The Paris Review

Rules for Consciousness in Mammals

Clarice Lispector.

Anyone who talks about Clarice Lispector and psychoanalysis is likely to say something foolish, not least because psychoanalysis is a discipline of listening, not talking. And, in fact, this is a tempting place to stop.


“Coherence,” says Lispector, “I don’t want it any more. Coherence is mutilation. I want disorder. I can only guess at it through a vehement incoherence.”

Let’s talk about this single aspect of Lispector. I’m going to tell you not just why her work is so important, why I think she is so important, but how I think it, the way in which I think that thought. 

We begin by discussing the psychoanalyst Melanie Klein. We can say that Klein is greater than Freud.

How can we say this? The man who invented the game of baseball was a very great man, and we are in his debt, but he was not the home-run king.

Freud invented, or discovered, psychoanalysis. He answered these questions: who, what, when, where, and how.

Klein answered the question: why. Why is a different kind of question.

Freud told us what it is and how it works. But it remained for Klein to tell us why life is like this.

Why is it like this? or, Rules for consciousness in mammals.


I once saw the birth of a Vietnamese deer. Squish, plop. The little deer stood up and was ready to go.

Your birth was not like that. You were not ready to go. You exited your mother’s body helpless and still dependent on her body. You were less like a deer and more like a kangaroo. You weren’t completely cooked. You weren’t ready to perform. You needed to go back into the pouch.

Our biological nature means our initial, foundational experience is dependency on the mother’s

You're reading a preview, sign up to read more.

More from The Paris Review

The Paris Review4 min read
A Polyphonic Novel of Midcentury San Francisco
Protesters link arms in front of the International Hotel in San Francisco in an attempt to prevent the police from evicting elderly tenants on August 4, 1977. Photo: Nancy Wong. Via Wikimedia Commons. Imagine that you’re a sullen, sheltered kid from
The Paris Review6 min read
Staff Picks: Monsters, Monkeys, and Maladies
Patti Smith. Photo: © Jesse Dittmar. In her latest memoir, Year of the Monkey, Patti Smith writes of Sandy Pearlman: “We stood on either side of him, promising to mentally hold onto him, keep an open channel, ready to intercept and accept any signal.
The Paris Review10 min read
How To Write A Poem About Noguchi
The Noguchi Museum (Image © NYCGO) When I lived in New York many years ago, I used to go to the Noguchi Museum in Long Island City. It was his studio, and now is a series of rooms full of sculptures and drawings, short films, the akari lanterns for w