Contracultura: Alternative Arts and Social Transformation in Authoritarian Brazil

Contracultura: Alternative Arts and Social Transformation in Authoritarian Brazil

Contracultura: Alternative Arts and Social Transformation in Authoritarian Brazil

Contracultura: Alternative Arts and Social Transformation in Authoritarian Brazil


Christopher Dunn's history of authoritarian Brazil exposes the inventive cultural production and intense social transformations that emerged during the rule of an iron-fisted military regime during the sixties and seventies. The Brazilian contracultura was a complex and multifaceted phenomenon that developed alongside the ascent of hardline forces within the regime in the late 1960s. Focusing on urban, middle-class Brazilians often inspired by the international counterculture that flourished in the United States and parts of western Europe, Dunn shows how new understandings of race, gender, sexuality, and citizenship erupted under even the most oppressive political conditions.

Dunn reveals previously ignored connections between the counterculture and Brazilian music, literature, film, visual arts, and alternative journalism. In chronicling desbunde, the Brazilian hippie movement, he shows how the state of Bahia, renowned for its Afro-Brazilian culture, emerged as a countercultural mecca for youth in search of spiritual alternatives. As this critical and expansive book demonstrates, many of the country's social and justice movements have their origins in the countercultural attitudes, practices, and sensibilities that flourished during the military dictatorship.


Joy erupted in laughter as well as mockery, in parody and
circus as well as in the human body in search of the plenitude
of pleasure and delight in one’s own pain…. Those in power
became, contradictorily, optimistic and sad. Those who opposed
the regime were at once sacrificed and joyful.

—SILVIANO SANTIAGO, “Poder e alegria” (1988)

Authoritarian military rule in Brazil between 1964 and 1985 coincided with an astonishingly effervescent period of cultural production and social transformation. To the multiple forms of state violence, censorship, and everyday forms of repression justified in the name of “national security,” Brazilians resisted in ingenious and numerous ways. This book is about those young Brazilians who responded to authoritarian rule with attempts to rethink the idea of liberation during a period in which “the utopian verve” of the 1960s had come to an end throughout much of Latin America. To varying degrees, these young Brazilians identified with and took inspiration from the international counterculture, or contracultura, as it is known in Brazil. To understand the Brazilian counterculture, one must take into account the sense of profound disillusionment with the failure of emancipatory projects of “national liberation,” the rise of a right-wing military regime, and the crushing defeat of the opposition. As suggested by literary critic Silviano Santiago, cited in the epigraph above, Brazilians also cultivated a sense of joy, sometimes imbued with humor, even as people were “sacrificed” by political repression and violence. Although the regime asserted a triumphalist discourse of patriotic nationalism, which reached a peak in the early 1970s, its leaders often appeared as dour bureaucrats. Those in power were, as Santiago notes, simultaneously “optimistic and sad.”

Several poems from the 1970s might help us to understand the emotions, impulses, and commitments among Brazilians who came of age under authoritarian rule. They are exemplary texts of poesia marginal, a poetic move-

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