Colony, Cult and Culture (review)
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Reviewed by
Bosi, Alfredo. Colony, Cult and Culture. Ed. Pedro Meira Monteiro. Trans. Robert Newcomb. Dartmouth: University of Massachussets Press, 2008. 115 pp.

The publication of Colony, Cult and Culture comes in a very auspicious moment for Brazilian literary criticism. Alfredo Bosi's book joins the good company of On Literature and Society by Antonio Candido, A Master on The Periphery of Capitalism by Roberto Schwarz and The Space In-Between by Silviano Santiago, all of them recently translated into English. All these translations evidence the growing participation of Brazilian cultural criticism in the international debate on literary and cultural theory. It is widely known, for instance, that the postcolonial theory is mostly centered on the Anglophone experience. Books such as Colony, Cult and Culture help the theoretical discussion become less asymmetric, incorporating other frames of reference and enriching the existing analytical categories.

Colony, Cult and Culture is a translation of the introduction of Dialética da Colonização, originally published in 1992. In this text, it is possible to see all of Bosi's strengths as a cultural critic, as he draws many skills from diff erent fields of knowledge to critique the dilemmas and aporias of Brazilian colonization. Throughout his analysis, Bosi displays familiarity with philology, sociological analysis, art history, close reading, and anthropology. All this knowledge is articulated by an immense erudition and a clear political commitment to the oppressed.

Bosi starts his interesting argument presenting what would be, at first sight, a philological curiosity: Colony, cult and culture have the same etymological root (colo). As Bosi articulates the three words, he is less interested in showing the lexical coincidences and more concerned about displaying the ambiguous and tense web of signs created among those three constitutive terms of the colonial enterprise in Brazil. Colo means "I live on, I occupy the land"(31). Colonization therefore implies "the occupation of new land, the exploitation of its resources, and the submission of its inhabitants" (31). However, despite the imposition of values and economic exploitation inherent to acts of colonization, every colony brings forth a cultural apparatus that, in its turn, engenders signs that can undermine the colonial condition – even though it also produces many other signs that reinforce the colonial system. [End Page 179]

Colonial culture then is comprised of a system of ambivalent signs. As Bosi demonstrates, the tensions between Christian universalism and agro-mercantile interests set the tone of debate among lettered men in Colonial Brazil. Padre Anchieta, on one side, advocates the evangelization of the Indigenous people and criticizes the attempts to slave them. On the other side, the discourses of Pero Vaz de Caminha, Gabriel Soares de Sousa, Antonil and Bishop Azeredo Coutinho support the agro-mercantile-slave business. Other intellectuals, instead of taking clear sides on this issue, assimilate this ambivalence in their works. These are the cases of Padre António Vieira and Basílio da Gama (50–57).

In the "Camonian Parenthesis"(59–68), the author studies the incorporation of tensions vis-à-vis the colonial enterprise in one of the major epics of the Lusophone world, Os Lusíadas by Luis de Camões. This epic poem was written to praise the Portuguese deeds around the world. In a brilliant textual analysis, Bosi shows how the attempt to legimitize the colonization coexists, within Camões'poem, with a counter-ideological vector, presented in the character of the Old Man of Restelo. This character exhibits skepticism towards the achievement of Portuguese voyages and criticizes the vanity beneath the heroic gesture of discovering new maritime routes and new lands. As Bosi noticed, the Old Man of Restelo represents the first fissures on the colonizing subject.

If Bosi had written a book solely on the ambiguities of literary culture in Colonial Brazil, his contribution would have been already memorable. However, Colony, Cult and Culture is more than a study on Colonial literature. Besides studying the relationship between colony and literary culture, Bosi's essay also focus on cult.

Cult plays a very important role in Bosi's study. As the author underscores in the chapter "Amplified Reflection and Contradictions in the Colonizing Process"(37–43), the social organization of the colonies...