‘Brasília’ by Clarice Lispector, translated by Katrina Dodson

In 1956, Brazilian President Juscelino Kubitschek commissioned the design and construction, from scratch, of a new capital city: the city of Brasília was to be a center of modernist, egalitarian, highway-driven progress with the shape, visible from above, of an airplane. By 1960 this concrete and steel embodiment of networked unity and nationalist-cosmopolitan innovation was complete; and in 1962, with no idea that Walt Disney was planning, along the same lines but wheel-shaped, an Experimental Prototype Community Of Tomorrow in the United States, Clarice Lispector visited Brasília for the first time, returning briefly twelve years later. On both occasions, what she wrote about it was fantastical but not. She invented an ancient history for the two-year-old city, imagining the original ‘Brasilianaires’ as “extremely tall blond men and women” who “sparkled in the sun,” were completely blind, and, “dressed in white gold,” were altogether more like skyscrapers than people. Lispector’s Brasília is so hospitable that there’s no room for pedestrians. It’s so bright and vigilant one feels guilty for feeling guilty. The utopian imperative is so insistent that tears and tiredness aren’t allowed. There’s such a rational lack of corners that this actual, real-life city seems not to exist—like a fantasy without magic. Lispector’s writing, too, is dizzying, euphoric, terrified, insomniac, as she recognizes in herself the temptation to wish for absolute order, to create a situation where although freedom and clarity are the first imperatives, there are no surprises. And no rats.

“A whole part of us, the worst, precisely the one horrified by rats, that part has no place in Brasília. They wished to deny that we are worthless. A construction with space factored in for the clouds. Hell understands me better . . . —The construction of Brasília: that of a totalitarian State. —This great visual silence that I love. My insomnia too would have created this peace of the never.”

Collected in The Complete Stories, New Directions, 2015

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