Ralph's Confessions

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By BENEDICT NUNES*

Commentary on the novel by Sérgio Sant'anna

As Sentimental Memories of João Miramar, by Oswald de Andrade, paved the way for the present book by Sérgio Sant'Anna in 1924. Character-narrator, Ralfo boasts an illustrious progeny. He has the closest relative in Miramar, of whom Serafim Ponte Grande, from the same Oswald de Andrade, was an emeritus continuator. But if he is nothing more than the last sprout of a diversified lineage (to which Brás Cubas and Tristram Shandy also belong), he is certainly the first of our literature to subvert the customs of the traditional literary family to which he belongs.

Because, by giving birth to him in a prologue that precedes the title page of the book, the author of the work uncovers himself in the character, placing himself, in him and with him, within the literary space itself, where, as if all distance between one and the other were abolished, both evolve under a single free and ambiguous figure. It would seem that Ralfo narrates his own story, writing the imaginary autobiography of Sérgio Sant'Anna, and that Sérgio Sant'Anna writes Ralfo's confessions, narrating himself through them.

By making his character an author, A. becomes a character: “In short, let's say that this book is about the real life of an imaginary man or the imaginary life of a real man. Above all, I want to have fun – or even get emotional – living and writing this book and taking different liberties with it, such as objectifying myself, sometimes, in the third person singular, or through the speech of third parties” ( of the Prologue). In fact, Sérgio Sant'Anna takes many liberties with this book, his and the other's, divided into twelve small books that the author-character composes, by ordering the course of events that constitute the invented matter of these confessions, whose unity, despite The fragmentary character of the narrative, supported by the most diverse styles, is not only in the parodistic level at which it is located, but also in the game of identity that sustains it.

Now, this game of identity, of the novelist with his character and of the novelist with himself, is transferred to the novel itself, through the irony of its memorialistic form, dispersed in form, in diverse specimens of literary language, which Ralfo, strictly speaking, more a bundle of events, projections and expectations than a character, it produces, like episodes of a book or like chapters of a life, within which, equalized by the humor that demystifies, all situations are equivalent.

Lover of two television stars (“Dias Tranquilos”), transatlantic passenger (“Diário de Bordo”), founder and victim of a new regime (“Eldorado”), political exile in Goddamn City – what a “tourist brochure” of propaganda presents us (“O Ciclo de Goddamn”) –, a beggar tortured by the police in a burlesque interrogation (“Delinquencies, Degradings and Deteriorations”), later a guinea pig in a conduct reconditioning laboratory (“DDD 2 – Documents”), and, still, vagrant in Paris, lover of Lewis Carroll's Alice, grafted onto the body of Nabokov's Lolita ("Suicides, Personages"), or actor in sadomasochistic and strictly realistic shows ("Au Théâtre") – Ralfo always walks, from book to book like from farce to farce, while the author pretends to be a character, pretending to compose the autobiographical novel, these same Confessions, of which the author is the Other.

Those who pretend to be other and proclaim themselves as other maintain, from themselves to themselves, and to the reality around them, a regime of permanent distance, which refuses complete fiction. It is this detachment, contrary to evasion, that allows the writer, in this book by Sérgio Sant'Anna, confronting literature with existence, to see and make others see, through the eyes of humor, cruelty, insanity, madness, deceit and the violence of your world and ours.

But along this path, Ralfo's imaginary autobiography restores to us the dense historical layer of documentary memorialism, which borders on the novelistic. And it documents both the emptiness of frustrated youth (Ralfo, “conceived from nothing, with a physical and mental reality of a twenty-something year old”), the retreat of utopianism, the dominance of clichés and Slogans, megalopoly inhumanity and the trampling of the human, as well as the disappointments of literature and the illusions of artistic experimentalism, trapped in the cycle of publicity and propaganda. But all of this, as Brás Cubas would say in his famous prologue, is written “with a joking pen dipped in the ink of melancholy”, which oozes from the “materials” of the time gathered in these memoirs by Sérgio Sant'Anna.

* Benedito Nunes (1929-2011), philosopher, Professor Emeritus at UFPA, is the author, among other books, of The poetic key (Company of Letters).

References

Sergio Sant'anna. CRalfo's Confessions (An Imaginary Autobiography). Rio de Janeiro, Brazilian Civilization, 1975 (https://amzn.to/3KLCPqs).

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