“I’m so bored. I hate my life.” - Britney Spears

Das Langweilige ist interessant geworden, weil das Interessante angefangen hat langweilig zu werden. – Thomas Mann

"Never for money/always for love" - The Talking Heads

Tuesday, August 20, 2002

Dope

LI is not posting like it used to because LI doesn't have a computer like we used to.
Instead, we are being ground to death by computer service places, who are supposedly saving the stuff we've written over the last four years.
Okay?

Sunday, LI watched Dona Flor and her two husbands with a friend, S. S. said she'd never seen it, and we thought she'd like it -- S. likes bawdy comedy. Hell, S. likes mere lechery on film, if it is done right, as any right thinking person should. Cinema has added immeasurably to the human sex life, I would imagine, but this is one of the unsung triumphs of the Arts and Sciences.

So we watched the video. LI had last seen the film many presidents ago -- in the Prytania Theater, in New Orleans. Watching a film you liked at one point in your life is sometimes a tricky proposition -- the bogus stretches that, somehow, you didn't see on first viewing stick out, and the clever bits seem less clever than sophomoric. Still, we like the divine Sonia Braga, still young, and as yet not totally advanced on her career as Brazil's answer to ... to whoever that actress was who played in the Emmanuel Films. We liked the music. No, we loved the music, still. The first husband. The Flaubertian business with the ineffably repulsive second husband, poor guy, a pharmacist of sterling character and an absolute sexual blank. This time, it was clearer that the film was referring to the novel it came out of -- in the same way the rude mechanicals in Midsummer Night's Dream refer to the whole of ancient literature, seen peaking through their flaws and flippancy.
LI hates to admit this -- one of our Brazilian readers, in particular, will raise holy hell with us, we know -- but we haven't read the Amado book. In fact, we have somehow acquired this snobbish sense about Amado, that he is the Brazilian equivalent of Isabel Allende -- a writer for tourists only. But there were numerous touches in the film that implied some rich novelistic subtext over and above the merely picayune. So today we dutifully went out and found the novel, and plan on reading it.
We aren't the only ones to have this sense about Amado. His death last year was obituarized in the Guardian in ambiguous terms. After making the traditional distinction between the first phase and the second phase of Amado's career, with the first phase being serious and the second being, uh, carnival-esque, Sue Branford and David Treece write:


"By then Amado was changing the way he wrote. He had become critical of his early novels for being "too serious, too ideological, too full of rage", and became convinced that the most effective way of dealing with political enemies was to laugh at them. He had by then read the Russian critic, MM Bakhtin, who was an exponent of what he called "the subversive power of comedy". Bakhtin's notion of the carnivalesque, with its potential to upset the hierarchies of power and turn the world upside down, had a particular relevance for Brazil, where each year the keys of cities, such as Rio de Janeiro, are handed to Rei Momo (the king of carnival) for three days of riotous living.

This perspective came to define the second major phase of Amado's writing, beginning with Gabriela, Cravo e Canela (1958, Gabriella, Clove and Cinnamon), but it was not without its problems. The earlier dramas of social conflict, class consciousness and collective change gave way to the carnival of cultural and ethnic promiscuity, the celebration of diversity in the indiscriminate infusion of the melting-pot. The post-war novels tended increasingly towards a formulaic recipe whose typical ingredients - the white plantation baron, the black rural worker, the tropical landscape and the mulatta seductress - were tempered with the spices of sex and magic. The result was a dish which all too easily corresponded to official Brazilian and international expectations of a prepackaged, stereotypical image of an exotic third world culture able to dance, sing and love its way out of its misery.

Fiction here became the playground in which Brazil's vast contradictions could be subverted without overflowing the constraints of individual rebellion, just as the shortlived revelry of carnival is circumscribed by the realities of the wider world, and order is ultimately restored as everyone returns home on Ash Wednesday. Amado's solution to the problem of racism - that whites and blacks should simply go to bed together - similarly failed to address the fact that a centuries-old history of miscegenation, while contributing much to the myth of a Brazilian "racial democracy", has not in any way diminished the country's profoundly racist structures. The celebration of cultural promiscuity is, instead, a recipe for a complacent resignation to the impossibility of radical social reform, which doubtless explains why Amado's work has become the centrepiece of Brazilian cultural diplomacy."

This is an example of that very British art of turning up your nose at the gaucheries of the dearly departed. We looked around for criticism of Amado that was a bit more in depth, and discovered that Dona Flor is a much book clubbed novel. We also found an outpouring of bile on the subject of Amado by one Janer Cristaldo that must hold a 20th century record for insults thrown at a man of letters. Cristaldo accuses Amado of being a Nazi, a Communist, and a tool of multi-national Capitalism. I mean, the man is in blood up to his elbows, according to Cristaldo, who has, to say the least, a spotty sense of the repressiveness of Brazilian governments.

But still -- Communist, Nazi, Capitalist Pig -- this is the kind of triple denunciation action LI envies. Although we try hard, so far, we have remained undenounced on the Web. A year of this, and nobody has accused us of rampant anti-Americanism, anti-semitism, Chomskian lunacy, phallogocentrism, nor nothin'. It discourages a man. We must be doing something wrong.


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