CXXXV (Re)leituras -- Memorial de Aires, by Machado de Assis, comments by André Bandeira

This is a Memoir of a retired diplomat, who -- according to his own words -- decided to retire in order to believe in the capabality of others of being sincere. He also states, at a certain point, that he doesn't have neither the wearinesses of office, nor the hopes of being promoted. Again, Machado de Assis, who, this time, writes his Memoir as a diary, confronts us with the weight of death, or, in other words, he depicts the resilient presence of death in a life which is withering away. At a certain point, he conjecturates that dead have the strength of fighting the living, who, in he following, never fully cast them away. The plot is difficult to follow, once it is fragmented in annotations, comments, entries. In the end, one sees that there was a widow, Fidélia, who never really managed to overcome the attachment she has to her deceased husband. She is named Fidélia, as the protagonist of Beethoven's Opera. One sees that the narrator, Aires, cherishes the hope of marrying to er but, finally, it is a young doctor, devoted to Politics, and a good man, who takes the prize. He just takes note of that, he retreats with no feeling of jealousy, whatsoever. He is an old man, young people have the right of loving each other and being happy. He even helps as a confident and a kind of oracle interpreter. His own fantasies just blow away, as anacronic fallen leaves in the spring wind. The final scene depicts two oldmen, among his acquaintances, who wait for him, as some previously deceased friends, lining up on the receiving bank of the river of death. They try to smile and exhibit some contentment. According to the ending, they try to get some consolation from the memory of themselves, as two images looking at each other on a mirror. It is a very pessimistic book, albeit some kind of philosophy prevailis in it. Machado de Assis is this high civil servant who reached glory in Literature and who never travelled away from the capital, farther than 120 Kms. He was a man who liked to seat at one peer of Rio's port an stare at the open sea. He was hard-working, early riser but distant and meticulous in human approach, as his language testifies. Still his phantasies and sensitive heart emerged very clearly in the fluence of the language, alongside the narrative.He sees death coming along and he wants to close his reflection with some embedded conclusions and an inherent wit where everything tends to corroborate the inevitable end. His maxims just make the ending lighter, running faster to the aim before this one has been really attained. They find some life and variety in the considerations which raise and fall in a narrowing final room. In the conclusion they are symbolized by the two oldmen, a kind of twins who populate, in a way, the final desolation, with some stupid irony. That's it: there is no beyond. There is just a duty to be followed till the very end. There is no final scene. There is only the one-before-the-last scene. All this novel is an eulogy of the final power of death in pulverize everything.But before reaching that state, the presence of death, the widowhood's rules, the contrast between fresh flowers and tombs, all of them set the pace of time and keep us wonderfully tied up as Machado de Assis, the child of a former slave, wanted to see a whole epoch and a society he managed to master. He was really the «old witch of Cosme Velho» and, besides being competent, he was just delighted in exerting his power. Maybe he got all his life, sick, because of that but he was to primitive in his worldview. Life casts all these kind of compensations: Machado de Assis was primitive in his feelings. So life gave him a superb writing in order to conceal his feelings. A man cannot throw hell over the society of his time without some elegance, otherwise he would be totally burned out by that very hell. That is why we tend to differentiate Beauty and Good. In an ongoing calvary, they are, indeed, different concepts.


CXXXIV (Re)leituras) -- Iáiá Garcia, by Machado de Assis, comments by André Bandeira

Powerful novel by the one I'm tending to consider, more and more, as the greatest novelist of the world which speaks in Portuguese. But we need Poetry to relieve us from the witchcraft of a novelist. The plot: there is a passion looming in Jorge's heart, for Estela, a woman of an inferior social condition. Maybe she loves him back, but she is too proud (or considers herself too proud) to follow that feeling up. Jorge decides to volunteer to the front in the war which Argentina, Uruguay and The Brazilian Empire, are waging against Paraguay, a tragic country, led by a visionary dictator, Solano López. It was an infamous war, which the paraguayan resistance extended beyond human understanding and Paraguay never raised again, ever since. Jorge returns covered with glory. Estela has married to a widower, who maybe never expected to marry again and who devoted all his love and care to his young child, an exuberating girl called Lina, and nicknamed Iáiá. All the women in the novel are stubborn, determined, brilliant (there are only two, but they are many). Jorge still calls on his old acquaintances, that means he visits Iáiá -- who's becoming a beautiful woman -- and her new stepmother,Estela, who still manages to enter the room and detonate Jorge's heart. Finally Jorge falls for Iáiá and he get's engaged to her. But Iáiá knows her merits and wants to be sure. She has really managed to make out of her stepmother, a motherly confident. At some juncture,both her and her father find one letter that a passionate Jorge once wrote to Estela, from the frontline. There they find that Jorge's heart is no virgin in this troubled matter of passion. She turns to hate him, and refuses to marry, maybe because the only model she may conceive in love and affection, is Estela's husband, that means, her father. In the meantime, that father is dying. But Estela convinces Iáiá, while phrasing the explanations as if she was the author -- and that with a cirurgical ferret -- that she had some pity for Jorge, once, and never loved him. Everything gets solved in the last chapter. Too violent. Iáiá's father, the widow who remarried to Estela, finally dies and Estela keeps the flowers fresh in his tomb. The author concludes that the pity she had for her husband survived all the wrecks of desillusion. Let's see: this time, Machado de Assis doesn't trick us for posterity about the real feelings which were at stake. Estela did love Jorge. Jorge was a very valuable man. But Estela married Iáiá's father, a mild man, because her own father went on being a milder man, even a subordinate to Jorge, in the road of pre-determined social conditions. Men are weak, no matter the love they deserve and earn, because of the natural delicacies which glow from their merits. After all, love is not earned. It happens as the methalanguage of all human methalanguages, as the voice of an oracle which fends off the diversity of facts. Women are there to keep the oracle. And Machado de Assis -- the witch of Cosme Velho -- exconjurates all the ligthnins and thunders in the last chapter, just to condemn a society based on injustice and human fatality. He makes vengeance feminine, just because one wouldn't expect vengeance from the only veto bestowed on women, that time, the veto to a bridegroom. It is Procópio, the ugly, elegant merchant, who loved Iáiá and who expected to marry her, who proclaims the social laws and who almost estranges Iáiá from the feeble lover Jorge. Still he doesn't avoid the marriage but he manages to keep the unfinished love of Estela for Jorge, forever on. Machado de Assis was no socialist, where social compensation is supposed to make everybody content. Neither he was a christian who believed in the final strength of pity. Much less was he a classical who returned to the obedience of Fate. As a matter of fact he wanted all their characters -- and the real people they stood for -- burning in hell. Those aware burning of consciousness, and those unwares, walking stupidly towards the abyss. The slavery wound cannot be healed, by committing the power of justice to the former slave. As Paulo Freire said later, a liberation without education makes the oppressed desire only, to replace the oppressor.


CXXXIII (Re) leituras -- Recordações do Escrivão Isaías Caminha, by Lima Barreto, comments by André Bandeira

This is the first novel of the brazilian writer Afonso Henriques de Lima Barreto, a very good writer of the first quarter of the XXtieth Century. Its title could be translated as «Memories of the clerk Isaías Caminha» and it implies that, besides being a Memory of a clerk, this latter remembers as if he was the Profet Isaiah,on pilgrimage. It is his first novel and it describes the life of a young offspring of a negro woman and a portuguese catholic priest, who has been carefully educated in the countryside and, at a certain point, he departs to the capital, Rio de Janeiro, in order to study Medicine. He is an idealist, somewhat dreamer and ignorant of the racism which prevails in Brazil,in the early XXth century. He happens to meet some people who work at one of the main newspapers, he calls «O Globo», incidentally the name of one of the most important newspapers in contemporary Brazil, but which probably stands for the «A Noite», a daily where the author, himself, had been a reporter. In few years, the protagonist thouroughly forgets what he was up to in Rio, he misses the political connections he had there in order to get a decent job and start studying, he even forgets his hard-tried mother, he doesn't have a clue, anymore, of the basic knowledge he had acquired thanks to the strife of his estranged parents. He gets a job as a clerk in the newspaper, he watches the unfolding of the scenes which blend the glamour and the filth of the politically influential press and, at a certain point, thanks to the capricious and dictatorial Director,of which secrets he happens to be up to date, he's promoted to reporter. His numbness about having a sustainable life in Rio, and being part of all that human show, gravitating around the newspaper, suddenly ends up when he realizes he has been stolen of his notes, by a fellow reporter. He recovers them with his fists and he rapidly concludes that sometimes, one has to be violent to get his due.He doesn't get further. The image he gets from the political and social life in Rio is the one which ends up in the newspaper's sink. He only remembers one thing earnest in that amalgama of cowardice, tiranny, frivolity and nepotism. At a certain point, one of the columnists, a diplomat who stayed for a long time in Paris, nicknamed Floc, gets into a real gordian knot, while wording his article on an important lyric «Première». He doesn't manage to assemble the right words in what seems to be a matter of sense of life, for him, and commits suicide over his desk.Here, the author makes a full stop and the novel ends up as if he had married,had a child and finished peaceful and philosophysing in the Rio suburbs, even holding some golden sinecure. As a matter of fact this first novel of a genious who died young and tragically, has very much of autobiographic, but has in it many futures which did never happen. Besides, the bucolic ending has no connection with the reality, whatsoever.Booze and the feeling of guilt, as well has a real insurmountable opposition from a society which kept its racial prejudices in a whirlpool of frivolity and cultural sincretism, made headway in advance. The photography which remains from this novel that is undoubtedlly the manipulation and genetic tiranny which looms behind the so-called public opinion and the oldest institutions of the so-called «open society».