The Many Voices of Clarice Lispector: A Q&A with author Earl Fitz

Purdue University Press spoke with author Earl Fitz about his new book Clarice Lispector: From Brazil to the World. This book is Volume 90 in the Purdue Studies in Romance Literatures series (PSRL). PSRL publishes books on topics of literary importance that make a significant contribution to Romance scholarship. Studies are written in English, Spanish, or French and deal with topics in French, Italian, Luso-Brazilian, Spanish, and Spanish American literatures. Books in the series cover a wide range of topics and are evaluated, edited, and prepared by the School of Languages and Cultures in the College of Liberal Arts at Purdue University.

Q: Could you give a brief description of your book?

There are many Clarice Lispectors, not just one.  Chapter by chapter, my book tries to cover all of these.  There is, for example, the political Clarice (in Brazil, we like to refer to authors and soccer players by their first names), the one who, throughout her life, was committed to social justice.  In her 1974 story collection, The Stations of the Body, Clarice uses short fictions to challenge the abuses of the Brazilian dictatorship.  I cite those places in her novels, stories, and non-fiction work that exemplify her political concerns.  From her first novel, published in 1943, and running through to the end of her career, Clarice was concerned in particular with equality for women.  This is a constant theme in her work.  For Clarice, however, to free women requires that men, too, be freed – from the stereotypes and prejudices that limit the kinds of human beings they can be.  There is also the erotic Clarice, the one whose work was the inspiration for French author and critic, Hélène Cixous’ famous theory of L’écriture féminine, or “writing the body.”  Clarice can also be very funny, especially about the vagaries of human relationships.

Q: What is the goal of your book? What motivated you to write it?

The goal of my book was to assist non-specialists to understand Clarice and the complexity of her writing.  She writes, always, about the human condition, which makes it easier for readers from other cultures to appreciate her work.  Since her untimely death in 1977, Clarice has become a global phenomenon.  She is read today all over the world and hailed everywhere as an extraordinary writer.  I seek in the book to explain her immense global popularity and, false modesty aside, I think I’ve been pretty successful in doing that.  Hers is a unique voice; in Brazil, where she is still regarded as one of the great pillars of modern literature, her fans say, “No one writes like Clarice.”  I want her readers around the world to know why this is so.

Q: What are a few things that are being studied for the first time in this book?

A great deal of this book will be new, and surprisingly so, for readers who may have read a few of her novels or stories but who do not know all of them.  It will, for example, surprise many readers that Clarice is as funny as she is.  Others, believing her to be a mystic, will be shocked to discover how erotic she was and how political she was.  Even specialists have expressed surprise at how Clarice’s concerns with God (and including the core question: does God even exist?) permeate her work, becoming, finally, a motif of it.

Q: Is there anything that shocked or surprised you while working on this project?

What most surprised me in writing this book is Clarice’s passion, her authenticity.  Whether she’s being funny or erotic or political, the reader feels utterly convinced that Clarice is speaking to her honestly and without guile.  And, in fact, she is.  This quality, too, accounts for a lot of her global popularity.  Reading Clarice is an experience, and that is true for men as much as for women.  Clarice writes to all of us.  For Clarice, the act of writing was tantamount to the act of breathing.  For her, to write was to exist, and the reader feels this intensity in everything she wrote.

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