‘The Buffalo’ by Clarice Lispector

The Buffalo by Clarice Lispector, 1959

The magic trick:

Inhabiting an odd protagonist with an odd conflict

This is one of many Lispector stories that suggest more than a passing influence on Mr. Haruki Murakami. I’m not sure if he’s a fan, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he was a Lispector obsessive. Maybe it’s the zoo setting that recalls Murakami. More likely it’s the way the story drops the reader into a strange psyche with an odd conflict. It’s never specifically identified. In fact, we have a sense that our protagonist might be a bit deranged. That’s okay. We go with it. We don’t have a choice. Again, very Murakami. This is the situation. This is the reality. If it makes you feel odd, too bad. This is how it is. Adjust or stop reading. And that’s quite a trick on Lispector’s part.

The selection:

But the giraffe was a virgin with freshly shorn braids. With the mindless innocence of large and nimble and guiltless things. The woman in the brown coat averted her eyes, feeling sick, sick. Unable—in front of the perching aerial giraffe, in front of that silent wingless bird—unable to locate inside herself the spot where her sickness was the worst, the sickest spot, the spot of hatred, she who had gone to the Zoological Gardens to get sick. But not in front of the giraffe that was more landscape than being. Not in front of that flesh that had become distracted in its height and remoteness, the nearly verdant giraffe. She was searching for other animals, trying to learn from them how to hate. The hippopotamus, the moist hippopotamus. That plump roll of flesh, rounded and mute flesh awaiting some other plump and mute flesh. No. For there was such humble love in remaining just flesh, such sweet martyrdom in not knowing how to think.

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