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H. crushes the bug which was crawling on the door of the wardrobe. However, the cockroach doesn't die immediately, and continues to crawl despite its injuries. The impression produced by this image of the wounded cockroach that tries to crawl despite the pain and despite its ugliness is what actually brings about her revelation G.H. feels that she must overcome her disgust and make a gesture of supreme communion: kiss the leper: "I am going to overcome my disgust, and I am going to go as far as the gesture of supreme communion. I am going to kiss the leper."(Lispector, 31) the Christian symbolism here is obvious: self-revelation can only be achieved, paradoxically, through self-effacement in front of the Other. The Christian communion requires the deliberate humiliation and annihilation of the self, so as to attain a heightened understanding of the self.
Immediately after this revelatory encounter, G.H. feels that she loses her own identity and that her being is somehow dissolved into "the inferno of brute lie." Thus, she goes back to the origins of life, to the sacred primordial state by communing with a primitive form of life: "Hold my hand tight, because I feel that I'm going. I am again going to the most primary divine life, I am going to an inferno of brute life. Don't let me see because I am close to seeing the core of life - and... I am afraid that in that core I won't know anymore what hope is."(Lispector, 34) the encounter with the suffering cockroach is definitely an encounter with the sacred. The experience recalls the doctrine of the New Testament, where the self is purified through sufferance. Thus G.H. reformulates her identity, encountering her true self. According to Butler, gender is not a stable identity but rather an identity which is formed in time, through the symbolic repetition of acts: "Gender is in no way a stable identity or, locus of agency from which various acts proceed; rather it is an identity tenuously constituted in time- an identity instituted through a stylized repetition of acts."(Rivkin and Ryan, 900) Lispector's text prefigures this gender theory. Thus, G.H. begins to discover her identity through the interaction with the other. Her body is a set of possibilities rather than a fixed entity, and this will be obvious in the transformation or metamorphosis she suffers after the sacred encounter with otherness. According to Butler, identity is therefore not something given or permanent but rather something that is continually realized through the performative acts of the individual: "Merleau-Ponty maintains not only that the body is a historical idea but a set of possibilities to be continually realized."(Rivkin and Ryan, 902) Before her sacred experience, G.H. is only a woman who thinks she has an identity but who, in fact, does nothing more than to comply with the social role she is given beforehand. After the experience however, she finally becomes herself, weaving her identity through her act of kissing the other, the sufferer. The act may also have sexual connotations, as the two bodies become merged in a sort of sacred communion.
Butler also points out that the body is historically circumscribed as a set of possibilities, and not a riveted identity: "As an intentionally organized materiality, the body is always an embodying of possibilities both conditioned and circumscribed by historical conventions."(Rivkin and Ryan, 903) Interestingly, Butler's theory seems to come into dialog with Lispector's text. Thus, G.H. describes the space of the room as the place of an initiating, mesmerizing experience, where the body enters as a set of possibilities and is given a gendered identity, as a 'he' or a 'she': "This room had only one way in, and it was a narrow one: through the cockroach.... By a perilous road I had reached the deep breach in the wall that was that room... And the break formed a wide natural hall like in a cave. Bare, as though prepared for only one person's entrance. And whoever came in would be transformed into a 'she' or into a 'he.' I was the person the room called 'she.' I had come in an 'I,' but the room then gave me the dimensions of 'she.' As though I were also the other side of a cube, the side that you don't see because you are seeing the front side."(Lispector, 35) the description G.H. Makes of the room is extremely interesting. She enters another space where her self, her 'I' is given the dimensions of a 'she'. Thus, in the room, through her encounter with otherness, G.H. becomes a gendered person, being both the 'I' and the 'she' at the same time. To acquire a new dimension is here to find the gendered part of the self, to discover the other side of the personality cube. The experience is thus at once exhilarating and frightening, as G.H. feels herself drawn and seduced to an inevitable truth. The truth about herself is frightening precisely because she does not know what kind of identity she will get, and whether this truth will not project her to a primitive existence, 'at the level of the cockroach': "And, in my great expansion, I was on the desert.... I was on the desert as I had never been before. It was a desert that called me like a monotonous, remote canticle calls. I was being seduced. And I went toward that enticing madness. But my fear was not the fear of someone who was going toward madness and thus toward a truth - my fear was the fear of having a truth that I would come to despise, a defamatory truth that would make me get down and exist at the level of the cockroach. My first contact with truths always defamed me."(Lispector, 36) the self expands into a new sense of identity from the core of the one-dimensional identity. Thus, the self is afraid of seeing its own truth and of the subsequent discovery. It is afraid of coming to know itself beyond the easily acknowledgeable conventions. The new life of the gendered self begins in a primordial desert precisely because it has to shake off the historical data and parameters.
In a religious sense, the love of oneself begins with the love for the other. To be able to see through the blind of the historical context and find her own identity, G.H. must recognize the other for what he or she is and only afterwards turn to look on herself. If gender is only a historical construction, than the act of seeing the true self through the layers of predetermined facts must be an epiphany. Interestingly, G.H. wonders whether she will be able to love herself despite the fear of a great discovery. She thus compares her search for the true self with the childish discovery of the world, which does not stress the importance of finding: "But are the discoveries of infancy like those made in a laboratory, where one finds what one will? Was it when, only when I became an adult that I started to fear and grew the third leg? Can I, as an adult, have the childlike courage to love myself? To lose oneself is to go looking with no sense of what to do with what you might find."(Lispector, 5) the metaphor of the 'third leg' grown by the adult emphasizes the idea that the self goes to look for support for its own identity, thus relying also on extraneous sources for definition. The third leg cuts the enthusiasms of the other two normal legs, thus taking away its freedom completely: "The two walking feet minus that extra third one that holds a person down. And I want to be held down. I don't know what to do with the horrifying freedom that can destroy me. But while I was held down, was I happy? Or was there -- " and there was -- " an uncanny restless something in my happy prison routine? Or was there -- " and there was -- " that throbbing something to which I was accustomed that I thought throbbing was the same as being a person? Isn't that it? Yes, that too... that too... (Lispector, 5-6) in her monologue, G.H. realizes that she had been letting herself be ruled by the dragging routine of her elegant but conventional life. As it has already been noted, Butler argues that gender is a social and historical reality, being subject to shifts and transformations depending on the order in which specific act are repeated: "If the ground of gender identity is the stylized repetition of acts through time, and not a seemingly seamless identity, then the possibilities of gender transformation are to be found in the arbitrary relation between such acts, in the possibility of a different sort of repeating, in the breaking or subversive repetition of that style."(Rivkin and Ryan, 901) Identity is thus certainly not a continuous, permanent reality…[continue]
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