by Lucas de Lima on Jul.24, 2012
For weeks now I’ve been meaning to write about Clarice Lispector’s The Passion According to G.H., which was recently re-issued by New Directions in a new translation. But the Internet, global warming, and my post-MFA job are seriously wearing me out this summer. I’ve felt as gooey as the white insides of the cockroach that stains Lispector’s book. And yet, my summer reading has helped stave off cosmic depletion. Right after finishing The Passion According to G.H. in Portuguese, I read Jean Genet’s The Thief’s Journal. Both books have startled me, at least in momentary fits, out of slothlike malaise. What I’ve found invigorating about the power duo of Lispector and Genet is how each writer presents monstrosity as an ethical drive in itself–as a way of becoming and transmutating not out of whim, choice, or design but a need to flourish, gleam, and romantically subsist.
“…We are free, and this is Hell. But there are so many cockroaches that it seems like a prayer.”
Once, as a kid in Brazil, I was brushing my teeth when a cockroach as large and iridescent as a hummingbird landed on my hand from out of nowhere. I shrieked at the insect more alien than the geckos that roamed our house and showed off black flies through their diaphanous bellies. As a brush with an ancient and abject specimen, this is one of the most vivid memories of my childhood. I can still hear the roach fluttering away through a window, sinfully graceful. What was inside the geckos, and what was inside of me, had erupted out more blasphemously than I could have imagined: I had shrieked like a girl, and knew I would scream in that high pitch again.
“Plumb me, plumb me, for it is cold, it is cold to lose your lobstershells. Warm me with your plumbing, comprehend me, for I do not comprehend myself. I am just in love with the cockroach. And it is a Hellish love.”
I fall for books that at once destroy and protect themselves. I want to die in those books so I can write others like them. As in the figure of the Ouroboros, that mythical tail-eating snake, such books turn self-reflexiveness into a visceral exercise we might contrast with any clinical conceptualism. As G.H. realizes she must bite into the cockroach, Lispector likewise begins to feel in the dark for a halo of dried guts–“a black magic, a neutral murmur.” It’s like when Carolyn Forché writes “There is no other way to say this,” but more interesting because of the book’s contradiction of itself, its endless re-articulation of the Sublime. Inside the cockroach is “soft cement,” “the taste of a potato tuber,” “the eyes of a bride,” “the two neutral and fertile ovaries.” The book, like the roach, becomes “immobilized” through its self-obsession, “bearing atop its dusty flanks the weight of its own body.” But instead of rotting with the insect, this book must change its life, must inhabit its mid-life crisis to crystallize again in a meditative stream only Lispector’s Jewish immigrant syntax could electrify throughout 150 pages.
“I was just touching the space that goes from me to the vital node–I was within the zone of cohesive and controlled vibration of the vital node. The vital node vibrates at the vibration of my arrival.”
Lispector was the gorgeous writer with a clawlike appendage in lieu of the hand she had burnt in a fire. Her accent, too, was mangled and deformed.
“There is a close relationship between flowers and convicts… Should I have to portray a convict–or a criminal–I shall so bedeck him with flowers that, as he disappears beneath them, he will himself become a flower, a gigantic and new one.”
As a teenager in Kentucky, I tried to steal a pair of jogging pants at J.C. Penney. They were $20, and I had the allowance money, but dared myself to try it anyway. I was already invisible. Sometimes I hid out in bathroom stalls during lunch break so classmates wouldn’t see me eating alone. I probably thought, I will now be good for something, I will wield some kind of power. But an undercover security guard stopped me and my mom on the way out of the mall. We went through some doors to an office, where a policeman yelled at me and gave me a citation, which led to an appointment with a court-designated worker (there was talk of my family’s immigration status), which in turn led to community service in a Christian ministry organization. Although I’d already been volunteering at the zoo, for some reason those hours of shoveling giraffe shit wouldn’t count toward my record. I remember the court-designated worker asking me why I’d tried to shoplift. O queer gods, if only I’d been steeped enough in your scripture to quote Genet in my response:
“I was hot for crime.”
As in Lispector’s writing, premeditation is what The Thief’s Journal resists in order to shapeshift in heat. Every criminal act Genet turns into lyricism calls for its own gaudy garb, petals on a “rambling rosebush,” a notebook both rough and ornate. It’s only appropriate that the narrative dwells on the lace-making of Armand and Stilitano, two thieves Genet venerates and compares. While Armand had once made his living by delicately cutting out and drawing on paper lace, Stilitano profited off machine-made lace by claiming it was the work of sick children. Armand, in other words, belongs to a “school of all delicacies” in light of his “woman’s work.” He is tender and devoted while other thieves are brutishly corrupt. By planting a thorny garden instead of writing a book, Genet thus conflates crime and homosexuality to string sentences like blossoms in the anus of our hearts. If evil is the convicts’ dress Genet commands us to try on, even evil shall reach its limit, its black shell crushed between pages this fertile with blood, sweat, and sperm.
“Creating is not a somewhat frivolous game. The creator has committed himself to the fearful adventure of taking upon himself, to the very end, the perils risked by his creatures. We cannot suppose a creation that does not spring from love.”
According to Angela Davis, Genet once dressed up in a pink negligee while traveling with the Black Panthers. His bald head in photographs scalds me with a gay earth mother’s beam until I become his daughter; he becomes my creator. This summer we coalesce as bitches, brothers, sisters, lovers–Jean, Clarice, and me.