On the latest edition of Clarice Lispector’s final novel, The Hour of the Star (New Directions)
by Mike Thomsen
Stupidity is always conditional. An observer discovers some ignorance in a subject, or else the subject stumbles on her own stupidity, usually engendering a torturous self-doubt about what other ignorances might be lurking within. The only antidote to stupidity is an agitated intelligence constantly prowling for blank spots in one’s outward seeming. Clarice Lispector’s The Hour of the Star is a romance, then, between stupidity and its neurotic observer, a restless stretching away from form, tradition, and the stupefying rules they impose on writing.
The novel is narrated by Rodrigo S.M., a writer whose post-modern monologue addressed to us, his readers, makes up the entirety of the novel. Rodrigo imagines Macabéa, a girl so poor, ugly, and stupid—she is perpetually amazed by non-sequitur morsels of trivia discovered on the radio—that she becomes his emotional ideal, free of the intellectual hedge mazes that torment him. It’s anti-intellectual writing, trying to free itself from the idea that the canonical ordering of the past can say anything about the experience of the present. Lispector dedicates the book “to the very crimson color scarlet like my blood of a man in his prime and so I dedicate it to my blood.” It’s a rejection of the arterial walls in favor of the fluid they surround, a novel to the flowing of experience without the history, science, and philosophy that structure and explain it.
Her book is not about blood, but the romantic figuration of blood, the metonymic ghost we invoke when we talk about blood and heart and love. Literal facts are useful only in their ability to provoke a momentary flush of experience, and whatever sensical purpose they have is beside the point, a disposable hallucination waiting only for some new discovery or trick of science to sweep it to the margin. Truth is not truth but only the best we could do at the time, stupidity that has not yet discovered itself.