- Eakin and Santiago—Contributions to Life Writing ScholarshipThe Year in Brazil
During the last year in Brazil, freedom of expression, education, academic research, and artistic manifestations have been under attack by the current populist rightwing government. Choosing a relevant topic for this review proved to be an arduous task. With drastic cuts of funding for arts and research, the year went by with few notable works in life writing and with little hope for the future. However, a magical chance alignment contributed to the fortunes of auto/biographical studies in Brazil: the memoirs of the "grand dame" of Brazilian theater, cinema, and performing arts, the actress Fernanda Montenegro, emerged alongside the works of two leading exponents of literary studies. The writer, literary critic, essayist, and scholar Silviano Santiago published his long-awaited memoirs, and for the first time a book by Paul John Eakin, a staple name in the field of autobiographical criticism, appeared in a Portuguese translation.
Fernanda Montenegro launched her memoirs amid a vicious onslaught by a minor theater director and current director of Fundação Nacional de Artes (FUNARTE). The acclaimed actress1 posed for the cover of a literary magazine dressed as a witch standing on top of a pile of books. In an interview in the magazine celebrating her ninetieth birthday and promoting her memoirs, the actress offered an x-ray of the current dangers of the conservative shift in the country's political scene and the increase in censorship through the extinction of public funding for arts and education. The director reacted to her interview by trying to taint Montenegro's image and reputation by calling her a sordid liar. The consequence was a national wave of sympathy and support for our most distinguished and iconic artist. With her Prólogo, Ato, Epílogo: Memórias, written in collaboration with journalist Martha Góes, Montenegro reminds us of the necessity to resist. [End Page 15]
The Boy Without A Past
The title of Silviano Santiago's autobiographical project, O Menino Sem Passado, seems to be an oxymoron for a narrative defined by the metaphor of a look into the rearview mirror. The existence of a past in autobiographies and memoirs is mandatory, but Santiago's lavish essayistic and fictional production during the last forty years proves his predisposition to subvert rules of genres. Dwelling in several works with the boundaries between fiction and reality blurred, Santiago defines his creative process of blending life and fiction as both a supporting structure and an interpretative tool. Santiago's dissertation about André Gide, presented at the Sorbonne University in the 1960s, certainly left an indelible mark on his future works. Gide's explicit use of autobiographical material in different works of fiction, both as an experiment and as a means of approaching sensitive topics that permeated his life, resonates in several of Santiago's fictional works. Novels such as Em liberdade (1981), Viagem ao México (1995), and O falso mentiroso (2004) treat relevant topics such as the frontiers between fact and fiction, debates on authorship and representation, as well as issues of subjectivity and identity that have always been at the core of Santiago's oeuvre.
For instance, the novel that can be considered his most famous, Em liberdade, represents an arena where the author develops not only his fictional verve but also exercises his theoretical and critical ideas. Described by Santiago as an essay-novel, he structured Em Liberdade as a continuation of another Brazilian writer's memoirs, Memórias do Cárcere, by Graciliano Ramos. The dictatorial regime of Getúlio Vargas kept Ramos imprisoned for one year in 1936. Posing as an editor of Ramos's unpublished diary, Santiago establishes a dialogue with this faux diary, explicitly using postmodern narrative devices. Moreover, with this novel disguised as an autobiographical account of Graciliano Ramos, Santiago moves ahead by not only exploiting cultural codes but also by questioning them.
Santiago continued blurring the frontiers between fact and fiction with his 1995 novel Viagem ao México, introduced by publishers as a hybrid of fictional prose, biography, and essay. In this novel, the narrator establishes a dialogue with Antonin Artaud...