For Brazilian writer Hilda Hilst, writing was a continuous process of transcendence without ever reaching the transcendent; a radical subjugation of all traditional or seemingly “correct” modes of thought. For this reason, even the process of moderating a discussion on her work poses a considerable challenge, since the moderator must always question even the foundations of her questions. As A Bolha Editora’s co-publisher Stephanie Sauer says, “This is part of the act of transcendence: for us, as readers, to transcend our present level of thought enough to step into new paradigms.”
Hilst collected several prestigious literary prizes over her four-decade career, writing in every genre and invariably blurring the lines between them. A prodigious student throughout her life, she wrote in part to engage and challenge world thinkers, and drew from an incredibly wide set of traditions and fields of thought, including psychoanalysis, spiritism, Gnosticism, EVP (or ESP), pure mathematics and philosophy, biology, astronomy, and quantum physics. Her prose is ludic and polyphonic—physical and titillating—and often challenges a reader’s notions of what is sexually “appropriate.”
This roundtable on Hilst is convened on the occasion of the translation and publication into English of three of her novels in less than two years by the American publishers Nightboat Books, in collaboration with A Bolha Editora, and Melville House. Our panel gathers six authorities on Hilst’s work, including four of her English-language translators and two of her publishers. This roundtable is moderated by Sarah Gerard, with a contribution by Caroline Aguiar. —SG
Sarah Gerard is a former bookseller and a book critic who has written on Hilda Hilst.
Nathanaël translated, with Rachel Gontijo Araújo, Hilda Hilst's The Obscene Madame D.
Alex Forman is currently translating Hilda Hilst's Fluxo-Floema.
Rachel Gontijo Araújo translated, with Nathanaël, Hilda Hilst's The Obscene
John Keene translated Hilda Hilst's Letters from a Seducer.
Adam Morris translated Hilda Hilst's With My Dog-Eyes.
Stephanie Sauer is co-founder of A Bolha Editora, with Rachel Gontijo Araújo.
Sarah Gerard: Some people in the publishing industry—as well as some established Hilst fans—are lovingly referring to 2014 as the “Year of Hilst,” in light of all of the work that stands to become available this year and next. You’re all currently laboring behind that work, or have recently translated Hilst’s work. Why is now the right time to bring Hilda Hilst to the English-speaking world, and what do you think this new audience will find most engaging about her?
Alex Forman: Hilst is eminently readable. She is thoroughly seductive, and can easily seduce a new English-speaking readership, though I wouldn’t say she was easily translatable. Having joined this project only recently, I’m really impressed by the multiple-pronged approach taken here to present Hilst to American audiences—how Rachel and Stephanie have collaborated with Nightboat Books, how John and Nathanaël bring to their translations and commentary an academic perspective and frisson, and how Adam has launched Hilda to other presses, notably Melville House, magazines like BOMB, and funding institutions. In recent years, I’ve encountered other presses eager to publish Hilst, who as Sarah says, is already well-respected within the publishing community, so the interest is clear, but “Why only now?” is part of a larger question of why Brazilian fiction is still so spare in English.
It is a congruent moment for Hilst. So, I’ll take a stab at answering “Why now?” from within Hilst’s writing. As I see it, 2014-2015 readers (if such a class exists) are of the Facebook, Twitter, flash mobs, hypertext, and multi-tasking generation. They understand experimental, and how it feels to make sense of weaving in and out of multiple points of view or having many voices in one’s head, in conversation, while hearing each of them individually. In terms of style, Hilst often "speaks" in rounds, in the internal, sometimes unnamed voices of her protagonists, or her protagonists' protagonists. She does this not so much in fragments, as did the authors of a previous generation of readers discovering new writing (say, Anne Carson), but in the fluid narrative of multiple voices in chorus.
In terms of what will appeal to new English-speaking audiences, Hilst’s are lyrical, ludic novels. Among other things, Hilst openly explores and portrays themes of sexuality, sexual preference, and sexual perversity in ways that are at once casual and considered, while in fact she is always discussing the writing process. Meta-text, especially meta-narrative couched in narrative fiction, never goes out of style.
John Keene: I would begin by adding that we should be careful to remember that when one speaks of a "Year of Hilst," one is speaking specifically and primarily of English-language, U.S. book-length translations of her work. Several of Hilst's book-length texts had already been translated into and published in French in the late 1990s, and as the Angelfire.com page that Yuri Vieira dos Santos set up for her in 1999 shows, selections of her work also have been translated into German and Italian, as well as English and French. (Dawn Jordan's translation on that website of a section of The Obscene Madame D was my first introduction in English to Hilst’s prose.) On the other hand, we can nevertheless point to the appearance, within the span of a year and a half, of three books of hers in English translation, which is significant. Why now, a decade after her death? I have thought about this, and also wondered why, given how distinctive her work is, it has not traveled, even across the less steep barrier of Spanish, unlike the work of a number of Brazilian writers of her generation and after. Part of it may be that Hilst's work, particularly her prose, in Portuguese and in any language into which is it translated, is quite demanding on the reader. It brims with pleasures and satisfactions (as well as irritants and annoyances, for those seeking literary conventionalities) of all kinds, from the phonemic to the thematic levels, but it nevertheless consistently challenges the reader. This is as true of her prose from the early 1970s, like Fluxo-Floema, through the last prose works she produced. David William Foster has described her work as "fuguelike," noting that it "often remains stunningly impenetrable after the most assiduous of [re]readings." While such textual difficulty, verging on impenetrability, has not been a bar to a wide array of writers, including those writing in Brazilian Portuguese, such as Guimarães Rosa, or Osman Lins, or Clarice Lispector, being translated into other languages, when one couples this with Hilst's thematic concerns and content, it does suggest that she perhaps has had higher bar to surmount. In this sense, then, the confluence of translations and publications into English is significant, and, I hope, may lead to broader interest in Hilst, and even more translations, into other languages, of all of her work, including her poetry, plays, and nonfiction.
Nathanaël: This kind of question, I find to be particularly stymying—the terms it sets out, it seems to me, have no bearing on the question of literature, which is foremost, I think, what we have been convened to discuss. If literature’s duration were to be determined by such external (corporate) concerns as those of “industry” (though this term remains somewhat inscrutable to me in intention or simple description), then we would have to concede certain defeat which I’m not quite willing to do, as I still adhere to some notion of a literature not entirely given to the crass demands of a so-called marketplace. I don’t mean to pretend not to understand, nor even share in, the enthusiasms evoked here—and in the good company convoked to this conversation; certainly, Hilst’s arrival on the Anglophone scene, as it were, through the translative efforts of several quite committed individuals, is cause for much exuberance, foremost, for her bold accomplishment, but additionally for all the ways in which her work will disrupt the prevailing assumptions around a Brazilian literature among an English language readership, additionally displacing some of the assumptions fettered to a "writing of the body" such as it has been, in part, under the aegis of writers such as Hélène Cixous. I think, though, there is an imperative as well to consider the reasons motivating the delay in the dissemination of this work, withheld for so many years, under the near-hegemonic ascription to the figure of Clarice Lispector as the sole assignatory of a kind of writing misleadingly underwritten by the national category, “Brazil.”
Adam Morris: To echo something Nathanaël mentions, it’s always been time to read and translate Hilst. The market is precisely what’s been in the way, since American publishers are reluctant, in general, to publish translations from unknown writers and non-celebrity translators. What’s changed is Brazil’s position in the geopolitical landscape: the upcoming World Cup, the 2016 Rio Olympics, and the country’s rapid ascent as an economic powerhouse have meant that there is more interest than ever in the Portuguese language and in Brazilian culture. The surge in interest is quite noticeable at the university level. Recently, Dilma stood up to Obama at the United Nations and Snowden publicly requested asylum in Brazil in an op-ed he published in a São Paulo newspaper. And last year, Brazil was the focus country at the Frankfurt Book Fair. None of these things has much to do with Hilst’s work, of course, but I’m happy that Brazilian literature in general and Hilst in particular have stood to gain.
Hilst’s Anglophone readers will find, as Nathanaël suggests, a singular voice. Hilst’s erudition in particular will totally change the way people think about Brazilian literature. The comparisons to Lispector are inevitable, but the two are quite different. Hilst is more savage, and at the same time, more vulnerable. Her writing is at times messy, chaotic—but gorgeous.
Rachel Gontijo Araújo: Now is as good as any other time. When Stephanie and I started putting this project together and talking to Nathanaël in 2010, the aim was to figure out a way to publish these three books (The Obscene Madame D, Letters from a Seducer, and Fluxo-Floema) in the most coherent, competent, way possible. That was the only concern. And still is. I don't think we ever doubted there was an audience for Hilst in North America. And honestly, I think that audience has been there for a while. The reality here is that, unfortunately, some publishers don't give their public/audience enough credit (read: respect); they don't trust their readers' capability to take risks. And they only look outside their territory of origin to make visible work that has been visible for decades, centuries. The mainstream editorial industry—be it in the United States or in Brazil—seems to be constantly holding on to this element of caution, to the point of mediocrity, using their preconceived notions of what literature/language is or should be to close, control, and continue to define territories.
To me, Hilst's work is rare, not only within whatever people call “Brazilian literature,” but rare in literature as a whole, regardless of these imagined territories (in language). And I agree with Nathanaël, it’s important to look back, to understand that for a long time Clarice Lispector's work seemed to be regarded in North American literary circles as the representation of this category named “Brazil,” as some kind of origin and end in itself. And although Lispector's work is important, I strongly believe that to engage with Hilst, we have to let go of this necessity to compare, to situate and/or to give origin, and talk about her work on its own terms.
Stephanie Sauer: My hope is that Hilst’s moment extends well beyond 2014 and North America’s current political/economic preoccupations with all things Brazilian. Such framings remind me of Marmon Silko’s observations that broader U.S. culture regularly cycles through its fascinations with what it perceives as exotic. I do trust that Hilst’s work, in particular, has the power to challenge its new audience’s notions of writing from Brazil, from an imagined South. The level of her literary risk, her attention to sound and to the body, her layering of references and traditions, and the sheer play she made of writing, I anticipate, will resonate with many. So if a controversial World Cup and Olympic Games, heightened economic power, and the country’s regular appearances in global media are what help Hilst’s words to first reach new readers, bring it.
When Rachel and I began negotiations for rights to translate Hilst for the first time into English, reception of her work was not our primary worry. Making it available to new audiences just felt necessary. We had both been examining writing and publishing in the United States, and were aware of the growing audience of curious, receptive readers cultivated by decades of risk undertaken by writers and independent presses (presses not driven exclusively by market concerns). These kinds of developments in reading publics do not happen by themselves, and it is a testament to experimental forms of publishing, as well as writing, that there exists such strong receptivity in our current moment to work such as Hilst’s—work that makes us uncomfortable, that challenges our compulsion to hide the mess, work that calls us to fully inhabit our bodies and study the sounds that arise.
Sarah Gerard: A number of you have touched on the theme of extending beyond—extending beyond the marketplace, extending beyond the invisible divisions of country, or beyond a certain period of time. I have often felt that Hilst was fascinated with this concept, as well. Would you agree?
Adam Morris: Of course. Hilst herself published with independent presses—Massao Ohno, in particular. Though later in life she’d claim that mainstream publishers turned her down, independent presses were more suited to her project, which takes a strong, Nietzschean stance on bourgeois morals. Massao Ohno also allowed Hilst to incorporate her own illustrations, and those of her friends, like Mora Fuentes. Like Nietzsche, Hilst suspected that she would not be understood in her lifetime, especially not in Brazil. She was fond of Hans Mayer’s book Outsiders, and thought of herself as one of them.
Alex Forman: Reading an interview in the Los Angeles Times this morning, between experimentalist-conceptualist writers Matias Viegener and Dodie Bellamy, I hear echoes of this conversation.
DB: Like anybody working among the avant-garde, I’ve been concerned with pushing the boundaries of what’s permissible in my given field. I’m using this clunky term “avant-garde” for lack of a better, as a way to reflect the ecosystem of experimental poetry and narrative. This avant-garde can be pretty elitist.
But Hilst was part of a tangible, literary avant-garde in Brazil in the 1970s and 1980s. Her work is easily categorized within this group of forward thinking, daring writers, playwrights, and poets, and continues to feel this way today. It is part of a continuum, influenced by the work that preceded it, namely, the avant-garde authors of the 1920s, like Oswald de Andrade, who were writing and performing the body as literature for literal consumption, as in de Andrade’s Manifesto of Cannibalism. Hilst was as influential. She was not divorced from what was going on in the United States or in Europe either—the beats, experimentalist performers, and performative writers… I’m thinking of Judy Chicago, Kathy Acker… though I don't know that Hilst ever “read” them. Wasn’t she aware and taking part in the avant-garde of Brazilian performers and poets, artists, and musicians: think, Paulo Leminski, Helio Oiticica, Lygia Clark, who were playing with concreteness and malleability of expression? But her work is also not far from Philip Roth’s, in how she adopted strong, sexualized, amoral characters, and how her writing is nevertheless accessible. Her conventions don't stray from commercial literature so much, except perhaps in the chorus of voices I mentioned—the play of her narrators, the seduction of the reader, implicating the reader within the narrative as a silent partner and co-conspirator, like a consumer of pornography…and when I say sexual pornography, I also imply literary pornography, because for Hilst, I believe, they were one and the same. Matias Viegener could just as well be describing Hilst when he says (of Bellamy’s work), "the rush of language, almost a parataxis—clauses added, sometimes an interjection in italics, a rush, another clause, no subordination, just accretion, more rather than less, as if not only could you not stop, but some second voice insisted you keep moving.”
Nathanaël: My sense of Hilst's writing itself is one of persistent manipulation of the limits imposed on language in literary expression, and, for myself, I am inclined to resist the characterization of her work as sharing in commercial concerns (again, this term, "commercial," with its previously-mentioned aggregates, imposes on her writing considerations that, in my view, stand in a posture of betrayal toward it—by betrayal, I'm not suggesting a necessity for adherence, but betrayal of literature itself; if a literature is commercial, is it still a literature? By then, it has allowed itself to be commodified and has ceased to be anything other than an object on a marketplace, arguably interchangeable with any other object. Clearly, Hilst stood in firm criticism against bourgeois moral values, thus the cycle of works Rachel and Stephanie have chosen to focus their publishing efforts on. Hilst's syntactical disloyalties, her bald rejection of moral hypocrisy, and scatological miscegenation of registers—social, religious, sexual, etc.—with its pronominal particulation, and dizzying rejection of prescriptive punctuation, are all provocative rejections of status quo thinking. But provocation in itself isn't enough to render a work provocative—our contemporary literatures attest to this amply. One might say in fact that what marks Hilst's work as so profoundly destabilizing is precisely its manner of thinking.
Rachel Gontijo Araújo: I'm very resistant in initiating a conversation about Hilst through attempts to situate her work in commercial terms or comparisons to this or that writer. I think we have been doing that for too long in literary circles and I'm afraid this kind of movement only feeds this almost unconscious necessity we have to secure, gain control over something/someone. Literature has become such a preservation of a particular kind of life/language/habit that when someone like Hilda comes along, most people don't know what to do with her. But that's okay.
Hers is work that is not willing to submit to slavery of any kind. It conserves nothing. It is not interested in the preservation of the species as it is and in the innumerable little cowardices and the laziness of the editorial mainstream and its industry of writers. Much to the contrary, it seems to be here to break with these constructions, constructions that we tend to forget have very specific historical basis.
I guess what I'm trying to say is that Hilst's work seems to me to be an unthinking of these moral beliefs that give a transcendent status to categories such as: writing/language, body, being, sexuality, purpose, good, evil and of course, grammar (read: 'the metaphysics of the people'). A physical unthinking, nonetheless, because in Hilst's writings, language becomes actual body, not bodyhood. It is a physical act.
Stephanie Sauer: Perhaps Hilst was performing what we would today call “an intervention” with her pornography series, of which Letters from a Seducer is part. Perhaps she was willfully playing with commercial expectations, subverting them, complicating them. Does acknowledgment of market—conscious engagement with it—disqualify any writing from being literature? To me, putting writing to work in this way—going beyond the page in such a manner of “unthinking” the world as is—are robust gestures and only add depth to this project.
But I am hesitant to apply the idea of “going beyond” much further here, as much as I am uncomfortable with grasping at claims of universality, especially since such notions are usually only reserved for writers who happen to be writing somewhere outside of the United States (or in “other” parts of it), that their geography is somehow inherently limiting to their work and it is our job here to qualify its merit to North American readers. I do not want to presume to speak for Hilst. She does just fine on her own. She wrote words on pages for people to read and with which to have their own encounters. Yes, she was part of a particular historical moment in a particular place. We all are. And Hilst clearly wasn’t afraid to “sound Brazilian,” that is, to gather the everyday sounds of the life around her and infuse them into her texts and characters. The result is anything but limiting. She made her native Portuguese work in daring, humorous and exceedingly complex ways, always pushing her language. (This is also why translating her work is no light task.) I would simply invite anyone who has never read Hilst to open one of her books, read the words on the page, hold those words in the mouth, speak them, extract interpretations, meanings if need be—but mostly, to just engage.
John Keene: There is a dimension of Hilst’s life that has not yet been mentioned, which was her deep interest in the 1970s and 1980s in ESP (extra-sensory perception), and her practice of recording voices from the beyond, which influenced and was reflected in her prose in very interesting ways. On a more basic level, though, there is a vibrant, multiplicitous ontological fluidity in Hilst's texts that suggests a desire to go beyond conventions—social, linguistic, and political—toward what I have called elsewhere a “distinctive epistemology,” and which Nathanaël beautifully describes as a “manner of thinking.” When I think of this question in relation to Letters from a Seducer, I would note to begin with Hilst’s deployment of a vast, polysemous linguistic register that is capacious enough to include specifically continental Portuguese words—which she would have heard her mother, a Portuguese immigrant, I believe, use (and she famously would regale her friends by reciting her poetry with a European Portuguese accent)—and grammar (her use of the tu form, which is mostly in disuse in Brazil, but which she does not strictly adhere to, sometimes coupling it, in colloquial fashion, with a third-person verb, as if it were the more common você) as well as obscure terms used in Northeastern Portuguese speech. The polysemy enables a multiplicity of signification that often cannot be captured in translation (though perhaps it might carry over into some of the other Romance languages). Again citing Letters from a Seducer, I am thinking of how Hilst plays with the “oco” (“hollow,” “interstice”) in several passages, creating “ocos” (“hollows”) within the hollows invoked by a series of words in rapid succession, such as “troco” (“I exchange”), “coco” (“coconut”), “toco” (“I play,” “touch”), “pouco” (“a little,” “a few”), etc., which when read together, and especially together, move us away from the horizontal semantic plane into a more vertical, multilayered mode of signification. Hilst does this sort of thing not infrequently, and it suggests, as others here are noting, a desire to surpass the limits of language imposed by anyone.
I'll only add that as Bruno Carvalho notes in his introduction to Letters from a Seducer, and as anyone who reads it will note, Hilst's intertextual engagement and play in the book are ludic, carnivalesque, and to me, enthralling. Within the first several pages, she is calling forth Tolstoy, Kierkegaard, the Bible, and Marx. Proust, Lawrence, Freud, Foucault, Schreber, Nietzsche, Joyce, Mishima, Rimbaud, Verlaine, Hildegard of Bingen, Simon Schama, Danielle Steel, Jacquelyn Susann, and many more authors also are called out specifically, though many are also invoked more subtly—Choderlos de Laclos and the Marquis de Sade, for example, providing templates for the book's structure—suggesting a vaster and richer literary and intellectual constellation than we might consider if we look only at Hilst's specific generational, literary cohort and affiliations in Brazil. Nevertheless, as Stephanie points out, we also should not forget that Hilst was quite aware of her literary peers, maintaining a friendship from her law school days on with Lygia Fagundes Telles, considered one of the major Brazilian fiction writers of the second half of the twentieth century (and a winner of the Camões Prize, the highest international honor for a Lusophone writer) and an experimentalist in the usual sense of the word, and a polemical relationship with João Cabral de Melo Neto, another one of Brazil's most important twentieth-century poets, as well with as a number of much younger, less well-known figures, up to her death.
Alex Forman: I would add to all of this fabulous information (I'm reading the previous translations now!) and rich depiction of Hilst's literary power that maybe we can consider the idea of “extending beyond,” with less magic and more giddy brute force, as a “breaking down” of literary conventions or boundaries. Stephanie, I don’t want to drag this on too long either, but I see it like this: as has been said, Hilst’s body of work is an array of poetry, prose, and plays written over the course of fifty years. But on the micro level, within the writing itself, strictly on every page or on the stage, we have those elements of voice, time, and grammar/punctuation which Hilst broke down into infinitesimal units (so, yes, in fact, it does extend beyond the constraints of any particular language), and thus, she created a mental circus of spirit voices, cross-dressing, role playing, leapfrogging through and within genres. It's so easy to get excited about on so many levels; it's really stuff that makes you want to jump up and down.
Caroline Aguiar: Hilst was willing to explore the limits of language while going deep into aspects such as God and immortality. At the same time, she was deeply connected with the very core elements of human existence, such as passion, comradeship, life, and death, often finding inspiration not only in philosophical books but also books on biology, physics, anatomy, and math. How do you interpret the fact that the public is now more interested and prepared to embrace Hilst’s view of literature than any time before?
Nathanaël: This seems a recasting of the first question of our conversation. As I think a number of us have indicated previously the question of the timeliness of these translations seems to mislead the apprehension one might have of Hilst’s work; John has underscored the degree to which this is already an Anglo-centric question, since Hilst arrived in other languages well in advance of these efforts here; so perhaps the question is one, if it does indeed need to be asked at all—and I’m not personally convinced that it does—of the English language’s belatedness and hitherto lack of receptivity. And the way in which borders between languages are more or less passable. On the occasion of the U.S. film release of Macunaíma in 1968, the U.S. public’s ability to receive the work was, according to one critic, limited by its impoverished understanding of Brazilian specificities and political realities within a larger South American context, with which it was somewhat more familiar. It would seem to me, though, that this kind of limitation is a consequence of a kind of deliberate ignorance. And I am concerned that the same kind of short-sightedness can lead us to congratulate ourselves misguidedly for identifying a particular moment as a zeitgeist. Literature has no time and articulates itself reiteratively with a reader.
Alex Forman: Caroline makes an important point about the elements of the metaphysical in Hilst’s literature, ideas brought over from other fields such as philosophy, math, and science. And though I don’t immediately see the math, I do find biology, and I want to think more about this… I do see a predominant focus on literature itself (the notion of Literature) in a sort of meta-textual writing and the Metaphysical. In the books I have read, there are monster narrators who eat little children; we have children whose living uncles turn into great authors of Brazilian literature (in a game of smoke and mirrors) and narrators who speak from beyond the grave. We have multiple interior voices—some, like John mentioned earlier, come from Hilst’s fascination with recording seance-like encounters with spirits, while others seem to be simply the “voices in our heads” at play in her fascination with mental illness. So many of these elements are in communion with Brazilian culture. They end up being the manifestation of a cultural reality, a stream that runs permanently beneath the surface here, so much so that it is never described but simply permeates daily rituals. Hilst works it all into her literature as fantastical and absolutely natural, absorbed and accepted by her characters in such a way that we, her readers, come to accept it too.
Adam Morris: God and Immortality are not the only things she’s after, either. There’s also the abyss, madness, meaninglessness—the hollowness that John referred to earlier. Madness ran in Hilst’s family, and it terrified her. The far-ranging studies you mention, Caroline, have to do with the very real existence of madness or meaningless in one way or another. To risk an anachronism, there’s a sustained and almost baroque horror vacui that recurs in her writing, one countered by this desire and search for univocity or that lost gnostic pleroma—in this sense, the “timelessness” Nathanaël mentions has a double resonance for me. This is a problem that cuts across time and culture. John has already alluded to Hilst’s study of mysticism and the beyond. She studied not only the mystic Christian poets but also the nineteenth-century spiritist Allan Kardec and twentieth-century scholars of mysticism and the occult, from Bertrand Russell to Aleister Crowley. Even her studies of quantum physics in the 1980s had to do with this tension between Unity and meaning against chaos and the void. Poetry, in both her verse and prose, was her attempt to see into the void. This comes across in Com meus olhos de cão. The terms suggested by Nathanaël and Rachel—changing the “manner of thinking,” or of “un-thinking,” of “breaking down” and “going-beyond”—were in my view part of Hilst’s attempt at her own sort gnostic vision.
Rachel Gontijo Araújo: I think there's no need to push this idea that “now” is Hilst's time. How can we really know if now people are more interested to embrace her work than they were ten years ago? It is true that in Brazil people seem to be rediscovering her. But no full-length work of Hilst’s was published in North America before 2012. And I think the important thing here—more than the time these works are being published—are the works themselves.
As I said before, when Stephanie and I started putting this project together—the translation of The Obscene Madame D, Letters from a Seducer, and Fluxo-Floema—we didn't spend time thinking if people in North America are “prepared” for Hilst. That was not our concern. And in all honesty, that kind of assessment does not interest me as a publisher, nor as an editor. We knew that this was important work and we wanted to make it accessible, to give it as much visibility as possible outside of Brazil.
I don't see Hilst's work ingrained in metaphysics. Metaphysics seems to consist (and I'm agreeing with Nietzsche here) in dividing life into two worlds: a true/valued world and a false world of illusion that is, of course, undervalued. This valorization/devaluation system gives an ordered answer to the fear that the multiple and complex world of the senses brings. So the notion of metaphysics is somehow an expression of this desire for order and an attempt to remove the multiplicity and complexity of the realm of the senses from the world. And I believe Hilst does exactly the opposite movement through her work. She brings the sphere of the senses back to the world. So that the commonly accepted difference between the empirical and the transcendental, the true world and the false world, cease to exist.
John Keene: I wonder if this issue of “timeliness” is applicable at all, as Nathanaël notes; is Hilst now being read in Brazil or the Lusophone world more so than before, since to Portuguese readers her work is immediately and almost fully (to the extent that it ever is) available? I don’t know that this is the case. On the other hand, Hilst’s work, at least to me, cuts through time, the time of its creation (which is present in the text, as when, for example, she cites George H. W. Bush’s Gulf War in Letters from a Seducer), the time(s) of its receptions, the time of its actualization, the now-time of the reader’s (non- or semi-)engagement with it. One aspect of her work that I perceive is a grappling with immanence, which is to say, she perceives and calls out God, the divine, the spiritual, in the physical, material world, and in The Obscene Madame D as in a number of her other works, she is working through this idea, not in a coldly philosophical, rational way—though reason and its parallel, unreason, are present—but as praxis, as a way of thinking and writing and coming to know. I should correct myself by saying that Hilst was especially interested in paranormal activity; I think I called up ESP because that was an American enthusiasm during the same chronological era (1970s and 1980s), but the extra-sensory, in part as a means to encountering immanence among other varieties of experience, to use an adapted version of William James’s term, registers in her work.
I am curious, though, about her reception today in Brazil. As soon as I first learned of her work, I became fascinated with her and it. I am endlessly grateful to Rachel, Stephanie, and Nathanaël for deepening my connection to and with it. But it remains the case that when I mention Hilst to some—not all—Brazilian scholars and writers I know, they do not seem particularly interested, or rather, they appear to have a set idea of her: she was a great poet and experimental prose writer, but very controversial. “She went from being a poet to a pornographer,” as one scholar succinctly put it to me. Has that changed in Brazil? I cannot say. As for her American—and Anglophone—reception, I also cannot say, but in U.S. literary culture, we do seem to have these periodic enthusiasms for work that in some way defies the conventions of our somewhat inward-looking “mainstream” literary cultures. (I emphasize “mainstream” here because American literatures, widely understood, are rich and diverse, defy national boundaries, and are not all written in English.) I am thinking in recent years, for example, of the great fascination some (to many) U.S. readers have had with the work of Roberto Bolaño, W. G. Sebald, László Krasznahorkai, Per Petterson, or Robert Walser. Certainly there are others. (Perhaps it’s just my perspective that sees these as notable public literary enthusiasms; publishers and booksellers might cite someone like Stieg Larsson, who has really made a dent in the US market.) Another is the Scandinavian author who wrote the mammoth memoir that lots of people—cognoscenti—appear to be reading: My Struggle by Karl Ove Knausgaard. I mention these authors, all men, all mostly European (save Bolaño), and could note many other utterly important non-European, non-male authors whose work simply does not catch on at all in the United States to say that who can say what creates these blips? Why, I remain curious, did no one in Britain publish a book-length translation of Hilst’s work, given that there are British editions of some rather compelling Brazilian authors, such as Ana Cristina César (the late queer, highly inventive Marginal poet), or João Gilberto Noll (the brilliant gaúcho writer whose work loses none of its utter strangeness in translation)? If Hilst joins them, all the better, which of course will mean more translations of her work, which is good for her and Brazilian literature.
Stephanie Sauer: I agree with Nathanaël and Rachel here when they point out that this preoccupation with timeliness seems a problematic recasting of earlier parts of our conversation, and as the only way to talk about Hilst among an Anglophone readership. However, I would like to address, as many of you have, some of the other elements introduced. Hilst’s work, even—and in some cases especially—her “pornographic” works, does seem to want to punch holes in our ideas of separateness between the divine and biology, between philosophy and anatomy, and also between worlds, as John notes in her well-documented interest in paranormal activity. While I did not pick up on the math, in particular, it is clear that Hilst draws from a variety of fields and traditions of thought. She is able to hold all of these realities, these seemingly-conflicting possibilities, in her mind and bring them forth in her writings. She may choose to employ what one might consider fractured narrative forms in some of her books, and yet the way she holds up all elements of human life to be contemplated, to be fully felt, demonstrates a deeply integrated worldview.
Sarah Gerard: Several of you have attributed the polyphony of Hilst’s work to her immersion in a variety of world texts and traditions of thought. One in particular that has interested me is the literature of psychoanalysis. She calls out Freud and Jung in Letters from a Seducer, as well as Otto Rank. She dedicated The Obscene Madame D and With My Dog-Eyes to the psychoanalytic philosopher Ernest Becker. How else do you see the history of psychoanalysis or psychoanalytic studies influencing or inflecting her work?
John Keene: I find this a fascinating and important question. I can see many aspects of psychology and psychoanalysis, in part in the forms of psychoanalytic structures and discourse, in Hilst's work, especially the novels, from the citations of specific authors you cite, to specific themes, such as the relationship between art, sexuality, and civilization, or eros, sublimation, transference, repression, projection, and related phenomena, or schizophrenia and schizoanalysis, to the text’s structures and forms. One way I read the formal and thematic polyphony of the texts is via the structure of the psychoanalytic dialogue. Even when the texts appear monologic, one can detect a dialogic polyphony in them, with the voices representing the various positionalities—psychic apparatuses—of superego, ego, and id, or the analyst and analysand, or subject and objects, and so on. The one-sided dialogue in Letters from a Seducer, in which we hear only Karl, with a second-hand account of Cordélia’s thoughts and responses, represents one example, while the exchanges between Stamatius and Eulália represent another.
In that same novel, as Sarah notes, Hilst specifically cites Freud—and has Karl give his distorted reading, his misprision of Freud's famous case study of Dr. Daniel Schreber, the judge who authored Memoirs of My Nervous Illness, as a way of signifying on a particular phallocentric understanding of sexuality, among other things. This is only one Freudian strand in the novel; Karl alone would qualify as a superb subject for a Freudian reading. He is one of the least repressed characters I've come across in a literary text in a while. I would be remiss if I did not also note how Hilst plays with Freud's understanding of the Oedipus and Electra Complexes (i.e., bringing Jung into the mix), almost to the point of absurdity, which I think is central to her aims. She also invokes Rank, whom Karl says “everyone” must read to understand who and what he and Cordélia were in their youth. Here I read her as broaching in condensed fashion, as she does in so many cases with other figures, concepts and ideas from specific texts. She is riffing, I think, on Rank's The Trauma of Birth, dramatizing some of its major themes and ideas through repeated representations of forms of separation anxiety. Also Rank's text focuses on art and artists, adding even more points of significance. One could identify strains of Becker, with whose work she was extremely familiar, as well as figures like Lacan, and Deleuze and Guattari, whom she may or may not have read. The ways in which Deleuze and Guattari in Anti-Oedipus describe the relationships between capitalism, desire, and the psychoanalytic, and how capitalism can provoke an experience akin to schizophrenia, as well as the concepts of “desiring production” and “desiring machines,” all appear to me to be operative in Letters from a Seducer and The Obscene Madame D, as well as other texts like With My Dog-Eyes, The Pink Notebook of Lory Lamby, and so on.
Rather than go on at length, I'll just add that I read some of Becker's multifarious influence here—and Sarah provided a thoroughgoing analysis of Hilst, via Becker, in her reading of The Obscene Madame D—in Hilst's dramatization of the struggle against death through the process of art-making, and her clear distrust of a simplistic understanding of the human psyche, especially any reading that would attempt to reduce human complexity to the science of psychology. In Letters from a Seducer, Freud's theories of the death drive, reread through Becker and others, also provide a way of understanding Stamatius's obsessive approach to writing, the novel's dialectical movement between the material and symbolic, and its almost mythic ending, in which the "angel," the immortal, becomes human, even as the human succumbs to death. Hilst shows that Stamatius recognizes his mortality, which may be imminent, with Death making several appearances in the forms of hallucinatory visions, in some of the most beautiful passages in the book, but his means of doing so—a theme that appears throughout the history of literature—is through literature, which becomes his primary mode of living. To return to an earlier point, psychology and psychoanalytic discourse offer ways of understanding Hilst's “manner of thinking.”
Stephanie Sauer: Hilst seems absolutely interested in human behavior and the whys behind desire. I think you delineate well, John, many of the ways in which Hilst takes on psychoanalytic thought in and through her characters. In the moments Freud, Rank, and Jung are mentioned in Letters from a Seducer, I saw Karl’s character making a slight parody of early psychoanalysis’ presumptions about sexualities, creative pursuit, and projection, while also calling his own character into question. Karl writes, in one of many letters to his sister: “Mirra, yes, it’s she who perfectly illustrates the so-called Oedipus complex… Neither Freud nor Jung read Ovid (Metamorphoses).” And in an earlier letter, he refers to Rank as he recounts his sexual acts with his sister in vivid detail, wondering, “Cordélia, do you think we are hateful and cursed for having been what we were? Everyone, incidentally, must think so because they have not read Rank.” Each of these instances seems to bring the field of psychoanalysis into question as a hard scientific truth about the human condition. Is incest justified by these “so-called” scientific theories, then? Was incest even given a clear thought if “neither Freud nor Jung read Ovid”? Is Hilst poking fun at Karl, or at us, her readers, who might read and believe these thinkers or her narrator? While several scholars and writers have pointed to Hilst’s quest for Truth-with-a-capital-T throughout her lifetime and in her work, especially Anatol Rosenfeld in his introduction to Editôra Perspeciva’s 1970 edition of Fluxo-Floema, she seems to make consistent questioning a part of that quest, much like how John describes Hillé’s “roiling, untethered, ever-searching quest” in his introduction to The Obscene Madame D. Hilst questions the foundations of various fields of science, study, and modes of thought for their validity, refusing to be bogged down by any one way of seeing.
I would like to preface the rest of my response by revisiting briefly this notion of transcendence or going beyond that has come up in our conversation—that is, the requisite that literature transcend culture, time, geography, etc. I have found that the word transcend in literary discussion is often code for how well a work can be read using dominant models of thought or aesthetic value by some kind of cultural “other.” Part of the work of reading literature in translation is having to suspend one’s own cultural grounding enough to see a work—to read a work—for all that it is and all that it brings from its original context. This is part of the act of transcendence: for us, as readers, to transcend our present level of thought enough to step into new paradigms. To not only grab onto notions that are familiar to us but to allow ourselves to feel discomfort in not knowing. It is not only the author or the work that needs to transcend. We, as readers, must also participate in the work of translation.
That said, Hilst does not seem content with lines of logic that draw solely from traditions of thought originating in Europe, such as modern psychoanalysis. Hilst must have been familiar with Machado de Assis’s classic story O Alienista (The Psychiatrist), in which a psychoanalyst ends up admitting himself into an asylum after unsuccessfully diagnosing everyone in the town for demonstrating a series of human passions deemed “unnatural” by the science. In the end, he entertains the idea that perhaps he is the unnatural one for not allowing himself to engage in healthy passionate expression and commits himself thusly. Whether or not Assis was a direct influence, Hilst clearly references a long tradition in Brazil of questioning colonial narratives, dominant artistic norms, and the idea of a clearly defined hero, as well as perceived norms surrounding sexuality and human behavior—many of which were claimed as scientific fact under the guise of psychoanalysis. Such questioning is so prevalent in Brazilian culture that it shows up in popular television shows and movies like Caramuru and Carlota Joaquina, Princesa do Brasil, not to even mention deeper influences of Brazilian Modernism or the Tropicalist Movement, nor the subversive Pornochanchada genre that lit up movie screens across the country in the 1970s and 1980s, putting ideas about human nature and sexuality to task through absurdity, violence, and grotesque humor. Hilst nods, for example, to Oswald de Andrade’s famous Manifesto Antropófago (Manifesto of Cannibalism) in the section titled “New Cannibalisms” at the end of Letters from a Seducer. His manifesto epitomized a deep cultural shift in which artists stopped looking to Europe for answers and began looking to their own context(s). De Andrade’s redefining of cannibalism came to symbolize Brazil’s ability to ingest all things foreign and make of them something unique, absorbing that thing’s (or that tradition’s) power without compromising its own integrity. This metaphor became a powerful antidote to cultural colonization and genocide, a historical legacy many of the artists who participated in the now-famous Semana da Arte Moderna became aware of while studying abroad (formal training in Europe being a colonial ideal for artists at that time). Hilst works in dialogue with this tradition, as well as with questions posed by psychoanalysis, by bringing to life in rich but dense detail a list of other taboos in New Cannibalisms—pedophilia, mutilation, suicide, and gleefully watching another human die in front of us—and allowing readers to feel from within her/his own desires and limitations. Karl is a highly unrestrained character, as John mentions, and reading Letters from a Seducer causes us to live certain psychoanalytic and social taboos through him with our own bodies. It is uncomfortable reading at times, and also deeply…stimulating, but as Rosenfelt perceives of Hilst’s work, “tudo se funde na multiplicidade do homem…” (“everything is grounded in the multiplicity of man…”). Hilst does not want to let us off the hook by giving over to so-called objective psychoanalysis or other rigid conclusions.
Alex Forman: Just as spiritism, about which we spoke earlier, is an abundant aspect of life in Brazil, so is psychoanalysis. Hilda Hilst was not just channeling concepts of psychoanalysis, such as those by Freud and Jung and Rank, into her literature. I think she was practicing them.
Hilst challenges our sense of what is external and what is infernal; what is interior and ours, and what belongs to the protagonist (and behind her, the author). The scatological, for instance, is also psychoanalytic, as any outpouring of our innermost gunk is. In Hilst’s work, these ideas are presented in a poetic and theatrical manner that is at once playful and readable, and neither didactic nor academic. These psychological concepts act upon the reader behind the eyes, as feelings. Intellectually, we can take them apart to analyze the books, but it would be hard to describe in words how her language rushes over us and through us creating ties of empathy, creating intimacy. But certainly as translators we feel this rush; we become intimate with Hilst’s process, thought and written, and we become complicit. Not unlike the relationship between psychoanalyst and analysand, where roles are fluid and interchangeable, the floem-flux of spiritual and dry matter. She draws and funnels her inspiration from everywhere to everywhere.
I very much enjoyed Stephanie’s call for transcendence in literary translation, and wish to help bridge the cultural divide with some observations. I have perceived that psychoanalysis has a far different role in Brazilian culture than in North American. Here in Brazil, it is an intellectual/spiritual pursuit closer to a literary experience, having a beginning, middle, and end. Hilst’s writing incorporates philosophies prevalent in Brazilian culture. She demonstrates that the act of writing itself is psychoanalytical (and spiritual?) as she takes us through the stages of fragmentation of persona/personality/person.
In her work, Hilst, as I see it, cannibalizes psychological tropes to examine the mental process of a literary creation. I’d argue that Hilst doesn’t deal with life in her books, but the inner, creative life force. I find she brings perhaps a Brazilian spiritist perspective to the body as a container for the spirit or entity; these entities are positive in service of light or negative espirito de porco (spirit of pig) dark forces. Like the dichotomies of positive-negative, the masculine voice is distinct from the feminine in her work, and they are presented as archetypes, often leading us to read them as different sides of the same entity.
But she also dismantles archetypes. She plays with the intimacy of personality and the distance of persona, for instance in O caderno rosa da Lori Lamby (which has yet to be translated into English, as far as I know, and I like calling it “Lori Licky’s Pink Notebook”). It’s a projection on the page of her pure frustration with the publishing world, including her readership. Hilst wanted her work to be read, and was in constant battle to this end. This book is an effective example of reverse psychology. I’d prefer not to bring the analogy, because I know the resistance it will meet, but it is not unlike Clarice Lispector’s The Hour of the Star in its intention to thwart a male-dominated literary scene, and particularly its critics. Both challenged the literary status quo. Both were read and criticized, yes. But any attention is good attention. All publicity is good publicity. And like a wayward analysand trying to get attention from and challenge her therapist, Hilst was not afraid to use taboos. She wielded her literary porn in this way. Perhaps even the choice of names for her protagonists was a way of thumbing her nose at the establishment. I’m thinking, of course, of Eulalia and Stamatius now, since she was anything but soft-spoken, and she would not stop death.
I find her novels are interrelated, interconnected, and easily cross-reference thematically. We see this in her repetition of words, “pig,” for instance, or “asshole,” or concepts, such as her repeated efforts to overturn family structures with incest or parenthood/childhood inversions. These themes come to represent something of her world vision, and like repetition over the course of years in psychoanalysis, they may mean different things at different times depending on context, or come to mean something larger transcending time and context.
John Keene: I love Lori Licky’s Pink Notebook as the English for O Caderno Rosa de Lori Lamby. (I believe I called it The Pink Notebook of Lory Lamby above.) I do not think, however, that if it is translated into English it will appear in the United States without an uproar.
Adam Morris: I love Lori Lamby too, and do think it would cause an uproar, but maybe more of the merry prankster sort, which would no doubt have pleased Hilda. I don’t think the kind of Anglophone readers who seek out literature in translation would be more scandalized by Lori Licky’s Pink Notebook than they would by, say, Lolita or Tropic of Cancer. Otto Rank analyzed Henry Miller and Anaïs Nin, incidentally, both writers that Hilda admired.
As for psychoanalysis, it seems to me that Hilst’s interests are most closely aligned with Jung, and with a sort of societal unconscious arranged around archetypes with deep significance. Jung’s interest in Gnosticism and in the gnostic scriptures (one of which he arranged to buy after the discovery of the Nag Hammadi scrolls—(it’s now sometimes known as the Jung Codex)) identifies a theme in the work of Hilda Hilst that continues to obsess me personally: that of personal, gnostic encounters with the divine. The gnostic principle of seeking one’s own way to gnosis, a kind of non-rational understanding, is central to her spiritual and literary outlook.
Alex Forman: Yes, Lori Licky’s Pink Notebook would undoubtedly cause an uproar. And it presents some specific challenges for a translator. First, although Vanessa Place has even done the work to find all the friendly words for pussy that exist in the English language, we would still be hard pressed for such an expansive, playful, naïve, child’s vocabulary to describe illicit sex, which is only possible in the Portuguese language with the use of the diminutive. Second problem, it’s not really porn, but it is about the reader wanting it to be, or mistaking it for, or being so perverse themselves that they thought it was. It’s a shocking, taboo-cracking critique of the publishing world—and particularly the male-dominated literary world of Brazil that Hilst was up against—giving it an entirely other dimension. Also demanding discernment from her readers, I think.
Which makes me think about the specific challenges in translating Hilst’s books, and how Fluxo-floema, for instance, is a fantasy for a translator because when read with a translator’s microscope it unravels into cosmos-chaos interpretations, if you know what I mean. Which maybe you do, Adam. I think I’m saying here, to pick up on earlier themes, that Hilst had a knack for putting things into her readers’ heads and in turn using their projections to complete her narratives in something…well, yes, nearly spiritual.
Sarah Gerard: In With My Dog-Eyes, the character Amós Kéres quotes Bertrand Russell: “Obviousness is always the enemy to correctness. Hence we invent some new and difficult symbolism, in which nothing seems obvious.” The quote is taken from Russell’s essay, “Mathematics and the Metaphysicians.” Though she questioned the foundations of various fields of thought, I wonder if Hilst’s interest in pure mathematics suggests a belief in the absolute foundation of thought, itself. Or was she questioning this, too?
Nathanaël: Russell wrote this of course before having met Wittgenstein! If there is anything less obvious than obviousness it may be obviousness itself… Pure mathematics is an elegant, inscrutable poetics—and in an obverse way, in Hilst, it might be conceivable as a contaminant—with little adherence to the organized real. In the cited passage, the proposed corrective seems to serve to contaminate a disciplinary certainty, or arrogance. Away from atomist concerns such as they exploded in Western thought, it seems, at the risk of repetition, that one of the very proposals of Hilst’s work to her readers, is to wrench our intellectual habits away from this kind of containment, or controlled exegesis, into the wretched, fetid, bodies of desire such as they are bequeathed to the posterity of this secretious writing, right down to its most cretinous and vile aspirations. Hilst writes a book of impudent questions. Perhaps do her scurrilous narratives correct the very obviousness she is after, in the moth-bitten mouth of her belated reader.
John Keene: Amós Kéres’s Russell quote from With My Dog-Eyes brings me back to a concept I mentioned before, "immanence," by which I mean to say that when I read both this particular text (a snippet of which I saw beautifully translated by Adam) and Hilst’s work more broadly, one of the last things I think of is “purity,” or any Platonic ideal of the book, the text, the life. I read Russell as saying here that we often miss what is right before our eyes—as opposed to some exalted or rarefied realm that we can only access through obscurantism or "difficult symbolism," through criticism, or hermeneutics, or theory. There are many ironies here in that this statement represents both a defense and apologia for what Hilst is doing, because her work is anything but obvious, even when she suggests, with terms like “porno-chic,” that it is (and what exactly is “porno-chic”?), but also, in the context of that particular novella, Amos is going blind, and so literally cannot see what's right before him, which is to say, it requires another kind of sight other than the physiologically ocular to see what's there. In Letters from a Seducer, we have the case of Karl, who has all the clues before him about what occurred with Cordélia, and yet he cannot see what is in essence an obvious, horrifying truth. He reverts to all manner of references, theories, an elaborate network of concepts and ideas that do not exactly hold together, to make sense of what Cordélia, for obvious reasons, does not want to reveal. Ultimately, we gather, she does, though Hilst wryly and ironically refuses to show it; we have to see what is not there and take it on (blind) faith that what was obviously apparent, in letter after letter, is the truth. In the meanwhile, we get not only Karl’s delusions and “difficult symbolism,” but the roiling world of the servants, Little Butthole, and the parents, and everyone else who makes an appearance in his libertine accounts. The novel stages this yet again in the case of Stamatius, and the seemingly simplistic perspective of Eulália. But isn’t hers the clearest guide into what's going on? Hilst could have written these and other texts more simply, but perhaps what the complexities of both surface and depth in her work suggest is that the “obviousness” isn't so obvious, that there is no pure route or idea or text or book (pace Mallarmé), that it is in the teaming messiness and confusion, material, linguistic, social, spiritual of lives, in experience, that we gain access to the truths of who we are and how the world works, which is part of what metaphysics as a philosophical discipline aims to address, doesn’t it?
Adam Morris: I feel I can scarcely add anything to these brilliant remarks without muddying the waters. But in fact I think this in itself is the sensation that Hilst solicits in her writing—and one which arose from her own tremendously vast studies, not only of pure mathematics and philosophy, but also astronomy, quantum physics, spiritism, and all the other fields we’ve mentioned so far. None of these are rarified domains that pretend to an ultimate truth, or to a clear-cut Platonic ideal of unity or meaning, and none are ever going to explain the human condition: it is not rational. I think this is why she pays homage to Kierkegaard in Letters from a Seducer—that leap to what Kierkegaard called “the religious” is not rational either. But Hilst is not a religious thinker per se. She had something like twenty different names for God, which makes it clear that “God” did not represent anything like unity to her either. John and Nathanäel are right: there is no transcendent in Hilst. There is instead this contamination, this immanence, two words that bring Hilst’s work into a productive dialog with Deleuze and Guattari. I especially appreciate Nathanäel’s notion of contaminant with respect to Hilst: the human is the raw experience of the real, as opposed, to continue with Nathanäel’s terms, to the organized real that the aforementioned disciplines would impose to ward off the arationality of the immanent. Amós Kéres strays from pure mathematics, from his secure professorship, and from his marriage and family. That is, away from the organizing principles of the real: proscriptive and prescriptive notions of knowledge, work, and love. Hilst always rebelled against these very human attempts to contain disorder, to keep things pure. For her, as for many poets and artists, there is only de-scription of knowledge, work, and love. It seems to me that for Hilst, the university, the church, the family, and other moralizing institutions are only expressions of human fear and weakness—they’re no less human for that, but their correctness only obscured the obvious truth that they are, to return to the psychoanalytic discussion, expressions of repressed desires, and of fear of the rawness of humanity.
Sarah Gerard’s novel Binary Star is forthcoming from Two Dollar Radio in January 2015. Her essay chapbook Things I Told My Mother was published by Von Zos this past fall. Other works have appeared in the New York Times, New York Magazine, the Paris Review Daily, BOMB, Bookforum, Slice magazine, and the Los Angeles Review of Books, as well as other journals. She holds an MFA from The New School.
Nathanaël is the author of a score of books written in English or in French, including the book of seisms, Sisyphus, Outdone; Theatres of the Catastrophal; and the trilogy of notebooks, Carnets de désaccords, Carnet de délibérations and Carnet de somme. Her translations include works by Danielle Collobert, Édouard Glissant, Catherine Mavrikakis, Hilda Hilst, the latter in collaboration with Rachel Gontijo Araújo. Her translation of Hervé Guibert's The Mausoleum of Lovers has been recognized by fellowships from the PEN American Center and the Centre National du Livre de France.
Alex Forman is the author of Tall, Slim & Erect: Portraits of the Presidents and is also a photographer, literary translator, and personal historian. She is a graduate of Brown University and the Yale School of Art. Her work has appeared in such publications as TrenchArt: Recon, Archipelago, Drunken Boat, Jubilat, Nerve, Dante Magazine, and has been exhibited at David Krut Projects and Derek Eller Gallery, among others. She lives in Rio de Janeiro.
Rachel Gontijo Araújo speaks Portuguese, writes in English, and is located at an unequal distance between. She is the co-founder of A Bolha Editora, an in-translation press with headquarters in Rio de Janeiro. Pieces of her work have appeared or are forthcoming in Action Yes, Everyday Genius, Mandorla, and Spirale Magazine.
John Keene is the author of Annotations (New Directions) and, with artist Christopher Stackhouse, of Seismosis (1913 Press). His poetry, fiction, essays, reviews, and translations from Portuguese, Spanish, and French have appeared widely in periodicals and anthologies, and he has received an array of honors for his work. He is Associate Professor of English and African American and African Studies and a member of the Creative Writing MFA faculty at Rutgers University in Newark.
Adam Morris is a writer and translator based in San Francisco, and a PhD candidate in Latin American literature at Stanford University. His translation of Hilda Hilst's With My Dog-Eyes is being published in April 2014 by Melville House.
Stephanie Sauer is the co-founder of A Bolha Editora and the founding editor of Copilot Press. A working writer and multidisciplinary artist, she is the author of The Accidental Archives of the Royal Chicano Air Force (University of Texas Press, 2015), and the recipient of a Corporation of Yaddo Fellowship, the School of the Art Institute of Chicago’s Fellowship in Writing, and the So to Speak Hybrid Book Award. She is a translation editor and grants writer, alongside Rachel Gontijo Araújo, for A Bolha Editora’s Obá Obá translation project, which began by bringing the work of Hilda Hilst into English.
Image: "Réquiem" from the Desretato series by Lucas Simões. Courtesy of the artist.