dialectic of malandragem

Eduardo Berliner, Bigfoot


Commentary on the classic essay by Antonio Candido

It is unreasonable to think that a critic, more than a hundred years away from an aesthetic object and a society, would not commit any kind of anachronism. Nor is it here defending that the best reader is the one who reads, very closely, aesthetic form and social process. This balance between near and far could also be called dialectic, as if to indicate that anachronism is an inherent gesture. Every dialectical critic is, to some extent, anachronistic.

That said, when I say that Antonio Candido, in dialectic of malandragem, works with a notion of malandro different from that which existed in Rio de Janeiro in the mid-nineteenth century, should not cause surprise. It would be astonishing if someone said that Candido manages and wants to read literature and society in exactly the same way as Manoel Antônio de Almeida when writing that peculiar rascal of the Memorias de um sargento de milicias. At the same time, just marking the differences does little good. It is necessary to qualify these differences and investigate the similarities that led the twentieth century critic to tune his ears to a novel and a character not necessarily in the focus of criticism in the seventies – although the trickster, in general, was indeed in the spotlight. , as we will see.

The beginning of the path is to underline that the term “malandro”, or any of its cognates, appears only once in the entire novel, in a speech by Major Vidigal, a figure of public order and antagonist of the malandro Leonardo in the narrative. Here is the excerpt: “If those boys from Conceição [referring to Vidinha's cousins, Leonardo's affaire], Vidigal said to himself, who went to take me the note from that rascal, had warned me that he was of this ilk, I wouldn't would have gone through this immense shame” (ALMEIDA, 2006, p.278).[I]

If we recover the occurrence of the term in newspapers of the time or in published books, it is evident that Manoel Antônio de Almeida was picking up the word, which was not a term in current use in Rio de Janeiro at that time and that its use probably comes from , from the cultured register, not being found in collections of oral poetry, songs, lundus, etc. of the nine hundred, collected from the end of the century. It is even possible to identify a probable cause of the term's lexicographical boom, the publication of The Libel of the People (1849), one of the most famous liberal pamphlets of the Second Reign (1840-1889), by Francisco de Salles Torres Homem, pseudonym Timandro, against whom dozens of satirical quatrains were written. And, after all, they had to rhyme…

Even with the increased incidence of the term in the newspapers of those years, between 1849 and 1853, the year of publication in a serial of the chapter in which the aforementioned passage is found, it was not enough to “compete” with similar terms, such as “vadio”, “patusco”, “gaiato” or “larápio”, all of which occur much more frequently. In order for us to perceive the lexicometric distances in the novel, there are nine occurrences for “vadio” and its cognates, the same number in the case of “patusco”; “gaiato” appears six times (there is no mention of the term “larápio”). I am making use here of research I did with the main periodicals in Rio de Janeiro of the XNUMXth century, available in a collection called Hemeroteca, and of a collected corpus of about three hundred works from the XNUMXth century.

Stating the obvious, as a first step, the tradition of the term “malandro” in Brazilian Portuguese is much more significant among the publication of Memoirs and the publication of dialectic of malandragem than before the novel's publication. Despite the obviousness, it is, however, a vertiginous obvious for those who pay attention to it. In other words, when the novelist chose this term to designate Leonardo, and it should be noted, this term appears only once in the novel, there was no weight in this use, on the contrary, the use of “malandro” there seems more like an index of the contemporaneity of the text to its moment than anything else. The author does not react to the history of that word but to the record of a term that was emerging and might not necessarily have great prominence in the language from that moment on.

We cannot say the same in relation to the use of “malandragem” in the title of Candido's essay, one hundred and twenty years later. In the literate use of the term in 1970, his entry into literature is embedded, especially with José de Alencar, Machado de Assis, Adolfo Caminha and Raul Pompeia. In this first period of the history of this word in Brazilian Portuguese, of about sixty years (1865-1925), although not as frequent or common in use, the term came to refer to more and more popular figures.

This displacement of the referent in parallel with the abolitionist and labor advance deserves greater care, which will be taken at another time. (The proof that the use of the term is residual is that the two narratives that Candido cites as points of arrival of the malandra genealogy, Macunaima (1928) and Seraphim Ponte Grande (1933), also bring the word each only once.)

In a second period, coinciding with the critic's youth, there is a dispute between the types of malandragem in the early years of the 1930s, and then, with an unarmed malandro, he will become a kind of symbol of Brazil, with all the weight of the term , from summarizing disagreements to unifying a representation. As Jeanne-Marie Gagnebin says reading Benjamin (1993, p.41), “in the symbolic relationship, the link between the image and its meaning (...) is natural, transparent and immediate, the symbol articulating, therefore, a harmonious unit of meaning . On the contrary, in the allegorical relationship (...) the link is arbitrary, the result of a laborious intellectual construction.” Here too, the debate is extensive and cannot be held at this time, about how authoritarian and democratic forces took advantage of the mobilization of this figure for the construction of modern Brazil, functioning for some as the necessary inclusion of the people for the ideology of a future nation, and for others, as a form of resistance, through cunning, to exploitation.

There is still, with forgiveness for abusing your patience, a third moment, close to the present writing of the essay, in which trickery, in the light of militancy, was not understood as a plausible way out, as, for example, in They don't wear black tie (1958), by Gianfrancesco Guarnieri, or, in the light of some artists, it was seen as a dead end for developmental Brazil, as we can see in Joaquim Pedro de Andrade's version of Macunaima (1969) or in the play by Chico Buarque, in dialogue with Brecht, The Trickster's Opera (1978). It is, therefore, from this accumulation that Candido launches his spirit until the middle of the XNUMXth century in order to check the dialectic of malandragem that would exist not only in the hero's path, but also in every book, as a ruling principle of the cut social matter and of the construction of the narrator.

You may question me, with every reason, or almost every reason, that Candido is not looking for a word, but for a certain roguish behavior identified in the 1852 novel (the year it first appeared, in a serial). That is, perhaps what I am posing as a problem could be corrected if the text were called, with much less elegance, “Dialectics of vagrancy” or “Dialectics of peraltice” – which, strictly speaking, would not be possible, because the The first term has, in the twentieth century, a strongly pejorative character (in its use in the feminine, it even means a woman of ill repute, which was incorporated and transformed by women in movements such as “The March of the Sluts” in the twenty-first century) and the second term has an archaic accent, and of considerably less weight in Brazilian culture.

The point, and I finally get to it, is that there are certain very eloquent ambivalences in Candido's essay. If we think of the critical form, as well as the literary form, as a decanted social process, the ambivalences of the São Paulo critic's extraordinary text, “the first properly dialectical literary study” in Brazil (SCHWARZ, 1987, p.129), are also ambivalences of the intelligence Brazilian left at that time and help to understand the contradictions we were experiencing fifty years ago.

Immediately it is good to say that Candido's rescue of the figure of the malandro was against the diagnosis of exhaustion of the strength of the figure before the forces of order. Instead of the trickster who dives into the well at Uiara and doesn't come back, to the sound of Villa-Lobos, in Macunaima, and the corpse of the immobile but moving rascal, with Galileo's proof, in Chico's opera, we have the observation of a whole series of cunning, arrangements, escapes and such against Major Vidigal and, more than that, the representation of the disarrangement of order, of uniforms and clogs. If we think of the essay also as a gesture of intervention, there is Candido's bet on the uprising of the malandros in the face of the siege of order – including with implications for the approaches given by Candido in reading the novel.

In a longer work, I explore other ambivalences, namely, those related to the Brazilian or Lusitanian character of the characters and the supposed erasure of slavery in the novel, reading made by Mário de Andrade endorsed by Candido, but I would like to point out one of them and suggest some implications of this point of tension in his reading. This is the social class to which Leonardinho, the protagonist of the novel, belongs.

Although later readings by Schwarz (1987) and Otsuka (2017) have mistakenly modulated Candido's reading, identifying the character as a "free and poor man", Candido is accurate in pointing out that the book is mostly aimed at "free people and modest, which today we would call the petty bourgeoisie” (2004, p. 27). I even believe that Candido somewhat underestimates the class and strength of the young man, who is the son of a bailiff and the “foster son” of a barber, the latter with saved savings diverted from the slave trade (heir to both). He is also protected by the Godmother and the Lieutenant-Colonel, who sometimes pull strings for the young man's success. Forcing the note up a little, it would be possible to say that, although camouflaged by the adventures, which act as a smokescreen for her real class position, it is exactly this wealth that allows Dona Maria to marry her daughter to Leonardo at the end of the novel. . In other words, the marriage, which might seem unreasonable due to the difference in class between the bride and groom, is, in fact, materially very reasonable.

The “comic and popular atmosphere of his time”, the author's adherence to the popular tone with intelligence and affection, perhaps led Candido to characterize Leonardinho “less as an 'anti-hero' than a creation that perhaps has traits of popular heroes, like Pedro Malasartes”. In the fourth part of the essay, the critic reinforces this movement and expands it: “The popular nature of Memorias de um sargento de milicias it is one of the factors of its general reach, and therefore of the efficiency and durability with which it works on the imagination of readers.”

Perhaps the book does not express “a dominant class vision”, but that does not mean that Leonardinho belongs to the dominated. The comparison with Pedro Malasartes, in the version, for example, gathered by Câmara Cascudo, seems sideways to the argument, but it is not. It is one thing to say that the tone of the novel is similar to the “popular” comic narratives and plays of the Regency period (Candido knew this production like no one else). It is another thing to say that Leonardinho is a popular hero, given the conditions presented by the character in the novel and the weight of the term “popular” in the 1960s and 1970s in Brazil. The issue becomes more burning because there are truly popular characters in the novel, such as Chico Juca, Vidinha and Teotônio, “who spoke the language of blacks”. To wake up the flea behind the ears, all those brown, mulatto or black people.

If I couldn't make myself clear, this is the node. One: in 1850, the name malandro did not refer to popular figures. Two: Leonardinho is not a popular figure, but a young petty bourgeois awaiting his inheritance. Three: when the author, Manoel Antônio de Almeida, calls him a malandro, the name is appropriate when writing the text. Four: there is an extensive and complicated history of the term “malandro” between 1850 and 1970. Five: when Candido calls Leonardinho a malandro, he seems to have in mind the popular malandros of the first half of the XNUMXth century. Six: with that, your roguish hero, who can still resist, who is not dead, who fights the major (but becomes a sergeant at the end of the journey), is taken as popular, but he is not exactly popular. Seven: Candido's critical-interventionist gesture when writing dialectic of malandragem perhaps he is imbued with the ambivalence of what a popular hero is in the 1960s, a central issue for the militancy debate in that period.

In this brief text I could not go into details, but I hope it has been clear that I depend entirely on Candido's dialectic to do my reading, against the grain. That's what I was taught by Candido, Benjamin, Adorno, Schwarz and others and others, that the dialectical critical gesture is generous because it also accumulates (and above all?) through its limits. Their conclusions taught me less than their procedures, to be tested, even “against” their own tests, which I tried to do here.

* Guto Leite Professor of Brazilian Literature at the Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul (UFRGS).



Antonio Candido. “Dialectics of malandragem”. In: The speech and the city. Rio de Janeiro, Gold over Blue, 2004.



GAGNEBIN, Jeanne Marie. Walter Benjamin: the pieces of history. São Paulo: Editora Brasiliense, 1993.

OTSKUKA, Edu. “Rixious Spirit”, in IEB Magazine, nº44, 2007, p.105-124.

SCHWARZ, Robert. “Assumptions, if I'm not mistaken, of the 'Dialectic of malandragem'”, in _________. What time is it?: essays🇧🇷 São Paulo: Companhia das Letras, 1987.



[I] In the feuilleton version of March 27, 1853, the “boys from Conceição” are the “boys from the Train”. The remainder of the passage is as in the novel.

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