a delicate crime



Comments on the book by Sérgio Sant'Anna

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One of the basics of a delicate crime, by Sérgio Sant'Anna, resides in the effort of the first-person narrator, Antonio Martins, to control and guide the interpretation of the story, to deny the sexual violence he may have committed against the heroine and to ensure that the sex was consensual. Martins downplays the strong evidence raised by the prosecution when he points out that between the “true reality” and the subject mediates the chaotic simultaneity of sensations, thoughts and emotions. To install the indeterminacy of his experience, the protagonist claims that passions, desires, fantasies and interests radically put into perspective the truth inscribed in the recovery and representation of memory. With these presuppositions, he carries out, in the manner of Dom Casmurro,[I] a kind of self-defense and produces his own version of what happened.

In the disposition of the story by the plot, only almost towards the end, in the second of the three parts of the novel, the resolution of the conflict is precipitated and the facts that culminated in the prosecution process against him are reported, with the representation of this process occupying the short and quick final section. The love story itself boils down to two more intimate contacts between him and Inês, the heroine who has a hypermetaphorical disability in one of her legs and, on the occasion, poses as a model for the Italian painter, Vitório Brancatti. Held in the girl's apartment, the hero's first visit to her occurs at the beginning of the book, and the second in the middle of the also short and middle section.

In a stratagem that bears analogies with the plot of that novel by Machado de Assis[ii], the first part takes up most of the book's space. In it, the narrator introduces the central characters, sets up the love conflict, reports his other sexual affairs parallel to this one, while discussing the material conditions and ethical and aesthetic values ​​in which the art of his time is produced. In this initial and largest section, the speech in defense of himself and the hero's accusation against the other characters involved in the police case come to fruition even before the reader can assure himself of the circumstances surrounding the report of rape.

In an effort to attest to his sincerity and gain the reader's complicity, the hero frankly assumes his passions, weaknesses and vices, such as, for example, a certain tendency towards alcoholism and the amnesia that he claims to suffer after some drunkenness, as on the day of his first visit to Inês. . This meeting emerges in fits and starts, initially through the memory of the sensations experienced during his presence in her house, later fixed through a fragile logical coherence, as fragments of memory.

The stylization, already on the first page, of the arch-traditional love conflict, the verisimilitude of drunkenness and the conviction that life results from a confusion between fiction and reality contaminate the account of the second visit, when the act that looks like rape is effectively represented. At that moment, the reader may have already let himself be convinced by the story of supposed love at first sight, by the seduction and ethical relativization of the narrator to the point that, without knowing the subsequent evidence and in view of the rarefied account of the first visit, he let himself be led, during the reading of the second episode, by the meanings with which the narrator previously motivated his actions at that moment.

This drunken verisimilitude, crowned with lapses, blunders, projections and denials, rarefies the meaning not only of this episode, but of a good part of the love story. To trace his memory, the narrator comments on his past thoughts and diffuse images about Inês's actions and gestures and about the decoration of her home. In addition, her love story follows a broken line, at the whim of the various digressions about the way of narrating and about the Rio de Janeiro art scene at the end of the XNUMXth century, generally caught up in some skirmish with Inês. The alibi of overwhelming love passion, drunkenness and the ambiguous and contradictory presentation of facts also favors Martins weakening the weight of his responsibility for his own actions.

In a stratagem aimed at weakening and relativizing the factors involved in the accusation of rape, at various times the language of the amorous discourse takes on the style of an interior experience in suffering, markedly neurotic, which gnaws, gnaws and chews over the most insignificant details, the various and contradictory interpretations of the same action or reaction by Inês. In one of these passages, the narrator comments on an invitation letter she sent him for the vernissage The Divergent. In the hero's reading of the letter, the excessive weight given to an exclamation point, parentheses, spaces between the lines, implied meanings and the scent impregnated in the paper, etc. mimics a neurotic hallucination. In this heartache that relativizes everything, the representation of the central episode resorts to the minimization of gestures that, depending on the reader, seem insignificant, a technique thus recognized, in another passage of the novel, in the definition of writing as “enhancement of certain sensations and perceptions , causing others to dim”[iii].

Faced with these narrative conditions, the decision about the guilt or innocence of the narrator-character depends on the greater or lesser weight given to his sexual attraction to women who have a physical disability; the disregard or legitimacy intended to prove the accusation that Inês suffered from constant epileptic attacks and fainting spells; or the narrator's counter-allegation that, at the exact moment of the sexual act, there was no way to prove if she fainted or if, Brancatti's accomplice, she performed a staging to create the conditions for the sexual act and, thus, to win his benevolence in an article he authored on Brancatti's painting; the greater or lesser complicity of the reader with Martins' allegation that her love for the heroine would be selfless enough to save her from the antagonist and painter, the girl's probable tormentor; with the blind and one-sided portrait that the hero draws of the heroine, supposedly fragile, passive and elusive. There is, finally, throughout the novel, an accumulation of reasons that point to the impossibility of affirming or denying the occurrence of the crime.

The loosening of the meaning of the central episode indicates that each of these possibilities will depend on the instance of the reader who only has the total assertion of innocence by the narrator. A quick counterpoint to his point of view appears only at the end, in short comments by the narrator on the prosecution's speech and newspaper articles on the case. Throughout the story, the reader will have to decide "whether he is dealing with a clever manipulator of opinions, a madman with conspiratorial manias or a naive"[iv].

As is characteristic of fictional prose that chooses permanent contradiction and the potentiation of ambiguity as its style, the suspension of conflict resolution allows the real author, among other things, to analyze the nature of the narrator-author's consciousness, his mode and style. narrating, interpreting history and assessing the contemporary Brazilian art scene.

Antônio Martins expresses pride when he introduces himself, once to the reader and once to the heroine, as a theater critic professional journey, with that italics and that pompous emphasis of his own. Assessing himself as a 50-year-old anachronistic intellectual, the high value he attaches to the exercise of his critical judgment translates, in his newspaper chronicles, into hostility and the imposition of superiority over the artists whose works he describes. With this overvaluation of his professional activity, Martins inverts weights and measures by formulating the comical assumption that Inês and Brancatti, by electing the theater critic as a plastic art critic, would not know how to allocate value to specialization, that is to say, to the division of labor intellectual property and the compartmentalization of knowledge in watertight areas.

Martins uses his professional activity as a strategy to conquer love and the power relationships he has with women. Among them, he seeks to occupy a position of dominance, feeding a preference for the submissive, but impotence in the face of those who assume a high sense of equality. The sincerity of his repeated declarations of love for the heroine can be better evaluated if the reader remembers that, during this supposedly overwhelming passion, he has three other affairs contemporary with his history with Inês. After the sexual act with her, the narrator experiences the satiation of his will to power, registered with this capital letter: “What a great sensation of Power, when I frame here not only the body of a woman within a twilight scenario, but the emotion itself. to have that body in your arms”[v].

Martins is also not afraid to blame them for some sentimental or sexual mistake. As he says he does not remember if it was he who, on the first visit, undressed Inês, supposedly asleep (or passed out?), nor if he took possession of her naked body in those conditions, he suggests another infamous possibility when he says that, if there was nudity, she could have the result of an oversight on the part of the girl to undress properly behind the screen in her bedroom-living room.

But in the account of another sexual scene with a second partner, the uninhibited Maria Luísa takes the initiative to seduce him. As he does not find an erection, the hero tries to justify himself by means of a formula that, depending on the reader, can be evaluated as an affirmation of a “natural” particularity: “a woman always has to do with a man's failure”.

Put in the mouth of a friend who welcomes him after the unsuccessful night of love, the vile adage allows him, once again, to disclaim responsibility for his own preconceptions. In the most decisive argumentative strategy to persuade the judge and jury of his innocence, he alleges that it matters little whether Inês was unconscious at the time of the sexual act. It would matter from this point of view that Brancatti's supposed oppression would have caused “internal convulsions” in Inês, who, therefore, was not making full use of her mental faculties at the time.

Unconsciously or semiconsciously, when she opened the apartment doors for him, she would have already manifested “from the depths of her conscience” her desire to give herself to him. After all, “wouldn’t true love be the meeting of two unconscious minds?”[vi]. The formulation of this argument brings together a mix of sexist, pseudo-romantic and pseudo-psychoanalytic catchphrases, in a prediction of a reader who, sharing his perspective, could take the bait and agree with this sadism.

Martins insinuates that the professional and journalistic exercise of the theater critic, although he does not produce works, “is tightening the siege around those who do, squeezing them, so that they always demand more and more of themselves, in pursuit of that imaginary work, mythical, impossible, of which the critic would be co-author”[vii]. His cult of rationalism presents itself, Rameau-like, as a cynical reason that mistakes his “critical enlightenment” for a work of art. These convictions motivate his decision that he can also launch himself in the artistic field and compose a delicate crime, a mixture of art criticism, sentimental and detective novel and, in the end, satirical.

Even if he is not that stupid, since he epidermically dominates the aesthetic principles of several artistic movements and singular works, Martins behaves like a successful Floc, the foolish literary critic of The Globe, Memories of Isaías Caminha, by Lima Barreto, who considers himself wise. Sérgio Sant'Anna presents a famous fictional author who makes this character trait one of the central axes of his playful and serious narration style.

By composing the hero with this profile and the narrative with this order of procedures, the real author updates, in a very inventive way, the tradition of ironic narrators who, in Cervantes, Swift, Laurence Stern, Stendhal, Flaubert, Machado de Assis, among others so many, establish a critical clash between the author and his creature, the latter with himself and with his own way of narrating.

An operation of reversal of the false naivety and sincerity of the narrator of a delicate crime reverberates reflection, mostly scenic, plastic and visual, on the narrator's own critical and artistic activity, linked to his ethical and aesthetic values ​​and his love practice. His experiences particularize and illustrate Sérgio Sant'Anna's diagnosis of a certain trend in contemporary art.

To build his plot, he uses ekphrasis techniques in passages that fictionalize comments on works of art, with a large role in the central story. The narrator's digressions on the subject describe with greater attention three works from the exhibition Os Divergentes: two by the painter Nílton, a friend of Inês, and another by Brancatti, The model, a painting starring her. In addition to these works, Martins retrieves from memory newspaper articles, authored by her, about theater plays staged contemporaneously with the experience of her story with the heroine. That done, Sant'Anna sets up a mirror game between literature, painting and theatrical pieces, interconnecting these to that one.

Similarly to The girls, by Velázquez, in which the canvas visible in the background with the portrait of King Felipe IV and his wife illuminates what is given in the frame as a whole[viii], the paraphrases of his theatrical chronicles and the description of the paintings are fundamental devices for the novel to carry out an ironic reckoning with itself and a balance of the real author on aspects of the contemporary art scene. In this game of mirrors, Martins' characteristics and negative criticism of these works of art negatively mirror his own style of narration.

In the story, Vitório Brancatti assumes the function of a kind of ideal self from which the fictional author absorbs artistic principles and certain pictorial procedures, but to whom he transfers his own questions, moral and artistic weaknesses that he does not admit to himself or to the reader. This stratagem leads the hero to act out his own self-criticism, but in a concealed way. Among Brancatti's traits that resonate in Martins, Inês becomes an object of contemplation, inspiration and representation of both.

The relationship they establish with her is mediated by the convention of masculinity as favor and protection. Martins' belief that he must save his Dulcineia corresponds to the painter's gesture of paying for the rent of her house. Between the hero and Inês “the figure of that other intervened, anticipating me in the role of protector”.[ix] The blind prescription of the idea of ​​art and of the feminine with which they apprehend and delimit the heroine's profile, in spite of her, becomes fundamental for the novel to trace a tenuous thread between “reality” and art.

during the exhibition The Divergent, Martins discovers that Inês's apartment, which he previously visited, is fully represented in The model, with the heroine in the foreground. In the narrative and painting, its rooms are not separated by doors and walls, with the exception of the bathroom and kitchen, with the rest delimited by a screen that demarcates bedroom and living room. At that moment, the coincidence between the setting of the house and that of the painting generates the first confusion in the romance between art and life. This game of mirrors creates a superimage of Brancatti's painting duplicated and narrated in the story of Antônio Martins.

The room set with the painting representing the heroine, the screen and, on its side, the divan and the easel, with the blank canvas and a crutch deposited on it, are reality and artifice, objects of the decoration of Inês's house, scenery Brancatti's canvas and a portion of Martins' story. The malicious narrator insinuates that the apartment could also function as a call girl's room, even though he claims that this accusation would have nothing to do with bourgeois and forensic moral standards.

The recognition of the similarity between the painting's setting and the apartment serves Martins as an alibi to maintain that the impressions about what really could have happened on his first visit resulted from a subliminal suggestion of the painting, from the effects of contemplating the painting on his mind . In this confusion between painting and the chronicle of everyday life, The model she might have aroused her sexual fantasies while he was there, but without then being aware of his presence there. On that first visit, Inês might not have taken off her kimono behind the screen, as Martins had previously imagined, if the representation of panties and bra had had the power to fertilize her sexual fantasies.

On his second visit to her, he finds that the furniture in the apartment was rearranged by Brancatti to, interprets the narrator, create the effect of a comfortable tea room and coziness. Martins then experiences the distrust/accusation that the new decoration of the environment would have aimed to make him comfortable so that, with that, he would take the bait of seduction launched by Inês and write an article favorable to the painting. At that moment, he apprehends the apartment as an installation, further accentuating the indistinction between art and life. Analogously, if he was unable to maintain an erection when having sex with Maria Luísa, this would have happened because he had not found, in the girl's sexual performance, the "sin and veils of prohibitions and conventions" to which he had become accustomed when reading the plays of Nelson Rodriguez.

In the temporal course of the narrative, Martins enacts a different kind of d. Quixote who, initially a “victim” of the visual effects of The model, later, in a second reading of the painting already installed in Inês's house, would have become aware of her previous innocence. In this subtle and mutually negative difference between the two types of consciousness that contemplated the painting, the initially naive one, but later “enlightened” and no less alienated, it is observed that the effects of painting on a delicate crime are of another order.

In this sense, Nílton's self-portrait, exhibited during The Divergent, represents cuts on his face from which a red liquid ineptly gushes, coagulated in the stain of the same color in another painting by the same painter, placed next to the first. Since these are not real works, but paintings that appear to be filtered by the narrator's perception, these three works – The model, the installation in the apartment and Nílton’s self-portrait – resonate in the form of a delicate crime. In the relationship between Martins' narrative style and the visual arts, everything happens as if the strokes of these works were imprinted on his conscience and later, during the composition of a delicate crime, gush in the style of his narration.

In the same way that the viewer of the painting must fix his eyes initially on the model, placed in the foreground, so too the reader, already on the first page of a delicate crime, should pay attention to Inês, the object of the narrator's constant concerns throughout the story. In a technique of sentimental novels, in a delicate crime Ines appears, as in The model and also according to the narrator's criticism of this picture, in larger dimensions and disproportionate to the importance it acquires throughout the story. Initially throwing the bait that the novel will deal with a love conflict and, immediately, suspending its resolution, Martins will be able, in the manner of Bento Santiago, to capture the reader's interest and, meanwhile, defend himself beforehand against the final accusations.

In another analysis by Martins on The model, the set in the lateral position of the painting, consisting of a crutch and a blank canvas on an easel, could be read as a sculpture, a ready made thus assembled, says the narrator, for a self-divergent counterpoint with the rest of the painting, with self-parodic intentions and in an abstraction that would allow the painter to protect himself from possible objections against the mimetic and representative trace of the central remainder on the larger canvas. Despite this, continues Martins, since Inês indeed has a limp, the crutch could also be interpreted as a random gesture by the heroine of placing it on the easel and, with that, it loses its power of abstraction to reinforce the naturalistic representation of the rest of the constructions.

In this case, the easel, the crutch and the blank canvas become the result of Duchamp's canning, of a “prepared chance” that decontextualizes the casual game of selection of objects for use by the French artist. Finally, in a last possibility, the “sculpture” in the background could also be read as an ironic gesture by Brancatti, intentionally kitsch in order to criticize the conversion of Duchamp, by contemporary imitators, into a “monument to the commonplace”.[X], that is to say, the degradation of “his unique gesture into a boring public rite”[xi].

The fictional author also swallows and eclectically gathers, as will be seen, different styles and antagonistic artistic assumptions[xii], in a fusion between the art of representation and a pure abstraction that is not at all conceptual, but sensorial and affective, a fusion that Sérgio Sant'Anna makes thanks to , banal and ordinary. By involving his love conflict with reading Brancatti's painting and “installation”, Martins may have transformed them, in an eclectic hyper-realism, into an expression of his personal experience.

Thus, on his second visit to Inês, he is flattered by the suspicion, confirmed by the girl, that Brancatti had acquired the crutch that she did not even use, when he accuses it, as well as the apartment, of being the result of a game of probabilities established in accordance with the whims of the painter. But Martins also, without further evidence, supposes that by playing Chet Barker again on the stereo, as she did on the first visit, she would have intended to relive the first night she fell asleep. For him, during the sexual act, the half-awakened heroine's tremor of the "fainting", considered by him as bad taste theater, but inherent to epileptics like her, could also attest to the state of excitement with his caresses.

In this scene with the greatest allegorical power in the novel, if it is plausible that the rearrangement of Inês's apartment resulted from a production by Brancatti in the form of an installation to seduce Martins, the opposite is also true. The hero may have internally rearranged the decoration of the apartment as an installation, in such a way that the observed changes in it coincide with his fiction of desire. The author-narrator may have apprehended the girl's gestures and the rearrangement of the furniture in the room and imaginarily produced this picture in consonance with her affections and desires that Inês projects. He may finally have created a fiction of this “reality” as the subject of his defense and defense process. a delicate crime, as a chess player strategy of “extreme rationality” following the opposite direction of aesthetic avant-gardes that proposed a conception of art outside the total control of reason.

In this supposed aesthetic delirium, the hero who would have been a “victim” of the effects of art on his unconscious, comically constitutes himself, on the second visit, as the central subject and artist of the work he analyzes. In a possible outbreak of megalomania, the “divergent” Martins interactively transforms himself into the character of his double and figures this mania for grandeur as a revolt of the creature against its creator, as he says.

If nothing can be certified, it is also plausible to say that he delimited his rivalry with Brancatti and his love relationship with Inês in terms of “installation” and this in real fact. If so, he once again let himself be consumed and hooked by this illusion of reality that he inscribes in the installation-painting, converting this “shitty Duchamp”, as he says about The model, in expression of his inner, loving and professional life, in a hyper-realistic mirror of his experiences. In a second operation, he converts his counterfeiting of counterfeiting into a novel that he offers the reader as a testament to his uncritical innocence.

In view of this oblique chiasm, the narrator-character alienates himself in the aesthetic assumptions of the tradition already petrified by his imitators. As observed in the first-person narrators of Machado de Assis, the interposition of a temporal distance between the consciousness that experienced the action and the one who narrates later can provide the estrangement of the former naive self and a reflection on its past alienation. Brás Cubas is a seductive scoundrel who recognizes his complicity with the slave system and his point of view attached to the defense of his passions and interests, transforms his scoundrel into the motive of his action, but introduces, meanwhile, the contradiction in the midst of it.

But very ironically, Sérgio Sant'Anna eliminated the distance between the narrated consciousness and the narrator, preventing her from being critically estranged, while further enhancing the degree of openness and ambiguity of her satirical narrative. In Martins, the temporal gap between the past action and the present of the narration does not imply divergence of the narrator with himself. In the gesture of constituting himself as a Brancatti character and revolting against his supposed creator, he may have committed an aesthetic crime: his aestheticization of life did not vivify his spirit, nor his experience, but only achieved a professional and commercial game of chess between him. and Brancatti.

Martins defines the fight fought in court as an “aesthetic process”, best translated by him in the sign of the “chess game” of a critic “criminal, like crazy, in his extreme rationality”[xiii], attributes that, according to him, also characterize the painter. In this citation of an inverse nature to the game of chess by Duchamp, The model e um crime delicate gain ends other than those from whom they absorb the metaphor. The media publicity produced with the process, the relations between the production and circulation of the work of art with the journalistic market and vice versa later led Brancatti to gain national and international prestige, when Martins effectively became an inseparable character of the painting, with the invitations of events where she was exposed worldwide being printed with her portrait.

The accusation that the production of Brancatti's work aimed to create a media spectacle is finally transferred to the artist-critic's decision to compose a delicate crime. If it is true that the installation-apartment was a means of publicity, this also happens with Martins. At the moment when his rival reaps the prestige gained from the process, the narrator takes advantage of the increase in the market value of his own name to compose his novel. He can thus continue to see himself and the title of his book stamped on the pages of cultural journalism. Although he is already famous as a theater critic and manages to keep his job at another newspaper, he hopes to establish himself as a writer of “creative works”.

a delicate crime, written during the 1990s, dialogues with the evaluations that since then discuss the possibility that part of Brazilian art has surrendered to the cultural industry and ended the process of perpetuation of modernist utopias and experimentation. Martins narrates immediately after the trial that freed him from conviction, but symbolically from within the history of contemporary Brazilian art and discussions about the possibility that the legacy of aesthetic vanguards was being supplanted by so-called “post-modern” artistic trends.

When talking about themselves, ironic narrators, like Martins, can report from the point of view of the afterlife, after some great loss, the end of some great experience and, still according to Bakhtin, from the last questions of the ends of a time to test them and really put them to the test in the most different experiences and adventures[xiv]. Like a kind of buffoon, Martins speaks in such a way that the same observation about his own critical and artistic activity and about the artistic scene of his time can contain a lowering of the bass and an elevation of the bass. In this reinvention of the procedures of the Menippean satire, the relativization of everything also reveals, in a scenic and visual way, a critical point of view of the artistic world that surrounds it.

Martins' observations about his artistic and cultural milieu undermine the legitimacy of his critical reasoning in apprehending events, his artistic techniques, his self-representation and what he narrates and describes, throwing them into shaky ground. Its contradictions can appear in fits and starts, in an arrangement in which different assessments of the same subject are distributed in different spaces of the book, in an interconnection of dispersed segments, such as the declared refusal of naturalism whose procedures the novel absorbs. In this zig-zag structure, it is possible that a serious account of an episode corresponds, pages ahead, to a moral judgment about it. Apparently loose, this judgment is projected, however, on the scene previously read to contradict and shake a previous and firm ethical or aesthetic conviction.

The novel is organized as a simulacrum of an episode in the hero's life, as a passionate and police narrative that leads to a critical and satirical analysis. I say simulacrum not only because the plot prioritizes only a portion of the life story of a fictional hero, but also because this sentimental and police fragment gains less weight throughout the novel.

Digressions on art, love and ethics in the globalized commodity production system constantly suspend the passionate story and push the love and crime story to the margins, unbalancing the quantitative proportion between them. Until almost the end, when the conflict properly speaking is set up, the narrator composes a scenario shaped by the representation of trends in Brazilian art. As he is also a self-ironic narrator, the postmodern Martins takes the opportunity to portray himself, in his contradictions, as an artist alienated by his own decisions and by his historical time.

The hero affirms his intellectual freedom, the neutrality of his critical exercise, although, in a “vaseline” counterpoint, he also values ​​the partiality of his judgment, complacently justified in the formula that he is naturally human. In one passage, he makes a high-sounding wager that critical activity requires a rational effort against the emotions. But when denouncing the sexual appeal of Nelson Rodrigues' adaptation, he confesses that, when watching it, he let himself be stimulated by the physical attractions of the actresses.

It also minimizes the evidence, among others, that, shortly after the first contact with Inês, the writing of her article about the play Autumn leaves he was contaminated by the expectation that she would read it, which could favor the conquest. Appealing to the reader’s complicity, the sarcastic narrator justifies himself as follows: “However, which of us can say that he was never captured by the sentimental thing?”[xv]. His article praising the performance of the heroine of Wedding dress was produced to shut up the actress, frustrated partner and only witness to the shock in her virility. Antônio Martins loses his intellectual freedom by transforming his critical activity into a means for other purposes.

The text dedicated to Albertine, the theatrical adaptation of in search of lost time, allows the author to reaffirm for himself his virile and cognitive power and, with that, recover his shaken self-esteem after the affair with Maria Luísa. But this text also becomes emblematic of its author's style of “critical” language. A good part of his evaluation of the play takes place in two long paragraphs, one of them over a page long, both with few main clauses. Among them, the columnist accumulates conjunctions, subordinates, appositions, parentheses, dashes, in fragments of sentences separated only by these graphic signs or by commas, with few points that order the information as a whole.

If these traits are understandable in authors who seek to disorganize language and challenge rationalism, in the rationalist Martins the juxtaposition of descriptions and judgments, which mutually neutralize each other, lends itself to both praise and censure. This syntactic profusion features different coordinated disparate evaluations, often leaked by buzzwords. But it also forges a certain obscurity that can cause the effect of eruditeness. Even so, the narrator rejoices that his text results in “a mere handwritten draft”, written with “incredible ease, as if he were thinking with his fingers”[xvi].

In those who hold themselves in high esteem and let down their guard of self-criticism, the hero's information about the noble intentions of his novel sounds corny: “[...] more than defending myself against controversial and tortuous accusations, I try to explain myself and understand- me, affectively and critically”. It is also with this same false seriousness that he uses the foundations of the detective genre to define his narrative style. In this awareness that affirms the particular legitimacy of its interests, the belief that, when reporting the judicial process, it sought to pursue this “fugitive and perhaps unattainable ideal, remaining the consolation and hope that, in seeking to achieve it, perhaps we illuminate other faces, subterranean even for ourselves, of reality”[xvii].

The narrator's paraphrases of his newspaper articles discuss the arbitrary swallowing of old artistic practices, recomposing a plurality of random aesthetics that mirror his production and that of his generation. The works under discussion either keep residues of romanticism, in the play Autumn leaves; expressionism, cubism and surrealism, in the exhibition Os Divergentes; of naturalism, in the theatrical staging of Wedding dress. Yes, a delicate crime swallow, in turn, procedures and topics of all these trends.

autumn leaves it re-updates the romantic melodrama from the title that crystallized in the first half of the XNUMXth century as a topic of many poems or poem titles by Byron, Almeida Garret, Bernardo Guimarães, Álvares de Azevedo, among many others, generally in a pathetic way. In his review, Martins accuses this sentimental trait of the play, in addition to emphasizing that the heroine's tragic end did not derive from an intrinsic need of the story, but from the director's desire to assert himself in the theatrical environment and to see "his name on the posters". next to the poetic and autumnal title with which he intended to adorn his anguish”.[xviii] Another passage of Martins' “master's speech” advises the director to open the window to the world, on the set, from which those dry leaves fall, to get out of his egocentrism and reveal the limited feminine in the representation of his heroine. As an antidote, he cynically proposes that she be represented in the domestic routine, in acts that identify her with the housewife [xx].

Placed right at the beginning of the story, this evaluation of the play theorizes the very way in which Martins will then represent his heroine. The accusation that the director's egocentrism plastered the protagonist's profile, the displacement of the girl to the margins of the play refers to the precept of the "eternal feminine", so often stylized as an allegory of some kind of Inês de Castro, some Christian, national ideal , artistic, ethical, etc. Martins incarnates in Inês his own vague ideal of art.

His pseudo-heroism understands, for example, that the “exotic beauty of the tropics” must be freed from its status as raw material for European sub-artists, such as Brancatti, who, in this perspective, prostitute, enslave and vampirize it. Even so, this false pride is betrayed as such when Martins, on visiting Inês for the second time, explains his colonized enchantment with the possibility of performing the English ritual of afternoon tea in the high temperatures of Rio de Janeiro.

The author establishes complementary contrasts between Inês, the model with a limp, and Maria Luísa, the “Olympic goddess” and TV actress on the rise to whom the doors of the theater are always open, endowed with health, beauty and exuberance. Both allegorize, respectively, the beauty possible for that type of narrating consciousness and the other put into circulation by the cultural industry, but which the pastist Martins, as if looking in a mirror, vehemently refutes, hilariously considering it impregnable. If Martins devours the first of them, he becomes the object of the failed swallowing of the second.

At the moment of the sexual act with Inês, the licking of the blood running down her ear, damaged by the earring, the very image of a white heroine, innocent who always faints, vampirized by this type of Dracula, cites the Gothic genre so in vogue in the XNUMXth century . As in the critique of Autumn leaves, Martins builds his Inês as a product of his fantasy, not as she could have been by herself if he had given her a voice or represented her with interior life. Even so, the narrator regrets, in a cynicism, not understanding what she thought, which highlights, once again, Sérgio Sant'Anna's criticism of the patriarchal mentality. So that she can correspond to his infantile, virile heroism in saving her, he models her as a defenseless and fragile beauty, almost cataleptic, asleep in moments of greater love and sexual intensity, a kind of romantic virgin pursued by a supposed tormentor.

When do you attend The Divergent, Martins there acknowledges that the invitation was not addressed to him, but to the theater critic. Feeling used and overcome with jealousy, he does not avoid the formulation of a melodramatic cliché contaminated by the style of Nilton's paintings, but submitted to the ends of a love drama: “[...] my heart was bleeding”. In this great scene of humor, the narrator narrativizes the effect that the clichés of the paintings have on his speech. As if this previous melodramatic syntagm were not enough for his inner state to gain this mushy expression, the narrator emphasizes it by saying that his disillusionment would have culminated in the “cocktail of blood gushing from my wounded heart”[xx].

At one point, Martins alludes to Machado de Assis's ironic description of Estela, in Iaia Garcia, when he is enchanted by the simple elegance of Inês, lacking in adornments. At the same time, it registers distrust, almost an insinuation against it, with the techniques that regulate the discourse of natural simplicity, called “sublime”, assuming that the lack of artifice is “the supreme and exquisite artifice”.

But in the style of the letter he sends to Inês, after the sexual act, he uses frayed metaphors that once again recall a XNUMXth-century Quixote thrown back into the romantic universe: “magical moments we live, to which even twilight seemed to want to contribute” ; “the most significant of my life”; “I want every part of him, from his face, his black eyes, his hair, his teeth, to his toes”; “beatific virginity” etc. etc. This late romanticism defines the proper place of art through vague, essentialist, mythical and slippery categories, as “a passionate search, both internally and externally, for truth, with all the slippery and multifaceted that its concept implies”[xxx].

In another clumsy appropriation of topics and traits from different artistic genres, on the second visit to Inês, Martins realizes that the canvas on the easel in the lateral position of the painting was not white. The model, as he had previously surmised, “but covered with a light coat of light paints, sometimes tending towards silver and gold, sometimes towards gray – not much better than one of those corner landscapers would paint – a celestial space between clouds"[xxiii].

In this new apprehension of the screen previously perceived as white, Martins anticipates the style of the following account, referring to the probable rape. He also insinuates that this style would have been suggested by this new perception of the “easel sculpture” of The model. Indeed, the narration of the sexual act coincides with twilight, painted in a clumsy romantic prosopopoeia, in sinister colors and amid the kitsch poetic emphasis that the narrator lends to the representation of this act. But in his two different ways of apprehending that same canvas on Brancatti's easel, this “corner landscaper” places, according to his technical and semantic conveniences, the new square with crepuscular lines over the previously white one.

One of the agreements that Martins establishes with his reader foresees the rejection of naturalism, on the assumption that pornographic details would be in bad taste. When he deals with the reenactment of Wedding dress, regrets that the adaptation resorted to pornography, but lost the drama, suggestion and erotic atmosphere printed in Nelson Rodrigues. Transmuting this author's eroticism into free pornography, adaptations of his work appeal, says Martins, to commercial sensationalism. He also considers that, in Brancatti's painting, the semi-covered position of Inês creates a game between innocence and “voyeuristic vulgarity”. For this critic who resembles a kind of Machadian Alcibíades, coming from other times, but differently respectful of canons and moral convention, in Brancatti the procedure of exposing female sexuality with veiling would be deprived of artistic value.

By formulating, however, the following justification, the narrator anticipates the reader's likely reply that his account also resorts to pornography, describing in detail Inês' body and in detail the sexual act with Maria Luísa:

Descriptions of intimacy, sexual details – although I allowed them in relation to the battle I fought with Maria Luísa I, and lost – are in unforgivably bad taste and are only justified under certain circumstances, such as, for example, the circumstances that led me to attempt this writing, in which, more than defending myself against controversial and tortuous accusations, I try to explain and understand myself, intellectually, affectively and critically[xxiii].

The nature of the argument lends itself to the humor imprinted on this living contradiction in action. As in the characteristic style of Bento Santiago and Brás Cubas[xxv], the presentation of the argument suffers a zig-zag, with the representation of the phenomenon considered in bad taste going to one side, and the justification for its use following a different one. The caveat that the use of the so-called vulgar procedure would only be acceptable in circumstances in which a writer proposed to write could easily be used to understand many other circumstances of others to paint. Martins' pity in his chest, his individual need to understand himself or any other excuse that intends to monopolize the exception to the rule in his favor is also laughable.

This joco-serious justification for such a claim also collapses in the face of the evidence that, like Brancatti, Martins, with the composition of the work, elevates his sexual fantasies “to the category of art” [xxiv]. As in the analysis he traces of that one, the narrator highlights, in an “ostensive naturalism”, on several occasions his attraction to Inês’s lame leg. Producing denials upon denials, the narrator does not shake the suspicion that he also intended to produce a sensationalist appeal to hook the reader, even if he disguises such objectives behind a “suspicious romanticism”.

In the style of his narration, the petrification of different styles of artistic language, the monumentalization of buzzwords and the degradation of literary tradition can already be detected in the inner limits of many of the narrator's phrases that make romantic, naturalist and modernist formulas kitsch, interspersed with false ones. erudition impositions. In seeking to minimize his sexual failure, Martins, in a kind of banal imitation of naturalist language, reduces the erection to a physiological phenomenon, to an “irrational command from the brain to a bundle of blood vessels and nerves”,[xxv] thus seeming to have scientific and objective mastery of the subject.

The pernostic production of a supposedly erudite intellectual is also manifested in the inappropriate Latin citations. When he goes to bed with another Maria Luísa, Martins emits the infamous reasoning that her companion's literal and intellectual myopia, as well as her love shyness, would be appropriate to unite the girl's body and spirit to hers, in a cynical reference to mens sana in corpore sano. To differentiate the two Marias Luísas, he uses the numerals I and II and conceives them as machine women devoid of humanity, with mechanical sexual functioning.

In the paintings of the painters gathered at the exhibition The Divergent, the critic-narrator observes a tendency for those artists to break with themselves and with “the best contemporary values ​​and trends”. But the rupture that modernism trends imposed on the established lacks expressiveness in the works of this contemporary generation. In Nílton's canvas, despite the cuts on the self-portrait's face, his “absolute absence of expression and facial marks” would faithfully represent the living model, barely hiding a disconcerting primitivism.

Tracing lines and traces of a suspect cubism and surrealism, Martins assesses that some paintings are doubly out of date both in relation to the time of origin of the avant-gardes, as well as to their updating. In others, expressionism is reduced to a mere “channel for the expression of their most intimate torments and deformations, caused by artistic incapacity or not”[xxviii].

In the evaluation of the piece Albertine, Martins points out that the mention of Duchamp, in the scene where Proust uses a urinal, composes a picture of devastating vulgarity. At the emblematic end of the play, covered by a sheet, the author of in search of lost time lying on a coffin, he collapses through a trapdoor, while a tombstone with the inscription “Marcel Proust, 1871+1922” stands out on stage. By making the two time frames coincide, the director would have staged a “rebellion against the arrogance of French culture”, but also a “modernist” or “post-modernist” parochialism, whatever the eclectic Martins. The closing of the play, he says, resembles a farcical carnival block in which women and transvestites dance, a kind of postcard for foreigners.

In the theatrical scene contemporary with the novel, freedom or disrespect for the canons, a certain innovation and experimentation lead either to formalism, or to farce, mockery and chanchada, sometimes gathered in the same theatrical piece[xxviii]. Those ends of the XNUMXth century, in which the boundaries between values ​​were blurred, also favored the emergence of patterns of subart, subtheater and subliterature[xxix].

This diagnosis, which could lead to a practice of resistance, frees and favors the reconversion of artistic assumptions, which involved the founding of the ready-mades, its status as an object of use, and of art as a commodity. The inverse path of art and artist's dethronement can be seen in the narrator's claim that the artist-critic and his production should occupy a high hierarchical place. This cult, which turns rupture and criticism into fetishes, puts into practice, in the contemporary scene, the dissolution of the idea of ​​art free of the notion of beauty and the consideration that such a notion would have provided a general free-for-all.

Without dissolving in indifference the notion of beauty enthroned in museums and in the art market[xxx], taking advantage of the indistinction between good and bad taste, Martins takes advantage of these conditions to claim market value for any creative work that constitutes itself in this way: “[...] a work cannot be at the same time terrible and provocative, vulgar and stimulating, making relative, not to say useless, all value judgments? […] a critical piece cannot become a work of creation as suspicious and arbitrary as The model, by Vitório Brancatti?”[xxxii]. Aesthetic divergence can thus perpetuate itself without further ado, in a vulgarity devoid of negativity.

While inauthentically using different and contradictory artistic styles, Martins criticizes this uncritical dilution, understanding that, as an instrument for realizing some personal interest or authorial affirmation, it crystallizes a practice and an artistic scenario that impoverish vital practice.

From the relationship between Brancatti's installation/painting and the possible rape and from the scene in which the narrator incorporates the traits of Nílton's painting into his language, the diagnosis also emerges that this type of artistic production becomes incapable of generating a vital breath in the reception of “emulators” like Martins. The Divergentes exhibition was hosted by the “Centro de Expressão e Vida”, whose artists represented there are reminiscent of a “clinic for misfits”.

The metaphorical hyperdimensioning of the vulnerability of Inês's leg mentions Amélia, the heroine who has a special foot, of the foot of the gazelle, by José de Alencar, reason for the reverse irrision in the stylization of Eugênia, in Bras Cubas. In his prejudiced construction of the heroine, Alencar intends to praise the fusion between what he considers “low” and the medium, and thus the stylistic mixture. Sérgio Sant'Anna, on the other hand, making use of Machado's derision for other purposes, allegorizes in the crutch the commercial instrumentalization of the critical tradition of art and life.

Antônio Martins comically traces this assessment, with the complicity of someone who allows himself to be co-opted by his time of misery. His critiques of postmodern trends in contemporary art highlight the perpetuation of tradition while degrading it, without expressing any expectations of a new one that has not yet arrived. The assessment of the dilution of the principles, procedures and supports that guided artistic modernity is made, rather, with a convinced complicity with what it condemns.

Rape, if there was one, was not just a civil offense, but a crime that puts into action and practices the death of the artistic assumptions of the aesthetic vanguards of the XNUMXth century and, thus, limps the art of resistance. By denying, criticizing and reproducing tradition for rationally calculated purposes, the blind appropriation of the assumptions of the XNUMXth century vanguards transforms them into eclectic crutches, mere support instruments that thus lose their footing and limp. The death of art with museum and market value is crushed by an “artificial funeral machine”.

*Cilaine Alves Cunha is a professor of Brazilian literature at FFLCH-USP. She is the author, among other books, of The beautiful and the misshapen: Álvares de Azevedo and romantic irony (Edusp)


Sergio Sant'Anna. a delicate crime. São Paulo, Companhia das Letras, 1997.


[I] For an analysis of the dialogue between Sérgio Sant'Anna's novels and those of Machado de Assis, cf. MELLO, Jefferson Agostini. “Arts of conspiracy: figurations of an intellectual in a delicate crime" in Teresa, magazine of the graduate program of Brazilian Literature. Sao Paulo: Ed. 34/ DLCV/FFLCH/USP, n. 10/11, 2010.

[ii] For a plot analysis of Dom Casmurro, cf. GLEDSON, John. Machado de Assis, imposture and realism. São Paulo: Companhia das Letras, 2001, p. 19-46.

[iii] SANT'ANNA, Sergio. a delicate crime. São Paulo: Companhia das Letras, 1997, p. 106.

[iv] DALCASTAGNÈ, Regina. “Narrator Characters of the Contemporary Novel in Brazil: Discourse Uncertainties and Ambiguities”. Latin American Dialogues, no. 003. Aarhus: University of Aarhus, 2001, p. 121.

[v] SANT'ANNA, Sergio. a delicate crime, op. cit., p. 106.

[vi] Ditto, p. 126.

[vii] Ditto, p. 28.

[viii] Cf. FOUCAULT, Michael. The words and things. Trans. Salma Tannus Muchall. São Paulo: Martins Fontes, 1995, p. 23. For a different reading of the function of this Velázquez procedure in a delicate crime, cf. DAYS, Angela. “Narrating or seeming: Sérgio Sant'Anna and Ricardo Piglia” in Brazilian Magazine of Comparative Literature. Rio de Janeiro: Abralic (Brazilian Association of Comparative Literature), v. 8, no. 9, 2006.

[ix] SANT'ANNA, Sergio. a delicate crime, op. cit., p. 34.

[X] Same, p. 90-91.

[xi] Cf. PEACE, Octavio. Marcel Duchamp or the castle of purity. São Paulo, Perspectiva, 2004, p. 59.

[xii] On the reaction of Duchamp and other aesthetic currents of modernism to the techniques of objective representation, cf. ARGAN, Giulio Carlo. Modern art in Europe, from Hogarth to Picasso. Trans. Lorenzzo Mammi. São Paulo: Companhia das Letras p. 462-465.

[xiii] SANT'ANNA, Sergio. a delicate crime, op. cit., p. 121.

[xiv] See BAKHTIN, Mikhail. Problems of Dostoevsky's poetics. Trans. Paul Bezerra. Rio de Janeiro, Ed. Forensic-University, 1981, p. 97-104.

[xv] SANT'ANNA, Sergio. a delicate crime, op. cit., p. 19.

[xvi] Idem.

[xvii] Ditto, p. 126.

[xviii] Ditto, p. 21.

[xx] Same, p. 20-21.

[xx] Same, p. 61-62.

[xxx] Ditto, p. 31.

[xxiii] Ditto, p. 96.

[xxiii] Ditto, p. 102.

[xxv] Cf. HANSEN, Joao Adolfo. “Representation and evaluation in the literature of Machado de Assis”. science today. Sao Paulo, vs. 43, no. 253, 2008.

[xxiv] SANT'ANNA, Sergio. a delicate crime, op. cit., p. 90.

[xxv] Ditto, p. 72.

[xxviii] Ditto, p. 53.

[xxviii] Ditto, p. 78.

[xxix] Ditto, p. 90.

[xxx] Cf. PEACE, Octavio. Marcel Duchamp or the castle of purity, op. cit., p. 23-30.

[xxxii] SANT'ANNA, Sergio. a delicate crime, op. cit., p. 97.

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