Lispector’s narrator in The Passion According to G.H. also struggles with a kind of translation: with finding the words to say how inadequate her words are when it comes to conveying her experience of “a world fully alive.” The novel opens with its action having already taken place. It is the task of the narrator, she explains, to retell what happened, and in the process hopefully to understand it. But has she actually lived the events at all? “Did something happen to me that I, because I didn’t know how to live it, lived as something else?” She proceeds by attempting to describe what happened, despite her fear that the truth of her experience will upend her world. It would be better to stay silent, she senses, but she cannot. For in The Passion According to G.H. an experience is lived only to the extent that it is told. Where any encounter with something new has the power to momentarily upset by showing us that we do not know something, the retelling of that encounter has more lasting effects. That we do not know becomes what we do not know: to experience something new reveals a failure of language. Lispector’s narrator and novel are nearly overwhelmed by their sustained ambivalence of panicked prefaces and digressions, because hers is a story she dares not, but must, tell to an unseen, unnamed “you”—the reader, but also the world itself, all of existence, existence itself. The telling, and the “you” to whom it is directed, are as important as the teller, who is reduced in the novel nearly to anonymity: to a set of initials.
There is a Brad Johnson essay on Clarice Lispector over at The New Inquiry. [via The New Inquiry]