Jack’s Naughty Bits: Clarice Lispector, Near to the Wild Heart

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Jack's Naughty Bits

met people who remember the moment they became sexually aware, some early
trigger like a tickle or a special itch that, when scratched, evoked a new kind of pleasure,
perhaps mingled with a touch of shame. Of course I too can remember early sexual
moments: being dragged under a blanket-covered picnic table for a game of show and
show with a neighbor girl when I was five — she was enthusiastic and I shy as hell; years
later sharing backyard kisses with a future ballerina; later still my repeated and
occasionally successful attempts to convince a friend’s sister to striptease; and finally,
deep in junior high, finding my first true girlfriend, who was famous for palming guys
from the front and whom I later lost to my best friend. But while these events represent
symptoms of sexuality, they still don’t help me recover, in good Proustian fashion, the
precise awakening of my sexual self. That sudden flicker or steady trickle remains


Some of my favorite writers, however, have succeeded in capturing these most
elusive moments. In weeks past I excerpted from
Günter Grass’ The Tin Drum,
where young Oscar first confronts the “hairy triangle,” and from
James Baldwin’s Giovanni’s Room,
where David first discovers he’s gay. This week’s
excerpt, taken from Clarice Lispector’s Near to the Wild Heart, describes the
moment when Joana, a young girl taking a bath, discovers both her sexual identity and
place in the universe. Near to the Wild Heart was published in 1944, when
Lispector was only nineteen, and is a marvel of expressiveness.
In this scene, as elsewhere, the young Lispector seems unwilling or unable to filter the raw
truth, and her uniquely tactile language strikes a probing, poetic chord: a girl’s
recognition of her body, and its isolation from the other bodies of the cosmos.

* * *

From Near to the Wild Heart by Clarice Lispector

Translated by Giovanni Pontiero

The girl laughs softly, rejoicing in her own body. Her smooth, slender legs, her tiny
breasts emerge from the water. She scarcely knows herself, still not fully grown, still
almost a child. She stretches out one leg, looks at her foot from a distance, moves it tenderly,
slowly, like a fragile wing. She lifts her arms above her head, stretches them out towards the
ceiling lost in the shadows, her eyes closed, without any feeling, only movement. Her body
stretches and spreads out, the moisture on her skin glistening in the semi-darkness — her body
tracing a tense, quivering line. When she drops her arms once more, she becomes compact,
white and secure. She chuckles to herself, moves her long neck from one side to another, tilts
her head backwards — the grass is always fresh, someone is about to kiss her, soft, tiny rabbits
snuggle up against each other with their eyes shut. She starts laughing again, gentle
murmurings like those of water. She strokes her waist, her hips, her life.
She sinks into the bathtub as if it were the sea. A tepid world closes over her silently,
quietly. Small bubbles slip away gently and vanish once they touch the enamel. The young
girl feels the water weighing on her body, she pauses for a moment as if someone had tapped
her lightly on the shoulder. Paying attention to what she is feeling, the invading tide. What
has happened? She becomes a serious creature, with wide, deep eyes. She can scarcely
breathe. What has happened? The open, silent eyes of things went on shining amidst the
vapors. Over the same body that has divined happiness there is water — water. No, no . . .


I’ve discovered a miracle in the rain — Joana thought — a miracle splintered into dense,
solemn, glittering stars, like a suspended warning: like a lighthouse. What are they trying to
tell me? In those stars I can foretell the secret, their brilliance is the impassive mystery I can
hear flowing inside me, weeping at length in tones of romantic despair. Dear God, at least
bring me into contact with them, satisfy my longing to kiss them. To feel their light on my
lips, to feel it glow inside my body, leaving it shining and transparent, fresh and moist like the
minutes that come before dawn. Why do these strange longings possess me? Raindrops and
stars, this dense and chilling fusion has roused me, opened the gates of my green and somber
forest, of this forest smelling of an abyss where water flows. And harnessed it to night . . .
Because no rain falls inside me, I wish to be a star. Purify me a little and I shall acquire the
dimensions of those beings who take refuge behind the rain . . . And I am in the world, as
free and lithe as a colt on the plain. I rise as gently as a puff of air . . . I sink only to emerge . . .

© Giovanni Pontiero