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Subaltern Writings

Readings on Graciliano Ramos’s Novels


Rocha Fernando de Sousa

Subaltern Writings focuses on one of the most important Brazilian novelists of the first half of the twentieth century, Graciliano Ramos, and critically examines two of his novels, Caetés and Angústia. The analysis is based on the premise that the reader must bring to the forefront the notion of a subject that is close to non-subjectivity and must develop heterodox forms of cultural production as Ramos himself sketches them. Rather than insisting on the protagonists’ assumed mediocrity or derangement, which has been the norm in previous critical readings of the novels, Subaltern Writings reconstructs how their attempts at composing fictional texts constitute examples of subaltern approaches, often standing alongside «high» cultural production. Unable to enter a circuit of literary writing that silences subaltern speakers, the novels’ protagonists create narratives that, instead of becoming finished objects of consumption, end up as fragments or notes. In this sense, Subaltern Writings consists of exercises in reading an object that resists becoming one. This book will be of great interest to researchers and students of Luso-Brazilian and Latin American studies.


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“Irá caminhando às apalpadelas, batendo nas paredes. E talvez acerte. Acertará, sem dúvida.” Graciliano Ramos, “O moço da farmácia”1 The question that I am about to put forward is somewhat odd, not to say down- right absurd. Let us imagine a certain someone, sitting at his desk, pen in hand, about to jot down a few words, a few sentences. He pokes his brain, and yet noth- ing comes out of it. That is to say, nothing that he would deem worthy of putting down on paper. Not that he doesn’t tell himself stories, for he does.2 But constant fantasies, constant daydreams are not stories that one writes down, perhaps not even confess to anyone. Inner scenarios and dialogues do not make up written stories. So there it is: the blank page, almost as if it were facing him, questioning him. “Soooo . . . .” “So what? What do you expect from me?” He knows the horrors of the blank page, which begs to be filled up with words, words, words. A moment in time—the tip of the pen touching the surface of the paper, motionless—but a moment that keeps repeating itself, ghostly, a phantasm that haunts the writing subject. If it is true, nonetheless, that repetition is not a mere reproduction of the same—and I believe it is not—then the odd question somehow emerges, formu- lating, this time clearly, the question that the blank page only vaguely suggested: “How did I not become an...

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