Essay: Articulation of Subjective Experience

The central dilemma of the novel, The Passion According to G.H. is that of self identity (p. 167). However, due to the subjective nature of such a task and Lispector’s use of an unreliable narrator, the issue arises in articulating the process of discovering one’s identity. These issues correspond with various philosophical modes of thought such as how accurately can we relate information to one another? How much can we learn from other peoples experiences? Can our experience be comprehended fully? How can we share that which is sensed or felt?

Prior to going down the path of self discovery, G.h’s identity is made up of the expectations of others as she says “I treat myself as others treat me, I am whatever others see of me (p. 17).”

This can be seen as a comfortable existence for there is a lack of responsibility that comes with this (p. 23). Such a life is one that can be conceptualized and labeled in order to be explained. However, G.h attempts to question this identity and what she thinks she knows after her experience with the cockroach. This attempt is simply summed up by the opening sentence of the novel, “I’m searching. I’m searching (p. 3).” This search for herself could be viewed as an ongoing process and in that case, her ability to make sense of what she is still going through and what she is still feeling could be limited because it has not ended and the search might never end.

In G.h’s search for personal identity, she comes to do the inverse of what a sculptor does. A sculptor moulds a formless thing into something with form. While, G.h. strips away the form that she has constructed for herself in order to revert back to the formless (p. 6).

This loss of human form comes by attacking the concepts and constructions which had previously organized her life. One such instance is her understanding of beauty. She had understood beauty as something pretty but after her experience, she comes to realize that beauty is something beyond the external and now it is remote to her (p. 81). G.h even uses the term love as she understands it now as a tool to help strip down the constructed human she had been (p. 131).

The human constructions which G.h breaks down lead her to a deeper understanding of herself but at the same time brings forth an issue of articulating her experience for what she is feelings cannot be fully comprehended by her and what she does comprehend is accompanied by a lack of meaning. This makes the task of communicating her experience rather difficult (p. 111).

With her artistic nature, she wishes to see what goes unseen, express the inexpressive, that thing which is between two numbers or between two musical notes and this happens to be a mystery and she cannot guarantee that she has the ability to accomplish such a task (p. 99). At least not in her present condition.

G.h further reflects that “only later would I understand: what seems like a lack of meaning — that’s the meaning. Every moment of “lack of meaning” is precisely the frightening certainty that that’s exactly what it means (p. 27).” One can argue that the lack of meaning is what we all share and when meaning is added to the equation it creates differences. However the issue arises how does one explain what lacks meaning? And what might lack meaning to one individual might have meaning for another. The articulation of the lack of meaning can be a barrier to completely explain the experience G.h is going through. This barrier is further compounded by the use of language. In philosophy, certain concepts cannot be translated, cannot be put into words and be neatly explained. G.h struggles with this reality as she writes to the reader.

Throughout the novel, G.h constantly refers to things like “a name without word (p. 151)”, “that thing, whose name I don’t know (p. 84)”, “I don’t know what I am calling God (p. 157)” and other instances of this line of thought. There is this notion that what she is experiencing or has experienced is beyond herself and beyond the concepts of man and hence, she cannot organize it into written text. There is a degree of difficulty in communicating her experience due to the subjective nature of this experience.

This leads her to accept a level of incommunicability as she says “but I am the one who must stop myself from giving a name to the thing. The name is an accretion, and blocks contact with the thing. The name of the thing is an interval for the thing (p.147).” Perhaps naming this experience will humanize it, chain it with the human concepts which she is trying to remove. 

Additionally, G.h says that “reality precedes the voice that seeks it (p.185)”, her experience comes and she lives it and in that moment she may have some understanding of it but afterwards, when her voice tries to recall that reality, it fails. A reason for this is also that only through passion does she live this reality of hers but that passion leaves after a brief moment and it cannot be captured (p. 181).

There is also this notion that her experience is one that is sensed or felt by the body rather than one that is understood through speech. “And I shall not wander “from thought to thought,” but from mood to mood (p. 182).” G.h makes this connection that this state she is attempting to reach, the inhuman, the inexpressive, the neutral, it is a state that is a mood, a feeling, a sensation and if that is the case then the articulation of this idea comes upon certain limitations. She argues that in her search for God, she gave in to her temptations of seeing and feeling (p. 132), further solidifying the notion of a bodily knowledge. In order to comprehend her, one has to feel what she has felt.

Even her symbolic steps into the paradise of hell are accompanied by bodily reactions of sweating and dryness (p. 70). Through this, G.h makes an association between bodily reaction and the neutral. Perhaps this is her way of showing that you can trust your body to guide towards the inexpressive. That if you are to go towards the neutral you will know it by the way your body feels.

However, the subjective nature of such a thing cannot be overlooked. Neither can the lack of understanding and use of language to articulate her journey. At the end of it, G.h goes through something personal and something that is real to her and as the reader you are along for the ride and have to accept a lack of clarity as G.h herself attempts to understand what she has gone through and is still going through. This harken backs to the philosophical understanding that life is never complete, one does not ever fully understand, the process of life is ongoing.

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