The Stream of Lifeby Published 28 Jun 1989
|The Stream of Life.pdf|
|Publisher||Univesity of Minnesota Press|
This rarefied novel adopts the form of the interior monologue characteristic of Lispector's (1925-1977) oeuvre. A woman sits by the open window of her Brazilian beachfront studio, writing a long letter to someone no more specific than "you." She parries with language (which is "only words which live off sound") and is wholly consumed with problems of epistemology: "I want to die with life." A painter, she struggles as well to recreate the world around her: "On certain nights, instead of black, the sky seems to be an intense indigo blue, a color I've painted on glass." When she listens to music, she says, "I rest my hand lightly on the turntable and my hand vibrates, spreading waves through my whole body." While the narrator's self-consciousness ("And if I say 'I,' it's because I don't dare say 'you,' or 'we,' or 'a person.' I'm limited to the humble act of self-personalization through reducing myself, but I am the 'you-are.' ") and diction ("the ultimate substratum in the domain of reality") may strike some readers as academic, others will appreciate the challenges of Lispector's philosophical investigations.
Copyright 1989 Reed Business Information, Inc.
"The Stream of Life" Reviews
”I know that my gaze must be that of a primitive person surrendered completely to the world, primitive like the gods who only allow the broad strokes of good and evil and don’t want to know about good tangled up like hair in evil, evil that is good.”
There is an unnamed narrator, an artist who is turning his/her talents away from canvas and paint, and exchanging his/her brush for a pen to try and express himself/herself with words. Now that I finished the book I realize that I have no idea of the sex of the narrator. Maybe there was a designation, but I was happily content to see the narrator as androgynous. Does it really matter if the wisdom being shared is from a man or woman as long as that being shared is wise?
The book is a collection of thoughts loosely tied together with the struggles of the narrator to express a philosophy of life, of feelings, of being. The book shouldn’t really be categorized as fiction, philosophy, or anything. To designate it, to name it, is to tie straps to a book that was meant to be free.
I caught glimpses of the author, Clarice Lispector, peering out at me from where she was squeezed behind every letter I, quietly watching my reactions to her creation. As she was writing this book, she scribbled down thoughts on whatever was handy, ”a check, a piece of paper, a napkin” and shoved it into her purse. They all ended up “smelling of her lipstick”.
She knew she created a lot of anxiety for her editor with every manuscript she sent him, but this one in particular she knew would stretch the capacities of even his kind understanding. Translators had an equally difficult time trying to express what she was portraying without bringing a natural neatness and in the process eviscerating the concept. ”The world has no visible order and all I have is the order of my breath. I let myself happen.”
Lispector had doubts about this book, this “spineless book” that lacked a plot and each sentence was connected only by the fact that they came from the same brain, thoughts born as neighbors, but sometimes as different as Earth to Venus. Writers have always complained about some of their best writing ending up crumpled on the floor because it did not fit the plot. In this book, all Lispector kept was the best writing. All the connecting words that we use to keep the plot on a linear course are missing. The narrative is derailed, and now the train is moving as the crow flies. She wanted to cut a new path over hill and dale, through fences, crosscutting roads, so that her train can be seen where no train was meant to be seen. Words moving like an ocean liner gliding across the plains of Kansas.
The narrator talks about music. The way it makes us feel beyond, in many ways, where paint and pen can take us. ”I gently rest my hand on the record player and my hand vibrates, sending waves through my whole body; and so I listen to the electricity of the vibrations, the last substratum of reality’s realm, and the world trembles inside my hands.” When I can let myself go and just exist, a difficult thing for me, music is different. It penetrates deeper, making the core of me shiver, waking up slumbering DNA, and making me remember things that must exist in a future, or a lost present, or a different past.
”I want a clock woven from threads of solar gold.”
In the beginning, as I was licking the lips as the words were first cast, I was scared. The concepts threw my brain into a panic. I could feel myself sinking through the floor, merging with my chair, becoming something other than me. Things needed to be quiet. I needed just a dash of vodka to calm my nerves. I needed to stay away from mired thoughts caught in quicksand. A log of sanity held me up.
”I am before, I am almost, I am never.”
I was reading her sentences several times, grasping just a little bit more each time until I was nuzzling the edges of understanding. I kept holding the book closer and closer to my eyes as if thoughts were escaping as the words came from the page to my mind. At page fourteen, the mystical language of my brain turned some ancient keys, bricks shifted, walls buckled, and I was suddenly able to see more clearly what she was trying to tell me.
Gregory Rabassa, who translated one of her books into English, dedicated a whole chapter to her in his memoir. “The first thing I remember of her?” he said in an interview with the Forward. “Her physical beauty. When I first met her, I was entranced by her; she looked like Marlene Dietrich and wrote like Virginia Woolf — a good combination. She had eyes that may go back to her Ukrainian past, what Thomas Mann called krirgiesen Augen in ‘Magic Mountain.’” She may have been born in the Ukraine, but she was a Brazilian through and through.
”I follow the tortuous path of roots bursting the earth, I have a gift for passion, in the bonfire of a dry trunk I contort in the blaze.”
Don’t be afraid. Take hold of the snake’s tail and let yourself be pulled through the tall grass. What better way to meet a different version of yourself.
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Before you read this review: go find a version of Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah" and put it on. (I'm sure you have it someplace. John Cale's version is recommended, but just about anyone will do.)
Back? Good. And I guess now I'll have to explain what Cohen has to do with Lispector - I suppose it's possible that Cohen's read the book, but it's not like they're all that closely related (apart from the fact that the book opens with a cry of "hallelujah"). But what they have in common is that approach, that ecstasy that's not necessarily religious but which might be the same feeling that's behind religion - not God, but that which some people fill with God. And the self-referential attempt to capture it all in words.
The Stream of Life is a letter from a her to a him, one long monologue that begins the day she wakes up with the sun and finds that life has gone on. It's an incredible feeling, an epiphany she has to try and catch: to describe LIFE in mere words, all that's beautiful and fucked up, the concrete and the abstract, the bits you can't help but paint or sing. But just like you supposedly can't dance about architecture you can't really write about feelings; the words are just words, they don't cover it. She needs time. She has to manipulate language, duck under their superficial definitions and get at the core meaning, while at the same time trying to stop time, freeze the NOW she's trying to describe before it's passed and the feeling of having understood something is lost to the pale cast of thought and everything becomes just more words.
Where does the music go after you've played it?
Lispector goes deep-sea fishing in her language, soul, philosphy, love, art and keeps bumping into the words we once used to represent emotions rather than the emotions themselves, "the it;" she treats language the way a saxophone player in jazz might treat notes, refusing to play the basic melody but playing around it, surrounding it from all directions, alternately divebombing it and caressing it before restating the theme at the end. The novel - if you can even call it that - is subjective taken to the extreme, the sheer experience of experiencing taken to the degree where everything becomes a subject - everything is "I," I am "it." Being as a conscious act of creation: "I am myself."
"Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent," as a dull Austrian once put it. But Lispector isn't a philosopher, she's a fiction writer, and she refuses to be silent; she WILL force language to capture that second of clarity, jubilation, grief, extacy - like a Coltrane who's learned to paint, like Molly Bloom on E. This is prose that wants to top poetry. It takes her 127 pages and I'll be damned if she doesn't manage it. I can't sum it up - that would sort of defeat the purpose; maybe my attempt to use words to describe her attempt to use words to speak of that which cannot be spoken about, that secret chord that goes all the way to the divine, was doomed from the beginning. But on the other hand, if it could be easily summed up we wouldn't need literature, would we?
I don't want to feel the horrible limitations of living only by that which makes sense.
I just know that The Stream of Life lights up what, for lack of a better word, I call my soul. And that it's amazing, mankind's ability to watch everything go wrong and yet stand their with nothing on our tongues but "hallelujah."
Beguiling improvised abstractions about consciousness via short paragraphs about mirrors, flowers, horses, writing, being, painting perfume in the air, beatitude, joy, grace, how cats never laugh, always being born through thought, "is-ness," "it-ness," maybe best described/reduced as Beckettian Brazilian Beat prose-poetry? Unlike anything I've ever read -- much longer than its 88 pages. At times sophomoric, juvenile, ridiculous, superficial, zone-out-able, but then suddenly so much more, with perfect phrasing like "a horse with the open wings of a great eagle." But then it goes back to proto-stoner silliness like how "now" is always passing, by the time you say "now" it's no longer now, etc. Anyway, my first Lispector in the updated translations (a few years ago, I read The Hour of the Star in an old translation and wasn't into it at all) -- won't be my last.
başı sonu olmayan bir monolog, bir doğaçlama yaşam suyu. ilk bakışta, bildik roman okuma deneyimiyle, anlaşılmaz ve hatta anlamsız görünüyor. ancak yazar/kahramanın da bizzat muhatabından istediği şekilde okunursa kendini açıyor. metni derinliğine rağmen yüzeysel okumak, anlamı satırlarda değil satır aralarında bulmak gerekiyor basit bir ifadeyle. durmadan, takılmadan okudukça, akışa bir süre müdahale etmedikçe anlatı kendi yolunu buluyor.
yazarın amacının biçim gösterisi olmadığını da belirtmek gerek elbette. metin bir kez açıldıktan sonra bir tür yol arkadaşlığı kuruyor okurla. doğaçlamanın, çağrışımların böyle bir gücü var. düşünce ya da hisler kelimelerin katı kalıplarından kurtuluyor, cümleler çizilmiş sınırlar olmadığında daha çok anlatıyor, yazı özgürleştikçe renkleniyor, zenginleşiyor. bu, çok şeydir. bundan sonra isterseniz tekrar tekrar kitaba döner, isterseniz monologu, doğaçlamayı kendi kelimelerinizle sürdürürsünüz.
This is a book that I will return to at least once a year. The prose reminds me of Saul Williams’ poetry, although Saul was born a mere five years before Lispector died in 1977, so any thoughts of reincarnation do not hold in this particular instance.
A bricolage of paragraphs longing for understanding on the present moment are placed like Tibetan prayer flags in the work -- there seems to be a thread or current running throughout the pieces. Of course Água Viva means The Stream of Life, so she spends much of the book’s length on coming to grips with mortality. Translator Stefan Tobler did a fine job in presenting this in English.
It’s a wonderful work and I cannot recommend it highly enough. Even to thumb through it a paragraph at a time seems to offer quite a payback. The book reads more like music or a painting than a novel, in fact. It is no wonder that it has influenced a great number of Brazilian artists, including musician Cazuza who read it 111 times.