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  • Survey of African-Brazilian Literature *
  • Edimilson de Almeida Pereira (bio)

In this survey of African-Brazilian Literature I will focus on authors and texts from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries as well as from the first half of the twentieth. Initially, I will outline some of the major issues arising from critical considerations of these texts.

Existing criticism of that literature has been marked by the limitations of what I will call a didactic style.

This approach is historical and chronological, organizing analysis linearly around the life of the authors. This traditional approach is marked by limited analysis of the individual text, the effort to squeeze all literature into some pre-defined neatly limned periodicization, and by limiting the canon of African Brazilian writers to a few figures and texts.

The narrowness of these critical concerns has in turn limited the scope of critical debate. The only two questions that seem to matter to these critics are : What color was the author and to what extent is the literature in question African influenced? Both of these questions are wide of the mark, especially if we recognize the fact that we Brazilians have always had black and mestizo writers working with classical European models, and non-black authors writing about African-Brazilian themes, such as slavery, maroon revolts and racial prejudice.

The heavy-handed use of ethnic and thematic criteria to define African-Brazilian literature places a critical straightjacket on both black and non-black authors. It is essential to find a pluralistic critical vocabulary, established through a dialectical orientation, that allows us to analyze African-Brazilian literature as one facet of Brazilian literature—which itself must be perceived as a unity constituted by diversities.

From the point of view of the History of Literature, it is important to understand the birth and persistence of literary traditions. A tradition creates a conservative edifice that makes the past a foundation for criticizing the present. Nevertheless, the tradition present dynamic traces when the perspective of denying it or reinterpreting it situates it as a font of changes that point toward the future.

The identity of Brazilian literature is a fractured tradition, characteristic of colonies. The first authors that thought and wrote about Brazil had a European formation; even those who sought to hold a mirror to colonial reality were forced to do so through [End Page 875] the lens of the colonizer’s language. Thus the drama of the New World intellectual! This fracture between New World experience and Old World language and form is at the heart of our literary tradition, placing us in the intermission between the proximation and distancing of the inheritances of colonization.

In the 19th century, our Romantics tried to create symbols of our national identity. The urgency of the moment carried them to establish relations between Indianism and nationality and to welcome nature as a personification of the Brazilian soul.

Once the impulses for the affirmation of national specificity were defeated, the importance of a new situation was understood, that of inserting Brazilian Literature in the context of Western Literature. The literary movements at the end of the nineteenth and beginning of the twentieth centuries treated the question of identity through the aesthetic actualization and the interchange of international vanguards. An example of this process is found in the Manifesto of Pau-Brazil Poetry (1924) by Oswald de Andrade, an active participant in the Brazilian Modernist movement.

African-Brazilian Literature is part of the fractured tradition of Brazilian Literature. Therefore, it both validates the specific character of the Afro-Brazilian experience (in ethnic, psychological, historical and social terms) while engaging in the more general task of defining the essential Brazilianess of Brazilian literature. Language is a decisive factor in this course. Brazilians of different ethnic origins all use Portuguese, but a Portuguese transformed in accordance with the dynamics of our socio-historical context and of the linguistic groups that entered into contact here.

African-Brazilian Literature written in this system is Brazilian Literature, as well, albeit a literature that expresses a world view specific to African-Brazilians. The dynamics of tensions and contradictions present in this literature helps us to understand the attitudes of the authors who...

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pp. 875-880
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