A Letter to Machado de Assis

“A Letter to Machado de Assis”

by Luiz Carlos dos Santos

September 29 2008
São Paulo.

To the most illustrious Joaquim Maria Machado de Assis:

Dear Esteemed Sir,

I approach you, in this manner, one hundred years after your death, to take the liberty to inform Your Excellency that your negative prediction of a Brazil without slavery in our time, expressed in one of your chronicles of May 12, or 14, 1888, if memory serves, seems to have been fulfilled in these dark days in which few live by the light of memory. Strange days.

I employ this word liberty as a literary device capable of translating the virtual incommunicability that only Brás Cubas and Your Excellency knew how to materialize in letters, in order to speak of the cowardice of the living in your time and ours, confronted with the silenced body, inert and defenseless, thus threateningly present.

They spoke then and speak still of your person as he whose being wanted not to be. In the words of the time (that flies), they said then, and still say, the light of your fathomless brilliance, obscured by your father and your origins, was the truth that in time would transform itself into a personal, literary clarity capable of painting white the insides and out, despite its paradigmatic existence tailored to your mulatto irony.

Hemetério dos Santos, Luís Murat and Lima Barreto, among others, did not play along, but your friends sought from the very beginning to cleanse your history, although a century later your memory is black more than ever despite eugenicist’s attempts to turn you, too, after death, white.

I do not know if Your Excellency would be pleased or not to see, read, and hear what these, your frienemies, do, write, and say. I can only affirm that, at times, others of similar origin, without ever having read you, silently follow your example and become appointed, for instance, as those almost nothings famed to justify through personal success, as did Your Excellency most capably, our cynical racial democracy. A term coined years after your death by non-black Brazilians, lovers of that social fiction. Moreover, Your Excellency should know if you do not already, that despite the demise of eugenics some of its concepts persist in vitro and, whenever necessary, they give up on keeping things in their proper places. Signs of the times.

By way of conclusion, I write that Your Excellency is known today even as one of the major, if not the greatest of all Brazilian writers; the most read, the most studied, the most reprinted, the most discussed; facts that deep within your soul Your Excellency always knew.

I do not know if it is for your joy or your grief that the color of illustrious Brazilians must be erased, turning them aesthetic and, naturally, white. Some tried, so say the speakers of evil tongues, to blot your grave the true color of your skin, black; yet, mindful friend, you refused to allow this question to mark your final exit – saying, if it suits you, take it up. It could have been, but it wasn’t. It is not. To be black in Brazil is a political position.

The good old days and the antipodes remain as antitheses and metaphors of the life of their equals, like Your Excellency, who were able to and still can today, remain silent. However, in the neighborhoods and favelas of your Rio de Janeiro, an entire city lives out the tragedy announced in your story “Father versus Mother.” Nothing of witchcraft, just pure realism; cold like the ink of your partner-pen; hot like a lead press stamping words and, today more frequently and regularly than ever, penetrating the bodies of the youth who in the majority of cases know of Machado only the eponymous lake, overtaken by pigeons and the abandon, 120 years hence of those, your good old days.

Sincerely yours,
Luiz Carlos dos Santos

Works Cited

  • Translation by Damien-Adia Marassa of “Carta A Machado de Assis” by Luiz Carlos dos Santos, published in Textos De Negros E Sobre Negros.
  • Textos De Negros E Sobre Negros. Ed. Araújo, Emanoel. São Paulo: Impr. Oficial : Museu Afrobrasil : Governo do Estado de São Paulo, 2011. Print.
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