Cultural theory and criticism; literary theory and criticism; critical theory; social theory; postcolonial and decolonial studies; globalization and transnationalism; theories of modernities; conceptions and discourses of the future; Latin American and Brazilian studies; queer theory; critical race theory; affect theory; temporality and speed; Latin American modernisms; Latin American political economies; Chinese political economy after 1978; protests and politics of dissent; political aesthetics; visual cultures; psychoanalytical theory; Frankfurt School; South-South cultural and political relations; postwar environmentalist discourses; digital humanities.
The “discovery” of America led to a radical shift in how the West imagined time and space. The colonial encounter is at the root of the development of a temporal sensibility about the “future,” and Latin America is, from the first, equated with potential. As Peruvian sociologist Aníbal Quijano states, “this discovery of Latin America … produced a replacement of the past as the site of a forever-lost golden age with the future as a golden age to achieve or to construct.”[1] This futural consciousness is part of the largely bifocal nature of the Western geopolitical imaginary, two modes of relating to the rest of the world that the West has developed—on one side, the Orient, which Edward Said explored in Orientalism (1978); on the other, the New World, to which Quijano alludes in his essay. Against these two visions, the West could construct its own understanding—in the Orient, it could take on the role of the savior of an exhausted civilization; in the New World, it could create something radically new.
In the twentieth century, the rise of fascism and Nazism as well as the looming threat of global annihilation during the Cold War promised a catastrophic global future. In reckoning with these existential threats, several prominent Western thinkers began to understand the project of modernity as not only catastrophic but irreversible. Disenchanted with the future they envisioned as the inevitable consequence of their “civilization,” many prominent Western intellectuals, artists, poets, filmmakers, and writers turned to the non-Western world in general, and Brazil in particular, in search of an alternative.
My current project, “The Dialectic of Comodismo, Acomodado: Brazil in the Mid-Twentieth-Century Western Imaginary,” examines the futural imaginary that the West developed in response to these crises, an imaginary grounded in Brazil and the Brazilian as sites of potential. Focusing on the period between the 1930s and 1960s, this work analyzes the futural strand of the Western geopolitical imagination in Stefan Zweig's eulogy Brazil: Land of the Future (1941), Claude Lévi-Strauss's anthropological memoir Tristes Tropiques (1955), a dialogue between Aldous Huxley and Gilberto Freyre published in Jornal do Brasil (1958), Vilém Flusser's short essay "Resposta a 'O brasileiro não é triste'" [Response to "The Brazilian is not sad"] (circa 1960), Simone de Beauvoir's excerpts on Brazil in Force of Circumstance (1963), Elizabeth Bishop's "Manuelzinho" poem in Questions of Travel (1965), and Albert Camus's short story "The Growing Stone" in Exile and Kingdom (1957) as well as his entries on Brazil in American Journals (1978, published posthumously).
My cultural-rhetorical reading of the discursive formation that these texts constitute shows how, in this period, the West comes to understand Brazilians through the figure of the acomodado. In the Western imaginary, the acomodado is typical of Brazil and its people: poor in a "land of plenty"; racially mixed and full of mutual tolerance; content and complacent amid adversity; wary of productive action, although not lazy. Underlying this characterization is a dialectic between the human and the environment, which are manifested in four main tropological conceptual variations: lethargy, tolerance, melancholia, and resilience. In search of relief from modernity's catastrophes, Westerners looked to the acomodado's way of being and their relationship to their natural environment for a glimpse of a more humane and sustainable global future. Their frustrations with what the acomodado had to offer provide us with a more sustained view of some of the key tensions of modernity's present.
[1]. Aníbal Quijano, Paradoxes of Modernity in Latin America," International Journal of Politics, Culture, and Society 3, no. 2 (1989): 149 (italics in original).
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