Individual and collectivity in “Lavoura arcaica”

Julio González, Peasant with a Great Pitchfork, c.1920


Considerations on the book by Raduan Nassar

“André: It was Ana, it was Ana, Pedro, it was Ana my hunger, it was Ana my illness, she was my madness, she was my breath, my blade, my breath…” (Raduan Nassar, archaic farming).

“André: 'If I already have my hands tied, I'm not going to tie my feet either. […] A prisoner cannot be expected to willingly serve in the jailer's house. Likewise, from whom we amputate the limbs, it would be absurd to demand a hug of affection. Greater nonsense than that, just the vileness of the cripple, who, lacking hands, resorts to his feet to applaud his tormentor; Perhaps he acts with the proverbial patience of an ox: in addition to the weight of the yoke, he asks that his neck be squeezed between the canzis. The uglier that consents to the beautiful becomes uglier. Poorer is the poor who applauds the rich; smaller is the small that applauds the big; lower the low that applauds the high. And so on. Immature or not, I no longer recognize the values ​​that crush me. I think it's a sad make-believe to live in the shoes of others, and I don't even understand how nobility can be seen in the mockery of the destitute; the noisy victim who approves of his oppressor makes himself a prisoner twice, unless one performs that pantomime thrown by his cynicism” (Raduan Nassar, archaic farming).

archaic farming, by Raduan Nassar, published for the first time in 1975, is considered by specialized literary critics to be a classic work of Brazilian fiction literature of the XNUMXth century.

With a flowing poetic style, Nassar retells the parable of the prodigal son, with a peasant family as its nucleus. André, the protagonist of the plot, carries the family's unspeakable secrets: he loves Ana, his sister, and this love is reciprocated, but unable to live this incestuous passion, doubly painful due to Ana's guilty rejection and the Father's austere codes of conduct, decides to run away from the farm and venture into the disappointments, miseries and loneliness of a life outside family ties.

Pedro, the eldest son, is tasked by the Mother with discovering the whereabouts of the missing son and bringing him back to the bosom of the family, which since his escape has plunged into somber desolation and sadness. Pedro fulfills his mission, and after André's return, the plot unfolds tragically.

In the longest and tense chapter of the work, the Father and André talk about the reasons that led him to leave the family.

The Father first looks at André's face with sadness, noting marks on it that disfigured his adolescent expressions. He then claims to his son that they were fate because he had “abandoned home for a prodigal life” (archaic farming, P. 158). André agrees that he led a dissipating life away from his family, but bluntly replies to his Father that “lavishness also existed in our house” (archaic farming, P. 158).

The Father is astonished by this speech by André, insofar as the farm, although modest in terms of resources and based on the solidary work of all its members, never failed to provide for the basic needs of the children: “Our table is moderate, it is austere, there is no", says the Father, "waste in it, except on feast days" (archaic farming, P. 159). André, in turn, again confuses the notions of the strict and serious Father, saying that this table, so generous with necessary goods, did not contain the “food” that he craved to “appease his hunger”(archaic farming, P. 159).

What kind of “hunger” was that, asks the old father (increasingly convinced of his “son's madness”), who was not satisfied with the harvest of products from the land tilled by the family itself, with the bread kneaded by the diligent hands of the family. Mother and sisters? The Father orders André to be more “clear” in his words, to give order to his thoughts and answer without incomprehensible volleys “why he left the family”.

André argues, on the contrary, that he never “abandoned” the family: “Since my escape, it was quieting down my revolt (...) that I, at every step, distanced myself from the farm, and if I happened to be distracted I asked 'where are we going ?' – it didn’t matter that, raising my eyes, I reached very new landscapes, perhaps less harsh, it didn’t matter that, walking, I led myself to regions that were ever more distant, because I would hear clearly about my desires a rigid judgment, it was a gravel, a rigorous bone, devoid of any doubt: 'we are always going home'.” (archaic farming, P. 35-36)

In fact, adds André, running away from home was a way he found to spare his family from seeing him “surviving at the expense of his own (...) viscera”(archaic farming, P. 160), to avoid exposing his shortcomings that did not “appease his hunger”; as he “wanted the (…) place at the family table” and didn't have it, he set out to find it at other “tables” around the world.

The Father sees in André’s words a symptom of some “illness” (“You are sick, my son…” archaic farming, P. 161), as they did not match reality: there was never a shortage of bread and other goods necessary for family life, and parents and siblings never forbade André to be absent from the table when “bread was shared” (archaic farming, P. 161); on the contrary, continues the Father, it was when he abandoned the family that his presence was most lamented by all of them: how, asks the increasingly shocked Father, does he run away from home to find in other homes, at the table of strangers, the place that Was it his in the bosom of the family?

Indeed, the Father could not understand his son's aspirations, as André did not just yearn for a physical presence at the family table, sharing with his siblings and parents the “bread” as well as other foods to simply survive: André wanted to share with his mother family their feelings and uncertainties, sharing and consuming another “bread”: their individuality and freedom. This is what he declares to the Father: “… I was just thinking about the hopelessly disillusioned, those who scream with burning, thirst and loneliness, those who are not superfluous in their groans; it was only of them that I thought” (archaic farming, P. 165).

André claims, therefore, “the right to life” (p. 166), and considers the family environment governed by norms and laws that are “hostile” to him (p. 166), because they are incapable of satisfying and “appeasing his hunger”. He aspires to freedom and a life that is not limited to a tiring day of work in the fields and other domestic tasks; that is why he replies to the Father: “Nobody lives just by sowing, father” (p. 163). André then explains to his Father: the fact of not having his “place at the family table” led him to act out, “living in the shoes of others” (p. 164). As he deeply rejected this “pantomime” (p. 164), because it suffocated him in an intolerable way, he therefore decided to flee the farm.

This magnificent dialogue not only shows the clash between “tradition and freedom” (as Amoroso Lima notes in a commentary publicizing the novel), between the “solemn” laws of the patriarch and the demands of life and freedom of the son. It reveals, above all, that the historic human struggle for freedom and a dignified life first requires mature material bases for these higher aspirations to come true.

André was a member of a patriarchal family, whose material existence conditions were built on precarious and poorly evolved bases: production was geared towards self-consumption, and as far as one can extract from reading the novel, there was not even surplus product available for exchange with other communities. peasant women: “(…) it is when I see the utensils, and more the family clothing, that I hear diffuse voices lost in that ditch, without being surprised by the transparent water that still flows from the bottom; and I retreat from our fatigues, and I retreat from so much exhausted struggle, and I pull from this sheaf of routines, one by one, the sublime bones of our code of conduct: forbidden excess, zeal a demand, and, condemned as a vice, the constant preaching against waste, always pointed out as a serious offense to work; and I find again the lukewarm message of frowns and brows, and our shame hidden in the flushing of our cheeks, and the acid anguish of a spit coming to the purpose, and a discipline sometimes stripped of flesh, and also a school of artisan boys, defending against acquiring outside what could be done by our own hands, and an even stricter law, stating that it was right there on the farm that our bread had to be kneaded: we never had any other on our table than the homemade bread, and it was it was time to share it that we concluded, three times a day, our austerity ritual, and it was also at the table, more than anywhere else, where we did our apprenticeship in justice with downcast eyes.” (p. 79)

The means of earning a living and reproducing it in minimal and stable conditions were quite limited in André's family, so that the collective had to put itself ahead of individual needs. Individual members were required to sacrifice their personal aspirations in favor of the needs of the collective, and it was precisely the Father, the patriarch of the family (guardian of family traditions and laws), the amalgam who, by his authority, conferred unity to the whole. , disciplined the individual pieces that, once well directed, could thus guarantee the continued reproduction of the family on a razor's edge.

Therefore, the strict norms of conduct, permanent vigilance, austerity in handling the family's goods as well as in field work did not result, as André accused, from a mere brutal imposition of the Father's will, but were born from the very conditions of life family: these were too precarious and modest to allow individuals to express their aspirations and, at the same time, guarantee a minimum family survival.

If the individual prevailed over the collective, there would be a risk that family life would fragment into a chaos of “isolated monads collected within themselves” (Marx, The Jewish Question), a situation in which each of its members would make the other a simple means to achieve their selfish and exclusive goals (Marx, floorplans), with no direct relationship with the family community, and even in opposition to it, whose uncertain results could be catastrophic for their future existence. For this reason, in order to keep the family unit alive, the undisputed authority of the patriarch, his demands for discipline in work and habits, were necessary, at least as long as this pettiness prevailed in the reproduction of the material existence of the family.

This explains the patriarch's sermons before meals, when the following words were always repeated: “(...) humble, man abandons his individuality to be part of a larger unit, which is where he derives his greatness; it is only through the family that each one at home will increase his existence, it is by surrendering to it that each one at home will calm his own problems, it is by preserving their union that each one at home will enjoy the most sublime rewards; our law is not to withdraw but to meet, it is not to separate but to gather, where one is there must be a brother too…” (archaic farming, P. 148).

This is why the harsh dialogue between the Father and André inevitably reveals mutual incomprehension: the Father did not understand the son’s ideas, judging them “extravagant”, mere “nonsense”, reflections of “troubles” and even “murmurs of the devil”. , because André's aspirations, if realized, would alter the entire traditional framework of family existence, relegating the collective to a lower level than the individual, without, however, the material conditions that would propitiate such a dramatic turnaround being ready.

André, on the other hand, also did not understand the reasons for his Father's hardness and rigidity: he considers him his “jailer” and “executioner” (p. 164), and the question was not raised (because, like the Father, he is not prepared to propose it) whether their just and noble claims could be met by such a modest and primary mode of production of life; acknowledging himself, in this case, as impotent before the power and authority of the Father, André then explicitly appeals to the irrational: “... to the defeated from the outset, to the sinful fruit already in the seed, to the ruined without having been raised, there is no alternative : turn your back on the world or feed the expectation of the destruction of everything…” (p. 166). Thus, he passively resigns himself to reality, since he is unable to change it, and mainly feels incapable of adapting to it, so he prefers its total destruction.

This is the meaning of the tragic conclusion of this beautiful novel: during the party where family and friends were celebrating André's return, Ana abruptly appears dressed as an "oriental dancer", decorated with props and objects from a box stolen from André and which this one won from the women he met around the world. At the same time, the Father learns from Pedro about the incest and leaves furiously with a “cutlass” in his hands towards the erotic dancer, striking her mortally: the horror of the tragic scene terrifies the family and the romance ends with screams and supplications of the Mother and children.

The tragic fate of the central characters of archaic farming it does not just stem from the incestuous relationship of the brothers contradicting the pious ancestral norms guarded with irreducible zeal by the patriarch.

The conflict between the aspirations of freedom and a dignified life, represented by André and Ana and their love relationship, collide with the material conditions of family life, inadequate as they are immature to realize them; the solution to this clash and antagonism must, therefore, come to a tragic conclusion. It is not the incest (to the scandal of many) that is the core of the tragedy, but the insoluble conflict, within the conditions of family life, between André's aspirations for “a place at the family table” and the possibilities of realizing them.

This is what also happens at another point in the novel: Ana, after giving herself lovingly to André, plunges into a feeling of regretful guilt and retires to the farm's chapel; André tries to convince her of her love, but Ana remains impassive, kneeling at the altar, praying indifferently to André's pleas; the latter, then, is taken by a violent rage at Ana's rejection, and one could well question André's extreme act and his access to fury and impatience: why did he not wait for Ana's guilty feelings not to be absorbed with time? Who knows, maybe days later she wouldn't give in to his passionate appeals?

If Raduan Nassar had developed the plot according to these questions, it would not have produced good literature, but a corny script for a television soap opera: great fiction literature seeks the extremes in human relationships, where conflicts can be explored to the fullest, and the characters are only vehicles of these tensions and contradictory forces that concretely move men in history.

*Fabio Luiz San Martins holds a PhD in economics from the Federal University of Paraná (UFPR).


archaic farming, by Raduan Nassar. Company of Letters. October 20, 2016 (

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