Running Water in Clarice Lispector's The Besieged City
Montclair State University, US
Johnny Lorenz is a translator of Brazilian literature, literary critic, poet and professor of English at Montclair State University. His translation of Clarice Lispector's A Breath of Life was a finalist for Best Translated Book Award and his translation of Lispector's The Besieged City was listed as one of the "Best Books of 2019" by Vanity Fair. His honors include a PEN/Heim Translation Fund Grant, a Fulbright, and, most recently, an NEA grant to support his translation of the award-winning novel Crooked Plow by Itamar Vieira Junior. Lorenz's book of poems, Education by Windows, was published by Poets & Traitors Press. His scholarly essays on Machado de Assis, Rubem Fonseca, Clarice Lispector and Mario Quintana have appeared in journals such as Luso-Brazilian Review, Brasil/Brazil and Modern Fiction Studies.
When, in Clarice Lispector's The Besieged City (1949), our protagonist, Lucrécia, contemplates her relationship with the city of São Geraldo, she pays special attention to water and water infrastructure. Pipes and embankments and viaducts, even the humble faucet – all of this technology of controlling and delivering water becomes a way of conceptualizing the city, but waterworks, I argue, is also an integral part of the text's experiment with vision. Can one see what is there? Can one see the "thing" liberated from our vocabularies? In Chapter 6, in which, supposedly, nothing is happening, Lucrécia is at the faucet, doing the dishes, losing her sense of self as she communes with the city. Later, when she notices a broken faucet in the storeroom, she confronts the thingness of this piece of equipment. To realize the thingness of herself is her most powerful desire. My analysis attempts to complicate feminist readings of The Besieged City by arguing that the text imagines objectification not as a problem, but as a paradoxical attempt at agency. Previous readings approach Lispector's novel as a condemnation of the city; my analysis understands The Besieged City as a representation of the modern sublime.