The quest – memories of resistance

Image: Fábio Miguez / Jornal de Resenhas


Commentary on the book by Liszt Vieira

In 1977, Renato Tapajós published in slow motion, which cost him prison. Two years later, in the context of the amnesty, What is this fellow?, by Fernando Gabeira. The season of ex-guerrilla testimonies was inaugurated. Since then, there have been almost 30 memoirs of militancy in the armed left, sometimes with literary fiction resources. Works were also published gathering testimonials from various militants and biographical reports, in addition to numerous memoirs of communists and others who did not get to take up arms in the 1960s and 1970s.

Em The search, Liszt Vieira recounts his political militancy against the dictatorship and, later, his journey in exile: Algeria, Cuba, Chile, Argentina, France, Portugal and passages through other countries. It narrates in first person, based on real facts. Some characters – always with nom de guerre – are easily identifiable for those who know the history of the armed left. The author himself appears under the pseudonym Bruno. Others, not so much, because some are fictional, starting with Ulisses, his fictional alter ego, presented as Bruno's best friend.

Memory and fiction mix, in a game that is less or more interesting depending on the progress of the text. Less attractive when aspects of the history of armed groups are reproduced, with little density compared to other testimonies, and in the bureaucratic account of certain passages in the author's trajectory.

The narrative becomes more provocative when the memories go a little further, as in the passage about Liszt's stay in Cuba. His observations help to reflect on the island's contradictions. There, quality public policies were implemented in education and health, living with chronic transport and communication problems. On the one hand, there would be the “feeling of national dignity rescued” after the overthrow of the Batista dictatorship, on the other hand, a “centralized and authoritarian” political structure was imposed. Sometimes a certain anachronism appears, for example, when referring to a Cuba “different from what Brazilian tourists knew”, this in the 1970s, when there were no diplomatic relations between Brazil and Cuba, where our tourists did not enter, not least because they would be arrested on their return.

When fiction gains ground, it can increase interest in reading, less for its literary qualities and more to understand the subjectivity of former guerrillas, the desire for revenge coexisting with reintegration into order. This is the case with the construction of the character Ulysses, torn apart by the loss of his beloved, obsessed with settling scores with his tormentor, a certain Adolpho – whose name evidently reminds us of Hitler. Adolpho is based on Corporal Anselmo, the arch-traitor of the armed left, whose story is reproduced briefly. However, he finds a different ending in the book than he had, fulfilling the desire of many he betrayed.

In short, the book is part of the most recent example of an expressive memorialistic literature, produced in the last thirty years, about the period of the armed struggle. Em Past time – Culture of memory and subjective turn (Companhia das Letras/ UFMG), when dealing with a similar phenomenon in Argentina, where memorialistic testimonies are even more varied and widespread than in Brazil, Beatriz Sarlo makes reflections that deserve attention. She points to the need for “a critique of the subject and its truth, a critique of the truth of the voice and its connection with a truth of experience that would emerge in the testimony”. That is, the reports of victims of dictatorships are very important, even to punish those responsible. But this does not exempt them from critical analysis.

The main point raised by Sarlo is not about questioning the subjectivity of those affected, which usually sets the tone in memorialist books, but rather about highlighting that subjectivity is also historical. For her, “a revolutionary utopia laden with ideas receives unfair treatment if it is presented only or fundamentally as a postmodern drama by its supporters”.

Nor would it be fair to make a tabula rasa of all the memoir literature ever produced. It would be caricatured to summarize it as the postmodern subjective drama of ex-militants. But it is undeniable that there are problems in a certain culture of memory that can distance it from objectivity. Here lies a challenge for the continuity of this type of literature.

Liszt Vieira's book is of particular interest in sharing his life experience, typical of his youth, with the new generations. Also, perhaps, to understand the psychology of ex-combatants, in addition to addressing more components of sexuality intertwined with politics than other reports. But the qualitative leap that is expected to reinvigorate the memorialistic approach of this dark time in Brazilian history is yet to come.

*Marcelo Ridenti is a full professor of sociology at Unicamp. Author, among other books, of In search of the Brazilian people (Unesp).

Originally published on Journal of Reviews no. 3, July 2009.


Liszt Vieira. The quest – memories of resistance. São Paulo, HUCITEC, 204 pages.

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