Theory and practice of career advancement in mature short stories by Machado de Assis

Wassily Kandinsky, Three Free Circles, 1923.
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By AIRTON PASCHOA*

Excerpt selected by the author of the newly released book.

Arrivism in Machado and Balzac

We hope not to insist perhaps too much in suggesting that Machado may have been inspired by chapters 32 and 33 of the book lost illusions of Balzac[1] to elaborate his famous short story “The Medallion Theory”.[2]

As we have seen, there are strong indications that spring from a simple approximation, the dialogic form, the evocation of social Machiavellianism, the treatment of “my son” with which Vautrin addresses Lucien, and of “mon pere” (“my father/priest”) that directs this one to that, the capital theme of appearance, and the common spirit of theorizing, cynically, honestly, around ambition and the means of realizing it.

However, we are aware of the difficulty in proving cryptic sources, a difficulty that is even more accentuated when the writer is called Machado de Assis, either because of his vast literary culture, implicitly and explicitly mobilized throughout his work, or because of his allusive style, capable of triggering all relationship luck.

It is up to intertextual criticism to decide whether these findings are arbitrary or not, and to develop them to the limit, when relevant. At the same time, however, when chance favors us, and we feel that the approximation can be fruitful, due to accumulated differences, we see no reason to despise it. And this will be our case. Evidently, you may object that it is not a case of Senhora Fonte, but it seems to me that it is a starting point, a suggestion, at the very least. If we are intimately convinced of this hypothesis, it is because examples in Machado's work seem to abound.

Thus, noted Magalhães Júnior,[3] Machado would have been inspired by Balzac, in a chapter of the soap opera “Os comedistas sem o sabers”, to compose his “Capítulo dos Chapéus”.

Alongside these suggestions, sometimes more, sometimes less powerful, it has to be seen case by case, we have no doubt that Machado discussed certain literary issues in vogue, as he did with the romantic theme of the “regenerated prostitute” in “Singular ocurrence”, of the Stories without Date, versed exemplarily by João Roberto Faria,[4] or it dialogued with known but undeclared literary sources, underground, so to speak, as attested by Gilberto Pinheiro Passos,[5] in the case of “Mass of the rooster”, of the Collected Pages.

Another theme, which haunted Paulo Rónai,[6] from Eça to Dostoiévski, passing through other minor writers, it also seems to have caught Machado's attention. According to the scholar, the theme of the dead mandarin was launched by Balzac, more precisely in a passage fromFather Goriot, in a dialogue between Rastignac, on the verge of giving in to Vautrin, and his boarding school friend Bianchon, a standard-bearer of virtue:

"What made you look so serious?" asked the medical student, taking him by the arm and leading him for a walk in front of the palace.

“I've been plagued by bad ideas.

— Of what nature? Ideas heal.

- Like?

"By succumbing to them."

— You're laughing without knowing what it's about. East Rousseau?

— Li.

—Do you remember that passage where he asks the reader what he would do if he could get rich by killing, just by will, an old Chinese mandarin, without leaving Paris?

“I remember.

- And then?

After long research undertaken by scholars, in which variants were raised, but without the picturesque figure of the Chinese mandarin, it was discovered that the phrase, due to Balzac's slip or misdirection, does not belong to Rousseau. The closest variant, in which at least one Chinese person appeared, featured another Christian, the author ofThe Genius of Christianity:

O conscience! are you just a phantom of the imagination or the fear of the punishment of men? I interrogate myself; I wonder; if you could, for a single wish, kill a man in China and inherit his fortune in Europe, being sure nothing would ever be known, would you consent to execute that wish?

Now comes Chateaubriand's answer, or practically the entire plot of one of Machado's darkest short stories, "The Nurse", from the Several Stories:

However much I exaggerate my poverty, however much I mitigate this homicide, supposing that, by my vote, the Chinaman dies instantly and without pain, that he has no heirs, that on his natural death his assets would go to the State; however much I attribute advanced age to him, plus torture, ailments and heartbreaks; however much I tell myself that thus death is a deliverance which it itself begs and which will not wait long – despite these subterfuges, I hear in the depths of my heart a voice that so loudly cries out against the mere thought of such a desire that I cannot doubt for a moment the reality of consciousness.

The “reality of conscience”, however, blew something else to Machado. It dawned on him that, in order to get rich and be at peace with his conscience, he didn't need to kill, and only by will, no stranger, and in such faraway places... Procópio, the improvised “nurse”, kill perfectly well with his own hands a carioca mandarin, like Coronel Felisberto, and, once in possession of the inheritance, go comforting the increasingly weak cries of conscience.[7]

Truth be told that, in a final homage to sincere Christians, Rousseau, Chateaubriand, Balzac, Olympicly amended Machado, at the end of the short story, “to the divine Sermon on the Mount: “Blessed are those who have, because they will be consoled!”

It seems difficult to deny that, in his own discreet way, Machado participated with “The Nurse” (as he had participated, with “Singular Occurrence”, in the romantic quarrel about the “regenerated prostitute”) in the literary debate about the murder of the mandarin, and perhaps as one of the central pivots, if not on the same plane, due to the obvious difference in breadth and literary repercussion, almost alongside the Crime and punishment, keeping the proportions, for the psychological depth.

Returning to our subject, if it is objected that this working hypothesis of ours still fails to convince, that nothing guarantees that Machado departed from here to create his short story, the approximation between the two theories of arrivism always seems valid.

***

The attenuation of theme and tone is the first notable difference between the two theories of careerism – an attenuation so decisive that we can speak of dehumanization, such is the passage from the criminal to the common, from the monstrous to the domestic, from the fantastic to the commonplace, from the shocking to the ridiculous. .

In a word, the passage from “lost illusions” to realized illusions.

In place of Mephistophelian temptations, and the probable smell of sulfur; instead of the crude dialogue between a diabolical priest and an angelic poet; in place of a society revolutionized by capital, finally, and in whose center reigns the vertiginous figure of Vautrin,[8] steal the show now new characters.

On the stage, or rather, in the living room, in the recesses of the home, we encounter a relatively noble society, in whose center reigns a dignified figure of father families, which invites the son, after the intimate celebration of his coming of age, to listen to a one-hour lecture about the most promising career in the country, the medallion career.

It is an absolutely serene speech, without jumps or jumps, as befits the sacrosanct family enclosure. For what, in a brief extract, is Machado's recipe for the “complete medallion” in the land of bachelors?

Moderation, gravity (of the body), repression of ideas (by means of a “debilitating regimen”, based on rhetoric, including parliamentary speech, trundle, dominoes, whist, billiards, pasmatories to avoid loneliness, “ideas workshop”, bookstores so only to attend mundanely), limited vocabulary, set phrases and the like, ostensive and superficial scientificity, constant and petty self-promotion, public life for its own sake, with political or petty speeches or, preferably, abstruse, “metaphysical”, no imagination, no philosophy, irony, no way!

Machado, as we have seen, unlike the “sensationalist” and “dizzying” literature of Balzac,[9] he doesn't tell us about coups, violence, homicides... nothing. He doesn't even talk to us about money.

And this marked absence of money, of the “modern god”, we must not attribute it to that decorum of Faoro's moralist Machado,[10] horrified by the commodification of traditional values, nor to the decorum of the first Machado de Schwarz, for whose anti-realist aesthetic, “echoes of the indoctrination of Revue des Deux Mondes”, could not the vile metal constitute an object worthy of appearing in the high literature of the “literary novel”.[11]

It goes without saying that Machado had entered a fertile phase, either by making use of his theory of the pursuit of all inventions, material and spiritual, of the civilization of Capital, or by satirizing, already disillusioned with conservatism, one of the ideologues of the French magazine, the Mazade of "beautiful chronicles", and its ability to generate that "greatly healthy monotony" of "same opinions".

Medallion-like striving, Machado knew well, is not European striving, it is not satanic striving, it is not the brilliant striving of the great Napoleonic world, but it is possible striving, the striving that can proudly wield our sword.

Of this alternative character of arrivism, of minor arrivismo, of a daring arrivismo, but within reach of our hands, some chronicles that Machado wrote at the time, between 1883 and 1886, in the “Balas de estalo” of the magazine News Gazette.[12] In them, imitation of the times is recommended, in these times of “advertising eroticism”,[13] with small and systematic self-propaganda,[14] as to avoid the quixotic actions of a Guedes.[15]

In an amusing chronicle, Machado comes to justify, from a democratic point of view, medallionism. Mediocrity has its rights...[16]

Evidently, the ascension in the poor slave-owning democracy, in the little de-atanized world, could not but suffer a very particular inflection. Eliminating in theory, as we have insisted, the money factor, determinant in the bourgeois order; eluding the trail of blood that usually leaves every steep climb, in contrast to Balzac, who speaks directly and expressly in millions of francs, who does not spare our vision the balance of dead and wounded, we note that it is as if the character climbed but without leave the place.

And it was precisely by paying attention to such a stopped movement, such a horizontal ascent of our careerist, that we arrived at one of the singularities of our career path, if not the most important one, for subsuming the others.

Unlike the French theory of careerism, in which it is a question of leaping from one class to another, in national careerism it is simply a matter of getting out of anonymity, of going from obscurity to fame.

This key motif of Machado's work, as Faoro himself admits, the fear of obscurity, the “thirst to be nominated”, in short, we try to look at it from a new angle.[17] Instead of making it a kind of example of bourgeois careerism, as Faoro seems to intend, and perhaps the majority of current readings, we could see it, forcing the contrast a little, almost as a kind of example of manorial upstart.

In this sense, the “thirst to be nominated” embodies yet another of the multiple manifestations of volatility, of that desire for “any supremacy” (in which the pronoun “any” disqualifies whatever it replaces) that burns Brás Cubas and whose fickle behavior, now as a bourgeois lord, sometimes as a slave owner, he represents the historical ambiguity of our ruling class in the XNUMXth century.

As is known, without affrontingly denying Machado's tradition, in fact indebted to many of his discoveries, aware therefore of the accumulation necessary for any intellectual feat, Roberto Schwarz undertakes a general re-articulation of our knowledge of the great writer.

For Schwarz, Machado was a modern artist,[18] who thought the Brazilian society of his time, to the point of stylizing it. The writer forged a style that imitated the behavior of the Brazilian elite in the XNUMXth century, oscillating between bourgeois ideals, typical of Europe, and the ideology of favor, which prevailed in our patriarchal and clientelistic universe.

As arbitrary and authoritarian, as quick and fickle as our ruling class, Machado figured his prose. The volubility of the Brazilian elite in the XNUMXth century, its versatility in behaving, according to its class convenience, sometimes illustrated, according to the liberal ideas in vogue, based on the individual's autonomy, sometimes according to the mechanisms of favor, in dealing with dependents, the third class of the slaveholding order, at the mercy of the masters thanks to the non-existence of free labor — this singular feature of our ideological life, Machado converted into a formal principle of his mature novels.

Volubility dominates the scene in such a way that it appears almost as if the only kind of absolute of Machado's general relativity. Volubility in form and volubility in content. The style is volatile, the narrative composition is volatile, the narrator is volatile, the characters are volatile, their actions are volatile, their conscience is volatile…

Literary technique, national characteristic, human condition, social condition, psychic representation, this complex volatility will reevaluate Machado's famous specialties. The iron-clad logic that presides over it, that of “any supremacy” at all costs, of imaginary and immediate satisfaction, imposes its own temporality, with its short and brief cycles, endlessly repeated, endlessly turning in falsehood.

Devoured then by that relentless internal dynamic, which, without a crisis point, only repeats itself, the fickle being suffers the vengeance of time, over whose conventionality he had initially gloated. Internalizing it, it consumes itself, moving inexorably towards disintegration, boredom, melancholy, nothingness.[19]

Machado's famous pessimism suffers from this unabused reinterpretation. Ashamed of the backwardness and disbelieving of the progress that bourgeois civilization promised, Machado felt the drama of our historical impasse. The skeptic even became a nihilist, when considering how functional our barbarism was for the progress of the Brazilian elite.[20]

These somber feelings, but which in the end ensure the relevance and strength of Machado's vision, in contrast to the triumphant optimism of the time, arose from his intellectual journey, in search of the aesthetic formula capable of making him, as he wrote in an essay that is justly famous , “a man of his country and time”, capable of realizing that idea of ​​a more instinctive nationalism.

In search of aesthetics, and already disappointed with the viability of liberalism in the country, Machado wrote his first novels, narrow-minded, provincial, alien to the modern world that was reaching us at full speed, but already determined to delve into national peculiarities.

Analytical but conformist, Machado bet, in the said first phase, on the moral edification of the ruling class. It was necessary to put an end to our authoritarian paternalism, educate our masters, rationalize their relations with dependents, namely, reach the pure and paradoxical ideality of an impersonal exchange of favors, since it was impossible to escape the favor system – such that the gift was rendered to society, not to any slave owner, eliminating at the same time the personalization of power and the consequent humiliation of dependents.

Once the impersonality of the favors and the effectiveness of their flow were ensured, for the first Machado, a healthy pact for the nation would then emerge, in which everyone would win. The most gifted poor would rise with dignity, the elite would enrich themselves with one more elite member, and the country would modernize...[21]

Disillusioned also with this line of national progressivism, which, with luck, led to a kind of enlightened paternalism, upon realizing that the slow, gradual and safe abolition generated, instead of free citizens, more and more “free men in the slaveholding order”,[22] that is, more and more dependent, without property or salary, the writer abandons the project of civilizing our ruling class.

It's the second phase.

Changing the narrative focus, which now becomes the top, Machado writer decides to systematically expose the voluble and libidinous behavior of legitimate representatives of the national elite. In the first person, in the deceptive form of memorialism, of human confessions of a common existential path, the unconfessable gradually takes on the form of a denunciation, an irrefutable accusation.[23]

Paternalism and its licentiousness (Machado now specialized in exploring the warm copulation of power and pleasure) is thus raised, from the material it was in the first novels, to the condition of form, of the structuring principle of his masterpieces.

This means that, more or less independent of the concrete content itself,[24] the voluble literary form, as a stylization of the social form, is always indicating national volatility.[25]

In passing, as can be seen, the critic still sheds light on the controversial transition between Machado's phases. In terms of form, discontinuity; continuity in terms of content. If the narrator is fickle, the same cannot be said of the author. The exact characterization of representative types of layer national leader depends on a constellation of social relations, visible only with a thorough examination of our reality.

Behind the voluble narrator hides an author who is completely opposite, consistent, investigative, interested in arousing the critical attention of the reader, in pointing out our disparity. So much so, that the national debacle, he summarized in the greatest form of the novel, the plot.

As constructed as the classic realist plots, Machado's plot, original in its distension, in its looseness, draws precisely the portrait of the country. With no qualitative shocks, no unfolding contradictions, no synthesis in sight, it is as if the country lived its life in imitation of the idle and elegant life of Brás Cubas, “full of satisfactions, and empty of meaning”.[26]

And if Machado's realism does not shine through the exuberance of elements of national identification, it is because he is interested in revealing forms and relationships. This is how, according to his instinctive nationalism, the famous local color is internalized in his mature novels.[27]

In place of the landscape, of romantic descriptivism, the Brazilian moral landscape… a singularly picturesque landscape! pressed that it was between two criteria, the liberal and the paternalistic, the bourgeois and the patriarchal.

And if such realism did not make use of realistic objectivism, consecrated by Flaubert, for example, it is because it saw more of our reality in the application of anti-realist literary resources.

This is how, on the one hand, the narrator's extravagance, drawn from eighteenth-century sources, alludes to the country's ideological decentralization, where ideas are as out of place as out of place is, for European-style Realism, the whole outfit of rhetoric classical; and, on the other hand, the same extravagance, blurred from the aesthetic sources of the next end-of-century, alluded to the dangerous modernity of imperialist individualism.[28]

In the same sense, his universalism, always brought to the fore by the narrator's philosophical attitude, also includes elements of deception. The universal explanations of the poor local anecdote, whose cast, by the way, systematically and symptomatically lacks the historical explanation – inconceivable for someone who drank so much from romantic sources –[29] Universalist explanations accuse, rather than human truth, the truth of Man in general, a comic and tragic disproportion to our truth.

Therefore, behind the “ostensive form” of volubility, and encoded in the loose, undramatized plot, conducive to imitating our paternal time, another formal principle looms, the “latent form”,[30] unveiling the basic commitment of the writer, realistic and critical at the same time – doubly critical, in fact, of both Brazilian civilization and bourgeois civilization.[31]

Within this comprehensive interpretation of Machado, and which we have barely reviewed in its general outlines, Schwarz did not deal directly with the “Theory of the Medallion”. In passing, he only says that medalhonism provides the key to Machado's political satire, subtlety or metaphysics.[32]

In his most important study by Machado, however, before the publication of the Master on the periphery of capitalism, Schwarz opens up the possibility of interpreting it in the light of his perspective. The critic’s starting point, in this 1980 essay, whose title sums up his vision of the writer, “Complex, modern, national, and negative”, consists precisely in Brás Cubas’ “thirst for a nominee”, stamped almost on the portico of the Posthumous Memoirs, in Chapter II, called “The Plaster”.

In his detailed analysis of the Machado step,[33] in so many respects masterly, in which he closely follows Brás Cubas' meandering reasoning, that “lighthearted ordering of causes” – the critic associates volubility, as one of its multiple manifestations, the narrator's extravagant “passion for noise”.

The futility, the “pure frivolity” of Brás Cubas, who uses as a pretext for his invention, according to his audience, sometimes Christian charity, sometimes economic interest, but who, deep down, intimately, dreams only of personal glory, his “thirst of attention and poster”, the “thirst for a nominee”, in short, this ridicule exploited to exhaustion by Machado, precisely represents, as we have seen, one of the main movements of the “Medalhão Theory”, the movement of distinction.

Let us not forget that if the first movement of our theory of careerism, impelled by the repression of ideas, by the desire to become public, to be equal to the public, guarantees identity, it is only the second movement, the movement of distinction, captained by self-promotion, by the desire to distinguish himself from the environment, even without disidentifying himself from it, which guarantees escaping from obscurity.

In Machado's short story, the “thirst for a nominee”, self-publicity, as it were, catalyzes the entire medallion effort. To this end, the “thirst for a nominee” volubly makes use of all the resources, rhetoric, science, politics, philosophy, “modern processes” all, in short, to definitively consecrate the medallion, to conquer that “whatever supremacy” that defines the fickle being.

And the “name thirst”, as one of the manifestations of volubility, also works as a symbolic compensation, whose importance is visible in a society like ours at the time, in a closed, walled society, cut only by “alleys”, in a society in which “Money isn't everything”, as Faoro himself recognizes, and the work really doesn't pay off.

In such a society, capitalist and slaveholding, in which the bourgeois horizon is in sight, sparklingly open, with its “infinite careers”, but its still precarious, slave-owning base, due to the denial of free work, forcibly holds back the high flights, what could only emerge even a trade, a career of this order, which, apparently supplementary, will reveal itself, little by little – the career.

Therefore, unlike the genuinely bourgeois arrivism, the auri fames that excites Balzac's Napoleonic heroes, national striving forward, embodied in the "thirst for a nominee" of Machado's worldly heroes, will impose another path to social ascent, a path suitable for those who, instead of wide boulevards, wide avenues, do not have ahead but alleys and alleys.

Here, the historical correctness of Machado's theory is revealed. The “thirst for a nominee”, which distinguishes our career path, only makes sense in a society like ours, ambiguous, like the medallion, in a regime of slave-owning capitalism, in a country open to the bourgeois ideology of individualism, of “a career open to talent”, but in fact still closed, as Nabuco X-rayed,[34] still a little outside the “theory of the road” that paved Vautrin for Lucien's ascent.

The only career in Brazil open to talent, or the lack of it, and Machado's equation, for its accuracy, continues to amaze, was in fact that of medalhonism. Complete medallion, like Janjão, incomplete medallion, like Machado, whatever, whoever wanted to ascend had to take the same road.

Medalism therefore constitutes a kind of official career path. In other words, if mediocrity has its rights, the least mediocre, or the most gifted, if they wanted to rise equally, they would have the same obligations, — to imitate the finished masters.

This is how this official path, with its triumphant conformism, imposed yet another formidable difference in the face of Balzac's authentically bourgeois career path. Thus, before challenging society, our upstart must allow himself to be co-opted by it.

If the social career in a typical bourgeois society began with the opposition of the individual, with a very particular social revolt,[35] and it ended in the hard final reconciliation, after the triumph of the individual, for enshrining that same society in its basic values ​​(merit, initiative, individual autonomy, etc.) – in Brazil, thanks to clientelism, the empire of favor, the revolt, the social challenge would be discarded right away.[36]

In this sense, it would be inconceivable in our historical framework the famous final scene ofFather Goriot, with Rastignac, from the top of Père-Lachaise, defying society, after burying his friend, and his youthful illusions.[37] On the contrary, for a successful career in our good society, our Napoleonic graduates should encourage her in her most cherished aspiration, to participate in the modern world, they should therefore systematically cultivate her illusions of superiority.

This insidious tactic of medallionism, of praising rather than challenging the status quo, we can call it, keeping an eye on the realistic illusion techniques that Machado unashamedly deploys in front of us, we could call it “illusion realism”.

A paradoxical expression, but whose functionality condenses the very ambiguity of its figure – modern, for its utilitarianism, its pragmatism, its realism, for its methods, in short, but not so modern in its objectives. Here again, it will be the nominee, the ultimate target of the theory, which explains this medallion methodology, with its use of all “modern processes” (newspaper, science, parliament, etc.) for less advanced purposes, let's say.

Finally, the path of triumphant careerism was given. Machado's disjunctive did not consider a third way. Either medallionism or obscurantism. Either nominated or nothing. For the naive Napoleonic people, alien to the specificities of upstart practice in a “closed country”, and believers in the liberal ideals that invaded our horizon, only one fate awaited them – failure.

*Airton Paschoa is a writer, author, among other books, of see ships(e-galaxy, 2021, 2nd edition, magazine).

Reference


Airton Paschoa. Theory and practice of career advancement in mature short stories by Machado de Assis. São Paulo, e-galaxia, 2021 (digital and printed edition).

Notes


[1] Cap. 32 (“History Course for the Use of the Ambitious by a Disciple of Machiavelli”) and chap. 33 (“Moral Course by a Disciple of RP Escobar”) of the Lost Illusions, from 1835 to 1843 (São Paulo, Globo, 2013).

[2] “Locket Theory — Dialogue”, Single Papers (1882)

[3] Around Machado de Assis, esp. “Machado de Assis, Balzac and the chapter on hats”.

[4] “Unique Theatrical Occurrence”, USP Magazine, no. 10, 1991.

[5] “Machado de Assis, reader of Alexandre Dumas and Victor Hugo”, Magazine of the Institute of Brazilian Studies, no. 34, 1992.

[6] The full history of the theme, which we have only summarized for our most immediate purposes, is set out in rich detail in its Balzac and the Human Comedy.

[7] Magalhães Jr. suggests that Machado arrived at Balzaqui's theme indirectly, reading Machado's short story as a response to Eça's work, “O mandarim”, published a few years earlier and whose title would explain the source (“A common theme in the work of Eça and Machado ”, on. cit.).

[8] “Vautrin initiator and corrupter, indeed, Vautrin discoverer of the world's secrets and theorist of careerism, apparently owes much to the Snow of Rameau and the Gaudet d'Arras of Le Paysan et la Paysanne pervertis. Precise and convincing approximations were made: cynicism, the idea that there are no principles but only occasions, the passion to devote oneself to another and to triumph through an intermediary, all of which Balzac had read in Diderot and Restif. The difference, however, between eighteenth-century Cynics and Vautrin is immense. The overall attitude, the vocabulary itself, may be similar, but the content, the orientation, the meaning, the perspective, are from another universe. Firstly, because Vautrin speaks from within a post-revolutionary universe, after the triumph of the Enlightenment, of reason and equality, after the great effort to rationalize and clarify social relations that the French Revolution had proposed and that had been thought she must be. (...) Vautrin's speech and action in the very heart of the liberal world are another romantic sign of what became the world born of the Revolution. It is absolutely impossible to place the society before 1789 and the society of 1819 on the same plane, from the point of view of the history of mentalities and subjective reactions. same terms as before 1819. No reader, if he takes history into account (that is, if he accepts today to consider the French Revolution, not as the definitive revolution, but, yes, as the greatest political operation of the Bourgeoisie, not as absolute, but as relative), cannot give the same political and social meaning to the words of Neveu (or of Gaudet) and those of Vautrin (or of Gobseck). Indeed, how can pessimistic themes be put on the same level in the context of the end of a world (even if they are announcing what the new world will be) and the same pessimistic themes in the context of a future of renewal, after a great liberating flash? This is the whole difference between the pessimism at the end of the Restoration and that of the first months of the July monarchy. In the second case, pessimism brings with it an accusation, not against any human nature, but rather against the effectiveness, against the validity of what has just been fulfilled and which is thus radically contested, rejected, disenchanted. Balzac historicized a moral theme without precise roots. First of all, exploring it, highlighting it in a historical context that necessarily gives it a new resonance. Afterwards, she did even better: she treated him explicitly in historical and accurate references. Vautrin's references, in fact, his justifications are constantly historical, political, and his history, his politics, are not those of rhetoric (Hannibal, Caesar, the great men about whom Montaigne still reasons), but those brutal, immediate, of the men of a generation: Napoleon, Talleyrand, Villèle, Manuel, La Fayette (…). Vautrin does not discuss or reason in an eternal that only concerns men of culture. He reasons and discusses against the background of a recent and ongoing experience, lived and understood as historical and political. Not just the world, but the world modern, the only thing that millions of men know, it was done like this. (...) Vautrin speaks for everyone and addresses everyone, because he calls into question the very foundations of the new world. // Furthermore, Rameau and Gaudet's Neveu spoke from within a stable and closed world, from within a world with no prospect of opening or change. Vautrin will speak from within an open world, feverish, a world in expansion, which allows everything to everyone. Vautrin is inconceivable apart from the great plebeian pressure following the capitalist revolution that shattered the cadres of noble and parliamentary society. A Corsican lieutenant becomes Emperor. (...) But only the Revolution and its consequences, the economic, social and cultural explosion that it triggered or made possible and which was later consolidated with the return of peace and the end of imperial restrictions, could give full meaning to the theories of careerism and ambition. Rameau and Gaudet's Neveu do not express much other than detail, the accidental and the picturesque. (...) Vautrin expresses a general law, that of every new society. Neveu and Gaudet were just astonishing cynics in a corner of the picture. Vautrin is at the center of Human comedy. (…) This is why Vautrin, far from being just an 'affair', like Neveu or Gaudet, acquires greatness and stature. Vautrin is a moment of historical and social development: by reaching the epic, he is one of the greatest figures of nineteenth-century novelistic creation. Expressing their century, Diderot and Restif could place their cynics and their corrupters in a corner of the picture. Expressing his century, Balzac had to place Vautrin at the center” (Pierre Barbéris, le Père Goriot by Balzac, P. 61-64; author's italics, translation and bold ours).

[9] “(…) Balzac’s sensationalist and generalizing manner, so constructed and forced, connects to an extraordinary condensation effort, and in fact it becomes less uncomfortable as we become convinced of its deep continuity with the countless occasional profiles, of 'periphery', that displace, reflect, invert, modify — in short, work — the central conflict, which in a way or else is everyone's. Be it, for example, the reckless and 'very central' speech of some of its great ladies: it is rebellious, futritious, vulnerable, calculating, fearless, as they will be, when they appear 'by chance', the criminal, the seamstress, the pederast, the banker, the Soldier. The vertiginous pace moves away from the natural, bordering on the ridiculous, but guarantees this distance — its level of abstraction — with a great ballast of knowledge and experience, which goes far beyond individual latitude, and it is not just a literary fact: it is the sum of a social process of reflection, from the perspective, let's say, of a man of spirit. This is the lively and sociable XNUMX-year-old who, according to Sartre, is the father of French realism. Of the historical presuppositions of this form we will speak ahead. For now it is enough for us to say that this reflection was nourished by a real, new process, also vertiginous and not very 'natural', which turned European society from top to bottom, also frequenting Brazilian society, whose marrow, however, did not manage to transform : it is the generalization — with its infinite effects — of the commodity form, of money as the elementary nexus of social life as a whole. It is the gigantic dimension, at the same time global and cellular, of this movement that will sustain the variety, the very theatrical mobility of Balzac's composition — allowing free transit between apparently incommensurable social and experience areas” (Roberto Schwarz, To the Winner the Potatoes, P. 37, our bold).

[10] Raymundo Faoro,Machado de Assis: the Pyramid and the Trapeze. Rio de Janeiro, Globo, 1988, 3rd edition (1st ed. 1974).

[11] “Resuming our thread, let's say that the exclusion of the liberal reference prevented the decentering of ideologies, which we talk about so much, but at the price of cutting connections with the contemporary world. To assess the ambiguities of this journey, consider the anti-realist militancy of Machado de Assis, in whose words Realism 'is the very negation of the principle of art'. They are echoes of the indoctrination of Revue des Deux Monde, for which Realism, Democracy, Plebs, Materialism, Slang, Dirt and Socialism were all part of the same hateful continuum. The norm is anti-modern across the board. The refusal of low matter leads to a search for a higher matter, that is to say, purged of the practical purposes of contemporary life. The nullity of explanations, in this regard, is like a program: '(…) our aim is to see the literary novel cultivated by the Brazilian muses, the novel that combines the study of human passions with the delicate and original tones of poetry '. However, there was a realistic intention on Machado's part in this conservative anti-realism, if we consider it an expression of experience and skepticism — which was not the case in Europe, where it represented an intellectual retreat — in the face of the appropriateness of liberal ideas in Brazil. Destined to blur the antagonisms of the bourgeois regime, anti-realism did not postulate them, and spared us the illusion of being France... Even the exclusion of the base subject, in kind the modern miseries, caused by Capital, was for us the exclusion of frivolous tropisms . While the choice of decorous subjects – paternalism before money – took them closer to popular life than the dialectic of the so-called Capital. These are confusions from which there was no way to escape, genuine marks of the inauthenticity of our cultural process. On this point, the XNUMXth century did not change everything, and the very history of the assimilation of Marxism in Brazil shows many comparable things. Machado now only lacked the disappointment of disillusionment: also becoming disillusioned with paternalist conservatism. — Anyway, despite their intelligence and ingenuity, which we will not forget, they are four cloying and stuffy novels, as required by the myths of marriage, purity, father, tradition, family, to whose authority they respectfully submit. . To talk to Oswald, they run on a non-existent track. And, in fact, one of the signs of the second and great phase in Machado's novel will be the abundant reintegration of liberal and modern themes, of social and scientific doctrines, of political life, of the new material civilization — naturally in its own way” (To the Winner the Potatoes, P. 65-66, emphasis added).

[12] See vol. 3 am Complete Work, New Aguilar editions.

[13] “Capoeira is a man. One of the characteristics of man is to live with his time. Now, our time (ours and that of capoeira) suffers from something that we can call — advertising eroticism. Some may believe that it is an ache, others that it is a recrudescence of energy, because the feeling is natural. (…) I am fair. There are cases where I find the natural thing. In fact, if I, turning fifty today, have dinner with my family and two or three friends, why shouldn't I make this respectable audience share in my happiness? I embark, disembark, give or receive a treat, a pig with two heads is born, any case like that could very well figure in round letters, which gives life to much less interesting things. And then the name of the people, in a round letter, has another grace, that not in a handwritten letter; It comes out prettier, clearer, it gets in the way of the eyes, not to mention that the people who will read it, buy the pages, and people become notorious without spending anything. Let's not be ashamed of living on the street; it's much fresher. (...) (14/3/85, op. quote, “Decantatore 443” (Presenze grafiche).).

[14] “Hearts that suffocate in germ the most beautiful adjectives in the world, let them sprout frankly, let them grow and appear, let them flourish, let them bear fruit! They are the fruits of sincerity. Hey, fearful hearts, shake off fear, cry out that you are great and divine. The first people who hear the confession of one of these upright hearts will say, smiling to one another, "He says he is noble and divine." // The second: — It seems that he is noble and divine. // The third: - Surely he is noble and divine. // The fourth: — There is nothing more noble and divine. // The fifths: — He is the most noble and divine. // The sixths: — He is the only one who is noble and divine. // And you will rest in the sevenths, which will soften for you the absolute lap” (19/3/85, on. cit., P. 445).

[15] “For thirty years, or almost, Guedes has been peeking at a quarter of popularity, a two-month period, even a master, to speak his own language. Lately, he's already contented himself with a week, a day, and even an hour, a single hour of popularity, of talking about rooms and corners.// You can't imagine what this devil has done to be popular. I leave aside 1863, on the occasion of the Christie Question, in which he proposed to go and wrest the arms of the English legation. He only found five reckless ones who accompanied him; and even so, he left the Rua do Ouvidor with them on foot. In Largo da Lapa he found himself with four; in Glória, with three, in Largo do Valdetaro, with two, and in Machado with one, who invited him to return to Rua do Ouvidor.// Later, watching the triumphal carriage of Rio Branco pass by, on the occasion of the law of On the 28th of September, he understood that it was a good spring-loaded vehicle, attractive, and threw himself into the back; but already there he found others, who kicked him out, and my poor Guedes had to return to obscurity.// he tried other things. He tried a hygienic horgeta, a children's lottery, a polka, a street, and a cheap farmhouse. He failed everything. (…) // Now, if he really wants popularity, he gives up complicated plans; limit yourself to announcing, by means of ingenious allusions, that it is Guedes, the famous Guedes, who is enlightened, and vary the terms, passing from enlightened to enlightened, and from enlightened to eminent. (...) The reader does not believe, in the first fifteen days; at the end of twenty he is somewhat perplexed; after thirty, he asks if he really wasn't mistaken; after fifty, he swears he was wrong, that he is Guedes, the real Guedes. Three months later, he kills anyone who tells him otherwise” (19/7/85, on. cit. P. 469-470).

[16] “The living are what my friend Valentine designates by the name of medallions. First of all, there are still a certain number of good, strong and enlightened spirits who do not deserve such a designation. Secondly, if the medallions are numerous, I ask my friend: — Aren't they also children of God? So why is a man mediocre, can he have no ambitions, and must he be condemned to spend his days in obscurity? // Does it seem to me that my friend's idea is of the same family as that of Plato, Renan, and Schopenhauer, a form aristocratic government, composed of superior men, cultured and elevated spirits, and we who were going to dig the earth. No! a thousand times no! Democracy did not waste its blood in the destruction of other aristocracies, to end up in the hands of a fierce oligarchy, more intolerable than all, because nobles by birth did not know how to make epigrams, and we mediocrities and medallions would suffer at the hands of Freitas and Alencares, not to mention the living (16/12/83, on. cit., P. 425-426).

[17] A young historian, within the same theoretical framework, touched on the theme that has interested us, especially in a section of her study called “In the figure of the medallion, the traits of clientelistic politics and social immobility”: “In this social polarity [between the pomp of a few and misery of the majority], the chances of social ascension were minimal — lottery, to use Machado's expression. Modern forms of social mobility did not replace the slave order. Through work, individual competence or direct competition in the market, you got nowhere. Indication, contact, in short, clientelism was still necessary” (Arlenice Almeida, “The dialogue — contributions to the formation of a young person”, The Supremacy of the Tale: Annotated Edition of Separate Papers, emphasis added).

[18]A Master on the Periphery of Capitalism — Machado de Assis, P. 175.

[19]Same, p. 190.

[20]Same, p.120.

[21]To the Winner the Potatoes, P. 75-76.

[22] For the importance of USP sociology and, in particular, the book by Maria Sylvia de Carvalho Franco, Free Men in the Slave Order, in the elaboration of Schwarz's theoretical scheme, see Paulo Eduardo Arantes Feeling of Dialectics in the Brazilian Intellectual Experience — Dialectics and Duality according to Antonio Candido and Roberto Schwarz.

[23]a master… P. 78 and 178.

[24]Same, p. 46.

[25] For a discussion of the concept of “social form” by dialectical criticism, as opposed to artistic form, defended by various formalisms and seen as a “distinctive and private trait” of art, as its exclusive “privilege”, see Roberto Schwarz’s “Originalidade of Antonio Candido's criticism”, New Cebrap Studies, no. 32, March 1992.

[26]a master… P. 64-65.

[27]Idem, P. 183.

[28]Idem, P. 165-6; 173-4.

[29]Idem,P. 194.

[30]Idem, P. 78-79; 162; 195.

[31]Idem, P. 202-3.

[32]Idem, P. 51.

[33] “(…) I died of pneumonia; but if I tell you that it was less pneumonia than a grand and useful idea, the cause of my death, the reader may not believe me, and yet it is true. I will summarily explain the case to you. Judge it for yourself. // Chapter II — The Plaster // In fact, one morning, as I was walking around the farm, an idea stuck in the trapeze that I had in my brain. Once hanging, she started to wave her arms, kick her legs, do the most daring volatim pranks imaginable. I let myself be contemplating her. Suddenly, he took a great leap, stretched out his arms and legs, until he took the shape of an X: decipher me or I'll devour you.// This idea was nothing less than the invention of a sublime medicine, an antihypochondriac poultice , designed to alleviate our melancholy humanity. In the privilege petition I then drew up, I called the government's attention to this truly Christian result. However, I did not deny my friends the pecuniary advantages that must have resulted from the distribution of a product with such far-reaching and profound effects. Now, however, that I'm on the other side of life, I can confess everything: what influenced me mainly was the pleasure of seeing these three words printed in newspapers, storefronts, serials, street corners, and finally on medicine boxes: Plaster Brás vats. Why deny it? I had a passion for the noise, the poster, the rocket of tears. Perhaps the modest argue with me about this effect: I believe, however, that this talent will be recognized by the able ones. So, my idea had two faces, like medals, one facing the public, the other facing me. On the one hand, philanthropy and profit; on the other hand, seat of named. Let's say: — love of glory”.

Let the reader observe the chain of reasons, which never ceases to surprise.// In the petition he addresses to the government, Brás Cubas draws attention to the Christian results of his invention; to friends, he confesses that he hopes to make a profit.// So far, nothing particular: discovering the calculation behind the generous façade is the normal movement of the realist novel. A movement, incidentally, that indicates the link — critical — between this type of novel and the individualist order that capitalism was creating.// It turns out that this is not the final explanation. After her, there is another, stranger, coming from beyond the grave, where there is no reason to disguise. The real reason for the deceased had been in the taste for the poster, in the eagerness to see the name in print. In other words, the calculation of profit was… an excuse.// Thus, the pursuit of economic advantage covers the desire for personal recognition, and not vice versa. The hope of gain is an appearance, and in this respect it is no different from the Christian inspiration in petitioning the government. Both conceal the passion for notoriety, which is the only true reason.// This same conjunction reappears at the end of the paragraph: 'So, my idea had two faces, like medals, one turned towards the public, the other towards me. On the one hand, philanthropy and profit; on the other hand, seat of named. Let's say: — love of glory'. Contrary to what you might expect, philanthropy and profit are not opposites. On the contrary, they are hand in hand, and on the same side of the medal: on the confessable side facing the public. In the other, which is the true and secret one, is the 'name seat'. This is the private and effective reality, as opposed to public appearances, supported by Christian sentiment as much as by economic ambition.// In short, to Brás Cubas, selfish calculation appears as something socially appreciable, which should even be proclaimed, very different of the hidden and somber engine of modern life, to which the realist European novel has accustomed us. This is a first originality. Furthermore, economic calculation is not a reason part, but an alibi for another, more secret, less serious, and truest desire of all—which is another originality. Economy and Christianity are frivolities to show off, while the thirst for attention and posterity, which one would say pure frivolity, is placed as the ultimate instance of reality. // What to think of this unexpected — and so to speak frivolous — ordering of causes?” (What time is it? P. 116-118, emphasis added).

[34]“It means the country is closed in all directions; that many avenues that could offer a livelihood to men of talent, but without mercantile qualities, such as literature, science, the press, the teaching profession, are still nothing more than alleys, and others, in which practical men, of industrial tendencies , could prosper, are due to lack of credit, or the narrowness of trade, or the rudimentary structure of our economic life, so many other walled doors” (Joaquim Nabuco, Abolitionism, “Social and political influences of slavery”, 1st edition 1884).

[35] “This is a basic situation of the XNUMXth century novel: the pretensions of love and social position, propitiated by the bourgeois revolution, collide with inequality, which, although transformed, remains a fact; you have to postpone them, calculate, instrumentalize yourself and others... to finally discover, when wealth and power have arrived, that the hopeful young man of the opening chapters is no longer whole. With a thousand variations, this three-step formula will be capital. Between the ardor of the beginning and the disillusionment of the end, there is always the same interlude, of unrestricted validity of the principles of modern life: the cogwheel of money and 'rational' interest does its work, anonymous and decisive, and stamps the contemporary stamp on the crossing of trials that is the immemorial destiny of heroes. These are the consequences, from the perspective of bourgeois individualism, of the generalized precedence of exchange value over use value — also called alienation — which becomes a touchstone for the interpretation of the times. The literary effect and social presupposition of this plot, of the moment of calculation that is its lever, are in the autonomy — felt as objectification, as cooling — of the economic and political spheres, which seem to function separately from the rest, according to an 'inhuman' rationality, of mechanical type. For the economy, the cause lies in the automatism of the market, to which objects and labor power are subordinated to the same title, and which from the point of view of personal merit is an arbitrary roller coaster. As for politics, in the historical period opened by the modern State, according to Machiavelli's teaching, its rules have nothing to do with moral norms. In both spheres, as well as in the career, which in a certain sense is intermediate, social life is affected in a negative and relentless way, and it is in conflict with it that something is saved. This, and no other, is the landscape in which there is poetry the romantic disengagement, sometimes exhilarating, sometimes sinister, between the individual and the social order. Lonely and free, a design behind their foreheads, romance characters plan their financial, amorous or worldly coups. Some triumph through intelligence and toughness, others through marriage and crime, others still fail, and finally there are the symbolic ones, who make a pact with the devil. In all of them a certain grandeur, let's say satanic, coming from their radical solitude and the firm intention of using their heads to achieve happiness” (Roberto Schwarz, To the Winner the Potatoes, P. 41-42, emphasis added).

[36]“The difference stands out in the way of looking at social ascension: in one case [French realism] it points to its price, even when it is successful, as the careerist transforms himself and others into a step; in the other [the conformist realism of the first Machado] the conditions are studied in which it, in itself desirable, is completed with dignity, for the sake of the careerist himself, but also of the good families, who benefit from his talent, and finally of our Brazilian society, which needs to trim its irregularities and take advantage of the human element at its disposal. In place of the absolute opposition of individual and society, general instrumentalization and the corresponding critical radicalism, there is a community of customs, interests and beliefs, the desire to improve and arrangement. Favor, co-option, subtleties of conformity and obedience, replace, in the heart of the novel, the antagonism proper to the ideology of liberal individualism” (To the Winner the Potatoes, P. 69, emphasis added).

[37] “Left alone, Rastignac made his way to the upper part of the cemetery and from there he saw Paris, crookedly lying along both banks of the Seine, where the lights were beginning to shine. Her eyes fixed almost avidly between the column in the Place Vendôme and the vault of the Invalides, on the spot where that beautiful society lived that he had wanted to penetrate. He gave that whispering hive a look that seemed to suck its honey in advance, and uttered this supreme sentence:

"And now, us!"

And as a first act of defiance against society, Rastignac went to dinner at Mme. from Nucingen.”

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