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  • Eles eram muitos cavalos: Challenging the Regulating Fiction of the Global City
  • Leonora Paula

Published in 2001, Eles eram muitos cavalos by Luiz Ruffato has been critically acclaimed as one of the most important novels in contemporary Brazilian literature. Having won the 2001 Machado de Assis award from Biblioteca Nacional and been selected as best novel by the Associação Paulista de Críticos de Arte in the same year, Eles eram muitos cavalos received in 2005 fourth place among the most important 125 works of Brazilian fiction to be published since 1990. Taking place in São Paulo on May 9, 2000, the novel narrates a single day in the lives of people living in the city. Numerous anonymous characters are the protagonists of multiple stories that read as entries more than as chapters, which do not build up as a connected longer narrative. Hence, the continuous shift in narrative voice and perspective announces various experiences that travel across class, gender, and race, ultimately unfolding a conjuncture of extreme social inequality.

Most of the excitement around Eles eram muitos cavalos in the years following its publication celebrated the novel’s narrative style and format, namely its realist narrative approach as well as the unusual use of layout and grammatical experimentation. The realist style can be seen in the portrayal of the daily struggles of a multitude of poor urban dwellers in a way that challenges the normalized banality of their condition of marginality as a form of social criticism. The formal experimentation appears throughout the text in the constant use of incomplete phrases, unanswered questions, partial lists, unconventional punctuation, and unusual layout.

Arguably, the most immediate question that emerges in Eles eram muitos cavalos contends that there is a set of reasons for the occurrence of this form of representation in the particular context of late twentieth-century Brazil. To ask these questions is to think of how Eles eram muitos cavalos favors modes of representation that resonate with ways of experiencing the world in a context [End Page 95] of contemporary developments of globalization. As a critical space used to make sense of discourses and experiences of globalization, Eles eram muitos cavalos, I argue, presents new perspectives on the problems and possibilities prompted by globalization. Ruffato’s work helps us reflect on the intersections between globalization and fiction and explore its effects by showing that literatures of globalization are not only narratives that partake in constructing fictions of a globalized era but also help expose the fictions that globalization creates.

Globalization, as Milton Santos indicates, should be understood in a triple sense (18). First, as a fable, it is presented to us as a fantastic story of a network of an economic-productive-technological future; second, as perversity, where it has intensified a worldwide situation of unequal concentration of wealth; and third, as a possibility of emergence of alternative ways of interacting with the world. Santos’s argument acknowledges that deeply embedded in different political, social, and economic realities, globalization cannot be defined as a homogeneous experience, but should be understood as a complex process with inherently different variables and consequences.

The global city concept is derivative of that larger framework and speaks to the notion of globalization as fable. In her seminal work on the topic, Saskia Sassen defines global cities as strategic sites where global processes materialize (5). These cities, according to Sassen, are the spaces where crucial political decisions are made and serve as the organizing centers of global power in the geography of globalization.

Initially conceptualized as a scholarly tool used to address the effects of globalization in the urban landscape, the concept of a global city turned into a homogenizing organizing principle with enough weight to influence how cities in a globalized world should be structured as well as imagined. At the core of such a principle is an effort to define the global city as an objective reality consisting of essential properties of recognizable, if not formulaic, characteristics. Such a framework imposes a hierarchical order that establishes which cites are better suited to be deemed global.

Critics have argued that rather than a model for contemporary urbanism, the global city concept...


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