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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 3: Acquisition (i): Home-made Indianist Writing (at Hand’s Reach)


C H A P T E R T H R E E Acquisition (i): Home-made Indianist Writing (at Hand’s Reach) Archaeology is a matter of chance. One day workers are laying railroad tracks in the sertão of Alagoas when they come across a buried camucim, a funerary urn used by Native Brazilians. Witnesses may have seen the discovery; Valério did. Inside there were “ossos esfarelados, cachimbos, pontas de flechas e pedras talhadas à feição de meia-lua” (40; “crushed bones, pipes, arrowheads, and stones carved in half-moon shapes”). Shattered, the camucim exposed small fragments of the world in which an Indigenous Brazilian lived, the objects that were closer and most important to him. Basically, they disclosed a few of the person’s tools for his daily or social activities, such as smoking or hunting.1 No doubt the camucim and its contents constituted a discovery, and one may concede this to those invested in reclaiming a past. However, to what extent is the camucim (or the past of which it is a sign) still useful or functional? Or at least meaningful? It is, after all, broken, and I wonder how that happened. Did the camucim, fragile after years under the ground, break as the workers were unearthing it? Was it an accident—the workers’ shovel or pick, in hitting the urn, broke it? Or did the workers shatter it on purpose, curious of what it contained or eager to perhaps find in it something that might earn them some money?2...

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