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A festa

Hello all! Included is my first paper for Literature and the Cultural Politics of Democracy, a close reading assignment. We were reading The Celebration (A Festa) by Îvan Angelo, a book centered around late ’60s Minas Gerais. I’ll be back on here in a few days to post the essay from this week (talking about a short story by Pía Barros) and also to get around to a wrap-up post of last year’s reading so I can start the 2010 linked list of books in the sidebar.


There is an interest in institutionality (e.g. the city, the state, the property) and its dialogues/formation through social networks that Ângelo explores in The Celebration. Explored here are nations in microcosm, the nation as personal identities.

Within The Celebration, we are thrust into relationships to space and bodies rooted in centuries-old histories. This is evoked in the narrative of Andrea’s relationships and romantic longings, as momentary contact crafts permanent dynamics. “They never really ended their affair, and for years afterward she would have occasional visits from him. There were always the same old conversations, the same idle sensuality, coupled now and then with a certain nostalgia toward her body” (Ângelo, 45). We see in this relationship an example of memory and previous social identities interposed in the present, as “courtship” (Ângelo, 45) transforms, with sexual activity, permanently into an “affair” that, in doing, transforms the entire breadth of their interactions. There is no longer a period without sexual overtones in Samuel’s description of “the affair”. Anderson discusses this in the context of nation-states as “characteristic amnesias”. “After experiencing the physiological and emotional changes produced by puberty, it is impossible to ‘remember’ the consciousness of childhood” (Anderson, 249). “Occasional visits” (Ângelo, 45) produce and voice a sustained sexual tension, and we find physical manifestations of social identity w/r/t Andrea’s “certain nostalgia toward her body”. This can be considered an example of a citizen/participant internalizing discourse, social relations, and physical actions as marks upon themselves, their body. “We have then, the sovereign and his force, the social body and the administrative apparatus; mark, sign, trace; ceremony, representation, exercise… the individual subjected to immediate coercion” (Foucault, 455). Andrea’s body is no longer her own, and she, like many others, can only look upon it with nostalgia.

What also needs to be considered is the capability to reflect an internalized discourse in an externalized relationship, a transformation of physical space for social needs. Let’s transition to another moment of The Celebration – the departure of Roberto’s mother. “There’s nothing left for me in this house”, she exclaims, seeing an absence of redeeming value in the relationships and social circle of her chosen family. Rather than addressing this directly, though (e.g. ‘There’s nothing left for me with these two’) we find the mother using physical symbols – “this house” is an entire way of life, a full social identity that she seeks to reject. Just as Andrea must leave Minas Gerais in order to create new social dynamics, Roberto’s mother cannot simply reassert herself within the home to change her condition – departure, exile, is necessary. This self-exile/social rebirth, seems to be a modern permutation of homo sacer, a loss of control over one’s family dynamic that is altered through a radical shift in space.

It is within these physical/geographical manifestations of social systems that we are best able to explore the human ramifications of state-building, and so we see that “inside the boundaries of properties of the great landowners there are no political rights, because freedom of opinion is nonexistent” (Ângelo, 4). Ângelo emphasizes language of institutionalization (whether manifested in a feudalistic system or in sovereign state-building). Even as we only see regional work and workers here, “slavery was a national institution” (Fausto, 28), and we are exploring the nation in microcosm. The effect on ‘citizens’ (i.e. slaves, tenants, farmhands) is a rejection of their rights – and by extension, identity – as citizens, as Brazilians. There is a relevance given to literature here, by suggesting that discussion or “freedom of opinion” is the vital element of political rights (what this says about the status of political rights under a state of censorship is not touched on, though the background is clear – The Celebration remained unpublished for nearly a decade under Brazil’s dictatorship).

It is within rapid change and social upheaval that we find senses of Minas Gerais, of the life and body politic. Perhaps then, this is where Ângelo lays bare some of his politics: a reliance on networks of people as the creators and arbitrators of the State hints at where networks of resistance to the State must lie as well. The Celebration is an argument over the memories of Minas Gerais, and a hope for revision – the historical narratives of the city and people as both limit and potential.

Works Cited
Anderson, Benedict. Imagined Communities collected in Theories of Memory – A Reader.
Ângelo, Ivan. The Celebration. trans. Colchie, Thomas.
Fausto, Boris. A Concise History of Brazil.
Foucault, Michel. Discipline and Punish collected in On Violence – A Reader.

Filed under: Books, Evergreen

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