- Beyond Discontent: National and Diasporic Imaginings in Contemporary Afro-Brazilian Women’s Writing
In 1990, Carolyn Richardson Durham, an American scholar researching the portrayal of Afro-Brazilian women in literature, traveled to São Paulo where she met Miriam Alves, a poet and an activist. At that time, Alves had been compiling an anthology of black women writers that, because of a lack of funds, she was unable to complete. Soon after, they decided to turn this project into a collaborative endeavor and, as a result, published the first anthology of black Brazilian women writers as a bilingual edition in 1994 (all the poems were translated by Richardson Durham). The anthology, entitled Enfim . . . Nós: Escritoras negras brasileiras contemporâneas/Finally . . . Us: Contemporary Black Brazilian Women Writers, presents seventeen women poets, most of whom belong to the Quilhomboje literary movement (Alves decided to distance herself from the movement in 1994). With its monthly publication, Cadernos Negros, Quilhomboje inscribes itself into the tradition of Afro-Brazilian cultural production and political resistance, alongside movements such as the Frente negra brasileira and the Movimento negro unificado.1 Alves felt that the movement was heavily inflected by male voices and that female voices needed additional platforms for expression.
The collection deals with a great variety of topics, from representations of the black female body and the monotony of everyday life to the Brazilian myth of racial democracy and the imagining of a transnational African dia-sporic consciousness. In the introduction to the anthology, Alves expresses the generative idea behind the project:
Enfim . . . Nós expõe, sem falsos pudores, intimidades nuas e de sentimentos aguçados em curvas agéis, lânguidas e sensuais. Revolta-se na [End Page 265] ação poética, retomando para si a propriedade do corpo, passando a ser sujeito do desejo e prazer, descoisificando-se. A escrita femininina negra com esta atitude, avilta a noção corrente da passividade da mulher negra, chamada de mulata, que é sempre retratada como objeto de prazer, numa prostituição constante e sem outras perspectivas.
(Finally . . . Us exposes naked intimacies and sharp sentiments with agile, languid, and sensual curves, without false modesty. It rebels with its poetic action, reclaiming the ownership of the body, going on to being the subject of desire and pleasure, de-objectifying itself. Black women’s writing with this attitude rejects the common notion of the Black woman’s passivity, of the so-called “mulata” who always is pictured as the object of pleasure in constant prostitution and without any other perspectives.)2
The poems, she tells us, are straining against a long literary tradition of exoticism whereby the mulata is relegated to a static image underscoring her passivity and sexual availability. As a way of response, in Finally . . . Us, the categories “black” and “woman” are transformed from vestibular objects into discursive sites open to constant reinterpretation as the poems perform an act of autopoiesis, a writing into being of the “always negated category of the black female citizen.”3
Yet, as much as the poems are inevitably concerned with the double bind of invisibility that affects Afro-Brazilian women, they do not limit themselves to the understanding and criticism of a national history and national present but are rather trying to imagine a political consciousness that exceeds national identity and ethnic particularity. In this article, I would like to delineate the ways in which the authors of Finally . . . Us are constructing a gendered African diasporic consciousness, all the while grounding themselves in the micropolitics of everyday life in Brazil. I argue that in its attempt to transcend national identity, Afro-Brazilian women’s writing can be analyzed within the framework of the black Atlantic, as it falls in line with Paul Gilroy’s rejection of nationalist perspectives as “an adequate means to understand the forms of resistance and accommodation intrinsic to modern black political culture.”4 Yet, by reaffirming the importance of the local context in the construction of political consciousness, Finally . . . Us warns us against simply dismissing the significance of national belonging. In Finally . . . Us, categories of race and gender are reinscribed as constitutive of national identity while simultaneously being opened to an intercultural...