The Poetic Riddle of Clarice Lispector

Brad Johnson (The New Inquiry) looks at the distinctive quality of Lispector’s prose
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Clarice Lispector
Though she never considered herself a poet, Clarice Lispector’s prose inhabits this poetic riddle in a way that is only recently beginning to gain the recognition it deserves. In his biography of Lispector, Benjamin Moser deems her “the Sphinx of Rio de Janeiro,” noting her defiant comments about staring down the Sphinx in Egypt: “I did not decipher her. But neither did she decipher me.” By Moser’s reckoning, whose editorial hand and evangelistic enthusiasm has guided Lispector’s entry into New Directions’ catalogue, it is precisely the mysteriousness of Lispector’s style that has made a mess of previous translations and stunted her reception in the United States. In interviews and in the afterword to his translation of The Hour of the Star (2011), Moser never goes so far as to blame these early translations for failing to cement Lispector’s place among other Latin American literary heroes like Mario Vargas Llosa and Carlos Fuentes, but neither does he think her books simply require some new marketing and another chance. These translations are new for a reason. Moser bristles at what he sees as English translators trying to tame Lispector’s strangely composed Portuguese, ironing out the wrinkles in her syntax and cleaning up what would be bad grammar if it weren’t intentional. [Read More]
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