In May 1888 the Brazilian parliament passed, and Princess Isabel (acting for her father, Emperor Pedro II) signed, the lei aurea, or Golden Law, providing for the total abolition of slavery. Brazil thereby became the last “civilized nation” to part with slavery as a legal institution. The freeing of slaves in Brazil, as in other countries, may not have fulfilled all the hopes for improvement it engendered, but the final act of abolition is certainly one of the defining landmarks of Brazilian history. The articles presented here represent a broad scope of scholarly inquiry that covers developments across a wide canvas of Brazilian history and accentuates the importance of formal abolition as a watershed in that nation’s development.
Brazilian society was shaken by turmoil in the 1920s and 1930s. The country was rocked by heated debates over race and immigration, burgeoning social movements in cities and the countryside, entrenched oligarchies clinging to power, and nature being despoiled. Against this turbulent backdrop, a group of biology scholars at the National Museum in Rio de Janeiro joined the drive to renew the Brazilian nation, claiming as their weapon the voice of their fledgling field. Without discarding scientific rigor, they embraced biology as a creed and activism as a conviction—and achieved success in their bid to influence public policy in environmental protection and the rational use of natural resources.
For the first time in English, Brazil’s leading environmental historian, Regina Horta Duarte, brings us a nuanced analysis of the National Museum of Brazil’s contribution to that country’s formation and history. In Activist Biology, Duarte explores the careers of three of these scientists as they leveraged biology as a strategy for change. Devoted to educational initiatives, they organized exhibits, promoted educational film and radio, wrote books, published science communication magazines, fostered school museums, and authored textbooks for young people. Their approach was transdisciplinary, and their reliance on multimedia formats was pioneering.
Capturing a crucial period in Brazil’s history, this portrait of science as a creative and potentially transformative pathway will intrigue anyone fascinated by environmental history, museums, and the history of science. Duarte skillfully shows how Brazilian science furthered global scientific knowledge in ways that are relevant now more than ever.
"Hellwig has made a remarkable contribution to the literature and study of comparative race relations."
--Anani Dzidzienyo, Afro-American Studies and Portuguese-Brazilian Studies, Brown University
At the turn of the twentieth century, the popular image of Brazil was that of a tropical utopia for people of color, and it was looked upon as a beacon of hope by African Americans. Reports of this racial paradise were affirmed by notable black observers until the middle of this century, when the myth began to be challenged by North American blacks whose attitudes were influenced by the civil rights movement and burgeoning black militancy. The debate continued and the myth of the racial paradise was eventually rejected as black Americans began to see the contradictions of Brazilian society as well as the dangers for people of color.
David Hellwig has assembled numerous observations of race relations in Brazil from the first decade of the century through the 1980s. Originally published in newspapers and magazines, the selected commentaries are written by a wide range of African-American scholars, journalists, and educators, and are addressed to a general audience.
In Afro-Atlantic Flight Michelle D. Commander traces how post-civil rights Black American artists, intellectuals, and travelers envision literal and figurative flight back to Africa as a means by which to heal the dispossession caused by the slave trade. Through ethnographic, historical, literary, and filmic analyses, Commander shows the ways that cultural producers such as Octavia Butler, Thomas Allen Harris, and Saidiya Hartman engage with speculative thought about slavery, the spiritual realm, and Africa, thereby structuring the imaginary that propels future return flights. She goes on to examine Black Americans’ cultural heritage tourism in and migration to Ghana; Bahia, Brazil; and various sites of slavery in the US South to interrogate the ways that a cadre of actors produces “Africa” and contests master narratives. Compellingly, these material flights do not always satisfy Black Americans’ individualistic desires for homecoming and liberation, leading Commander to focus on the revolutionary possibilities inherent in psychic speculative returns and to argue for the development of a Pan-Africanist stance that works to more effectively address the contemporary resonances of slavery that exist across the Afro-Atlantic.
Tourists exult in Bahia, Brazil as a tropical paradise infused with the black population's one-of-a-kind vitality. But the alluring images of smiling black faces and dancing black bodies masks an ugly reality of anti-black authoritarian violence. Christen A. Smith argues that the dialectic of glorified representations of black bodies and subsequent state repression reinforces Brazil's racially hierarchal society. Interpreting the violence as both institutional and performative, Smith follows a grassroots movement and social protest theater troupe in their campaigns against racial violence. As Smith reveals, economies of black pain and suffering form the backdrop for the staged, scripted, and choreographed afro-paradise that dazzles visitors. The work of grassroots organizers exposes this relationship, exploding illusions and asking unwelcome questions about the impact of state violence performed against the still-marginalized mass of Afro-Brazilians.
Bruna Veríssimo, a youth from the hardscrabble streets of Recife, in Northeast Brazil, spoke with Tobias Hecht over the course of many years, reliving her early childhood in a raging and destitute home, her initiation into the world of prostitution at a time when her contemporaries had scarcely started school, and her coming of age against all odds.
Hecht had originally intended to write a biography of Veríssimo. But with interviews ultimately spanning a decade, he couldn't ignore that much of what he had been told wasn’t, strictly speaking, true. In Veríssimo’s recounting of her life, a sister who had never been born died tragically, while the very same rape that shattered the body and mind of an acquaintance occurred a second time, only with a different victim and several years later. At night, with the anthropologist’s tape recorder in hand, she became her own ethnographer, inventing informants, interviewing herself, and answering in distinct voices.
With truth impossible to disentangle from invention, Hecht followed the lead of Veríssimo, his would-be informant, creating characters, rendering a tale that didn’t happen but that might have, probing at what it means to translate a life into words.
A call and response of truth and invention, mental illness and yearning, After Life is a tribute to and reinterpretation of the Latin American testimonio genre. Desire, melancholy, longing, regret, and the hunger to live beyond the confines of past and future meet in this debut novel by Tobias Hecht.
Amazons: A Love Story
E. J. Levy University of Missouri Press, 2012 Library of Congress PS3612.E93685A83 2012 | Dewey Decimal 918.104
When E.J. Levy arrived in northern Brazil on a fellowship from Yale at the age of 21, she was hoping to help save the Amazon rain forest; she didn’t realize she would soon have to save herself.
Amazons: A Love Story recounts an idealistic young woman’s coming of age against the backdrop of the magnificent rain forest and exotic city of Salvador. This elegant and sharp-eyed memoir explores the interaction of the many forces fueling deforestation—examining the ecological, economic, social, and spiritual costs of ill-conceived development—with the myriad ones that shape young women’s maturation.
Sent to Salvador (often called the “soul of Brazil” for its rich Afro-Brazilian culture), a city far from the rain forest, Levy befriends two young Brazilians, Nel, a brilliant economics student who is estranged from her family for mysterious reasons, and Isa, a gorgeous gold digger. When the university closes due to a strike, none of them can guess what will come of their ambitions. Levy’s course of study changes: she takes up capoeira, enters cooking school (making foods praised in Brazilian literature as almost magical elixirs), gains fluency in Portuguese and the ways of street life, and learns other, more painful lessons—she is raped, and her best friend becomes a prostitute.
When Levy finally reaches the Amazon, her courage—and her safety—are further tested: on a barefoot hike through the jungle one night to collect tadpoles, she encounters fist-sized spiders, swimming snakes, and crocodiles. When allergies to the antimalarial drugs meant to protect her prove life-threatening, she discovers that sometimes the greatest threat we face is ourselves. Eventually, her work as a “cartographer of loss,” charting deforestation, leads her to realize that our relationships to nature and to our bodies are linked, that we must transcend the logic of commodification if we are to save both wilderness and ourselves.
The Amazon is a perennially fascinating subject, alluring and frightening, a site of cultural projection and commercial ambition, of fantasies and violence. Amazons offers an intimate look at urgent global issues that affect us all, including the too-often abstract question of rain forest loss. Levy illuminates the burgeoning sex-tourism trade in Brazil, renewed environmental threats, global warming, and the consequences of putting a price on nature. Accounts of the region have most often been by and about men, but Amazons offers a fresh approach, interweaving a personal feminist narrative with an urgent ecological one. In the tradition of Terry Tempest Williams, this timely, compelling, and eloquent memoir will appeal to those interested in literary nonfiction, travel writing, and women’s and environmental issues.
In this first book-length study to compare the "new novels" of both Spanish America and Brazil, the authors deftly examine the differing perceptions of ambiguity as they apply to questions of gender and the participation of females and males in the establishment of Latin American narrative models. Their daring thesis: the Brazilian new novel developed a more radical form than its better-known Spanish-speaking cousin because it had a significantly different approach to the crucial issues of ambiguity and gender and because so many of its major practitioners were women.
As a wise strategy for assessing the canonical new novels from Latin America, the coupling of ambiguity and gender enables Payne and Fitz to discuss how borders--literary, generic, and cultural--are maintained, challenged, or crossed. Their conclusions illuminate the contributions of the new novel in terms of experimental structures and narrative techniques as well as the significant roles of voice, theme, and language. Using Jungian theory and a poststructural optic, the authors also demonstrate how the Latin American new novel faces such universal subjects as myth, time, truth, and reality. Perhaps the most original aspect of their study lies in its analysis of Brazil's strong female tradition. Here, issues such as alternative visions, contrasexuality, self-consciousness, and ontological speculation gain new meaning for the future of the novel in Latin America.
With its comparative approach and its many bilingual quotations, Ambiguity and Gender in the New Novel of Brazil and Spanish America offers an engaging picture of the marked differences between the literary traditions of Portuguese-speaking and Spanish-speaking America and, thus, new insights into the distinctive mindsets of these linguistic cultures.
Offering a novel approach to the study of ethnicity in the neoliberal market, Another Arabesque is the first full-length book in English to focus on the estimated seven million Arabs in Brazil. With insights gained from interviews and fieldwork, John Tofik Karam examines how Brazilians of Syrian-Lebanese descent have gained greater visibility and prominence as the country has embraced its globalizing economy, particularly its relations with Arab Gulf nations. At the same time, he recounts how Syrian-Lebanese descendents have increasingly self-identified as "Arabs." Karam demonstrates how Syrian-Lebanese ethnicity in Brazil has intensified through market liberalization, government transparency, and consumer diversification. Utilizing an ethnographic approach, he employs current social and business phenomena as springboards for investigation and discussion. Uncovering how Arabness appears in places far from the Middle East, Another Arabesque makes a new and valuable contribution to the study of how identity is formed and shaped in the modern world.
An important new ethnographic study of São Paulo’s favelas revealing the widespread use of race-based police repression in Brazil
While Black Lives Matter still resonates in the United States, the movement has also become a potent rallying call worldwide, with harsh police tactics and repressive state policies often breaking racial lines. In The Anti-Black City, Jaime Amparo Alves delves into the dynamics of racial violence in Brazil, where poverty, unemployment, residential segregation, and a biased criminal justice system create urban conditions of racial precarity.
The Anti-Black City provocatively offers race as a vital new lens through which to view violence and marginalization in the supposedly “raceless” São Paulo. Ironically, in a context in which racial ambiguity makes it difficult to identify who is black and who is white, racialized access to opportunities and violent police tactics establish hard racial boundaries through subjugation and death. Drawing on two years of ethnographic research in prisons and neighborhoods on the periphery of this mega-city, Alves documents the brutality of police tactics and the complexity of responses deployed by black residents, including self-help initiatives, public campaigns against police violence, ruthless gangs, and self-policing of communities.
The Anti-Black City reveals the violent and racist ideologies that underlie state fantasies of order and urban peace in modern Brazil. Illustrating how “governing through death” has become the dominant means for managing and controlling ethnic populations in the neoliberal state, Alves shows that these tactics only lead to more marginalization, criminality, and violence. Ultimately, Alves’s work points to a need for a new approach to an intractable problem: how to govern populations and territories historically seen as “ungovernable.”
Anti-Literature articulates a rethinking of what is meant today by “literature.” Examining key Latin American forms of experimental writing from the 1920s to the present, Adam Joseph Shellhorse reveals literature’s power as a site for radical reflection and reaction to contemporary political and cultural conditions. His analysis engages the work of writers such as Clarice Lispector, Oswald de Andrade, the Brazilian concrete poets, Osman Lins, and David Viñas, to develop a theory of anti-literature that posits the feminine, multimedial, and subaltern as central to the undoing of what is meant by “literature.”
By placing Brazilian and Argentine anti-literature at the crux of a new way of thinking about the field, Shellhorse challenges prevailing discussions about the historical projection and critical force of Latin American literature. Examining a diverse array of texts and media that include the visual arts, concrete poetry, film scripts, pop culture, neo-baroque narrative, and others that defy genre, Shellhorse delineates the subversive potential of anti-literary modes of writing while also engaging current debates in Latin American studies on subalternity, feminine writing, posthegemony, concretism, affect, marranismo, and the politics of aesthetics.
"Good fish get dull but sex is always fun." So say the Mehinaku people of Brazil. But Thomas Gregor shows that sex brings a supreme ambiguity to the villagers' lives. In their elaborate rituals—especially those practiced by the men in their secret societies—the Mehinaku give expression to a system of symbols reminiscent of psychosexual neuroses identified by Freud: castration anxiety, Oedipal conflict, fantasies of loss of strength through sex, and a host of others. "If we look carefully," writes Gregor, "we will see reflections of our own sexual nature in the life ways of an Amazonian people." The book is illustrated with Mehinaku drawings of ritual texts and myths, as well as with photographs of the villagers taking part in both everyday and ceremonial activities.
What distinguishes humans from nonhumans? Two common answers— free will and religion—are in some ways fundamentally opposed. While free will enjoys a central place in our ideas of spontaneity, authorship, and the conscious weighing of alternatives, religion is less a quest for agency than a series of practices that relieve individuals of their will. What, then, is agency, and why has it occupied such a central place in theories of the human?
Automatic Religion explores an unlikely series of episodes from the end of the nineteenth century, when crucial ideas related to automatism and, in a different realm, religion as a topic of study were both being born. Paul Christopher Johnson draws on years of archival and ethnographic research in Brazil and France to explore the consequential lines that were being drawn between humans, “nearhumans,” and automata. As agency came to take on a more central place in the philosophical, moral, and legal traditions of the West, certain classes of people were being excluded as less-than-human. Tracking the circulation of ideas across the Atlantic, Johnson tests those boundaries, revealing how they were constructed on largely gendered and racial foundations. In the process, he reanimates one of the most mysterious and yet foundational questions in trans-Atlantic thought: what is agency?