Academic journal article Chasqui

The Queer Temporality of Grande Sertao: Veredas

Academic journal article Chasqui

The Queer Temporality of Grande Sertao: Veredas

Article excerpt

Joao Guimaraes Rosa's 1956 novel Grande sertao: veredas has informally been called the original Brokeback Mountain, referring to Ang Lee's critically acclaimed "gay cowboy" film (2005), based on the 1997 short story by Julie Prouett. Though the analogy between the notoriously difficult Brazilian classic and the Hollywood film is generally made tongue-in-cheek, it is not entirely baseless, especially if we consider that the only English-language translation to date transposes Rosa's masterpiece into the world of the western. (1) Grande sertao: veredas

is at its core a tragic love story between two jaguncos (cowboy-bandits); like Lee's film, it relates a prohibited romance, which flourishes in the utopic promise of remote, natural spaces where societal norms are not enforced. Lest we make too much of the comparison, it is important to point out that Lee's film, which has been championed by gay rights groups, deploys the pathos of its storyline to denounce homophobic violence as well as the violence of internalized homophobia turned back on the self. In contrast, the politics of Grande sertao: veredas are far less legible, owing to its anti-realist aesthetics and far more ambiguous, owing to the novel's many contradictions as well as the internalized patriarchal values of its narrator-protagonist, Riobaldo. (2) Nevertheless, in this article I contend that the radically nonlinear form of Grande sertao: veredas begets an equally radical political project: its recursive, melancholic narrative structure queers the linear temporality of heteronormative subjectivity and of the novel.

Given that homoerotic desire and irresolvable ambiguity with regards to gender and sexuality play central roles in the plot of Rosa's most canonical novel, it is remarkable (and perhaps indicative of the persistence of homophobic taboo) that so few critical studies of Grande sertao: veredas have addressed the text's queerness. (3) Two noteworthy exceptions are Daniel Balderston's 2004 "El narrador dislocado y desplumado: los deseos de Riobaldo en Grande Sertao: Veredas" and Joyce Anitagrace's 2005 "O nome da filha: sexualidade, identidade e o ato de narrar em Grande sertao: veredas." Faced with a half-century of extensive critical study that consistently elides the novel's homoeroticism, Balderston and Anitagrace each spend considerable analytic effort establishing what I have taken for granted: that Rosa's novel is, in Anitagrace's words, "uma historia de desejo de um homem por outro" (110). Because Riobaldo's principle love interest, Diadorim, is revealed in the final pages of the novel to be "uma moca" who has been passing as a man, Rosa leaves open the possibility of reading the attraction between the two as a heterosexual love story. (4) Conservative readings of Grande sertao: veredas have assimilated Diadorim into the literary tradition of the disguised woman warrior, which dates back to Medieval times and which had been adapted to the Brazilian backlands in Domingos Olimpio's 1903 Luzia-Homen. As Balderston points out though, these readings ignore an important difference in Rosa's text: Diadorim is presented to the reader as a man throughout ninety-nine percent of the novel, even though the retrospective narrator knows how the story will end (with the revelation of a female corpse). Citing Riobaldo's use of masculine pronouns to refer to Diadorim even after he reveals the secret of Diadorim's female body to his audience, as well as Riobaldo's emphasis on Diadorim's stereotypically masculine characteristics in the passages where he describes his attraction to him, Balderston argues that "Su amor por Diadorim siempre ha sido, y siempre sera, el amor por un hombre" (99). Similarly, Anitagrace makes the case that, regardless of Diadorim's sex, Riobaldo's feelings for Diadorim, as well as the longing with which he narrates the homosociality of life as a jagunco, are charged with homoerotic desire. I would go a step further and suggest that not only is Riobaldo seduced by a man but that the reader, too, is seduced by a queer love story and, ultimately, by the fundamentally queer chronotope of the travessia. …

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