Academic journal article Chasqui

Debasing a Pillar of Brazilian Literature: Diogo Mainardi's Poligono das Secas

Academic journal article Chasqui

Debasing a Pillar of Brazilian Literature: Diogo Mainardi's Poligono das Secas

Article excerpt

Within the sphere of Brazilian culture, the public figure of Diogo Mainardi is quite polemic. Mainardi is best recognized in Brazil for his provocative, satirical column in the popular weekly societal magazine Veja and his participation in the weekly television talk show Manhattan Connection. It is from his irreverent column in Veja that Mainardi has achieved national recognition as a controversial critic who tends to offer biting commentary on contemporary issues. His column confronts Brazilian political figures, domestic and foreign politics, and a wide variety of contemporary issues in Brazilian society. (1) The significant rime that he has spent outside of Brazil (including a formative overseas experience in the UK in early adulthood, as well as nearly a decade of shared residence between Brazil and Italy) provides him with a unique, almost literal, "foreigner in his own land" perspective on Brazilian society.

Mainardi's jocular sentiment when speaking about Brasil can easily be interpreted as unpatriotic, "Nao gosto de nada do que tem no Brasil: o cheiro, a comida, a literatura--o jeito de tudo que e brasileiro me irrita" ("Carrossel de diversoes" 115). Mainardi consciously foments and gains from the controversy surrounding his public image. Consequently, be has created a dynamic between himself and his readership that is symbiotic, if not parasitic. While Mainardi's public persona is well known for his brash, controversial voice in Brazil's culture wars, his work as a novelist is a body of fiction that has achieved some critical acclaim, yet remains largely, perhaps purposefully, ignored. (2) In reference to Mainardi's novels, many Brazilian critics take the attitude of "nao li, e nao gostei." One could be tempted to link this impressive level of cynical disparagement and distaste of unread works as a sign of achieving notoriety as an unabashed satirist. Although this interpretation does help to contextualize the author's public persona, reactions like these are also paradigmatic of the type of critical reception that can often prefigure reading iconoclastic works by young novelists willing to take antagonistic postures towards established literary canons. Mainardi's Poligono das Secas (1995), for example, is an aggressively reader-oriented, postmodern satire that challenges expectations regarding reading and writing about rural themes through the incorporation of elements of the grotesque and what could be considered a narrative manifestation of "daemonic parody." (3)

The audacious proposition put forth by the fictionalized author of Poligono das Secas', is an attempted demystification of the sertanista novel or novel of the sertao ("hinterland"), a vein of the regionalist novel that Mainardi's narrator often reduces to "romance sertanejo." Throughout the twentieth century, a debate developed among Brazilian intellectuals over the conceptualization of interior, underdeveloped regions denominated collectively, sertoes. Many etymological interpretations of the term "sertao" date its first usage in Brazil to early Portuguese colonial expansion, in which the term was used to describe uncharted inland territories. Until the mid-twentieth century, the predominant usage of the term was in this general sense of "undeveloped lands." This usage exists moderately even today for describing the regional "sertoes" found throughout Brazil's vast territory. However, in contemporary Brazil, the term sertao has experienced a relative resemanticization and, thus, today primarily connotes the semi-arid, drought-stricken, geographic sub-region that comprises a major portion of the rural interior lands of Northeast Brazil, as well as a portion of the Southwestern state of Minas Gerais. While dry and thorny vegetation (caatinga) envelops a major portion of this region, there are also isolated rain forest patches (brejos), tropical and sub-tropical forests (mata) and rocky outcrops (lajeiros). The highest areas or agreste, which are subject to less intense droughts, are located closer to the coast and generally serve as a natural barrier between the sertao and the zona da mata that lines the coast (litoral). …

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