Free State

Fiction, essays, reportage.

Fault Lines

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It is night, and Ermelinda can see no way out. The constantly transforming, generative natural world is a terror that awaits her. It is a terror, she thinks now, sitting up in bed, wrapped in white sheets, whose evidence is all around us. She is suddently appalled at our illusion of occupation of the land, our building of houses, cities, religions, the conviction of solidity and security which gives us the strenght to work and live, the resolution to continue, the confidence to bring children into the world. It is an illusion, Ermelinda thinks. The birds and plants will take us all.

 Their presence, an innocent reminder, took away the assurance of terrestrial life itself. And it was then that even houses with their lives inside seemed to her to be built too fragile, with no feeling of the danger there was in not being more deeply rooted in the ground. Yet only the girl seemed to see what others did not see, and what the solid houses did not even suspect: that they had been built without caution…. Houses and people were merely perching upon the earth, just as temporary as a circus tent. The succession of temporary things on earth that did not even have frontiers marking off where a person lived in life and where he lived in death. (‘The Apple in the Dark’, 2009, Haus Publishing, UK, trans. Gregory Rabassa, p.316)

This is an image of solid ground sundered, a suggestion of the elemental tectonic pressures of earthquakes and volcanoes. What is interesting is that this image is not a landscape metaphor of a psychologically occurring moment. The days of the earth belonging to the mind are over. If anything, the reverse is happening. The mind is reproducing the creative capitulation of the earth. Life emerged on fault lines in a devastation of fire and rock ripped open, a related torrent of volcanoes and earthquakes. (This wouldn’t have happened once, of course, in a single moment or in a single place, but most likely many times and in many places staggered over thousands of years. Still, the most likely places for these emergences are fault lines, the places of greatest weakness – and greatest power – in the earth.) Ermelinda’s mind experiences itself breaking open, coming apart from its asumptions, as it sees the earth coming apart, a process that was the point of origin for all living things. As her mind convulses apocalyptically it undergoes a repetition of the conditions which created life and a rehearsal for the further breaking of form in organismic death. It is this violently, powerfully fragile state that also, we have to assume, is producing Lispector’s brilliant literature.

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