Wednesday, September 13, 2017

A small room inside a bay window. A single bed, a table and chair, and a sink. I could manage something larger, with more conveniences, but I could never match the view.

Atop the books beside my bed is Benjamin Moser's Why This World: A Biography of Clarice Lispector (2009), the story of a writer born in post-World War I Ukraine of Jewish parents who, as a child, left with her family for northeastern Brazil.

I wonder if Lispector would be happy with that narrative. Of course there is more -- and less. More because Lispector's life was only just beginning; more because there is more to Lispector's "inflexible individuality," as Moser describes it, than what those two words connote.

I am interested in "inflexible individuality," as I see a lot of it these days, from those in the business of ambiguity (artists) to those whose stock and trade is market certainty (Donald Trump). Conversely, I am equally aware of an emergent subject position based on the relational, the intersectional, or indeed the positional, particularly in the writings of indigenous artists and scholars.

Elizabeth Bishop befriended Lispector in Brazil in the early 1960s. This friendship is recorded in Bishop's correspondence with Robert Lowell, where she tells Lowell of her translations of Lispector's stories, how Lispector is "the most non-literary writer I've ever known, and never cracks a book as we used to say. She's never read anything that I can discover -- I think she's a self-taught writer, like a primitive painter."

This too is a common contemporary condition, and in reading it I am reminded of what Boris Groys often says about a world -- and a time -- when everyone is a writer, but nobody reads. Below is paragraph from his 2012 e-flux essay:

"This is where theory demonstrates its solidarity with the general mood of our times. In earlier times, recreation meant passive contemplation. In their free time, people went to theatres, cinemas, museums, or stayed home to read books or watch TV. Guy Debord described this as the society of spectacle—a society in which freedom took the form of free time associated with passivity and escape. But today’s society is unlike that spectacular society. In their free time, people work—they travel, play sports, and exercise. They don’t read books, but write for Facebook, Twitter, and other social media. They do not look at art but take photos, make videos, and send them to their relatives and friends. People have become very active indeed. They design their free time by doing many kinds of work. And while this activation of humans correlates with the major forms of media of the era dominated by moving images (whether film or video), one cannot represent the movement of thought or the state of contemplation through these media. One cannot represent this movement even through the traditional arts; Rodin’s famous statue of the Thinker actually presents a guy resting after working out at a gym. The movement of thought is invisible. Thus, it cannot be represented by a contemporary culture oriented to visually transmittable information. So one can say that theory’s unknowable call to action fits very well within the contemporary media environment."

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