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  • Machado de Assis and Milton:Possible Dialogues
  • Miriam Mansur

In There's No Such Thing as Free Speech … and It's a Good Thing Too (1994), Stanley Fish observes that "the Miltonic corpus, rather than being autonomous, is intertextual, the product of not a single voice but of multiple voices," and that "we are already blessed (if that is the word) by studies of Milton and Virgil, Milton and Plato, Milton and the pastoral, Milton and warfare, Milton and science, Milton and opera … and on and on and on."1 His argument suggests an exhaustion of Milton studies that many other critics may have felt at that time. Fish's position in the 1990s was that there were "no new directions in Milton studies." One underexplored direction, however, is south, for the subject of Milton and South American voices has not been part of the larger conversation. International literary criticism rightly refers to Milton's presence as a major figure in English, German, and French Romanticism; this point is also true for Brazilian Romanticism, even though the reception of the English poet and his oeuvre in Brazil cannot be considered to be widespread at this time.2

One prominent contributor to Milton's pan-American reputation is Brazil's most widely read and studied writer, Joaquim Maria [End Page 167] Machado de Assis (1839–1908). Speaking anew about Machado de Assis's life, legend, and works, much less coordinating them with Milton's, is no easy task, but I venture to do so through the use of key representative texts, in large part to intervene in the limited reception of Milton in Brazil through an investigation of Milton in Brazilian literature.3 This reading of Milton's corpus through Machado de Assis's novel Dom Casmurro also doubles as a means of engaging Machadian ways of reading within pan-American discourse.

Although it is necessary to consider the question of influence in addressing the relationship between the Brazilian writer Machado de Assis and the English poet Milton, I will key in on the operation of erasure proposed by the French-Algerian philosopher Jacques Derrida.4 Other terms enable better possibilities for understanding the dialogue between Machado de Assis and Milton: intertextuality, destinerrance, election of precursors, irony, and affinity. My hypothesis is that Machado de Assis gives life to Milton's oeuvre, reviving it in his literary creation, through his experiences as a reader of the English poet. All of these taken together may entice Lusophone and other readers alike to read Milton in a Machadian way.5

In the title of this chapter, the authors' names are chronologically reversed. This disruption of the standard temporal order breaks a hierarchical positioning that might arise from chronological precedence. The proposed relations between these authors' texts evoke various elements and voices that alternate, establishing a dialogue between traditions. Thus, the logic in this dialogue is neither hierarchical nor exclusionary but supplementary because the works linked to these authors are not independent but, rather, intertextual. This analysis recognizes the palpable logic not of copying or repeating, nor even of imitating, but of recreating, with the Brazilian writer using Milton's passages in a new and distinct way. It seems that Machado de Assis lends his pen and words to Milton's ideas and comes up with a new creation of something old or already known, and this strategy demonstrates that the relationship between these authors' texts is porous and intertextual. [End Page 168]

João César de Castro Rocha's essay "The Author as Plagiarist," which studies the Machadian strategy of using other writers' texts, is central to this essay. Castro Rocha notes that the Brazilian author goes beyond his own creation when he confesses that he is an original plagiarist. He then analyzes the movements of Machado de Assis as a plagiarist in chapter 8, "The Opera," from the novel Dom Casmurro (1899). For this Machadian critic, influence is in no way negative, not even an anxiety of influence, to use Harold Bloom's term. In his Anxiety of Influence (1973), Bloom focuses on the relations between authors and their successors, with a special emphasis on the tension of cultural and intellectual...


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