The Fantastic Literature of Sergio Papi

Image: Vasco Prado


Commentary on the book “99 Stories”.

Sergio Papi has built his career as a graphic designer since the heroic times of the alternative press, in the 70s and 80s. He heard and wrote down many stories, accompanied dark episodes, illustrated and diagrammed libels and diatribes.

With the reconquest of democracy, the narrator, the storyteller, the writer emerged. And in 2020, with the country once again flirting with darkness, it publishes 99 Stories (Terra Redonda Editora), where her imagination spreads out in short stories and chronicles that form an intricate tapestry of beads in different colors.

Of Jewish origin, like many of us, every now and then Papi refers to the Middle East, Arab issues, the immemorial geography of the Persians. He also dives into the history of Brazil, the Latin American tragedy, the discoveries of Science. This gives a certain Borgean flavor to his narratives, which oscillate between the verisimilar and the fantastic. Does that city really exist in Yemen? Did that battle between Incas and Spaniards take place? Was there really that chocolate shop in Butantã?

Papi's fluent prose sometimes takes the form of a chronicle, describing urban settings (usually São Paulo), trips or strange dreams. The unusual often appears, as if a door to another dimension had opened in everyday concrete. The constant use of scientific terms – whether from chemistry, medicine or astronomy – lends a strangeness to which a certain amount of humor is not lacking. Not by chance, one of his inspiring orixás is the old Baron of Itararé, whose facsimile he reprinted the Three Almanacs, between 1989 and 1995.

At other times, the narrative is configured as a short story from the beginning, creating scenarios and characters, dialogues and situations. This mixture of genres, increasingly characteristic of our time, cannot be confused with formal sloppiness in 99 Stories. It is the obvious result of a lifetime of much reading, of a professional effort to translate a text into images. Here, in a curious way, the designer-writer Sergio Papi often uses an image, real or imaginary, to transform it into text.

This inverse operation leads us to a dilemma that is increasingly present in the ocean of virtual information in which we are submerged. When electronic journalism shrinks textually, opting for the image as the preferred support, an entire cultural edifice built by centuries of experience is put at risk. Will we go back to hieroglyphs?

It is on this convulsed structure that Sergio Papi's literature is balanced. The 99 short texts, previously published on the internet, trace a dystopian panorama of this time, portraying the dizzying Aleph of information whose veracity is increasingly difficult to prove. But in the duly marked terrain of fiction, it is possible to talk about water as if it were wine, and convey to the reader the feeling of having tasted something new.

* Daniel Brazil is a writer, author of the novel suit of kings (Penalux), screenwriter and TV director, music and literary critic.


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