Posts filed under 'Civil Rights'

Reevaluating the Urgent Political Relevance of 20th Century Brazilian Novelist Lima Barreto

"He’s the author who picks a fight with the republic, demanding more res publica."

Authors forgotten in their lifetimes sometimes resurface decades later, telling us stories that resonate far beyond their original historical moment. One such writer is Lima Barreto, whose poignant renderings of working class Brazilians from the turn of the twentieth century reverberate with contemporary relevance. Today, anthropologist Lilia Moritz Schwarcz tells Asymptote about her experience researching and writing the new biography of Lima Barreto, Lima Barreto, Triste Visionário, released in Brazil in July 2017.

Lara Norgaard (LN): In the biography you recently published, Lima Barreto, Triste Visionário, you read Lima Barreto’s fiction through the lens of history and anthropology. How was the experience of studying literature from that perspective? Why is historical context important for reading Lima’s work?

Lilia Moritz Schwarcz (LMS): Disciplinary contact zones are engaging spaces, but they are contested. I place myself at the intersection of anthropology, history, and literary criticism. It was a great concern of mine not to see literature as a direct reflection of reality, since we know that Lima Barreto, while reflecting on reality, also created his own. At the same time, Lima said he wrote literaturamilitante, a term he himself used. That kind of committed literature dialogues with reality.

Lima even suffered for that approach in his time. What we now praise as high literature used to be considered unimaginative. Can you believe that? His contemporaries said that because he referenced reality and his own life, he didn’t have imagination. For me, that was a big step. I thought, I’m going to write this life by engaging with the reality that Lima lived, just as he himself did. Take his first novel, Recordações do EscrivãoIsaias Caminha, which is the story of a young black man, the son of a former slave who takes the train to the big city, as Lima did. In that city he experiences discrimination. And the second part of the book is entirely a roman à clef, as it calls attention to journalism as the fourth estate. The novel was so critical that the media blacklisted Lima, and the book was terribly received. His story “Numa e a Ninfa” critiqued politicians and his second novel, The Sad End of Policarpo Quaresma, critiqued president Floriano Peixoto. Peixoto is part of the book. History enters the novel. And in that sense these novels dialogue with reality and invite the historian.

I also read the excellent North American biographer of Dostoevsky, Joseph Frank, who calls attention to how it’s possible for novels to structure a biography, not the other way around. So I tried to include Lima Barreto’s voice in my book. He’s the writer, and rather than explain something in his place it would be better to let him say it. And so, looking at the biography, you’ll find that I often intersperse my voice with Lima’s. Those were the methods I used working in the contact zones between disciplines.


An Excerpt from Prince as the Post Civil Rights Archetype

" can still hear his “voice beating in the chest” of American music. He has done too much to be forgotten."

In the same manner that African Americans were forced to create the only original American language, Black English, Prince is a prime example of the creation of a new form, through amalgamation, which evolves from a need to survive.  In his article “The Musical Alchemist,” Luis Hidalo states that what sets Prince apart is “his influences, his musical inspirations, the ease with which he assimilates them and then reinvents them with his own personal imprint.  Prince has created his own unique style… an incomparable way of making music, a style you can distinguish by the second verse.”

What are Prince’s accomplishments? What did he achieve?  First and foremost, his individual freedom. Second, being an encyclopedia of American Music, to paraphrase music critic Nelson George, Prince simultaneously continued the legacy of the African American tradition of Little Richard, Chuck Berry, James Brown, Jimi Hendrix, Smokey Robinson, Marvin Gaye, Sly Stone, Maurice White, and Parliament Funkadelic while adding to its narrative the discourse of the post-Civil Rights (which is something completely different than post-racial) African American grappling with place and space in a world of hopes, new opportunities, and continued racial limitations.  While Prince was not interested in denying his blackness, per se, he was definitely interested in pondering ways in which he could discuss blackness on his own terms. Next, Prince takes a page from the punk-rock movement of the late seventies and early eighties and fashions what almost becomes a category of alternative music for African Americans. Without this, there would be no Lenny Kravitz, no Terrence Trent D’Arby, no Toni, Tony, Tone, no Me’Shell NdegeOcello, no D’Angelo, no Fishbone, no Living Color, and no Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, at least not in the manner in which we think of them and the manner in which they create and present music. Thirdly, Prince was one of the lone voices of the eighties who wanted ownership, continuing the legacy of Stevie Wonder and passing it on to Jam and Lewis, L.A. Reid and Babyface and Master P. Paisley Park Records attempted to be a real player in the game, signing new acts as well as working with established acts such as George Clinton, Mavis Staples, Miles Davis and Patti LaBelle. Fourth, his work with drum machines and synthesizers expanded on the work of Wonder and revolutionized the technology used in Hip Hop, paving the way for producers such as Dallas Austin, one of the first super-producers of Hip Hop. Austin affirms Prince’s importance and influence on all who follow him by stating, “He’s my total influence in production and songwriting.” READ MORE…