A nomadic feminist journey in The Buffalo by Clarice Lispector

Université de Montréal


Dans cet article, je propose une approche centrée sur un féminisme affirmatif pour penser le personnage principal de la nouvelle The Buffalo de Clarice Lispector. Après avoir passé en revue d’autres approches qui recourent à un féminisme plus réactif, je conçois ce personnage comme étant en quête d’une subjectivité féminine fluide. La théorie féministe contemporaine soutient mes réflexions sur la construction de l’identité et du genre du personnage de cette nouvelle de Lispector. La « construction performative du genre » définie par Judith Butler, la représentation « nomade » de la subjectivité féminine proposée par Rosi Braidotti et celle de « devenir avec » développée par Donna Haraway sont quelques-uns des concepts-clés du cadre théorique utilisé dans cet article.


In this essay, I propose an approach based on affirmative feminism to reflect on the protagonist of the short story The Buffalo by Clarice Lispector. After reviewing other ways of thinking about this story informed by second-wave reactive feminism, I conceptualize the woman’s journey in the zoo as a quest for fluid female subjectivity. I will draw on contemporary feminist theory to support my reflections on the construction/destruction/construction of identity and gender of the woman in this short story. The “preformative aspect of the construction of the gendered body” defined by Judith Butler, the notions of “nomadic subjectivity” and “liminality” proposed by Rosi Braidotti and that of “becoming with” developed by Donna Haraway are some of the critical concepts of the theoretical framework used in this essay.


Feminist critics, particularly the ones informed by second-wave feminism rhetoric, have amply commented on the work of Clarice Lispector and her female characters’ struggle to establish their own identity. Nevertheless, feminist theory is not a unique theoretical body, and contemporary feminist frameworks and concepts open up new and exciting possibilities for the academic study of Lispector’s characters and stories. The approach I propose in this essay attempts to go beyond the conventional way of confining the redefinition of women’s identity in binary terms and, by extension, as a reaction to the patriarchal system embedded in second-wave feminism. Indeed, in my analysis of The Buffalo I seek to criticize this reactive feminism, and by the same token explore some key concepts from self-affirmative feminism. More specifically, I will draw on an affirmative and relational framework and the idea of a fluid structure of the subject implicit in the figuration of the nomad to elaborate on Clarice Lispector’s heroine stroll in the zoo in this short story. In line with these concepts, I argue that we can read The Buffalo as a feminist tale of becoming.

I will begin with Judith Butler’s ideas on the performative aspect of the construction of the gendered body. This notion shall guide me in exploring how the female character resists the idea of yielding to a set of conventions usually attributed to female behavior and ways of thinking and acting. I will, in turn, criticize “phallocentrism” as a way of constituting the subject and explore Rosi Braidotti’s concepts of “nomadic subjectivity” and “liminality.” Finally, Donna Haraway’s idea of multispecies engagement and “becoming with” will shed light on my analysis of the heroine’s subject formation according to a relational theoretical framework.

I shall start by presenting a synthesis of The Buffalo. This synthesis will introduce the central themes and concepts that will be elaborated on throughout this essay.

The Buffalo

In the short story The Buffalo, a woman ushers herself into the Zoological Gardens to find hatefulness and rage in her heart. She wants to “locate inside herself the spot where the sickness was the worst, the sickest spot, the spot of hatred.” (Lispector, 1960/2015: 222) At the zoo, she is exposed to negative affects and is faced with the possibility of integrating them as part of her subjectivity.

Despite the impression, in the beginning, that the woman is trying to mourn the loss of an unrequited passion, throughout her journey, it becomes more evident how this is a trigger for a transformative process that is progressively revealed. The character associates hate and rage with masculinity. Simultaneously, she wants to defy the dominant discourse and the patriarchal society to which she belongs. This world of hers is a system of beliefs and codes in which female identity is a rigid and whole body; it is a world that sees identity as “seemingly seamless” (Butler, 1988: 485). At the core of her journey, there is a desire to break with the expectations of a gendered existence. Hereof, wanting to expose herself to new emotions is her insurgency against a fixed and static identity. In this vein, I argue that her walk in the zoo allows her to both deconstruct her identity and enables her to embody a feminist subjectivity that is fluid, transgressive and deterritorialized, as I shall come back to later in this article.

“But it was spring” and “two lions had been in love” (Lispector, 1960/2015: 222). The reference to love throughout the narrative appears to be an important landmark for the heroine, a reminder of who she has been, someone with a chest “that knew only how to give up, knew only how to withstand, knew only how to beg forgiveness, knew only how to forgive, that had only learned how to have the sweetness of unhappiness, and learned only how to love, love, love.” (Ibid.: 228) The walk in the zoo is the heroine’s attempt at integrating the forbidden “hate, hate, hate,” contesting patriarchal expectations and welcoming a hybrid identity.

As she walks and establishes different relationships with animals, humans, and non-humans, she exposes herself to new negative emotions: hate, bitterness, resentment and a desire to kill. In this process her identity is redefined: cage after cage, space after space the character undergoes a process of change. In this nomadic feminist walk (Braidotti, 1994), the woman tries to constitute herself beyond the rigid and fixed structures of the “perversely monological mental habits of phallocentrism” (Ibid.: 2). Drawing from Braidotti’s subjective figuration of the nomad, I propose a postmodern and alternative view on the heroine’s struggle with her identity: she wants to “become” a different woman. She is a figure of nomadic subjectivity, one that “entails a total dissolution of the notion of a center and consequently of originary sites or authentic identities of any kind” (Ibid.: 5). Each of the character’s encounters in the zoo will then draw her cartography of multiple subjectivities, as we shall see further in this essay.

This nomadic journey through the zoo happens in a movement of back-and-forths, in a process that it is not without pain. On various occasions, the heroine believes that she has finally attained her goal, followed almost immediately by the sadness and frustration of not being capable of owing the new feelings. The woman faces internal and external resistances, and all these setbacks make for a feminist tale of becoming.

“To be one is always to become with many,” asserts Donna Haraway (2008: 5) in her book When Species Meet. The heroine finds herself despaired at times in trying to “become with” the other people, the animals, the physical space, the objects, the air she breathes at the zoo. After seeing the giraffe, a hippopotamus, monkeys, an elephant and a camel, she leaves the animals and goes to a roller coaster. An epiphany seems to take place. Shortly after, the new insight into her internal world is scraped, as manifested through her feelings of emptiness: “But, as if she had swallowed the void, her heart stunned. Was that it? That was it. Of the violence, that was it” (Lispector, 1960/2015: 226). The woman decides to head back to the cages. “But where, where to find the animal that would teach her to have her own hatred? the hatred that was hers by right but that lay excruciatingly out of reach? where could she learn to hate so as not to die of love? And from whom?” (Ibid.: 227) The heroine of the story is torn between her past and present condition and longs for the possibilities that were not offered to her.

Finally, “imagining that she might never experience the hatred of which her forgiveness had always been made (…) she began walking so fast that she seemed to have found a sudden destiny.” (Ibid.: 228) The destiny will take her to the buffalo’s cage. She gazes at the beast in a both violent and hateful way, and the animal reciprocates her gaze.

1. Resisting the visible gendered body

The heroine’s struggle with the rigidity of her identity emerges early on in the text. She walks with “fists in her coat pockets,” an act more commonly associated with “masculinity.” Moreover, “she looked around, surrounded by the cages, caged by the shut cages.” (Lispector, 1960/2015: 222) The woman is caged, like the caged animals, which makes her feel submissive and passive: “Patience, patience, patience, was all she was finding in this windblown spring.” (Ibid.: 224) Like the animals in the zoo, the heroine of the story is also “trapped inside the inherited flesh.” (Ibid.) Judith Butler’s (1988) idea of the construction and performative aspect of the gendered body is particularly relevant here. According to Butler, identity is constituted in time and context:

an identity is instituted through a “stylized repetition of acts” (…) “this repetition is at once a reenactment and reexperiencing of a set of meanings already socially established; it is the mundane and ritualized form or their legitimization. (Butler, 1988: 481)

The repetition and legitimization of what it means to be a woman are crucial in the heroine’s quest in challenging the cultural constructions of the gendered body in the hope of becoming someone else. If, on the one hand, she questions what is socially construed as the feminine universe and her identification to it, on the other hand, she struggles to live with hate and anger, emotions that in her view pertain to a masculine universe. Butler writes:

if the ground of gender identity is the stylized repetition of acts through time, and not a seemingly seamless identity, then the possibilities of gender transformation are to be found in the arbitrary relation, between such acts, in the possibility of a different sort of repeating, in the breaking or subversive repetition of that style. (Ibid.: 485)

The woman wants to break with gender conformity and with repetition. She revolts against “the customary structures of society by which we live [that] proceed to inhibit and frustrate our potential of becoming.” (Braidotti, 1994, quoted in Rail, 2017: 1); she contests the bodily and psychological manifestations that are socially associated with femininity. The character wrestles with the conception of women as patient, frail, passive, forgiving lovers and caregivers, as she tries to destabilize her ideas of what it means to live in a female body.

The woman keeps walking, looking for animals, “trying to learn from them how to hate.” (Lispector, 1960/2015: 223) She encounters the monkeys and feels an urge to kill them, to kill their happy, gentle, resigned, loving gaze: “She’d kill those monkeys, levitating in their cage, monkeys happy as weeds, monkeys leaping about gently, the female monkey with her resigned, loving gaze, and the other female suckling her young.” (Ibid.: 223) At this point, it seems that she is also expressing her desire to transgress by challenging the pressure to conform to the physical and psychological space usually assigned to women. However, suddenly, after encountering an old monkey, she hesitates again:

because the monkey’s pupils were covered with gelatinous white veil, in his eyes the sweetness of sickness, he was an old monkey – the woman averted her face, trapping between her teeth a feeling she hadn’t come looking for, she quickened her step, even so, turned her head in alarm back toward the monkey with its arms outstretched: he kept staring straight ahead. “Oh no, not this,” she thought. And as she fled, she said: “God, teach me only how to hate.” (Ibid.: 223)

At the zoo, both the animals and the woman are thus trapped in their visible body, and also in their invisible condition of oppression and vulnerability. The woman too is an occupant of “cages.” Her cages though are not made of bars. Instead, they are made of the internalization of sexist modes of living. Quotes like: “caged in she,” “an undercover assassin,” “an imprisoned female,” and “nothing more than a frail woman,” unable to own the “hatred that was hers by right but that lay excruciatingly out of reach” (Ibid.: 227), express her constraints.

In her book The Politics of Reality the American philosopher and feminist theorist Marilyn Frye analyses women’s subordination and oppression. She argues that cages are “a network of forces and barriers which are systematically related and which conspire to the immobilization, reduction and molding of women and the lives we live.” (Frye, 1983: 7) The image of the cage “helps convey one aspect of the systematic nature of oppression.” (Ibid.)

Cages are outside and inside of her, as she resists integrating hate and anger as constitutive elements of her hybrid and fluid identity: “The cage was always on the side she was.” (Lispector, 1960/2015: 227) The cage is thus a figure for the limits imposed on women who dare to go beyond the confines of domesticity, passivity or docility indissociable from the feminine “nature” and feminine affects.

The woman’s motivation fluctuates between feelings of powerlessness and a desire to resist the despair that she is faced with throughout her journey. The literary scholar Marta Peixoto, analyzing The Buffalo, argues that “anger in “The Buffalo” becomes the elusive object of a quest, whereas pardon is defined as covert hatred.” (Peixoto, 1994: 33) According to Peixoto, it is also interesting that “a reversal of values also occurs in the imagery […] the tendency to redefine words and concepts, to reverse traditional metaphorical associations or to draw images from negative and antithetical realms supports and furthers Lispector’s questioning of a “woman’s destiny.”” (Ibid.: 33)

Despite the rigidity of fixed roles mentioned earlier that the heroine is struggling with, it is worth mentioning that Lispector’s characters do not usually fall into a passive or victim role. According to Peixoto, “Lispector focuses on the constraints of women caught in traditional roles, her dissection of gender does not result in simple feminist fables of powerless women preyed upon by ruthless men.” (Ibid.: 35) In another passage, Peixoto talks about:

an inscription of the feminine that is not a sentimental withdrawal from the struggles of power, but is instead an exacerbated sensitivity to their working and to women’s – and writer’s involvement in these struggles, not as passive victims, but as active participants. (Ibid.: xx Introduction)

Indeed, we should think the inscription of the feminine in The Buffalo beyond the impasse created by a phallocentric vision of the subject and the woman’s actions seen as a reaction or response to rigid masculine structures. I shall now explore why to read this short story through a nomadic subjectivity framework opens up new possibilities.

As argued before, many Brazilian critics (Fernandes & Agra, 2000) see in the author’s defiance of her identity and in her desire of “becoming” a different woman, one who can live with hate, the heroine’s vengeance on her lover who rejected her. Inspired by the second-wave feminist discourses, these same critics see in this a reaction to the oppression and the subordination imposed on women by a phallocentric discourse. According to Ellen K. Feder and Emily Zakin, Tina Chanter writes: “phallogocentrism, makes clear the contrast between the idea of a full, present, apparent phallus and that of the castrated woman, who lacks a phallus, has nothing to be seen, and who therefore represents absence needing to be recuperated.” (Chanter, 2006: 124)

One way of interpreting the wandering of the woman in The Buffalo is indeed the character’s attempt to recuperate her capacity to hate, to rebel, to challenge the established patriarchal order and codes of behavior. Another, and the one I argue for in this essay, is to think beyond a reactive, binominal thinking of presence/lack, phallus/castrated. Reducing her journey to these binary oppositions in reaction to patriarchal thought limits the understanding we may gather about the meaning of loss and the wandering of the woman in the zoo. As Tina Chanter suggests, describing men and women as posited as one being the negative of the other is a position that limits “any expression of female authenticity” (Ibid.: 124), therefore limiting our further exploration of the construction of alternative feminist subjectivities.

According to Abigail Bay and Clare Colebrook, Tina Chanter writes:

by blaming the enemy – men in general, or the patriarchal way of thinking, or the phallocentric system of meaning – feminism is in danger of merely occupying a negative position, one that mimics the resentful, bitter recrimination of the Judeo-Christian mindset, denigrating this worldly life as one of suffering, producing guilt, and occupying a position of bad conscience. (Ibid.: 111)

This conclusion reached, I shall come back to the idea that nomadic theory and feminist fluid structures are a more compelling way to think about a redefinition of identity as a site of self-affirmation. The figure of a fluid nomadic subjectivity as presented by Rosi Braidotti and inspired by the philosophy of Gilles Deleuze is an alternative way to think about the woman’s explorations throughout this story. The question I will now try to answer is what does it mean to be a nomad in the way Rosi Braidotti conceptualizes it? According to her, the image of “nomadic subjects” is inspired by the experience of peoples or cultures that are literally nomadic,” although “it is the subversion of set conventions that defines the nomadic state, not the literal act of traveling.” (Braidotti, 1994: 5) The nomad, Braidotti writes:

does not stand for homelessness or compulsive displacement: it is rather a figuration for the kind of subject who has relinquished all idea, desire, or nostalgia for fixity. It expresses the desire for an identity made of transitions, successive shifts, and coordinated changes without an essential unity. (Ibid. : 57)

A nomad is a subject-in-becoming. This way of thinking subjectivity goes beyond stasis and fixity: it is “a subjectivity that is heterogeneous, transgressive, deterritorialized, performative and affirmative.” (Al Azmeh, 2014: 99)

As I shall address in the second point of this essay, the woman participates actively in her transformation and creation of an alternative future through what Rosi Braidotti calls an “ethics of nomadic subjectivity,” (Braidotti, 2006: 64) a culture of affirmation rather than negation. According to Braidotti, these ethics act as “empowering modes of becoming.” (Braidotti, 2012: 173). The ethical gesture that Braidotti proposes is “the actualization of our increased ability to act and interact with the world.” (Braidotti, 2011: 287) In the book Posthuman Glossary, Braidotti writes: “to live out our capacity to be affected, posthuman subjects need to disengage the process of subject formation from negativity by attaching it to the affirmative and relational vision of the self.” (Braidotti, 2018: 223) In this sense, a nomadic vision of the subject cannot be restricted to the connections with the human otherness but rather encompasses all relations within multiple and non-human relations, including the environment.

I shall now show how the space of the zoo offers possibilities for affirmation, exploration and change: a space for becoming-nomad and thus allowing the redefinition of the female subject in interrelation with the others, humans and non-humans.

2. A journey to become

By questioning and challenging who she is, the woman is not only looking for something to be destroyed; she is also affirming new possibilities of becoming. After crossing the elephant, the woman looks around her and comments on the oriental spring. Like what is happening inside of her, “everything [is] being born, everything [is] flowing downstream” (Lispector, 1960/2015: 224). On the one hand, she feels the need to destroy the passiveness and the darkness as shown in the following passage: “Her eyes coming from their own darkness couldn’t see a thing in the afternoon’s faint light.” (Ibid.: 228) On the other hand, she draws the reader’s attention to the “becoming” side of her. Indeed, there are passages in The Buffalo where the heroine exhales an omnipotent energy coming from within her and the world around her as illustrated by the following excerpt:

Then, born from her womb, it rose again, beseeching, in a swelling wave, that urge to kill – her eyes welled up grateful and black in a near-happiness, it wasn’t hatred yet, for the time being just the tormented urge to hate like a desire, the promise of cruel blossoming, a torment like love, the urge to hate promising itself sacred blood and triumph, the spurned female had become spiritualized through her great hope. (Ibid.: 227)

Cage after cage, space after space, the woman oscillates between states, in a copulative process of destruction and construction. She is looking for unknown new subjectivities that challenge the traditional notion of female identity. As she walks and establishes different relationships with humans and non-humans, she exposes herself to new worlds of possibilities, making her walk a journey of becoming and self-affirmation. As I will develop later, this process of redefining her subjectivity cannot be executed in a relational vacuum, and each of these encounters will draw the character’s cartography of multiple subjectivities.

In Metamorphoses, Braidotti drawing on a Deleuze-ian idiom, suggests that “the point is not to know who we are, but rather, what, at last, we want to become…” (Braidotti, 2002: 2) The heroine of The Buffalo strolls the zoo to question who she is, who she was and who she can become. As previously stated, to become, in Braidotti’s thinking, is not to become something predetermined, it is rather accepting the non-fixity and fluidity of identities in an on-going unpredictable process. The unpredictability characteristic of this transformative process is present in the story. The character heads from one place to the other. As the woman walks, she shakes off her old identity. She is engaged in the process of exploring new territories, yet she does not have a plan or a fixed ending. If in the beginning she goes to the zoo looking for ways of learning how to hate, the woman quickly realizes that she “didn’t even know how [she] was supposed to do it.” (Lispector, 1960/2015: 224) In each step, she embodies her nomadic subjective. According to Deleuze and Guattari, the Nomad is about “crossing boundaries, about the act of going, regardless of the destination.” (Deleuze and Guattari, 1986 in Braidotti, 2011: 58) The life of the Nomad is the “intermezzo” and a “vector of deterritorialization” (Ibid.).

The Zoological Gardens are the background for this narrative and the place where the woman defies the idea of a coherent and steady identity. It is in the zoo where she becomes a person in transit, a “nomad subject” (Braidotti, 1994). From that perspective, the zoo can be seen as a “liminal space.” Geneviève Rail referring to Rosi Braidotti’s concept of “liminality” writes,

liminality (from the Greek word limnos, meaning “threshold”) describes all at once a time, a space, and a state in which the usual order of things is suspended. It is an in-between place rich with ambiguity and uncertainty, but also with the possibility of creative fermentation and construction. (Rail, 2016: 83-84)

For Rail, living in a liminal space is at the core of a nomadic existence. It is about “leaving the comforts of “home” and stepping out of the assurance of a fixed identity in order to discover oneself at the intersection of multiple identities and relationships with others.” (Ibid.)

I have argued that the zoo can be regarded as a liminal space, and the woman defined as a fluid, nomadic subject. To support my reflections, I shall now try to describe the modalities through which the woman “becomes” at the zoo with other in/visible caged bodies. As I wrote earlier, according to feminist theorist Donna Haraway, “to be one is always to become with many.” (Haraway, 2008: 4) The question that I will address is this: how is the woman becoming with the others, the animals, the space, and society? How will she finally accept and embody the “carnage she’d come looking for at the Zoological Gardens?” (Lispector, 1960/2015: 222) To “become with,” is what we see happening to the woman in the brown coat after each of the encounters with the animals and the non-humans at the zoo.

3. “To become with”: multispecies engagement

According to Donna Haraway, “if we appreciate the foolishness of human exceptionalism, then we know that becoming is always becoming with — in a contact zone where the outcome, where who is in the world, is at stake.” (Haraway, 2008: 244) By choosing to go to the zoo, the woman seeks to become with a vast array of humans and non-humans. How then can our heroine invent new and fluid subjectivities? As the narrator asks: “How did you dig in the earth until locating that black water, how did you open a passage through the hard earth and never reach yourself?” (Lispector, 1960/2015: 224)

The animals in the zoo are more than flesh and offer the woman an opportunity “to become.” The feminist theorist Elizabeth Grosz (1995) writes in her essay Animal Sex: “Animals continue to haunt man’s imagination, compel him to seek out their habits, preferences, and cycles, and provide models and formulae by which he comes to represent his own desires, needs and excitements.” (Grosz, 1995: 188)

As is so often the case in the Lispectorian work, the contact with other beings is what makes the revelation possible, and transformation occurs. Lispector often recurs to animals to reflect about her condition. The literary critic Earl E. Fitz says that in Lispector’s stories: “animals represented some form of “primitive,” prehuman (and therefore prelinguistic) existence against which (…) woman and men can orient and define themselves.” (Fitz, 2001: 120)

In Água Viva, Lispector writes: “I don’t humanize animals because it’s an offense — you must respect their nature — I am the one who animalizes myself” and “not having been born an animal, is a secret nostalgia of mine.” (Lispector, 1973/2012: 42) Indeed, the author frequently provides minute descriptions of animals in her stories, and they are portrayed as pure and innocent, as illustrated by the description of the hippopotamus in The Buffalo: “For there was such humble love in remaining just flesh, such sweet martyrdom in not knowing how to think” (Lispector, 1960/2015: 223). However, the animals in the zoo are more than flesh, they also embody alternative ways of thinking, of being and being with others in the world. With the animals, the cages, the zoo, and everything else that the woman encounters, multiple and fluid subjectivities become visible.

The notion of “becoming-animal” by Tamsin Lorraine can contribute to expanding the notion of “becoming with” explored in this essay. Lorraine argues that “true becoming-animal engages the subject at the limits of the corporeal and conceptual logics already formed and so brings on the destabilization of conscious awareness that forces the subject to a genuinely creative response.” (Lorraine, 1999: 181)

This perspective adds to the attempt to understand the heroine’s interaction with the animals and the idea of a multispecies engagement to help to redefine identities or bodies. In a compelling argument of the intersection of humans and non-humans, the critic Donna J. Haraway argues: “which those who are to be in the world are constituted in intra- and interaction (…) species of all kinds, living and not, are consequent on a subject- and object-shaping dance of encounters.” (Haraway, 2008: 4)

However, in this story, these encounters are not straightforward and instantly revelatory. On various occasions, the woman cannot find what she came for at the zoo. At a certain point of her journey, she asks: “Dear God, who shall be my mate in this world?” ((Lispector, 1960/2015: 224) She then ventures to go “alone to have her violence” (Ibid.) in the zoo’s amusement park. In the context of the idea of subject formation as relational, what happens next in the story is a continuum of interactions with humans and non-humans that facilitates her process of becoming. She decides to face her fears and tries the roller coaster. As I have argued before regarding the zoo, the roller coaster can also be looked upon as a “liminal space”, a space: “in between zones where all ties are suspended and time stretched to a sort of continuous present. Oasis of nonbelonging, spaces of detachment. No-(wo)man’s lands.” (Braidotti, 1994: 18)

Braidotti writes that there is “a desire for transformations of embodied and embedded affective and relational structures of [her] subjectivity.” (Braidotti, 2014) The woman’s experience in the roller coaster demonstrates how she is not an “atomized, individualized self.” (Ibid.) She is rather a relational subject. According to Braidotti, human agency is “an assemblage” (Ibid.) of different encounters. As the following passage illustrates, the heroine becomes intimate with the world, with her multiple subjectivities and with the non-human and human entanglements:

all of a sudden came that lurch of the guts, that halting of a heart caught by surprise in midair, that fright, the triumphant fury with which her seat hurtled her into the nothing and immediately swept her up like a rag doll, skirts flying, the deep resentment with which she became mechanical, her body automatically joyful (…) her gaze wounded by that enormous surprise (…) the enormous bewilderment at finding herself spasmodically frolicking. (Lispector, 1960/2015: 225)

What in the past the character construed as a frightening space is now what makes her feel an embodied subject: “how many minutes,” the woman asks. “The minutes of an extended scream of a train rounding the bend, and the joy of another plunge through the air insulting her like a kick, her dancing erratically in the wind, dancing frantically.” (Ibid.: 225) Her nomadic desire, her relationship with the humans and non-humans at the zoo, brings her closer to her body and her vulnerabilities.

Face to face with the buffalo and final considerations

At the end of her nomadic journey through the zoo, the woman seems unaware that she is “becoming with” everything that surrounds her and every part of her multiple subjectivities, or in Bradotti’s idiom, unaware of how the cartographies of others’ encounters intersect with her cartographies. Just seconds before she sees the buffalo, she feels without hope. She breathes, “without interest, no one interested in her, she interested in no one.” (Ibid.: 229) Later, when the big and strong buffalo “seemed to have either seen or sensed her,” (Ibid.) the woman, like a nomad, had already renounced all desire for fixity. “Her heart didn’t beat in her chest, her heart was beating hollowly somewhere between her stomach and intestines.” (Ibid.) She can finally start to think about herself as a fluid embodied subject: “A white thing had spread out inside her (…), intense as a whiteness (…) viscous like a kind of saliva”. (Ibid.: 230) Caught between realities and between past, present, and future, she realizes that she does not have to escape any of these temporal dimensions; she is a subject with multiple belongings: “The buffalo’s renewed pacing brought her back to herself and (…) she returned to the surface (…) emerged from that white and remote thing where she’d been,” and “inside of her at last was flowing a first trickle of black blood.” (Ibid.) There are tension and pain involved in deconstruction but the result of this deconstruction is fecund: “Her strength was still trapped between the bars, something incomprehensible and burning, ultimately incomprehensible, was happening, a thing like a joy tasted in her mouth.” (Ibid.: 231)

Though who? Who will “she” become when species meet? (Haraway, 2008: 5) That is impossible to foresee: to be a nomad is to be involved in a never-ending process.

We shall now look into the last part of this short story when the Buffalo reciprocates the woman’s sight:

Innocent, curious, plunging deeper and deeper into those eyes staring unhurriedly at her, simple, with a drowsy sigh, neither wanting nor able to flee, trapped in this mutual murder. Trapped as if her hand were forever stuck to the dagger she herself had thrust. Trapped, as she slid spellbound down the railing. (Ibid.: 231)

The woman then faints: “In such slow dizziness that just before her body gently crumpled the woman saw the whole sky and a buffalo.” (Ibid.: 231) I argue that the image of the “whole sky,” rather than a double murder as Lispector’s words seem to allude, is the universe of possible futures opened up for her. At the moment the woman’s body crumples, she breaks with the despotic understanding of her old habits, modes and behaviors and becomes “deterritorialized,” mutable. She becomes able to come to terms with the negative affects that the buffalo incarnated. Under this “whole sky,” the woman is closer to freedom and ready to leave the cages in which she has lived, or which had been imposed on her throughout all her life. Borrowing Braidotti’s interpretation of the Spinozian conception of freedom, she “adequates the understanding of the conditions of her bondage, the conditions of her oppression.” (Braidotti, 2014) Perhaps equally important, she is not defeated by this process. The act of “dying” can thus be seen as an internal deconstruction, a deconstruction that will also allow the emergence of a self-affirmative nomadic subjectivity. The woman is finally in touch with her mutable, fluid, embodied subjective nature. I conclude by saying that what happens after the encounter with the buffalo is an affirmation of alternative possibilities. By gazing the “whole sky” our heroine reveals that she is open to new subject position endeavors.


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