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.