Example of Academic Work


Subject: Cultural Studies and Comparative Literature
Class: Close Reading w Prof. Thomas Pepper

The assignment: I can use no more than 5 typed pages (10 point type, single sided). I must take ONE word from “The Hour of the Star” and examine the text with a razor and a microscope, through the filter of that one word. It was my final paper for the course, in one of my last classes before graduating. Thomas taught us to slice right in, no intros, no conclusions, no bullshit, and let the flesh tear and the juice drip where it may. The word I chose is in the first paragraph.

Close Reading of “The Hour of the Star”

Words are nourishment.  Words are sustenance.  The writer wants to use “words that sustain”.  Words are nutritious, fertile–to have them, to consume them begins a transformation, a ripening.  The words of the text are the fruit of it, cultivated by the writer.  The reader hungers (as do the writer and Macabéa)–the text is nourishing yet simple fare; fruit.

For what the writer is writing cannot be “assimilated (digested) by minds that expect much and crave sophistication (hunger for rich foods/words)”.   The writer is concerned for the narrative and worries that the words he puts forth, though “fully mature” may be “very close to rotting”, like overripe fruit.  Will the narration be “mushy”?

The writer is wanting divine inspiration, wishing for the “pealing of bells” to provide eagerness, wishing angels would flutter around his overripe head like “transparent wasps”.

                        {In the summers of my childhood, the plum and loquat and fig trees were heavy with fruit.  There were so many that, though we gorged, many were left on the branches to ripen into intoxicating softness.  Emerald green China beetles and jacketed wasps came, ate of the gold and scarlet and purple fruits and became drunk.  The wasps buzzed woozily around my head, never landing on me, never quite able to leave.}

This writer writes because words need to be invented–the God of the reader commanded man to invent.


He commanded man to be fruitful and multiply.  “[T]he word is the fruit of the word.  The word must resemble the word”.  Words must be fruitful, rich, full of nectar, juice…blood.  Words must smell and taste as “succulent” as they appear.  The words the writer gives Maca are simple, honest, yet full of energy and potential.  Their innocence and strength enact change on others, who react violently to her and her simple pronouncements and opinions.

She is a vessel, full of words which are often repetitions of knowledge acquired from a voice on the radio, a voice accompanied by the eternal ticking of time.  She believes what the voice tells her.

                         {A radio announcer once spoke to a small Jewish virgin, who later had a son whose time on earth was fixed.  A faithful warrior named Joan listened to the same station}

Macabéa, immaculate, saint-like, is a ripening vessel of faith.

The fruits of the text also provide fertility and affirmation.  Maca is the fruit–she is the thin slice of watermelon, the strawberry, and the mandioca [1] dried and eaten in childhood, all with seeds waiting in wombs of red.  She is the guava dessert, the fruit of her first passion and of her childhood.

Within her is the power of creation.  Seeds are the Yes, the potential inherent in concurrence.  They are the fecundity within Macabéa, they are the fruits, the words, the agreements of sex.  Intercourse is the taking in of seeds–is this the inherent sensuality of eating a strawberry?  Of feeding one to a lover?  Seeds are the atoms, the molecules, the ‘bangs’ that do not know themselves, but are self-contained potential, beginnings of existence, ends within themselves.

Transmutation and the attainment of sustenance through it are key themes, with physical and spiritual nourishment at odds.  The writer seeks to transfigure himself, become the creeper vine upon which grapes are grown.  Grapes are transformed, allowed to ferment into intoxicating wine then transformed again into the blood of Jesus[2].

Lispector sets out to transform her narrative with words while disguised as a man and instead begins a transmutation of her own.  Disguised as her male persona, she begins the narrative “devastatingly cold” but soon warms up as she contemplates the thin nineteen-year-old girl and rubs her hands together to “kindle” her spirit.  Her male persona cannot withstand the abundant emptiness of Macabéa, her simplicity and purity–her holiness.  The girl “embodies a truth [he] is anxious to avoid”.  In “penetrating the seeds of her existence”, her deepest and most powerful reality, he is “violating the secrets of the Pharaohs”.

Soon, he is subsumed by his transformative words, wishing to become the “other woman”.  As the narrative progresses, the writer, woman disguised as man, does not simply return to womanhood (referring to the change in ‘I’ near and after Macabéa being struck by the car).  She becomes womanhood.  The male persona crumbles at the moment of Macabéa’s birth and death–Lispector realizes the truth of Macabéa and what she represents.  This truth is not available for men–“for men, it doesn’t exist”.

Fruit and food represent a ripening of self towards religious experience.  Macabéa’s existence is changed by a writer whose words are capable of banishing her sterility: “The fruit of the word” transforms her into a woman, into the Virgin Mary who is blesséd as is the fruit of her womb.

At first, Maca is bloodless, an unripe fruit lacking juices and color. No amount of make-up, powder or lipstick can hide her bloodlessness.  She is as cold as Rodrigo, as she drinks the juice of the fruit of the coffee bush.  This cold coffee is a luxury to her, but it is when she seeks independence, a moment of quiet contemplation for and of herself that her transformation truly begins.

She takes a day for herself and begs instant coffee and boiling water from her landlord.  As she sips this hot, luxurious drink, she contemplates herself and decides that she greatly enjoys solitude and freedom.  She rejoices in herself.  Her first indulgence in leisure gives the first taste to her, the first vitality.  She is slowly ripening, becoming hot and red inside, becoming appealing.  She is warming within, as is the writer who rubbed his hands to kindle spiritual heat.

Macabéa is the only true Mary of those with whom she shares the bed-sitter.  She is biblical.  She is compared to flowers, to wild grass and its seeds.  She is becoming the Virgen de Guadalupe, recapitulating the miracle of the roses as she spends her wages on a single rose.  She is obsessed by the word “ephemeris”, a word very nearly “ephemeral”–a word lasting only a day, like her “rose of reckless beauty”.  Her life is as brief, as beautiful.  The writer makes her Mary, hiding from her–“otherwise, she would have someone to pray for and that would mean salvation”.

Her relationship with Olimpico and his abandonment of her for Gloria explores the issues of spiritual and physical richness and poverty.  She is physically and spiritually impoverished, yet her meeting Olimpico begins a process of change within her–the writer gives her passionate words, wanting words, makes her body crave for nourishment.  Macabéa is described as having ovaries “as shriveled as overcooked mushrooms” yet images of the consumption of foods representing fertility (her eating of eggs, of fruits with many seeds), give way to imagery of her slowly developing spiritual richness.

Macabéa’s passion, a “mysterious sensuality” is awakened by hot coffee, and Olímpico’s attentions.  She begins to yearn.

The day after Macabéa gives the gift of herself to herself, she meets Olímpico, and transmutes him into her “guava preserve with cheese”–her passion.  Her physical passion for food becomes spiritual passion for love, marriage, and consummation.  Her nipples react, her belly shivers, yet she is barren, empty of the ability to physically procreate.  It is her soul which is becoming full and ready–her body is manifesting her spiritual longing.  As thin and physically hungry as she is, her soul is well fed.  She is “nourished by her own entity”, possessing an inner life like those which “nourished the souls of saints”.

Olímpico is her opposing force.  He is her priapic Jesus, her Satan.  He is physically capable, full of semen, fecund and strong, a “demon of strength and vitality who had fathered children”.  He is her temptation, a guava filled with powerful seeds.  He eats red chilies, the “devil’s fruit” and has appetites for the utterly physical and carnal, getting off as his knife plunges into raw meat, while Macabéa needs only to smell the flesh to be satisfied.

Earlier, she imagines a side of beef, the greatest of meat, the whole of nourishment.  To satisfy herself, she chews on a wad of paper then swallows it.  Questions arise for Lispector, for the reader, for Rodrigo:  Can the taste of God be attained by the ingestion of transfigured bread-flesh?  Is it enough to substitute spiritual nourishment for physical nourishment?  Is faith in transmutation enough?  Rodrigo/Lispector wonders.

The speaker wants to “experience at least once the insipid flavour of the Host.  To eat communion bread will be to taste the world’s indifference, and to immerse myself in nothingness”.  Olímpico seeks physical nourishment and consummation as he leaves the spiritually bountiful Macabéa for the physically fertile Gloria, who personifies nourishment, her well-fed hips swaying invitingly.  In this trinity are opposing views of physical and spiritual wealth.  Gloria represents actual food, actual wealth.  Her father owns a butcher shop and Olímpico (the demon) takes that which is base and earthy–a show of richness of flesh and a definite Yes.  The carver of Jesus with a hard cock takes the spiritually empty Gloria, a body full of promise yet empty of true life.

Macabéa is being prepared by God for the ultimate rapture, a spiritual coition to match her sacred potential.  God wants the pure, the unsuspecting and will take her as he took Mary.  She is powerful with spirit, “expansive and diffused…as abundant as the breath of a pregnant woman”.  The demon could not sway her from her purity of mind.  Macabéa is ripening throughout, becoming ready for consumption by God.  Her years of transforming passion and innocence into sustenance for herself have made her into a vessel of spiritual nourishment, ready to be both filled and consumed.

Though she cannot stomach it, she is full of blood, a ripe fruit, a red womb ready for seeds.  She is on the brink of womanhood, as is the writer.  She leaves Olímpico to Gloria, borrowing money to seek the final answer to her spiritual questions–she seeks the fortuneteller and receives her misplaced future, her “sentence of life”.

Macabéa’s life has been “transformed by words”.  She steps off the curb at the highest pinnacle of hope she has ever reached, and in a single sentence is knocked down by the “sentence of death” she should have received.  Full and ready, she is harvested.  The energy of Nature offers her grass, abundant yet simple.  Throughout the text, Macabéa is compared to wild grass and wheat.  If nature offered her the richness of mountains and oceans, it would be too much–her organism (orgasm) would explode, the overt sensuality of natural luxury too much for her “chaste” body. The male speaker gives way to Lispector, the woman writing about the girl who becomes a woman, transmuted by male God-energy.

Macabéa once was entranced by soldiers, wondering if one would murder her–Lispector speaks of male energy and death now, wondering if it is “really necessary to love the man who slays me”.  Lispector is knowingly speaking of death as a physical, sexual act–death as intercourse “summarized by a deep kiss…mouth to mouth in the agony of pleasure that is death”.

Lispector accepts Macabéa as Mary, where once she hid behind a man who hid from salvation–she hid so that Mary could not pray for her yet now asks Macabéa to “pray for us”[3].  Macabéa’s face grimaces with desire, as she lies fetal and bleeding.  It is a “vesperal” moment, at once a religious moment and Venus-like, virginal yet sensual.  She is transmuted into herself, this sex experience with God making Macabéa the fruit of the word–she has become “a Macabéa”, an object of sex and holiness, Marilyn Monroe and the Virgin Mary at once.  She is transmuted from girl to woman.

“A sensation as pleasurable, tender, horrifying, chilling and penetrating as love.  Could this be the grace you call God?” followed by the affirmation seeking affirmation–the perplexed and hopeful “Yes?”–here, both Macabéa and Lispector are questioning, wondering.  Macabéa clings to life as tenaciously as Lispector resolves to cling to hers, fearing the nakedness and vulnerability of total faith and of death.  Then, both realize that this is their role, to be a woman, to be taken, to bleed; all with the most powerful “overwhelming love”.  Rodrigo quips, “One never forgets a person with whom one has slept.  The event remains branded on one’s living flesh like a tattoo and all who witness the stigma take flight in horror”.  The stigma is the stigmata–Macabéa, with the darkness filling her and the breath of life coursing through her, is now sexually experienced and is bleeding for God.

Purity, penetration, giving of blood and faith–Lispector dies with the girl, an orgasm, a last beat of the heart.  Now, the pealing of bells comes to the writer.  They did not come at the beginning of the text to celebrate the beginning of Macabéa but come now to celebrate her death.  Macabéa is the “imminence”, the closeness and holiness of the bells.  She is the “greatness of every human being”.  A post-coital cigarette remains to be lit.  Must she die? Lispector wonders, then reminds the reader, reminds herself that this is the season for strawberries.  Potential, sex, luxuriousness, simplicity, love, sweet nectar—-faith.

Take it.  Do it.


1  Cassava melon, sweet, often dried and eaten like dried apples or apricots

2  I am extrapolating here–grapes are not actually mentioned, but I am applying the symbolism of fruit here to make a point regarding transmutation, religious themes and sustenance derived from transmuted foods in the text.

3  “us” being herself and Rodrigo?  Humanity? All women? Herself and Macabéa?