Academic journal article The Review of Contemporary Fiction

The World without Quotation Marks: A Gloss of the Gloss

Academic journal article The Review of Contemporary Fiction

The World without Quotation Marks: A Gloss of the Gloss

Article excerpt

The specular conception of the novel proposed by Stendhal in one of the prefaces to Lucien Leuwen must be refined if we want to apply it to The Queen of the Prisons of Greece by Osman Lins. Here it is no longer, as in realist fiction, a matter of one mirror reflecting homologically the scenes of the real world it is held up to. It is, rather, a device of contiguous mirrors in which the interplay of reflections challenges not only the notion of homology but that of reality as well. Even the definition of novel on the title page of The Queen of the Prisons of Greece is subverted two pages later when the one writing it, declaring himself inept at the "art of narration," proposes to write a study or essay, which ends up by being the very book the reader holds in his hands. The subject of this essay is an unpublished novel, The Queen of the Prisons of Greece, whose deceased author, Julia Marquezim Enone, was the speaker's lover. Let us call him speaker, since he never reveals his name and his voice in the first person conveys the main elocution of the book.

From the beginning, then, this, which was to be the last work of fiction to be published in Osman Lins's lifetime, institutes a mirror play of ambiguities that, as his text unfolds, will only become more intense. This begins with the title, which is both that of Julia Marquezim Enone's novel and her lover's essay. Besides, since the novel was never published (nor will it be), all that can be known of the text are the brief quotations given in the essay. A vicarious existence, therefore, pointing to a presumed primacy of interpretation over creation. Presumed, yes: actually The Queen of the Prisons of Greece is, after all, an illustration and a defense of the art of the novel, as well as a satire on certain pretensions of criticism or literary hermeneutics.

In order to understand the reason for this twofold design of celebration and satire, it is necessary to bear in mind the time in which the book was written, the midseventies. It was first published in 1976, that is, three years after Avalovara and ten years after Nine, Novena. Like those two immediate forerunners, The Queen of the Prisons of Greece is also concerned with the always open question of narrative structure, and searching for a new and creative solution to it through the demotion of metalanguage, which ceases to be an autonomous interpretive and evaluative instance of the text of fiction, to become, in an ancillary fashion, its mere vehicle. In fact, regardless of whether we talk of the novel-essay or of the essay-novel, the stress is always going to fall on novel.

This ironic symbiosis of genres sinks its roots in the peculiarities of a historical circumstance and, more than that, in an incident of a personal nature. At the time in which he was writing The Queen of the Prisons of Greece, Osman Lins, disenchanted with university teaching, had chosen to forsake it. Resigning from the position of professor of Brazilian literature in a university in the interior of the state of Sao Paulo, he began to devote himself entirely to the writing profession; up until then, he had only been able to practice it in the intervals between other occupations that had little or nothing to do with him. The reasons for this radical gesture are concisely laid out in six articles which, under the rubric of "University Teaching," form part of Do ideal e da gloria. Problemas inculturais brasileiros (Of Idealism and Glory: Brazilian Un-cultural Problems), a collection of essays published one year after The Queen of the Prisons of Greece.

After relating some of his personal experiences as a professor of literature, Osman Lins turns his attention to a critical evaluation of the teaching of literature in Brazil. This teaching was at that time under the aegis of the structuralist vogue, whose rapid proliferation in the Brazilian academic world had been bolstered by the climate of repression created by the 1964 military regime, which had discouraged socio-ideological approaches as politically suspect. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.