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The Connection Between Philosophy And Literature In The Works Of Clarice Lispector

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The link between philosophy and literature has not always existed, and the reconciliation between them dates back to a recent period. Without discussing in depth the various evidences that would have contributed to this new reunion, we could not fail to appreciate the importance of some of them. The aggravation of the crisis of metaphysics, for example, especially from Nietzsche’s questioning, can be pointed out as a relevant factor. It was he who would have acutely felt “the great embarrassment” of knowing whether philosophy itself would not be literature. In this way, the privilege of the philosophical works that had always considered themselves as a pure speech begins to suffer from then on a shock.

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Consequently, a new kind of philosophy emerges, which, as Merleau-Ponty said, will not take on the task of explaining the world from metaphysical and abstract assumptions, but rather “formulating an experience of the world”, and therefore “the tasks of literature and philosophy can no longer be separated”. The new philosophy is referred as existentialism, whose systematization only occurred in the decades between the two great wars, and, as Jose Fernandes affirms, “For existentialists, human existence is based on anguish, on decisions and on despair experienced throughout life and growth”.

Within contemporary Brazilian literature, the close connection between philosophy and literature is clearer in the fictional work of Clarice Lispector. In her work artistic creation and philosophical speculation merge presenting themes which hold great affinity with relevant themes questioned by the philosophies of existence, especially the Sartrean existentialism. However, to claim that the Lispector’s fiction is closely linked and related to philosophy does not lead us to conclude that the criterion for the evaluation of her literary work lies in her consciously philosophical intentions. On the contrary, Lispector has never been concerned with making her art a deliberate instrument intentionally conveying both literature and philosophy, as the French writer Jean-Paul Sartre did, for example. We might even be sure that the artistic impulse in Lispector may be explained much more by the vital need to understand herself and the world around her than by the properly intellectual concern with defending a certain system, or a philosophical idea. During her first and last TV interview months before she died, when asked when she decided to become a professional writer Lispector answers, “I never did, I’m not a professional. I only write when I want to. I’m an amateur and insist on staying that way. A professional has a personal commitment to writing, or a commitment to someone else to write. As for me I insist on not being a professional to keep my freedom”. Later, when asked how difficult it was for her to write Lispector answers, “When I communicate with an adult, I’m actually communicating with the most secret part of myself, and that’s when it gets difficult.” Although not intentionally, Lispector’s works are filled with existential questions, and especially the female perspective on existential angst. Beginning with her first story, published when Lispector was a nineteen year old student, to the unfinished story that she leaves as sketches on her death bed, her work is entirely based on how women change and grow, and on how they respond to ontological questions. The brutality of the world followed Lispector before she was born.

Born in 1920 in Podolia, Ukraine, Lispector immigrated to Brazil when she was two years old. During the civil war that followed the Bolshevik Revolution, her hometown was desolated by pogroms. Two years before Lispector was born, her grandfather was murdered, her family home destroyed, and months later her mother, Mania, was gang-raped by Russian soldiers. As a consequence of this violence, her mother was infected with syphilis, and her family left Ukraine as Jewish refugees. With no access to proper medical care, Clarice, Mania’s third daughter, was conceived according to a folk belief that pregnancy could cure a woman of venereal disease. Lispector’s failure to save her mother’s life always tormented her, “I was prepared for birth in such a beautiful way. My mother was already sick, and a common superstition had it that pregnancy would cure a woman of her illness. So I was deliberately created: with love and hope. Except that I didn’t cure my mother. And to this day that guilt weighs on me: they made me for a specific mission, and I let them down. As if they were counting on me in the trenches of a war and I had deserted. I know that my parents forgave me for being born in vain and for having betrayed their great hope. But I can’t forgive myself. I simply wanted a miracle: for my birth to cure my mother”. In 1922 the family arrived in Maceio, a port town in northeastern Brazil, fleeing from the pogroms, the violence, and the poverty.

In 1927 the four Lispectors moved to Rio de Janeiro, the city where Lispector identifies as home. When Lispector was only nine years old, her mother, long mute and paralyzed, dies; her father, described by the writer as “an immensely moral man and beyond human evil and indifference” (cite interview) dies when Lispector starts studying law in 1940. After finishing law school Lispector starts working as a journalist, unthinkable accomplishments for a woman at that time. She then married a Brazilian diplomat and published her first novel Perto do Coração Selvagem (Near to the Wild Heart). The novel was an overnight sensation and considered by the Brazilian poet Lêdo Ivo “the greatest novel a woman has ever written in the Portuguese language”. Shortly afterwards Lispector left Brazil for the first time since she had arrived following her diplomat husband that was posted to the Brazilian Consulate in Naples, Italy. She stayed out of Brazil for sixteen years, living in Italy, Switzerland, England and The United States. In 1959, after living in Washington, D.C. for seven years, Lispector divorced her husband claiming to have made the move due problems with the marriage and the isolation she felt in foreign countries and among the diplomatic milieu, “I hated it, but I did what I had to […] I gave dinner parties, I did everything you’re supposed to do, but with a disgust…”.

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