The anthropophagic soldier

Kristina Anshelm, Duvor, 2004.


Commentary on the recently released book by Tales Ab'Sáber

In the year of the centenary of the Week of Modern Art, and the bicentennial of Independence, debates and festivities swarm everywhere. How to explain that aesthetic and ideological rupture of a century ago? Is it possible to celebrate it in an inglorious gift? How did it come about that, suddenly, alone and finally dazzled by his own image – due to what Antonio Candido called “localist derepression” [I] – the country started to be part of the world? And what happened (once again) halfway to the so-called first world for us to have the impression of getting lost in it now? Would there really be a deviation from the center? Or would the deviation be the very substrate of the country's originality? Anyway, how was the jump of 22 possible?

As you can see, nothing new on the underside of the equator: the last century that passed between revolutionary aesthetic projects and successive political regressions, between cycles of cutting-edge cultural manifestations and coups d'état, in short, between modernist updates and conservative modernizations, it shows how this discontinuous, asymmetrical and contradictory movement is a characteristic of the country in the world, and in fact has a long historical duration.

The new book by essayist and psychoanalyst Tales Ab'Sáber, The anthropophagic soldier, follows the distant vein of Brazilian material that would be “discovered” by the modernists of 1922, and goes back to the beginning of the XNUMXth century, without ever losing sight of our present. The search leads the author to the somewhat forgotten pages of a book from the time of the first reign, the cornerstone of the study, from which emerges with a dazzling modernity “the symbolic continent” of Afro-Brazilian popular culture that would later constitute our identity. national and export product. only that Rio de Janeiro as it is (1824-1826) is the work of a foreigner and not of the local intelligentsia, a profound social symptom, with clear contemporary resonances, which paves the way for another important genealogy in the book, that of the lack of intelligence of the country's elites.

Instead of inventing a falsified reality for himself and for the English to see, as national writers in the beginning of the independent country would have done – without neglecting exceptions that the book also contemplates – Carl Schlichthorst, the anthropophagic soldier of the title, manifested a real interest in everyday life on the streets of Rio de Janeiro, a new world that revealed itself in its peculiar unity, at once barbaric and civilized, or perhaps more civilized than the European civilization he came from, in the socially sensitive sensibility of the German traveler .

The author was struck by the frankness and ease with which the foreigner – a mercenary brought to Brazil to join the imperial army – speaks of the patriarchal slave-owning society, offhandedly seen as a coherent and perhaps acceptable model, as when he describes, for example, the conviviality of the luxurious manor houses and the warehouses where slaves were sold, over which they were actually built: “even when full of blacks, little smell is felt that characterizes the jails and detention houses of Europe”. It was the new civilization imposing the inflections of its historical particularity on the exiled eyes of the German soldier.

In the pages of those memoirs, therefore, the founding shocks of a society based on slave labor, and which until then had remained nameless, appeared. This is because the brutality of the exploitation of black bodies “could not”, by an irresponsible principle, and which still characterizes our elites, be thought of, but only silently maintained, based on the explicit act and the whip. As Tales shows, there is the general picture of that vernacular gap, the atavistic knot called Brazil between archaic and modern, and vice versa, on which the best Brazilian critical tradition – in which the book is clearly inscribed – has always reflected and sought to imagine other possible horizons, and whose synthesis could be the parodic formula with which Roberto Schwarz recently baptized his newest queen in front of our last historic chanchada: “zigzag or zaguezig”.

It is therefore far from the pose brascubiana of the elites that always preferred not to solve the country's enigma, but "to shake it out the window",[ii] and guided by the gaze of the German soldier and other travelers, such as Debret, Charles Expilly or Darwin, the author deciphers the conflicting relationship between culture and slavery in Brazil. Or rather: our original sin – whose “slow, gradual and safe” abolition process (from at least 1831 to 1888!) already tells the story of the next century, the end of the future dictatorship and what would remain of it and of slavery, that is yeah, everything but the two[iii] – seems to function as the apex of the book, between the history of national non-thought and the costly thaw of our “civilization of precariousness”, the culture of improvisation of half-slave subjects, the matrix of samba, carnival, parangolés and the girl from Ipanema.

All of this the author does by mobilizing a large amount of research and essays from various areas, a collective knowledge that digs into the text multiple avenues of investigation into the complicated national equation, and in a prose that also seems to want to "unfreeze" the reader's own thinking. , who is thus obliged, in Machado's acute critical sense of "God forbid you, reader, from a fixed idea, rather a mote, rather a beam in the eye"  (or “the speck in your eye is the best magnifying glass”[iv]), to sometimes go back to the beginning of a paragraph and reread everything again.

On the one hand, the study is immersed in the “denial” discourse or openly favorable to the abject system through which the country entered modernity – constituting, as is known, a separate chapter of history, that of slave capitalism. Enter Alencar, author of letters praising slavery, which is a resentful response to downtown philanthropy and the related liberal ideology of the first degree; the Criminal Code and the Municipal Postures, which established the norms of conduct for enslaved black lives in the mid-nineteenth century; or else the nationalist literature that simply avoided representing Brazilian slavery and its direct effects on collective life, taking refuge in a mythical past to avoid all “tension or social temptation around”. In this movement, the Brazilian authoritarian mentality is marked, or the rhetoric of the privilege of violence, the rejection of the common culture, of the country itself.

On the other hand, the author distances himself (to get closer) to his object through the foreign look that touches, devours and digests the country, in what seems to be the same original gesture of modernist poetics. Thus, from afar, the Utopia Land by the Swiss poet Blaise Cendrars, in 1924, and, from Paris the previous year, the poetry Pau-Brasil by Tarsila and Oswald – as if it were only possible to discover them from the outside, by getting rid of the terrible habits inherited from the former colony, the cheesy and inconsequential aping of the center, and the infinite social contempt for the place.

And before them then, a little after 1822, the German inaugurated the representation of that same symbolic, erotic and social terrain of the country's new and delicious life, as Tales suggests throughout the book, and with particular force from a beautiful scene of an encounter between the European and a charming black woman who epitomizes the country's utopia in everything. Because it is to this sphere that what has not been realized and in fact continues not to be completely realized in the Brazilian social experience. The “guiltless world”, happy and indolent, the tropical, modernist, tropicalist dream – a true compensatory illusion of the legal, then economic and social exclusion of its own subjects. 1822, 1922, 2022.

* Natasha Belfort Palmeira, literary critic, is a professor at the Université Clermont Auvergne.


Tales Ab'Saber. The anthropophagic soldier: slavery and non-thought in Brazil. São Paulo, n-1 Hedra, 2022, 334 pages (


[I] CANDIDO, “Literature and culture from 1900 to 1945”. In: Literature and society. Rio de Janeiro: Gold over Blue, 2006, p. 145 (

[ii] Machado de Assis, The Posthumous Memoirs of Bras Cubas (

[iii] See about one of these recalcitrant leftovers “1964, the year that did not end” and Tales Ab'Saber “Brazil, absence of political significance” in What's left of the dictatorship, Org. Edson Teles and Vladimir Safatle, São Paulo, Boitempo: 2010.

[iv] The Adornian version of Machado's aphorism is in Minima Moralia.

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