Academic journal article Afro - Hispanic Review

Paulo Lins's Cidade De Deus: Mapping Racial and Class Difference in the Favela

Academic journal article Afro - Hispanic Review

Paulo Lins's Cidade De Deus: Mapping Racial and Class Difference in the Favela

Article excerpt

This essay argues that Paulo Lins's Cidade de Deus represents a major landmark in recent Brazilian fiction.1 Through its massive inclusion of a multi'vocal and subjective experience of the favela, the novel minutely examines the race and class dynamics of chronic discrimination and poverty. I first situate the novel within contemporary literary criticism and discuss how this criticism constructs Lins's authority as an author of fiction and as a reliable witness of the reality of the favela. I then turn toward Vanessa Fitzgibbon's essay, "O ressentimento racial brasileiro e a identidade marginal a partir da 'História de Inferninho' em Cidade de Deus, de Paulo Lins." In contrast to her approach, which argues that racial resentment is to blame for the current wave of urban violence in Brazil, I argue that Cidade de Deus maps racial consciousness in relation to literary and historical notions of social exclusion.

Referenced by literature, the mass media, and Afro-Brazilian culture, social banditry emerges in Rio de Janeiro in the figure of the malandro, and in Brazil's arid Northeast in the figure of the cangaceiro.2 Eric Hobsbawm's (1965) vision of social banditry suggests that outlaws represent emerging political consciousness and an oppositional stance towards oppressive conditions. I first explore Cidade de Deus's reference to the cangaceiro in José Lins do Rego's Fogo morto (1967). I then examine the novel's elaboration of malandragem as a conceptual framework for understanding racial discrimination, violence, extreme poverty, and sexism.

Violence and Social Critique

Though ostensibly a novel about gangsters, Cidade de Deus is also a social critique that highlights racial discrimination and the impunity of white privilege. The novel documents individual acts of racially motivated violence, the race consciousness of the gangsters who view themselves as vigilantes, structural racism by the police and local businesses, and other instances of discrimination based on gender, social class, and residing in a favela. In addition, the novel portrays the limitations of malandragem even at its most celebrated moments as a reliable critical framework for understanding the world. In numerous instances, the gangsters' code simply fails to account for random acts of violence, misogyny, or homophobia.

Paulo Lins's background as a resident of the favela, his university studies in literature at Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro, his work as an assistant for Alba Zaluar on her anthropological study of urban violence and narcotraffic, and his poetry and experiments in neo-Concretism all contribute to the novel's unique vision of the complexity of the favela. A true pastiche of genres, the novel explores poetry within an economy of realism. It employs cinematic flourishes, parodies of academic discourse, abundant street slang and proverbs, and an experimental approach to suspense that purposefully ruins climaxes and reveals the banal frequency of urban violence. Cidade de Deus extends its use of pastiche through its dialogue with literary theory, urban anthropology and sociology, the mass media, and an Afro-Brazilian secular and religious aesthetic. Simultaneously providing background and commentary, the novel situates the favela within larger networks of power and historical experiences of violence and oppression. That is to say, the novel's content and form both contribute in locating the reader within the consciousness of the favela. Cidade de Deus thus dialectically positions the reader in relation to racial consciousness as lived by favela residents.

Cidade de Deus presents a complex and overlapping set of moral universes through which events may be interpreted. A theoretical intervention as well as a novel, Cidade de Deus establishes a relationship of causality between the absence of speech in the favela and the explosion in urban violence through its formulation: "falha a fala: fala a bala" (11). The only time the narrator identifies in the first person, he indicates the ambiguity of the reader's relationship to the material when he claims, "o assunto aqui é o crime, eu vim aqui por isso" (23). …

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