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The Carnivalesque Defunto: Death and the Dead in Modern Brazilian Literature
by Robert H. Moser
Ohio University Press, 2008
Paper: 978-0-89680-258-2 | eISBN: 978-0-89680-456-2
Library of Congress Classification PQ9555.M67 2008
Dewey Decimal Classification 869.0935480981

The Carnivalesque Defunto explores the representations of death and the dead in Brazil’s collective and literary imagination. The recurring stereotype of Brazil as the land of samba, soccer, and sandy beaches overlooks a more complex cultural heritage in which, since colonial times, a relationship of proximity and reciprocity has been cultivated between the living and the dead.

Robert H. Moser details the emergence of a prominent motif in modern Brazilian literature, namely the carnivalesque defunto (the dead) that, in the form of a protagonist or narrator, returns to beseech, instruct, chastise, or even seduce the living. Drawing upon the works of esteemed Brazilian writers such as Machado de Assis, Érico Veríssimo, and Jorge Amado, Moser demonstrates how the defunto, through its mocking laughter and Dionysian resurrection, simultaneously subverts and inverts the status quo, thereby exposing underlying points of tension within Brazilian social and political history.

Incorporating elements of both a celestial advocate and an untrustworthy specter, the defunto also serves as a metaphor for one of modern Brazil’s greatest dilemmas: reconciling the past with the present.

The Carnivalesque Defunto offers a comparative framework by juxtaposing the Brazilian literary ghost with other Latin American, Caribbean, and North American examples. It also presents a cross-disciplinary approach toward understanding the complex relationship forged between Brazil’s spiritual traditions and literary expressions.

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