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

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