Academic journal article Bulletin of Hispanic Studies

Parts without a Whole: Mourning, Redemption and Desire in Partes De ÁFrica

Academic journal article Bulletin of Hispanic Studies

Parts without a Whole: Mourning, Redemption and Desire in Partes De ÁFrica

Article excerpt

Partes de África questions our assumptions about redemption, suggesting, contrary to a prevalent current of Portuguese literary tradition, that redemption can only be found by coming to terms with the past, and not through a messianic future. The novel is both an attempt to redeem whatever is recuperable from the dying years of the Portuguese Empire and a response to the long-ingrained Portuguese belief in the future as redemption. It distances itself from the eternal promise of bliss associated with the Portuguese Sebastianic tradition that, from António Vieira's Historia do futuro (1982) to Fernando Pessoa's Mensagem, placed the coming of the Fifth Empire at the teleological conclusion of Portuguese history. Partes de África examines how such messianic narratives actually prevent, rather than fulfil, the future they have as their goal. Drawing on Walter Benjamin's and Theodor Adorno's critique of the concept of history, I will contemplate how Partes de África foregrounds a different route to redemption by way of fragmentation. By dissolving time into loosely joined fragments, the bliss of redemption becomes, paradoxically, all the more possible, since the past, unlike the future, is where a plethora of possibilities await discovery.

Partes de África is, at the same time, a story and a revision. It revises the history of the Portuguese Empire from the perspective of Helder Macedo, as both author and narrator. Beginning with a brief description of his Republican grandfather's adventures in Africa, Helder Macedo's narrator will revisit, through his life and the life of his family and friends, twentieth-century Portuguese colonial history. The narration of these events, however, is not straightforward and unequivocal in its presentation of facts. The aspect of self-conscious fiction ('ficçào autoconsciente') (2002: 94), as Joäo Roberto Maia da Cruz puts it, makes it difficult to differentiate the author from the narrator, or fiction from reality. A constant play between fiction and reality is produced by the relentless mixture of facts from Helder Macedo's life, and fictions produced by Helder Macedo's narrator. Hence the term 'author-narrator' introduced by Maria Lúcia dal Farra to refer to the narrator of this playful form of historical narrative (2002: 50).1 Through his account, the author-narrator strives repeatedly to destabilize any fixed view of past Portuguese colonial experiences.

Difference is at the heart of Partes de África, and is foregrounded by the novel's narrative structure. Chiasmus, oxymora and paradoxes - the rhetorical figures deployed by the narrative - have, according to Maria Alzira Seixo, no purpose other than stressing the possibility of a liminal expression (2002: 292). Partes de África can be conceived as a search for such an enunciation space, that is, a space that refuses to align itself with the main tropes of the colonial narrative. However, the narrative's quest for a liminal space is not limited to the use of rhetorical devices. Its continuous disruption of the frontier between fiction and reality functions in the same way as these rhetorical figures, both questioning the status of truth and verisimilitude, as Maria Lúcia Dal Farra points out (2002: 44), and positing the search for new ways of conceptualizing difference.

Difference is the main theme of the seventeenth chapter of the book, in which the author-narrator, drawing from one of his previous conference papers, exposes the importance of preserving differences in order to put an end to the colonial mindset. He argues that only when recognition stops being a simple assimilation of the unknown will the time of empires come to an end (Macedo 1991:167). For the author-narrator, there is no other way of opposing a discourse based on identity. To avoid the pitfalls of the colonial discourse, differences need to be recognized as such if they are not to be misrecognized as what they are not. But in order to be different, what is unknown must remain non-identical to what is already known. …

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