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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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Preface 1. “He is going to walk by groping his way around, hitting walls. He may get it right. He’ll get it right, no doubt” (Graciliano Ramos, “The Guy in the Drugstore”). Whenever possible, I have used existing translations to the original Portuguese texts. For those texts with an existing translation, I have included both the original text page number and the page number in the translation, separated by a forward slash (the number on the left corresponding to the page number in the original text and the one on the right to the translation). All other translations are mine. 2. I will be using here masculine pronouns and adjectives because all three protagonists who write (or attempt to write) in Ramos’s novels are male. 3. The historical event that Valério tries to reconstruct in his novel is the following: on its way to Portugal, the ship in which bishop Dom Pero Fernandes Sardinha traveled sank, on the coast of what is now the state of Alagoas. According to historical texts, the Caeté Indians would have devoured the survivors, including Sardinha. The notorious episode appears in the third book of História do Brasil (1627), by Frei Vicente do Salvador. Chapter one: In the Beginning Was the Lesser Being (And the Word) 1. “If we calculate that right, you are dead, Seu Varejão.” 2. “It will do no harm if you disappear. Because, properly speaking, you have never lived.” 3. The plural “we” in the epigraph is due...

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