I recently finished two short works of non-fiction. The first was Agua Viva by Clarice Lispector and the second was Hand to Mouth by Paul Auster. Each of which were remarkably unique. Clarice is a rightfully cherished Brazillian gem, while Auster is the resilient American from the Bowery. The books are loose variations of what a biographical self-portrait might look like. It’s easy to imagine each author in front of a typewriter in the middle of a serene night with their eyes drifting between a standing mirror in the opposite side of the room that frames the concentration and effort it takes to recapture the words and ideas one has lived through, to find those words in the dark and put them in their place.
They were published about thirty years apart, despite taking place in and around the same time period. One looks back; the other looks down at its feet, right where it stands. But if there were anything remotely similar among these yarns, the familiar features are eventually lost to the motives of their personal style and flare. Auster works backwards and is concerned with nothing but the course which led him to where he is today. Despite all of its decadence and shortcoming, he parts with the wisdom that age provides in order to remind readers of the rewards that lie just beyond hardship. Lispector, on the other hand, has just been down that path and is here to tell you it ain’t pretty and hardship never ends. She is compelled to continue writing in part of her resilience as a new woman. Tomorrow is the creeping edge of a mysterious jungle that is forever stretching outward while we stand caught in the dark of it’s throng without any direction from the broken promise of birth — because in her words, “it all started at birth.” But let’s not think too hard about where it ends.
These sorts of works go down like liquid scenery. Things, names, places, memories, love & dreams, streets, family, jobs — they all fall past your face as you push forward, and you never really know whether any of it is of any use. But the general lesson is time. Eventually you’ll get there. You realize that at some point you just have to trust them as they put more and more in front of you; trust that you’ll somehow, someway, make it all the way back home.