Poems and Texts

Excerpt from “Translator’s Note” by Katrina Dodson

From “Translator’s Note”

In keeping up with Clarice Lispector’s shifting registers and translating nearly four decades of work in two years’ time, I’ve often felt like a one-woman vaudeville act, shouting, laughing, crying, musing, singing, and tap-dancing my way breathlessly across the stage. Her language swings between elegant, formal, and poetic in her more conventionally literary stories, colloquial in her comic moods, stark and fragmented in her abstract, oracular pieces, and spontaneous, even delirious, in her later works.

Beyond the technical difficulty of capturing these diverse voices and distinguishing the standard from the strange, what makes translating Clarice especially taxing is the emotional weight of inhabiting her characters, often moody, volatile individuals caught in an upheaval. She draws you into these worlds until their logic is yours. I found myself growing as restless and combative as Cristina and Daniel while working on “Obsession.” And I knew I was deep inside “The Buffalo” when I matter-of-factly described it as “a story about a woman who goes to the zoo to learn how to hate,” only realizing from my friend’s confused look that this “plot” wasn’t perfectly normal.

What remains constant is the intimate physicality of Clarice’s voice — its strong rhythms and the way she seems to be whispering in your ear like a sister, mother, and lover, somehow touching you from far away. Part of her rhythm comes from a fondness for repetition: refrains that produce an incantatory feel or thematic crescendo, anaphoric structures that lend a biblical tone, the slapstick effect of a repeated catchphrase, or the compulsive reiterations of an obsessive mind, like Laura’s in “The Imitation of the Rose.” Her words hold onto a sensory coherence, even when their semantic logic threatens to come undone.

Clarice inspires big feelings. As with “the rare thing herself ” from “The Smallest Woman in the World,” those who love her want her for their very own. But no one can claim the key to her entirely, not even in the Portuguese. She haunts us each in different ways. I have presented to you the Clarice that I hear best.

© Katrina Dodson 2015, from Clarice Lispector’s Complete Stories. Use by permission of New Directions Publishing Corp.