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The Obscene Madame D
Hilda Hilst; Rachel Gontijo Araújo, trans.; Nathanaël, trans.; John Keene, fwd.




Nightboat Books
2012 • 80 pp. 5 1/2 x 8 1/2"
Fiction & Literature

$14.95 Paperback, 978-1-937658-06-9



The English-language debut of one of Brazil’s leading writers of the twentieth century

The Obscene Madame D is the first work by acclaimed Brazilian author Hilda Hilst to be published in English. Radically irreverent and formally impious, this novel portrays an unyielding radical intelligence, a sixty-year-old woman who decides to live in the recess under the stairs. In her diminutive space, Madame D—for dereliction—relives the perplexity of her recently deceased lover who cannot comprehend her rejection of common sense, sex, and a simple life, in favor of metaphysical speculations that he supposes to be delusional and vain.

From the Book:

How possible is it to know the self when the self is seemingly unknowable? This is one of the chief questions that Hilda Hilst poses in her extraordinary and extraordinarily strange novel The Obscene Madame D. But it is only one of many questions this work raises, or better casts forth in existential terms, as it plumbs the experiences, the depths of experience to be more exact, of its protagonist and main narrator, Hille. We might begin with the answer that Hille’s husband, Ehud, states quite clearly of his spouse, defining her epistemological method: she chooses the path of radical abjection, of herself and others, to approach and achieve that sought-after self-knowledge, but not abjection in the sense of negation or abnegation. For Hille’s approach is antithetical to that of the Platonism of The Symposium, that shedding of the body toward the achievement of the purity and beauty of the gods. It also is antithetical to the self-negation of the Christian martyrs, or the abnegation of Simone Weil. Instead, Hille’s method is closer perhaps to the Sade of Justine, or the Lispector of the stories and The Passion According to G. H. It is knowledge fashioned, if that word might be employed with utmost irony, out of the messiest, basest corporeality, out of obscene animality. Out of dereliction - the eponymous “D” of the title - unto death. Dereliction of sociality in all its forms, dereliction of Ehud and of their marriage, dereliction of herself, of life itself. Dereliction, we might even argue, of the reader. For in The Obscene Madame D, Hilst seduces and then abandons the reader to the fitful filth of Hille’s queer quasi-existence, her acts or non-acts, her roiling, untethered, ever-searching quest. Her dereliction and the knowledge it produces, or at least aims to produce, become ours.

--From the Introduction



HILDA HILST (1930–2004) was born in Jaú, a small town in the state of São Paulo, in 1930. A graduate of law from the University of São Paulo, she dedicated herself to literary creation from 1954 to her death. She is recognized as one of the most important and controversial names in Brazilian contemporary literature and received some of Brazil's most prestigious literary prizes.






Fri, 21 Feb 2014 11:02:57 -0500