The nail and the rhino



Commentary on the recently published book by Regina Dalcastagnè

Several literary essays, the vast majority originating from academic ritual obligations, resemble serpents that wrap themselves around their prey in such a way that they end up getting confused with it. They try to extract the vital liquid from a short story, a novel, a poem, an author, in an almost Promethean attempt to gain their own light. Some succeed, making the object of desire even greater. Others are predators, they only leave remains, leaving the victim's skeleton exposed to the elements of time, but they also do not survive. And most are ticks, little parasites on the hide of an ox that will continue to graze peacefully in the libraries and minds of its readers.

Image and speech

We often speak and think using images, as in the previous paragraph. The relationship between the figure and the word is so ancestral that we can say that they were born almost at the same time. Pictograms, hieroglyphs, ideograms. The linguistic studies of Ferdinand de Saussure (1857/1913) and Charles Peirce (1839/1914) opened up ways of interpreting these meanings and signifiers, establishing relationships between language and other languages.

Although this is a matter widely discussed in academic circles, it is still unclear to the public in other areas of knowledge. Brazilian literary studies are not very prodigal in establishing relationships between texts and images. That is why this set of essays by Regina Dalcastagnè, professor of Brazilian literature at the University of Brasília, calls our attention.

There are nine provocative essays, and an introduction worth one more. Dalcastagnè establishes a series of crossed reflections on literature and visual arts: printmaking, painting, photography. Dürer's famous rhinoceros (1471/1528), which illustrates the cover, is the starting point for analyzes that never abandon the critical reading of reality, scrutinizing the multiple possibilities of “truth”, literary or visual.

The professor edits the journal Estudos de Literatura Brasileira Contemporânea, and coordinates a study group that has already researched almost 700 novels, published from 1990 to 2014. Her studies establish a cross-section of class, gender and race, building a sociology of literature. In a previous book, she statistically demonstrated that the Brazilian fictional universe is dominated by middle-class white men, residents of metropolises. (Contemporary Brazilian Literature: a contested territory, Ed. Horizon).

In this new set of tests, The nail and the rhino, the author reinforces the social vision, and incorporates fruitful analogies with the visual production of our country. Illustrated with images by Vik Muniz, Bispo do Rosário, Iberê Camargo, João Câmara and Rosangela Rennó, in addition to photographs, letters and publications. Regina Dalcastagnè puts the magnifying glass on Salim Miguel and Eglê Malheiros, editors of the heroic magazine Sul, in the 50s; she makes comparisons between Paulo Lins (City of God) and Aluísio Azevedo (the tenement), recalls the pioneering spirit of Good Creole, by Adolfo Caminha; highlights Maria Carolina de Jesus and her entire context, passing through Ana Maria Gonçalves (A Color Defect), Marilene Felinto (Women of Tijucopapo) and Conceição Evaristo (Poncia Vicencioe Alleys of Memory).

“Peripheral” authors, such as Sacolinha, Vário do Andaraí, Sérgio Vaz and Ferréz, color the panel constructed by the author, which is not limited to the buzzword of the poor-black-oppressed, but historically expands its inclusive and questioning perspective of the status quo. It is not by chance that the epigraph of the introduction is by David Kopenawa Yanomami.

The beautiful essay that closes the book takes up the question of the verb versus image, tracing relationships between the work of the Jewish short story writer Samuel Rawett and the engraver Oswaldo Goeldi, the novelist Autran Dourado and the painter Iberê Camargo, the writer Sérgio Sant'Anna and the painter João Câmara. Noisy relationships for some, euphonious for others, which fulfill the function of prodding the reader's curiosity for a better knowledge of the works and authors, in addition to proposing conceptual questions of great relevance.

As the author says, they are “responses that artists of the same generation, working in different expressive forms, offer to the questions of their time, especially those related to the representation of the other”.

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


Regina Dalcastagne. The nail and the rhinoceros: resistance in Brazilian literature. Porto Alegre, Ed. Zouk, 2021, 238 pages.


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