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The thirteenth shot…

A final word on avenging justice

Mineirinho was “a bandit killer of some notoriety, who operated in Rio de Janeiro until he was finally tracked down and shot by the police.” From Clarice Lispector (1920–1977), The Foreign Legion, pp. 212-3:


I suppose that I should search within myself as one of the representatives of mankind, in order to ascertain why the death of a criminal should cause so much sorrow. And why I prefer to speak of the thirty shots which killed Mineirinho rather than discuss his crimes. I asked my cook what she thought about the matter. I detected the tiny spasms of conflict on her face, the disquiet of not being able to rationalize her feelings, of being forced to betray contradictory emotions because she did not know how to conciliate them. Irreducible facts, also an irreducible indignation, the violent compassion of indignation. To feel ourselves puzzled and divided in the face of our inability to forget that Mineirinho was dangerous and had murdered far too often; yet we wanted him alive. The cook was somewhat wary, perhaps because she was suspicious of avenging justice. With an unmistakable tone of irritation which came from the heart, she replied coldly: ‘There is no point in telling you what I feel. Surely everybody knows that Mineirinho was a criminal? But I’m convinced that his soul was saved and he is already in heaven.’ I answered: ‘Much more likely than in the case of lots of people who have never killed anyone.’

Why? For the first commandment, which protects irreplaceable body and life, says thou shalt not kill. That commandment is my greatest guarantee: so do not kill me, for I do not wish to die, and do not let me kill, because to have killed would cast me into eternal darkness.

This is the commandment. But while I can listen to the first and the second shot with a sense of relief, the third shot makes me alert, the fourth leaves me restless, the fifth and sixth cover me with shame, the seventh and eighth cause my heart to beat with alarm, the ninth and tenth cause my mouth to tremble, the eleventh shot finds me invoking the name of God in terror, and at the twelfth shot I call for my brother. The thirteenth shot kills me—because I am the other. Because I want to be the other.

I repudiate this justice which watches over my sleep, and feel humiliated that I should need it. Meantime, I sleep, and falsely save myself. We, who are astute by nature.

So that my house may function, I make it my priority to be astute so as to give no outlet to the rebellion and love which rage inside me. Were I not astute, my house would shake. I must have forgotten that below the house there is the soil, the terrain where a new house might be erected. Meantime, we sleep and falsely save ourselves. Until thirteen shots awaken us, and with horror I say, but much too late—twenty-eight years after Mineirinho was born—that they should not kill the cornered bandit, that they should not kill this man. For I know that he is my weakness. And of an entire life, dear God, sometimes all that one salvages is weakness. I know that we shall not be saved as long as we do not value our weakness. My weakness is the mirror, wherein I behold what I silently made of a man. My weakness is the way I saw life open out in his flesh. I panicked, and saw the matter of life, placenta and blood, the living quagmire. My way of life exploded in Mineirinho. How could I resist loving him, if he lived until the thirteenth shot when I was sleeping? His startled violence. His innocent violence—not its consequences, but innocent in itself like the violence of a child neglected by its father. All that was violence in him is astuteness in us, and we avoid each other’s gaze lest we should run the risk of misunderstanding each other. Lest the house should shake….

(I stop quoting here before I get shot myself for copyright violation… I consider this passage so revealing and important on the questions of capital punishment, abortion, male criminality, motherhood and the relation between them all that I gladly risk it.)

That we are not killed at or before birth is due to some woman’s weakness. There is no right to life, and though many should die, no one can deserve it.

Posted by luno in Lispector, motherhood, abortion, capital punishment, male criminality (Friday August 26, 2005 at 3:01 pm)

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