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  • From Underworld to Avant-Garde: Art and Criminology in Cuba and Brazil
  • Rodrigo Lopes de Barros (bio)

Oh, these new sciences, . . . these sciences that still speak the stammering language of hypothesis and have not liberated themselves from the power of imagination. They belong just as much to the poet as they do the scientist. What tremendous fresco remains not to be painted, . . . what colossal human comedy and tragedy to be written, . . . the material with which the question of heredity provides us seems infinite.

—Emile Zola

Genius is nothing but an extravagant manifestation of the body.

—Arthur Cravan

In his book, Música de feitiçaria no Brasil (Witchcraft Music in Brazil ), which begun as a lecture in 1933 and was published posthumously, Brazilian musicologist Mário de Andrade describes the protohistorical connection between Brazil and the island of Cuba.1 In other words, he traces the cosmogonical practices that culminated in macumba, Santeria, voodoo, and another variants of Afro-Latin American religions. He follows the path of the word “cuba” in Brazilian folklore, which acquired meanings that evolved from just “Cuban” to “powerful individual” and “sorcerer.” Scouring the writings of Brazilian anthropologist Luís da Câmara Cascudo, Andrade tries to see the existence of “cuba” in the popular vocabulary of Brazil not only as proof that his theories about the influence of Cuban music on Brazilian rhythms were correct but also as evidence that Cuban “witchcraft” reached the Amazon, definitively showing that the north and northeast regions of Brazil were an extension of the Caribbean. [End Page 227]

It was not only religious manifestations that circulated between Cuba and Brazil, as Andrade points out. There was also an intense intellectual exchange between the first scholars dedicated to their local religions. In this article, I map this economy of thoughts, showing how in the beginning of the twentieth century, some Cuban and Brazilian intellectuals built their own view of the black Atlantic in a dialog with European positivism—a conversation that involved not only anthropology and political science but also law, literature, art, spiritism, psychiatry, theories of science, fingerprint identification, and many other fields, with each side influencing the other. In short, my aim is to demonstrate the passing of what was considered irrational (African religions and the world of spirits) into the very core of positivism and its materialist presuppositions. There they coexisted in a tension that developed both in the avant-garde and at the same time within what became the horror of racial hygiene.

In The Black Atlantic: Modernity and Double Consciousness, Paul Gilroy only briefly addresses the role of science and positivism in the transatlantic black diaspora. He scarcely notes the participation of Latin American creole intellectuals (from anthropologists to artists and art critics) in the construction of that space, though he calls for study of how the idea of “race” influences the construction of “western aesthetic judgement, taste, and cultural value.”2 In Against Race: Imagining Political Culture Beyond the Color Line, Gilroy does analyze how “race-thinking” entered the black Atlantic, especially through ultranationalism and fascism, causing a tension in the way racial differences were seen, tending toward uniformization.3 Though his focus is on the twentieth century, he notes that “even prescientific versions of the logic of ‘race’ multiplied the opportunities for their adherents to do evil freely and justify it to themselves and to others. That problem was compounded once confused and unsystematic race-thinking aspired to become something more coherent, rational, and authoritative.”4 As Gilroy goes on to point out, the shift toward scientific understandings of race began “to create new possibilities and orchestrate new varieties of knowledge and power centered on the body.”5 In my view, the formulation of these scientific discourses on race, as well as their connection with religion, mysticism, criminology psychology, and art, has yet to be fully explored.

Stephan Palmié explores the theme of witchcraft and science in Cuba, offering an interesting Foucauldian look at Fernando Ortiz and his early vision of Afro-Cuban religions, but some matters remain to be investigated.6 These include the role of spiritism as “a kind of religious thought based precisely on the terminology and the weapons of...


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pp. 227-245
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