed, the hatred between one who has never had privileges and one who was scared of losing those that she has always had]. In not dealing with the matter of ethnicity, De Oliveira merges the figure of the cockroach with that of Janair, simplifying the novel under the sole critical umbrella of class difference. Quoting passages from Lispector’s novel, De Oliveira posits this identification at least twice in her book; first in chapter 3: ‘A identificação entre a barata e a ex-empregada, Janair, fica evidente desde o início da narrativa: “a barata e Janair eram os verdadeiros habitantes daquele quarto” ’ (De Oliveira, 1985: 47) [The identification of the cockroach and the ex-maid, Janair, is clear from the beginning of the narrative: ‘the cockroach and Janair were the true inhabitants of that room’] and secondly: Já tivemos ocasião de confrontar a descrição da barata e da empregada, mostrando que são duas imagens do mesmo ser. Não faz mal lembrar que Janair tem a cor da barata, ‘o rosto preto [...] a pele inteiramente opaca’. Como as baratas, era ‘toda escura e invisível’, isto é, escondia-se nos recessos escuros da casa. (De Oliveira, 1985: 63) [We have already been presented with the description of the cockroach and the maid, showing that they are two images of the same being. It’s useful to remember that Janair is the same colour as the cockroach, ‘the black face [...] the completely opaque skin. Like a cockroach, she was “all dark and invisible”, that is, she hid away in the dark recesses of the house.]

De Oliveira finishes this passage as follows, again citing the novel: A ligação fica definitivamente estabelecida com a frase: ‘Janair e a barata eram os verdadeiros habitantes daquele quarto.’ A empregada e o inseto são, pois, a mesma figura. Janair é representante das classes oprimidas, cuja voz foi sufocada pelo grupo opressor: ‘Aquela mulher [...] era a representante de um silêncio [...].’ A barata tem a mesma função de representante das classes desfavorecidas. (De Oliveira, 1985: 63) [The link is clearly established with the phrase: ‘Janair and the cockroach were the true inhabitants of that room.’ The maid and the insect are, thus, the same figure. Janair is a representative of the oppressed classes, whose voice has been suffocated by the class of oppressors: ‘That woman [...] was the representative of a silence [...].’ The cockroach has the same function of representing the less fortunate classes.]

This passage in De Oliveira’s text suggests that class is an over-determining force operating side by side with other forces such as gender, but not intersecting with them. I believe that the important contribution that this particular novel can make towards understanding Brazilian society of the time lies precisely in the fact that it is showing how class and race (as well as gender, as we shall see) are entwined in G.H.’s mind; how her sense of having a personal identity depended on ignoring not just her position as an oppressor but also her position as a white person.


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De Oliveira’s critique, while important for stressing the importance of class difference in Lispector’s work, overlooks the instance of ethnic difference, simplifying Lispector’s narrative to the point of merging two figures that are clearly different: the cockroach and Janair. The text, however, states explicit differences between them. While Janair is described as black, as an African queen, the cockroach is associated with a mulatto woman. After unsuccessfully trying to kill the cockroach, G.H. describes how she sees the insect: ‘a barata não tem nariz. Olhei-a, com aquela sua boca e seus olhos: parecia uma mulata à morte’ (Lispector, 1964: 56) [The cockroach has no nose. I looked at it, with its mouth and its eyes; it looked like a dying mulatto woman. (Lispector, 1988: 48)] This perspective also overlooks the haunting dimension of this story, ignoring the difference between the maid, as a normalized and socially invisible individual, and Janair’s virtual presence as a ghost. In some ways Janair and the cockroach do seem to be the same person, although there are significant differences between them. Basically, Janair is the person that a maid is not allowed to be: openly black, African and Brazilian, critical and articulate. Since protagonist and narrator are the same person, what the text presents cannot but be biased as the expression of G.H.’s personal perspective and experience as a member of the middle classes. However, G.H. is trying to describe a situation of personal crisis triggered precisely by her realization, as a result of this haunting, that she had not previously perceived the entirety of this individual. As we have seen, for the first time inside G.H.’s consciousness, Janair is occupying the position of a subject in her own right. G.H could have retained her own memory of the invisible black maid. However, Janair’s graphic writing creates an instance where ‘rememory’ (to use Morrison’s concept) is in operation. Janair, as virtual, ghostly matter, belongs not to G.H.’s personal memory but to the space, the material walls that define this room. Through rememory, established social and racial borders are transgressed. Because Janair speaks through her own powerful form of writing, G.H. loses the status of being an unexamined white person. The cockroach is in a different position: as a household insect it is clearly less empowered than Janair, who is not domesticated or acculturated inside Brazil. Similarly to the stereotype of the Brazilian mulatta, where the African element loses its threatening aspects, is domesticated and ‘made Brazilian’, the cockroach is an unwanted but very common household pest ‘normalized’ in Brazilian everyday experience. Most of all, while Janair is an unique individual, belonging to a specific cultural history that empowers her, that makes her an African queen the cockroach is presented as a living being identical to many, many others in space and in historical time: O que sempre me repugnara em baratas é que elas eram obsoletas e no entanto atuais. Saber que elas estavam na Terra e iguais a hoje, antes mesmo que tives­ sem aparecido os primeiros dinossauros, saber que o primeiro homem surgido já as havia encontrado proliferadas e se arrastando vivas [...]. Há trezentos e cinqüenta milhões de anos elas se repetiam sem se transformarem. (Lispector, 1998d: 47–48) [What had always disgusted me about cockroaches was that they were obsolete and at the same time still living. Knowing that they had been on Earth in the same form as they have today even before the first dinosaurs appeared, knowing

Welcoming the Ghost


that the first man to come forth had found them crawling across the ground in hoards [...]. For three hundred and fifty million years, they have reproduced with no change. (Lispector, 1988: 40)]

At this point it is useful to consider Julia Kristeva’s concept of abjection: there looms, within abjection, one of those violent, dark, revolts of being, directed against a threat that seems to emanate from an exorbitant outside or inside, ejected beyond the scope of the possible, the tolerable, the thinkable. It lies there, quite close, but it cannot be assimilated. (Kristeva, 1982: 1).

Following the work of Mary Douglas (2002) on the anthropological significance of defilement Kristeva also says: ‘It is not lack of cleanliness or health that causes abjection, but what disturbs identity, system, order. What does not respect borders, positions, rules.’ (Kristeva, 1982: 4) In Lispector’s novel, G.H. was used to respecting invisible borders of whiteness, class and gender. Seeing those borders has a devastating effect on the protagonist’s sense of self-identity and on her sense of normality. The mere recognition of these borders is experienced by her as a way of breaking them. This casts the subject into a space that is a non-space, the space of abjection, of dirt, the space of the unclean, the improper and the forbidden. As Kristeva says: ‘the abject [...] is radically excluded and draws me toward a place where meaning collapses’. (Kristeva, 1982: 2) The abject is the realm of the unspeakable and the unthinkable. This passage at the end of chapter 4 of the novel ref lects that feeling of collapse: e o peso do primeiro desabamento abaixava os cantos de minha boca, me deixava de braços caídos. O que me acontecia? Nunca saberei entender mas há de haver quem entenda. E é em mim que tenho de criar esse alguém que entenderá. (Lispector, 1998d: 44) [and the force of the first collapse lowered the corners of my mouth, made my arms fall. What was happening to me? I shall never be able to understand it, but there must be someone who can. And I shall create that someone who can inside myself. (Lispector, 1988: 37)]

This lack of understanding and the need to create in herself the one who will understand constitutes the novel’s main drive. She is compelled to represent the examination of whiteness, the collapse of her ideas about the world and about herself. There is a need to create a special space where such an understanding could take place. This room that dazzles because of its whiteness, this Muslim minaret f loating above Catholic Rio de Janeiro, represents that special space. It is the architectural compartment created by Lispector to place G.H.’s exploration of a space of abjection. However, the immense strength of abjection is never contained. Instead, repulsion is a feeling that will inhabit G.H. throughout the novel: É que apesar de já ter entrado no quarto, eu parecia ter entrado em nada. Mesmo dentro dele, eu continuava de algum modo do lado de fora. Como se ele não tivesse bastante profundidade pra me caber e deixasse pedaços meus no corredor, na maior repulsão de que eu já fora vítima: eu não cabia. (Lispector, 1998d: 45)


Welcoming the Ghost [In spite of having come into the room, I seemed to have come into a nothingness. Even inside it I somehow kept staying outside. As though it was not deep enough to hold me and left parts of me still in the hallway, in the greatest rejection I had ever experienced: I didn’t fit. (Lispector, 1988: 37)]

This process of abjection culminates in chapter 30 when G.H. eats the white substance that has been expelled from the cockroach’s body. The author emphasizes the whiteness of this substance: ‘Não contei que, ali sentada e imóvel, eu ainda não parara de olhar com grande nojo, sim, ainda com nojo, a massa branca amarelecida por cima do pardacento da barata. [...] E a redenção na própria coisa seria eu botar na boca a massa branca da barata (Lispector, 1998d: 163–64)’ [ I haven’t said how, sitting there motionless, I still hadn’t stopped looking with deep disgust, yes, still with disgust, at the yellowish white mass on top of the cockroach grayness. [...] And the redemption in the thing itself would be putting into my own mouth the white paste from the cockroach (Lispector, 1988: 156–57)]. The contrast between this yellowish white matter and the dark background of the cockroach’s body against which it is lying reinforces the racial implications of G.H.’s psychological crisis. The need to eat the repulsive white substance could represent G.H.’s need to confront the circulating myth of Brazil being a racial democracy and examine her position as a white person in a deeply racialized and unequal society. This room, detached and separated from the level of normality, is a space where whiteness can be examined and the abject can be explored. Interestingly, gender seems to play a key role in this process of plunging into abjection. Back in chapter 4, when she first confronts Janair’s inscription on the wall, G.H. imagines Janair seeing her as a man: Meu mal-estar era de algum modo divertido: é que nunca antes me ocorrera que, na mudez de Janair, pudesse ter havido uma censura à minha vida, que devia ter sido chamada pelo seu silêncio de ‘uma vida de homens’? como me julgara ela? Olhei o mural onde eu devia estar sendo retratada... Eu, o Homem. (Lispector, 1998d: 40) [My discomfort was somehow amusing; had it never occurred to me that in Janair’s silence there might have been a criticism of my life-style, which her silence must have labeled ‘a man’s life’? how had she thought of me? I looked at the drawing on the wall in which I was probably being portrayed... I, the Man. (Lispector, 1988: 32)]

Examining whiteness forces us to reassess our concepts of self, personal identity and a whole ontology based on white identity being opposed to a black Other. Being white becomes the unexamined attribute of a subject defined by contrast to a marked Other, in this case a black female Other. To reject this ontology, to examine race, is to face the need to rebuild new concepts of identity. The above quotation (‘I, the Man.’), however, reveals that gender is also a relevant social mark here. To exclude Janair would also be to exclude femaleness (or femininity). Janair’s gaze brings a double accusation. In G.H.’s imagination Janair sees her as different not simply in terms of race and class, but also in terms of gender. As Chambers says: ‘There are plenty of unmarked categories (maleness, hetero­

Welcoming the Ghost


sexuality, and middle classness being obvious ones), but whiteness is perhaps the primary unmarked and so unexamined — let’s say “blank” — category’ (Chambers, 1997: 189). By adhering to unexamined whiteness, G.H. had also adhered to an unexamined maleness (or masculinity), denying her own femaleness (or femininity), possibly the only social mark she had in common with Janair. It is the cockroach that forces individuals to assume their gender identities, as they are lured inside the room: ‘A entrada para este quarto só tinha uma passagem, e estreita: pela barata. [...] E quem entrasse se transformaria num “ela” ou num “ele”. Eu era aquela a quem o quarto chamava de “ela”. Ali entrara um eu a que o quarto dera uma dimensão de ela.’ (Lispector, 1964: 59–60) [This room had only one way in, and it was a narrow one: through the cockroach. [...] And whoever came in would be transformed into a “she” or into a “he”. I was the person the room called “she”. I had come in an “I”, but the room then gave me the dimensions of “she” (Lispector, 1988: 52)]. The cockroach functions as a ‘passage’, a filter, determining the way reality pene­trates our consciousness. This filter forces one to recognize gender. Sexuality, fertility, procreation are elements that cannot be ignored here. G.H. sees herself as another link in a historical chain of female individuals: ‘E terminara, também eu toda imunda, por desembocar através dela (a barata) para o meu passado que era o meu contínuo presente e o meu futuro contínuo — e que hoje e sempre está na parede, e minhas quinze milhões de filhas, desde então até eu, também lá estavam’ (Lispector, 1998d: 65) [And I had ended up, all impure myself, embarking, through it (the cockroach), upon my past, which was my continuous present and my continuous future — and which, today and forever, is on the wall, and my fifteen million daughters, from that time down to myself, were also there (Lispector, 1988: 57)]. This is how G.H. refers to the cockroach’s eyes in chapter 11: ‘Os dois olhos eram vivos como dois ovários. Ela me olhava com a fertilidade cega do seu olhar. Ela fertilizava a minha fertilidade morta’ (Lispector, 1964: 77) [The two eyes were alive like two ovaries. It looked at me with the blind fertility of its look. It was making my dead fertility fertile (Lispector, 1988: 69)]. If, in adhering to unexamined whiteness G.H. had repressed her female charac­teristics, now, in this room, she cannot escape them. As a consequence, they are experienced as enlarged, almost overwhelming. According to Kristeva, the female body and its procreative power belong to the realm of abjection. In societies where it occurs, ritualization of defilement is accompanied by a strong concern for separating the sexes, and this means giving men rights over women. The latter, apparently put in the position of passive objects, are none the less felt to be wily powers, ‘baleful schemers’ from whom rightful beneficiaries must protect themselves. [...] That other sex, the feminine, becomes synonymous with a radical evil that is to be suppressed [...]. (Kristeva, 1982: 70)

We could say that the cockroach fuses two aspects that need to be cast out into the realm of abjection: not being white (mulata, or mulatto woman) and being female (the frightening power of procreation).


Welcoming the Ghost

In this context, it is not surprising that G.H. sees the cockroach as female: ‘No entanto ei-la, a barata neutra, sem nome de dor ou de amor. Sua única diferenciação de vida é que ela devia ser macho ou fêmea. Eu só a pensara como fêmea, pois o que é esmagado pela cintura é fêmea.’ (Lispector, 1998d: 93; my emphasis) [There it is nevertheless, this neutral cockroach without a name for love or suffering. Its only differentiation in life is that it has to be either male or female. I had been thinking of it only as female since whatever is caved in at the middle must be female. (Lispector, 1988: 85)]. The cockroach’s body, ‘caved in at the middle’, mimics what corsets used to do to the female body (and what images of female beauty still impose). The insect’s crushed body, therefore, pictures the engendering of female bodies, its shaping to conform to images of femininity. G.H.’s attraction towards the abject cockroach can be read as her own attraction towards parts of herself that she has excluded from the conscious self and projected into the Other. This is akin to a haunting that brings back elements that belong to us. This is reminiscent of Morrison’s notion of the need to dwell with ghosts in order to re-incorporate elements that have been expelled from one’s psyche, allowing for personal and social transformation. In this sense it is relevant that when, in chapter 4, the narrator G.H. confronts the inscription on the wall, despite her shock and outrage she also adds: ‘No en­tanto, curiosamente, a figura na parede lembrava-me alguém, que era eu mesma.’ (Lispector, 1998d: 41) [Curiously, however, the figure on the wall still reminded me of someone: myself (Lispector, 1988: 33)]. This instance of haunting opens G.H’s mind, inducing her to relate to the cockroach in a different manner. G.H.’s long and dist­urbing contact with the cockroach is not a second instance of haunting but the continuation of the haunting she experienced after seeing Janair’s writing on the wall. Haunting brings to the surface the stranger within. Elements that had been cast outside one’s notion of personal and national identity come back to haunt the self. Abjection occurs when the borders, the limits of social order, are breached. In Strangers to Ourselves, referring to Freud’s article ‘The Uncanny’ (1919), Kristeva offers us a new understanding of what being foreign might mean: ‘the foreign is neither a race nor a nation. [...] Uncanny, foreignness is within us: we are our own foreigners, we are divided’ (Kristeva, 1991: 181). We could say that, to a certain extent, the idea of an autonomous, singular, undivided identity is only sustainable whilst whiteness remains unexamined. As Kristeva writes: the uncanny is that class of the frightening which leads back to what is known of old and long familiar [...] that which is strangely uncanny would be that which was (the past tense is important) familiar and, under certain conditions [...] emerges. [...] A first step was taken [with Freud] that removed the uncanny strangeness from the outside, where fright had anchored it, to locate it inside [...]. The other is my (‘own and proper’) unconscious. [...] How could one tolerate a foreigner if one did not know one was a stranger to oneself? (Kristeva, 1991: 182–83)

Linking Kristeva’s concept of the stranger and Chambers’ ideas on unexamined whiteness, I would like to suggest that seeing the racial Other as a subject in his/her own right breaks our sense of normality, creates a rupture in the sense of familiarity

Welcoming the Ghost


we have towards our social and cultural environment. This might throw us into a sense of abjection, where the borders and rules that organize society are broken inside our minds. This leads us to confront the foreign within us. This suggests that multiculturalism — in its genuine sense — involves subjective changes in people’s personal and national identities. There seems to be no shortcut bypassing the personal and subjective crisis that multiculturalism brings within it. A part of G.H. welcomed Janair and felt compelled to identify with the cockroach; she remains in the reader’s mind as a positive character because she does not manage to ‘expel’ the ghost to ‘outside’ her consciousness. She does not avoid a difficult truth; on the contrary, she dwells in it for 29 chapters. One could say that this novel describes a process in which a middle-class female confronts the limits of her own identity as a ‘modern woman’. Lispector achieves this by opening up a space where abjection can be explored. In that space, the comfortable parameters determining G.H.’s personal, national and gender identity collapsed when Janair’s black consciousness was made explicit. It was not Janair’s identity as a maid that triggered G.H.’s crisis, but as a ‘black African’. If Janair had not disappeared leaving her inscription on the wall, she would have continued to exist merely as another invisible black maid. The ghost is therefore necessary, in order that Janair’s black consciousness becomes visible. The presence of the African queen, as an autonomous subject with an autonomous culture, is crucial in this novel. As G.H. had put it earlier in the text: ‘eu era o petróleo que só hoje jorrou, quando uma negra africana me desenhou na minha casa, fazendo-me brotar de uma parede’ (Lispector, 1998d: 114) [I was the oil that just today gushed forth, when a black African drew me in my own house, making me come forth from a wall (Lispector, 1988: 106)]. The word petróleo [oil] seems to cast G.H.’s experience of disintegration as something productive and valuable, since it is rare and hard to collect. As a black substance, oil might also represent G.H.’s non-white, non-male, non-middle-class aspects that had been excluded from her conscious self. This novel describes a contact with the unspeakable, with matters that have remained so far outside language. This is clear in the following passage: A linguagem é o meu esforço humano. Por destino tenho que ir buscar e por destino volto com as mãos vazias. Mas — volto com o indizível. O indizível só me poderá ser dado através do fracasso de minha linguagem. (Lispector, 1998d: 176) [Language is my human endeavor. I have fatefully to go seeking and fatefully I return with empty hands. But — I return with the unsayable. The unsayable can be given me only through the failure of language. (Lispector, 1988: 170)]

However, Lispector’s exploration of the unspeakable is profoundly pessimistic, unlike Morrison’s novel. In Beloved, through an experience of haunting Sethe is able to create a sense of belonging to society and is able to envisage a future for herself. G.H.’s experience, on the contrary, does not end with an optimistic re-configuration of her personal self. Instead, at the end of the novel G.H. gives up having a personal identity, happy to see herself dissolved in an undefined, unnamed matter: ‘A desistência é uma revelação. [...] Desisto e quanto menos sou mais vivo, quanto mais perco o meu nome mais me chamam’ (Lispector, 1998d:


Welcoming the Ghost

177) [Desistance is a revelation. [...] I desist and the less I am, the more alive, the more I lose my name, the more I am called (Lispector, 1988: 171)]. Instead of this experience leading to a deep transformation of the self, the narrator imagines that if, and when, she gets to the end of her narrative, she will go out to distract herself, resuming her everyday life in the same way as before. The last words of the following passage highlight the fact that she will re-engage in actively and voluntarily forgetting her previous experience of haunting: (De uma coisa eu sei: se chegar ao fim deste relato, irei, não amanhã, mas hoje mesmo comer e dançar no ‘Top Bambino’, estou precisando danadamente me divertir [...] hoje de noite vai ser minha vida retomada, a de minha alegria comum, precisarei para o resto dos meus dias de minha leve vulgaridade doce e bem-humorada, preciso esquecer, como todo mundo.) (Lispector, 1998d: 162) [(One thing I know: if I reach the end of this account, I’ll go, not tomorrow but yet today, to eat and dance at the Top-Bambino, I mightily need to have a good time and distract myself [...] tonight my regular life will be starting again, the life of my common happiness, I’ll need for the rest of my days my slight, sweet, good-humored commonness, I, like everybody, need to forget.) (Lispector, 1988: 155)]

Despite the sensation of ecstasy at the end of A paixão segundo G.H. when G.H. finally reaches a fusion with pure living matter, with the neutral, the novel, taken as a whole, is very pessimistic. The text’s final marks — dashes — are signs of silence. Together with any sense of personal identity, the narrator also relinquishes any effort at expression, giving up on the use of language. This work is, I contend, more than a philosophical enquiry into the substance of the self. Lispector did not imagine a new personal identity emerging from such an experience of internal disintegration. Rather, one could argue that the narrative shows how, in the 1960s, at the time when Lispector was writing, consciousness of one’s own whiteness, together with the apprehension of one’s female condition, was experienced as something that the self could not survive.



Whiteness and the Construction of Subjectivity in O lustre in my experience it is rare for the critics of racism to confess the racist structure of their own subjectivity. Yet it’s impossible to live in a racist society, that is, to be subject to a racist culture, without being a racist cultural subject. It is ourselves we are trying to change, and it does no good, therefore, to begin by pretending that we are ourselves exempt from the problems we describe. Ross Chambers, 1997: 202

In this chapter I will read Lispector’s novel O lustre [The Chandelier] (1946) in order to show how race, and racist thinking, is embedded in the psyche of the protagonist Virgínia from a very early stage. In Chapter 1, I discussed Judith Butler’s concept of performativity and the related notion of passing, in the context of the construction of subjectivities under a situation of white supremacy: these notions will be instrumental for my reading of this novel by Lispector. I will contend that according to O lustre, in Brazil during the period that the novel was written and published, performing whiteness was a precondition for having a personal identity. It is important to stress, as noted in my introduction, that I use the term whiteness as a localized concept that is not incompatible with the notion of a Brazilian morenidade. As we saw in the previous chapter, whiteness had to remain unexamined in order for white racial supremacy to remain unquestioned. This required many things to be silenced; and this silencing could be traumatic. This becomes evident when we see the impact that the opening traumatic scene has on Virgínia as a child. This, in turn, is related to two dreams Virginia will have later in her life: the dream about the mulatto, in chapter 3 (which happens in the same locus as the opening traumatic scene); and the dream of the Metallic City (A Cidade Metálica) later in the narrative. It is important here to view Lispector’s work in the context of modernization in Latin America: a process that Vivian Schelling describes as ‘inextricably linked to the whitening — the cultural and biological de-indigenization and de-Africanization — of their societies’ (Schelling, 2000: 11). Whiteness and modernity mesh together, imposing norms of what one needs to perform in order to belong. Even if one is white, one still needs to perform whiteness in order to belong. In the previous chapter we saw how the novel A paixão segundo G.H. illustrates Judith Butler’s notion of vectors of power articulating the construction of subjecti­ vities. Here we will be able to observe a similar process, with an emphasis on


Whiteness and the Construction of Subjectivity

another vector of power: that of belonging or not to the urban environment and therefore to modernity. One must not forget that the four decades during which Lispector was writing (from the mid 1940s to the late 1970s) correspond to a period when Brazil experienced a massive process of modernization, coinciding with huge growth in the urban population due to intensive government support for the country’s industries. To be part of the nation, one also needed to be modern. What does modernization mean in this novel? Is it racially determined? If so, how? Does this text draw connections between modernization, race and gender in Brazil? What consequences does all of this have for a person’s subjectivity? Does the context of unexamined whiteness create a traumatic situation? If so, how is trauma expressed? Is there a specific language of trauma? These are some of the questions I will try to answer in this chapter. O lustre describes the life of Virgínia, from the early stages of her childhood on the family farm Granja Quieta, where she lives with her brother Daniel, her father, her mother and her sister Esmeralda. There is an atmosphere of decay and depression in the family home: the mother, emotionally estranged from the father, is involved in a symbiotic relationship with her elder daughter Esmeralda. The father is isolated, frustrated and violent, while Daniel and Virgínia are neglected, creating between them a very close and slightly sado-masochistic relationship. One day, inf luenced by her brother, Virgínia denounces her sister to her father, telling him about Esmeralda’s hidden encounters with a man. This creates a rupture between Virgínia and the family, and as a result she is forced to move away. She goes to live in an unnamed big city, with her brother Daniel. After a while her brother gets married, leaving Virgínia on her own. She moves to live with her aunts, who prove to be mean and cruel to her. Virgínia then starts living on her own. She does not work, but lives on the money her family sends her. Isolated and lonely, Virgínia tries to create personal relationships but does not succeed. She starts a friendship with Miguel, the concierge of her building. However, he is married and suspicious of her motives and the relationship does not continue. Later she takes a lover, Vicente, but this relationship does not last either. Virgínia never really adapts to the urban environment. After some time she decides to go back to the farm. She re-encounters her family and realizes how much she has changed during this period of living in the city. She spends some time in Granja Quieta before choosing to return to the city. On arrival, as she is leaving the train station, Virgínia is run over by a car and dies. She is then recognized by Miguel’s wife who was passing by and who now tells the people around her about Virgínia’s encounters with her husband. Virgínia is then taken to be a prostitute, losing, at the same time, her life and her reputation. Adriano, Vicente’s friend, also sees her dead and recognizes her. The book ends with the focus on Adriano, who seems to be deeply transformed by Virgínia’s death. Like many of Lispector’s protagonists, Virgínia oscillates between two environ­ ments, the traditional setting of the family farm where she was born and the big city to which she moves as a young woman. The progression from rural to urban environment makes an important mark on Virgínia’s psyche. There is a general acceptance of the urban as standing higher than the rural in a hierarchy of social

Whiteness and the Construction of Subjectivity


desirability. Being urban is seen as being modern: a goal in itself. We have seen how Virgínia’s several attempts to adapt to the city culminate with her being run over by a car and dying at the end of the novel. Intriguingly, a similar end will be given to Lispector’s last protagonist, Macabéa, in the novel A hora da estrela published more than three decades later in 1977. This similarity of plot structure between one of Lispector’s earliest novels and her last one might indicate the permanence of a problem: the difficulties that a woman, in Brazil, at that time, had to negotiate in order to respond to the demands modernization made upon her. But a specific kind of modernization. As we have seen in Chapter 2, Toni Morrison, has explained her position towards the idea of modernity in an interview with Paul Gilroy. Her particular perspective — that of a non-white contemporary woman writer — might be useful to help us understand Lispector’s work: modern life begins with slavery... From a women’s point of view, in terms of confronting the problems of where the world is now, black women had to deal with post-modern problems in the nineteenth century and earlier. These things had to be addressed by black people a long time ago: certain kinds of dissolution, the loss of and the need to reconstruct certain kinds of stability. Certain kinds of madness, deliberately going mad [...] ‘in order not to lose your mind’. These strategies for survival made the truly modern person. They’re a response to predatory western phenomena. You can call it an ideology and an economy, what it is is a pathology. Slavery broke the world in half, it broke it in everyway. It broke Europe. It made them into something else, it made them slave masters, it made them crazy. You can’t do that for hundreds of years and it not take a toll. (quoted by Gilroy, 1993: 221)

From Morrison’s perspective slavery becomes central to the understanding of modernity and the processes developed to deal with it as a pathology. This idea can be applied to Lispector’s work. In her novels it is common for external action to be brought to a halt for pages and pages, sometimes a whole sequence of chapters. Plot, in the strict sense of a line of events, is interrupted while the narrator exposes what is going on inside a character’s mind. I do not question the fact that these deep subjective investigations are necessary; however, from another perspective, it is also clear that they represent a kind of paralysis. It is obvious that this subject, this character, is having difficulties in acting, in engaging with her environment. There is something stopping this person from articulating herself, her subjective feelings and experiences, and becoming an agent in the story. Or to put it crudely, something is stopping this character from ‘getting on with her life’. Maybe this paralysis is one of those ‘strategies of survival’ Morrison was referring to in her statement, or a symptom of a social pathology. In that case, it is not a paralysis at all but a tactic, an instrument of resistance. The character needs to undergo excruciating investigations into herself not simply because of some philosophical obsession or matter of literary style. She does so because it is a matter of survival. Lispector’s characters plunge into crisis in order to protect themselves, precisely to preserve their power of agency: their own subjectivity. In this specific novel, O lustre, we can see how Virgínia needs to expel non-white


Whiteness and the Construction of Subjectivity

aspects of herself in order to construct an acceptable personal identity. She needs to construct her subjectivity according to implicit rules determining what is modern, which, in turn, conforms to an idea of what it is to be a national subject. Being well adjusted, feeling comfortable in the city, understanding its language and hidden codes, is experienced as having achieved, as properly performing an identity. The novel shows how this process also means constructing a particular female body. Judith Butler’s theoretical writing on the formation of personal identities in Bodies that Matter (1993) — as discussed in Chapter 1 — can be instrumental here. According to Butler, in order for some bodies to incarnate the norm, to count as ‘bodies that matter’, other bodies have to be excluded and rejected. It is important to see that, despite being white, Virgínia also needs to perform whiteness; the colour of her skin in itself is not enough to give her a ‘body that matters’. Much of the drama depicted in O lustre could be synthesized in two main questions that Virgínia has to negotiate in order to become a modern woman. First: what can I do with this body of mine so that it will be accepted as a ‘body that matters’? Second (and consequently): what can I do with my own thinking, with my consciousness in the face of what I need to perform? In other words, how can I have my own mind, my own consciousness, if so much of what I think and feel cannot be spoken of? There are many instances in the book where we can see how Virgínia is struggling with the first question. I will concentrate, however, on one sequence where Virgínia, now an adult, is living in the big city. She has been invited to a dinner party and she is very scared because the people she is going to meet intimidate her. I will concentrate on Virgínia’s preparation for the dinner party during which the character builds and creates for herself a body that would qualify as a body that matters. We should also note that this process of preparation is not simply physical, but it involves interacting with other individuals in a specific way. First of all Virgínia needs to get dressed: ‘desejava alguma coisa que a vestisse para o jantar de Irene’ (Lispector, 1999a: 76) [she wanted something that would dress her up for Irene’s dinner party]. It is interesting that she is not just simply looking for clothes, she is looking for ‘something’ that would dress her up for that specific occasion. The issue here is not just to protect or cover one’s own body, but the need to construct an acceptable body. Virgínia has already set aside a white dress which is described as a sort of animated object, with a life of its own: ‘O vestido branco estendia-se sobre a cama, animava o quartinho dando-lhe um ar de estranha e proibida excitação’ (Lispector, 1999a: 76) [The white dress was laid out on the bed, breathing life into the room and giving it an air of strange and forbidden excitement]. She lingers a bit in her dressing gown, undecided. Interestingly her dressing gown is also white and associated with the surrounding silence and a kind of new atmosphere that Virgínia seems to experience for the first time: ‘Aos poucos no fundo de sua negligência algum ponto de seu corpo começou a viver fracamente, a pulsar acompanhando as coisas ao redor [...]. Mas era tão infamiliar o silêncio e a sua combinação branca’ (Lispector, 1999a: 77) [Before long, from the depths of her neglect something in her body sprang slowly to life, pulsating in accompaniment with the surroundings [...]. Yet the silence and her white slip were so unfamiliar].

Whiteness and the Construction of Subjectivity


Finally Virgínia puts on the white dress. At this exact moment someone knocks at her door. She opens the door to meet the washer-woman and her daughter who have come to collect a bundle of washing. They are surprised to see Virgínia in a formal, expensive dress. Here again, the white silk gives Virgínia’s skin a special glow: encontrou a lavadeira e a filha com o pacote de roupa lavada, pedindo desculpas por não terem vindo no sábado, olhando surpresas o vestido de seda nunca lavado de Virgínia, a quem viam sempre em roupas pobres. [...] Os pequenos botões de vidro tremiam a cada respiração. O branco-creme adoçava-lhe a pele fina, fazia brilhar os cabelos escuros. (Lispector, 1999a: 77) [there were the washerwoman and her daughter with the bundle of clean clothes, apologizing for not having come on Saturday, staring with surprise at Virginia’s silk dress that they have never washed before, used to always seeing her in humble clothes. [...] The little glass buttons trembled with every breath. The creamy-white softened her fine skin, making her dark hair shine.]

The white dress seems not only to give Virgínia social status but also to provide her skin and hair with a veneer of glamour. Virgínia says she is too busy to deal with the washer-woman and they leave. She feels a pang of guilt about being rude to them, but soon forgets this and continues with her preparations: ‘Pensativa, ocorreu-lhe que jamais havia de esquecer a ofensa às lavadeiras, mas no mesmo momento pensou que era tarde e mudou para sempre de rumo’ (Lispector, 1999a: 78) [Pensive, it occurred to her that she would never forget her rudeness to the washerwomen, but in the same instant she decided it was getting late and changed tack for good]. This rejection of the washer-woman is vital in this psychological and social context, because, in doing so Virgínia is also creating the notion of the social Other and positioning it outside her. The washer-woman becomes the ‘body that doesn’t matter’. This allows Virgínia to imagine her own body as different and as a body that now, finally, starts to matter. The fact that she is wearing a white dress, and one that creates special effects on her skin, suggests that what is happening here is that Virgínia is starting to perform, and therefore embody, whiteness. It is symptomatic that during this passage neither Virgínia’s nor the washer-women’s skin is explicitly qualified as white or non-white. The emphasis here is on the social interaction between people and objects. Class and race articulate together in the process of construction. Virgínia finally leaves the house and goes to meet her lover Vicente and his friend Adriano. The short sequence when she crosses the street towards them is worth a close look. Initially, the narrator describes Virgínia as lifting herself above reality. She seems to f loat above the crowd: E eis que de longe, saltando do ônibus [...] e sobretudo mantendo acima do que pudesse acontecer a mesma realidade, erguendo a si própria como um bouquet de flores sobre a multidão, ela percebeu Vicente com Adriano à sua espera. (Lispector, 1999a: 79; my emphasis) [And there from a distance, jumping off the bus [...] and above all staying above all that could occur in reality itself, lifting herself up like a bouquet of flowers above the crowds, she saw Vicente and Adriano waiting for her.]


Whiteness and the Construction of Subjectivity

This sensation of being ‘above reality’ is due to the fact that the character is performing. There is an internal movement whereby she needs to rise above the crowd, differentiate herself from the unimportant bodies that surround her. Now, uplifted, she can finally belong to the urban space, be in harmony with the city: ela concordou intensamente com o momento [...] compreendia a luz amarela e densa que vinha dos postes [...] sentia [...] um quase grito elevando-se e [sentia] como trazida por um largo vento livre, a percepção emocionante quase dolorosa e muda de que a cidade se prolongava para além da rua, ligava-se ao resto, era grande, vivendo rapidamente, superficialmente. (Lispector, 1999a: 79; my emphasis) [She was in intense harmony with that moment [...] she perceived the dense yellow light that came from the streetlamps [...] she felt [...] almost a cry rise up and [she felt] as if carried by a great blast of fresh air, the thrilling, almost painful, mute, perception that the city extended beyond the street, it was linked to the rest; it was vast, living rapidly, superficially.]

Virgínia and the city finally meet; the borders separating the character and the urban environment have been dissolved. We note that the subject of the final state­ment ‘it was vast, living rapidly, superficially’ is undefined; this could apply to Virgínia as well as the city. In the last lines in this passage the imaginary construction of a body becomes finally explicit: Sem esforço [Virgínia] transformava o andar em alguma coisa que significava alcançar [...] o corpo grande avançava. [...] ao toque de seu corpo o ar cedia: aproximavase profundamente dos dois homens e inventava um corpo confuso e cínico como só uma mulher poderia imaginar. (Lispector, 1999a: 79) [Effortlessly [Virginia] transformed her walk into something that meant arriving [...] her large body advanced [...] the air yielded to the touch of her body: she drew intensely close to the two men and invented a body that was confused and cynical in a way that only a woman could imagine.]

In these lines, as the narrator clearly points out, Virgínia is not simply walking, going somewhere; she is also transforming her walking into ‘something that meant arriving’, as if the character were finally attaining something. Space opens up so that she can cross it. I suggest that Virgínia is now feeling the empowerment one experiences when performing ‘a body that matters’: a body that passes. She is in harmony with the city and in harmony with modernity. However, to experience these feelings, she needs to perform whiteness. Above all, she also needs to imagine for herself a body that is both ’confused’ and ’cynical’ and one that apparently can only be imagined by a woman. I believe that here the text is showing how ethnicity and gender articulate to create compulsory gender and racial identifications. In other words, Virgínia needs to embody femininity, and this embodiment is also racialized: to construct an acceptable feminine body she also needs to perform whiteness. There is a constant, strenuous process of continuously performing an identity and a body. This process is repeatedly being threatened from inside and outside: it needs to be constantly, daily reconstructed. It is confused and cynical because Virgínia is, at some level, aware of the performative aspects of her subjectivity. Judith Butler has emphasized the need to avoid understanding and dealing with race and sexuality as categories running in parallel, independent from one another:

Whiteness and the Construction of Subjectivity


Though there are clearly good historical reasons for keeping ‘race’ and ‘sexuality’ and ‘sexual difference’ as separate analytic spheres, there are also quite pressing and significant historical reasons for asking how and where we might read not only their convergence, but the site at which the one cannot be constituted save through the other. (Butler, 1993: 168)

Butler suggests reading literary texts while asking ‘how sexual regulation operates through the regulation of racial boundaries, and how racial distinctions operate to defend against certain social endangering sexual transgressions’. (Butler, 1993: 20) The passage that we have just analysed shows how Virgínia constructs a feminine body and how this body is also racialized. We could also add social class as a third category that is present here, in articulation with sexuality and race. As we have seen, the washer-woman is not specifically described as non-white. However, her rejec­tion by Virgínia, as we have seen, is instrumental in Virgínia’s process of constructing ‘a body that matters’, one that would therefore be identified with whiteness. Judith Butler’s argument is important because it suggests that instead of using the category of class as one that excludes racial implications, we should understand how these two ‘vectors of power’ (race and class) articulate with each other in creating the notion of social difference. In Brazil, particularly, the category of class has been often used to explain the underprivileged position of black people. Racial issues have thereby been seen as unimportant or irrelevant. Class was seen as excluding race in the understanding of social differences. Lispector’s work shows us that class and race are not exclusive categories; on the contrary, although different, they articulate with each other in the construction of difference. We have seen how these vectors of power articulate in G.H.’s psyche in A paixão segundo G.H.. A similar articulation of class and ethnicity will be examined in the last chapter of this study, in relation to the character Glória in A hora da estrela. Virgínia, as we have seen, is aware of the performative aspects of her subjectivity and that this is why she perceives her body as confused and cynical. Because of this awareness, being conscious, thinking and having one’s own mind become problematic. Here we turn to the second question raised earlier: how can I have my own mind, my own consciousness, if so much of what I think and feel cannot be spoken of? Because of the performative aspects that we have seen above, being aware of them can be an extremely painful and difficult state. This might be a reason for Virgínia’s frequent fainting fits. During childhood her experience of fainting is clearly connected with thinking, with having her own mind. Fainting interrupts her thinking process; she never gets to the end of her thoughts. This allows her a position of not really thinking. Fainting could therefore be seen as part of a process of silencing, where certain things remain not thought and not said: É que às vezes ela pensava pensamentos tão adelgaçados que eles subitamente se quebravam no meio antes de chegar ao fim. E porque eram tão finos, mesmo sem completá-los ela os conhecia de uma só vez. Embora jamais pudesse pensálos de novo, indicá-los com uma palavra sequer. [...] De algum modo misterioso seus desmaios ligavam-se a isso: às vezes ela sentia um pensamento fino tão intenso que ela própria era o pensamento e como se quebrava, interrompia-se num desmaio. (Lispector, 1999a: 40)


Whiteness and the Construction of Subjectivity [The thing was that at times she had thoughts that were so slimmed down that they suddenly broke in half before she finished having them. And because they were so fine, even without finishing them she knew them at once. However she could never have those thoughts again, or even suggest them with a word. [...] In some mysterious way her fainting was linked to this: sometimes she had a fine thought that was so intense that she herself was the thought and as it broke, she broke off into a faint.]

Later on, the experience of fainting is described as ambivalent and strangely pleasurable: Quando abriu os olhos as coisas emergiam lentas de águas escuras e rebrilhavam umidamente sonoras à tona de sua consciência ainda vacilante do desmaio. [...] Sentia em silêncio que depois de um desmaio estava no maior da vida porque não havia amor nem esperança que ultrapassasse aquela séria sensação de vôo nascente. [...] como se vivendo tão no cimo ela sentisse mais do que a potência do seu corpo grande e obscuro e se aniquilasse na própria decepção. (Lispector, 1999a: 74) [When she opened her eyes things emerged slowly from dark waters and sparkled with damp resonance, af loat in her conscience which still quivered after her faint. [...] She felt in silence that after fainting she was really alive since there was no love nor expectation that surpassed that profound sensation of nascent f light. [...] as if living so high up she felt more than the power of her large and obscure body and she was annihilated in her own deception.]

Fainting seems to be somehow empowering, as if it granted Virgínia a new start, as if she could be seeing things for the first time. It seems to grant her an illusion of control over reality. Not understanding gave her at least a hope that she could reach a different understanding, one that would not be so painful and difficult: ‘Depois do desmaio tudo era como fácil’ (Lispector, 1999a: 75) [After her fainting everything seemed easy]. It is obvious that fainting is here more than a physical collapse. As I suggested above, it seems to be associated with the difficulties that consciousness entails. To blank out, not to understand and not to think seem to be more attractive than seeing, understanding and thinking: ‘e como se desmaiar tivesse um sentido secreto, não suportava desfalecer senão sozinha; e voltar da vertigem abrindo os olhos e não entendendo’ (Lispector, 1999a: 87) [and as if fainting had a secret meaning, she couldn’t bear to swoon unless she was alone, and to return from dizziness by opening her eyes and not understanding]. In this specific situation, retreating into unconsciousness is part of Virginia’s strategy for coping with consciousness. We are dealing here with one of the ‘strategies of survival’ Morrison referred to in her statement. Indeed it could be argued that Virgínia would almost deliberately faint ‘in order not to lose her mind’. (Morrison, quoted by Gilroy, 1993: 221) Losing consciousness is one of the strategies the character adopts to protect her subjectivity. We have seen above how Virgínia constructs a body in order to brave the dinner party that intimidates her; and how, after getting dressed up and having rejected the washer-woman, she feels empowered and in harmony with the city. In order to experience this, Virgínia needs to constantly re-enact a performance. As soon as

Whiteness and the Construction of Subjectivity


Virgínia arrives at the dinner party, the other guests look at her in a tacit agreement that does not need to be verbalized. They force Virgínia to go and check her looks, to re-arrange her appearances: Depois de apertar a mão de todos os convidados e de sorrir foi forçada pelo olhar dos presentes a não recusar uma ida ao toilette de Irene. Para endireitar misteriosamente coisas femininas — permitiam eles e não a olhavam enquanto isso para que ela ficasse à vontade. (Lispector, 1999a: 81) [After shaking all the guests’ hands and smiling, she was forced by the gaze of those present to assent to a trip to Irene’s bathroom. To mysteriously straighten out feminine details — they permitted this and did not look at her in the meantime so that she should feel at ease.]

Pretending to leave her free and relaxed (à vontade), in reality the group is actually reminding her of the constant need to perform. The whole passage also suggests that there was something wrong with the way she looked, as the group seemed to agree unanimously that she needed to re-arrange her looks. Virgínia is taken to a bathroom. Alone, in front of the mirror, the empowerment she experienced some minutes before seems to have vanished: ‘Olhou-se ao espelho da penteadeira: onde, onde estava seu morno poder do instante do encontro?’ (Lispector, 1999a: 81) [She looked at herself in the dressing-table mirror: where, oh where was the fragile power she had possessed on arrival?] Preparing to go back to the living room, Virgínia is vividly aware of the need to perform: certo modo de enxergar em que ela caía às vezes não sabendo como tomar uma atitude falsa entre as pessoas desconhecidas, não podendo esgueirar-se como as f lores dormentes mas dando perfume inutilmente, enxergando e ouvindo tudo, misturando-se e errando perplexa. Tomou um pouco de coragem aprumando o corpo e dando-lhe falsamente um movimento mais rápido que soou vivo demais no quarto vazio. [...] Perdeu o impulso — ela sempre se sentira prisioneira do luxo, daquelas superfícies brilhantes, oscilantes e hostis. (Lispector, 1999a: 82) [A certain way of perceiving to which she sometimes succumbed when she didn’t know how to adopt a false attitude amongst strangers, unable to slip away like a sleeping f lower yet giving off perfume uselessly, perceiving and hearing everything, getting mixed up and making mistakes, perplexed. She grew a little braver straightening her body up and falsely endowing it with a more rapid movement that resonated with too much life in the empty room. [...] She lost the impulse — she had always felt imprisoned by luxury, by those shining, f lickering, hostile surfaces.]

On her way back to the sitting room, she crosses the dining room where she sees the dinner table carefully laid. She slowly approaches the table. ‘Sentia-se estranha àquele meio mas adivinhava-se subordinada a ele pela fascinação e pela humildade’ (Lispector, 1999a: 82) [She felt an outsider in that environment yet she realized that she was dominated by it out of fascination and humility]. The dinner table seems to materialize her social exclusion: it imprisons her in a position of fascination and humility. Virgínia then picks up a napkin and a bread roll and throws them out of the window. ‘Tomou um guardanapo, um pãozinho redondo [...] com esforço extraordinário, quebrando em si mesma uma resistência estupefata, desviando o


Whiteness and the Construction of Subjectivity

destino, jogou-os pela janela — e assim ela conservava o poder’ (Lispector, 1999a: 83) [She took hold of a napkin, a round bread roll [...] with extraordinary force, breaking her own stupefied resistance, changing the course of destiny, she threw them out of the window — and thus maintained her power]. At this moment the protagonist remembers a day when she was a child at school and the teacher, who rarely chose her for anything, asked her to go and get a glass of water. She went, full of pride and satisfaction. However, as she came back to the classroom, she spat in the glass of water: ‘não por vingança, não por raiva, cuspira dentro d’água conservando o próprio poder’ (Lispector, 1999a: 83) [not out of revenge, not out of anger, she spat in the water to maintain her power]. These small acts of rebellion help Virgínia to recover a measure of agency; they give her a sense of having some control over events. After throwing the napkin and bread through the window, Virgínia then takes a glass from the table and throws it through the window, hearing it break in several pieces on the pavement outside. Again, this gives her a sensation of having some control over events: ‘De novo a sensação inconfessável de que ela mesma criava o momento que vinha’ (Lispector, 1999a: 83) [Once again the unconfessable sensation that she herself had created the coming moment]. Instead of performing according to social conveniences, these defiant transgressions give Virgínia the impression of building her own future, of having a choice. Through these minimal actions, rather insignificant in terms of the plot, Virgínia seems to preserve her agency and consequently her subjectivity. They could, therefore, be interpreted as another part of a strategy of survival, in Morrison’s terms. As suggested earlier in this chapter, another of these strategies is the frequent, almost compulsive plunges into introspection that Virgínia undertakes. These could also be seen of ways of coping with consciousness in the face of so much to be performed and so much to be silenced. On many occasions in the novel Virgínia’s consciousness retreats into self-investigation. In the following passage, for example, the protagonist sits under a tree and for almost three whole pages we observe what is going on inside her mind. She remains in a position of paralysis, observing things around and inside her: Aquietava-se — não conseguia disfarçar-se o largo bem-estar inexplicável que a aprofundava no próprio corpo pensativo, o ente inclinado para a sensação delicada e difícil — mas dissimulava-se por algum motivo procurando ver as pedras no chão [...] Dentro de seu rosto as noções sussurravam liquefazendo-se em decomposição — ela era uma menina descansando. Olhava, olhava. Fechava os olhos atentando a todos os pontos indevassáveis de seu estreito corpo, pensando-se toda sem palavras, recopiando o próprio existir. Olhava, olhava. [...] Nada a inspirava, ela estava isolada dentro de sua capacidade, existindo pela mesma fraca energia que a fizera nascer. Pensava simples e claro. (Lispector, 1999a: 41) [She calmed down — she couldn’t hide the inexplicable feeling of great wellbeing which grew in her pensive body, that being whose inclination was for delicate and difficult sensations — but she covered up by looking at the stones on the ground for some reason [...] In her face beliefs murmured liquefying themselves as they decomposed — she was a girl resting. She looked, looked. She closed her eyes, considering all the impenetrable features of her spare

Whiteness and the Construction of Subjectivity


body, thinking everything without words, duplicating her own existence. She looked, looked. [...] Nothing stirred her, she was isolated within her own ability, existing thanks to the same feeble energy that gave birth to her. She had simple and clear thoughts.]

After a while she realizes she is hungry and needs to eat. But she does not move: Numa apreensão sem doçura, vibrava aridamente na imobilidade caprichosa e histérica. Até que se rompia a corda mais tensa, como uma presença abandonava seu corpo e ela restava aquém de seu próprio existir comum. Empurrada, extraordinariamente indiferente e já sem fome, esquecia tudo para sempre como quem é esquecida. (Lispector, 1999a: 43) [With an apprehension that lacked sweetness, she trembled aridly beneath her capricious and hysterical immobility. Until the tensest cord snapped, like a presence leaving her body and she was left outside her ordinary self. Cast off, extraordinarily indifferent and no longer hungry, she forgot everything for ever like one who has been forgotten.]

Controlling her hunger, creating a situation where she believes she can live outside her body this long introspection somehow anaesthetizes her against her real existence. Living with a feeling of indifference and oblivion might be easier than engaging with the world outside her. Keeping herself underfed (there are also several references to her skinny body) also maintains her in a fragile, vulnerable state where fainting becomes more probable. In a social context where individuals are constantly threatened by social exclusion, where they have to endlessly perform in order to belong, they are in a situation where their sense of agency is continuously challenged. Retreating into introspection, into an investigation of one’s own inner being can provide one with a means of reconstructing one’s sense of being somebody. Because of the need to perform, internal and external phenomena are so deeply linked to each other that it is impossible to see them as separate. I suggest that the obsession Lispector’s characters have with self-investigation, with trying to know who they ‘really are’ is due to their profound sense of hopelessness, of disempowerment in the face of what they need to perform in order to survive. This process is especially acute in the case of women. The construction of a viable body and a viable self partly involves excluding things that are seen as ‘outside the self ’. We have seen previously how important it was for Virgínia to reject the washer-woman in order to feel empowered to go to the dinner party. It is important, however, to see that rejection of the social Other does not start here. To get to this point, Virgínia had, many years before, to go through a process — unconscious or not — of also rejecting a mulatto (non-white and partly African) masculine Other. This is evident in a dream Virgínia has when she is a young girl, in which she meets a mulatto on a bridge. They kiss and, when we readers imagine that a sexual encounter is going to take place, Virgínia stamps on his face and the dream abruptly ends. This dream is introduced by the character’s desire to move beyond the limits of her life. It seems that this means getting in contact with her own violent potential: ‘um impulso cruel e vivo empurrava-a para a frente [...] ela queria sair dos limites da sua própria vida como suprema crueldade.


Whiteness and the Construction of Subjectivity

Então caminhou para fora de casa e andou buscando, buscando, com tudo de mais feroz que possuía’ (Lispector, 1999a: 64) [a cruel and vivid impulse pushed her on [...] she wanted to break out of the limits of her own life like supreme cruelty. So she marched out of the house and went off searching, searching, using the greatest ferocity in her possession]. As a first exercise in violence, she kicks a dog off a bridge into a river’s turbulent waters (at this stage, it is not clear if Virgínia is sleepwalking or not). The dog drowns: Então guiou o cão com acenos até a ponte sobre o rio e com o pé empurrou-o seguramente até a morte nas águas, ouvindo-o ganindo, viu-o debatendo-se, arrastado pela correnteza e viu-o morrer — nada restava, nem um chapéu. (Lispector, 1999a: 64–65) [Then she beckoned the dog on until they reached the bridge over the river and with her foot she pushed it to certain death in the water, listening to its yelping, she saw it struggle, carried away by the current and she saw it die — nothing was left, not even a hat.]

It is just after killing the dog that the young Virgínia sees the mulatto approach­ing. Viu um homem, um homem, um homem. Suas largas calças colavam-se ao vento, as pernas, as pernas magras. Era mulato, o homem, o homem. E os cabelos, Deus meu, os cabelos embranqueciam. Trêmula de asco encaminhouse para ele entre o ar e o espaço — e parou. (Lispector, 1999a: 65) [She saw a man, a man, a man. His wide trousers clinging with the wind, his legs, his skinny legs. He was a mulatto, the man, the man. And his hair, my God, his hair was turning grey. Trembling with disgust she headed towards him through the air and space — and stopped.]

According to racial stereotyping, masculinity is performed only by white men, who are supposed to protect white women. Non-white men are seen as sexually active, but only as attackers. The feminine is defined in relation to the masculine, both being deeply racialized. Ruth Frankenberg explains: ‘White women are viewed both as objects of white male protection and as people unable to control their own sexuality. In either case, white women and non-white men are kept apart, by white men’ (Frankenberg, 1994: 81). In this context, masculinity ‘emerges [...] as a product of class and race as well as gender and involves reproduction and repetition of what has gone before’ (Frankenberg, 1994: 83). Frankenberg adds: ‘Like masculinity, femininity was constructed in ways differentiated by race and culture; at the same time femininities were constructed in relation to masculinity’ (Frankenberg, 1994: 85). In the passage above, the repetition of the word homem contradicts the stereotyping logic of a racial discourse where the non-white man is, first of all, a savage, an animal, a threat to and an attacker of white females. The text seems to be empowering the non-white man, giving him a space of effective masculinity that racist stereotyping does not typically allow for. The space these two characters (a young white girl and a non-white man) seem to inhabit, at this moment, is exactly this desired space ‘out of the limits of her own life’, somewhere between ‘the air and the space’, somewhere out of reach (if not impossible to reach). Virgínia is described as trembling with repulsion. The repulsion (and attraction) that Lispector encapsulates in these few sentences spring

Whiteness and the Construction of Subjectivity


out of the crossing of a clearly defined sexual and racial barrier. Virgínia, at this particular moment, is breaking a social and cultural taboo. She then faces the man and declares: ‘— Tome-me’ [‘Take me’] (Lispector, 1999a: 65). In saying that, she seems to be prepared to surrender to this male’s power. Os olhos do homem mulato abriram-se. E em breve recortado contra o ar puro e o vento, contra o verde claro e escuro da relva e das árvores, em breve ela ria entendendo. Ele ergueu-a mudo, rindo os cabelos embranquecendo, rindo, e atrás estendia-se a campina sob o vento. Ele ergueu-a mudo, rindo, um cheiro de carne guardada vinha da boca, do ventre através da boca, um hálito de sangue; da camisa entreaberta surgiam pêlos longos e sujos e ao redor do ar era vívido, ele ergueu-a pelos braços e a sensação de ridículo endurecia-a com ferocidade — ele balançava-a no ar provando-lhe que ela era leve. Ela empurrou-o com violência e ele mudo rindo mudo caminhou e arrastou-a e invencível beijou-a. (Lispector, 1999a: 65; my emphasis) [The mulatto man’s eyes opened wide. And soon, silhouetted against the pure air and the wind, against the light and dark green of the grass and the trees, soon she laughed in comprehension. He lifted her up mutely, his greying hair laughing, laughing, and behind the field spread out beneath the wind. He lifted her up mutely, laughing, a smell of stale meat came from his mouth, from his belly through his mouth, a breath of blood, long dirty hairs emerged from his half-open shirt and the air around was intense, he lifted her up by the arms and a sense of ridiculousness turned her fiercely rigid — he swung her in the air, proving that she was light. She pushed him violently and he mutely laughing mutely strode and grabbed hold of her and invincible kissed her.]

The word mudo [mute] is repeated four times. He is entitled to act, to physical strength, but not to a voice, to words. Up to this point, the reader could believe that the sexual encounter was going to be consummated in the stereotypical ‘rape scene’ where the victim is a white girl and the perpetrator is a non-white man. However the balance of power will be inverted in the following lines: Porém ele ainda ria quando ela se ergueu e serenamente, como o final de sair dos limites da sua vida, pisou-lhe com calma força o rosto enrugado e cuspiulhe por cima enquanto ele mudo, olhando não entendia e o céu se prolongava num só ar azul. (Lispector, 1999a: 65–66) [But he still laughed when she got up and serenely, as if ending her escape from the limits of her life, with calm force trod on his wrinkled face and spat on him from above with him mutely watching, not understanding and the sky stretched out in a single blue airy space.]

This is when Virgínia wakes up and the dream sequence ends. The balance of power has shifted to the girl and the mulatto character is left speechless looking at the blue, airy space now uninhabited. She has not been raped, but strangely enough, she experiences her body differently as if she has lost her virginity. In racial terms, however, the status quo is maintained and within it, not just the impossibility of an interracial sexual encounter, but also a situation of institutionalized violence. Lispector’s text is clearly working against the racist stereotype of the non-white man as the attacker and the white woman (or girl) as a vulnerable target; the girl, in her dreamed actions, is the violent agent.


Whiteness and the Construction of Subjectivity

The dream reveals the racial violence that is excluded from established discourses, and which is part and parcel of the social meaning of whiteness in Brazil. As I have demonstrated in the previous chapter, whiteness has to remain invisible, so that the situation of racial domination can be maintained. The dream makes whiteness visible. The girl’s attitude positions her as a white person actively participating in the maintenance of a situation of racial domination. However, the visibility of whiteness is contained inside the girl’s psyche. Despite being expressed by the fictional world the narrative creates, the visibility of whiteness is still kept within the limits of the unspeakable, restrained inside a repressed bubble of guilt and silence. The author has inserted a scene of stereotypical racial violence at a point in the narrative at which the reader is already familiarized with the situation of institutionalized violence that Virgínia experiences as a child (violent father, neglectful adults, a brother who repeatedly insults her). More importantly, the young girl, powerless, takes this daily experience of violence to be normal and the attacks from her father and brother to be, somehow, expressions of love. Her brother, for example, frequently abuses her verbally by calling her names: ‘Você seria até menos idiota se não fosse tão idiota’; ‘sua égua de pasto!’; ‘Você é vulgar e estúpida’ (Lispector, 1999a: 33, 37, 57) [‘If you weren’t such an idiot you’d be less of an idiot’; ‘you old mare!’; ‘You are vulgar and stupid’]. Virgínia does not try to resist: ‘Virgínia temia-o, porém não lhe ocorria sequer escapar a seu domínio. Mesmo porque ela própria se reconhecia tola e incapaz. Daniel era forte’ (Lispector, 1999a: 57) [Virgínia feared him, however it never even occurred to her to escape from his control. Simply because she too believed herself to be foolish and incompetent. Daniel was strong]. Virgínia also has a passive attitude towards her father. When he slaps her face for not eating, instead of reacting Virgínia experiences this physical attack as pleasurable: ‘— como era bom, a mão espalmada voava rápida e estalava com um ruído alegre numa das faces resfriando a sala sombria com a delicadeza de um espirro. O rosto acordava como um formigueiro ao sol e ela então pedia mais pão de milho, cheia de uma mentira de fome’ (Lispector, 1999a: 17) [how good it was, his open hand f lew rapidly and slapped with a happy noise against one of her cheeks chilling the sombre room with the delicacy of a sneeze. Her face was roused like a rash in the sun and then she asked for more cornbread, full of a lying hunger]. In this context, the sexual violence that the non-white man could represent in the dream is relativized, contrasted and diffused when related to a situation of normalized violence that the character cannot control and to which she is already resigned. However, the dream shows us that Virgínia has, in her psyche, already internalized a situation of racial domination where she is far from passive but very much in control. The dream clearly shows her actively oppressing and killing. The text describes the girl getting up and calmly, as if she were reaching the furthest point of her attempt to transcend the limits of her life, stamping on the man’s head and spitting on him. When Virgínia decides, in Lispector’s words, to ‘go beyond the limits of her life’ (Lispector, 1999a: 64) by killing a dog and later approaching a non-white man, even in a dream, she is opening herself up to the explicit recognition of violence. She is also deciding to leave behind the mould of her passive femininity where she colludes

Whiteness and the Construction of Subjectivity


in silence with a violent model of white masculinity. However, paradoxically, the dream also shows how Virgínia needs to actively destroy the possibility of social change and return to the safety of the cultural terrain she used to occupy before. It seems that Virgínia can only move from being passive to being active as long as she ultimately remains inside the borders of whiteness. It appears that whiteness constructs a paradox for her gender identity: she can assume the position of a victim in relation to other white men, while she can be active in relation to non-white and partly African men, but only by oppressing and rejecting them. Her dream clearly shows how a young girl has internalized racial violence and silenced it. Returning to the passage where Virgìnia kills a dog, we note, at the end, that the narrator mentions a hat: Então guiou o cão com acenos até a ponte sobre o rio e com o pé empurrou-o seguramente até a morte nas águas, ouvindo-o ganindo, viu-o debatendo-se, arrastado pela correnteza e viu-o morrer — nada restava, nem um chapéu. (Lispector, 1999a: 65) [Then she beckoned the dog on until they reached the bridge over the river and with her foot she pushed him to certain death in the water, listening to his yelping, she saw him struggle, carried away by the current and she saw him die — nothing was left, not even a hat.]

This hat is a direct reference to another scene that also took place on a bridge, at the very opening of the narrative. In the novel’s first chapter, Virgínia and Daniel are on a bridge, looking at the river, when they see a hat being engulfed by the waters. The suggestion is that they are witnesses to someone drowning, but, for some unexplained reason, Daniel decides that they should not say anything about it. They seal a pact of silence, swearing never to talk about it, never to mention it to anyone. This silenced event, and its linking to the mulatto and the dog, suggests the existence and return of a trauma, one that may have remained with Virgínia until adulthood. Nothing is said at that moment, but the hat appears to stand for a drowning that is invisible (we see that hat, but not the drowning person). Apparently, the hat becomes the marker of a trauma; of something that cannot be articulated because it is not recognized in the first place. The hat suggests that the trauma consists not so much of what happened but in the fact of its being relegated to invisibility. The whole scene in which Virgínia and Daniel see the hat in the waters is surrounded by considerable excitement and fear which seem to be typical accompaniments to traumatic situations. Just after Daniel makes her swear never to talk about it, she starts to go pale: ‘Com os olhos dilatados, o rosto súbito pequeno e sem cor, ela assentiu cautelosamente com a cabeça’ (Lispector, 1999a: 10) [Her eyes dilated, her face suddenly small and colourless, she cautiously nodded her head]. When her brother moves away she falls into a state of panic: ‘Não! Queria ela gritar que esperasse, que não a deixasse sozinha sobre o rio; mas ele continuava. O coração batendo num corpo subitamente vazio de sangue’ (Lispector, 1999a: 10) [No! She wanted to shout for him to wait, not to leave her alone over the river, but he carried on. Her heart beating within a body that was suddenly empty of blood]. She then feels as if she is being engulfed by the waters herself and is going to die:


Whiteness and the Construction of Subjectivity o coração jogando, caindo furiosamente, as águas correndo, ela tentou entreabrir os lábios, soprar uma palavra pálida que fosse. Como o grito impossível num pesadelo, nenhum som se ouviu [...] numa clara alucinação ela pensava: ah sim, então ia cair e afogar-se, ah sim. Alguma coisa intensa e lívida como terror mas triunfante, certa alegria doida e atenta enchia-lhe agora o corpo e ela esperava para morrer, a mão cerrada para sempre no galho da ponte. (Lispector, 1999a: 10) [her heart leaping, falling furiously, the waters rushing on, she tried to open her lips, to whisper a word, however wan. Like an impossible scream in a nightmare, no sound was heard [...] in a clear hallucination she thought: of course, now she was going to fall and drown, of course. Something intense and livid like terror yet triumphant, a kind of mad and attentive happiness filled her body now and she waited to die, her hand closed for ever on the bridge railing.]

Her brother comes back and retrieves her from that state of panic, and takes her home, but the image of a drowning man still haunts Virgínia. Her reaction suggests that the event on the bridge, compounded by their decision to keep it a secret, must in some way be traumatic even though it is not made clear to us exactly what happened. Susan J. Brison explains that ‘A traumatic event is one in which a person feels utterly helpless in the face of a force that is perceived to be life-threatening’ (Brison, 1999: 40). Another characteristic of traumatic events is that they resist narration and therefore cannot be contained inside a sequence of events that defines the self. Brison refers to Locke to explain this notion: ‘Locke famously identified the self with a set of continuous memories, a kind of ongoing narrative of one’s past that is extended with each new experience’ (Brison, 1999: 41). This so-called ‘narrative memory’ is an important part of the constitution of the self. The traumatic event resists narration and, because of that, cannot be fully integrated into the person’s memory. After this event, Virgínia seems to lose memory, while, at the same time, the unseen drowning man seems to haunt her: ‘Via ela agora quieta e inexpressiva como sem memória. O homem morto deslizaria pela última vez entre as árvores adormecidas e geladas’ (Lispector, 1999a: 12) [She saw now, quiet and inexpressive as if without memory. The dead man would slip away for the last time between the sleeping, icy trees]. Virgínia’s future will be permanently marked by this event; her psyche will cloud over, she will be unable to see and remember things clearly. The covering ‘haze’ (neblina) that marks the limits of ‘the possible world’ in the following passage, which takes place shortly after the first bridge scene, is a perfect metaphor for the forgetting that the trauma has caused: Mergulhando os olhos na cegueira da escuridão, os sentidos pulsando no espaço gelado e cortante; nada perceberia senão a quietude em sombra, os galhos retorcidos e imóveis... a longa extensão perdendo os limites em súbita e inson­ dável neblina — lá estava o limite do mundo possível! (Lispector, 1999a: 12) [Plunging her eyes into the blindness of the dark, her senses pulsating in the freezing, biting space; she would perceive nothing but the shadowed silence, the twisted and motionless branches... the protracted space losing its limits in a sudden and impenetrable haze — over there was the limit of the possible world!]

Whiteness and the Construction of Subjectivity


As I said before, the trauma seems to be more related to the silencing of what happened than to the actual drowning. The expression o limite do mundo possível takes us back to the dream of the mulatto and Virgínia’s desire to go beyond the limits of her life. The haze, suggesting covering up, oblivion, could be a metaphor for the silencing of this death, ensuring it will remain outside the ‘possible world’. The drowning man, and any memory of him, is expelled into the domain of the unspeakable, into oblivion. It is interesting to see that the body of the drowning man is imagined as disappearing into a brancura [whiteness]. The author is clearly referring to the colour of the water spray (espuma) or the swirling current; but this could also be read as a metaphor for whiteness itself. Virgínia seems to experience this process as something totally irreversible. Então, frágil como uma lembrança, vislumbraria a mancha cansada do afogado afastando-se, sumindo e reaparecendo entre as brumas, mergulhando enfim na brancura. Para sempre! [...] Ela chamaria quase muda: homem, mas homem!, para retê-lo, para trazê-lo de volta! Mas era para sempre, Virgínia, ouça, para sempre e mesmo que a Granja Quieta murche e novas terras surjam indefinitivamente jamais o homem voltará. Virgínia, jamais, jamais. Virgínia. Jamais. (Lispector, 1999a: 12) [Then, fragile as a memory, she would glimpse the tired stain of the drowned man slipping away, disappearing and reappearing between the mists, plunging finally into the whiteness. Forever! [...] Almost mute, she would call out: man, hey man!, to hold on to him, to bring him back! But it was forever, Virginia, listen, forever and even if Granja Quieta faded away and new lands emerged indefinitely the man would never come back. Virginia, never, never. Virginia. Never.]

The connection between this scene and that where the dog is killed, just before the mulatto appears, on the same bridge, suggests a relationship between silencing and killing. Something has been violently thrown into the waters and this fact needs to be silenced. The violence against the mulatto, the killing of the dog in the river and the existence of this drowning man — all these elements together suggests a psyche that has been marked by a situation of violence related to racial domination. As we have seen before, the main feature of whiteness is the violence that sustains white people in a position of power. This violence, however, remains unexamined, and invisible. Silencing is therefore an important part of this process of social control. Later on, when she is an adult, we will see that Virgínia has difficulties in integrating her memories of childhood into a narrative of who she is, suggesting that there is a traumatic situation that needs to be resolved. Só assim ligava-se ao passado do qual lhe faltava a lembrança. Desmemoriada vivia simplesmente a vida sem êxtase [...]. Os acontecimentos se alinhavam espaçados, sólidos, duros [...]. Um certo esforço faria voltar a memória, uma certa atitude que ela não chegava a encontrar como se não achasse uma boa posição para dormir numa noite de insônia. [...] Buscava sentir seu passado como um paralítico que inutilmente apalpa a carne insensível de um membro, mas naturalmente sabia sua história como todas as pessoas. Via-se separada do próprio nascimento e no entanto sentia difusamente que devia estar de algum modo a prolongar a infância numa só linha ininterrupta e que sem se conhecer desenvolvia algo iniciado no esquecimento. (Lispector, 1999a: 144–45)


Whiteness and the Construction of Subjectivity [Only thus she could she connect to the past of which she had no recollection. Lacking memory she lived life simply without ecstasy [...]. Events were lined up at intervals, solid, hard [...]. A certain effort would make her memory come back, a certain attitude which she never managed to find as one never finds a good position for sleeping during a night of insomnia. [...] She sought to feel her past like a paralytic who uselessly gropes at the numb f lesh of a limb, but naturally she knew her history as everyone does. She saw herself as disconnected from her own birth and yet she vaguely felt that in some way her childhood must be protracted in a single uninterrupted line and that without knowing herself she was developing something that had begun in oblivion.]

This difficulty in narrating the traumatic event is typical of traumatic memory. Parts of her past have been numbed; or are experienced as separated from herself. A notion of the self, which would connect and give a sense to the sequence of events, seems to be missing. Because a traumatic memory cannot be retrieved by narrative memory, or integrated into the narrative of the self, the subject is psychologically impaired. The subject seems to be imprisoned by the traumatic event and cannot grow out of childhood. It is tied up to something it cannot fully remember and cannot explain; something keeping him/her imprisoned in the past. This is exactly the situation described in the last line above. In the same passage, Virgínia also refers to the event on the bridge: ‘Só o que não se esquecia — ela sorria — era que alguém se afogara no rio... podia ser apenas um chapéu mas eles haviam-se assustado. De qualquer modo guardava o segredo.’ (Lispector, 1999a: 145–46) [The only thing she could not forget — she smiled — was the fact that someone had drowned in the river... It could have been simply a hat, but they were frightened. In any case, she kept the secret.] So the silencing continues many years after the traumatic event. Brison explains that memory is in itself a representation. She quotes Andreas Huyssen who says: rather than leading us to some authentic origin or giving us the verifiable access to the real, memory, even and especially in belatedness, is itself based on representation. The past is not simply there in memory, but it must be articulated to become memory. (quoted in Brison, 1999: 42)

Thus, articulating the past through narrative is essential. But for this articulation to take place one also needs to have a sympathetic listener. Brison adds: how (and even whether) traumatic events are remembered depends on not only how they are initially experienced but also how (whether) they are perceived by others, directly or indirectly, and the extent to which others are able to listen empathically to the survivor’s testimony. The traumatic event is experienced as culturally embedded (or framed), is remembered as such (in both traumatic and narrative memory), and it is shaped and reshaped in memory over time according, at least in part, to how others in the survivor’s culture respond. (Brison, 1999: 42)

We can see in other passages that Virgínia is actively trying to narrate something to her lover Vicente. However, he does not seem to be able to understand and provide the positive listening that is needed for the healing of the trauma. Virgínia is trying to integrate her past into narrative and memory, but her attempts seem

Whiteness and the Construction of Subjectivity


to be constantly frustrated: ‘Mais tarde tentaria contar a Vicente coisas da infância e de Daniel e surpreendida o ouviria dizer rindo: eu já sei mais ou menos como vocês eram, mas o que faziam afinal? Nada narrara então? Permanecia quieta e assustada.’ (Lispector, 1999a: 146) [Later she would try to tell Vicente things about her childhood and about Daniel and surprised she would hear him laugh and say: I already know more or less what you were like, but what did you actually do? Hadn’t she told him anything then? She fell silent, startled.] Vicente clearly does not understand what Virgínia is trying to say because he is looking for a sequence of events, not for the subjective meaning of what she is telling. She is left with the frustration and fear of not having communicated at all: narration remains impossible if there is not someone able to hear and understand. Here Virgínia’s narrative attempts are remembered from Vicente’s point of view and the passage clearly shows his lack of empathy. Without a sympathetic listener there is no possibility of healing and liberation. Because the traumatic situation cannot be resolved, Virgínia remains therefore arrested in childhood, as is obvious in the following excerpt: A qualquer instante ela estava disposta a retirar com cuidado controlado uma esfarrapada lembrança da infância como de um tesouro cheio de mofo com fundos de fumaça. E enchia com sua narração tola o espaço. De algum modo o que ela vivia ia se acrescentando à sua infância e não ao presente, amadurecendo-a jamais. (Lispector, 1999a: 168–69) [At any moment she was ready to retrieve with great care a tattered memory from her childhood as if from the smoky depths of a musty treasury. And she filled the space with her foolish tale. In some way, what she experienced became part of her childhood and not the present, and never matured her.]

Almost at the end of the novel, when Virgínia comes back to the family farm and meets her brother again, we can see that the feelings associated with the book’s opening scene — the sight of the hat in the water — are still present and have not changed: ‘como esquecer que desde pequenos... ela querendo chamá-lo e não podendo, ele não ouvindo... o chapéu...’ (Lispector, 1999a: 238) [how could she forget that ever since they were little... her wanting to call him and not being able to, him not hearing... the hat...]; ‘[Daniel] levantou-se e caminhou para longe dela e como no dia do afogado, de novo ela não saberia como chamá-lo’ (Lispector, 1999a: 241) [Daniel got up and walked far away from her and like the day of the drowned man once again she wouldn’t know how to call him]. There are other moments in Virgínia’s life when we can see this need for silencing and repressing aspects of her experience. As a child Virgínia used to sing songs with very high notes, in a kind of wailing. Once her father hears her singing and thinks she is crying. The black female servant (a negra), however, is very familiar with Virgínia’s songs. — O que é isso? Virgínia está chorando? — Não, cantando, respondia a negra. Tem umas horas em que ela canta cantigas altas, altas, sem graça nenhuma. Magra e suja, as veias do pescoço tremiam longas — ela cantava sem graça, puro som gritando, ultrapassando as coisas no seus próprios termos. O


Whiteness and the Construction of Subjectivity importante eram os planos que a voz atingia. Em primeiro lugar, ela continuava pequena em pé na soleira da porta; enquanto isso as notas subiam como bolhas de sabão, brilhantes e cheias, e perdiam-se na claridade do ar; e enquanto isso, essas bolhas de sabão eram dela, dela que estava pequena em pé na soleira da porta. [...] Eram vozes guardadas, redondas na garganta, uivadas, doídas e bem pequenas. Podia ainda fazer apelos agudos e doces como de animais perdidos. (Lispector, 1999a: 27) [‘What’s that? Is Virginia crying?’ ‘No, singing,’ the black woman answered. ‘She sings songs every now and then, high-pitched, ugly songs.’ Skinny and dirty, the extended veins in her neck quivered — her singing was ugly, just shouted noise, going beyond the normal limits. What mattered were the planes that her voice reached. First of all, she remained standing small on the doorstep; meanwhile the notes rose like soap bubbles, sparkling and full, and were lost in the clarity of the air; and meanwhile the soap bubbles were part of her, part of her as she stood small on the doorstep. [...] They were hidden voices, round in her throat, howling, mad and very small. She could even make high-pitched soft whines like those of stray animals.]

These sounds that Virgínia articulates are an attempt at expressing something that cannot be articulated through socialized language, in the socialized space. The world of animals and of music provide the space for such an articulation. It seems to be an expression of a pain, an aspect that finds no space of expression inside her social environment. This sequence is followed immediately by another instance where the father sees Virgínia crying and asks her why. She replies that she and Daniel cannot live there anymore. Overcome by rage, her father calls her mad: ‘Estarrecido o pai ouviu como se ouvisse uma árvore falar. [...] ele encheu-se de uma cólera que o fazia vermelho e tenso, numa comoção quase perigosa. — Mentira, doida! doida! doida!’ (Lispector, 1999a: 27–28) [astonished, her father listened as if he were listening to a tree speak. [...] he fell into a rage that turned him red and tense, an almost dangerous emotional state ‘It’s a lie, you’re mad! Mad! Mad!’]. By accusing Virgínia of madness, the father is reinstating the social border outside which some things, like her experience of pain, must remain and cannot be spoken about. Painful singing, lost animals and madness are elements that cannot be contained inside symbolic language nor inside the symbolic space Virgínia inhabits. In this process of silencing, many aspects of Virgínia’s experience are expelled from language into the realm of the unspeakable. It is hard to say precisely what caused the traumatic memory that haunts Virgínia. It could be the fact that she cannot talk about what she and Daniel saw on the bridge, also it could be connected to race. One could argue that this imprecision is typical of trauma itself. We can see that for Virgínia the locus of the bridge is linked to traumatic memory, death and racial oppression. The narrator often makes references to the three scenes I have discussed here. For example: the word ‘hat’ is repeated in the scene of the killing of the dog, referring to the hat seen in the opening sequence on the bridge. Furthermore — in the opening sequence there is a reference to the ‘limits’, or ‘borders of the possible world’ (Lispector, 1999a: 12),

Whiteness and the Construction of Subjectivity


a theme that will be later developed in the dream about the mulatto. All these connections suggest that the trauma is related to racial domination, silencing and keeping whiteness unexamined. Belonging to the city is another important aspect in the construction of Virgínia’s personal identity. As we have seen, in order to survive in the city, Virgínia needs to reject her origins and the place she comes from, and perform whiteness. There seems to be an association between the city, modernity and whiteness. Just before leaving the city to go back to the family farm, Virgínia has another dream which makes clear the connection between the urban environment and whiteness, showing Virgínia’s subaltern position in this environment. Adormeceu caindo caindo caindo através do escuro. Estacou: a cidade metálica. A cidade metálica. A Cidade Metálica. Tudo brilhava excessivamente limpo e nela havia o medo de não poder alcançar o mesmo grande brilho e apagarse humilde e suja. As mulheres eram louras e a um movimento de cabeça conseguiam novos penteados; finos, lisos, sedosos, quase fugitivos e irritantes cabelos correndo como rios de suas cabeças redondas. (Lispector, 1999a: 190) [She fell asleep falling falling falling through the dark. She stopped: the metallic city. The metallic city. The Metallic City. Everything shone excessively clean and in her was the fear of not being able to achieve the same great shininess and of fading away humble and dirty. The women were blonde and with a movement of their heads their hair fell into new styles, fine, smooth, silky, almost fugitive and irritating hair falling like rivers from their round heads.]

Here the image of a river is associated with having blonde straight hair. The idea of a natural white body contrasts with the difficult process that Virgínia needs to undergo in order to construct a white body for herself. According to Virgínia’s dream, for some women, those associated with the urban and sophisticated space, whiteness comes naturally. The cleanliness of the place is also emphasized. In contrast to this gleaming, clean space Virgínia sees herself as humble and dirty. She obviously does not possess the idealized natural, white body that these other women have. This space, named in the dream as Metallic City, is supervised by the dictatorial figure of a headmistress who forces Virgínia to eat dozens of fried eggs echoing her father’s insistence that she eat more. There is thus a tyranny associated with the urban space, suggesting that becoming modern, adapting to the city, is not actually a matter of choice for Virgínia. Neither is it something that comes naturally: ‘Mas a diretora da cidade, com óculos e um sorriso, como era doloroso estar diante dela, vinha e forçava-a a comer ovos estrelados em frigideiras quentes de banha, a comêlos um atrás do outro, dezenas.’ (Lispector, 1999a: 190–91) [But the headmistress of the city, with glasses and a smile, how painful it was to stand in front of her, came and forced her to eat fried eggs in frying pans hot with fat, to eat them one after another, dozens of them.] Further on in the dream, Virgínia is placed in a subaltern position, working as a cleaner in these baths. In an implicit reference to the process of her construction of a white body, she ends up as one of the beautiful, blonde women at the baths: Com um suspiro ela arranjava um emprego de lavadora das banheiras das


Whiteness and the Construction of Subjectivity mulheres louras da cidade da diretora — como era rápido e turbilhonante. Eram grandes banheiras lisas e as mulheres eram tão belas, as coxas tão grandes que ela terminava por ser uma delas. (Lispector, 1999a: 191) [With a sigh she arranged a job as cleaner in the baths of the blonde women of the city of the headmistress — what a rapid whirl it was. They were great smooth baths and the women were so beautiful, their thighs so big that she ended up as one of them.]

However, as soon as she becomes one of these women she fears a shapeless brown matter that invades these baths and threatens their glossy whiteness. The nightmare ends with a description of this material that grows larger and larger, engulfing everything around it: então o que ela mais temia — marrom, brilhante e agonizante — ia crescendo aos poucos, crescendo, crescendo, crescendo até simplesmente alguém ser obrigada a rir para mentir a tragédia; aumentava até ser demais para os ouvidos e para os olhos e para o gosto da boca e aniquilar toda a idéia de grandeza que se podia ter, os oceanos invadindo e cobrindo a terra; (Lispector, 1999a: 191) [then what she most feared — brown, shining and dying — slowly grew, grew, grew, grew until one was simply forced to laugh in the face of tragedy; it got bigger until it was too much for your ears and eyes and to taste in your mouth and to annihilate any idea of greatness that one could have, the oceans invading and covering the earth;]

The nightmare makes explicit the violence of whiteness and its connections with modernity and urbanization. It brings out the fear of non-white matter: nonwhiteness invading, f looding and engulfing the excessive cleanliness of the city. Here I need to go back to the scene discussed at the beginning of this chapter, when Virgínia is preparing herself for the dinner party and rejects the washerwoman. It is symptomatic that, in this passage, the figure of the social Other was materialized in someone who is supposed to deal with the dirty, rejected elements of people’s lives. Mary Douglas’s theorization of the anthropological significance of dirt is important here. According to Douglas, as noted when discussing Kristeva’s notion of the abject in the previous chapter, dirtiness is not merely a problem of lack of hygiene, as we are normally encouraged to think. Dirt, for Douglas, is ‘matter out of place’, suggesting the existence of a social and cultural ordering and classification. Dirt is never a unique, isolated event. Where there is dirt, there is a system. Dirt is the by-product of a systematic ordering and classification of matter, in so far as ordering involves rejecting inappropriate elements. [...] In short, our pollution behaviour is the reaction which condemns any object or ideal likely to confuse or contradict cherished classifications. (Douglas, 1984: 36)

Lispector’s novel O lustre shows how an important social border is constructed around the concept of dirt. It is symptomatic that someone else, the washer-woman as social Other, is responsible for Virgínia’s dirty clothes. It is also interesting that when Virgínia is preparing herself to go to the dinner party, constructing for herself ‘a body that matters’, she needs to distance herself from the notion of dirt. When identified with whiteness and social uplifting, Virgínia could not recognize the

Whiteness and the Construction of Subjectivity


fact that she had dirty clothes in need of washing. There is clearly a social border being drawn here around the idea of cleanliness. There are also suggestions that this border is racialized: when performing whiteness Virgínia does not deal with dirt. The racial dimension of the idea of cleanliness becomes even more obvious in the dream of The Metallic City. This dream shows Virgínia involved in a ritual of cleanliness, where the problem is not simply a matter of hygiene but a ritual full of racial connotations. Since ritual also inf luences our perception of the world and of people (Douglas, 2002: 79–80), the cleaning ritual in the dream creates racialized perceptions, framed according to a cultural and racialized order. When Virgínia wakes up from the dream, she is described as lifting her body out of ‘moving mud’: ‘Num impulso extra-humano ergueu o corpo do lodo movediço.’ (Lispector, 1999a: 191). [With a super-human effort she lifted her body out of the moving mud.] Douglas notes that things that are viscous (such as mud) are associated with dirt as ‘matter out of place’ since they are matter that is neither liquid nor solid, resisting classification (Douglas, 2002: 47–48). In the dream Virgínia makes contact with ‘matter out of place’. We can therefore say that the dream is describing the ritualized construction of cultural borders where the city as a modernised space is identified with whiteness. In this novel, then, the urban lifestyle is seen as desirable and yet out of reach for Virgínia and the members of her family. There is an opposition between the sophistication of the urban space of the unnamed city to which Virgínia has moved, and the rural space of Granja Quieta [Quiet Farm] that she has left behind. Vicente and his friend Adriano (as well as their group of friends), are seen as behaving ‘naturally’ in the city. Virgínia, however, tries to perform there but never quite succeeds, as can be seen in this episode at the theatre: ‘Enquanto Adriano se perdia nos fundos do camarote, enquanto Vicente percorria com olhos naturais aquele mundo superior; do qual ninguém sabia que ela e Esmeralda poderiam ser criadas de servir, com alegria e curiosidade.’ (Lispector, 1999a: 218) [Whilst Adriano disappeared in the depths of the box, whilst Vicente scanned with a natural gaze that superior world, none of whose members knew that she and Esmeralda could be serving-maids, with happiness and curiosity.] There are two other women in the novel who function as models of the urban, modern, sophisticated female: Maria Clara, whom Virgínia meets at the dinner party, and an unnamed woman she sees on the bus. Maria Clara seems to possess naturally what she, Virgínia, experiences as artificial or painfully constructed. This woman is described as full of light, her features compared to crystal. Even her name (the adjective clara meaning pale or light) suggests cleanliness and the colour white. The writer describes her powerful entrance into the room: Abriu-se mais uma vez a porta e Maria Clara entrou. Os móveis tornaram-se inteligíveis, a disposição da sala esverdeada sacudiu-se sob a luz, um jarro de f lores começou — mesmo os que permaneciam sentados moviam-se em sua direção. O que a deixava difícil era a parte cristalina de seu corpo: seus olhos, sua saliva, seus cabelos, seus dentes e secas unhas que cintilavam. (Lispector, 1999a: 84–85)


Whiteness and the Construction of Subjectivity [The door opened again and Maria Clara entered. The furniture became distinct, the layout of the greenish room shook under the light, a vase of f lowers began — even those who were sitting down moved in her direction. What made her difficult was the crystalline part of her body: her eyes, her saliva, her hair, her teeth and dry nails that sparkled.]

If Virgínia’s attempts to perform feminine identity are experienced as awkward and embarrassing, Maria Clara succeeds in passing off her performance as effortless and natural: O vestido rosa achamalotado de Maria Clara lembrava-lhe rio imóvel e folhas imóveis de gravura. A um movimento de sua perna, à respiração de seus seios o rio movia-se, as folhas f lutuavam. Como ela era limpa e escovada. Só que ao contrário das outras mulheres ela esquecia que se perfumara e que se penteara e como uma criança brincava sem receio de se sujar. (Lispector, 1999a: 85) [Maria Clara’s pink camlet dress reminded her of a motionless river and motionless leaves on a printed sheet. With a movement of her leg, with the rise and fall of her breasts the river moved, the leaves f luttered. How clean and groomed she was. Except that unlike the other women she forgot that she had put on perfume and styled her hair and like a child she played without worrying about getting dirty.]

Maria Clara’s performance is not, however, really natural: her dress is described as a printed sheet. Through this metaphor Lispector underlines the artificiality, the construction of Maria Clara’s body. However, she performs so well that this printed surface becomes alive. When Maria Clara moves, she becomes a river, she actually becomes natural. Like the women in the dream of the Metallic City, Maria Clara is natural like a river and she also gleams. Being naturally glossy is something these women seem to have in common. By gleaming, they suggest they have an interior light, as if they possessed whiteness within themselves. By successfully performing a body (successful to the point of looking natural), Maria Clara is granted a full personal identity, with a private sphere well protected from the scrutiny of the public eye. Therefore, performing whiteness has consequences in terms of one’s access to privacy. Maria Clara establishes a firm border between her social, public appearance and her private life, something Virgínia is unable to do: ‘sua [Maria Clara’s] intimidade era rica e intransponível, uma vida secreta cheia de detalhes, enquanto Virgínia quase que poderia viver publicamente, sob uma árvore.’ (Lispector, 1999a: 85) [her [Maria Clara’s] intimacy was intricate and impenetrable, a secret life full of detail, whilst Virginia might almost live publicly, underneath a tree.] Despite her attempts to perform and her occasional success, Virgínia is condemned to be forever examined. In contrast with Maria Clara, the borders of Virgínia’s personal identity could easily be trespassed upon and invaded: ‘Com Virgínia não se correria jamais o risco de tomar excesso de confiança e transpassar ridiculamente o permitido — sua intimidade mesmo violada parecia não ser possuída, inútil aspirar o seu perfume, ver suas frescas roupas internas, assistir seu banho’ (Lispector, 1999a: 85) [With Virginia there was never any risk of becoming too familiar and ridiculously overstepping the mark of what was permitted — even when violated her intimacy did not seem to be possessed,

Whiteness and the Construction of Subjectivity


it was useless to breathe in her perfume, see her clean underwear, watch her in her bath]. At this moment Virgínia feels identified with her sister who so persistently invested in her femininity: Pobre Esmeralda, bordando calças de cambraia, queimando perfumes no quarto, o corpo exacerbado como um limão — sua feminilidade era quase repug­nante a outra mulher. Enquanto Maria Clara tivesse os pensamentos mais úmidos, guardava aquela qualidade misteriosa e seca, límpida como um número. (Lispector, 1999a: 85) [Poor Esmeralda, embroidering cambric knickers, burning perfumes in her room, her body embittered like a lemon — her femininity was almost repugnant to another woman. Whilst Maria Clara would have moister thoughts, she retained that mysterious and dry quality, limpid like a number.]

During the dinner party, Adriano, Vicente’s friend, plays the role of policing other people’s performances, especially Virgínia’s. Detached, critical, ruthless, he makes a point of maintaining a position of power and control. He notices Virgínia’s efforts to perform and thinks: ‘ela [Virgínia] não parecia mulher, mas imitar as mulheres com cuidado e inquietação’ (Lispector, 1999a: 97) [she [Virginia] did not seem like a woman, but imitated women with care and anxiety]. The way Adriano examines Virgínia critically, scrutinizing her gestures and her performance, shows clearly how examinable and vulnerable Virgínia is, especially in contrast to Maria Clara’s protected privacy. What Lispector seems to be portraying here is the extent to which private and public identity borders are determined according to dominant models of white feminine identity. The right to privacy, the efficacy of the borders separating (and protecting) what is private from what is public depend on how well one performs one’s white feminine personal identities. Further on in the novel is another representation of an idealized femininity that Virgínia cannot attain. Here, instead of the ideas of glowing, cleanliness and naturalness, the aspect stressed is the brown skin articulating with sophistication and an individualistic, detached attitude. Virgínia describes a woman to her sister Esmeralda, when she is telling Esmeralda about her life in the city. This woman is said to be literally ‘almost the strongest object in the city’, an expression that shows that this woman encapsulates many of the symbolic meanings that the city had for Virgínia: como ela era luxuosa. Mas nunca poderia esquecer essa mulher encontrada num ônibus — uma verdadeira senhora, Esmeralda — quase a coisa mais forte da cidade. Que linda ela era. [...] a boca ávida [...] um rosto horrivelmente egoísta e distraído dos outros. Ela vinha da rua — [...] tomava o ônibus para casa, os lábios duros de desilusão, mas não queria auxílio, ninguém poderia ajudá-la, desprezava os outros com espanto. (Lispector, 1999a: 217) [how magnificent she was. But she would never be able to forget that woman she had seen on a bus — a real lady, Esmeralda — almost the strongest object in the city. How beautiful she was. [...] her greedy mouth [...] a face that was horribly selfish and inattentive to others. She came from the street — [...] she took the bus home, her lips hard with disillusionment, but she didn’t want any help, no one could help her, she despised the others with astonishment.]


Whiteness and the Construction of Subjectivity

Next, the woman’s clothes are described, emphasizing the signs of wealth framing her brown skin: O chapéu forrado de pequenas plumas negras e macia era ridiculamente elegante. Nas orelhas grandes e finas, uma cor morena muito lavada, brincos luxuosos rodeavam-se de instantâneas setas de brilho, e emprestando a todo o rosto uma vida ríspida e ameaçadora. (Lispector, 1999a: 217; my emphasis) [The hat covered with sleek little black feathers was ridiculously elegant. In her fine big ears, of a well washed brown colour, sudden sparkling arrows clustered around splendid earrings, giving her whole face an austere and threatening air.]

Unlike the other examples we have just seen, this woman’s skin colour is explicitly non-white. She is described as morena [of brown colour], a qualification that refers to her skin, not to her hair. The word morena could be a euphemism for mulatto; it could also refer to a person simply being tanned. It is important to note that her skin colour is described as ‘a well washed brown colour’; therefore unwanted aspects of non-whiteness seem to have been washed away. Here, again, the separation between the clean and the dirty is full of racial connotations; suggesting, as we have seen, a cultural classification that goes beyond the idea of hygiene. This model of an urban woman sits therefore in an ambiguous racial space where she can be taken as white and non-white. It is important, however, to note that she carries several signs of wealth (splendid earrings, elegant hat). She also seems to be very self-sufficient, not needing other people around her, and with an autonomy and arrogance typical of those who are economically and socially powerful. The passage also suggests that, similarly to what we have seen in relation to the character of Maria Clara, this woman has full access to privacy; her personal life is protected from the public eye. These elements assure us that, despite the colour of her skin, she is successfully performing a body that matters. Because of this she is well integrated into the city; she is modern. In this context, she can be seen as a representation of the morena Brazilian woman; her morenidade can be easily integrated into the notion of Brazil as a racial democracy. In the following quotation Livio Sansone suggests that the idea of morenidade could be interpreted as replacing, in the present, the function that the myth of racial democracy played in terms of racial relations in post 1930s Brazil. In Brazil, beginning in the 1930s race relations have centered around the myth of racial democracy (today, of morenidade, the celebration of the light-brown mestizo as the synthesis of the ‘Brazilian race’) and on ambiguous racial relations. (Sansone, 2003: 2)

This figure of a sophisticated morena in Lispector’s text clearly shows how class, ethnicity and belonging to the city articulate, empowering this moreno body, making it matter. In relation to this woman, Virgínia also identifies with her sister Esmeralda. As Virgínia is telling Esmeralda about this woman, she observes her sister’s reactions as follows: ‘Esmeralda ouvia, os olhos perdiam-se imaginando, uma inveja acre e insuportável secava-lhe os lábios. Virgínia observava-a, com surpresa adivinhava quanto ambas eram feitas de algo insinuante, medroso e baixo, como ambas afinal

Whiteness and the Construction of Subjectivity


eram irmãs’ (Lispector, 1999a: 217) [Esmeralda listened, her eyes lost in imagination, a bitter and unbearable envy dried her lips. Virginia observed her, with surprise she divined how much both of them were fashioned from something insinuating, fearful and low, how both of them were after all sisters]. It seems that, by contrast with this woman, Virgínia can find a lot in common with her sister: they both envy this woman; neither of them can reach the idealized femininity described in her figure. The two sisters — who had, so far, been pictured as very different — are now described as being similarly insufficient. To conclude, one could say that this novel shows how race, class, gender and modernization articulate in the construction of female subjectivity from the very early stages of a girl’s life. The performative aspects of identity formation are crucial in this process. Virgínia’s continuous and persistent attempts to belong to the city make it clear that modernization in Brazil imposed important constraints on a woman’s subjectivity. This novel also makes it clear that the silencings involved in the complex subjective construction of a body that matters can be traumatic and significantly impair a woman’s psyche.



Modernization and the Phantasmagoria of Commodities in A cidade sitiada E a dureza das coisas era o modo mais recortado de ver da moça. Da impossibilidade de ultrapassar essa resistência nascia, de fruto verde, o travo das coisas firmes sobre as quais soprava com heroísmo este vento cívico que faz tremer bandeiras! A cidade era uma fortaleza inconquistável! E ela procurando ao menos imitar o que via: as coisas estavam como ali! E ali! Mas era preciso repeti-las. A moça tentava repetir com os olhos o que via, tal seria o único modo de se apoderar. [And the solidity of objects was the girl’s most precise way of seeing. Out of the impossibility of overcoming this resistance grew, unripe, the bitterness of those solid objects over which this civic wind that causes f lags to f lutter blew heroically! The city was an unconquerable fortress! And her trying to at least imitate what she saw: things were just there! And there! But it was necessary to duplicate them. The girl tried to duplicate with her eyes what she saw, only thus could she take possession.] Clarice Lispector, 1998a: 49

This chapter will discuss the experience of what David Frisby (1985: 209) has called ‘the phantasmagoria of the dream world of commodities’ in Lispector’s novel A cidade sitiada [The Besieged City] (1949). I shall ground my reading of this novel in Karl Marx’s theory of commodity fetishism, understood as a forgetting of the social relations of labour. I shall argue that, in the context of Brazil, this necessarily involves a forgetting of issues of race, given that, in Brazil, modernization was driven by an ideology of whiteness, and whitening the nation. In this novel, the presence of objects dominates not only the physical spaces but the mind of the protagonist as well. These objects are seen everywhere and are displayed precisely to be seen. The protagonist is constantly surveying her surroundings, aware of the fact that she, herself, is an object to be seen and part of a wider landscape. As we shall see, there is a racial dimension behind the excessive visibility. Commodity fetishism and the veil of appearances produced by it create a hypervisibility which, in turn, obscures and conceals a situation of racial exclusion. Unexamined whiteness presides over this veil of appearances, leaving blackness in the position of the excluded Other. The result is a hypervisibility haunted by a sense of the uncanny. This novel describes a transformation process resulting from the modernization

Modernization and Phantasmagoria


of the suburb of São Geraldo. Benedito Nunes usefully summarizes A cidade sitiada as follows: A cidade sitiada é a crônica de São Geraldo, um subúrbio em crescimento [...]. Mocinha namoradeira à caça de um bom partido, e bairrista, [Lucrécia] passeia seu tédio pela cidade, caminhando, de devaneio em devaneio, e nutrindo secretamente a esperança de libertar-se dos muros imaginários que sitiam São Geraldo. Casa-se, por fim, com um comerciante forasteiro que a transfere para a metrópole. Mas nem os museus nem os jardins nem os teatros, que Lucrécia Neves visita turisticamente, aplacam-lhe a nostalgia do subúrbio, para onde ela volta ainda na companhia do marido, a quem detesta, pouco antes de tornar-se viúva séria, orgulhosa dos últimos progressos da sua cidade. E à vista de um novo bom partido, ela deixará novamente a terra natal. (Nunes, 1989: 32–33) [The besieged city is the tale of São Geraldo, an expanding suburb [...]. Local inhabitant [Lucrécia], a f lirtatious young girl in search of a good catch, whiles away her boredom in the city, walking from daydream to daydream, whilst secretly nursing her hope of freeing herself from the imaginary walls that encircle São Geraldo. Finally she gets married to a businessman from outside the suburb, who moves her to the city. Yet neither the museums nor the gardens nor the theatres, which Lucrécia visits as a tourist, quell her nostalgia for the suburb, to which she returns still accompanied by the husband that she detests shortly before becoming a solemn widow, proud of the latest progress of her city. And in search of a new catch, she makes to leave her birthplace again.]

There is a lack of separation between Lucrécia and the suburbs of São Geraldo, where most of the story is set. In fact, unlike many of Lispector’s characters, Lucrécia is not critical nor in conf lict with her surroundings. On the contrary, she merges into the landscape becoming another of its objects: ‘quando ela estivesse pronta pareceria um objeto, um objeto de S. Geraldo. Era nisso que ela trabalhava ferozmente com calma’ (Lispector, 1998: 37) [when she was ready she would seem like an object, an object from São Geraldo. It was at this that she worked with furious calm]. However, it is interesting to note that Lucrécia is certainly not the only one experiencing this. The bulk of the population of São Geraldo seems to be equally unable to separate themselves from the transformations that affect their environment. There is a diffuse feeling of the uncanny that permeates the descriptions of the exterior scenes in São Geraldo. The reader gets a sense of something happening that nobody can explain. This is obvious in the following passage: Quanto mais fábricas se abriam nos arredores, mais o subúrbio se erguia em vida própria sem que os habitantes pudessem dizer que transformação os atingia. Os movimentos já se haviam congestionado e não se poderia atravessar uma rua sem desviar-se de uma carroça que os cavalos vagarosos puxavam, enquanto um automóvel impaciente buzinava atrás lançando fumaça. [...] E quando sobre o alegre movimento da manhã soprava o vento fresco e perturbador, dir-se-ia que a população inteira se preparava para um embarque. (Lispector, 1998a: 16) [The more factories that opened on the outskirts, the more the suburb swelled with its own life, its inhabitants unable to name the transformation they were undergoing. Traffic had already become congested and you couldn’t cross the road without having to get out of the way of a wagon being pulled by dawdling horses whilst an impatient car behind honked its horn and belched smoke. [...]


Modernization and Phantasmagoria And when a fresh and unsettling wind blew over the happy morning bustle, you would say that the whole population was getting ready to set sail.]

Intriguingly, the transformations caused by modernization are experienced by Lucrécia as a monolithic, static presence. The passage chosen as an epigraph to this chapter depicts her environment as a fortress — concrete, immovable and impenetrable. Objects, things, are so physically present that they almost acquire a life of their own. The passage also mentions a ‘civic wind’ and a f lag, suggesting that this reality is connected with the construction of the nation. I shall argue that Lucrécia’s experience of these uncanny objects as an impenetrable, monolithic presence is linked to the fact that modernization in Brazil becomes an ideology: a set of ideas imposed upon people. The novel is thus stressing a feature of modernity that would become explicit in Brazil at a later date, after the 1964 coup and the so-called Milagre Econômico [Economic Miracle]: modernization as a form of domination. It is interesting to note that the narrative is, in fact, set in the 1920s, the decade of the modernist avant-garde in Brazil, a period when the idea of modernity could still suggest the possibility of social change and positive transformation. This avantgarde period is represented in the novel by the futuristic use of feminine figures as an expression of physical strength and vigour, expressing faith and belief in progress. This is present, for example, in the description of the façade of a modernist building: ‘Três mulheres de pedra sustentavam a portada do edifício modernista que uns andaimes ainda obstruíam’ (Lispector, 1998a: 17) [Three stone women supported the portal of the modernist building which was still obscured by scaffolding]. The novel contrasts this utopian aspect of the modernist avant-garde with a less optimistic perception of modernization. Renato Ortiz explains how, in Brazil, especially after 1964, modernity became ‘a-critical’: no longer a drive to change the present, but a set of regulatory norms. [Modernity] is no longer a utopia, something out of step with time. [...] I would say that it becomes ideology, that is, a vision of the world which merely seeks adaptation to the present. In this sense acritical modernity requires the adjustment of people and political proposals to its interests. ‘Backward’ is that which is out of tune with the existing order. (Ortiz, 2000: 142)

In other words, the modernizing impetus of the period from the 1930s to the early 1980s — which includes the period when Lispector was writing — was, to a great extent, one imposed upon the population rather than one inspired by local needs or aspirations. Although she is writing about later decades, Vivian Schelling makes a similar point: with the rapid economic growth brought about by the military governments of the 1970s and ’80s and the establishment of significant culture industries, particularly in Brazil and Mexico, modernity ceased in many ways to be an unrealised aspiration and became instead part of the fabric of everyday life. It is important to note, however, that the notion and practice of modernity which tended to prevail in this process of transformation was predominantly instrumental and acritical. (Schelling, 2000: 13)

Modernity becomes an existing order imposed from above, to which the individual

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needs to conform. As Schelling notes: ‘In the 1990s, with the growing integration of Latin America into global markets and the adoption of neo-liberal economic thinking as the dominant paradigm, this technocratic conception of modernity has become increasingly hegemonic’ (Schelling, 2000: 13). In this sense, Lispector, writing in 1949, is anticipating the critique that would start to be formulated many decades later in Brazil, especially after the so-called Economic Miracle of the 1970s. The idea of modernity has been paramount for the construction of the Brazilian nation. In his article ‘Popular Culture, Modernity and Nation’, Renato Ortiz traces the connections between modernization and the process of nation building in Brazil, emphasizing the connection between the modernisation process and the construction of a national identity: ‘Modernity, modernism, modernisation are terms which are associated with the national question. The obsession with Brazilian identity was also an obsession with modernity; its absence connected the modern to the construction of a national identity’ (Ortiz, 2000: 142). Later in the same article he reiterates the connection between modernity and national identity: ‘The nation is realised through modernity; it is a social formation whose material base corresponds to industrialism’ (Ortiz, 2000: 143). We can therefore say that modernization as an ideology is an important element in the construction of the nation. Whiteness is another element in this ideological construction — symbolized, in the novel, as I hope to show, by the presence of these uncanny objects. In my Introduction I explained how, from the end of the nineteenth century, the idea of Brazil as a modern nation was associated with the need to whiten its population. I noted that Brazil experienced important political and social changes in the 1930s, particularly during the Vargas era (1930–45), which was a period of nation building and strengthening of the nation State. A cidade sitiada was published in 1949, four years after the end of Vargas’s Estado Novo (1937–45). I also highlighted how the theories of Gilberto Freyre, elaborated in the 1930s, provided a positive interpretation of the non-European ethnic elements in the country’s population; with Freyre’s writings, the mestizo, until that date seen as a negative element, ‘becomes the national’ (Ortiz, 1985: 41). When discussing the ideas of Lilia Moritz Schwarcz, we also saw how this assimilation of the mestizo has co-existed in Brazil with a racism that is not institutionalized, explicit or verbalized, but silent and dispersed across the fabric of daily life. There is, then, a clear link between Vargas’s modernizing policies and the whitening of the Brazilian population. Studying the work of educational reformers in Rio de Janeiro (then Brazil’s largest city) between 1917 and 1945, Jerry Dávila explains: Brazilian elites [...] believed their racially mixed nation already lacked the whiteness it needed to sustain its vitality. The task in hand, then, was to find new ways of creating whiteness. Thus, endowed with a commitment to forge a more European Brazil, and bound by a sense of modernity equated with whiteness, these educators built schools in which most every action and practice established racialized norms and meted out or withheld rewards based on them. For Brazilian educators and their intellectual generation, race was not a biological fact. It was a metaphor that extended to describe the past, present,


Modernization and Phantasmagoria and future of the Brazilian nation. At one extreme, blackness signified the past. Blackness was cast in Freudian language as primitive, prelogical, and childlike. More broadly, white elites equated blackness with unhealthiness, laziness, and criminality. [...] Whiteness embodied the desired virtues of health, culture, science and modernity. [...] Whiteness was a way of affirming Europeanness, which in turn bore all the trappings of modernity — from urbanization to industrialization, rationalism, science and civic virtue. [...] whiteness was also [...] the absence of blackness. (Dávila, 2003: 5–6)

As we will see, the idea of the nation as racially homogeneous was an important part of the ideology of the Vargas state. Lisa Shaw notes: ‘There can be no doubt that Vargas did foster a sense of nationalism in keeping with the twentieth century and the modern state that he founded’ (Shaw, 1999: 32). She quotes the following speech delivered by Vargas in 1938, in which he describes the nation in eugenic terms: A prompt solution must be given to the problem of strengthening the race, assuring the cultural and eugenic preparation of the new generations... The commemorations for the Fatherland and Race ought to be from now on an unequivocal demonstration of our effort to raise the cultural and eugenic level of youth... For a Brazil united, for a Brazil strong, for a Brazil great. (Cited in Shaw, 1999: 32)

I will argue that Vargas’s eugenic perspective towards the modernizing nation is present in Lispector’s novel as an unexamined but operational element in the cultural construction of a modern city through the eyes of the protagonist Lucrécia. The notion of race is an intrinsic part of the ideology of modernization — crystallized in Lucrécia’s perception of the city as an impenetrable fortress of commodified objects. We have noted in the previous chapters that race is often present in Lispector’s work in the form of unexamined whiteness, which in turn becomes apparent when we analyse the function of non-white characters in her narratives. One of the few African markers found in A cidade sitiada appears in its opening pages, in the form of a black face which emerges from a coal depot: Homens espaçados — jogadores de chapéu de palha e palito na boca — espiavam. Da Carvoaria Coroa de Ferro saiu uma cara negra de olhos brancos. Lucrécia Neves meteu a cabeça na frescura da carvoaria; espiou um pouco. Quando a retirou — lá estava a calçada... que realidade, via a moça. Cada coisa. Entortou a cabeça como modo de olhar. Cada coisa. (Lispector, 1998a: 18) [A scattering of men — gamblers in straw hats with toothpicks in their mouths — watched. From the Coroa de Ferro coal depot a black face with white eyes emerged. Lucrécia Neves stuck her head inside the freshness of the coal depot; she watched for a little while. When she drew her head back out — there was the road... what a reality the girl saw. Each object. She craned her neck as a way of seeing. Each object.]

It is not clear from this reference to blackness whether the individual is black, i.e. Afro-Brazilian, or a white man whose face is blackened with coal dust. Here one

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needs to take into account the allegorical nature of this novel: it is more abstract and symbolic than any other of the novels by Lispector analysed here. Benedito Nunes explains this allegorical aspect clearly: Não tem A cidade sitiada, enquanto crônica de um subúrbio em transformação, o sentido de uma forma de vida completa, que integre a experiência individual dos personagens. É uma alegoria das mudanças no tempo dos indivíduos e das coisas que os rodeiam. Lucrécia Neves personifica essa abstração romanesca. (Nunes, 1989: 38) [As the tale of a suburb undergoing transformation, A cidade sitiada does not represent a total way of life which brings together the individual experiences of its protagonists. It is an allegory of changes in the time of individuals and the things that surround them. Lucrécia Neves personifies this romanesque abstraction.]

Many other critics have commented on this novel’s high level of abstraction. Elizabeth Lowe, for example, says: ‘Lispector’s third novel is one of her most difficult to approach critically. [...] thematically, the novel is one of her most abstract’ (Lowe, 1993: 25). Carlos Mendes de Sousa describes it as having a ‘denso penhor figurativo’ (De Souza, 2000: 234) [a dense figurative nature]. Bearing this allegorical quality in mind, one could interpret the Afro-Brazilian ethnic marker mentioned above (the black face that emerges from a coal depot) not simply as a description of a particular character’s face at a particular fictional moment, but as a visual representation of the concept of race itself and of its operation, inf luencing how people perceive and construct social, cultural and political environments. Paul Gilroy, discussing the concept of race, quotes Eric Voegelin as saying: ‘It is not the function of an idea to describe reality but to assist in its constitution’ (Gilroy, 2000: 57). Race therefore becomes ‘an active, dynamic idea or principle that assists the constitution of social reality’ (Gilroy, 2000: 58). The image of a face that is ‘blacked up’ (smeared with coal, regardless of whether the face underneath is white or black) can be seen as a visual representation of the concept of race itself, inasmuch as the latter consists of a set of meanings imposed on a phenotypical skin colour: the white eyes contrasting with and highlighting the black face. Coal is an important element in this image, as it represented the source of energy for the primary phases of industrialization. The suburbs of São Geraldo are referred to as ‘O subúrbio de carvão e ferro’ (Lispector, 1998a: 19) [The suburb of coal and iron]. As a black substance, coal could also represent blackness in the form of the socially invisibilized labour force that underpinned the process of modernization (conceived in terms of whiteness). Here, we should bear in mind that, as we will see later, in Brazil blacks were excluded from the industrial workforce which was made up of white immigrants and mulattos. Blacks were associated with the rural past and seen as not having a place in modernization or modernity. Later in the novel Lucrécia confronts a mysterious visitor in her house, who appears to announce the arrival of a ship loaded with coal. Lucrécia seems to be disturbed by this presence and by the idea of another load of coal. This stranger also looks at the knicknacks in Lucrécia’s house, despising the whiteness of the porcelain,


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drawing a contrast between the blackness of the coal that he comes to announce and the whiteness of the objects that surround Lucrécia. Quando pensou que ele nunca falaria, o visitante disse sobre a barba ensopada: — Chegou, Lucrécia, já chegou o navio. [...] — Bem carregado? O homem olhou com certa hesitação. — Sempre o mesmo. Carvão. Sempre carvão. Lucrécia mantinha-se retesada. — Pode ir então, [...] pode ir, não interessa. Não era esse o carregamento, não era essa a notícia! [...] Mas o homem agora fitava com força os bibelôs, e sem sorrir desprezava a brancura fresca da porcelana. — É carvão, repetiu alçando os ombros com ironia, é carvão.... — Vá embora, ordenou com firmeza. (Lispector,1998a: 76) [When she thought that he would never speak, the visitor spoke over his wet beard: ‘It’s here, Lucrécia, the ship’s already here.’ [...] ‘Has it got a good load?’ The man watched somewhat hesitantly. ‘Always the same. Coal. Always coal.’ Lucrécia remained rigid. ‘You can go then, [...] you can go, it doesn’t matter.’ That wasn’t the cargo, that wasn’t the news! [...] But the man stared fixedly at the ornaments, and without smiling he scorned the fresh whiteness of the porcelain. ‘It’s coal,’ he repeated, shrugging his shoulders ironically, ‘it’s coal...’ ‘Go away,’ she ordered firmly.]

Lucrécia does not care about the coal. One could argue that the blackness of coal — together with its relation to productive energy and labour — were elements that had to remain outside Lucrécia’s mental universe. Her mind, dominated by the veil of appearances of commodities (many of them of European origin, as we shall see) could not accommodate this black (and dirty) element — that is, the evidence of the primary transformative labour processes that lay behind the production of capitalist modernity and its commodities. In the previous chapter I emphasized the importance of modernization, and the need to construct and perform a body that is in harmony with the city. Modernizing policies during the Vargas era, as seen earlier, were inspired by the need to construct a more European and whiter nation; belonging to the city implies being able to perform a ‘body that matters’ in a national context, in accordance with a certain construction of what the national is. Ethnicity, class and gender articulate in this performance, allowing (or not allowing) the individual to belong to the urban environment and, more broadly, to the nation. Unlike Virgínia, the protagonist of O lustre, who constantly needs (and often fails) to perform her belonging to the city, in the case of Lucrécia, the emphasis is not on the inner conf lict between belonging

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or not belonging, but on the symbiotic unfolding of a process both inside and outside the character. By contrast with the protagonists of Lispector’s other novels, who experience deep subjective crises and engage in intense soul-searching about who they are, Lucrécia is uncomplicated and seems to simply and easily ref lect, as well as adapt to, her surroundings. In terms of the relationship between the protagonist and the plot, it is important to note that the main motor of action here is not the protagonist, nor any of the other characters. Neither is it São Geraldo, the changing environment to which Lucrécia belongs — which, like the City in Morrison’s Jazz, can be seen as Lucrécia’s co-protagonist. The motor here is modernization itself: depicted paradoxically as something extremely concrete and visible, but at the same time as a force that works in a surreptitious way; a process that disrupts and disturbs the relationship between individuals, social groups and physical environment. The identification between the modernizing suburb and the protagonist is clear: ‘não se saberia se uma cidade tinha sido feita para as pessoas ou as pessoas para a cidade’ (Lispector, 1998a: 55) [One would not know whether a city had been created for the people or the people for the city].1 The novel attempts to trace not just the impact of modernization on the self, but how modernization itself depends on subjective constructions. Although she cannot help it, Lucrécia is, to a certain extent, responsible for creating the transformation in which she is inserted. The character functions as a transparent vessel for the environment undergoing urban transformation; to create a city means to create internalized images of it: ‘Nesse momento propício em que as pessoas viviam, cada vez que se visse — novas extensões emergiriam, e mais um sentido se criaria: isso era a pouco usável vida íntima de Lucrécia Neves’ (Lispector, 1998a: 23) [During the auspicious period that people were living through, every time that one looked — new expanses would emerge and another meaning would be created: such was the fairly useless intimate life of Lucrécia Neves]. However, Lucrécia’s gaze does not imprint her individuality on the environment. The internalized image of the city is not personalized; Lucrécia, as a person, is deprived of individuality: ‘ela debruçava-se sem nenhuma individualidade, procurando apenas olhar diretamente as coisas’ (Lispector, 1998a: 24) [she leaned over without any individuality, scarcely attempting to look at things directly]. Nor does she cultivate her own ideas or thinking: ‘Nunca precisara aliás da inteligência’ (Lispector, 1998a: 25) [Furthermore, she never needed to make use of her intelligence]. She is a mere instrument, a tool for what is happening and what she sees around her, her relationship with her environment is — to a certain extent — symbiotic. Here we might draw attention to Lucrécia’s surname, ‘Neves’, the plural of the word meaning ‘snow’. Snow is not only white but also associated with the European environment of the Alps (as we will see later). Taking into account Lucrécia’s close connection with her modernizing environment, we could say that her surname emphasizes the whiteness underpinning the process of modernization. Visibility (looking and being looked at), together with appearances and the physical presence of objects, becomes paramount in this process: ‘E não havia outro


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modo de conhecer o subúrbio; S. Geraldo era explorável apenas pelo olhar. Também Lucrécia Neves de pé espiava a cidade’ (Lispector, 1998a: 24). [And there was no other way of getting to know the suburb: São Geraldo could only be explored by looking. Lucrécia Neves also stood and watched the city]. By seeing and naming things, Lucrécia plays an important role in giving shape to a new social reality: tudo o que ela via era alguma coisa. Nela e num cavalo a impressão era a expressão. Na verdade função bem tosca — ela indicava o nome íntimo das coisas, ela, os cavalos e alguns outros; e mais tarde as coisas seriam olhadas por este nome. A realidade precisava da mocinha para ter uma forma. ‘O que se vê’ — era a sua única vida interior; o que se via tornou-se a sua vaga história. [...] A cidade ia tomando a forma que o seu olhar revelava. (Lispector, 1998a: 23; my emphasis) [everything that she saw was something. As far as both she and a horse were concerned the impression was the expression. A very crude function really — she indicated the intimate names of objects, herself, horses and certain other things; and later those objects would be seen by this name. In order to take shape, reality needed the girl. ‘What is seen’ — was her only interior life; what she saw became her vague history. [...] The city gradually took on the shape that her gaze revealed.]

One of the main challenges this novel presents to the reader is contained in its title A cidade sitiada [The Besieged City]. One could say that a siege is undertaken by Lucrécia herself as she tries to know and penetrate her surroundings. This idea is contained in the passage I have used as an epigraph to this chapter: E a dureza das coisas era o modo mais recortado de ver da moça. Da impossi­ bilidade de ultrapassar essa resistência nascia, de furto verde, o travo das coisas firmes sobre as quais soprava com heroísmo este vento cívico que faz tremer bandeiras! A cidade era uma fortaleza inconquistável! (Lispector, 1998a: 49) [And the solidity of objects was the girl’s most precise way of seeing. Out of the impossibility of overcoming this resistance grew, unripe, the bitterness of those solid objects over which this civic wind that causes f lags to f lutter blew heroically! The city was an unconquerable fortress!]

This process of knowledge is, however, paradoxical. By trying to penetrate the things that surround her, Lucrécia actually creates the walls that protect the city: ‘Da impossibilidade de ultrapassar essa resistência nascia, [...] o travo das coisas firmes. [...] A cidade era uma fortaleza inconquistável!’ The besieging is therefore instrumental: in trying to know her surroundings and failing to do so, Lucrécia actually creates the visual reality that the city represents. At the same time, because her relationship with her surroundings is one of reciprocal self-construction, in trying to besiege this reality she also creates and comes to know herself. As we will see, there is a paradox here: by besieging the city, Lucrécia is trying to separate herself from the city, to adopt the position of an outsider. However, this is impossible because she is located inside the city. In the following passage we can see Lucrécia in the role of a general, looking at her personal belongings as representations of the wider environment. Again, she fails to penetrate the veil of appearances that she is actually creating by focusing on the visible:

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Tudo isso era a miniatura da igreja, da praça e da torre do relógio, e neste mapa a moça calculava como um general. Que diria então se pudesse passar, de ver os objetos, a dizê-los... Era o que ela, com paciência muda, parecia desejar. Sua imperfeição vinha de querer dizer, sua dificuldade de ver era como a de pintar. — O difícil é que a aparência era a realidade. (Lispector, 1998a: 72) [All this was a miniature version of the church, the square and the clock tower, and on this map the girl schemed like a general. What then would she say if she could move, from seeing the objects, to saying them... That was what she, with mute patience, seemed to desire. Her imperfection came from wanting to say, her difficulty in seeing was like a difficulty in painting. ‘The difficult thing was that appearances were in fact reality.’]

The following quotation portrays the difficulties embedded in Lucrécia’s attempt to surround the city. Lucrécia is deeply entangled in the construction of her surroundings and in her relations of belonging; the position of the besieger — ultimately an outsider — is therefore experienced as impossible: Se ao menos a moça estivesse fora de seus muros. Que minucioso trabalho de paciência o de cercá-la. De gastar a vida tentando geométricamente assediá-la com cálculos e engenho para um dia, mesmo decrépita, encontrar a brecha. Se ao menos estivesse fora de seus muros. Mas não havia como sitiá-la. Lucrécia Neves estava dentro da cidade. (Lispector, 1998a: 73) [If only the girl were outside its walls. What a painstaking feat of patience it was to besiege the city. Spending a lifetime trying to surround it geometrically with calculations and ingenuity in order to one day to find the gap even if it were decrepit. If only she were outside its walls. But there was no way of laying siege to it. Lucrécia Neves was inside the city.]

There is a central paradox in this process: how to besiege, and see herself as separate, from within the city? How to contain, control, objectify modernization if she is simultaneously constructed by it? We are made aware that this ‘painstaking feat of patience’ is actually what creates the city she is inserted into. This is clear in a passage cited previously: ‘A realidade precisava da mocinha para ter uma forma. ‘O que se vê’ — era a sua única vida interior; o que se via tornou-se a sua vaga história. [...] A cidade ia tomando a forma que o seu olhar revelava’ (Lispector, 1998a: 23) [In order to take shape, reality needed the girl. ‘What is seen’ — was her only interior life; what she saw became her vague history. [...] The city gradually took on the shape that her gaze revealed]. Interestingly, at the end of the novel, the siege of São Geraldo is lifted: a viaduct has finally connected the suburb to the big city and modernization seems to be complete. At this point, Lucrécia seems finally able to separate herself from the suburb. One can speculate that the reason why this separation is now possible is because Lucrécia’s role of culturally constructing the city is no longer necessary: Mas [...] ela abandonaria a cidade mercantil que o desmesurado orgulho de seu destino erguera, com um aterro e um viaduto, até a escarpa dos cavalos sem nome. Fora levantado o sítio de S. Geraldo. (Lispector, 1998a: 200)


Modernization and Phantasmagoria [But [...] she would leave the commercial city that, through overwhelming pride in its destiny, had now expanded to reach, with an embankment and a viaduct, the slope where the nameless horses were. The siege of São Geraldo was lifted.]

As noted before, in the process of looking around and culturally constructing this new environment, Lucrécia emphasizes the presence of things. The objects that surround her have an importance and a presence that cannot be ignored. In the following passage we can see that the objects that Lucrécia and her mother collect at home are described as being more than just private possessions. An imagined auction (leilão) reveals the real nature of these objects: they are commodities, objects that can be sold. An imaginary wind is about to blow and expose those private possessions to the outside world. The borders between the private and the public world are placed at risk. O aposento era repleto de jarros, bibelôs, cadeiras e paninhos de crochê, e nas paredes de papel f lorido amontoavam-se folhas recortadas de revistas e antigos calendários. O ar sufocado e puro de lugares sempre fechados, o cheiro das coisas. Mas em pouco começaria o leilão e os objetos seriam escancarados? Nada impediria mesmo que a porta se abrisse — o vento prenunciava portas bruscamente espalancadas. (Lispector, 1998a: 70) [The room was full of jugs, ornaments, chairs and little bits of crochet, and the walls with their f lowery wallpaper were plastered with pages clipped from maga­zines and old calendars. The pure, asphyxiating air of places that are always kept closed, the smell of objects. But the auction would begin soon and maybe the objects would be put on show? Absolutely nothing would prevent the door from being opened — the wind foretold the sudden f linging open of doors.]

In another passage these private objects are described as existing on a plane ‘above’ their materiality, having lost their function by becoming signs. This domestic interior is equated with the suburbs themselves, suggesting that the situation described as private is, in reality, part of a wider context: eis a mesa no escuro. Elevada acima de si mesma pela sua falta de função. [...] sinais de telegrama. Eis a forma alçada da mesinha. Quando uma coisa não pensava, a forma que possuía era o seu pensamento. O peixe era o único pensamento do peixe. O que dizer então da chaminé. Ou daquela folhinha de calendário que o vento arrepiava. Ah sim, Lucrécia Neves via tudo. [...] O segredo das coisas estava em que, manifestando-se, se manifestavam iguais a elas mesmas. Assim era. E esfregando o sapato, a moça olhou esse mundo escuro repleto de bibelôs, da f lor, da única f lor do jarro: este era o subúrbio — ela engraxava furiosamente. (Lispector, 1998a: 71; my emphasis) [there was the table in the dark. Raised above itself through its lack of a function. [...] telegraphic signs. There was the raised form of the little table. When an object didn’t think, its form was its thought. A fish’s only thought was fish. And what could you say about the chimney. Or that calendar page ruff led by the wind. Yes, Lucrécia Neves saw everything. [...] The secret of things consisted of the fact that, showing themselves, they showed themselves to be the same as themselves.

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That’s how it was. And rubbing at her shoe, the girl looked at this dark world full of ornaments, of a f lower, the only f lower in the jug: this was the suburb — she polished furiously.]

This abstraction of things from their material function or use-value corresponds closely to Marx’s analysis of the commodity under capitalism in ‘The Fetishism of Commodities’: A commodity appears, at first sight, a very trivial thing, and easily understood. Its analysis shows that it is, in reality, a very queer thing [...]. So far as it is a value in use, there is nothing mysterious about it [...] But, so soon as it steps forth as a commodity, it is changed into something transcendent. [...] The mystical character of commodities does not originate, therefore, in their usevalue. (Marx, 1977: 435)

In the following passage Marx explains the mystical character of commodities: A commodity is [...] a mysterious thing, simply because in it the social character of men’s labour appears to them as an objective character stamped upon the product of that labour; because the relation of the producers to the sum total of their own labour is presented to them as a social relation, existing not between themselves, but between the products of their labour. This is the reason why the products of labour become commodities, social things whose qualities are at the same time perceptible and imperceptible by the senses. [...] There is a physical relation between physical things. But it is different with commodities. There, the existence of the things qua commodities, and the value relation between the products of labour which stamps them as commodities, have absolutely no connection with their physical properties and with the material relations arising there-from. There is a definite social relation between men that assumes, in their eyes, the fantastic form of a relation between things. (Marx, 1977: 436)

Marx concludes by saying that commodities ‘appear as independent beings endowed with life’ (Marx, 1977: 436). Lucrécia and her mother surround themselves with ornaments, objects that have been deprived of their use-value and which become somehow magically animated: Os bibelôs luziam em claridade própria como animais da profundeza. A sala estava íntima, fantástica, o interior sufocado de sonho... Por todo o aposento coisas inocentes se haviam espalhado em guarda. (Lispector, 1998a: 76–77) [The ornaments sparkled in their own light like animals in the darkness. The room was intimate, fantastic, the interior suffocated by dreaminess... Over the whole room innocent objects were scattered in watchfulness.]

By persisting in looking at and tracing the presence of objects around her, Lucrécia creates a dreamy atmosphere around herself that could be seen as typical of what David Frisby, referring to Walter Benjamin’s early notes on the Arcades Project, calls ‘the phantasmagoria of the dream world of commodities’ (1985: 209). As Frisby notes: The world of the circulation of the commodity is precisely the announcement of the new as the ever-same. The dream world of the nineteenth century presents itself as a mortified world of things, a world of reifications that are cut


Modernization and Phantasmagoria off from their origins. Benjamin’s task was to go in search of the secrets of these often ephemeral things that are left behind by that century. The conception of the ‘dreaming collectivity’ in the nineteenth century, enclosed in the fantasy world of commodity fetishism and false consciousness, requires an equally important notion, that of the awakening from the dream. (Frisby, 85: 210)

Lispector’s novel does not depict or suggest Lucrécia’s awakening from this dream; rather, it emphasizes her immersion in this dreamy atmosphere. Lucrécia’s private world is dominated by the presence of these objects; they are clearly instrumental in the construction of her domestic environment. Walter Benjamin’s description of the bourgeois collector surrounding himself with commodities is relevant here: For the private citizen, for the first time the living space became distinguished from the place of work. The former constituted itself as the interior. The office was its complement. The private citizen who in the office took reality into account, required of the interior that it should support him in his illusions. This necessity was all the more pressing since he had no intention of adding social pre-occupations to his business ones. In the creation of his private environment he suppressed them both. From this sprang the phantasmagorias of the interior. [...] The interior was the place of refuge of Art. The collector was the true inhabitant of the interior. He made the glorification of things his concern. To him fell the task of Sisyphus which consisted of stripping things of their commodity character by means of his possession of them. But he conferred upon them only a fancier’s value, rather than an use-value. [...] The interior was not only the private citizen’s universe, it was also its casing. (Benjamin, 1989: 167–69)

Benjamin highlights the fact that the bourgeois is not interested in the connection between these objects and the society that produces them. Similarly, Lucrécia is not aware of the social relations contained in the objects that surround her; so the social isolation that Benjamin describes is also relevant in this case. However, in Lispector’s novel this situation is presented in a rather ambivalent way. Lucrécia, without really understanding what she sees, describes these objects as part of a wider environment. In the following passage, for example, her friend Perseu insists that the objects must belong to someone. Lucrécia is adamant in pointing out that they are part of a wider context: Perseu [...] continuou a examinar em torno, parando o olhar sobre um ou outro bibelô como se de repente os estranhasse [...]. Afinal percebeu que Lucrécia o observava e perturbou-se: — São seus..., perguntou apontando com o rosto. — Da sala. Ele a olhou com surpresa e alegria. — Que tolice! As coisas são de pessoas! — Da sala, resmungou Lucrécia Neves. — E a sala, filhinha? — É da casa, a casa é de S. Geraldo, não me aborreça. (Lispector, 1998a: 112) [Perseu [...] carried on examining in turn, his gaze falling on some ornament or other as if he suddenly found them odd [...]. Finally he realized that Lucrécia was watching him and he became uneasy:

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‘They’re yours...’, he asked signaling with his face. ‘The room’s.’ He looked at her with surprise and joy. ‘What nonsense! Things belong to people!’ ‘The room’s’, muttered Lucrécia Neves. ‘And the room, young lady?’ ‘It belongs to the house, and the house to São Geraldo, stop annoying me.’]

Because Lucrécia does not see herself as separate from São Geraldo, this connection between private objects and a wider social environment is presented to the readers in an uncomplicated matter-of-fact manner. What is obviously disturbing, and probably upsetting for Perseu, is the lack of agency that this situation presents. In the midst of this phantasmagoria of commodities, Lucrécia has lost her individuality and any power to act upon or transform her environment. She can only follow the f low of change in which she is immersed. The novel highlights, through the eyes of Lucrécia, a situation where people are connected but do not understand these connections and therefore cannot resist them. Lucrécia’s immersion in the process of commodity fetishism is such that she herself becomes reified, transforming herself into a statue that could be publicly displayed in São Geraldo. This clearly symbolizes Lucrécia’s lack of agency: Alçou-se desta vez na ponta dos pés; escutou. [...] Então estendeu uma das mãos. Hesitante. Depois mais insistente. Estendeu-a e repentinamente entortou-a mostrando a palma. No movimento o ombro se alçou aleijado... Mas era assim mesmo. Estendeu o pé esquerdo para fora. Deslizando-se pelo chão, as pontas dos dedos oblíquas ao tornozelo. Estava de algum modo tão retorcida que não voltaria à posição normal sem esfuziar-se em torno de si própria. [...] Assim permaneceu até que se precisasse urgentemente chamar, não poderia: perdera enfim o dom da fala.. [...] E assim ficou como se a tivessem depositado. Distraída, sem nenhuma individualidade. Sua arte era popular e anônima. Às vezes aproveitava a mão que estava atrás para coçar rapidamente as costas. Mas logo se imobilizava. Na posição em que estava , Lucrécia Neves poderia mesmo ser transportada à praça pública. [...] Porque era assim que uma estátua pertencia a uma cidade. (Lispector, 1998a: 78–80) [She rose up now on tiptoes, she listened. [...] Then she reached out a hand. Hesitantly. Then more insistently. She held it out and suddenly turned it over, showing her palm. The movement distorted her shoulder... But that’s just how it was. She stretched her left foot out. She slid along the f loor, the tips of her toes oblique to her ankles. Somehow she was so twisted that she wouldn’t be able to resume her normal posture without f lipping back on herself. [...] Thus she remained until if she had needed to call out urgently, she wouldn’t be able to: she had finally lost the power of speech.


Modernization and Phantasmagoria [...] And there she stayed as if she had been deposited there. Distracted, lacking all individuality. Her art was popular and anonymous. Every now and then she would make use of the hand that was behind her to quickly scratch her back. But then she would fall motionless. In the position that she was in, Lucrécia Neves really could be moved to the town square. [...] Because it was thus that a statue belonged to a city.]

Here we can draw a contrast between Lucrécia and another character, the elderly Efigênia. Unlike Lucrécia, Efigênia, described as ‘calada e dura’ [tight-lipped and inf lexible] (Lispector, 1998a: 20), resists modernization: Apesar do progresso o subúrbio conservava lugares quase desertos, já em fronteira com o campo. [...] E também havia pessoas que, invisíveis na vida passada, ganhavam agora certa importância apenas por se recusarem à nova era. A velha Efigênia morava a uma hora de marcha além da Cancela. Quando lhe morrera o marido continuara a manter o pequeno curral, não querendo misturar-se ao pecado nascente. E embora só fosse à rua do Mercado para depositar as bilhas de leite, tornara-se um pouco dona de S. Geraldo. Se parava junto de uma loja, com o olhar seco que não parecia precisar ver, perguntavamlhe rindo de encabulamento como iam as coisas, como se ela pudesse saber mais que todos. (Lispector, 1998a: 19–20) [In spite of its progress, the suburb still contained places that were almost deserted, bordering now on the countryside. [...] and there were also people who, invisible in the old days, had now gained a certain importance simply through their rejection of the new era. Old Efigênia lived an hour’s walk from the city gate. After her husband died, she kept up the little dairy herd, not wanting to mix with the growing sinfulness. And now she only went to the street where the market was to leave her milk churns, she had become a sort of owner of São Geraldo. If she stopped outside a shop, with her taciturn look that didn’t seem to need to see, people asked her, laughing awkwardly, how things were going, as if she might know more than anyone else.]

By resisting modernization, Efigênia preserves an autonomy that Lucrécia never had. Unlike Lucrécia, who is passive and contemplative, Efigênia makes full use of her bare surroundings. She is surrounded by a few but useful objects. Efigênia se levantava com esforço, recuperava a forma seca e entrava na cozinha. As panelas estavam frias, e o fogão morto. Em breve a chama se erguia, a fumaça enchia o compartimento e a mulher tossia com os olhos cheios de lágrimas, abrindo a porta dos fundos e cuspindo. A terra do quintal estava dura. No espaço, o arame de estender roupa. (Lispector, 1998a: 29–30) [Efigênia got up with an effort, regained her taciturn shape and went into the kitchen. The saucepans were cold, and the stove was out. Soon the f lame leapt up, smoke filled the room and the woman coughed with her eyes full of tears, opening the back door and spitting. The ground in the backyard was hard. In the open space was the washing line.]

The space in which Efigênia is situated is strikingly different from that in which Lucrécia is located. Instead of ornaments, Efigênia’s space contains objects which

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she puts to use: the washing line is for drying clothes, the stove heats her coffee, the saucepans are cold, but this suggests that they were hot recently, having been used to prepare food. In contrast with Lucrécia who takes on the shape of the objects that surround her, Efigênia is effective in transforming her environment: Voltava para a cozinha, tomava vários goles de café soprando, tossindo, cuspindo, enchendo-se do primeiro calor. Então abria a porta e a fumaça se libertava. De pé da soleira da porta, sem súplica, sem perdão. [...] A mulher cuspia longe com mais segurança, as mãos na cintura. Sua dureza de jóia. O arame se balançava sobre o peso de um pardal. Ela cuspia de novo, ríspida, feliz. O trabalho de seu espírito tinha sido feito: era dia. (Lispector, 1998a: 30) [She went back into the kitchen, took a few mouthfuls of coffee blowing, coughing, spitting, filling herself up with the initial heat. Then she opened the door and the smoke escaped. She stood at the doorstep, unrepentant and unforgiven. [...] The woman spat some distance with more certainty, her hands on her hips. Her wonderful toughness. The washing line quivered under the weight of a sparrow. She spat again, austere, happy. Her spiritual labour was complete: it was day.]

The contrast between the characters of Efigênia and Lucrécia illustrates clearly Lucrécia’s alienation in Marxist terms. István Mészáros, quoting Marx, explains the importance of human labour in Marx’s understanding of the human condition: Human activities and needs of a ‘spiritual’ kind thus have their ultimate ontological foundation in the sphere of material production as specific expressions of human interchange with nature, mediated in complex ways and forms. As Marx puts it: ‘the entire so-called history of the world is nothing but the begetting of man through human labour, nothing but the coming-to-be [Werden] of nature for man.’ Productive activity is the mediator in the ‘subject– object relationship’ between man and nature. A mediator that enables man to lead a human mode of existence, ensuring that he does not fall back into nature, does not dissolve himself within the ‘object’. (Mészáros, 1975: 80–81)

The passage describing Efigênia’s interaction with her environment emphasizes how she changes that environment through her labour. Her physical efforts and interaction with nature are clear: she coughs and cries because of the smoke from the fire she lit which transforms her surroundings. The dawning of a new day is here not a natural event but, indeed, the result of Efigênia’s spiritual labour. This grants Efigênia the position of a subject: she is empowered to act upon nature. Lucrécia, on the contrary, is objectified, reified. Having no control over what surrounds her, Lucrécia is closer to Marx’s notion of capitalist alienation. Mészáros explains this notion quoting Marx’s words: Productive activity in the form dominated by capitalist isolation — when ‘men produce as dispersed atoms without consciousness of their species’ — cannot adequately fulfill the function of mediating man with nature because it ‘reifies’ man and his relations and reduces him to the ‘state of animal nature’. In place of man’s ‘consciousness of his species’ we find a cult of privacy and an idealization of the abstract individual. (Mészáros, 1975: 81)


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Lucrécia does not need to work in order to earn a leaving. First, as a spinster she seems to live off her mother’s capital. Later on, Lucrécia’s decision to marry the older businessman Mateus is clearly motivated by financial interests and actively encouraged by her mother. Before Lucrécia’s engagement to Mateus, her mother says: ‘Se você casasse com ele teria muitas coisas, chapéus, jóias, morar bem, sair deste buraco... ter uma casa bem guarnecida...’ (Lispector, 1998a: 110) [‘If you married him you’d have lots of things, hats, jewellery, a good life, a way out of this hole... you’d have a well-furnished house...’]. Lucrécia, apparently, agrees with her mother: ‘Mas não era nenhuma ingênua sacrificada. Lucrécia Neves desejava ser rica, possuir coisas e subir de ambiente’ (Lispector, 1998a: 119) [But she wasn’t some naïve martyr. Lucrécia Neves wanted to be rich, to own things and go up in the world]. Despite not being directly engaged in the workforce of capitalism, Lucrécia’s isolation and her obsession with her private world show that she is clearly not ‘conscious of her species’, to use Marx’s phrase. In fact we could say that she is a victim of the capitalist isolation and alienation described above by Mészáros. Lucrécia’s alienation is symbolic. The emphasis we have seen on her private domestic world is important here because it is symbolic of the ideological moderni­ zation she is immersed in. Her function is to ref lect the world of appearances that surrounds her and from which she can barely be separated. To fulfil this function Lucrécia needs to circulate, to walk around the suburbs, to see and to be seen on the streets. While walking around she represents São Geraldo. She works intensively to be part of this spectacle of modernity, exhibiting herself like an object: ‘quando ela estivesse pronta pareceria um objeto, um objeto de S. Geraldo. Era nisso que ela trabalhava ferozmente com calma’ (Lispector, 1998a: 37) [when she was ready she would seem like an object, an object from São Geraldo. It was at this that she worked with furious calm]. Drawing on Walter Benjamin’s analysis of Charles Baudelaire’s figure of the flâneur, one could say that Lucrécia is a flâneuse par excellence. According to Benjamin: The flâneur is someone abandoned in the crowd. In this he shares the situation of the commodity. He is not aware of this special situation, but this does not diminish its effect on him and it permeates him blissfully like a narcotic that can compensate for many humiliations. The intoxication to which the flâneur surrenders is the intoxication of the commodity around which surges the stream of customers. (Benjamin, 1989: 55)

In contrast with Efigênia, Lucrécia is submerged in a veil of appearances that constitutes her reality: ‘Tudo o que via se tornava real. Olhando agora, sem ânsia, o horizonte cortado de chaminés e telhados. O difícil é que a aparência era a realidade’ (Lispector, 1998a: 101) [Everything that she saw became real. Looking now, free of anxiety, at the horizon intersected by chimneys and roofs. The difficult thing was that appearances were in fact reality]. The last phrase (‘the difficult thing was that appearances were in fact reality’) also appeared in an earlier passage of the novel (discussed previously in this chapter: see p. 135). This repetition suggests that the identification between reality and appearances is therefore crucial for an understanding of the novel.

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We could interpret this reality of appearances as a language of visual (and virtual) signs, a language of modernization that is imposed upon the social environment, disguising and concealing some of its aspects. Marx refers to commodities as social hieroglyphs, comparing them to a language: It is value [...] that converts every product into a social hieroglyphic. Later on we try to decipher the hieroglyphic, to get behind the secret of our own social products, for to stamp an object of utility as a value, is just as much a social product as language. [...] It is, however, just this ultimate money-form of the world of commodities that actually conceals, instead of disclosing, the social character of private labour, and the social relations between the individual producers. (Marx, 1977: 436–39)

This novel describes the construction of a modernized environment as an active language of signs: visual images that do not reveal, but cover and conceal other aspects of reality including those linked with race. While Marx analysed how, in nineteenth-century European capitalism, commodities concealed the social relations of labour, the situation in early twentieth-century Brazil is complicated by the ethnic composition of the industrial labour force, in which blacks were not a major element. Jessé Souza explains: Quem ocupa os novos empregos abertos pelo desenvolvimento de manufaturas e maquinofaturas é o mulato e depois o imigrante europeu. O negro, vítima de preconceito e do seu próprio abandono, não teve nem terá acesso mais tarde ao lado menos sombrio dos novos tempos. (Souza, 2000: 265) [The new jobs opened up by the development of manufacturing and mechanized industry were taken by mulattos and later by European immigrants. Blacks, victims of prejudice and their own destitution were not able either then or later on to access the less gloomy side of the new age.]

Marx also showed how the fetishism of commodities concealed relations of labour and the role of the working class in society. The gulf between the phantasmagoria of commodities perceived by Lucrécia as the main feature of her social reality and the mass of Afro-Brazilian social pariahs, associated with an obsolete form of rural plantation labour, is wider here than that which Marx perceives in relation to the industrial worker. It is important to note also that the knick-knacks surrounding Lucrécia and her mother, Ana, are explicitly connected to a European environment: ‘Abafadores de bule amarelecendo, o passarinho empalhado, a caixa de madeira com vista dos Alpes na tampa, eram a presença minuciosa de Ana’ (Lispector, 1998: 63) [Yellowing tea cosies, the stuffed bird, the wooden box with a view of the Alps on the lid, marked Ana’s meticulous presence]. Lucrécia and Ana’s surname, Neves, is also linked to white­ness and the snowy European mountain range. This reinforces the racial ele­ ment in these objects: the unexamined whiteness that these commodities contain. One also needs to be aware that, while surrounded by and looking at these objects, neither Lucrécia nor Ana were ever able to look straight at them, suggesting that part of these objects had to remain unseen: ‘a sala e Ana a rodeavam radiantes, as xícaras faiscando, a vista dos Alpes em extraordinária evidência, nada porém podendo ser olhado de frente’ (Lispector, 1998: 63; my emphasis) [the room and Ana surrounded


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her radiantly, the cups sparkling, the view of the Alps extraordinarily clear, nothing however could be looked at directly]. The need to avoid looking at reality face on suggests that parts of this reality need to be avoided, left outside consciousness. The following passage points to the existence of something unspeakable, indeed unthinkable, in the cultural context of São Geraldo: As pessoas se debruçavam e adivinhavam-na através do crepúsculo: lá... lá estava o subúrbio estendido. E o que elas viam era o pensamento que elas nunca poderiam pensar. (Lispector, 1998a: 24) [People stooped and deciphered it through the dusk: over there... over there was the spread-out suburb. And what they saw was the thought that they could never have.]

Expanding on Marx’s idea of commodity fetishism, we could say that Lispector is depicting, through Lucrécia’s eyes a seductive world of circulating objects, crowds, markets, streets, where something remains unseen, outside language. In A cidade sitiada, crowds are described as either transporting or selling com­ modities but we do not see people engaged in producing them. The narrator often creates a landscape of groups of people moving without a specific direction. As mentioned at the beginning of this chapter, this is a kind of modernization to which people are subjected without having chosen it. It is described as a force located beyond them. This can be seen, for example, in the following passage: Quanto mais fábricas se abriam nos arredores, mais o subúrbio se erguia em vida própria sem que os habitantes pudessem dizer que transformação os atingia. [...] E quando sobre o alegre movimento da manhã soprava o vento fresco e perturbador, dir-se-ia que a população inteira se preparava para um embarque. (Lispector, 1998a: 16) [The more factories that opened on the outskirts, the more the suburb swelled with its own life, its inhabitants unable to name the transformation they were undergoing. [...] And when a fresh and unsettling wind blew over the happy morning bustle, you would say that the whole population was getting ready to set sail.]

This novel could be seen to depict a personal and collective experience of the uncanny. Avery Gordon describes such experiences as follows: ‘There is something there and you “feel” it strongly. It has a shape, an electric empiricity, but the evidence is barely visible, or highly symbolized’ (Gordon, 1997: 50). This is a different kind of uncanny from that forged by the experiences of haunting that we have seen in Lispector’s A paixão segundo G.H. and Morrison’s Beloved. In A cidade sitiada the characters are not haunted by a ghost, as in Beloved, nor by an image, as in A paixão segundo G.H., but by something that they cannot locate precisely. The uncanny in A cidade sitiada is dispersed across the modernizing environment and in the materiality of consumer objects. The kind of uncanny found in this novel relates to a hypervisibility that is often referred to as a dominant feature of contemporary ‘postmodern’ society. Avery Gordon’s comments on Don De Lillo’s novel White Noise (1985) — despite the time gap separating publication dates — help us read Lispector’s novel: ‘in White Noise there are no ghostly haunts, or shadows, only the insistent visibility of fetishized

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commodity surveillance and that which masquerades as its absence’. Gordon goes on to quote Laura Kipnis: ‘Visibility is a complex system of permission and prohi­ bition, of presence and absence, punctuated alternately by apparitions and hysterical blindness.’ (Gordon, 1997: 15) It is important to note that these qualities fit very well with the ideology of modernization discussed at the beginning of this chapter. This veil of extreme visibility that Lucrécia is constructing is intrinsically connected to the nation. We have seen in the epigraph to this chapter, that these objects are buffeted by a civic wind and connected to the image of a f lag: ‘o travo das coisas firmes sobre as quais soprava com heroísmo este vento cívico que faz tremer bandeiras!’ (Lispector, 1998a: 48, 49) [the bitterness of those solid objects over which this civic wind that causes f lags to f lutter blew heroically!]. Similarly, by circulating, seeing and being seen, Lucrécia is engaging in the construction of an idea of the nation: ‘Ela era como essas pessoas estrangeiras que diziam: “no meu país é assim” [...] ela parecia protegida por uma raça de pessoas iguais.’ (Lispector, 1998a: 45–46) [She was like those foreigners who say: “in my country it’s like this” [...] she seemed to be protected by a race of identical people.] But this construction of the nation is informed by the politics of race and colour, which problematizes her self-construction as a national ‘citizen’; in practice the nation is not made up of ‘uma raça de pessoas iguais’. In the following sequence, when Lucrécia comes back from a walk around São Geraldo, she is described as a ‘horrible’ patriot: ‘Feia, desmanchada sob os cabelos arrepiados, fungando de vez em quando [...] Mas também permanecia inteira — lutava sem se gastar, ela era horrível, a patriota’ (Lispector, 1998a: 62) [Ugly, slovenly beneath her unruly hair, sniffing every now and then [...] Yet she also remained intact — she struggled without expending herself, she was horrible, that patriot]. Before going out Lucrécia composes herself in front of the mirror. It is important to note that Lispector’s description of her is not exempt from racial implications. The text describes the protagonist’s physique precisely: ‘Era basta a cabeleira onde pousava o chapéu fantástico; e tantos sinais negros espalhados na luz da pele davamlhe um tom externo a ser tocado pelos dedos’ (Lispector: 1998a: 36) [The hair on which she placed her extravagant hat was thick; and so many black marks scattered over the luminosity of her skin gave her an outward air of having been touched by fingers]. Intriguingly, these marks seem to make Lucrécia more prone to being touched and therefore less protected from sexual approaches. The narrator shows Lucrécia, in her attempt to see herself as beautiful, looking at herself rather vaguely and then finding a bit of unblemished white skin in order to be able to consider herself pretty: Inclinou-se de súbito para o espelho, e procurou achar o modo de se ver mais bela, abriu a boca, olhos os dentes, fechou-a... Em breve, do olhar fixo, nascia afinal a maneira de não penetrar demais e de olhar em esforço delicado apenas a superfície — e de rapidamente não olhar mais. A moça olhou: as orelhas eram brancas entre os cabelos emaranhados de onde nascia um rosto que os sinais salpicados faziam estremecer — e sem demorar, porque alcançaria demais ultrapassando: este era o modo de se ver mais bela! (Lispector: 1998a: 37; my emphasis)


Modernization and Phantasmagoria [She suddenly leaned towards the mirror, and she attempted to find the most f lattering way of looking at herself, she opened her mouth, looked at her teeth, closed her mouth... Before long, her determined gaze finally revealed a way of not going too deep and of looking with a delicate effort at just the surface — and of quickly ceasing to look. The girl looked: her ears were white amongst the tangled hairs from which emerged a face which the scattered signs made tremble — and without lingering, since she would reach too far by overtaking: this was how to see herself as more beautiful!]

Let us focus on these last italicized words (she would reach too far by overtaking). What would Lucrécia be ‘overtaking’ if she had not moved her eyes away from her image? A notion of beauty depending on a certain kind of skin colour? What would she be ‘reaching’ by so doing? An unbearable perception? Why do the black signs make her face tremble? Here again we see her need to avoid looking straight at things. There is a need to preserve this veil of appearances, making sure that part of the reality remains unseen. The mention of blackness in this passage suggests that the racial elements of this veneer have to remain unexamined. There is another element that allows us to interpret the novel from an ethnic perspective. We have seen how, through looking at things, Lucrécia undergoes a process of culturally constructing the city. An important part of this process is her habit of naming things. Chapter 5, entitled ‘No jardim’ [In the garden], is dominated by an atmosphere of sleepiness. Lucrécia is in a state that lingers between consciousness and unconsciousness. In this chapter Lucrécia has a dream where she sees herself ‘giving names’ like a faceless Greek woman. It is symptomatic that the ethnic model chosen here is that of a Greek woman, the racial ideal often selected by European scientific racist and white supremacist thinking: Mas agora no sonho pôde recuar até encontrar enfim: que era grega. ‘Como a da revista,’ e ruborizou-se agitada. Sonhar que era grega era a única maneira de não se escandalizar, e de explicar seu segredo em forma de segredo; conhecer-se de outro modo seria o medo. Ela era antes dos gregos pensarem ainda, tão perigoso seria pensar. Grega numa cidade ainda não erguida, procurando designar cada coisa para que depois, através dos séculos, elas tivessem o sentido de seus nomes. E sua vida erguia, com outras vidas pacientes, o que se perderia mais tarde na própria forma das coisas. Apontava com o dedo, a grega sem rosto. E seu destino como grega era tão inconsciente quanto agora em S. Geraldo. O que restara de tão longe? O que restara da Grécia? A insistência: pois que ela ainda apontava. Depois, com um suspiro, deitou-se no jardim para repousar, repetindo o ritual. E assim ficou. (Lispector, 1998a: 91; my emphasis) [Yet now in her dreams she could regress until finally she discovered: she was a Greek woman. ‘Like the one in the magazine,’ and she blushed excitedly. Dreaming that she was a Greek woman was the only way of not creating a scandal, and of explaining her secret in a secretive form; to know herself in another way would imply fear. She was back before the Greeks even thought, thinking could be so dangerous. Greek in a city which had still to emerge, trying to designate all objects so that later, over the centuries, they had the meaning of their names.

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And her life emerged with other patient lives, something that would be lost later, as things took their true shape. She signalled with her finger, the faceless Greek woman. And her destiny as a Greek woman was as senseless as it was in São Geraldo now. What remained of so long ago? What remained of Greece? Insistence: since she still signaled. Afterwards, with a sigh, she lay down in the garden to rest, repeating the ritual. And thus she remained.]

It is interesting that portraying herself as a Greek woman is said to be a way of not creating a scandal and of explaining ‘her secret in a secretive form’. Lucrécia is portrayed as a Greek woman who does not think and who has no face, thus being anonymous. What other way of knowing herself might imply fear? This could be seen as a way of saying that the racial connotations of this modernizing process cannot be explicitly exposed because, as the text says, ‘thinking could be so dangerous’. We could therefore interpret these passages as suggesting that there was a need to leave racial aspects unexamined and invisible. Just as the masses of Afro-Brazilians were, in Brazil’s ideology of modernization, seen as primitive elements that needed to remain unaccounted for, horses appear to have a similar function in this novel. They seem to contain a power that remains in the domain of the unspeakable, not dominated by the languages that modernization imposes on the environment. Paradoxically, they are useful as instruments of work and sheer physical energy. Lispector often draws a parallel between the protagonist and the figure of a horse. Both the young woman Lucrécia and the horse are seen as symbolic elements in the construction of the city: ‘A moça e o cavalo representavam as duas raças de construtores que iniciaram a tradição da futura metrópole, ambos poderiam servir de armas para um seu escudo’ (Lispector, 1998a: 22) [The girl and the horse represented the two races of builders who had started the tradition of the future metropolis, both could function as coats of arms on its shield]. In some cases, the image of the horse functions as a metaphor for natural forces that need to be tamed and contained by modernization: ‘De súbito estacavam em longo relincho, as patas sobre as ruínas. Aspirando com as narinas selvagens como se tivessem conhecido outra época no sangue’ (Lispector, 1998a: 17) [They suddenly stopped with a lengthy neighing, hooves astride the ruins. Breathing with their savage nostrils as if they had knowledge of another age in their blood]. Lucrécia is often described as a half-humanized horse — her hands are called ‘hooves’, she does not walk but ‘trots’ — suggesting a underlying not-human dimension. Horses, nevertheless, participate in the modernization of São Geraldo: ‘Sob a necessidade cada vez mais urgente de transporte, levas de cavalos haviam invadido o subúrbio’ (Lispector, 1998a: 17) [Due to the ever more urgent need for transport, herds of horses had invaded the suburb]. These horses are a threatening presence: ‘Um baio novo dera mesmo um coice mortal num menino. E o lugar onde a criança audaciosa morrera era olhado pelas pessoas numa censura que na verdade não sabiam a quem dirigir’ (Lispector, 1998a: 17) [A young bay fatally kicked a little boy. And people looked reproachfully at the place where the audacious child had died though in truth they did not know who to blame]. With time, however, the suburb adapts to the presence of the animals: ‘a população já deixara de acusar os cavalos’ (Lispector, 1998a: 22) [The population


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had already stopped accusing the horses]. One could say that horses are symptomatic of the contradiction of Brazilian modernity: symbolic of a pre-industrial order, they are nevertheless instrumental in the process of modernization, just as that other archaic, even ancient human source of labour-power, the black slave, persists into the modern era. There is an intriguing sequence at the end of the first chapter, which makes us aware of an invisible presence. Lucrécia is strolling around in São Geraldo when night falls. The narrative describes the horses at night, free from their workload: ‘Mas à noite cavalos liberados das cargas e conduzidos à ervagem galopavam finos e soltos no escuro’ (Lispector, 1998a: 27) [Yet at night horses liberated from their loads and put out in the fields to graze galloped freely and elegantly in the dark]. The narrator returns at this point to Lucrécia, who is now sitting on her bed, fearful, but aware of the existence of these free horses: O medo a tomava nas trevas do quarto, o terror de um rei, a mocinha quereria responder com as gengivas à mostra. Na inveja do desejo o rosto adquiria a nobreza inquieta de uma cabeça de cavalo. Cansada, jubilante, escutando o trote sonâmbulo. [...] Da calçada deserta ela olharia: um canto e outro. E veria as coisas como um cavalo. [...] Até que adormecia. (Lispector, 1998a: 27) [Fear took hold of her in the darkness of the room, the terror of a king, the young girl would want to respond by showing her gums. With the envy of desire her face took on the uneasy nobility of a horse’s head. Tired, jubilant, listening to the somnambulistic trotting. [...] From the deserted road she would hear: a song and another one. And she would see objects like a horse. [...] Until she fell asleep.]

The narrative turns again to the horses, as a white foal appears, described as a spectral presence: Mas as bestas não abandonavam o subúrbio. E se no meio da ronda selvagem aparecia um potro branco — era um assombro no escuro. Todas estacavam. O cavalo prodigioso aparecia. Mostrava-se empinado um instante. Imóveis os animais aguardavam sem espiar. Mas um deles batia o casco. E a pancadinha breve quebrava a vigília: fustigados moviam-se súbito álacres, entrecruzando-se sem se tocarem e entre eles se perdia o cavalo branco. (Lispector, 1998a: 28) [Yet the beasts did not abandon the suburb. And if in the midst of the savage round a white foal appeared — it was an apparition in the darkness. They all stopped still. The miraculous horse had appeared. He displayed himself rearing for a moment. Immobile, the animals waited without watching. But one of them stamped a hoof. And the brief clatter interrupted the vigil: spurred on they moved, suddenly lively, mingling together without touching and the white horse was lost amongst them.]

The apparition of this white foal is highlighted in italics. This could indicate the fact that the industrial workforce was largely white, constituted by European immigrants. It is, however, described as a kind of a ghost: ‘era um assombro no escuro’. This image of whiteness, contrasting with the dark background of the night, could also be interpreted as a metaphor for the unspeakable and, consequently, for unexamined whiteness. This makes itself visible as Lucrécia loses her human features (her face

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taking the shape of a horse’s head) and approaches the realm of the pre-symbolic, of language not yet normalized into accepted discourses (she sees things as if she were a horse). Whiteness makes itself visible only at night, in a realm somewhere between consciousness and unconsciousness, outside the normality of daily life, excluded from the new social and cultural codes imposed by urban transformation and industrialization. One could draw a parallel between the image of this white foal, emerging and disappearing into the night, and what Toni Morrison refers to as ‘images of impenetrable whiteness’ (Morrison, 1990: 33). In her article ‘Unspeakable Things Unspoken: The Afro-American Presence in American Literature’, Morrison interprets the image of the white whale in Herman Melville’s novel Moby Dick (more precisely, in one of the novel’s chapters entitled ‘The Whiteness of the Whale’) as a metaphor for whiteness as the ideology that sustained the institution of slavery (Morrison, 1989: 14–18). This untamed, white foal could also be seen as Lispector’s visual image of an ideology of whiteness that remains unspoken in Brazil. We have seen that A cidade sitiada depicts modernization as a phantasmagoria of commodities to which people are subjected. I have argued that these commodities become a veil of appearances disguising and obscuring a situation in which the concept of race is operational but unexamined. We have also seen how this veil of appearances is part of the construction of the nation. The black face emerging out of the coal depot, mentioned at the start of this chapter, can perhaps be read as representing the mass of blacks who were excluded from the modern space of the nation, which is constructed as mainly white. Taking into account the ambivalence of the image, however, it could also be read as an allegorical reference to the concept of race itself, which, in turn, justifies this exclusion. It is possible to interpret the images of horses in this novel as a figuration of the workforce that remains invisible, concealed by the hypervisibility of the fetishization of commodities. The ghostly presence of the white foal may represent the unexamined whiteness that inf luenced the construction of the industrial workforce in Brazil, ensuring that workers engaged in industrial production would be mainly white immigrants, while blacks remained excluded from the modernization process. Denise Ferreira da Silva explains this as follows: Avalio que as [teorias sociológicas sobre raça] já partem de um texto determinado, qual seja, que as populações não-brancas estão fora do espaço moderno, do espaço do continente europeu, dos espaços sociais criados pelos colonizadores europeus, ou seja, de toda e qualquer modernidade. Não é à toa que igualdade racial sempre foi definida como inclusão. (Da Silva, 2002: 43) [I consider that [sociological theories on race] are from the outset based on a determined text, whichever it might be, that non-white populations are outside the modern space, the space of the European continent, the social spaces created by the European colonizers, that is, outside every and any type of modernity. It is not by chance that racial equality has always been defined as inclusion.]

The impact on subjectivities of a racialized process of modernization, deeply identified with the construction of national identity, is my main focus in this book. The previous chapters have explored the difficulties that Lispector’s characters


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experience in seeing themselves as subjects of a nation. We have seen how G.H.’s sense of having a personal identity depends on maintaining a situation where whiteness remains unexamined. In the case of Virgínia, we have seen how she needs to perform a racialized body in order to belong to the nation and to the modern city. In this chapter, we have seen how Lucrécia’s experience of modernity as a phantasmagoria of commodities also contains racial dimensions. Lucrécia’s complex relationship with the objects around her reveals important unexamined aspects of the modernizing process in early twentieth-century Brazil. It is precisely because she is immersed uncritically in her surroundings that Lucrécia is extremely efficient in revealing how, in the early decades of the twentieth century, the ideology of modernization affected everyday experience in urban Brazil. Note to Chapter 5 1. In this respect I disagree with Solange Ribeiro de Oliveira who sees a conf lict between Lucrécia’s inner life and external reality (‘o conf lito entre a aparência e a realidade, a discontinuidade do eu e dos acontecimentos’ [Oliveira, 1987: 101] [the conf lict between appearance and reality, the discontinuity between the individual and events]), and who refers to Lucrécia’s ‘social mask’ (Oliveira, 1987: 100), suggesting that there was a more ‘genuine’ part of her personality. In my view, the point of the novel is precisely the lack of conf lict between Lucrécia’s inner world and her surroundings; her lack of resistance.



Whiteness and Masculinity in A maçã no escuro A maçã no escuro [The Apple in the Dark] (1961) is a novel about social transgression and exclusion. Martim, the protagonist, commits a crime and is forced to escape from society. Some critics have interpreted Martim’s journey outside society as a search for the social Other. Simone Curi interprets Martim’s journey as follows: Nesse precioso momento, ele acha-se em um não-lugar, o espaço é indeterminado [...]. Como um rito de passagem, fora dos mapas sociais, onde já não se é o que se era, nem o que se está por vir. [...] Nesse lapso de exceção ele traça movimentos intensos de desterritorialização: no espaço, no tempo, nas relações, na lei, no modo de produção, na linguagem. Penetra em uma outra vida na tentativa de buscar o outro, indo ao encontro do mais estrangeiro em si mesmo. Ele ruma ao incógnito, a uma diluição de sua identidade. (Curi, 2001: 175) [In this precious moment, he finds himself in a non-place, the space is indeterminate [...]. Like a rite of passage, beyond social maps, where one is now no longer what one was, nor what is to come. [...] During this lapse from the norm he describes intense movements of deterritorialization: in space, in time, in relationships, in the law, in mode of production, in language. He penetrates another life in his attempt to search for the other, heading towards an encounter with the strangest part of himself. He heads for the unknown, for a dilution of his identity.]

As one can see in this passage, according to Curi, Martim comes to inhabit an undefined space outside any social map: a space that is not defined as a territory, that is not constrained by borders such as law or language. She interprets his experience as a search for the Other, as a dilution of his personal identity. I agree with Curi that his journey outside society is an attempt to experience the position of an outsider. I will, however, argue that this attempt fails in two key instances which articulate with one other, maintaining Martim’s connection with society. As we will see, although breaking social laws by attempting to murder his wife, Martim continues to obey norms regarding masculinity and whiteness.1 This will become clear in his relationship with the mulatto woman. We have seen in Chapter 4 on O lustre how it was essential for Virgínia to perform a certain body in order to have a personal identity. She is constantly constructing a


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body, her physical attributes therefore become highly visible. Here we will find a very different situation. Martim’s body does not need to be described; it does not need to be visible. Being a man — and therefore relating to women in a certain way — grants him automatic empowerment, whatever the shape of his body. Even after losing social respectability, Martim seems to retain a body that matters. Neither does he lose his masculinity. By performing masculinity, Martim retains his connection with a masculinist state, which Wendy Brown describes as follows: For purposes of developing a feminist critical theory of the contemporary liberal, capitalist, bureaucratic state, this means that the elements of the state identifiable as masculinist correspond not to some property contained within men but to the conventions of power and privilege constitutive of gender within an order of male dominance. Put another way, the masculinism of the State refers to those features of the State that signify, enact, sustain and represent masculine power as a form of dominance. This dominance expresses itself as the power to describe and run the world and the power of access to women; it entails both a general claim to territory and claims to, about, and against specific ‘others’. Bourgeois, white, heterosexual, colonial, monotheistic, and other forms of domination all contain these two moments — this is what distinguished them from other kinds of power. (Brown, 1995: 167)

In Chapter 1 on Bessie Head, I mentioned Jacqueline Rose’s critique of Virginia Woolf ’s idea of a feminized migrancy, where women could remain as outsiders in relation to nation-states. Rose’s words, quoting the author Muriel Spark, remind us that ‘the encounter with the modern statehood cannot be indefinitely deferred. “You have too long deferred / your visit to the modern state”. You can’t, even as a woman, just f loat off ’ (Rose, 1998: 13). Martim fails to ‘f loat off ’ from statehood, because some elements keep him connected to the nation-state. The novel describes Martim’s journey out of and back into society. Having f led the city after committing a crime, the protagonist wanders through the countryside until he reaches a small farm, owned by a woman called Vitória. There, he is hired to do manual work in exchange for food and a place to live. He encounters other people: Vitória’s cousin Ermelinda, the farm worker Francisco, a maid referred to simply as the ‘mulatto woman’, her daughter, and a teacher, a friend of Vitória. After a while, Vitória and the teacher start to suspect that Martim might be hiding something from them. They wonder why an engineer would be on a farm doing unskilled manual work. Towards the end of the novel Vitória informs the police of his presence on the farm. The mayor and two police inspectors come to pick him up. The reader finally discovers Martim’s crime: he tried to kill his wife. Martim is taken back into society, possibly to prison. The narrator repeatedly describes a situation in which Martim has apparently chosen to be socially excluded. Having committed a crime seems to represent, for him, a genuine act; for the first time he has acted in accordance with his own free will. It is made explicit that he does not regret his action: E ele não sentira horror depois do crime. O que sentira então? A espantada vitória. Fora isso: ele sentira vitória. Com deslumbramento, vira que a coisa inesperadamente funcionava: que um ato ainda tinha o valor de um ato. E

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também mais: com um único ato ele fizera os inimigos que sempre quisera ter — os outros. (Lispector, 1998c: 36) [He didn’t feel any horror after the crime. What did he feel instead? The astonishment of victory. That was it: he felt victorious. With amazement, he could see that, as opposed to what he’d expected, the thing worked: action still had the value of action. And there was more, with a single action he gained the enemies he always wanted: everyone else.]

The protagonist does not seem to value his membership of society. ‘Being guilty’ is something that does not bother him unduly: ‘Tendo prática de culpa, sabia viver com ela sem ser incomodado.’ (Lispector, 1998c: 35) [Being accustomed to guilt, he knew how to live with it, and not be bothered]. One could also say that Martim’s crime has granted him a new life; there are grounds for arguing that he has committed the crime in order to experience being ‘on the other side of things’, because of a need to be proscribed, to become an outsider: ‘pois ele se livrara da grande culpa materializando-a. E agora, que enfim fora banido, estava livre. Ele era enfim um perseguido. O que lhe dava todas as possibilidades dos que se desesperam’ (Lispector, 1998c: 41) [Because he got rid of guilt by making it real. And now that he had been banished, he was free. He was finally persecuted; and this opened up to him all the possibilities of those who despair]. The text describes Martim’s act as a moment where he becomes unable to imitate: Assim, com um único gesto, ele não era mais um colaborador dos outros e com um único gesto cessara de colaborar consigo mesmo. Pela primeira vez Martim se achava incapacitado de imitar. (Lispector, 1998c: 36) [And so, with one single gesture, he did not collaborate any longer with other people; with a single gesture he even stopped collaborating with himself. For the first time, Martim found himself unable to imitate anything.]

Imitation, as we will see, is the substance of social life. To live in society one has to lose one’s individuality and imitate accepted social formulae. One has to perform an accepted social ritual. This becomes clear in the following passage, referring to the four men who come to fetch Martim and bring him back into society: qualquer transformação no rito torna um homem individual, o que deixa em perigo a construção toda e o trabalho de milhões; qualquer erro na frase torná-la-ia pessoal. E, francamente, não havia necessidade de ser pessoal: se não fosse essa teimosia, a pessoa descobriria que já existem fórmulas perfeitas para tudo que se queira dizer: tudo o que se quisesse que um dia viesse a existir, na verdade já existia, a própria palavra era anterior ao homem — e aqueles quatro representantes sabiam disso: sabiam que toda a questão está em saber profundamente como imitar. (Lispector, 1998c: 324) [Any change to his accustomed rituals turns a man into an individual, and this act puts into danger all the work and the achievement of millions. Any mistake in delivering the phrase would render it personal. And, frankly, there was no need to be personal. Were it not for this one act of stubbornness, anyone could discover that there are perfectly acceptable formulas for anything that one could


Whiteness and Masculinity possibly wish to say. Every single thing that one could wish might come into existence one day, in fact already existed. The word existed before mankind came to be — and these four representatives knew this very well. They knew that the essential point was to have a profound knowledge of imitation.]

This emphasis on imitation as an important ingredient of social life takes us once more to Judith Butler’s notion of performativity as a repetition of norms and the basis for the constitution of subjectivities: I would suggest that performativity cannot be understood outside of a process of iterability, a regularized and constrained repetition of norms. And this repetition is not performed by a subject; this repetition is what enables a subject and constitutes the temporal condition for the subject. This iterability implies that ‘performance’ is not a singular ‘act’ or event, but a ritualized production, a ritual reiterated under and through constraint, under and through the force of prohibition and taboo, with the threat of ostracism and even death controlling and compelling the shape of production, but not, I will insist, determining it fully in advance. (Butler, 1993: 95)

The following passage from Lispector’s novel describes very clearly the perfor­ mance of normalized gender identities as an important part of social life: Na verdade, concluiu [...], [...] apenas imitara a inteligência. E com ele, milhões de homens que copiavam com enorme esforço a idéia que se fazia de um homem, ao lado de milhares de mulheres que copiavam atentas a idéia que se fazia de mulher e milhares de pessoas de boa vontade copiavam com esforço sobrehumano a própria cara e a idéia de existir; sem falar na concentração angustiada com que se imitavam atos de bondade ou de maldade — com uma cautela diária em não escorregar para um ato verdadeiro, e portanto incomparável, e portanto inimitável, e portanto desconcertante. (Lispector, 1998c: 34) [In truth, his conclusion [...], [...] was that he had simply imitated the collective notion of intelligence. And just like him, millions of men struggled to copy a set of abstract ideas about what it meant to be a man. At the same time, thousands of women carefully copied the abstract idea of what it meant to be a woman. Meanwhile thousands of well-intentioned people copied — with super-human effort — the very appearance and the idea of existence. This image does not even take into account the anguish and effort with which they imitated acts of kindness or of cruelty. And each one of them taking care everyday not to slip and commit one authentic act — an act that would be unique and therefore incapable of being imitated. And because of this, such an act would be disconcerting.]

It is important to note that, according to Butler, in order to allow the constitution of the subject, this imitation of social norms has to remain unexamined, and invisible. The subject presents itself as the author of a discursive act, while its citationality remains unexamined: Performativity is thus not a singular ‘act’, for it is always a reiteration of a norm or set of norms, and to the extent that it acquires an act-like status in the present, it conceals or dissimulates the conventions of which it is a repetition. [...] And does a subject appear as the author of its discursive effects to the extent that the citational practice by which he/she is conditioned and mobilized remains unmarked? Indeed, could it be that the production of the subject as originator

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of his/her effects is precisely a consequence of this dissimulated citationality? (Butler, 1993: 12–13)

This unexamined aspect of social imitation is clear in the following passage from Lispector’s text: E enquanto isso, tinha alguma coisa velha e podre em algum lugar inidentificável da casa, e a gente dorme inquieta, o desconforto é a única advertência de que se está copiando, e nós nos escutamos atentos debaixo dos lençóis. Mas tão distanciados estamos pela imitação que aquilo que ouvimos nos vem tão sem som como se fosse uma visão que fosse tão invisível como se estivesse nas trevas que estas são tão compactas que mãos são inúteis. Porque mesmo a compreensão, a pessoa imitava. A compreensão que nunca fora feita senão da linguagem alheia e de palavras. (Lispector, 1998c: 34) [Meanwhile, there was something old and rotten hidden in some unidentifiable part of the house. And it was as though people slept only restlessly, the discomfort being the only evidence that one is copying, as though beneath the sheets we could actually hear ourselves. But this process of imitation has caused us to become so distanced, that even things that we listen come to us soundlessly, much like a vision that has become almost invisible, or when we are surrounded by a darkness so intense that even our hands are useless to us. So, even when it comes to understanding people are capable of imitation. Understanding had always been constructed from words and other people’s language.]

Martim’s attitude towards social life is clearly utterly negative. At the end of the novel, when they come to pick him up, his main crime is said to have been his break with a pact of silence: E eles estavam inclusive dispostos a passar uma esponja — não sobre o crime, isso felizmente jamais! — mas sobre o que ele fizera de pior: a tentativa de romper o silêncio de que aqueles homens precisavam para avançar enquanto dormiam. (Lispector, 1998c: 315) [And so they were prepared to wipe something out — if not the crime itself (thankfully, never this) but the very worst thing he had done; his attempt to break the silence that those men needed to have surrounding them, if they were ever to move forward while they slept.]

The men are ‘asleep’, suggesting that Martim was breaking with a situation of lack of consciousness. His crime was, in that sense, a sort of ‘waking up’. His rupture with society will mean that he also loses his sense of personal iden­ tity: ‘ele próprio se tornara enfim incapacitado de ser o homem antigo’ (Lispector, 1998c: 36) [He himself had finally become incapable of being the man he previously had been]. In losing his old identity Martim also loses contact with language. By committing a crime, he rejects not just the world of social respectability he was used to, but the language this world used in order to function. In losing this language, Martim also loses his ability to understand the world surrounding him. Martim seems to value and enjoy this new experience: então — através do grande pulo de um crime — há duas semanas ele se arriscara a não ter nenhuma garantia, e passara a não compreender. [...] o homem agora se rejubilava como se não compreender fosse uma criação. [...]


Whiteness and Masculinity Que era inteiramente vazio, para falar a verdade. Aquele homem rejeitara a linguagem dos outros e não tinha sequer começo de linguagem própria. E no entanto, oco, mudo, rejubilava-se. (Lispector, 1998c: 34, 35) [Then, two weeks before, thanks to the great step forward that this crime represented, he had taken the risk of living with no guarantees, and without understanding anything. [...] and now the man rejoiced as though the state of not understanding was some kind of creative act. [...] He was completely empty, to tell the truth. A man who rejected the language of others, and had no way of making a beginning in his own language. Nevertheless, hollow, mute, he rejoiced.]

Martim welcomes this new lack of identity and his status as outsider. Martim estava muito surpreendido porque antigamente ele costumava saber de tudo. E agora — como fato no entanto muito mais concreto — ele não sabia de nada. Ele que havia crescido um homem claro, e ao redor dele tudo costumava ser visível. Fora pessoa que soubera respostas [...]. Mas agora tirada das coisas a camada das palavras, agora que perdera a linguagem, estava enfim em pé na calma profundidade do mistério. (Lispector, 1998c: 107) [Martim was surprised, because once he had been used to knowing everything. Now, in a more objective way, he knew nothing at all. He, who had grown up as a clear-sighted man, had been accustomed to having everything around him clearly visible. He had been a person who had all the answers [...]. But now that the superficial covering of words had been stripped away from things, now that he had lost the power of language, he stood at the deep bottom of a calm mystery.]

The author is therefore drawing a connection between language and cultural and social structuring. The notions of language and discourse merge: language is not simply a means of communication but is also an organizing principle of culture and society. Benedito Nunes refers to this connection between social rules and language in relation to this novel: Ao transformar-se [Martim] quer também transformar o mundo. Transgressor do código moral, faz-se igualmente transgressor do código linguístico: acima da linguagem comum, coloca-se, também, como personalidade excepcional em projeto, sonhando a reconstrução do mundo, acima dos outros. (Nunes, 1989: 46–47) [As he transforms himself [...] he wants to transform the world as well. Transgressing moral codes, he also becomes a transgressor of linguistic codes: beyond ordinary language, he also places himself, as an exceptional personality in the making, dreaming of the reconstruction of the world, above others.]

The social status quo that Martim rejects is presented as being connected to a national environment. After confessing his crime Martim imagines himself being re-inserted into society, being invited back, at the end of the novel, into a world of respectability: ‘Eram tão bons que o aceitavam de volta, tinham até um lugar determinado para ele [...] na verdade exigiam sua volta, tinham até vindo buscá-lo’

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(Lispector, 1998c: 315) [They were so good that they took him back, they even had a special place for him [...] in reality they demanded his return; they even came to fetch him]. In the following passage we can see that this social life is described as having a whole range of civic meanings: restos transfigurados de civismo e de colação de grau, leiteiros que não falham e entregam diariamente o leite, coisas assim que parecem não instruir, mas instruem tanto [...] procissões que dão voltas lentas pela esquina, as paradas militares onde uma multidão inteira vive da seta que lançou — aquele homem estava recuperando tudo de cambulhada. A memória termina voltando. (Lispector, 1998c: 305) [Transfigured left-overs of civic duty and granting of degrees, milkmen who never failed in their daily deliveries — experiences from which it seems no learning could possibly be extracted, yet which have much to teach [...] processions that slowly make their way around corners, military parades where a whole crowd hangs upon the f light of a single arrow — this man was redeeming all such baggage. Memory ends up coming back to us.]

This passage is an example of the ‘world of plurals’ that Benedict Anderson suggests are characteristic of the national imagination. He refers to the importance of these plurals for the imagining of the nation when dealing with the foundational Latin American novel El periquillo sarniento by José Joaquín Fernandez de Lizardi: This picaresque tour d’horison — hospitals, prisons, remote villages, monasteries, Indians, Negroes — is nonetheless not a tour du monde. The horizon is clearly bounded: it is that of colonial Mexico. Nothing assures us of this sociological solidity more than the succession of plurals. For they conjure up a social space full of comparable prisons, none in itself of any unique importance, but all representative [...] of the oppressiveness of this colony. (Anderson, 1999: 30)

Anderson notes that a similar sequence of plurals is found in the novel Semrang Hitam by the Indonesian writer Mas Marco Kartodikromo: ‘Here, as in El Periquillo Sarniento we are in a world of plurals: shops, offices, carriages, kampungs, and gas lamps’ (Anderson, 1999: 32). These plurals imply a certain level of normalization. As Anderson says, these are not unique environments but comparable ones. It is possible to imagine them because one assumes that, in these prisons, villages and hospitals, several individuals are engaged in similar and comparable activities. The notion of a collective performance allows for an imagined community, creating the notion of nationhood. The previously cited passage from A maçã no escuro emphasizes learned civic rules and order: ‘transfigurados de civismo e colação de grau [...] coisas assim que parecem não instruir, mas instruem tanto’ (Lispector, 1998c: 305) [Transfigured left-overs of civic duty and granting of degrees, [...] experiences from which it seems no learning could possibly be extracted, yet which have much to teach]. When Martim confesses his crime, at the end of the novel, he re-establishes contact with the world of respectability, of learned civility: that is, with the rituals through whose performance one becomes a national subject. A passage at the beginning of the novel refers to Martim as someone who has received civic training, suggesting that this training involved learning to conceal the truth: ‘uma boa educação cívica


Whiteness and Masculinity

e um longo treinamento de vida o haviam adestrado a ser culpado sem se trair’ (Lispector, 1998c: 35) [a good civic education and a lifelong training had trained him to be guilty without betraying himself ]. It is important to note that twice, at the end of the novel, Martim refers to national symbols, to being Brazilian, suggesting a direct connection between this ‘world of plurals’ and the Brazilian nation: Uma vez por outra, então, alguém inventava uma vacina que curava. Uma vez por outra o governo caía. Às vezes a mulher parava de gritar e nascia um menino. Que diabo! Pensou Martim arrepiado, como se tivessem hasteado a Bandeira Nacional à qual ele jamais pudera resistir. (Lispector, 1998c: 305) [From time to time, someone would invent a vaccine that could actually cure. From time to time a government would fall. Sometimes the woman would stop screaming and a boy would be born. What the hell! Martim thought with horror, as if someone had run the national f lag up the pole, something he was never be able to resist.] Vagamente ainda tentou se aprumar e se refazer: ‘afinal sou brasileiro, que diabo!’ Mas não conseguiu. (Lispector, 1998c: 319) [He vaguely tried to stand upright and compose himself: ‘at the end of the day I am Brazilian, for god’s sake!’ But he never managed it.]

One would imagine that, as an outcast, Martim would be placed outside the nation. Strangely, as a fugitive, Martim reaches a place that is described as ‘the heart of Brazil’: ‘O homem estava no coração do Brasil’ (Lispector, 1998c: 20) [The man was at the heart of Brazil]. In contrast to Anderson’s ‘world of plurals’ which, as we have seen, is characteristic of a national imagination, for Martim the heart of the nation is an utterly empty space. It is a vast, deserted area with no borders in sight. Estonteado, de boca aberta, aquele homem estava infantilmente sentado no meio de uma extensão deserta que se perdia de vista para todos os lados. Era uma luz estúpida e seca. E ele estava sentado como um boneco imposto no meio daquela coisa que se impunha. (Lispector, 1998c: 21) [Dizzy, and with his mouth open, this man sat like a child in a vast expanse of desert that stretched as far as the eye could see. The light was ridiculous and dry. And there he was, sitting like a puppet that has been placed there, as though trying to impose itself on something.]

In contrast with the world of plurals, where one can imagine other similar human beings, Martim is now utterly alone. Ironically he will start to talk to the stones that surround him. The space of the nation is transformed into a wasteland, inhabited by stones instead of individuals. As we have seen when referring to Anderson’s world of plurals, the national imagination includes imagining individuals performing the same activity; some hidden common objective moves people to act collectively. In Lispector’s novel this is replaced by a clear sense of not-belonging, of lack of connection. Here there is a rupture with a sense of normality in relation to nationhood. Nationhood becomes strange, un-natural. It is no longer ‘unexamined’. The past participle imposto (meaning, literally, imposed) in the above passage suggests this lack of natural

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connection between the doll and its environment. Moreover, instead of giving the individual a sense of acting collectively for the benefit of a group, instead of having one’s individual subjectivity expanded by a sense of belonging to a community, here the individual is reduced to an infantilized position (infantilmente). The word ‘doll’ (boneco) also reduces the individual to a passive and debased position. It is important to note that, despite the absence of a sense of the nation as a natural environment, Martim is still pictured inside the national territory of Brazil. Indeed, rupture with the ‘naturalness’ of the nation makes the presence of the nation more visible. In this sense, it is important to note that the rupture that Curi observes in this novel — a rupture with language and territory — is more an attempt than an actual achievement. It is also important to note that Martim, as shown in the above quotation, feels moved by the national symbol of the f lag and therefore has not after all left the symbolic territory of the nation. It is also important to note the implicit connections between this novel and the foundational Brazilian novel Iracema (1865) by José de Alencar. The protagonists of both novels are named Martim, but there are other points of contact between the two novels: both protagonists seemed to have committed an original sin, carrying a considerable burden of guilt. Alencar’s novel recounts a legend: the whole story is written as if the narrator were merely retelling a story once told to him. Martim, a Portuguese warrior, is in a forest near the Brazilian coast, when he meets a beautiful indigenous girl and they fall in love with each other at first sight. She was not supposed to get married because of her religious position in the tribe (she knows the secret for preparing the magical potion or ‘jurema’). The fact that they fall in love with each other upsets many of the warriors of her tribe. Martim and Iracema marry and are forced to f lee allying themselves with another tribe. In a violent battle Iracema sees her tribe being defeated and many warriors killed. Although the happiness of being with Martim — and later of carrying his son — should compensate for this loss, she feels saddened at losing her relatives. Later after giving birth to their child, Iracema is consumed by unhappiness as Martim increasingly distances himself from her and longs for his previous life in the civilized world. Neglected, Iracema dies. Martim buries her by a tree and leaves in a boat taking with him their son Moacyr, ‘o primeiro filho que a raça branca gerou nessa terra da liberdade’ (Alencar, 1948: 116) [the first son produced by the white race in this land of freedom]. Martim returns to this same spot later to build a town and start the process of colonization. The subheadings in Lispector’s novel invite us to consider these two novels together. Subheadings such as ‘O nascimento do herói’ [The Birth of the Hero] or ‘Como se faz um homem’ [How a Man Is Made] suggest the foundational narrative that Iracema develops, but from a different perspective. While Alencar writes a novel that could be seen as a description of how the first Brazilian was created in order to go on to engage in the building of the nation, Lispector’s protagonist becomes a hero when he abandons the national domain and plunges into the wilds. In fact, the constitution of this masculine hero is based on a romantic rejection of social rules, a construction that is bound to fail, as the critic Benedito Nunes has observed:


Whiteness and Masculinity Quando o instante da sanção sobrevém, esse projeto de rebeldia liberadora se desmantela. É o fiasco da identidade pessoal de Martim. O convívio dos outros, a ordem social transgredida, a linguagem comum violada, absorvem-no como uma só realidade global, indiferenciada, objetiva e indiscutível: construção absoluta e perfeita, que obtém o grato reconhecimento do trânsfuga, com ela enfim reconciliado e pronto a expiar sua culpa. (Nunes, 1989: 47) [When the moment of sanction arrives, this project of liberating rebelliousness collapses. It is the failure of Martim’s personal identity. Relations with others, the social order that has been transgressed, the ordinary language that has been violated, they all swallow him up as in one global reality, undifferentiated, objective and indisputable: an absolute and perfect construction which is gratefully recognized by the rebel; through it he is finally reconciled and ready to atone for his guilt.]

Doris Sommer has commented on Alencar’s novel in connection with Brazil’s ethnic history. She refers to the paradox that Iracema is built on: the aim of picturing Brazilianness as based on interracial love when in fact ‘the country was founded on Indian removal’ (Sommer, 1991: 139). Sommer also emphasizes that, despite the fact of Indian genocide being the basis of the construction of the nation, the foundation myth explored by Alencar is still very strong in Brazil. As Sommer puts it, the ‘countless Brazilian children named for Alencar’s artificial Indians’ (Sommer, 1991: 141) are living proof of how much the nation depends, and lives, on its myth of origins: ‘Alencar and his readers wake up to Moacyr, to many Moacyrs, Iracemas and Peris; they are the material proof that fiction is not exactly unreal’ (Sommer, 1991: 171). In other words, despite the fact that the foundation myth does not coincide with the historical facts of the nation’s beginnings, it has a genuine and real effectiveness and resilience in people’s minds. We are dealing here with what Jacqueline Rose refers to as ‘the symbolic parameters of the nation’ (Rose, 1998: 2): ‘The modern state enacts its authority as ghostly, fantasmatic authority. But it would be wrong to deduce from this [...] that the state is any the less real for that’ (Rose, 1998: 9). We have seen how A maçã no escuro narrates an apparent rupture between Martim and a social environment. Taking into account Butler’s argument, discussed above, that performativity (the repetition of norms) is the basis of the constitution of subjectivities; we might expect that, by ceasing to imitate and repeat social norms, Martim would become an outsider and lose his personal identity. This would also change his relationship to the national environment, now experienced as strange and unnatural. However, his break with performativity is limited. He may have stopped performing some norms of social behaviour but not all of them, as I shall now go on to argue. Martim’s journey out of society takes him out of the city to a small farm. Here, in his attempt to reject society, Martim tries to approach the natural world. His human voice is now replaced by grunts, showing that he is losing his human attributes and becoming an animal, placed now in an environment that has lost its civilized features: O silêncio das plantas estava no seu próprio diapasão: ele grunhia aprovando. Ele que não tinha uma palavra a dizer. E que não queria falar nunca mais. Ele

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que em greve deixara de ser uma pessoa. No seu terreno, ali sentado, ficava gozando o vasto vazio de si mesmo. [...] É que o terreno terciário era de uma grande perfeição. [...] revelavam-se folhas mortas se decompondo, pardais que se confundiam com o chão como se fossem feitos de terra, as ratas negras e miúdas que haviam feito ninho naquele mundo rudimentar. (Lispector, 1998c: 82–83) [The silence of the plants had its own harmony: he grunted in approval. He, who had no words to say. And who never wanted to speak again. He, who, in a fit, ceased to be a person. Sitting there on his plot of land, he enjoyed the vast emptiness inside himself. [...] This Tertiary layer was absolute perfection. [...] There were to be found rotting leaves, sparrows who concealed themselves in the ground as though they were clumps of earth, and both black rats and mice that had made their nests in this elemental world.]

However, as we will see, this natural world is emphatically gendered. In another passage, Martim approaches some cows. In this gendered world that Martim inhabits, women and cows are clearly connected: Mas pareceu entender para que nascem mulheres quando uma pessoa é um homem. E isso foi um tranqüilo sangue forte que entrava e saía ritmado no seu peito. Tratando das vacas, o desejo de ter mulheres renasceu com calma. [...] Lembrou-se de que mulher é mais que o amigo de um homem, mulher era o próprio corpo do homem. Com um sorriso um pouco doloroso, acariciou o couro feminino da vaca e olhou em torno: o mundo era masculino e feminino. Esse modo de ver lhe deu um profundo contentamento físico. (Lispector, 1998c: 108) [But he seemed to understand why women were born when a person was a man. This recognition was like a strong yet steady current of blood f lowing in and out of his chest. When he was looking after the cows, his desire for a woman came back to him, calmly. [...] He remembered that the role of a woman is to be more than just a friend to a man; a woman was in fact the body of a man. With a smile concealing pain, he caressed the feminine skin of the cow and looked about him: everything in the world was masculine and feminine. And this way of seeing things gave him a profound sense of physical well-being.]

This ‘natural’ world is gendered from a masculine perspective. In this natural world, women’s role is basically to complement and satisfy a masculine body. It is important to stress that this explicit gendering of the world is also racialized, as we will see later when analysing Martim’s interaction with the mulatto woman. Martim’s interaction with the three women in the novel (Ermelinda, Vitória and the mulatto woman) will be understood and explained by the narrator as a conjunto (a set, a whole) of relationships. This emphasizes that one relationship should be understood in its articulations with the other relationships: the three women contribute to creating a pattern of the feminine which, mainly due to the role of the mulatto woman, is also racialized. Despite being a social outcast, Martim finds himself in a very comfortable position. As soon as he arrives at the farm, Ermelinda, the young cousin of the farm owner Vitória, tries to seduce him. The same satisfaction that we saw in the above quote about cows appears again in the following passage, now connected with a


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feeling of empowerment because of the knowledge that a woman was attracted to him: Agora que tivera uma mulher parecia-lhe natural que tudo fosse se tornar compreensível ao alcance da mão. [...] Sem modéstia, como um homem que está nu, sabia que era um iniciado. [...] tudo era seu, uma felicidade tonta encheu sua cabeça, ele ainda sentia nos braços o peso que tem uma mulher submissa. Iniciado como um homem que vive. (Lispector, 1998c: 164–65) [Now that he had had a woman it seemed natural to him that everything would be understandable, everything would fall into his hands. [...] Just like a naked man who knows no modesty, he knew he had special knowledge. [...] Everything belonged to him, and a daft happiness took possession of him, while he still felt in his arms the passive weight of a submissive woman. He was a living man, an initiated one.]

Following a non-explicit rule of masculinity, having possessed a woman makes things comprehensible; being a man and living seem to be enough to grant him a certain social status. I have mentioned before, in Chapter 4, how Virgínia needs constantly to perform a certain body in order to have a personal identity. We have also seen that her attempts often fail. Here, we note that Martim does not need to perform a specific body to be empowered. Being a man seems to be enough to grant him a place in the world: Martim estava contente. [...] Bastava-lhe ser uma pessoa que acorda de manhã. Bastava-lhe o céu quase escuro. [...] Assim: Eu sou um homem que tira leite das vacas. A corrente da graça era forte de manhã, e ter um corpo que vivia bastava. Se ele não tomasse cuidado se sentiria dono. (Lispector, 1998c: 145) [Martim was happy. [...] It was enough for him, to be a person who wakes up in the morning. The sky, almost dark, was enough for him. [...] Just like that: I am a man milking the cows. The chain of grace was strong in the morning, and it was enough to have a body that was alive. If he wasn’t careful, he might start feeling that he owned everything.]

The narrator highlights the fact that Martim, by breaking social rules, has ceased to imitate and perform according to social norms. However, the passages just analysed show the limitations of this rupture with society. Martim continues to perform a certain notion of masculinity, and this performance empowers him. His ‘new’ reality is organized according to a notion of gender difference that clearly supports masculine dominance. Many of the ‘conventions of power and privilege constitutive of gender within an order of male dominance’, which Brown (1995: 167) sees as typifying the masculine state, are still prevalent in Martim’s experience as a social outcast. The following lines identify Martim’s position as a social outcast with that of a black slave: ‘O homem bem poderia ser um negro, tão pouco lhe servia a claridade da própria pele [...]. Com a mansidão de um escravo, fugia’ (Lispector, 1998c: 19) [The man might well have been a black man, so little use to him was his light-coloured skin [...]. Tame as a slave, he escaped]. However, if we look at Martim’s relationship with the mulatto woman, we could say that this relationship

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exposes his position of white privilege. He does not seem to need to develop any kind of personal relationship with her before using her as a sexual object. He does not bother to even look at her: ‘Não olhara uma vez diretamente para a mulata. [...] Martim mal a olhava, e sabia que ela estava ali. [...] E ficou de pé sem olhá-la’ (Lispector, 1998c: 106) [Not once did he look directly at the mulatto woman. [...] Yet although Martim hardly looked at her, he knew she was there. [...] And he stood up, without looking at her]. He also touches her as if he were assessing the body of an animal: ‘Ela era um bicho novo, ele calculou sua idade apalpando-a’ (Lispector, 1998c: 107) [She was a young animal, he guessed her age by touching her]. Martim’s position of domination here is evident. Therefore, the comparison of Martim to a black man has serious and explicit limitations. His white skin is not that useless, after all. Maybe this situation of racial domination is what motivates the anger of the mulatto woman, something the text leaves totally unexplained: Já era escuro quando seus gestos despertaram a moça nova. O homem acendeu a lamparina do depósito e ela deu um pequeno grito de raiva. O que quer que fosse se enroscara em cólera. Ele a olhou curioso. Ela vibrava de raiva, Deus sabe por quê. (Lispector, 1998c: 107) [It was already dark when his movements woke up the young woman. The man lit the lamp in the storeroom and she gave a little cry of rage. Whatever it was that upset her, she was lit up with rage. He looked at her curiously. She trembled with rage, God knows why.]

It seems that this anger gives the mulatto woman a human dimension that finally attracts Martim’s attention, forcing him to look at her. The narrator, however, abandons the matter and does not explain the mulatto woman’s feelings. The impression given at this point is that the psychological dimensions of the mulatto woman are not worth investigating; the narrator seems to adhere to the assumption that non-white characters do not need to have psychological depth. Later in the novel, we come to see how the sexual relationship with the mulatto woman helps to create the satisfaction that Martim experiences with his masculine body. Going back to Butler’s notion of ‘vectors of power’, defined as normalizing social forces operating through discursive formations circulating in society, we can see here that whiteness and masculinity articulate as vectors of power in guaranteeing Martim a position of social privilege and a body that is seen as naturally valid. The following passage describes a whole, a natural order of days and nights, in which the mulatto woman and the other females (Ermelinda and Vitória) play an important role and where his body is accepted as naturally valid: As vidas individuais ele não as entendia. Mas já ao olhá-las em conjunto — a mulata que fora pesadamente sua [...] Vitória corajosa, Ermelinda espreitando [...] — isso, isso ele já pareceu entender como conjunto. [...] e foi como se aquele homem estivesse enfim aprendendo que a noite desce e que o dia renasce e que depois a noite vem. E assim era. Seu corpo, neste entendimento, ficou bom [...]. (Lispector, 1998c: 109) [He did not understand individual lives. But when he viewed them together — the mulatto woman , who had been really his, [...] Vitória, who was brave,


Whiteness and Masculinity Ermelinda peering [...] — these things he could look at and understand as a part of a whole. [...] it was as though, finally, this man was learning that when the day is done the night comes, and then day come again and then night returns. That’s just the way it was. And so his body, thanks to this kind of comprehension, felt good.]

It is important to note that these three relationships are pictured as ‘part of a whole’, a term that emphasizes their connections and their overlapping. The mulatto woman therefore is part of the construction of a natural order whereby Martim’s body is empowered. The mulatto woman highlights the fact that this natural order is deeply racialized. Whiteness here articulates with masculinity in order for this body to ‘matter’, in the sense that Butler describes and that has already been analysed with regard to the work of Bessie Head: it will be as important to think about how and to what end bodies are constructed as it will be to think about how and to what end bodies are not constructed and, further, to ask after how bodies which fail to materialize provide the necessary ‘outside’, if not the necessary support, for the bodies which, in materializing the norm, qualify as bodies that matter. (Butler, 1993: 16)

We could say that the mulatto woman, with her unspoken anger and hardly seen as a person, constitutes a body that does not fully materialize except as an Other for Martim’s body. This process of Othering of the mulatto woman becomes explicit in the following passage: ‘É que uma pessoa podia se compreender toda na mulata. O homem encontrou nela um passado que, se não era seu, lhe servia. O que ela suscitava num homem era ele próprio’ (Lispector, 1998c: 106) [It was as though a man could find himself utterly in that mulatto woman. Within her, a man could find for himself a past that — even if it were not actually his — worked well enough. What she brought out in a man was truly himself ]. We can see here that the mulatto woman functions as a blank slate where the man can find his own history and himself. This process can only work because the mulatto woman herself is ignored and hardly perceived: her role is that of the Other, the body that cannot materialize if Martim’s body is to ‘matter’. This might explain why the narrator does not expand on the mulatto woman’s psychological aspects. The intention seems to be to depict this process of Othering, whereby the mulatto woman functions as a vacant space for Martim to develop as a psychologically rich individual. If she were fully seen and understood as a person — she could not function as an Other. Returning to Curi’s idea that Martim’s journey is an attempt to become a social Other, his relationship with the mulatto woman shows us clearly that this is not the case. On the contrary, it is crucial that the mulatto woman maintain her position of Other — separate from Martim — in order for Martim to understand and perceive his body as ‘good’. I have highlighted the way in which the mulatto woman brings a racialized aspect into this ‘natural’ order in which Martim constructs his subjectivity. Because of the mulatto woman, whiteness becomes explicit. The concept of race — pro­ jecting whiteness as a desirable condition — is, however, also present in Erme­linda’s psychology. The following passage, emphasizing Ermelinda’s need to construct

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and perform a body, shows clearly how unexamined whiteness operates inside her psyche: O que não impedia que a moça tivesse se tornado muito ativa: calculava cuidadosa os passos que teria que dar [...] Tomava banho com ervas de cheiro, cuidava de suas roupas de baixo, comia muito para engordar, procurava se emocionar com o pôr-do-sol, acariciava com intensidade os cães da fazenda, branqueava os dentes com carvão, protegia-se contra o calor para se manter bem alva. (Lispector, 1998c: 103–04) [This had not stopped the girl from becoming very active: she was carefully planning her next steps [...] She took to bathing with scented herbs, she took great care with her underwear, she would eat more in order to put on weight; she tried getting emotional about the sunset; she stroked and petted the farm dogs obsessively; she whitened her teeth with coal; and kept herself out of the sun, so that her skin would remain fair.]

In contrast to Martim’s ‘natural’ body — which does not need to be described — Ermelinda spends a great deal of time and energy constructing a body that matters. For a white woman, preserving whiteness — indeed, enhancing it — is a crucial element in this racialized self-construction. It can therefore be argued that, by comparing Martim’s position to that of a black slave while narrating instances where his position as a white man becomes clearly explicit, the narrator is calling the reader’s attention to the limitations of Martim’s exclusion: he does not stop performing either masculinity or whiteness. This novel clearly shows how gender and race articulate in the construction of Martim’s subject­ivity. As we have seen, he also remains deeply connected with his national environ­ment, his exclusion brings him to a wilderness that is, in turn, the heart of Brazil. Maybe this novel is telling us how exile is virtually impossible. Here we are talking of voluntary exile, since Martim was clearly trying to step out of society in search of a new self. What he did not know was that, to an important extent, he carried inside himself the society he was coming from — as a stranger, a foreigner within. I am here referring to Julia Kristeva’s notion of the ‘stranger within us’, discussed in Chapter 3: ‘the foreign is neither a race nor a nation. [...] Uncanny, foreignness is within us: we are our own foreigners, we are divided’ (Kristeva, 1991: 182–83). Martim’s experience as an outsider exposes parts of the self — his continued performance of whiteness and masculinity — which he did not know about, and probably was not interested in: those parts of Martim that remain foreign to himself. This, in turn, shows us that one’s relations of social belonging can be more complex and resilient than one might wish. The unconscious, the unexamined, the unspeakable are part of social relations, and, as such, they are internalized as part of our unconscious. As Morrison has shown us, ‘invisible things are not necessarily “not there” ’ (Morrison, 1989: 11). They often live as strangers, as foreigners within the self. This is another instance of the persistence within the individual of the modern state. Despite all his efforts, Martim could not avoid his ‘visit to the modern state’ (Rose, 1998: 13).


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If in the case of Martim exile is virtually impossible — he cannot leave the society he abhors — the final novel I shall discuss approaches this issue from an opposing perspective. In the case of Macabéa, the protagonist of A hora da estrela, the difficult, if not impossible, task is to belong: to weave relations between the self and the social environment. Note to Chapter 6 1. See also Antonio Ladeira, ‘Patriarchal Violence and Brazilian Masculinities in Clarice Lispector’s A maçã no escuro’, Bulletin of Hispanic Studies, 86.5 (2009).



Racism and the Performance of Whiteness in A hora da estrela In this chapter I will examine the presence of racism and the need to perform whiteness in Clarice Lispector’s novel A hora da estrela [The Hour of the Star] (1977). This short novel describes the struggles of Macabéa, a young girl from the Northeast, as she tries to survive and make a living in Rio de Janeiro. She is very poor and ill-adapted to this city, where she works as a typist in an office. One day she encounters Olímpico, a steelworker, and also an immigrant from the Northeast. They start going out together, but soon Olímpico loses interest in Macabéa and becomes attracted to Glória, her workmate. Close to the end of the novel Macabéa accepts Glória’s suggestion that she see a fortune-teller, who predicts a radical change in Macabéa’s life: she will meet a foreigner who is going to change her life and make her rich and happy. However, as soon as Macabéa leaves the fortuneteller’s house, she is hit by a car and dies. Ironically, the car is driven by a foreigner, materializing, to a certain extent, the fortune-teller’s predictions. Macabéa is clearly not fit to live in this urban, modern world. She is described as ‘uma moça numa cidade toda feita contra ela’ (Lispector, 1999b: 15) [a girl in a city that was entirely set against her]. Visibility plays a crucial role in her characterization. So much of what Macabéa is derives from the way she looks, or the way she does not look. So much is due to the fact that her body does not fulfil a set of minimum requirements. Her body is an accumulation of minuses, of lacks, of negative attributes. She is too thin, too dirty, too ugly, she does not have what one might call encanto [charm]. Macabéa is physically not fit for the world in which she lives; her colour is wrong. As Homi Bhabha would say, she is white, but not quite.1 Her skin colour is perceived as dirty and she is elsewhere described as yellowish: ‘Se sei quase tudo de Macabéa é que já peguei uma vez de relance o olhar de uma nordestina amarelada’ (Lispector, 1999b: 57) [I know almost everything about Macabéa, because my eyes once caught the glance of this yellowish girl from the Northeast]. At a certain moment in the narrative Macabéa expresses to Olímpico her wish to look like Marilyn Monroe, emphasizing the ‘all over pink’ colour of her body. This is how the dialogue develops: — Sabe o que eu mais queria na vida? Pois era ser artista de cinema. [...] Sabe que Marylin era toda cor-de-rosa?


Racism and the Performance of Whiteness — E você tem cor de suja. Nem tem rosto nem corpo para ser artista de cinema. — Você acha mesmo? — Tá na cara. (Lispector, 1999b: 53–54) [‘Do you know what I wanted most in life? I want to be a film star. [...] Do you know that Marilyn was pink all over?’ ‘And you are the colour of dirt. You do not have the face nor the body to be a film star.’ ‘Do you really think so?’ ‘It is written all over your face.’]

Macabéa seems to be strangely immune to Olímpico’s brutality. In a few words Olímpico is telling Macabéa that she has no chance of ever realizing her ambitions. The expression Tá na cara suggests this common knowledge, something utterly obvious that everybody else, save Macabéa herself, can understand. Macabéa, however, continues as if his words could not touch her. Something stronger than Olímpico’s verbal brutality attaches Macabéa to what the reader perceives as her illusions. Later in the novel something similar happens when Macabéa expresses to her colleague Glória her ambition of looking like Marilyn. Glória reacts in the same way: ‘ — Logo ela, Maca? Vê se te manca!’ (Lispector, 1999b: 64) [‘But her exactly, Maca? Come on, wake up!’]. Glória’s comment, ten pages later in the narrative, although not as brutal as Olímpico’s, reverberates along the same lines in the reader’s mind, reiterating the inadequacy of Macabéa’s body. The expression vê se te manca! is almost a synonym of tá na cara, similar to saying ‘Can’t you see it? It’s obvious’. Here, both expressions summarize the fact that Macabéa’s inadequacy is obvious and visible; it does not need explaining. This is, in reality, the definition of racist thinking: the attribution of psychological and moral attributes to certain physical features, skin colour being an example. Macabéa could never aspire to be a movie star because of a bodily inadequacy: her social and psychological limitations are obvious to anyone who looks at her. Intriguingly, Macabéa seems to be immune to this widespread set of unexamined ideas on the body, which is, ultimately, what justifies Olímpico and Glória’s comments. But, of course, the inadequacy does not reside in Macabéa’s physical appearance but in the cultural conditioning of those looking at her. As Matthew Frye Jacobson explains, ‘race is not just a conception; it is also a perception’ ( Jacobson, 1998: 9). Jacobson quotes Ruth Benedict to say that in racial thinking ‘the eye that sees is not a mere physical organ but a means of perception conditioned by the tradition in which the possessor has been reared’ ( Jacobson, 1998: 10). The problem is not Macabéa nor the way she looks, but the framework through which she is perceived. The text draws our attention to the extent to which our identities and our subjectivities depend on visible features. Visibility is an important aspect in the construction of identities, as Linda Schlossberg explains: Theories and practices of identity and subject formation are largely structured around a logic of visibility [...]. At the most basic level, we are subjects constituted by our visions of ourselves and others and we trust that our ability

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to see and read carries with it a certain degree of epistemological certainty. (Schlossberg, 2001: 4)

Furthermore, the control of what is visible (by highlighting some features and concealing others) is what permits the process of ‘passing’: the process by which a person succeeds in being perceived as part of a specific group from which they would normally be excluded, by performing the visual attributes associated with that group (for example: women masquerading as men, or black or mixed-raced people masquerading as white). While Macabéa obviously does not pass, Glória — as we will see later in more detail — disguises her African origins and controls this process efficiently enough to impress Olímpico who sees her as material de boa qualidade [someone of quality] in contrast with Macabéa who is seen as not having força de raça [racial substance], of being a subproduto [inferior product] (Lispector, 1999b: 59). Olímpico’s comments rely on an essential connection between Macabéa’s physical appearance and her personal identity. In other words, he seems to believe in what Schlossberg describes as the ‘seemingly intimate relationship between the visual and the known’ (Schlossberg, 2001: 4). Yet, while Olímpico (and Glória as well, for that matter) establishes an essential connection between Macabéa’s physical body and her ‘true self ’, Macabéa seems to stand outside this realm of common sense. Something stronger than all this external and visual proof compels Macabéa to remain immune to the insults contained in their remarks; as if she could not understand them. At a certain stage in the book the narrator describes Macabéa’s skin as being covered in dark shadows that she tries to disguise with make up: ‘examinou de perto as manchas do rosto. Em Alagoas chamavam-se “panos”, diziam que vinham do fígado. Disfarçava os panos com grossa camada de pó branco e se ficava meio caiada era melhor que o pardacento’ (Lispector, 1999b: 27) [She closely examined the blotches on her face. In Alagoas, they called these panos, they said it was caused by the liver. She covered them up with a thick layer of white powder, getting a pallid as if whitewashed result, yet this was better than the brownish colour]. These words make it clear that Macabéa’s attempts to cover up the colour, or the imperfections of her skin are obvious and visible. The white powder she uses seems to represent her attempt to perform whiteness. However, unlike Glória — who, as we will see, manages to hide her Afro-Brazilian origins and, thus, construct for herself a ‘body that matters’ — Macabéa’s mimicry is self-evident. The word caiada [whitewashed] suggests the notion of a whiteness that looks artificial, not real. However, this explicit (and therefore failed) performance is better than her uncovered, natural skin-colour; to let the covering up become obvious is preferable to letting her natural marks show. What exactly are Macabéa’s ethnic origins? Why is it that her natural pardacento [brownish coloured] complexion is portrayed so negatively? Macabéa is not explicitly described as being mixed-race. As far as we know, her exclusion is not caused by her being ethnically mixed. In the racial context that Lispector’s novel is describing, ethnic mixture can be a positive attribute, depending on how one performs socially. The problem with Macabéa is that she is not able to use her ethnic origins (whatever they are) for her own benefit, as Glória does so


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skilfully. Because of this, Macabéa’s physical attributes are perceived as strikingly wrong. Glória, on the contrary, is able to articulate her racial origins, transforming them into a positive attribute. Macabéa’s difficulties come from the way she performs her body. Taking into account Butler’s notion of a ‘body that matters’, according to which some bodies fail to materialize, thereby providing the necessary contrast that allows other bodies to materialize the norm and qualify as bodies that matter (Butler, 1993: 16), Glória’s mixed-race origins are (when disguised), in fact, instrumental in giving her a ‘body that matters’. She is able, for example, to steal Macabéa’s boyfriend, Olímpico. Glória possuía no sangue um bom vinho português e também era amaneirada no bamboleio do caminhar por causa do sangue africano escondido. Apesar de branca tinha em si a força da mulatice. Oxigenava em amarelo-ovo os cabelos crespos cujas raízes estavam sempre pretas. Mas mesmo oxigenada ela era loura, o que significava um degrau a mais para Olímpico. [...] Vendo-a, ele (Olímpico) logo adivinhou que, apesar de feia, Glória era bem alimentada. E isso a fazia material de boa qualidade. (Lispector, 1999b: 59) [Glória had a dash of good Portuguese wine in her blood and also walked with a swing, due to her hidden African blood. Despite being white, she had the strength of a mulatto woman. She bleached her frizzy hair bright yellow, and the roots were always black. Despite being bleached she was blonde, and that meant a step above for Olímpico. [...] Seeing her, he (Olímpico) soon guessed that, despite being ugly, she was well fed. And this turned her into first class material.]

In contrast to Macabéa’s absent, almost non-existent body, Glória’s body is full of vitality, strength and attractiveness. And part of her strength stems from her mixedraced origins. Her Portuguese ancestry runs smoothly in her veins, in perfect harmony with her mulatto origins which, in turn, has been properly disguised, offering a good example of ‘passing’. As we have seen before, she controls the visible aspects that compose her appearance. Some aspects are concealed; others are emphasized (her blondness, despite being fake, is clearly something she is proud of ), enhancing her social status. Here it is important to differentiate the character of Glória from other mixedrace characters that I have analysed in the previous chapters. In contrast to the mixed-race characters from the novels O lustre and A maçã no escuro (discussed in Chapters 4 and 6, respectively), who have no personal name and are referred to simply by their mark of non-whiteness (‘mulatto’ or ‘mulatto woman’), the narrator of A hora da estrela never marks Glória simply as a mulatto woman. As one can see in the quotation above, the narrator literally describes her as ‘having the strength of a mulatto woman’, in other words, as being able to use her hidden African blood effectively. The narration here does not collude with racist marking but emphasizes the performative aspects of identity construction. The socio-economic aspect of being well fed is also instrumental in this process; bringing the matter of class into the equation. Technically, Glória and Macabéa are both members of the working-class. Glória, however, eats a lot and regularly. The butcher’s shop where her father works is described by the narrator as a very beautiful place (Lispector, 1999b: 53). Olímpico, is struck by Glória as soon as he

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sees her: ‘quando ele viu Glória, colega de Macabéa, sentiu logo que ela tinha classe’ (Lispector, 1999b: 59) [When he first saw Glória, Macabéa’s work companion, he immediately felt that she had class]. At one point Glória’s family’s social position is described as ‘a third class bourgeoisie’: ‘É que na desordem de uma terceira classe de burguesia havia no entanto o morno conforto de quem gasta todo o dinheiro em comida, no subúrbio comia-se muito’ (Lispector, 1999b: 66) [The fact was that even in the chaos of a third class bourgeoisie, there was a lukewarm comfort derived from spending all one’s money on food; in the suburbs we ate a lot]. In terms of class, Glória is clearly better off than Macabéa. One can say that ‘being well fed’ here represents an instance where whiteness and class overlap. Because of that, Glória is able to ‘activate’ her ethnic origins for her own benefit. As we have seen, Glória is here articulating different social categories such as race, gender and class in order to construct her own personal identity. Schlossberg describes such an overlapping as typical of the process of ‘passing’: If passing wreaks havoc with accepted systems of social recognition and cultural intelligibility, it also blurs carefully marked lines of race, gender and class, calling attention to the ways in which identity categories intersect, overlap, construct and deconstruct one other. (Schlossberg, 2001: 2)

Judith Butler has also emphasized how different social categories articulate with each other in the construction (and performance) of social identities: ‘racializing norms [...] exist not merely alongside gender norms, but are articulated through one another’ (Butler, 1993: 182). Here, in the case of Glória, we can see how class articulates with ethnicity (mulatto origins) to construct a body that matters. This construction also takes place through Macabéa’s function as the Other, against which Glória will be contrasted. In Judith Butler’s words, Macabéa becomes the ‘constitutive outside’ of Glória’s racial identity. Macabéa becomes a body that fails to materialize, thus providing the necessary support for Glória’s body to materialize as a body that matters. This process becomes evident in the following passage: Glória era toda contente consigo mesma: dava-se grande valor. Sabia que tinha o sestro molengole de mulata, uma pintinha marcada junto da boca, só para dar uma gostosura, e um buço forte que ela oxigenava. [...] Era uma safadinha esperta mas tinha força de coração. Penalizava-se com Macabéa mas ela que se arranjasse, quem mandava ser tola? E Glória pensava: não tenho nada a ver com ela. (Lispector, 1999b: 64) [Glória was very self-satisfied: she was convinced of her own value. She knew she had the swinging ways of the mulatto woman, a small beauty spot near the mouth, which gave her extra attractiveness, and an abundance of f luff in the upper lip that she bleached. [...] She was a clever little trouble-maker, but she had a good heart. She felt sorry for Macabéa, but she should learn to fend for herself. Why was she so stupid? And Glória thought: ‘I have nothing to do with her.’]

Glória is able to articulate all these elements to enhance her effective, powerful physical presence. Most of all, through this process Glória also becomes an example of the ‘national body’, an example of the mestizo as the Brazilian body that Gilberto


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Freyre celebrated in his 1933 book Casa grande e senzala.2 We have seen how the mulatto (and mulatto woman) were instrumental in the cultural construction of the nation’s identity, as Ortiz highlighted in relation to the Vargas period: ‘O que era mestiço torna-se nacional’ (Ortiz, 1985: 41) [The mestizo became the national]. This contrast, in turn, reinforces Macabéa’s status as a non-presence, a nonexistent body. Macabéa’s ethnic origins are of no benefit to her in terms of the national context: her dirty skin does her no favours. Her image does not appear in the mirror: ‘Pareceu-lhe que o espelho baço e escurecido não ref letia imagem alguma. Sumira por acaso sua existência física?’ (Lispector, 1999: 25) [It looked as if the mirror, cloudy and murky, did not ref lect any image. Could her physical appearance have disappeared?]. Macabéa is clearly a case of a ‘body that does not matter’, as it hardly materializes into anything: ‘a pessoa de quem falarei mal tem corpo para vender’ (Lispector, 1999b: 13) [the person I will talk about hardly even has a body to sell]. In consequence, her life, her very existence is always found wanting: ‘defendia-se da morte por intermédio de um viver de menos, gastando pouco da vida para esta não acabar’ (Lispector, 1999b: 32) [She protected herself against death by limiting her living, spending very little of life so that it would last longer]; ‘Tornara-se com o tempo apenas material vivente em sua forma primária’ (Lispector, 1999b: 38) [Over time, she had turned herself into living substance in its most basic form]. Here we could note that what happens with Glória and Macabéa is the reverse of what we have seen in the previous chapter in relation to the mulatto woman and Martim’s body. In A maçã no escuro the mulatto woman’s mixed-race origins are evident (not-disguised), becoming a social mark that excludes her and transforms her into the social Other that Martim’s body needs in order to be perceived as positive and empowered. Glória’s disguised mixed-racedness, however, empowers her, making Macabéa’s bodily insufficiencies explicit. We could also note that unlike Ermelinda in A maçã no escuro, who manages to keep her skin white by bathing frequently and avoiding the sun, Macabéa’s make-up does not work, making her body more strikingly wrong. Macabéa seems to be at the other extreme of the ‘bourgeois body’ described by Michel Foucault, in The History of Sexuality. According to Foucault, the bourgeoisie, becoming the hegemonic class in the eighteenth century, ‘provided itself with a body to be cared for, protected, cultivated and preserved from the many dangers and contacts, to be isolated from others so that it would retain its differential value’ (Foucault, 1990: 123). Macabéa seems to sit in total contrast to this situation described by Foucault. Firstly, Macabéa is deprived of any charms or any physical attractions: ‘Não tinha aquela coisa delicada que se chama encanto’ (Lispector, 1999b: 27) [She did not have this delicate quality called charm]. She is deprived of physical health: ‘a datilógrafa tem o corpo cariado’ (Lispector, 1999b: 35) [The typist has a diseased body]. She is also deprived, to a certain extent, of sexuality: ‘Pois até mesmo o fato de vir a ser uma mulher não parecia pertencer à sua vocação’ (Lispector, 1999: 28) [Because even taking the identity of a woman did not seem to be part of her destiny]. All these elements (physical health, beauty, sexuality) were important for the

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empowerment of the body in a society where the bourgeoisie was the dominant class; and Macabéa is lacking in all of them. We are obviously dealing with a situation where there is a standard of beauty; a notion of an acceptable body that people were trying to achieve in order to acquire a sense of self-worth in society. This notion is racialized as well as articulated in terms of class. Being undernourished emphasizes the fact that Macabéa’s colour is wrong. Her name is also inappropriate and is associated, again, with a physical, visible illness: — E, se me permite, qual é mesmo a sua graça? — Macabéa. — Maca, o quê? — Béa, foi ela obrigada a completar. — Me desculpe mas até parece doença, doença de pele. (Lispector, 1999b: 43) [‘If I may, what’s your name?’ ‘Macabéa.’ ‘Maca what?’ ‘Béa,’ she was forced to complete. ‘I beg your pardon, but it sounds like a disease, a skin disease.’]

This passage again shows how Macabéa’s unfitness for the modern urban world is located in her physical appearance and, more precisely, as inscribed on her skin. I shall return to Macabéa’s name later in this chapter. It is thus clear that there is a notion of a ‘good’, ‘acceptable’ body to which Macabéa is always contrasted and found wanting. As we have seen, what is in operation is a certain notion of race. This becomes obvious in the following passage: ‘Olímpico talvez visse que Macabéa não tinha força de raça, era subproduto’ (Lispector, 1999b: 59) [Maybe Olímpico could see that Macabéa did not have the vigour of a race, in fact she was a sub-product]. Symptomatically, this sentence immediately precedes the passage where Glória’s disguised African origins are praised. Near the end of the novel, after being run over by a car, Macabéa is described as being part of a ‘dwarf race’, this time associated with resilience and stubbornness: ‘apesar de tudo ela pertencia a uma resistente raça anã teimosa que um dia vai talvez reivindicar o direito ao grito’ (Lispector, 1999b: 80) [Despite everything she belonged to that resilient dwarf race which will one day claim its right to cry out and protest]. As previously noted, Olímpico’s remark that Macabéa’s skin is too ‘dirty’ for her to aspire to be like Marilyn does not seem to discourage her. Paradoxically, the compulsion to perform whiteness seems to feed on the repressed knowledge of its fictitiousness. The idea of her skin colour as ‘dirt’ exposes the fact that, despite not being black, she is not sufficiently white either. She needs to be constantly ‘washing away her non-whiteness’, aiming to reach Marilyn’s ‘all over pink’. This is an endless and hopeless task at which Macabéa is condemned to fail. When discussing the process of ‘passing’ Schlossberg says: Identity is primarily a form of storytelling. [...] Passing is not simply about erasure or denial, as it is often castigated, but, rather, about the creation and establishment of an alternative set of narratives. [...] every subject’s history is a work in progress. (Schlossberg, 2001: 4)


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By ‘not passing’, by persisting in her failed mimicry, Macabéa is also composing a story. In this way, her failed attempts at constructing a subjectivity, her failed construction of a ‘body that matters’ become a story in themselves: a story that the narrator could not avoid seeing written on her face: ‘É que numa rua do Rio de Janeiro peguei no ar de relance o sentimento de perdição no rosto de uma moça nordestina’ (Lispector, 1977: 12) [It is because within a single glance I caught, in a Rio de Janeiro street, the sensation of despair in the face of a girl from the Northeast]. We have seen, when discussing the ideology of a Brazilian racial democracy in the introduction to this thesis, how the mulatto — especially after the 1930s — starts to be perceived as synonymous with being Brazilian. We also have seen how African origins have to be disguised by a performance of whiteness in order to be transformed into a positive ethnic trait. Glória seems to be a perfect example of this positive moreno colour that becomes a synonym for Brazilian national ethnicity. In some cases the ethnic mixture seems to ‘turn sour’ (Macabéa being the obvious example). It is important, however, to see that Macabéa does not represent a single, extraordinary case. The narrator clearly refers to many other girls just like her: Como a nordestina, há milhares de moças espalhadas por cortiços, vagas de cama num quarto, atrás de balcões trabalhando até a estafa. Não notam sequer que são facilmente substituíveis e que tanto existiriam como não existiriam. Poucas se queixam e ao que eu saiba nenhuma reclama por não saber a quem. Esse quem será que existe? (Lispector, 1999b: 14) [Similarly to this Northeastern girl, there are thousands of girls scattered around slums and bed-sitters, working behind a counter until they crack. They don’t even see how easily they’re replaceable, and make no difference if they exist or not. Very few complain and as far as I know, nobody protests because they do not know who to go to. Do you think there is anyone who would listen?]

Macabéa, therefore, is not unique; there are many other cases just like hers. In other instances, Macabéa is often named simply as the Northeastern girl, as if her place of origin were her most important feature: ‘preciso falar desta nordestina senão sufoco’ (Lispector, 1999b: 17) [I simply must talk about this Northeastern girl, or I will choke]; ‘quero neste instante falar da nordestina’ (Lispector, 1999b: 18) [Now I want to talk about the Northeastern girl]; ‘Vejo a nordestina se olhando ao espelho’ (Lispector, 1999b: 22) [I see the Northeastern girl looking at herself in the mirror]. The group of girls the narrator is referring to in the quotation above is identified as that of migrant women from the Northeastern part of Brazil. In other instances the narrator also locates Macabéa’s origins in the sertão, a space described as remote and isolated: ‘Nascera inteiramente raquítica, herança do sertão — os maus antecedentes de que falei. Com dois anos de idade lhe haviam morrido os pais de febres ruins no sertão do Alagoas, lá onde o diabo perdera as botas’ (Lispector, 1999b: 28) [She was born completely under-nourished, as a consequence of being from the backlands — those bad beginnings I told you about. When she was two her parents died of fever, in the backlands of Alagoas, where even the devil would manage to lose his boots]. The expression ‘there, where the devil lost his boots’ is a way of referring to a space that is so distant that it is excluded from any map and cannot even be named.

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Macabéa’s origins are located ‘out of bounds’, beyond any known territory. They are also, it seems, excluded from the imaginary space of the nation. The narrator has emphasized the fact that both Olímpico and Macabéa come from the Northeast, and are, in terms of their origins, almost brother and sister: As poucas conversas entre os namorados versavam sobre farinha, carne-de-sol, carne-seca, rapadura, melado. Pois esse era o passado de ambos e eles esqueciam o amargor da infância [...]. Pareciam por demais irmãos, coisa que — só agora estou percebendo — não dá para casar.’ (Lispector, 1999b: 47) [The very few conversations the couple had always dealt with manioc f lour, sun-dried meat, unrefined brown sugar, sugar syrup. Because this was the past shared by both of them, and in this way they forgot their childhood sorrows [...]. They looked very much like brother and sister, a couple who should never marry — I now realize.]

Despite both characters coming from the Northeast, the narrator will emphasize how different Olímpico is from Macabéa. The contrast between them makes clear the importance of performativity, in terms of the position the Northeasterner might be able to reach in society. Olímpico’s macho qualities, his familiarity with violence, with stealing, with cheating, compensate for his poor origins, granting a degree of social status. Olímpico’s rudeness towards Macabéa makes sense if we understand that, despite their similarities, by rejecting and ridiculing her, Olímpico is constructing his own identity as different. Mas ainda não expliquei bem Olímpico. Vinha do sertão da Paraíba e tinha uma resistência que provinha da paixão por sua terra braba e rachada pela seca. [...] nascera crestado e duro que nem galho seco de árvore ou pedra de sol. Era mais passível de salvação que Macabéa pois não fora à toa que matara um homem, desafeto seu, nos cafundós do sertão, o canivete comprido entrando mole-mole no fígado macio do sertanejo. Guardava disso segredo absoluto, o que lhe dava a força que um segredo dá. Olímpico era macho de briga. [...] Macabéa, ao contrário de Olímpico, era fruto do cruzamento de ‘o quê’ com ‘o quê’. Na verdade ela parecia ter nascido de uma idéia vaga qualquer dos pais famintos. Olímpico pelo menos roubava sempre que podia e até do vigia das obras onde era sua dormida. Ter matado e roubar faziam com que ele não fosse um simples acontecido qualquer, davam-lhe uma categoria, faziam dele um homem com honra já lavada. (Lispector, 1999b: 57–58) [But I haven’t yet properly talked about Olímpico. He came from the backlands of Paraíba and he had a resilience that sprung out of his passion for his rough homeland, cracked by drought. [...] he was born burnt and stiff as a dried tree branch or a rock under the sun. He was more likely than Macabéa to sort himself out. It was by no means an accident that he had killed a man, an old enemy, in the distant backlands; the long blade of his penknife swiftly getting into the softness of the sertanejo’s liver. He kept this as an absolute secret; and this gave him the strength that only a secret can give. Olímpico was a man ready to fight. [...] Macabéa, on the contrary, was the result of the marriage between this and that. In reality, she looked like she was born out of some vague idea of two hungry parents. At least Olímpico would steal whenever he could, even from the guards of the building site where he slept. Having killed and having stolen turned him into more than a simple accident. It gave him some substance, turned him into an honoured man.]


Racism and the Performance of Whiteness

Olímpico’s ability to steal and kill gives him a sense of personal power that Macabéa does not have. Also, he is more fit to survive because he is able to express his anger in political terms ridiculing powerful figures by drawing caricatures of them: ‘Ele também se salvava mais do que Macabéa porque tinha grande talento para desenhar rapidamente perfeitas caricaturas ridículas dos retratos de poderosos nos jornais. Era sua vingança’ (Lispector, 1999b: 58) [He could sort himself out better than Macabéa because he had talent to quickly draw perfect and ridiculous caricatures of powerful people he saw in the newspapers. This was his vengeance]. Olímpico knows how to compensate for his origins; he could ‘pass’ as white. Again, the problem with Macabéa seems to rest more with her inability to perform whiteness than with her ethnic origins themselves. We are dealing here with the sertanejo, a figure whose physical and cultural traits were described at length by Euclides Da Cunha in his masterpiece Os sertões (1902). In Os sertões Da Cunha described the figure of the sertanejo as an ethnic composition which, from an initial mixture of Portuguese, indigenous and, to a less extent, African blood, developed in extreme isolation whilst in close relationship with a very tough environment (the caatingas, with their harsh, desert vegetation and periodic droughts). These elements had created the figure of the sertanejo: a mestizo where the African element, although present, is not a significant factor. Lispector’s novel makes direct reference to Da Cunha’s work. When describing Olímpico, the narrator says that there will be a moment when Olímpico will forget his origins and become a winner: ‘O sertanejo é antes de tudo um paciente. Eu o perdôo’ (Lispector, 1999b: 66) [The sertanejo is, first and foremost, a patient being. I forgive him]. This is a clear reversal of Da Cunha’s text which reads: ‘O sertanejo é, antes de tudo, um forte’ (Da Cunha, 1983: 142) [The sertanejo, or man of the backlands, is above all else a strong individual (Da Cunha, 1995: 126)]. In fact, Da Cunha’s description of the sertanejo is rather ambivalent. He starts by emphasizing his strength, and by favourably contrasting him to other mestizos from the coast. However, he goes on to enumerate several negative features in the sertanejo’s appearance: O sertanejo é, antes de tudo, um forte. Não tem o raquitismo exaustivo dos mestiços neurastênicos do litoral. A sua aparência, entretanto, ao primeiro lance de vista, revela o contrário. Falta-lhe a plástica impecável, o desempeno, a estrutura correctíssima das organi­ zações atléticas. É desgracioso, desengonçado e torto. Hércules-Quasímodo ref lecte no aspecto a fealdade dos fracos. [...] É o homem permanentemente fatigado. (Da Cunha, 1983: 142–43) [The sertanejo, or man of the backlands, is above all else a strong individual. He does not exhibit the debilitating rachitic tendencies of the neurasthenic mestizos of the seaboard. His appearance, it is true, would lead one to think that this was not the case. He does not have the f lawless features, the graceful bearing, the correct build of the athlete. He is ugly, awkward, stooped. Hercules-Quasimodo ref lects in his bearing the typical unprepossessing attributes of the weak. [...] He is the man who is always tired. (Da Cunha, 1995: 126–27)]

Lack of charm, frailty, ugliness; Da Cunha’s description of the sertanejo is not too

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far from the picture we are given of Macabéa. However, after this introduction, Da Cunha will note that, in the face of unexpected adversity, a radical change takes place in the sertanejo: entretanto, toda esta aparência de cansaço ilude. [...] Basta-lhe o aparecimento de qualquer incidente exigindo-lhe o desencadear das energias adormecidas. O homem transfigura-se. [...] reponta, inesperadamente, o aspecto dominador de um titã acobreado e potente, num desdobramento surpreendente de força e agilidade extraordinárias. (Da Cunha, 1983: 143) [Yet all this apparent weariness is an illusion. [...] All that is needed is some incident that demands the release of slumbering energies. The fellow is transfigured. [...] the awkward rustic unexpectedly assumes the dominating aspect of a powerful, copper-hued Titan, an amazingly different being, capable of extraordinary feats of strength and agility. (Da Cunha, 1995: 127)]

As we can see, Da Cunha combines positive and negative aspects in his description of the sertanejo. His position is quite ambivalent, oscillating between his belief in the racist scientific theories of his time, with their very negative views towards miscegenation — ‘A mistura de raças mui diversas é na maioria dos casos prejudicial [...] a mestiçagem extremada é um retrocesso. ‘(Da Cunha, 1983: 135) [An intermingling of highly diverse races is, in the majority of cases, prejudicial. [...] Miscegenation carried to an extreme means retrogression. (Da Cunha, 1995: 120)] — and his admiration for the sertanejo’s physical and psychological strength. Da Cunha goes out of his way to picture the sertanejo as an exception, a case where miscegenation had positive results: ‘Aquela raça cruzada surge autônoma e de algum modo, original, transfigurando [...] todos os atributos herdados. [...] nos sertões a integridade orgânica do mestiço desponta inteiriça e robusta’ (Da Cunha, 1983: 140) [This crossed race, then, makes its appearance as an autonomous and, in a way, an original one, transfiguring within itself all the inherited attributes; [...] In the backlands, on the other hand, the robust organic integrity of the mestizo remains unimpaired (Da Cunha, 1995: 124–25)]. Da Cunha’s book describes the war on Canudos (1893–97), where the forces of the Republican government — after an extremely arduous campaign — finally annihilated the rebellious community. The inhabitants of Canudos, under the leadership of the religious leader Antonio Conselheiro, challenged the positivist ideas of the new Republic by demanding the return of the monarchy. Da Cunha emphasizes the strength of their resistance, both in military and cultural terms. The physical strength of the sertanejo is one example of that resistance, and Macabéa, as we will see, is another representation of cultural and physical resilience. We could also say that Lispector is trying to track the origins, and the persistence, of a specific kind of racial discrimination: one that instead of focusing on AfroBrazilian aspects targets the figure of the Northeasterner. In relation to this novel, it is difficult not to see this discrimination as a form of racism. The negative aspects of the Northeasterner are not simply associated with cultural traits, but are clearly related to physical features, specifically to skin colour (‘yellowish’, ‘colour of dirt’, ‘brownish colour’). Lispector’s novel also draws on a clearly racist terminology with its use of terms such as raça anã [dwarf race], força de raça [racial substance] and racial subproduto [inferior product].


Racism and the Performance of Whiteness

The novel seems to be drawing our attention to the fact that, unlike the mulatto, the figure of the Northeasterner seems to have been downgraded in terms of the ethnic composition of the Brazilian population. The Northeasterner is described as the product of a kind of miscegenation that has somehow ‘turned sour’, as suggested above. The term does not have the positive connotations of the ‘moreno/a’, like the sophisticated morena in O lustre, or of the ‘sensual mulatto/a’, as we have seen above when discussing the character of Glória. Although important and visible in large numbers, the figure of the Northeasterner remains at the margins of the nation, despised and neglected. As we have seen, being a Northeasterner is not the same as having a bit of African blood. We have seen in the introduction to this thesis how the ideas of the sociologist Gilberto Freyre, expressed mainly in his 1933 book Casa grande e senzala, changed previously held notions of race in Brazil, where the non-white presence had been seen as negative. Freyre introduced a positive view of the mulatto, emphasizing the beneficial contributions of the African element to the Brazilian population. It seems that in A hora da estrela the figure of the Northeasterner, clearly associated with Da Cunha’s figure of the sertanejo remains attached to pre-Freyre racist views showing that the Northeasterner has not benefited from the process of rehabilitation that the mulatto underwent at the hands of Gilberto Freyre. In fact, there has been some controversy regarding the ethnic origins of the sertanejo. Da Cunha traced their origins back to the eighteenth century, when enslaved Indians mixed with mamelucos [mixed-race descendants of European and indigenous stock] from São Paulo who went to settle in the sertão [backlands]. He emphasizes the absence of African blood in those paulistas [people born in São Paulo]: they were ‘uma raça de curibocas puros, quase sem mescla de sangue africano’ (Da Cunha, 1983: 125) [a race of pure curibocas with almost no mixture of African blood (Da Cunha, 1957: 78)].3 These paulistas may have mixed with some African descendants, although, according to Da Cunha, the African contribution to the ethnic composition of the sertanejo was not very significant. Freyre, in Casa grande e senzala, tries to correct Da Cunha, by pointing out the importance of the African presence in the sertanejo. He quotes, for example, E. Roquette-Pinto, who argues that there is much evidence in Os sertões to prove that: aqueles homens que ‘antes de tudo eram fortes’ tinham farta gota de sangue africano. É só reler a descrição do poviléu de Canudos: ‘Todas as idades, todos os tipos, todas as cores [...] grenhas maltratadas de crioulas retintas; cabelos corredios de caboclas, trunfas escandalosas de africana [...]’. (quoted in Freyre, 1973: 84). [Those individuals who were ‘above all robust’ had a large drop of Negro blood in their veins. One has but to reread the description of the rabble of Canudos: ‘all ages, all types, all colours [...] Creole women with their dyed and battered mops of hair; the straight smooth hair of the caboclas; the out-landish topknots of the African women [...]’. (Freyre, 1946: 68)]

Freyre’s argument is aimed at including Da Cunha’s sertanejo within the ethnic group of the Brazilian mestizo who is a product of the mixture of three ethnic groups, the Portuguese, the indigenous and the African:

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Muito do que Euclides exaltou como valor da raça indígena, ou da sub-raça formada pela união do branco com o índio, são virtudes provindas antes da mistura das três raças que da do índio com o branco; ou tanto do negro quanto do índio ou do português. (Freyre, 1973: 45) [Much of what Euclides extols as the strength of the indigenous race, or subrace formed by the union of the white with the Indian, is due to virtues coming from an admixture of the three races, and not from that of Indian and white alone; or in any event, as much of it is due to the Negro as to the Indian or the Portuguese. (Freyre, 1946: 68)]

However, Lispector’s novel suggests that the figure of the Northeasterner — and more specifically of the sertanejo, conserves a distinct ethnic make-up. The contrast between Macabéa, clearly described as Northeastern and the carioca (born in the city of Rio de Janeiro) Glória, who is able to transform her Africanness into a positive attribute of sensuality, is a way of marking this ethnic distinction. The point to note here is not the importance of the ethnic difference in itself, but the fact that this ethnic difference is replete with negative meanings, as we have seen. Other important elements are social and cultural location, and migration. Being cosmopolitan (from Rio), being carioca seems to grant social status. This is what one can deduce from the following description of Olímpico’s views on Glória: além de ter uma grande vantagem que o nordestino não podia desprezar. É que Glória lhe dissera, quando lhe fora apresentada por Macabéa: ‘sou carioca da gema!’ [...] O fato de ser carioca tornava-a pertencente ao ambicionado clã do sul do país. (Lispector, 1999b: 59) [She also had another advantage that the man from the Northeast could not ignore. Glória had said to him, when Macabéa introduced them, ‘I am a real carioca right from the egg!’ [...] The fact that she was carioca made her belong to the desired elite of the south of the country.]

This passage shows the cultural significance of place, and the importance this has in the psyche of the migrant. The ethnic marking of the Northeasterner is linked to economic and social positioning, and to population movement. Despite Freyre’s attempt to dismiss the importance of ethnic marking, it seems that social and economic history since the 1930s has not allowed it to lose its relevance. With the modernizing government policies of the 50s, 60s and 70s and the impulse given to industrialization, large masses of people migrated from the impoverished Northeast to look for work in the metropolises of the South, particularly São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro and Belo Horizonte. A fourth element, place, articulates with ethnicity, gender and class to establish the individual’s position in society. To be a Northeasterner was to carry the stigma of poor origins: whatever the Northeasterner’s ethnic makeup, he or she, despite (or because of ) their relocation to Rio, risked being forever marked by his or her place of birth. Macabéa’s ‘yellowish’, ‘dirty’ colour, regardless of her ethnic origins, is the mark of her regional origins. For those coming from the Northeast, the chance of ‘passing’, of crossing a social boundary is virtually nil. The visibility of this social marking, grounding the ethnic and cultural identity in the physical body in an essentializing move typical of racist thinking, is almost impossible to ignore. This is how the narrator starts


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his description of Olímpico: ‘Quanto ao paraibano, na certa devo ter-lhe foto­ grafado mentalmente a cara — e quando se presta atenção espontânea e virgem de imposições, quando se presta atenção a cara diz quase tudo’ (Lispector, 1999b: 57) [Regarding the man from Paraíba, I must certainly have taken a mental photograph of his face — because when one pays attention, without any preconception, then the face will tell you almost everything]. Here, the notion of an ‘attention’ that is ‘spontaneous’ and ‘free of impositions’ becomes highly ironic: the narrator clearly sees Olímpico through a racist frame of mind. One should note that the narrator in this novel is highly visible: readers are given his name, surname and his social position. Often one can also detect his stereotyped ideas, mainly in regard to poor people. The relationship between protagonist and narrator is one of the main sources of dramatic tension in this novel. This tension springs from the difficulties, if not impossibility, of representing the Other. The narrator often expresses his aim of being objective and telling the truth without getting emotionally involved with his intended subject matter. Through this claimed objectivity, the narrator is trying to tell the story of a woman, Macabéa, who is his social and cultural Other. Social oppression lies at the centre of the narrative: a middle-class narrator tries to tell the story of a woman who is almost a nobody, who barely has an existence of her own. The narrative is motivated by a sense of guilt and a need to cross the social divide that separates the narrator from the woman he tries to depict. A constant paradox runs through the narrative: despite the narrator’s intention of ‘narrating the Other’, of representing the life of these who cannot represent themselves, the act of narration, the difficulties encountered in the process of composition are made extremely explicit. Mimesis is impossible because the narrator is too visible. The choice of a male narrator is motivated by a need to avoid sentimentality, something taken to be typically feminine: ‘o que escrevo um outro escreveria. Um outro escritor, sim, mas teria que ser homem porque escritora mulher pode lacrimejar piegas’ (Lispector, 1999b: 14) [What I write, any other writer could write. Yes, another writer, but it would have to be a man because a woman writer could be sentimental and cry]; ‘apaixonei-me subitamente por fatos sem literatura — fatos são pedras duras’ (Lispector, 1999b: 16) [I suddenly fell in love with facts without literature — facts are hard rocks]. This intention of neutrality, however, is broken all the time. Despite the narrator’s efforts not to write literature but merely record facts, his literary intentions and narrative strategies are all too visible to be ignored. For example, the narrator describes the lengths he has to go to in order to identify with this Northeastern girl despite the social and cultural distance separating them: Agora não é confortável: para falar da moça tenho que não fazer a barba durante dias e adquirir olheiras escuras por dormir pouco, só cochilar de pura exaustão, sou um trabalhador manual. Além de vestir-me com roupa velha rasgada. Tudo isso para me pôr no nível da nordestina. (Lispector, 1999b: 19) [Now it is not comfortable; to talk about this girl I would need to stop shaving for days and get circles around my eyes for lack of sleep, cat-napping out of exhaustion, exactly like a manual worker: I’d need to be wearing old, worn-

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out clothes. All of that, just to put myself in the same position as the girl from the Northeast.]

This paradox, the intrinsic impossibility of this desire to represent, to ‘narrate the Other’, is what drives the narrative: ‘(Quando penso que eu podia ter nascido ela — e por que não? — estremeço. E parece-me covarde fuga de eu não ser, sinto culpa como disse num dos títulos.)’ (Lispector, 1999b: 38) [(When I think that I could have been born in her place I shiver — and why not? And I feel that I am a coward for not being her, I feel guilty, as I declared in one of the alternative titles to this book.)]. ‘Mas por que estou me sentindo culpado? E procurando aliviar-me do peso de nada ter feito de concreto em benefício da moça?’ (Lispector, 1999b: 23) [But why am I feeling guilty? And why am I trying to get rid of the burden of not having done anything substantial to help this girl?]. The reader is explicitly made to feel involved in this network of guilt, social silence and social responsibility: ‘Se o leitor possui alguma riqueza e vida bem acomodada, sairá de si para ver como é às vezes o outro. Se é pobre, não estará me lendo porque ler-me é supérf luo. Faço aqui o papel de vossa válvula de escape e da vida massacrante da média burguesia’ (Lispector, 1999b: 30) [If the reader is well-off and lives a comfortable life, it will be necessary to escape from his or her skin in order to experience how the life of the other can sometimes be. If the reader is poor, he would not be reading this, because such literature is superf luous. Here I play the role here of an escape valve from the crushing life of the lower middle classes]; ‘se houver algum leitor para essa história quero que ele se embeba da jovem assim como um pano de chão encharcado. A moça é uma verdade da qual eu não queria saber. Não sei a quem acusar mas deve haver um réu’ (Lispector, 1999b: 39) [If anyone should choose to read this story I want him to become taken up with this girl, just as a f loor-cloth soaks up spilled water. The girl is a piece of truth I did not want to know about. I don’t know who to accuse, but there must be a defendant]. The differences between the narrator and Macabéa are evident. For example, the narrator knows several languages: ‘aprendi inglês e francês de ouvido’ (Lispector, 1999b: 18) [I have learned English and French by ear], while Macabéa doesn’t think that there could be other languages than ‘Brazilian’: ‘Nunca lhe ocorrera a existência de outra língua e pensava que no Brasil se falava brasileiro’ (Lispector, 1999b: 51) [It never occurred to her that there could be another language, and she thought that in Brazil people spoke Brazilian]. Macabéa is obviously very poor while the narrator drinks white wine and seems to be in a position of some financial comfort: ‘sou um homem que tem mais dinheiro do que os que passam fome, o que faz de mim de algum modo um desonesto’ (Lispector, 1999b: 18) [I am a man with more money than those people who do not have enough to eat, and that makes me somehow dishonest]. The narrator tries to overcome these differences and transform himself into the character that he is trying to create. This is the main objective of his narrative: ‘A ação desta história terá como resultado minha transfiguração em outrem e minha materialização enfim em objeto’ (Lispector, 1999b: 20) [The action in the story will result in my changing into someone else and finally materializing as an object], ‘não suporto mais a rotina de me ser [...] E agora só quereria ter o que eu tivesse sido e


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não fui’ (Lispector, 1999b: 21) [I cannot stand the routine of being myself anymore [...] All I would want now is to have what I could have been, but not what in reality I have been]. One could say that the narrator, here, attempts something similar to what Martim tries to do in the novel A maçã no escuro, discussed in the previous chapter: to create a new self for himself through his experience of exclusion. The narrator’s attempt to integrate Macabéa into a narrative is also part of the process of creating a new self for himself. Here, however, the process consists of building a belonging for the excluded Other, rather than stepping out of society. Like Martim, the narrator will not succeed in his attempt. The narrator’s attempts to become the Other are too explicit and are in reality impossible to achieve. As Marta Peixoto comments: ‘The grid through which Macabéa is written, itself fictional, of course, remains firmly in the foreground’ (Peixoto, 1994: 91). Peixoto notes the arrogance of such an aim: ‘the outrageous presumption that writing the other, especially the oppressed other, implies’ (Peixoto, 1994: 92). However, at certain moments, the narrator seems to believe that this work of representing the Other is possible: ‘Será que o meu ofício doloroso é o de adivinhar na carne a verdade que ninguém quer enxergar? Se sei tudo de Macabéa é que já peguei uma vez de relance o olhar de uma nordestina amarelada. Esse relance me deu ela de corpo inteiro. Quanto ao paraibano, na certa devo terlhe fotografado mentalmente a cara’ (Lispector, 1999b: 57) [Could it be that my painful job is to know in my bones the truth that nobody else wants to admit? If I know everything it’s because I once caught a glimpse in the eyes of a yellowish girl from the Northeast. That glimpse revealed her; her whole body. Regarding the fellow from Paraíba, I must for sure have mentally photographed his face]. As Peixoto says, the narrator oscillates between moments of tenderness towards Macabéa and moments of violence: ‘contradictory forces of exaltation and abasement’ (Peixoto, 1994: 95). On occasions, the narrator betrays his intention of representing the social Other by adopting violent class-marked language towards Macabéa: ‘Ela quis mais porque é mesmo uma verdade que quando se dá a mão, essa gentinha quer todo o resto, o zé-povinho sonha com fome de tudo’ (Lispector, 1999; 35) [She wanted more, because it is true that when we extend a hand to one of these scoundrels they want everything; these wretched people are hungry for absolutely everything]. One could say that there is a contradiction at the basis of this narrative: the character of Macabéa is created out of the attempt to overcome social differences, to tell a story that is impossible to tell (as foregrounded by the visibility of the ‘narrative grid’, to cite Peixoto’s phrase). We have seen that Olímpico associates Macabéa’s name with a skin disease. The name is, in fact, an explicit reference to the Jewish tribe of the Maccabees, the only direct reference to Jewishness in Lispector’s work. The critic Nelson Vieira has emphasized the importance of Lispector’s Jewishness, suggesting that her position as a Jew allowed her to occupy a position of alterity in Brazilian society (Vieira, 1995: 22–23). In this respect he drew similarities between Brazilian Jews and Afro-Brazilians as both being victims of racial prejudice. Referring to the existence of covert prejudice against Jews in Brazil, he adds:

Racism and the Performance of Whiteness


In part, this is similar to Brazil’s surface treatment of Afro-Brazilians: for the sake of appearances, behaviour toward blacks appears to be the same as it is towards other individuals. Nevertheless, lurking behind the surface of social conventions and amenities may be an attitude that can inspire apprehension, distance and even overt prejudice. (Vieira, 1995: 11)

Although it seems likely that Lispector’s position as an Other in Brazilian society did enable her to adopt a critical perspective on this society, and, possibly, to avoid the cultural blind spots in relation to race, I prefer to explore the connections between her protagonist’s name and the biblical struggles of the Maccabees from the point of view of a story of cultural resistance. Other critics have noted this connection. I have already mentioned Macabéa’s cultural and physical resistance when discussing the connections between this novel and Da Cunha’s Os sertões. As we will see, the history contained in the character’s name reinforces this aspect. The Maccabees were a group of Jews who, during the period 175–134 BC, resisted the campaign of the Greek King Antiochus Epiphanes to hellenize the Jews. This king prohibited many Jewish practices, forcing the pagan deities upon the Jews. The Maccabees resisted this change, remaining monotheists. Vieira notes that ‘the Maccabees, whose name means “hammer-headed”, represent the will of those who never lose their faith’ (Vieira, 1995: 142). Vieira also draws a connection between this name and the common way of referring to Brazilian Northeasterners as ‘hammer-headed’: ‘Lispector makes reference to the passive steadfastness of Macabéa as well as an indirect comedic reference to cabeça chata [f lathead], the regional nickname of Brazilian Northeasterners — both clear echoes of the ancient texts’ (Vieira, 1995: 142). Vieira describes Macabéa’s resistance as unheroic: In this novella, Lispector deconstructs the Jewish archetypes of the martyr and the oppressed, which she treats in the unheroic figure of Macabéa. Yet she never diminishes the reader’s sympathy for the oppressed character. Rather, she diminishes the character’s heroic idealization or glorification, which is traditionally inf lated through hyperbole or action. Macabéa’s heroism emerges as a form of resistance: she is passive, but she manifests no defense in her passiveness. She simply endures and withstands. (Vieira, 1995: 141)

This unheroic form of resistance is represented by the image of capim (wild grass, or weeds), as Berta Waldman has remarked: Apesar de moldada ao fracasso desde sua apresentação, Macabéa é, como os macabeus, vítima da opressão dos poderosos e, como eles, ela resiste. Sua resistência é sugerida desde o início, quando o narrador a identifica ao capim. (Waldman, 1998: 97) [In spite of being set for failure since her first appearance, Macabéa is, like the Maccabees, the victim of oppression by those in power and, like them, she resists. Her resistance is suggested from the start, when the narrator associates her with capim grass.]

The narrator often compares her with this common variety of wild, tough vegetation: ‘Ela era subterrânea e nunca tinha tido f loração. Minto: ela era capim’


Racism and the Performance of Whiteness

(Lispector, 1999b: 31) [She had her being underground and had never sprouted a single f lower. No, I am wrong: she was more like the grass]. Macabéa cannot associate herself with anything big and grand; she is made out of basic, humble material: Para tal exígua criatura chamada Macabéa a grande natureza se dava apenas em forma de capim de sarjeta — se lhe fosse dado o mar grosso ou picos altos de montanhas, sua alma, [...] se alucinaria e explodir-se-lhe-ia o organismo, [...] como se desmonta um manequim de cera. (Lispector, 1999b: 80) [For such a inconspicuous creature named Macabéa, the exuberance of nature only came under the form of grass growing around the gutter — if it were to manifest itself as a heavy sea or high mountain peaks, then her soul would go wild and her whole organism would explode, [...] just like a wax puppet disintegrates.]

Waldman explains clearly what the image of capim represents: Sendo o extrato mais resistente da vegetação, é o capim que, na sucessão ecológica, prepara o solo para o desenvolvimento dos demais extratos vegetais. É, portanto, na sua persistência, na determinação em sobreviver, que Macabéa se perfila ao lado dos heróis judeus, embora o capim também dê, enquanto parâmetro de comparação, a medida exígua e vã da personagem. (Waldman, 1998: 97) [As the hardiest of plants, it is capim that, during the ecological process, prepares the soil for the growth of other forms of plant life. It is, therefore, in her persistence, in her determination to survive, that Macabéa is portrayed alongside the Jewish heroes, even though, as a term of comparison, capim also suggests the character’s insignificant and futile dimension.]

The imagery suggests resistance but also a lowly position in society. Like the capim, Macabéa’s origins are lost in a distant and undefined past: Esqueci de dizer que era realmente de se espantar que para corpo quase murcho de Macabéa tão vasto fosse o seu sopro de vida quase ilimitado e tão rico como o de uma donzela grávida, engravidada por si mesma, por partenogênese: tinha sonhos esquizóides nos quais apareciam animais antidiluvianos como se ela tivesse vivido em épocas as mais remotas desta terra sangrenta. (Lispector, 1999b: 60) [I forgot to say how really astonishing it was that Macabéa’s almost shrivelled body nevertheless had a breath of life almost as unlimited and as rich as the body of a pregnant virgin, a virgin self-impregnated through parthenogenesis: she had schizoid dreams in which antediluvian animals appeared, as if she had lived in some remote age of this bleeding earth.]

Macabéa’s past is lost in pre-history and her life has unlimited boundaries. There is an underlying strength in the character that cannot be ignored. Another important point regarding Macabéa’s name, raised by Waldman, is the fact that she is ignorant of the historical origins of her name: ‘não sei o que está dentro do meu nome’ (Lispector, 1999b: 56) [I don’t know what’s inside my name]. Despite this, she associates her name with resistance, with having survived the difficult first year of life in the harsh Northeast of Brazil:

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eu também acho esquisito, mas minha mãe botou ele por promessa a Nossa Senhora da Boa Morte se eu vingasse, até um ano de idade eu não era chamada porque não tinha nome, eu preferia continuar a nunca ser chamada em vez de ter um nome que ninguém tem mas parece que deu certo. [...] Pois como o senhor vê eu vinguei... pois é.... (Lispector, 1999b: 43) [I also find it weird, but my mother gave me this name to honour a promise she made to Our Lady of Good Death if I survived. For one year nobody called me anything because I had no name. I’d rather have continued to have no name at all instead of a name that nobody else has, but it seems it worked [...] Because, as you can see, I survived... so there we are...]

This disconnection from the biblical origins of her name puts Macabéa in a kind of timeless place; a place with no history, no direction, no sense of belonging: Pode-se observar que a ignorância em relação à origem bíblica de seu nome e a impossibilidade de alcançar esse conhecimento deslocam a protagonista para um lugar à deriva, pois a matriz do nome guarda a informação inacessível de uma pertença. Como uma forma descolada do fundo, a protagonista não tem país, não tem passado, salvo uma vaga tia que a criou a pancadas e de quem pouco se sabe, não tem uma história pessoal, fazendo eco, no romance, a uma ordem temporal inapreensível. (Waldman, 1998: 100) [One can see that her ignorance with respect to the biblical origin of her name and the impossibility of her achieving this knowledge set the protagonist adrift, since the source of her name holds inaccessible knowledge about a heritage. Like a shape detached from the background, the protagonist has no country, has no past, other than a vague aunt who brought her up by beating her and of whom little is known, she has no personal history, echoing, in the novel, an ungraspable temporal order.]

The time frame that Macabéa inhabits is one that has no past and no future: ‘Mas Macabéa de um modo geral não se preocupava com o próprio futuro: ter futuro era luxo’ (Lispector, 1999b: 58) [But Macabéa, in general, did not worry about her own future: having a future was a luxury]. She inhabits an eternal present in which she moves at random. This unrooted time-frame is well represented by Macabéa’s fondness for Rádio Relógio and its useless information; a time-frame composed of the empty counting of minutes, without any context: ‘Eu gosto tanto de ouvir os pingos dos minutos do tempo assim: tic-tac-tic-tac-tic-tac. A Rádio Relógio diz que dá a hora certa, cultura e anúncios. Que quer dizer cultura?’ (Lispector, 1999b: 50) [I love to hear the drops of minutes marking the time, just like that: tic-tac-tictac-tic-tac. Radio Relógio says it gives the correct time, culture and advertisements. What does culture mean?]. If one takes Stuart Hall’s comment that ‘culture depends on its participants interpreting meaningfully what is happening around them, and “making sense” of the world, in similar ways’ (Hall, 2000: 2), one could say that it is highly symptomatic that Macabéa does not know the meaning of the word ‘culture’; the point of the novel is precisely Macabéa’s disconnection from the world around her. Maybe it is this quality of not-belonging that allows Macabéa to be immune to Olímpico’s racist comments, as noted at the start of this chapter. There seems to be a connection between her resistance and her lack of defined position, her being adrift.


Racism and the Performance of Whiteness

This connection is suggested in the following passage, moments before her death: O que estava acontecendo era um surdo terremoto? Tinha-se aberto em fendas a terra de Alagoas. Fixava, só por fixar, o capim. Capim na grande Cidade do Rio de Janeiro. À toa. Quem sabe se Macabéa já teria alguma vez sentido que também ela era à-toa na cidade inconquistável. (Lispector, 1999b: 80–81) [Was that a silent earthquake? The earth of Alagoas has opened-up in cracks. The grass remained fixed, for the sake of being fixed. Grass in the big city of Rio de Janeiro. Quite random. Maybe Macabéa already felt that she existed randomly in a city that nobody could conquer.]

It is as if in her lack of direction, totally defeated by the big city, Macabéa finds her space, a way of inserting herself into the metropolis. She brings her own native state of Alagoas into Rio, where it will remain, fixed. There is a tension between the strong rooting of the capim and its random propagation, mirroring Macabéa’s position as ‘quite random’ (lacking direction, lacking purpose). This ambivalence marks Macabéa’s survival, and her death. As explained in the introduction to this book, my aim has been to examine the subjective crisis that many of Lispector’s characters seem to experience. Like Lucrécia, the protagonist of A cidade sitiada, who does not think for herself, Macabéa is described as being devoid of inner life. Unlike other characters, for example, G.H. or Virgínia, Macabéa does not seem to be interested in discovering who she is, or in creating a narrative for herself: ‘Só vagamente tomava conhecimento da espécie de ausência que tinha em si mesma’ (Lispector, 1999b: 24) [Only vaguely she realized the kind of absence she had inside herself ]; ‘É muito simples: a moça não tinha. Não tinha o quê? É apenas isso mesmo: Não tinha’ (Lispector, 1999b: 25) [It is very simple: the girl didn’t have. Didn’t have what? No, that’s right: she didn’t have]; ‘Essa moça não sabia que ela era o que era, assim como um cachorro não sabe que é cachorro. Daí não se sentir infeliz. A única coisa que queria era viver. Não sabia para quê, não se indagava’ (Lispector, 1999b: 27) [This girl didn’t know what she was, in the same way that a dog doesn’t know it is a dog. Therefore, she was not unhappy. The only thing she wanted was to live. She didn’t know why, she didn’t ask herself questions]. This lack of self awareness leaves Macabéa without a sense of direction, while at the same time it protects her from the hostile environment where she is located — this ambivalence is an important part of Macabéa’s particular kind of resistance. Despite the fact that Macabéa’s story is a story of absences and failures, the novel describes a trajectory and, ultimately, a very particular subjectivity. In the last pages, when the fortune-teller Madam Carlota tells Macabéa what is going to happen to her, she is finally given a future and some hope: ‘Macabéa nunca tinha tido coragem de ter esperança.’ (Lispector, 1999b: 76) [Macabéa has never dared to have hope]. Macabéa changes and realizes that she has been very unhappy: ‘Madama Carlota havia acertado tudo. Macabéa estava espantada. Só então vira que sua vida era uma miséria. Teve vontade de chorar ao ver o seu lado oposto, ela que, como eu disse, até então se julgava feliz’ (Lispector, 1999b: 79) [Madam Carlota has got everything right. Macabéa was astonished. Only then she realized her life had been miserable. She felt like crying when she saw her opposite side, she, who, as I said, had so far

Racism and the Performance of Whiteness


considered herself happy]. Her incipient future (it does not last more than a few minutes) is also associated with the image of the capim: ‘viu entre as pedras do esgoto o ralo capim de um verde da mais tenra esperança humana. Hoje, pensou, hoje é o primeiro dia de minha vida: nasci’ (Lispector, 1999b: 80) [She saw, amongst the stones of the sewers, the thin grass as green as the most tender human hope. Today, she thought, is the first day of my life: I was born]. As we have seen, it is only in the last minutes of her life that Macabéa starts to make sense of and give meaning to what has happened to her. She finally acquires a consciousness, and a measure of cultural status in the sense described above by Hall. Only now, when she realizes she has a past to reject and a future to wish for, Macabéa can understand how unhappy she has been. It is interesting to note that Toni Morrison’s novel Beloved is triggered by a process similar to what happens at the end of A hora da estrela. Morrison’s novel starts with Paul D. coming back and giving Sethe some hope for her future. By making Sethe realize how unhappy she has been Morrison creates the conditions for the ghost of the dead girl to come back. The whole novel develops from that point. Macabéa’s awareness, her consciousness of her inclusion in a cultural environment, precedes her own end. Her being born is almost simultaneous with her dying. This contrast is possibly a symptom of Lispector’s pessimism. It takes Morrison another two novels to unravel the hopes created by Beloved, the hopes of a decent future for African-Americans in the US, while Lispector takes a few paragraphs to deal with Macabéa’s new hope. Her last words ‘quanto ao futuro’ (as for the future) are described as a mixture of vomit and a star: ‘Nesta hora exata Macabéa sente um fundo enjôo de estômago e quase vomitou, queria vomitar o que não é corpo, vomitar algo luminoso. Estrela de mil pontas’ (Lispector, 1999b: 85) [At this exact moment Macabéa felt a deep sickness in her stomach and almost threw up, she wanted to throw up what was not of the body; something luminous. A star with a thousand points]. The last words ‘estrela de mil pontas’ indicate that Macabéa’s desire to become a film star, as expressed in the epigraph to this chapter and in the title of the novel itself, becomes reality through a perverse and revealing inversion. If, as we have seen, Martim’s exile proved to be impossible, Macabéa’s belonging has equally shown to face insuperable obstacles. The unexamined racism, from which Macabéa can remain protected as long as she is not part of society, prevails at the end. One could say that becoming conscious of her ‘not-quite whiteness’ brings her into direct confrontation with whiteness. The wealthy white German foreigner could be interpreted as an embodied apparition of whiteness which becomes visible and in direct opposition to Macabéa’s existence. Macabéa was able to co-exist with a non-examined (desirable, unreachable) whiteness, that of Marilyn Monroe. By becoming conscious of her not-quite whiteness Macabéa becomes aware of a situation of oppression: whiteness becomes a concrete, real obstacle, one that Macabéa cannot survive.


Racism and the Performance of Whiteness

Notes to Chapter 7 1. When explaining the concept of mimicry in the context of colonial textuality, Homi Bhabha refers to a kind of difference that is ‘almost the same but not quite’ and ‘almost the same but not white’. (Bhabha, 1994: 89) 2. Freyre provides a positive interpretation for the African elements in the ethnic composition of the Brazilian population. After this book, miscegenation, which was seen before as a way of avoiding the problems associated with blackness, started to be interpreted positively and associated with the ‘essence’ of being Brazilian. 3. ‘Curiboca’ is another term for the descendants of Indian and European parents.

CONCLUSION v Tenho certeza de que no berço a minha primeira vontade foi a de pertencer. [I am certain that right from the cradle my first desire was to belong. Clarice Lispector (1992: 148), quoted in Vieira, 1998: 33

My intention in this book has been to explore and explain the subjective crisis that many of Lispector’s characters undergo in her novels. In the introduction I suggested that this subjective crisis was connected to the subject’s need to construct a personal identity within the historical and ideological context of modern Brazil. I proposed that the unique and persistent subjective investigations that Lispector’s characters undertake do not isolate them from their national environment but, on the contrary, dramatize their intimate experience of the nation and their attempts to construct their subjectivities within it. Lispector’s deep commitment to construct a sense of belonging to the nation drew her to create fictional spaces that expose hidden aspects of her subjective experience of life in Brazil. Paradoxically, I have been able to appreciate how deep and intrinsic Lispector’s connection with Brazil was by reading her through the eyes of two writers who had no connection with the country whatsoever, but who were deeply concerned with an issue that remains, to a large extent, a blind spot in Brazilian culture: that of racial difference and racial inequality. In their attempts to belong, Lispector’s characters cannot avoid exposing unexamined notions of race that are continuously, if subliminally, operating in society. My reading of the work of Bessie Head and Toni Morrison made visible to me the racial issues embedded in Lispector’s novels. I started my investigation into the racial dimension of Lispector’s work by examining the function that black (and sometimes mulatto) characters have in her narratives. A pattern emerged from this exploration. Through studying her novels I have noticed that in each of them, in different ways and with different nuances, these black (and/or mulatto) characters play a similar function in relation to the plot: Lispector’s passing references to blackness serve to make unexamined whiteness visible. My proposition is that recognition of the subtext of unexamined whiteness in Lispector’s novels can help us understand the national context for the subjective crisis experienced by so many of their protagonists. Unexamined whiteness is, I suggest, the unspeakable dimension to the characters’ lives, recognition of which has to be stif led if their lives are to cohere. Their subjectivity cannot accommodate the examination of whiteness. When whiteness becomes visible, the subjective structure starts to collapse; and with it the characters’ sense of belonging collapses also. By crossing the threshold of the unspeakable, Lispector allows the reader to perceive and ref lect critically on a situation in which whiteness is seen as synonymous



with the normal. The subjective crisis which the characters experience springs out of their need to re-build and re-structure their subjectivity within a national context, so that they can belong. These crises are in fact strategies of survival. I have demonstrated that this constitutes the underlying, unexamined racial background against which the events enacted in Lispector’s narratives take place. The three main points that governed my analysis of Lispector’s work were the importance of performativity and its relations with race and the body, the need to belong to the nation and its consequences in the literary work and, finally, haunting as a process that reveals the presence of unexamined whiteness. Because these issues are not exclusive to Lispector’s work, nor to Brazil, this study might be useful in suggesting new ways into understanding similar issues in other authors from Brazil or from other countries. Head’s work highlighted for me the importance of performativity in the construction of subjectivities. Performativity as theorized by Judith Butler (1993) became a crucial element for my understanding of racial relations in Brazil. According to this non-essentialist view on subjectivity, in order to become a subject one has constantly to perform a set of norms related to vectors of power such as class, gender, race and nationality. One never permanently holds a specific subjective position; one needs regularly to perform it. In this sense, subjectivity is created at the point of convergence, or articulation, of vectors of power. This requires the notions of race, gender, nationality and class to be seen as articulating with each other rather than being mutually exclusive. This articulation makes context extremely relevant, since each of them — race or gender or class or nationality — may take a particular form and articulate differently in each specific configuration. More importantly, it is not enough to have white skin; one needs to perform whiteness in order to be accepted as white. The performance of whiteness is, like everything else, part of this articulation of vectors of power. Discussing Bessie Head’s novel A Question of Power we saw how performativity was important in relation to whiteness and how it was intrinsic to Bessie Head’s experience of exclusion. Despite having a white skin, Bessie Head’s mother needed to perform whiteness (in the specific condition of being a woman in South Africa during apartheid) in order to be accepted as white. Her relationship with a black man interrupts this performativity, throwing her into a position of exclusion, one that her daughter will also be condemned to. In this chapter we also saw how the concept of performativity explains the experience of passing, presenting race as a nuanced notion; which varies depending on how the body is performed. The notion of performativity was particularly instrumental in Chapter 4, for the discussion of Lispector’s novel O lustre. It became clear that the protagonist needed to perform whiteness in order to belong to the urban environment. This process has to be constantly repeated, and occasionally — but only for short periods — it would be successful. Because the protagonist could not secure a permanent success in performing a body that matters, she was kept always at the edge, on the brink of not belonging. Performativity here also explained how different vectors of power, such as race, gender and class, work together, reinforcing each other. This, in turn, presented these vectors of powers as combining forces, instead of viewing them as forces running separately, in parallel.



Performativity was also crucial in Chapter 5, for the understanding of A cidade sitiada. We saw how Lucrécia was effective in performing a body as part of the modernizing suburbs, to the point of becoming a ‘statue of S. Geraldo’, representing the modernizing suburbs themselves. In Chapter 6, the reading of A maçã no escuro, showed how, differently from the women’s body, Martim’s male body could do without performing; it always passed, it always mattered; being a man was enough to empower him. Performativity was also present in the reading of A hora da estrela. It explained why some bodies, such as those of Glória and Olímpico, were able to become bodies that matter, while Macabéa, because of her inability to perform whiteness, was always in a position of exclusion. The second important point for this analysis was the need to belong to the nation. This provided me crucial insights inside the problem of the protagonist’s subjective crisis in Lispector’s works. In the Introduction, we saw how critics overlooked the connections between Lispector’s novels and the cultural environment of the nation, despite the author’s explicit efforts to belong. This limited their understanding to detecting the presence of the unspeakable, without going any further. Critics had always placed Lispector outside or beyond the nation, while, as I have shown, her personal need to belong was actually part of what caused the subjective crisis we were trying to explain. Chapter 1, on the work of Bessie Head, has highlighted how established rules on ethnicity can keep someone in a position of exclusion. Overcoming a situation of non-belonging is crucial in the difficult and long process of healing we can observe in A Question of Power. In Head’s case, however, the need to belong does not relate to the nation, but to a social community in a transnational environment. As we have seen, differently from Toni Morrison and Lispector, Head believes that one can do without the nation, trusting the existence of a transnational reality which can undo the prevalence of the nation state. The case of Toni Morrison, in Chapter 2, was different. The effort to integrate the traumas of slavery into a national history triggered her reassessing of the national past and the role of the black population in it. The need to belong to the nation was at the background of all her narratives, most clearly presented in Beloved. Like Morrison, Lispector did not undervalue the importance of belonging to the nation in her work. In A paixão segundo G.H., as we have seen in Chapter 3, a situation of non-belonging is part of what triggers the episode of haunting. Janair’s drawing, which deeply disturbs the protagonist, is an attempt of correcting this position of non-belonging. Janair’s position of exclusion, as an enemy and as a foreigner, is at the core of the narrative. Integrating Janair into the nation would require a deep revaluation of one’s personal and national identity. In the cases of the two novels analysed in the subsequent chapters (O lustre, in Chapter 4, and A cidade sitiada, in Chapter 5) the issue of belonging to the nation is translated in terms of being part of a process of modernization and urbanization. I discussed how modernization was crucial for Brazil during the period portrayed in these novels. We have seen in this context how the construction of a body that could matter, that could belong to the urban environment, is crucial for Virgínia, the protagonist of O lustre; belonging to the city is her constant preoccupation, her



own way of expressing her need to belong to a modern Brazil. The case of Lucrécia, the protagonist of A cidade sitiada is slightly different. She naturally belongs to the urbanizing environment, the suburbs of São Geraldo that she so efficiently represents. By creating this condition of natural belonging to an urbanizing space Lispector’s allows us to have critical insights on how this urbanization operated in terms of its subjective representation. In both these novels, belonging to the city means belonging to the modern nation. And this is an imperative in the mind of both protagonists. In the case of A maçã no escuro, discussed in Chapter 6, the protagonist Martim seems to choose a position of voluntary exclusion from the national environment. We have seen, however, that this exclusion is in fact illusory. The protagonist continues to follow internalized codes of masculinity and gender (as embedded in the national), showing that his situation of belonging was not a choice, but a necessity, a premise he could not walk away from. In A hora da estrela, discussed in Chapter 7, Macabéa’s exclusion is explicit in her body, in the colour of her skin and her inability to perform a body that matters. In this chapter we have seen some of the racialized parameters that allow some bodies to materialize and belong to the nation while others, such as Macabéa’s, have to remain excluded. The third important notion that informed my reading of Lispector’s texts was the notion of haunting and its vital role in revealing the presence of unexamined whiteness. The analysis of Morrison’s novel Beloved, in Chapter 2, fully introduced the notion of haunting, with all its important consequences in terms of cultural memory. In Chapter 3, discussing Lispector’s novel A paixão segundo G.H., I comment on how that haunting breaches the borders of the unspeakable and uncovers the presence of unexamined whiteness, becoming instrumental for our understanding of G.H.’s subjective crisis. In the other works by Lispector haunting was not as relevant as in A paixão segundo G.H.. However, the presence of unexamined whiteness (revealed through haunting) became crucial for my reading of all the other of Lispector’s novels. In O lustre, Virgínia was subjected to the unconscious and unexamined pressures of performing a white body. In A cidade sitiada, through its commodified objects and its symbolic visual images, we could detect the imposing presence of unexamined whiteness as an ideal inside Lucrécia’s psyche. In A maçã no escuro we saw how Martim held on to an unexamined code of whiteness seriously compromising his intention to leave the nation behind. In A hora da estrela the unexamined presence of whiteness was directly connected to Macabéa’s exclusion and the way she was perceived. These were all powerful hauntings guiding the actions of the characters. Another key point to have emerged from my analysis of Lispector’s novels was their dramatization of what Jacqueline Rose (1998) has called the impossibility of ‘walking away from the state’, since the state is always already within, internalized in one’s personal identity. The unspeakable is related to the state: it is part of the social environment, and yet it is internalized — often unconsciously — in the psyche. I have argued that, in Lispector’s work, it is through unconscious, unexamined racialized constructions of the national that the state is always present



in the psyche. I conclude, on the basis of my reading of her novels, that a disregard for the articulation of race, class, gender and nationality in the performing of personal identities allows the myth of racial democracy to coexist with continued racism. In pointing to the presence of a critical treatment of the concept of race in Lispector’s work, I have raised political dimensions to her texts that have previously gone unnoticed. The deep subjective explorations undertaken by her characters have led to her being seen as a ‘hermetic’ writer (Gotlib, 1995: 457). I hope to have shown that, rather than being caused by an obsessive tendency to introversion and isolation, these instances of intense self-enquiry ref lect the need to constantly re-build articulations of belonging inside a perceived threatening national context.


Primary texts Head, Bessie (1974). A Question of Power (London: Heinemann) —— (1977). The Collector of Treasures and other Botswana Village Tales (London: Heinemann) —— (1988). A Gesture of Belonging: Letters from Bessie Head, ed. by Randolph Vigne (London: Heinemann) —— (1990). A Woman Alone (London: Heinemann) Morrison, Toni (1997). [1987] Beloved (London: Vintage) —— (1989). ‘Unspeakable Things Unspoken: The Afro-American Presence in American Literature’, Michigan Quarterly Review, 28: 1–34 —— (1992). Jazz (London: Picador) —— (1993). Playing in the Dark: Whiteness and the Literary Imagination (London: Picador) —— (1999). Paradise (London: Vintage) Lispector, Clarice (1999a). [1946] O lustre (Rio de Janeiro: Rocco) —— (1998a). [1949] A cidade sitiada (Rio de Janeiro: Rocco) —— (1998b). [1960] Laços de família (Rio de Janeiro: Rocco) —— (1998c). [1961] A maçã no escuro (Rio de Janeiro: Rocco) —— (1998d). [1964] A paixão segundo G.H (Rio de Janeiro: Rocco) —— (1999b). [1977] A hora da estrela (Rio de Janeiro: Rocco)

Secondary texts Alencar, José de (1948). Iracema (lenda do Ceará) (Rio de Janeiro: Imprensa Nacional) Almeida, Sandra Regina Goulart (1999). ‘The Madness of Lispector’s Writing’, in Brazilian Feminisms, ed. by Solange Ribeiro de Oliveira and Judith Still (Nottingham: University of Nottingham Press), 101–32 Anderson, Benedict (1999). Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism, 2nd edn (London: Verso) Benjamin, Walter (1989). Charles Baudelaire: A Lyric Poet in the Era of High Capitalism (London: Verso) —— (1992). Illuminations (London: Fontana Press) Bhabha, Homi (1994). The Location of Culture (New York: Routledge) Bosi, Alfredo (1970). História concisa da literatura brasileira (São Paulo: Cultrix) Brison, Susan J. (1999). ‘Trauma Narratives and the Remaking of the Self ’, in Acts of Memory: Cultural Recall in the Present, ed. by Mieke Bal, Jonathan Crewe and Leo Spitzer (Hanover, NH: Dartmouth College), 39–54 Brown, Wendy (1995). States of Injury: Power and Freedom in Late Modernity (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press) Butler, Judith (1993). Bodies that Matter: On the Discursive Limits of ‘Sex’ (New York: Routledge) —— (1997). The Psychic Life of Power: Theories in Subjection (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press)



Candido, Antonio (1970). Vários escritos (São Paulo: Duas Cidades) Carneiro, Maria Luiza Tucci (1988). O anti semitismo na era Vargas (1930–45) (São Paulo: Brasiliense) Carrera, Elena (1999). ‘The Reception of Clarice Lispector via Hélène Cixous: Reading from the Whale’s Belly’, in Brazilian Feminisms, ed. by Solange Ribeiro de Oliveira and Judith Still (Nottingham: University of Nottingham Press), 85–100 Carter, Erica, James Donald, and Judith Squires (eds) (1993). ‘Introduction’, in Space and Place: Theories of Identity and Location (London: Lawrence & Wishart), pp. vii–xv Chambers, Ross (1997). ‘The Unexamined’, in Whiteness: A Critical Reader, ed. by Mike Hill (New York: New York University Press), 187–203 Cixous, Hélène (1987). ‘Extrème fidelité’, in Clarice Lispector (1925–1977), special issue of Travessia: Revista de Literatura Brasileira, 14: 11–45 —— (1989). L’Heure de Clarice Lispector (Paris: des femmes) —— (1983). ‘The Laugh of the Medusa’, in The Signs Reader: Women, Gender and Scholarship, ed. by Elizabeth Abel and Emily Abel (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press), 279–97 —— (1991). ‘Coming to Writing’, in ‘Coming to Writing’ and Other Essays, ed. by Deborah Jenson (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press), 1–58 —— (1991). ‘Clarice Lispector: The Approach; Letting Oneself (be) Read (by) Clarice Lispector’s The Passion According to G.H.’, in ‘Coming to Writing’ and Other Essays, ed. by Deborah Jenson (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press), 60–77 Curi, Simone (2001). A escritura nômade em Clarice Lispector (Chapecó: Argos) Da Cunha, Euclides (1983). Os sertões, 2 vols (Porto: Lello & Irmãos) Darian-Smith, Kate, Liz Gunner, and Sarah Nuthall (eds) (1996). ‘Introduction’, in Text, Theory, Space: Land, Literature and History in South Africa and Australia (London: Routledge), 1–20 Da Silva, Denise Ferreira (2002). ‘Raça e nação na construção do espaço global moderno’, Ethnos Brasil: 39–48 Dávila, Jerry (2003). Diploma of Whiteness: Race and Social Policy in Brazil, 1917–1945 (Durham, NC: Duke University Press) De Oliveira, Solange Ribeiro (1985). A barata e a crisálida: o romance de Clarice Lispector (Rio de Janeiro: José Olympio) —— (1987). ‘O seco e o molhado: a transubstanciação do regional no romance de Clarice Lispector’, in Travessia, 14: 96–116 De Sá, Olga (1979). A escritura de Clarice Lispector (Petrópolis: Vozes) De Sousa, Carlos Mendes (2000). Clarice Lispector: figuras da escrita (Braga: Universidade do Minho) Douglas, Mary (2002). Purity and Danger: An Analysis of Concept of Pollution and Taboo (London: Routledge) Dyer, Richard (1997). White (New York: Routledge) Fanon, Franz (1986). Black Skin, White Masks (London: Pluto Press) Ferreira, Teresa Cristina Montero (1999). Eu sou uma pergunta: uma biografia de Clarice Lispector (Rio de Janeiro: Rocco) Fitzgerald, Jennifer (1988). ‘Self hood and Community: Psychoanalysis and Discourse in Beloved’, in Toni Morrison, ed. by Linden Peach (New York: St Martin’s Press), 110–27 Foucault, Michel (1990). The History of Sexuality: An Introduction, vol. I (New York: Vintage) Frankenberg, Ruth (1993). White Women, Race Matters: The Social Construction of Whiteness (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press) Freyre, Gilberto (1973). Casa grande e senzala (Rio de Janeiro: José Olympio) Frisby, David (1985). Fragments of Modernity: Theories of Modernity in the Work of Simmel, Kracauer and Benjamin (Cambridge: Polity Press)



Gilroy, Paul (1999). The Black Atlantic: Modernity and Double Consciousness (London: Verso) —— (2000). Against Race: Imagining Political Culture Beyond the Color Line (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press) Ginsberg, Elaine (1996). ‘Introduction: The Politics of Passing’, in Passing and the Fictions of Identity, ed. by Elaine Ginsberg (Durham, NC: Duke University Press), 1–18 Gledson, John (1994). ‘Brazil: Culture and Identity’, in Brazil: Culture and Identity (Liverpool: University of Liverpool), 1–33 Gordon, Avery F. (1997). Ghostly Matters: Haunting and the Sociological Imagination (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press) Gotlib, Nádia Battella (1995). Clarice: uma vida que se conta (São Paulo: Ática) Guimarães, Antonio Sérgio Alfredo (2000). ‘Apresentação’, in Tirando a máscara: ensaios sobre o racismo no Brasil, ed. by Antonio Sérgio Alfredo Guimarães and Lynn Huntley (São Paulo: Paz e Terra), 17–30 —— (2002). Classes, raças e democracia (São Paulo: Editora 34) Hall, Stuart (2000). ‘Introduction’, in Representation: Cultural Representations and Signifying Practices, ed. by Stuart Hall (London: Sage), 1–11 Henderson, Mae G. (1999). ‘Remembering the Body as Historical Text’, in Toni Morrison’s ‘Beloved’: A Casebook, ed. by William L. Andrews and Nellie Y. McKay (New York: Oxford University Press), 79–106 Innes, Lyn, and Caroline Rooney (1997). ‘African Writing and Gender’, in Writing and Africa, ed. by Mpalive-Hangson Msiska (London: Longman), 193–215 Jacobson, Matthew Frye (1998). Whiteness of a Different Color: European Immigrants and the Alchemy of Race (London: Harvard University Press) Jameson, Fredric (1986). ‘Third-World Literature in the Era of Multinational Capitalism’, Social Text, 15: 65–88 Kristeva, Julia (1982). Powers of Horror: An Essay on Abjection, trans. by Leon S. Roudiez (New York: Columbia University Press) —— (1991). Strangers to Ourselves, trans. by Leon S. Roudiez (New York: Columbia University Press) Larsen, Neil (2001). Determination: Essays on Theory, Narrative and Nation in the Americas (London: Verso) Lewis, Desiree (1992). ‘Myths of Motherhood and Power: The Construction of ‘Black Woman’ in Literature’, English in Africa, 19.1: 35–51 —— (1996). ‘The Cardinals and Bessie Head’s Allegories of Self ’, World Literature Today, 70.1: 73–77 Lisboa, Maria Manuel (1996). ‘No Mother’s Daughter or the Importance of Being Ernesto: Identity and Separation in Maria Judite de Carvalho’, Portuguese Studies, 12: 106–32 Loomba, Ania (1998). Colonialism/Postcolonialism (London: Routledge) Lowe, Elizabeth (1993). ‘A Cidade Sitiada’, in Clarice Lispector: A Bio-Bibliography, ed. by Diane E. Marting (Wesport, CT: Greenwood Press), 25–27 Lucas, Fábio (1976). ‘Clarice Lispector e o impasse na narrativa contemporânea’, in Poesia e prosa no Brasil: Clarice Lispector, Tomás Antonio Gonzaga, Machado de Assis e Murilo Mendes (Belo Horizonte: Interlivros), 13–29 Machado de Assis (1973). ‘Notícia da atual literatura brasileira: instinto de nacionalidade’, in Obra Completa, vol. III, ed. by Afrânio Coutinho (Rio de Janeiro: José Aguilar Editora), 801–09 —— (1982). ‘O espelho’, in Machado de Assis, ed. by Alfredo Bosi, José Carlos Garbuglio, Mário Curvelo, and Valentim Facioli (São Paulo: Ática), 144–48 MacKenzie, Craig (1999). Bessie Head (New York: Twayne)



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Schwarcz, Lilia Moritz (1998). ‘Sob o signo da diferença: a construção de modelos raciais no contexto brasileiro’, in Racismo: perspectivas para um estudo contextualizado da sociedade brasileira (Niterói: Editora da Universidade Federal Fluminense), 67–103 Schwarz, Roberto (1965). A sereia e o desconfiado (Rio de Janeiro: Civilização Brasileira) —— (1981). ‘As idéias fora do lugar’, in Ao vencedor as batatas: forma literária e processo social nos inícios do romance brasileiro (São Paulo: Duas Cidades), 13–28 Shaw, Lisa (1999). The Social History of the Brazilian Samba (Aldershot: Ashgate) Skidmore, Thomas E. (1993). Black into White: Race and Nationality in Brazilian Thought (Durham, NC: Duke University Press) Sommer, Doris. (1991). Foundational Fictions: The National Romances of Latin America (Berkeley: University of California Press) Souza, Jessé (2000). A modernização seletiva: uma reinterpretação do dilema brasileiro (Brasília: Editora Universidade de Brasília) Spivak, Gayatri (1983). ‘Displacement and the Discourse of Woman’, in Displacement: Derrida and After, ed. by Mark Krupnick (Bloomington: Indiana University Press), 169–95 Suleiman, Susan Rubin (1991). ‘Writing Past the Wall or the Passion According to H.C.’, in ‘Coming to Writing’ and Other Essays, ed. by Deborah Jenson (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press), pp. vii–xxii Waldman, Berta (1998). ‘O estrangeiro em Clarice Lispector: uma leitura de A Hora da Estrela’, in Clarice Lispector, a narração do indizível, ed. by Regina Zilberman (Porto Alegre: Artes e Ofícios), 93–104 Wallace, Michelle (1991). untitled conference presentation, in Critical Fictions: The Politics of Imaginative Writing, ed. by Philomena Mariani (Seattle, WA: Bay Press), 139–42 Winterson, Jeanette (2001). ‘Baby Ethics’, The Guardian, 26th February, online at http:// www.guardian.co.uk/world/2001/jun/26/gender.uk2 Wolfe, Joel (1994). ‘ “Father of the Poor” or “Mother of the Rich”? Getúlio Vargas, Industrial Workers, and Constructions of Class, Gender, and Populism in São Paulo, 1930–1954’, Radical History Review, 58: 106–32 Varin, Claire (2002). Línguas de fogo: ensaio sobre Clarice Lispector, trans. by Lúcia Peixoto Cherem (São Paulo: Limiar) Vieira, Nelson (1995). Jewish Voices in Brazilian Literature: A Prophetic Discourse of Alterity (Gainesville: University Press of Florida) —— (1998). ‘Uma mulher de espírito’, in Clarice Lispector, a narração do indizível, ed. by Regina Zilberman (Porto Alegre: Artes e Ofícios), 17–34 Viotti da Costa, Emília (1985). The Brazilian Empire: Myths and Histories (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press) Zilberman, Regina (1998). ‘A estrela e seus críticos’, in Clarice Lispector, a narração do indizível, ed. by Regina Zilberman (Porto Alegre: Artes e Ofícios), 7–16

Index ❖ abjection 81, 90, 93–97, 196, 197 abolition of slavery 29, 54, 76 abolitionist campaign 60 African: characters 70 community 50 contribution 178 descent 24 descendants 178 element 92, 176, 178, 188 ethnic component 2 literature 51, 197 man 113 markers 130 mixture 38 n. 4 origins 36, 169, 173, 174 people 68, 70, 72 postcolony 51 presence 28, 37, 178 queen 85, 92, 97 (rural) traditions 56, 57 woman/women 42, 178 writing 196 African-American 187 fiction 66 history 74 presence 59, 73 African-Brazilian 84 characters 59 Africanness 179 Africanism 73 Africanist 70, 73, 74 Africanization, see de- Africanization agency 2, 15, 17, 18, 25, 26, 40, 43, 51, 53, 58, 66, 74, 80, 101, 108, 109 lack of 51, 139 death as 66 sense of 109 Almeida, Sandra Regina Goulart 21, 22, 194 alienation 16, 17, 141, 142, 197 Anderson, Benedict 157, 158, 194 Baudelaire, Charles 142, 194 belonging 1–5, 9, 10, 12, 14, 27, 30, 37, 38, 40, 42–44, 54, 55, 71, 77, 87, 88, 92, 97, 100, 117, 119, 124, 132– 35, 158, 159, 165, 182, 185, 187, 189, 190–94, 197 issue of 191 prisms of 9, 10. 197 relations of 135

sense of 9, 38, 40, 42, 43, 54, 55, 77, 87, 97, 159, 185, 189 belongingness 71 Benedict, Ruth 168 Benjamin, Walter 63, 137, 138, 142, 194, 196 ‘Thesis on the Philosophy of History’ 63 Arcades Project 137 Benn, Gottfried 7–9 black African 92, 97 blackness 25, 28, 30, 51, 73, 87, 126, 130, 131, 132, 146, 188 n. 2, 189, 197 body that matters 102, 104, 105, 120, 124, 125, 132, 152, 165, 169, 170, 171, 174, 190, 192 Bosi, Alfredo 18, 194, 196 História concisa da literatura brasileira 18 Brison, Susan 114, 116, 194 Brown, Wendy 152, 162, 194 Butler, Judith 25, 26, 28, 37, 42, 45, 51, 54, 74, 77, 81, 99, 102, 104, 105, 154, 155, 160, 163, 164, 170, 171, 190, 194 ‘Passing, Queering: Nella Larsen’s Psychoanalytical Challenge’ 45 Cabral de Melo Neto, João 2 Camus, Albert 1 canon 1, 3–5, 37, 59, 73 literary 3, 4, 37, 59, 73 Brazilian 5, 59 Candido, Antonio 4, 6, 17, 195 ‘No raiar de Clarice Lispector’ 4 Canudos (War of) 177, 178 Carneiro, Maria Luíza Tucci 23, 195 Carrera, Elena 20, 195 Carter, Erica 14, 45, 89, 195 Chambers, Ross 71, 88, 94, 96, 99, 195 ‘The Unexamined’ 88 Cixous, Helène 3, 11, 18–22, 195 L’Heure de Clarice Lispector 19 collective amnesia 60, 61 commodities vii, xi, 38, 126, 132, 136, 137, 139, 142–45, 149, 150, 197 commodified objects 130, 192 Conley, Verena A. 20 Conselheiro, Antonio 177 cultural memory 59, 192 Da Costa, Emilia Viotti 31, 33, 198 Da Cunha, Euclides 176–78, 183, 195 Os sertões 176, 178, 185, 195



Da Silva, Denise Ferreira 32, 33, 149, 195 Darian-Smith, Kate 14, 45, 195 Dávila, Jerry 129, 130, 195 de- Africanization 29, 99 De Alencar, José 159, 160, 194 Iracema 159, 160, 194 De Lillo, Don 144 White Noise 144 De Lizardi, José Joaquín Fernandez 157 El periquillo sarniento 157 De Medeiros, Paulo 8, 86, 197 de-nationalize 21 De Sousa, Carlos Mendes 3, 131, 195 De Oliveira, Solange Ribeiro 83, 90–92, 150 n. 1, 194, 195 death as agency 66 Deleuze, Gilles 12 A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia 12 deterritorialization 1, 151 discourse 22–28, 36, 48, 49, 51, 52, 55, 58, 63, 67, 74, 80, 86, 110, 112, 149, 156, 195, 198 disorder 9, 25, 51, 52, 81 Douglas, Mary 93, 120, 121, 195 Douglass, Frederick 66 écriture 1, 11, 12, 18–20 écriture féminine 18–20 exclusion 13, 14, 22, 24, 25, 38, 40–42, 52–54, 58, 74, 77, 107, 109, 126, 149, 151, 165, 169, 182, 190–92 experience of 182, 190 position of 25, 41, 53, 54, 58, 190, 191 sense of 77 situation of 40 ethnically unmarked 87 ethnicity 24–27, 38, 65, 91, 104, 105, 124, 132, 171, 174, 179, 191, 197 essentialist 7–9, 24, 190, Fanon, Franz 41, 195 fetishism 126, 137–39, 143, 144, 197 flâneur 142 Foucault, Michel 25, 26, 28, 49, 67, 172, 195 The History of Sexuality 172, 195 forgetting 61, 76, 98, 114, 126 mechanisms of 76 Frankenberg, Ruth 27, 110, 195 First Republic 29, 32 Fitzgerald, Jennifer 65, 195 Freyre, Gilberto 30, 33, 129, 172, 178, 179, 188, 195 Casa Grande e Senzala 30, 172, 178, 195 Freud, Sigmund 13, 51, 52, 66, 96, 130, 197 ‘the Uncanny’ 96 Frisby, David 38, 126, 137, 196 ghosts vii, ix, xi, 37, 42, 44, 52, 58, 59, 62, 83, 96 ghostly 144, 149, 160, 196

Gilroy, Paul 66, 101, 131, 196 black Atlantic 66, 196 Ginsberg, Elaine 46, 196 Gledson, John 35, 36, 54, 196 Gordon, Avery 62–64, 144, 145, 196 Guattari, Felix 12 Guimarães, Antonio Sérgio Alfredo 29, 31, 196, 197 Guimarães Rosa, João 18 Gunner, Liz 45, 195 Hall, Stuart 185, 187, 196 haunting vii, ix, xi, 27, 37, 38, 52, 58, 59, 60–63, 67, 72, 76, 77, 80, 81, 83, 87, 92, 96, 98, 144, 190–92, 196 Head, Bessie 1, 25–27, 36–38, 40–48, 50–59, 76, 77, 152, 164, 189–91, 194, 196, 197 The Collector of Treasures and Other Botswana Village Tales 40, 42, 56, 57 n. 1, 194 A Question of Power vii, 36, 37, 40–46, 48, 49, 51, 52, 54, 55, 57 n. 1, 59, 190, 191, 194, 197 ‘Life’ 40, 56 Serowe: Village of the Rain Wind 42 Tales of Tenderness and Power 42 Henderson, Mae G. 60, 63, 196 hypervisibility 38, 126, 144, 149 ideology 26, 28–31, 36, 37, 53–55, 60, 70, 72, 75, 88, 101, 126, 128–30, 145, 147, 149, 150, 174 of modernization 130, 145, 147, 150 see also national ideology Independence: of Brazil 28 of Botswana 56 imaginary 2, 11, 13, 14, 29, 42, 45, 51, 52, 58, 89, 104, 127, 136, 175 space 2, 42 national 11, 14, 58 Brazilian 29 political 51, 52 imagined community 44, 87, 157, 194 Irigaray, Luce 45 Jacobson, Mathew Frye 168, 196 Jameson, Fredric 7, 8, 86, 196 ‘Third World Literature in the Era of Multinational Capitalism’ 7, 196 Jewishness 24, 25, 182 Kartodikromo, Marco 157 Semrang Hitam 157 Kipnis, Laura 145 Klein, Melanie 64–66 Kristeva, Julia 22, 93, 95, 96, 120, 165, 196 knowledge 33, 41, 59, 86, 134, 147, 154, 162, 168, 173, 185, 197 Larsen, Neil 8, 86, 196

Index Larsen, Nella 45, 47 ‘Passing’ 47 Lewis, Desirée 42, 46–48, 196 Lisboa, Maria Manuel 13, 196 Lowe, Elizabeth 131, 196 Lucas, Fábio 3, 5, 6, 17, 18, 90, 196 ‘Clarice Lispector e o impasse da narrativa contemporânea’ 5 Lispector, Clarice: characters 15, 36, 76, 86, 101, 109, 127, 149, 186, 189 escritura 11 fiction 1, 4, 40 fictional work 74 Jewishness 182 life: as an immigrant 9, 11 arrival in Brazil 2 attempts to become naturalized 21 belonging/not-belonging to Brazil 1–5, 9, 189, 191 considering herself Brazilian 55 early childhood 83 1976 interview 23 living abroad 2 in relation to Portuguese language 25 writing 129 narrative 9, 92, 190 novels 2, 6, 9, 33, 37, 58, 189, 191, 192 mind 26 personal history 11 pessimism 187 position 55, 183 protagonist/s 8–10, 14, 25–27, 36, 37, 53, 100, 159 situation 11 style 18 texts 1–3, 9–11, 13, 16–22, 24, 25, 27, 28, 37, 40, 54, 58, 59, 192 words 19, 112 works 1, 3, 11, 16, 18, 22, 25, 28, 36, 38, 40, 58, 59, 77, 80, 86, 90, 92, 99, 101, 105, 130, 182, 189, 190, 191, 192, 193 A cidade sitiada vii, xi, 2, 38, 126, 127, 129, 130, 131, 134, 144, 149, 186, 191, 192, 194, 196 A hora da estrela vii, xi, 2, 8, 24, 26, 38, 38 n. 3, 101, 105, 166, 167, 170, 178, 187, 191, 192, 194, 198 A maçã no escuro ix, xi, 2, 38, 151, 157, 160, 166 n. 1, 170, 172, 182, 191, 192, 194 A paixão segundo G.H. vii, ix, xi, 2, 6, 8, 16, 26, 36, 37, 80, 86, 90 Laços de família 14, 194 O lustre viii, ix, xi, 2, 26, 38, 4, 99, 100–02, 120, 132, 151, 170, 178, 190–92, 194 Perto do coração selvagem 3, 4, 9 Uma aprendizagem ou o livro dos prazeres 6 Machado de Assis 4, 25, 26, 33–36, 41, 53, 54, 80, 196 ‘O espelho’ 34, 80, 196


‘Instinto de nacionalidade’ 4, 196 Marx, Karl 126, 137, 141–44, 197 ‘The Fetishism of Commodities’ 137, 197 masculinity vii, 38, 95, 110, 113, 151, 152, 162–65, 192 Melville, Herman 149 Moby Dick 149 Mészáros, István 141, 142, 197 memory 9, 47, 51–53, 58–63, 76, 77, 82, 84, 92, 114– 18, 157, 192, 194 collective 58, 76, 77 national 77 personal 63, 92 reconstructive 60, 61 social 62, 63 voluntary 62 mestizo 27, 30–33, 38 n. 4, 40, 124, 129, 171, 172, 176–78 middle passage 68, 69, 197 Miranda, Carmen 32 miscegenation vii, 28, 30–33, 37, 40, 41, 46, 53, 177, 178, 188 n. 2 modernity 31, 72, 77, 99–101, 104, 119, 120, 128–32, 142, 148, 150, 194, 196, 197 modernization vii, xi, 30, 38, 55, 56, 74, 99, 100, 101, 125, 126, 128–33, 135, 140, 142–45, 147–50, 191 moreno 38 n. 4, 85, 124, 174, 178, morenidade 27, 28, 32, 32 n. 4 & 5, 80, 99, 124 Morrison, Toni vii, 25–27, 37, 38, 42, 52, 54, 57–67, 69–77, 80, 88, 92, 96, 97, 101, 106, 108, 133, 144, 149, 165, 187, 189, 191, 192, 194–97 Beloved vii, 37, 52, 58–61, 63, 64, 69, 72–77, 97, 144, 187, 191, 192, 194–97 Jazz 37, 58, 74, 75, 133, 194 Paradise 37, 58, 74–76, 194 Playing in the Dark 37, 58, 70, 73, 194 ‘Unspeakable Things Unspoken’ 37, 58, 72, 149, 194 mulatto 31, 33, 38 n. 4 & 5, 92, 95, 99, 109, 110, 111, 113, 115, 119, 124, 131, 143, 151, 152, 161–64, 170–72, 174, 178, 189 mulatto woman 92, 95, 151, 152, 161–64, 170–72 Nabuco, Joaquim 33, 36 naming 35, 81, 89, 134, 146 Napolitano, Valentina 9–11, 14, 197 nation: state 28, 30, 54, 55, 57, 77, 129, 152, 191 national: identity 24, 25, 27, 36, 51, 80, 81, 85, 96, 129, 149, 191 ideology 26, 30, 36, 37, 53–55 imagination 157, 158 nationality 6, 14, 21, 25, 27, 81, 87, 190, 193, 198 nationhood 6, 14, 20, 24, 25, 30, 53, 57, 157, 158 Nixon, Robert 42, 54, 55, 197 nomadism 1, 11, 12 normality 14, 41, 43, 75, 82, 85, 87, 89, 93, 94, 96, 149, 158 normativity 27



normalization 84, 89, 157 Nothall, Sarah 45 Nunes, Benedito 15 O drama da linguagem 15 oblivion 59, 76, 87, 109, 115, 116 Oliven, Ruben George 30, 197 ontology 71–73, 94 Ortiz, Renato 30–31, 128, 129, 172, 197 Cultura brasileira e Identidade nacional 30, 197 (the) Other 24, 71, 96, 151, 164, 171, 180–82 Othering 164 pathology 16, 20, 26, 36, 37, 40, 44, 48, 52–54, 58, 66, 70, 72, 76, 101 passing 45–47, 90, 99, 100, 122, 169–71, 173, 174, 179, 190, 196, 197 Peixoto, Marta 20, 182, 197 performance vii, xi, 27, 38, 47, 59, 77, 106, 122, 123, 132, 154, 157, 162, 165, 167, 169, 171, 174, 190 performativity 28, 38, 46, 54, 77, 99, 154, 160, 175, 190, 191 phantasmagoria vii, xi, 38, 126, 137–39, 143, 149, 150 political imaginary 51, 52 positivism 29 prisms of belonging 9, 10, 197 Quayson, Ato 51–53, 197 ‘Symbolisation Compulsions: Freud, African Literature and South Africa’s Process of Truth and Reconciliation’ 51, 197 racial: blind spot 24, 28, 183, 189 boundaries 47, 105 difference 28, 40, 53, 80, 189 marker 87 Other 32, 74, 87, 96 policies 53 stereotyping 110 racism vii, xi, 26–29, 32, 33, 36–38, 45, 53, 70, 72, 74, 75, 99, 129, 167, 177, 187, 193, Rawet, Samuel 24 Raynau, Claudine 68, 69, 197 rememory 59, 60, 62, 63, 67, 69, 76, 92 representation 4, 5, 8, 24, 66, 69, 75, 86, 116, 123, 124, 131, 134, 177, 192, 196 Roquette-Pinto, E. 178 rural transnationalism 54, 55, 197 Rose, Jacqueline 40, 44, 52, 53, 57, 58, 152, 160, 192, 197 Rushdy, Ashraf 60, 61, 64, 197 Sach, Wulf 53 Black Hamlet 53 Sansone, Lívio 124, 197 Schelling, Vivian 29, 99, 128, 129, 197

Schlossberg, Linda 168, 169, 171, 173, 197 Schwarcz, Lília Moritz 32, 33, 129, 198 Schwarz, Roberto 6–9, 14–17, 28, 198 ‘Perto do coração selvagem’ 6 Scliar, Moacyr 24 Shaw, Lisa 130, 198 silencing 99, 105, 115–19, 125 Skidmore, Thomas 29, 30, 198 social: apartheid 81 control 115 marking 179 Sommer, Doris 160, 198 stream of consciousness 43, 44 subjective crisis 1, 2, 4, 14, 16, 26, 76, 80, 97, 186, 189–92 Suleiman, Susan Rubin 21, 198 symbiosis 19, 64, 66, 67 symbolisation compulsion 51, 53, 197 taboo 28, 35, 37, 40, 46, 111, 154, 195 trauma 37, 46, 51, 52–54, 58, 72, 74–77, 100, 113–16, 118, 119, 191, 194 traumatic: event 75, 76, 114, 116 experience 37, 74–76 memory 61, 116, 118 scene 60, 75, 76, 99 traumatized language 53, 54, 66–68, 72, 80 Toynbee, Arnold J. 12 uncanny 96, 126–29, 144, 165 unexamined whiteness 2, 25, 27, 28, 33, 38, 71, 75, 77, 89, 95, 96, 100, 126, 130, 143, 148, 149, 165, 189, 190, 192 unspeakable vii, 3, 4, 6, 18, 25, 28, 35–37, 40, 46, 52–54, 58, 59, 66–68, 72, 73, 77, 80, 93, 97, 112, 115, 118, 144, 147–49, 165, 189, 191, 192, 194 use-value 137, 138 Vargas, Getúlio 21, 23, 29, 30, 32, 38, 55, 129, 130, 132, 172, 195, 198 vectors of power 26, 40, 45, 54, 76, 77, 81, 99, 105, 163, 190 Vieira, Nelson 22, 24, 182, 183, 189, 196 visibility 87, 112, 126, 133, 144, 145, 167, 168, 179, 182 see also hypervisibility Voegelin, Eric 131 Waldman, Berta ix, 22, 23, 38 n. 3, 183, 184, 198 ’O estrangeiro em Clarice Lispector: uma leitura de A hora da estrela’ 38 n. 3, 198 whiteness, see unexamined whitening 29, 30, 32, 99, 126, 129 Zilberman, Regina 22, 197, 198