A jellyfish is an entity that exists only as a skin suspended in a continuum, dependent upon and at the mercy of that continuum. Clarice Lispector’s novel Água Viva (‘living water’ or ‘jellyfish’ in Portuguese) takes the form of a fragmented interior monologue addressed by an ‘I’ to a ‘you’ from whom the ‘I’ has recently been separated and liberated. Other than being a constraining force, we learn nothing of this ‘you’, so it could be an element of the same person as the ‘I’ as much as it could be another person (of course, the same could be said of the characters of all novels so this is a bit of an idle speculation). The liberation experienced by the ‘I’ is a dissolution of form (is ‘you’ form per se?), a surrender to the forces which, to her, underlie and animate the medium of fiction. As with a jellyfish, the novel reveals more of the currents and fertility of its medium than it is concerned with any of the more solid containers (plot, character, development) into which the medium is, by convention, constrained. “This is not a book because this isn’t how anyone writes.” The novel, so to call it, is a conscious membrane given held up and animated by, and bourn by the storms and currents of, the vast unconscious tohubohu of its medium. “I’m after whatever is lurking behind thought.” The work seeks only to give access to the instant, or, “more than the instant, I want its flow,” wrested from the imposed concept of time upon which linear narratives depend. “The next moment, do I make it? Or does it make itself?” In some ways the novel is an interrogation of the tension between the ecstatic hyperawareness of a single moment, relieved of illusions of past and present but transforming itself by its innate momentum, and the configuration of that eternal moment in written form. “What I say is pure present and this book is a straight line in space. Even if I say ‘I lived’ or ‘I shall live’ it’s present because I’m saying them now.” Lispector’s attempts to write a novel totally free of the dependence upon being ‘about’ anything, to “write with my whole body, loosing an arrow that will sink into the tender and neuralgic centre of the word” in an attempt to use words as an attempt to touch a reality beyond words: “Writing is the method of using the word as bait: the word fishing for whatever is not word. Once whatever is between the lines is caught, the word can be tossed away in relief.” All writing is fundamentally about writing, but Lispector is exploring the possibility that writing, properly examined, may give access to something beyond it that it also obscures. “Reality has no synonyms. I want to feel in my probing hands the living and quivering nerve of today.” She wants to access the “lucid darkness, luminous stupidity” which can only be found somewhere beyond meaning: “I renounce having a meaning. … I may not have meaning but it is the same lack of meaning that a pulsing vein has.” Attaining liberation is simultaneously an extinction, the ends of the circle meet, meaning resembles inanity, individuality is indistinguishable from cliché, the inspired segues into the unreadable. “I, anonymous work of anonymous reality only justifiable as long as my life lasts. And then? Then all that I lived will be a poor superfluity. When I die, I’ll never have been born and lived.” Fertile mud is, after all, still mud. But, there, despite it all, is the ‘I’, still pulsing, still irresolvable, still clamouring for an existence that neither be contained or expressed. “They wanted me to be an object. I’m an object. An object dirty with blood. That creates other objects and the typewriter creates all of us. It demands. The mechanism demands and demands my life. But I don’t totally obey: If I must be an object let me be an object that screams. What saves me is the scream.”
A meditation on the nature of life and time, Água Viva (1973) shows Lispector discovering a new means of writing about herself, more deeply transforming her individual experience into a universal poetry. In a body of work as emotionally powerful, formally innovative, and philosophically profound as Clarice Lispector’s, Água Viva stands out as a particular triumph.