… study [the ideas] in their functioning, of which falseness is a true part.
These few initial pages come to introduce the reader to an English version of Brazilian cultural critic Roberto Schwarz’s groundbreaking 1977 book Ao vencedor as batatas (‘To the Victor, the Potatoes’ in my translation), a study principally of the early novels of the prominent Brazilian novelist Machado de Assis (1839–1908). I have a long history with the little book, which this project continues. I recall quite well the first time I heard of Roberto Schwarz and Ao vencedor. It was sometime in the 1970s when one day my friend and colleague Russell Hamilton handed me a copy he had recently received from a colleague in Brazil, saying he thought it was something I’d be particularly interested in reading. Russell was right – as usual. Initially I planned to do a quick page-through to get an idea of the contents and then set it aside for further exploration at a more propitious time. But I found it very dense – too dense to be treated that way – and I also found it rhetorically unlike Brazilian literary/cultural criticism of the time and therefore intriguing. I ended up spending several days with it and went back shortly thereafter to re-read sections. It soon became, through excerpts that I gave to students, a part of some of my classes – whenever, that is, this poor Portuguese scholar was given the opportunity to wander westward.
So what did I see in that initial encounter? First of all, a – to me – new, innovative and powerful explanatory discourse in Portuguese, one that worked somewhat like some German or French critical approaches of the time but, even so, not enough like them to say that the author was simply using terminology and processes developed in, say, German literary criticism, to work on a Brazilian problematic. In fact, one of the book’s first analytical steps involved proclaiming Brazilian cultural problematics to be radically sui generis and pointedly setting out to create a critical discourse appropriate to the task of dealing with it. In any case, the book did a couple of things that only a few Brazilian critics of Brazilian culture had done before, and, even so, those predecessors – among them Schwarz’s own mentor, Antonio Candido – were not as dense, did not create so detailed an analytical terminology and did not engage in textual ‘explication’ to the degree that this book wished to – that explicatory dimension being, I supposed, a reflexion of the sway that Anglo-American new criticism then held in Brazil. A curious mixture. Still in all, there was more to it than just those considerations. In fact, a lot more.
Now I’m not going to review here in any systematic way the book’s content-and-argument base. That is for you the reader to do. But, as you are likely unfamiliar with Brazilian history and culture, you will, I suspect, benefit from some introductory orientation tailored to what appears in the ensuing pages, an orientation that will, in order to fashion some overall coherence, lead me some small way into sectors of Roberto’s argument. Before going that far, though, a scattering of even more basic considerations.
In Roberto’s words: ‘the purpose of this study is to follow the formation of a thematic and formal complex that would be both observed and coherent’ (p. 78). The ‘thematic and formal complex’ he refers to is one he sees as the foundation for the novels of the aforementioned Machado de Assis, which he reads – very persuasively – as explorations of aspects of the superstructural problematic that a developing Brazil was undergoing in Machado’s time, explorations relevant for understanding subsequent developments as well. (To be clear, Roberto is careful to remind us on occasion that his specific focus involves a dimension he has chosen to explore for reasons of importance and not necessarily somehow ‘the’ way to approach the problematic – or the novels.) Let us begin with aspects of his statement.
To begin with, the reader must know some basic information: that Joaquim Maria Machado de Assis is still today, out of all the great writers Brazil has produced over the past one-hundred-and-fifty-or-so years, well-nigh-universally considered the predominant figure – and was even more so considered at the time when Ao vencedor was written. The so-called ‘warlock of Cosme Velho’ wrote short stories, chronicles, poetry, literary criticism, and novels. His reputation derives more from that last category than any other – and it is the sole focus of Ao vencedor. Criticism has generally divided Machado’s novel production into two distinct phases, the earlier comprising the first four novels as regards publication date and the later involving the final five out of the total of nine. The first phase comprises Resurreição (English title: Resurrection; date of the book publication of the Portuguese original: 1872), A mão e a luva (The Hand and the Glove, 1874), Helena (Helena, 1876) and Iaiá Garcia (Iaiá Garcia, 1878). The so-called ‘second’, or ‘mature’, phase comprises Memórias póstumas de Brás Cubas (The Posthumous Memoirs of Brás Cubas, also translated into English as Epitaph of a Small Winner, 1881), Quincas Borba (Philosopher or Dog? 1891), Dom Casmurro (Dom Casmurro, 1899), Esaú e Jacó (Esau and Jacob, 1904) and Memorial de Aires (Counselor Ayres’ Memorial, 1908). (By the way, the title of the book you are reading, Ao vencedor as batatas, is a famous phrase that appears in the second-phase novel Quincas Borba.) As to the centrality of Machado’s novels to Portuguese-language literary study, I recall quite vividly being told early on – and in no uncertain terms – that to do what I wanted to do professionally, I had to be thoroughly familiar with the novels of Machado de Assis.
Roberto accepts the early-versus-mature evaluation and the accompanying periodisation and dedicates this title to study of the four ‘first phase’ novels. What is more, he makes it clear here that this is the first part of a set, the second volume to be dedicated to continuing the same project directed to Machado’s last five novels. That follow-up volume appeared in 1990 under the title Um mestre na periferia do capitalismo: Machado de Assis [A Master on the Periphery of Capitalism: Machado de Assis]. That work takes a somewhat different methodological tack from this volume. (Too it appeared briefly on the Brazilian best-seller list, a remarkable achievement for a book of literary criticism.)
Now another point: you will have noticed that I have usually been referring to the novelist simply as ‘Machado.’ Put in a simplified – and illustrative – way, it is common Brazilian practice to refer to culturally recognised/recognisable figures by a single name, or at least one reduced to a couple of words. I shall forego review of the messy rules about the available choices of shortened forms in given cases, the contexts in which those forms are likely to be used or not, and so on. In referring to the subject of Roberto’s critical acumen as, simply, ‘Machado’ I then merely echo near-universal practice (which, incidentally, thereby bestows upon ‘Machado’ a matrilineal identifier). There is even a consecrated adjectival form, ‘machadiano’ (or ‘machadeano’), that means ‘pertaining to or akin to Machado de Assis and/or his work’; I anglicise it to ‘Machadian’ and use it in translating. My usage replicates Roberto’s practice in the Portuguese original of this book. By the same token I shall usually be referring to him – as I just have – simply as ‘Roberto.’ In this context it would seem unnecessarily repetitive to say ‘Roberto Schwarz’ every time and to say just ‘Schwarz’ would be either inappropriately formal or outright dismissive, according to how one reads the tone. As I translate I shall briefly gloss several other names that appear in shortened form and ask the reader to bear in mind, as she or he reads, the cultural practice involved. (One of several things I shall be asking you to bear in mind as you read.)
Now another dimension that must be understood: it is to deal with the first four novels to the ends that he sets for himself that Roberto fashions the innovative critical discourse I refer to above, and he sets it out in relative abstraction in the first chapter, which is in effect a separable essay-meditation on critical method in general and in particular as an introduction to his ensuing chapters (in truth, all of the book’s chapters are potentially separable pieces in their own right). That first chapter is subsequently treated as just such a stand-alone piece by other critics as well as by Roberto himself. He names that first chapter ‘Idéias fora do lugar,’ conventionally translated into English as ‘misplaced ideas’, a translation I find particularly unsatisfactory (more about that issue shortly). That chapter has appeared partially or totally summarised in various publications – and has subsequently been translated in toto – and used as the basis for critical projects of various sorts. It is used also as the title of a book-length edition of selected essays by Roberto translated into English. I shall return to consideration of the phrase in a moment.
Roberto further develops in a second chapter the concepts introduced in the first. In that second chapter he deals with one of Machado’s predecessors in novel-writing in Brazil, simultaneously setting forth basic historical information and analysis regarding Brazilian culture and cultural problematics (and in its last pages producing what I consider one of the most brilliant exercises in literary reading in the Portuguese language). That chapter too has been separately translated, though it has not produced widely-used critical concepts parallel to ‘misplaced ideas’. In any case, the two initial chapters have become go-to statements about the dynamics of dependent cultures as well as sources of critical terminology and exemplars of analysis not only for Brazilian culture but as well for work of a similar sort about other cultures.
It is no great exaggeration to say that Roberto’s international prominence owes much to those two chapters – logically enough since they, especially the first, lend themselves to wider application than to Brazilian culture/literature alone and too because the rest of this book, superb though it is, presumes some knowledge of Machado de Assis, hardly a household name in the English-speaking world, and his work.
Now back to the phrase ‘misplaced ideas’ – by way of introducing the reader to some dimensions of the cultural problematic involved. The consecrated English translation, which, while it constitutes a nice phrase touching generally on the right area, utterly misses much of what the Portuguese signals. In colloquial English something that has been ‘misplaced’ is being regarded as likely not irretrievably lost; it was probably left in the glove compartment of the car or the pocket of the shirt I wore yesterday. It is likely to turn up tomorrow, and everything will be fine. What is more, the whole matter doesn’t sound urgent. If it were, ‘misplace’ wouldn’t be the word of choice. By contrast, what Roberto wishes to signal with ‘idéias fora do lugar’ – which I have always wanted to translate with the admittedly awkward phrases ‘out-of-place ideas’ or ‘ideas out of place’ (to, I confess, near universal rejection by colleagues) – is something very important indeed: in Roberto’s coining and critical use with respect to Brazil, it gestures toward a sui generis hybrid Brazilian culture constructed precisely around the ‘out-of-placeness’ of some basic societal ‘ideas’ and serves as a key to explanation of much of the public language, cultural history, cultural production (e.g., Machado de Assis novels), and even subject formation produced as a part of that hybridity. And it certainly does not hold out the hope that the ‘ideas’, in the sense meant in Roberto’s analysis, will ever find a ‘proper place’ – much less ever ‘go home’, as it were – and leave some ‘Brazil’ to itself. Indeed, Roberto is clear on this score, pointing out that ‘it helps little to insist on their [i.e., the ideas’] obvious falseness. It is better to study them in their functioning, of which it – namely the falseness – is a true part’ (p. 11). (I have somewhat butchered the phraseology of that passage to create an epigraph to these pages of mine.)
By setting out the exemplary cases of Brazilian naming practices and the tragic history of ‘idéias fora do lugar,’ I once again give the reader notice that some care should be taken in reading, especially in reading passages where those matters, or situations analogous to them, present themselves. In the specific case of ‘idéias fora do lugar’ my solution in this volume is the adoption of a half measure: rather than insist on my preferred translation and thereby clutter up with inconsistent terminology the canon-in-creation about Roberto’s work, I use the inherited ‘misplaced ideas’ but urge the reader to remember what it actually means and the actual import of that meaning, rather than be led astray.
While the reader will certainly see this for him- or herself in its general outlines, one of the central motives in Roberto’s analysis of Machado is that of nationality. The specific deployment of that element is not so clear, however. It is roughly as follows: Ao vencedor in effect sees countries as having ‘a literature’ and that literature as having a history both within the general national history and in itself, the two really being one and the same seen in different perspectives. According to that logic, literature thus is, consciously or not on the part of practitioners, a field of reflective national-ist (which is to be kept separate from ‘nationalistic’) endeavour, among other things, of course. In the case of culturally dependent countries like the Brazil of Machado’s time and before (later too) it was (and has been) an endeavour to have a literature that bespeaks coherently, in some way or other, the country’s specificity. (Thus a step, perhaps a slightly sideways one, in our civilisational movement from categorical transcendence as anchor, to rational transcendence, to various forms of analysis as functional anchor in the place-and-absence of transcendence – in Machado, according to Roberto’s reading, analysis in establishment of a specifically Brazilian national-cultural authenticity.) In cases when a country/region/city, etcetera, is dependent on other parts of the world for models and categories available for use in self-reflection, that self-reflection all-but-necessarily includes a correlative quest for a liberation of sorts from that dependency.
Roberto’s reading here of the first four instalments in Machado’s ‘project’ with a focus on that set of issues ultimately identifies a kind of ‘aesthetic’ project on Machado’s part of developing a literary discourse (sensu lato) cogently expressive of the ideological complexities present in urban Brazil of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. ‘Urban’ because Machado spent his entire life in Rio de Janeiro, which was then the national capital and the cosmopolitan centre of the country, and too his novels were all set in Rio and initially published there. In Roberto’s reading, Rio becomes for Machado a synecdoche for Brazil. In that respect, he writes:
Throughout the course of its social reproduction, Brazil tirelessly affirms and reaffirms European ideas, always in inappropriate ways. It is in the light of that fact that they will be both material and problem for literature. A writer may not be aware of that fact, nor does he need to be in order to use the ideas. But he will achieve a deep, attuned resonance only if he feels, registers and develops – or avoids – the displacement and the dissonance.p. 13
And there lurks in the mix the implicit corollary that Machado’s prominence as a writer derives in some significant part from his handling of this ‘nationalist’ strand and his ability to capture ‘Brazilness’ through thus handling it.
There are several other corollaries attached to this ‘nationalist’ focus. An obvious one is to be seen in the fact that Machado’s novels clearly presume a Brazilian readership – a Rio one, of course – roughly contemporary to their writing. At the time, novels were almost always first published in serial form in newspapers or magazines, therefore functioning first as part of daily local discourse rather than as the free-standing ‘art objects’ they would become when published in book form and circulated outside the site of their initial serial production – not to mention when they are canonised, multiply reedited, and translated into other languages, as is the case with all nine of Machado’s novels. The books, then, not surprisingly contain a large number of references and cultural presumptions that will bypass partially if not completely the English-language reader (indeed even, albeit to a lesser extent, the present-day Brazilian reader), though, I believe impressionistically, this is truer of Machado’s later novels than of the earlier ones. As I will detail later, I add notes explanatory of a few of those ‘lost allusions’, though the more pervasive but less concrete ones are not easily dealt with short of composing an essay for the purpose, so I – yet again – urge careful and reflective reading. By the way, Ao vencedor itself clearly does something similar, addressing as it obviously does a contemporary Brazilian readership – i.e., it should be borne in mind that the ‘we’ and ‘us’ and ‘our,’ etcetera, of Roberto’s text do not bespeak a distanced, perhaps scholarly, identification of his textual voice as Brazilian for anyone who might be reading; it instead refers to the Brazilianness that writer and originally-intended reader share as countrymen. We are, then, something like onlookers to a conversation among Brazilians about an important chapter in the history of the development of ‘Brazilness’. What we make of that opportunity for our own benefit is, to no inconsiderable extent, up to us.
Now to the question of the analytical terminology and analytical discourse that Roberto uses to carry out his task. As is obvious right from the start of the first introductory chapter, the book’s basic framework is constructed around and within a loosely Marxist concept of history and with Marxist and Marxian analytical terminology: ‘constitutive contradiction’, ‘ideology’, ‘commodity form’, ‘ruling class’, and other terms used pretty much as in their function in traditional Marxist cultural critique. I, for one, continually hear Lukács the analyst – though not Lukács politically – and, to a lesser extent, Adorno. Other figures to be sure – as Roberto’s notes and bibliography evidence. Many of the terms and concepts are, though, heavily nuanced in the light of the specific social structure being dealt with. (As an obvious example: it is hard to speak at any length of ‘class conflict’ in the basic Marxist sense with regard to a society that does not have more than one social grouping at least moderately conscious of itself as a ‘class.’) So, as you will see, adaptations, usually implicit ones, are made. One thing that will fascinate, then, will be the specific details of those adaptations. (To my mind, that issue alone recommends a critical reading of this book.) The terminology created or adapted in the process is quite tight and specific in the Portuguese, though much less so in my attempt to render it in English (more detail about that later …).
As is obvious, this adoption of continental literary-critical terminology – which brings with it a very European sense of the nature and social operativity of the nineteenth-century novel – can be, and has been, seen as contradictory in the context of a work like this one, especially as it overtly argues for the radical non-European specificity of its object of study. I for one have always seen this as a quasi-paradox, since Roberto’s elaboration makes it clear, without saying it in so many words, that features of the European novel as form include an implicit procedural imperative to create a logically consistent narrative discourse as regards the society in question, be it German or French – or Brazilian.
The other major strand of generalised Marxist analytics that appears is a rendition of a somewhat later development, namely the Marxist version of ’60s and ’70s dependency theory, which was being actively worked on internationally at the time of the writing of Ao vencedor. The terminology and argumentative base of such authors as the American Immanuel Wallerstein and, I think, the Chilean Osvaldo Sunkel find echo in Ao vencedor. They are used to promote consideration of what Wallerstein dubbed ‘the world system’ and to argue for the depth of the permeation of national dynamics by relationships with hegemonic sites – in the case of Machado’s Brazil, with Europe – and especially for the role of technological development and technology transfer in that context.
At root, in Roberto’s formulation, the aforementioned Brazilian cultural hybridity derives from the centuries-long slavocratic regime and slave-based economy – which at one point he calls simply the ‘primary’ form of social alienation in the time he is dealing with (p. 4) – initiated and maintained in Brazil by the Portuguese colonial regime. (From the sixteenth into the nineteenth centuries an estimated three-to-four million Africans were transported to Brazil as slaves; in the 2010 census something approaching half of Brazilians identified themselves as partially or principally Africa-descended). At the same time, starting in the second half of the eighteenth century the country notoriously began to take on the trappings – the ‘ideas’ – of the European Enlightenment and use them, formally and seriously, to address its current state, direct discussion of societal goals, engage in social planning, inform official culture, and so on, a process that accelerated with the move of the Portuguese royal court to Rio de Janeiro in 1808 (it returned to Portugal in 1821). In that socio-cultural environment was created a practice of continually eliding or avoiding the obvious categorical contradiction lying at the heart of the ‘national task’, which process boiled down to finding ways to deal with the legacy of a superstructure grounded in considerable part in political liberalism with its emphasis on free markets and the autonomy of the individual on the one hand and, on the other, the legal and thriving presence of slavery and the rigidly hierarchical society necessarily correlated with it – a highly constrained labour market and labour force and vertical social-power relationships – as the principal base of the economy. (Brazil, which became independent from Portugal in 1822, abolished the slave trade in 1850, proclaimed in 1871 that anyone born in the country from that time on was a free person, and finally abolished slavery completely in 1888, the last Western country to do so.) From the root contradiction instantiated by slavery, Roberto argues, literally dozens of reactions and counter-reactions, attempted accommodations, and other strategies arise over time, some at first blush apparently quite removed from the root cause. Hence the importance and complexity of the term ‘ideas out of place’ (or, ‘misplaced ideas’).
Roberto’s analytical endeavour is structured specifically around a basic opposition between what he calls ‘liberalism’ and what he calls ‘favour.’ The former will be clear, referring as it does to the generalised model of socio-economic structures and observed practices that, in very broad terms, come (according to Wallerstein, almost accidentally) at the beginning of modernity in Europe: exchange value, commodification, individualism, wage labour, class society, and so on. It is the latter that will require some unpacking, though in advancing his argument Roberto gradually fleshes it out pretty well. So just a few words here: ‘favour’ is, obviously, not coordinate with liberalism, being an anthropological label describing a discrete social practice, namely the power to choose to patronise someone for no necessary reason and the reciprocal loyalty and service that, implicitly, the patronised is obliged to show the patron who has chosen to favour him. In this context ‘favour’ works not only in that narrow sense but also as a kind of label for a wide set of practises, of which it is one, that provide for and effectuate such functions as the justification for, and maintenance of, hierarchical society, the nature and working of social mobility in such a society, the performance of labour within it, and so on. What unites the two is that, like ‘liberalism,’ ‘favour’ here suggests a type of social organisation, which can profitably be counterposed to ‘liberalism.’ Much of Roberto’s reading of Machado’s early novels finds its ground in some aspect or other of that enabling opposition.
Now there is something in – or, really, not in – Roberto’s approach that is likely to strike today’s reader as worrying – though it would not have struck us that way in the 1970s. It is his reference to ‘an ideology’ or to ‘ideologies’ – at one point he simply says, in reference to Brazilian ‘importation’ of the novel form from Europe, ‘to adopt the novel was to accept the way it dealt with ideologies’ (p. 16). The image, often repeated, suggests that ‘an ideology’ is just there, somewhere, confected in the form that it somehow has when it is abstracted from a cultural source through ideologiekritik analysis (I mean that term a bit more generally than Frankfurt School usage, but all the English alternatives carry extraneous baggage). There is no sense in which the specific picture of ‘ideology X’ is in that instance created by the analysis, that, then, ‘ideologies’ are performed – in writing, in critical operations, in perception, etcetera – and are not somehow existent as pre-formed parcels. To which people in the 1970s and 1980s, following the lead of such writers as Hans-Robert Jauss and Wolfgang Iser, would add, as regards literary studies, that these kinds of issues require some modicum of grounding in a theory of reception. It would be easy, from the vantage point of today, to ask of Ao vencedor more than it ever intended to contribute – or needed to. Everything is the product of its moment, and while, in the 1970s, we would probably have understood the problem I point to here, we would likely not have considered it important: Ao vencedor shows what it shows about the subject matter it addresses and does so in ways that met – indeed, advanced – the times. (Remember my own initial reaction to it). Now in the sequel one can see Roberto modifying his critical outlook in ways that leave room for what one could call a more ‘performative’ view of ideology. The reader interested in such matters is invited, after finishing this book, to read that sequel: the aforementioned A Master on the Periphery of Capitalism: Machado de Assis. The extended journey will be well worth it.
Now, some of the features and implications of what follows.
- First the source: the base text for this translation is Ao vencedor as batatas of 2000, put out by Livraria Duas Cidades. I have also had a few occasions to consult the first edition, Ao vencedor as batatas: Forma literária e processo social nos inícios do romance brasileiro, put out by the same publisher in 1977.And, as I have already mentioned, I have had recourse to the previously-published translations into English of the first two chapters. I have also had infrequent recourse to a published translation of each of the four novels being analysed, though my translation of those passages from the novels reproduced in Roberto’s text may or may not replicate that in the corresponding published translation, since my goals involve getting out of the passage what I judge Roberto wants and also maintaining his tight analytical terminology, of which I shall speak momentarily.
- The Portuguese original contains a good many notes – to the novels, to period documents and prior scholarly work as well as to critical sources. What is more, as I have explained above, I have felt the need to add a few clarificatory notes of my own, including some about Brazilian society, always within square brackets (in the body of this book, anything appearing within square brackets is an addition of mine, and conversely everything – save the bibliography – that is an addition of mine is in square brackets). I engage in that task in anticipation that the reader will need to know that, for example, ‘Alencar’ refers to the prolific mid-nineteenth-century Brazilian novelist José Martiniano de Alencar (1829–77), who would be totally familiar to a likely Brazilian reader. The collection of notes in this volume will, then, be longer than in the original, and note numbers will not correspond between original and translation.The Portuguese original does not include a bibliography, wisely opting instead, given its intended audience, for a sometimes-informal bibliography in the notes. I have added a bibliography as I went along in the translation process, though even here the sometimes-informality of the original shows through.
- Some few of the bibliographical items in Roberto’s notes refer to light items, principally from the Brazilian popular press of Machado’s time but also from other sources. As I cannot imagine that any English-culture reader will have an interest in such an item – or access to it – I have left them in the corresponding notes but not included them in the bibliography.
- Almost all of Roberto’s bibliographical notes refer to works written in, or previously translated to, Portuguese and presumably consulted by him in that language, with the exception of a few critical sources that he consults and cites in German or French. I have kept all of them in those languages and in a highly schematic but, I think, clear and consistent format roughly parallel to Roberto’s, but in the bibliography to this book I have glossed titles – just titles – in English as another half-measure, attempting to create a version that will serve readers who have the requisite language(s) while not abandoning those who do not. In so doing, I recreate Roberto’s bibliographical style – again in the name of consistency, as is the case with my grudging adoption of the term ‘misplaced ideas’. I also adapt that style to fit the needs of the final bibliography rather than use today’s standard style, thus saving the reader the task of shuffling over what would sometimes be incompatible formats between notes and bibliography. I believe that the result, while not standard, is a readable and at the same time researchable rendering of Roberto’s work with as little fuss as possible.
- The original employs paragraphs that sometimes stretch over pages. I have noticed that other English translations of Roberto’s work choose to re-paragraph. Seeing it as my goal to reproduce the original as fully as I can, I have left the original paragraphing intact.
- Now Roberto’s rhetoric has some distinct peculiarities, the main one for the translator to take into account being that it often becomes what I would call ‘telegraphic’. That is, as I hint above, he relies heavily on his accumulated/accumulating critical terminology to carry the weight of his analysis. (It decidedly does not mean that he writes short sentences.) One has therefore to bear in mind in reading that when Roberto establishes the precise meaning of a term in the given context he presumes that the subsequent re-use of that term will signal that specific meaning. What is more, re-use can also imply connections previously made with regard to the term. I have noticed that some English translations of his work approach the status of explanation rather than what we normally think of as translation. Indeed, sometimes the resultant ‘translations’, in order to render what the original says, have entire phrases, even sentences, that have no relation to the actual verbal sequence of the original. For my part, especially since this publication comes in a specific book series with a specific implied readership, while I have occasionally – when I judged it necessary – ‘explained’ with an extra word or two (okay, sometimes more than that!), I have avoided wholesale ‘explanation’, save in a handful of cases where I thought meaning itself was at stake. Even there I have been as faithful as possible to the original. I have endeavoured to retain original sentence integrity, vocabulary, word order and phrasing whenever comprehension is not thereby diminished, so that comparison of original and translation is possible. The result is a text that cannot be termed ‘colloquial’ in English but does, I think, ‘mean’ in English at every turn – plus giving a good rendition of the texture and diction of the original. So – yet again – reading will have to be careful, now in a quite different way.
- A similar, though less intrusive issue involves verbs. Roberto uses a range of tenses and aspects that challenges translation into English. This is not an unusual problem, as the Portuguese language supports such a practice while English does not. In most cases I have relied on the simple present tense and forms of the past in English, in effect in this area rewriting Portuguese cultural criticism into something like English cultural criticism. To do otherwise would have run contrary to usual practice in working between the two languages in this register and, I suspect, would have frustrated the readership.I should note, though, that as a part of my practice I ‘read through’ verb tenses. The reader conscious of such matters will, then, have to accept the task of doing the same. That is, if a given passage in Roberto’s text – likely but not necessarily his quotation from Machado – is in, say, past tense, but up to that point I have been working in present tense, I may choose to remain in present tense. Indeed, I change tenses on a purely situational basis as befits my translation rather than the original.
- As for problems in translating, there are several of which the reader should be aware. First, the gender of personal pronouns. Initially I attempted to use a more inclusive pronoun structure of the sort that I use today in my own writing – though I probably would not have in the 1970s either. While the problem has not been widely pervasive, after a while I found that with even occasional usage I was doing damage to an original not written that way – and violating my own commitment to sticking as close to that original as possible. I have reverted to the usage of the original, though I have purposely not been consistent in the choices I make from the array of options.
- A type of impediment that the reader without Portuguese will not be able to recognise at all is one that in various forms plagues translations of all sorts. I shall mention, as examples, only the two problems of this sort that recur with some frequency in what follows.First, as I mention above, Roberto’s style is ‘telegraphic’ in the sense that he relies heavily on his accumulated terminology to carry the argument. The problem is that, as with all languages, Portuguese words seldom carry a single discrete meaning but rather a field of meanings, usually closely related to each other. A key term in Roberto’s argument is the Portuguese word ‘arbítrio’, which can signal everything from ‘will’, to ‘choice’, to ‘being in a position that enables one to exercise one’s will’, to ‘being recognised as occupying’ such a position (in which case it has something akin to common-law force), to ‘using that position to exercise that will and make a choice’, all the way to being the word in Portuguese in translation of the Christian theological concept of ‘free will’ (usually ‘livre arbítrio’, though just ‘arbítrio’ suffices and is sometimes used). Those are just some of the variations within what is actually a comparatively small semantic field. And then there is the common word for ‘will’, namely ‘vontade’, which overlaps with some of the acceptances of ‘arbítrio’ (and on occasion is used by Roberto in approximately that way). As semantic fields in one language seldom map directly onto ones in another language, in translating I have, of course, had to render the word variously, according to the context. Which, also of course, runs counter to my effort to maintain in translation Roberto’s very effective ‘telegraphic’ diction and tightness. And, obviously, ‘arbítrio’ is hardly the only term that presents that problem. In effect, I have occasionally been forced to sacrifice one area of ‘meaning’ to the needs of another. It is always thus, though in this particular case the problem is greater than usual; hence my ‘choice’ to bring this matter too to your attention.And another, similar but almost opposite impediment that, with a couple of exceptions, affects only one lexical system: that of ‘generalizar’, ‘generalização’, and other lexically-allied items in Portuguese. Roberto uses those words a lot, almost always meaning with them ‘make general’, ‘propagate’, ‘universalise’, ‘diffuse’. They convey a critical concept central to his analysis of the working of ideology. The last option, ‘universalise’, would normally be the closest possibility in English, save that in this particular context one would be ‘universalising’ only within Brazil, which would constitute a phraseology with an immediately-obvious surface contradiction about it. Now in English, ‘generalise’/‘generalisation’ can mean what Roberto wants, but by far its most likely significance for English readers concerns the logical error of over-generalising (‘now that’s an argument from generalisation!’), and the contexts in which Roberto uses the term(s) can sometimes support that reading, thus potentially leading to confusion. This is my last plea for careful reading: I have chosen to stick with the cognates. So when you see ‘generalise’/‘generalisation’ or allied items, think ‘propagate/universalise/diffuse within Brazil’. There are other terms that have a version of the same problem (see, e.g., the verb ‘to subject’).
- One last category: the sense of humour in Roberto’s writing (we don’t know each other in person), which, in my reading at least, often functions as a wry commentary on what he is in the process of analysing. First, he several times uses three spaced periods (…) as a final comment on something he has just finished dealing with, meaning something like ‘and we all know what is going to/likely to come of that’. You could think of it as his version of the long-sought-after ‘irony mark,’ albeit only for this specific sort of irony. The readerly task there is to differentiate between that usage and the standard usages of three spaced periods for ellipsis, suspension, etcetera – all of which also appear in the text.Then there is situational humour in various forms. I have found it almost impossible to capture the various instances of it in translation, though when I found a way in a given passage I have made the effort. So if you come across something that you think might be a touch of humour (e.g. ‘we, however, are dealing with Brazil’) (p. 48), hopefully that is what it is – in my best attempt to have it show through the transfer of languages. Hopefully too, awareness of that dimension will help set for you something of the tone of the original, which is somewhat lost in my rendition … Enjoy!
Ronald W. Sousa
Professor Emeritus, U. Illinois Urbana-Champaign
Washington DC, January, 2019