In her comments to my last post, Lara raised some interesting points about the sexual politics of Hilda Hilst’s The Pink Notebook of Lori Lamby, a book that initially shocked her critics and readers in light of her much tamer earlier work. Back in 1990, when the book was first published, Hilst gave a great interview on Brazilian TV. I transcribed and translated the whole thing because of how ably I think Hilst navigates the kinds of ethical and representational issues that keep coming up on Montevidayo. Her responses, it seems to me, get to the heart of what’s at stake in excessive writing. Hilst mentions Clarice Lispector, Genet, and the “nostalgia for sanctity” that obscene writing provokes–itself a dazzling response to anyone who might call her nihilistic (not that Lara is doing this!).
Hilda, is Lori Lamby an act of rebellion?
It’s an act of aggression. It’s not a book—it’s a banana that I’m giving to editors, to the publishing industry, because for 40 years I worked seriously, I had an excess of seriousness, of lucidity, and absolutely nothing happened. And now I think people need to wake up. It’s very important, if a person has been sleeping for too long, you suddenly commit a vigorous act so that the person gets up.
Does this country not like seriousness?
No, it doesn’t. You’re not supposed to think in Portuguese. It’s good to think in English, in German—people accept it. In Portuguese, to think is something horrible, and so editors hate you, they spit in your face. That’s what they did to me for 40 years. The only editor that didn’t spit in my face was Massao Ohno, except that Massao Ohno loves to keep his books at home, he loves to look at the books. So, if there’s no distribution, there are no sales. I love him, he’s a great artist, a great visual artist, but he’s in love with books and stores them in his bedroom, some even under his bed!
How was Lori Lamby received by critics and readers? Has it already provoked them?
People think Lori Lamby is totally repugnant. And I think that’s exactly the effect I wanted. But I personally think Lori Lamby is a puerile book, an infantile book, it’s porno for kids. Now I’m going to publish a porno for adults called Contos d’Escarnio: Textos Grotescos. I hope to become an excellent pornographer.
You hope to become a great pornographic writer?
I think the writer wants to be read. That’s the method and will of the writer. It doesn’t matter to me if you think I’m excellent—did you read my writing? No, m’am, I’ve never read it. I hope this time people read me inside capsules, on the ferry, on an airplane, and in bathrooms, too.
Hilda, critics tend to compare you to Clarice Lispector and Guimarães Rosa, on a pedestal with the other saints of Brazilian literature. Will they accept the Hilda Hilst who writes smut?
No, they won’t. It seems as if the saint has lifted her skirt—they’re not having it. Leo Ribeiros, who was for many years my great ally, thinks the book is poorly written, shitty, trashy, repugnant.
And is the book trashy, shitty, and repugnant?
Yes, more or less. But it seems as if that’s what editors like. And people, too—because there’s a great sadness in the world, and laughter is a great solution for one’s mental health. It was excellent for mine.
Is Lori Lamby a comedy?
Very much so. Now, I laugh a lot, right? Writing the book, I laughed; rereading it, I laugh. Some people feel sick reading it. But Genet was also a writer whose every line makes you vomit, and he’s a great writer, right?
That’s what I’d like to know. It’s OK for the male writer to be pornographic—everyone accepts Jean Genet, respects Lawrence, respects other male writers, like Henry Miller—but is a woman allowed to write pornography in Brazil?
No, it’s not allowed. That’s why people think I’m completely crazy. But I think the nature of obscenity lies in one’s desire for conversion. Henry Miller said, “I want light and abstinence.” So, if you manage to act repugnant enough, you end up making people feel nostalgic for sanctity.