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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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Chapter 2: A Few Viventes


C H A P T E R T W O A Few Viventes “Enfim as sovelas furam e a faca pequena corta. São armas insignificantes, mas são armas.” Graciliano Ramos, “Os sapateiros da literatura”1 Cacoethes scribendi. An impulse to write, a necessity, born not out of a humanistic ideal—know thyself and become a better human being—but as a mania, an illness of sorts. Making little to almost no money, wannabe writers had to live in board- inghouses, eat sparingly, and dress modestly, not to say shabbily. An aspiring writer might in fact look more like “um celerado de figura sombria, calças rotas, botas sem saltos e paletó ignobilmente descolorido com remendos nas costas e sonetos inéditos nas algibeiras” (Ramos, Linhas tortas 16; “a criminal with a somber figure, torn pants, heelless boots and a shamefully discolored jacket, patched on the back, and unpublished sonnets in his pockets”). Such was the figure that Ramos jokingly imagined in 1915, when he was still twenty-two years old, trying out his luck as an incipient journalist in Rio de Janeiro, then the federal capital. Sarcasm aside, the depiction does not seem to be that far-fetched in what regards the literary and journalistic environment of early-twentieth-century Brazil. Amadeu Amaral Júnior, one of Ramos’s former companions in a boarding- house, was a case in point. Desperate, Ramos affirms, Amaral Júnior put an ad in the paper, identifying himself as an “[i]ntelectual desempregado” (“[u]nemployed intellectual”) who...

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