- Clarice Lispector’s (Post)Modernity and the Adolescence of the Girl-Colt
Whereas delineations of the differences between modern and postmodern themes and forms are still highly contested, few doubt that increasing fragmentation, a-historicity, and use of pastiche in the cultural production of the Americas and Europe characterize the period between the protests of the late 1960s and the reactions against postmodernism of the late 1980s. In Latin America, the lines between Modernism and Postmodernism (as defined in Europe) are drawn even less clearly, in large part because earlier literary movements in the region were designated by these very names. Brazilian Modernism, an avant-garde movement from the early twentieth century, for instance, contains much that is thematically and stylistically postmodern as well as modern within it. This article examines one of Lispector’s most enigmatic late works, “Seco estudo de cavalos” (“Dry Point of Horses,” hereafter, “Cavalos”) from Onde estivestes de noite (1974; literally, “Where You Were at Night,” trans. published in Soulstorm), in terms of certain post-structuralist philosophical ideas which came to the fore after the Existentialist heyday and which often were coined in reaction to this philosophy’s insufficiency to explain post-World War II intellectual developments. The ambiguity of a hybrid word, “(post)modernism,” designates best the partial applicability of both the terms modernism and postmodernism to the kind of themes, forms, and tones described by literary and philosophical theories since the revolt against existentialism and then against structuralism in the late 1960s. [End Page 433]
Previous discussions of Clarice Lispector’s philosophical modernity have primarily focused on the presence of affinities between her works and postwar existentialism. Brazilian critic Benedito Nunes has been the leader in comparing themes in her early fictions to Kierkegaardian and Heideggerian concepts, and many other critics have followed. Although the similarities found in these thinkers’ works and in some of Lispector’s early and middle fiction are clear, the homologies have been questioned for at least three reasons: first, because Lispector denied any familiarity with the writings of the existential philosophers; second, because even her most existentialist fictions, works such as A maçã no escuro (1961; Apple in the Dark 1967), contain themes and characters inconsistent with existentialist ideas; and third, because there are periods of Clarice’s production in which existentialism appears as a shadow at best. This third reason—that Existentialism is absent from or irrelevant to Lispector’s late works—has led me to search for a different philosophical movement or theoretical paradigm closer to Lispector’s exploratory and metaliterary writings from her final years.
Fábio Lucas refers tangentially to the relationship between Lispector and concepts of (post)modernity in a 1987 article “Clarice Lispector e o Impasse da narrativa contemporânea,” when he writes that in the 1980s the historical ‘flow’ of contemporary Brazilian narrative could be ‘unblocked’ by a greater recognition of the innovative character of Lispector’s stories. Among the writers who have begun to explore the ways in which Lispector’s late production coincides with certain philosophies of the 1970s and 1980s, French deconstructionist Hélène Cixous stands out as the most prolific and prominent. Quite a bibliography has grown around Cixous’s devoted engagement with Lispector’s work; The index in Marting (1993) contains around forty items either by Cixous on Lispector or about those Cixous texts. While this is not the place to go into detail about the French critic’s writings, it should be noted that Earl Fitz’s articles about Cixous’s books (Vivre l’orange and Reading with Clarice Lispector), demonstrate that for the French author, the Brazilian pioneered very contemporary modes of writing in her late works, transcending not only philosophical essentialism, but also the scientism of structuralism.
One of the most salient (post)modern characteristics of “Cavalos” is its narrative fragmentariness. Jean-François Lyotard and other theorists of the postmodern criticize the totalizing qualities of “le gran récit,” the ‘Great Story’ or ‘Grand Narrative.’ The rejection of such overarching master narratives has, in the Anglo-American world, separated Modernism from Postmodernism, and, in Latin America, traditional fiction from the avant-garde. Lispector’s chronicle thus...