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Sexuality and Being in the Poststructuralist Universe of Clarice Lispector

Sexuality and Being in the Poststructuralist Universe of Clarice Lispector
The Différance of Desire

This book argues that poststructuralism offers important and revealing insights into all aspects of Lispector’s writing,

Series: Texas Pan American Series

August 2001
This is a print-on-demand title. Expedited shipping is not available.
256 pages | 6 x 9 |

Driven by an unfulfilled desire for the unattainable, ultimately indefinable Other, the protagonists of the novels and stories of acclaimed Brazilian writer Clarice Lispector exemplify and humanize many of the issues central to poststructuralist thought, from the nature of language, truth, and meaning to the unstable relationships between language, being, and reality. In this book, Earl Fitz demonstrates that, in turn, poststructuralism offers important and revealing insights into all aspects of Lispector's writing, including her style, sense of structure, characters, themes, and socio-political conscience.

Fitz draws on Lispector's entire oeuvre—novels, stories, crônicas, and children's literature—to argue that her writing consistently reflects the basic tenets of poststructuralist theory. He shows how Lispector's characters struggle over and humanize poststructuralist dilemmas and how their essential sense of being is deeply dependent on a shifting, and typically transgressive, sense of desire and sexuality.

  • Acknowledgments
  • Introduction
  • Chapter 1: Clarice Lispector and the Writing of Poststructuralism
  • Chapter 2: A Semiotics of Being: Style, Structure, and Meaning in a Poststructural Key
  • Chapter 3: The Erotics of Being: Self, Other, and Language
  • Chapter 4: Characterizations, Relationships, and States of Being: Feminine, Masculine, Androgynous, and Nongendered
  • Chapter 5: From l'Écriture Féminine to Littérature Engagée to Writing the (Semiotic) Body (Politic): The Sociopolitical Dimension of Lispector's Textes
  • Chapter 6: Psychoanalysis and the Poststructural Anxieties of the Lispectorian Universe
  • Conclusion
  • Appendix 1: The Works of Clarice Lispector
  • Appendix 2: In-text Abbreviations
  • Notes
  • Bibliography
  • Index

Earl E. Fitz is Professor of Portuguese, Spanish, and Comparative Literature and Director of the Program in Comparative Literature at Vanderbilt University.


This book makes three arguments: first, that the style and structuring of Clarice Lispector's novels, stories, and crônicas (chronicles) exemplify the issues addressed by poststructural theory; second, that her essentially poststructural "textes" also show, chiefly by means of their singular characters, the human face of poststructuralism—the implications this mode of thought has for the public and private identities of real men and women, particularly women; and third, that her narratives are driven by a sense of unfulfilled desire in which her characters develop more as conflicted and fragmented poststructural sites than as stable presences, and that, in a context heavily freighted with both psychosexual and sociopolitical significance, they embody the désir de l'Autre (the desire of the Other) that Lacan speaks of in Écrits.

While I will seek to demonstrate that a poststructural ethos permeates Lispector's sense of language and of writing, I will thus also argue that it is her expression of human sexuality, in all its conflicted, destabilizing, and boundary-effacing variety, that grounds the powerfully intellectual dimension of her work in human existence's most visceral and urgent drives. In short, desire—presented by Lispector as being inseparable from language—emerges as the ultimate marker of poststructuralism's vital relevance to the lives led by ordinary people. Lispector's depiction of the sexual impulse can therefore be read as the most telling expression of poststructuralism's profoundly human basis, its centrality to the human experience.

Dealing relentlessly with the play of language in the construction of our varied identities, Lispector's narratives illustrate how the basically ontological and epistemological problems posed by poststructural thought appear when they are developed in the context of the human experience by a gifted creative writer rather than by abstract theoreticians. Lispector thus "humanizes" the at times abstruse and, for some, alienating issues broached by poststructural thinkers and shows just how profoundly they pertain to the human condition.

As the extensive criticism of her work shows, Lispector's narratives invite many different approaches, prominent among which are the existential, the phenomenological, the mystical, and the feminist, to cite only a few of the recognized possibilities. And while it does not necessarily cancel any of these out, my argument here will be that only poststructuralism offers a sufficiently comprehensive and language-conscious critical perspective from which to evaluate and interpret the totality of her writing, the basic philosophical and aesthetic principles that inform it as well as its sociopolitical implications and its pertinence to post-Freudian theories of psychoanalysis. In saying this, I must stress that my book does not defend poststructuralist thought per se, although personally I believe that its intellectual significance is beyond dispute. My working premise is that, whether one agrees with it or not, poststructuralism asks important and challenging questions about the relationship of language to human existence, about the nature of human consciousness, and about the political implications that derive from our desire for truth, certainty, and clarity of meaning in an unstable, ambiguous world. This is precisely the turf, thematically and structurally speaking, that Lispector so assiduously cultivated, from the beginning of her literary career in 1944 to her posthumously published final work in 1978, and encompassing her "fiction" as well as her "nonfiction" (a distinction that Lispector, like the later poststructuralists, rejected as meaningless).

In situating Lispector in the context of poststructuralism, I do not claim that she was in any way influenced by the European leaders of poststructural thought (although, given her circle of literary and artistic friends, she would have undoubtedly known about this movement in the early to mid-1970s). My point is rather different: that because for most of her career Lispector was writing what I believe were essentially poststructural texts before poststructuralism as such even existed, we can, now that the basic tenets of poststructuralism are well established, see how revealingly they apply to her work and how well they explain it. Her brilliant debut novel, Near to the Wild Heart, appeared in 1944, an entire generation before the recognized advent of poststructuralism, which is usually associated with the publication of Roland Barthes's S/Z in 1970, seven years before the Brazilian writer's death. Lispector was, in effect, a poststructuralist without portfolio, a highly original writer and thinker whose lyrical actualizations of what is fundamentally poststructural thought provide, as I will argue in the pages that follow, an effective and complete intellectual context in which to evaluate her work.

But what is poststructuralism? For Jacques Derrida, the French philosopher whose work is fundamental to it, poststructuralism is, at bottom, an interrogation of both language (one that, following the perspective afforded by Saussurean linguistics, privileges the signifier over the signified) and structuralism, its inescapable but paradox-ridden progenitor. More written about than clearly defined, poststructuralism has been understood in a variety of ways but always "[a]s a term loosely applied to an array of critical and intellectual movements, including deconstruction and radical forms of psychoanalytic, feminist, and revisionist Marxist thinking, which are deemed to lie 'beyond' structuralism" (Holman and Harmon 371). Richard Harland, representing a large group of critics who rightly regard deconstruction and poststructuralism as not being synonymous (with the former being one particular actualization of the latter), has suggested that there are three main divisions of poststructuralist thought: the Tel Quel group, consisting of Jacques Derrida, Julia Kristeva, and the post-1970 Roland Barthes; a second group consisting of Gilles Deleuze, Félix Guattari, and the later Michel Foucault; and finally, standing alone in a more distinctly sociopolitical context, Jean Baudrillard (Harland 2). As if to further demonstrate the degree of difficulty that exists in defining this term, however, Alex Callinicos divides poststructuralism into two main trends, one consistent with what Richard Rorty has rather antagonistically termed "textualism" (Consequences of Pragmatism: Essays, 1972-1980: 139-40) and the other illustrating what Callinicos (borrowing a term from Edward Said and a concept, "power-knowledge," from Foucault) calls "worldly post-structuralism," a way of thinking about language and discourse that maintains its connection to a variety of Realpolitik sociopolitical conditions. Also attempting to establish some parameters for the term poststructuralism is Robert Young, who, in Untying the Text: A Post-Structuralist Reader (1981), writes:

Post-structuralism, then, involves a shift from meaning to staging, or from the signified to the signifier. It may be seen from this how the premises of post-structuralism disallow any denominative, unified, or "proper" definition of itself. Broadly, however, it involves a critique of metaphysics (of the concepts of causality, of identity, of the subject, and of truth), of the theory of the sign, and the acknowledgement and incorporation of psychoanalytic modes of thought. In brief, it may be said that post-structuralism fractures the serene unity of the stable sign and the unified subject. In this respect, the "theoretical" reference points of post-structuralism can be best mapped via the work of Foucault, Lacan and Derrida, who in different ways have pushed structuralism to its limits. (8)

Arriving at similar position is Terry Eagleton, who, in "Post-Structuralism," argues:

If structuralism divided the sign from the referent...'poststructuralism'...goes a step further: it divides the signifier from the signified.... The implication of all this is that language is a much less stable affair than the classical structuralists had considered. Instead of being a well-defined, clearly demarcated structure containing symmetrical units of signifiers and signifieds, it now begins to look much more like a sprawling limitless web where there is a constant interchange and circulation of elements, where none of the elements is absolutely definable and where everything is caught up and traced through by everything else. (Literary Theory, 128-29)

Taking us down a slightly different road, however, is Philip Lewis, who, in "The Post-Structuralist Condition," prefers the term "critical structuralism" to "poststructuralism," situating "deconstruction" within the context of this "critical structuralism." It is worth noting that Derrida himself has, in Positions, taken issue not only with Saussure's concept of the unified sign but with the implications this concept has had on structuralism. Saussure's theory—and, by extension, all structuralist thought—Derrida writes, "leaves open the possibility of thinking a concept signified in and of itself a concept simply present for thought, independent of a relationship to language, that is of a relationship to a system of signifiers" (Positions 19). This condition, which Derrida finds untenable, is one that, in her own fashion, Lispector explores as well.

Indeed, what Toril Moi says of Derrida and his theory of language could easily be taken as a description of Lispector's work as well: "According to the French philosopher Jacques Derrida, language is structured as an endless deferral of meaning, and any search for an essential, absolutely stable meaning must therefore be considered metaphysical. There is no final statement, no fundamental unit, no transcendental signified that is meaningful in itself and thus escapes the ceaseless interplay of deferral and difference" (Moi, Sexual/Textual Politics, 9).

Also seeking to elucidate the broad-based and far-reaching implications, both literary and sociopolitical, of poststructural thought is Josué Harari, whose anthology, Textual Strategies: Perspectives in PostStructuralist Criticism (1979), offers a variety of essays that demonstrate another of poststructuralism's main tenets—that since all language is tropelogical and figurative, the language in which we conduct our analysis is necessarily the same as the language being analyzed; that there is, effectively speaking, no valid distinction between "literary" and "nonliterary" language, a point the escritura (writing) of Clarice Lispector makes manifestly clear.

Another critic who focuses on the interrogation of structuralism that poststructuralism generates is Donald Keesey, who, in "Poststructural Criticism: Language as Context," has given us an essay that allows us to see the many points of contact between the basic principles of poststructural thought and the narratives of Clarice Lispector. Additionally, we have Mark Poster, whose Critical Theory and Poststructuralism: In Search of a Context (1989) argues that poststructuralism's greatest contribution to critical thinking has been its rigorous critique of language as a communicative medium, a concern I also believe to be fundamental to Lispector's oeuvre. Mention should also be made of Robert Con Davis and Ronald Schleifer's Criticisism and Culture (1991), which, in making reference to poststructuralism's analysis of structuralism, contends that "post-structuralism—taking its impetus, as it often does, in Nietzche's critique of the will to truth (in philosophy) and the impersonality and universality of Kantian aesthetic ideology (in literature)—attempts to transform ways of knowing and the conception of truth" (159). As I shall argue in the chapters that follow, these issues are also implicit in the intensely poetic and philosophical narratives of Clarice Lispector.

In electing to apply a poststructural perspective to Lispector's texts, then, I have opted for what Vincent B. Leitch terms "the more inclusive domain of poststructuralism" over the narrower interpretive mode known as deconstruction, which, though certainly pertinent to Lispector's work, tends not to incorporate "the historical, sociological, and political researches of Foucault and the psychoanalytical formulations of Lacan" (Leitch 290), the latter being an especially important dimension of Lispector's poststructural universe and one that I will examine in more detail in Chapter 6.

After reviewing the work of these and other commentators on poststructuralism, it becomes clear that this particular system of thought resists anything like an easy or clear definition. Nevertheless, running through virtually everyone's discussion of poststructuralism are the following five points, all of which, as I shall demonstrate in the course of my study, are fundamental to Lispector's work:

  • There is an acute awareness of and emphasis on the play of language, on language understood as process, as an irresistibly productive semiotic system (what Barthes calls the "scriptible" text);
  • It is clear that theoreticians of poststructuralism also tend to focus on what we might term the semantic play that characterizes Lispector's work, the slippage that occurs between and among the signifiers and the signifieds (an issue represented in Derrida's famous neologism, "différance"; cf. Positions 8-10, 14, et al.) and that calls into question the assumption that a text can ever possess a single, stable meaning or that such a meaning could ever derive from it;
  • There is the importance that is attached to the acts of writing (best understood in Lispector's case as écriture, a term Ann Banfield links to the use of "style indirecte libre," or free indirect discourse, a narrative mode extensively cultivated by Lispector) and reading, activities that, by virtue of their ability to unlock and mix the various levels of meaning that a text can generate for us, are demonstrative not only of poststructural theory but of its connection to reader-response theory;
  • And as we see in nearly all of Lispector's texts, there is a refusal to make distinctions between "literary" and "nonliterary" language use, between genres, and between language and metalanguage;
  • There is the widespread if not unanimous emphasis placed by poststructural critics on language and its relationship to psychoanalysis (Lacan and Julia Kristeva), to the sociopolitical context (Jameson, Lyotard, Spivak, Cixous, Belsey, and Baudrillard), and to the formation of a splintered and conflicted subject (Lacan's linguistically informed unconscious and Kristeva's "subject-in-process"), an unstable "site" (as in The Passion according to G. H., The Stream of Life, or A Breath of Life: Pulsations) marked by innumerable forms of conflict and desire, including not only the sexual (in all its myriad manifestations) but the psychological and the ideological as well.

In an attempt to remain true to the basic thrust of poststructural theory, however, I do not offer my argument as the be-all and end-all of criticism on Clarice Lispector, for to do so would be to establish precisely the kind of rigid master discourse that poststructuralist thought disavows. Rather, I employ the poststructural optic as a critical tool, as a way of reading Lispector's deeply complex texts, yet also as a way I feel is particularly germane to her often self-conscious and at least partially autobiographical writing and that can account for its most salient characteristics. Thus, my application of poststructuralism to Lispector's work should be understood as being descriptive (rather than prescriptive) in nature, though I do believe it can offer us a surprisingly complete accounting of how and why her texts are as they are.

Although much has been written about Clarice Lispector, her work remains, in an overall sense, largely an enigma to us. This is so, I believe, because of the elusive and ambiguous nature of her escritura, the great bulk of which struggles, directly and indirectly, with the twin problems of meaning and communication in human existence. Given the complexity of these issues, Lispector's reader is forced to confront her narratives from a number of interrelated critical and philosophical perspectives, among which the issue of language, in its peculiar relationship to both knowing (epistemology) and being (ontology), emerges as the decisive factor. For Lispector, both literature and philosophy, the two main intellectual grounds of her work, "end in 'language,' which for Lispector is the medium within which such designations as 'literature' and 'philosophy' are made, as well as the medium in and through which alone anything nonlinguistic can be reached" (Sousa, "Once within a Room," viii). Moreover, as Jacques Derrida argues in "The Double Session," "[t]he critical desire—which is also the philosophical desire—can only, as such, attempt to regain . . . lost mastery" (Dissemination 230). As we shall see, this urge drives, in a variety of ways, nearly all of Lispector's narratives and that is fundamental to poststructural thought (Harari 29).

To read Lispector's escritura/écriture, then, is to experience language's most basic conflict, to seek but never find, as Derrida conceptualizes it, an elusive "transcendent reading" (Of Grammatology 160) that, paralleling both the motivations of Lispector's characters and those of her reader, will eventually yield a more comprehensive and satisfying understanding of her works. Or, again paradoxically, the "truth" we encounter in Lispector's world suggests, à la Derrida ("Structure, Sign, and Play in the Discourse of the Human Sciences," Modern Criticism and Theory, ed. David Lodge), that there is no stable center that can be viewed from the outside of its structure, no truth that does not depend for its "truthfulness" on some other structure, center, or truth. To recognize this crucial parallel between Derridean theory and Lispector's sense of writing goes a long way toward revealing the nature of the distinctive ambiguity, or "undecidability," that marks her narratives. In short, Lispector's "textes" dramatically demonstrate that, as Derrida puts it,

there was no center, that the center could not be thought in the form of a present-being, that the center had no natural site, that it was not a fixed locus but a function, a sort of nonlocus in which an infinite number of sign-substitutes came into play. (Writing and Difference 280)

As we see so powerfully developed in The Passion according to G. H. (1964) or The Apple in the Dark (1961), the "transcendent" truth that G. H., Martim, and a host of other Lispectorian characters are in quest of reveals itself to be a function not merely of language but of language's elusiveness, its irradicable "free play." Her intensely textualized world is thus one in which, through her characters, language interrogates being, which is to say, it interrogates itself.

To desire this state of perfect communication and satisfaction but never to attain it, Lispector implies, is what being "near to the wild heart" of life is really like, and it dramatizes both the intensely human dimension of her writing and its poststructural ethos. As when we are in love (another of Lispector's most basic motifs), we are constantly seduced and tortured by language, by doubts about the sincerity of the other, about reliability and meaning, by what the very language that we use to express our love, our sense of being and identity, leads us to hope for and desire, by the seductive but maddening skein of signifiers and signifieds that this language dangles eternally before us.

As Lispector herself explains the nature of this paradoxical condition, "What cannot be expressed only comes to me through the breakdown of language. Only when the structure breaks down do I succeed in achieving what the structure failed to achieve" (Near to the Wild Heart 192). Strongly suggesting a close affinity between Lispector and at least some of her characters, G. H., one of her most enigmatic creations, expresses an almost identical sentiment about language and its relationship to both writing and being:

Reality is raw material, language the way I seek it—and how I don't find it. But it is from seeking and not finding that what I have not known is born, and I instantly recognize it. 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 my language. Only when the construct falters do I reach what it could not accomplish. (Passion 170)

"To write," Derrida argues, as if in reference to G. H. and a host of other Lispectorian characters, "is to have the passion of the origin" (Writing and Difference 295). Thus it is that, like so many of Lispector's characters, G. H. comes to sense, if not fully realize, that everything she "sees" or even conceives of is inescapably from her perspective within the "prison house of language," a perspective from which she can never escape. Not even Macabéa, the pathetic protagonist of Lispector's most overtly political narrative, The Hour of the Star (1977), can get beyond the web of words that ensnares not only her and her (dim) perceptions of her predicament but those (much more acute, if no more successful) of her similarly language-entrapped male narrator, Rodrigo S. M.

This constantly self-interrogating play of language is, I believe, the source of Lispector's reputation as a "difficult" and hermetic writer, and it stands as one of the most distinctive aspects of her creative vision. The nature of her work, therefore, is such that regardless of the critical lens we use to examine it, other plausible readings will inevitably arise. Instead of functioning as stable semantic structures, with discernible centers that determine single, recognizable meanings, Lispector's texts reveal themselves to be a constantly evolving network of signs, the free play of signifieds and sigmfiers.

In generating such an acutely language-conscious world, Lispector thus explores what J. Hillis Miller understands as the "situation" of humankind as "something encountered in our relations to other people, especially relations involving love, betrayal, and the ultimate betrayal by the other of our love for him or her, the death of the other" (Miller 22). In Lispector's language-inscribed world, our quest to understand inevitably exists just one word, one meaning, one interpretation away. Brilliantly captured in the semiotic complexities of her "apple" (The Apple in the Dark), the biblical symbol of perfect decoding that lies forever just out of our reach, our struggle to understand inevitably takes place "in the dark," just beyond our capacity to grasp what we desire to grasp and always one sign away.

This is the poststructural dilemma, it is Martim's dilemma, and it is our dilemma. And like Martim, in some ways (his confused passivity, for example) exemplary of a certain type of Lispectorian character (and in contrast to a creation like Joana, who may be considered as exemplary of another, more aggressive class of Lispectorian characters), in the end we may have no other recourse except to abandon our quests to "know" or possess this perfect, Logos-like state of being and return, meekly, to the false security of our conventional wisdoms, structures, and codes of conduct and signification, to the "paralyzing security" (Passion 12) of the "third leg" that G. H. senses she has lost as she begins her descent into the inescapable and destabilizing play of language. What is unique about Lispector's work in this respect is that, through characters as diverse as Ana, Joana, Martim, and the all but genderless "voice" in The Stream of Life, it leads the reader not only to confront the terrifying arbitrariness of human existence but to understand the full extent to which we must deal with the changing conventions of others even as we seek, moment to epiphany-like moment, to create our own identities and "meanings"; we see, in other words, how powerfully the semantically productive selfreferentiality of language serves as the most revealing paradigm for Lispector's fictive world.

Portrayed in human, if, perhaps, less than noble terms, G. H.'s near, partial, or pseudo transformation, defined by the destabilizing flow of language, exemplifies our human quest for Logos, an idealized state of perfect harmony and communication that, as Lacan views it, is nothing more than a figment of our verbally constituted imagination. Seen to be merely a linguistic artifice, a construct of our desire, this Logos nevertheless exhibits a powerful hold on our human consciousness (which, as Lacan has argued, is itself a verbal construct) and leads us inexorably in quest of a perfection that we can never attain. Our pursuit of Logos must end, as it does for so many Lispectorian characters, in exhaustion, frustration, and anxiety, qualities that stem from language's inherent elusiveness. For Lispector, these qualities characterize the human condition, which her texts reveal overwhelmingly to be a matter of our human quest—through language—for a stable and ambiguity-free knowledge that will forever elude us. Indeed, the very concept we have of this quest (the signified) is itself a maze of words, one born, paradoxically, of our all too human desire that such a perfect state of being exist, God-like, for us. It is this self-consciously conflictive attitude about the relationship between language, being, and meaning that animates Lispector's singular style, and that lies, restively, behind her sense of her own work as constituting a "humble quest" to for something that lies forever beyond it.

Both encoding and conveying this quest, the self-conscious act of writing is fundamental to Lispector's texts, and it marks one of her work's most vital links to poststructural thought, which, as Sharon Crowley observes, views writing as "a manifestation of desire," "a reach for authority." As is evident in Lispector's narratives, "Invention begins in the encounter with one's own text" (Crowley 98). The common denominator of all these pressures and tensions, however, and both effecting and affecting all the others, is language, the taproot of Lispector's consciousness, as a writer and as a human being, and, as in Lacanian psychoanalysis, an endlessly generative semiotic system bound up in the process of self-mutation, of undercutting its own consolidating structurations and meanings. What happens in texts like "The Burned Sinner and the Harmonious Angels," "The Egg and the Chicken," "Two Stories My Way," The Besieged City, or A Breath of Life, therefore, is that Lispector plumbs the depths of a mysterious and protean desire, one constantly disruptive of the structures that would encase and restrict it, and featuring the primacy of the signifier (language) over the signified in a semantically fecund correspondence that Lacan famously describes as the "incessant sliding of the signified under the signifier" (Écrits: A Selection 154).

In Lispector's world, from Near to the Wild Heart (1944) onward, concepts of identity thus begin to emerge in her texts not as issues to be wrestled with and then resolved but as irreconcilable paradoxes, self-inquisitorial discourses that are as insoluble for the author and characters as they are for the reader. And, as a text like The Stream of Life illustrates, these systems relentlessly double back on themselves, undercutting not only their own apparent unity but also the reader's ability to rein them in with the sense of closure expected of a simpler narrative or of a single interpretive stance. The result, with its stylistic manifestation being that singularly acute, narrated "from within" (Nunes 1977 and Lindstrom 1982) self-consciousness that characterizes Lispector's best work, is that, again paradoxically, the more Lispector's characters struggle with the self-referential fluidity of language, the more they find themselves enmeshed in it. Of all Lispector's linguistically self-conscious characters, however, only Joana, from Lispector's first novel, and Lóri, from An Apprenticeship, or The Book of Delights (1969), give the reader any real reason to feel that one day they might escape the imprisoning effect that language—read phallogocentric discourse—has had on their development as human beings. Yet even their cases are ultimately rendered moot because of the conflicting desires they realize are defining them. This predicament is especially prominent in terms of Lispector's women characters, who are depicted as seeking a personally satisfying sense of psychological, political, and sexual identity within androcentric social structures. This same struggle, which is still being waged, albeit (I believe) in a more openly poststructural fashion, both in Lispector's last published text, The Hour of the Star (1977), and in her posthumously published dramatic novel, A Breath of Life (1978), typifies her work more completely than perhaps any other single theme.

Although the macrostructures of Lispector's texts (The Apple in the Dark, for example, but even the structurally more radical "Fifth Story" and "Two Stories My Way") often suggest the neat order and unified coherence of structuralism, the real anarchy of even these texts, the true drama of their language (to reframe the argument of Benedito Nunes), takes place not merely in the context of language but actually in language, as a direct function of its semantic vicissitudes. As with poetry, a close reading of these and other Lispectorian texts reveals an endless "dissemination" of meaning that cannot be pinned down or delimited (Positions 86-87), a dispersal of meaning, moreover, in which the reader must take an active part. In reading Lispector, we are made aware that the most fundamental force in her world is the semantic elusiveness of language itself, the system or structure that, always in play, generates ever more plausible meanings or interpretational strategies. Against high structuralism's belief in stabilized, and therefore explainable, orders, forms, and meanings, Lispector's texts, constantly probing the undecidability of language, challenge the notion that any such stability can be achieved through language, and especially through writing and reading, the two focal points of her work. Lispector's world thus actualizes the world of poststructuralist thought, showing us what it looks like not when written as literary theory but as a provocative amalgam of fiction, poetry, and philosophy and as it pertains to the human condition, to the everyday lives of men, women, and children. As if written to exemplify poststructuralist theory, texts like The Stream of Life, "The Egg and the Chicken," and "Two Stories My Way" flaunt their free play, their relentless "différance," and their endless deferrals of meaning and closure.

From Joana and Martim to the voices in The Stream of Life and The Breath of Life, and from the frustrated old woman of "In Search of Dignity" to the contemplative (and possibly autobiographical) narrator of "That's Where I'm Going," Lispector's characters anthropomorphize poststructuralism, dramatizing its human face while simultaneously reminding us that "human culture is a system of sign systems, and that the source and pattern for these systems is language" (Keesey 343). As with G. H., Martim, or Ana (of "Love"), Lispector's men and women often choose to live out their lives by rejecting as too powerful and too radically transforming those epiphanic moments when our seemingly well controlled language use suddenly and unexpectedly turns back on itself and on us and we lose control of it and of our sense of identity in general. Yet even in these cases her texts drive home the realization that to a great extent our worlds, our social, political, philosophical, and sexual constructs, are, finally, just that—constructs—self-referential verbal artifices that change meaning and significance in accordance with changing circumstances. As readers, we follow Lispector as her narratives wrestle, sometimes (as in Soulstorm) wryly and subversively (Vieira), with the implications of this worldview, which, as exemplified in the characters who inhabit her stories, novels, and "chronicles," amounts to nothing less than a deeply humanistic critique of language's poststructural relationship to reality, identity and being, for, with every "sopro de vida" or "breath of life" that we humans take, we cannot escape "living language," however frustrating this condition may be.

Very close, I believe, to Derrida's concept of "différance," this constantly self-destabilizing semantic tension is the basic building block of Lispector's narratives and it explains why, in her themes, structures, and characterizations, her work paradoxically exudes both a sense of "unity" and "control" and a sense of plurisignation and fragmentation, the loss of control and of unity. Or, to cast this tension in a slightly different context, Lispector's fictions show us how language, that most definitively human of our traits, structures our awareness of our existence at the same instant or moment (these also being key Lispectorian motifs) that it "deconstructs" it. The result of this type of structuring and "destructuring," as we see replayed time and time again in Lispector's work, is a recognition of our deep human need to order things, to go in quest of a state of perfect communication (Logos, or Lispector's "state of grace") even as we fail to attain it. As Lacan might say, however, because such a desire is itself an evolving verbal construct deriving from the same conscious and unconscious language structures that engender our quest (which, similarly, is also a function of our language system), it will forever elude us, as it eludes Lispector's characters, among whom very few emerge from their quest believing they have a chance to succeed, to become something new. But because Lispector writes literature and not philosophy per se, her narratives are able to humanize the seemingly sterile and alien poststructural condition by making the reader feel the confusion, anger, fear, and frustration that arise from it and that, at its deepest level (the "primitivism," the quest for the matéria prima of life that permeates Lispector's work), define our condition as human beings, as the self-conscious language animal. Possessed of one of the most unique voices in all of twentieth-century literature, Clarice Lispector is a writer who deserves a much greater audience than she has so far received.



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