Rogue Satire, Black Humor: Comedy and Criticism
in Brazilian Literature from Quincas Borba to Ponte Preta


K. David Jackson

Yale University


I. Humor and National Reality

During a state visit to Brazil, French president Charles DeGaulle is reputed to have remarked, "Ce n'est pas un pays sérieux". An unavoidable inference of this galling observation is that comedy is endemic to Brazil's national history and character. To judge from the 128 authors included in the second edition of R. Magalhães Junior's Antologia de Humorismo e Sátira (1957; 1969), the use of satire and humor exhibits a wide range of purposes and styles, from the cruelty of pointed satire, whose targets are obvious and at times named--in the tradition of Portuguese cantigas de escárnio e mal-dizer--to the criticism of society as a whole or of select social classes--as in condemnations of Portuguese society during the Enlightenment in António Diniz da Cruz e Silva's O Hissope, Nicolau Tolentino de Almeida's Sátiras or Francisco de Melo Franco's O Reino da Estupidez--to the ridiculousness of oneself and the world, or to the coarse popular humor of the streets, with its satire of social situations and potshots at the regimes of the day. Ethical and moral humor is firmly established in the rhetoric of the seventeenth-century, with its mouths of hell and sermons of paradise. Gregório de Mattos exploited baroque poetic dialogue to condemn abuses in the "confused city" of Bahia: "Descreve o que era realmente naquele tempo a cidade da Bahia de mais enredada por menos confusa" /"não sabem governar sua cozinha, e podem governar o mundo inteiro/ em cada porta um freqüentado olheiro/ Que a vida do vizinho, e da vizinha pesquisa/ muitos mulatos desavergonhados/ Estupendas usuras nos mercados/ Todos que não furtam muito pobres..." ["He describes what the city of Bahia was really like, the more intrigues the less chaotic"/ "they can't govern their own kitchen, and they govern the whole world/in each doorway an oblique glance/ Of their male and female neighbors, many take notes/ many shameless mulattos/ Stupendous usury in the markets/ All who don't steal very poor..."]. The poet satirizes social and racial categories of life in Bahia ["inferno dos Pretos, purgatório dos Mestiços, paraíso dos Mulatos;" ["hell for Blacks, purgatory for Mestizos, paradise for Mulattos"], as well as the population of religious orders: "Frades, Freiras, Putas...;" ["Friars, Nuns, Whores"].

Magalhães's anthology, representing the Academia Brasileira de Letras, portrays the satirical and humorous perspective in Brazilian letters, which the author attributes to the character of the Brazilian people. He emphasizes the connection of humor with national reality: the street anecdotes, anonymous sayings, biting and epigrammatic broadsides. This mode of socially based humor is mainly expressed through satire, derived from moral or ethical considerations, whether intended to conserve inherited traditions or challenge them in favor of change. In his anthology, Magalhães presents examples of "o beliscão, a canelada, o puxão de orelhas" ["the pinch, the kick in the shins, the ear pulling"] and other popular mechanisms of bodily humor in which he notes the use of excessive language and frequently exaggerated attacks.

The originality of Brazilian humor, so affirms Humberto de Campos from another perspective, is to be found in the shock of its capriciousness against established conventions and traditional moral and artistic formulas (Magalhães, 10). Contrasting with Magalhães, Campos locates the source of national humor in the mechanism of a new-world reality characterized by gaps and differences of perspective that occur when received traditions are placed in a Brazilian context. In colonial Bahia, for example, Father Antônio Vieira parodies the confusion of priests who are captive to the conventional Portuguese rhetorical style of the day:

"...os pregadores fazem o sermão em xadrez de palavras. Se de uma parte está branco, de outra há de estar negro; se de uma parte está dia, da outra há de estar noite; se de uma parte dizem luz, da outra hão de dizer sombra; se de uma parte dizem desceu, da outra hão de dizer subiu. Basta que não havemos de ver num sermão duas palavras em paz?... É possível que somos portugueses, e havemos de ouvir um pregador em português, e não havemos de entender o que diz?" (Vieira, Sermões "Sermão da Sexagésima", 105-6).

["...preachers make the sermon into a checkerboard of words. If in one part there is white, in the other there must be black; if on one side day, on the other night; if again they say light, they must say shadow; if something descends, something else must rise. Can't we have a sermon with two words in peace? ... Can we be Portuguese, listening to a preacher in Portuguese, and not understand what he is saying?"]

Vieira's complaints are antecedents of Modernist critiques of the "retórica balofa e roçagante" ["overblown and cacophonous rhetoric"] parodied in the characters of Machado Penumbra and Pôncio Pilatos da Glória in Oswald de Andrade's 1924 novel, Memórias Sentimentais de João Miramar [Sentimental Memoirs of John Seaborne]. Following Campos' theory, humor is inherent in Brazil's "place in between" (its "entre-lugar", in the expression of Silviano Santiago), its imported traditions and syncretic reality; humor can be drawn from Brazil's miscigenated reality, because the latter can be viewed as an incongruent or confused construct. This second mode of Brazilian humor produces anecdotes or fictional representations of popular humor, grounded in the ingenuous and inchoate expression of a different Brazilian identity and often emphasizing the strangeness of its perceptions of reality. The following observations treat the theme of humor in Brazilian literature from the perspectives outlined above in three moments of contrasting examples.


II. "Brasil pelo Método Confuso": O Estado de "Bagunça Transcendente" [Brazil by the Confused Method: The State of Transcendental Confusion]

Many of Brazil's renowned modernist writers--Oswald de Andrade, Murilo Mendes, Mário de Andrade--revisited chronicles of discovery, recasting the primal defining moments of nationality in sharp humor produced by exploiting differences in perspective between the civilization of the conqueror and the encountered indigenous reality. In the "História do Brasil" ["History of Brazil"] poems of Oswald de Andrade's Pau Brasil (1925) [Brazilwood], colonial chronicles are excerpted and reproduced in original orthography so as to accentuate ironic and humorous differences in context and meaning. In the novel Miramar, Oswald exploited the image of "bananas podres" ["rotten bananas"] to satirize the tropical decadence of Brazilian reality. To characterize this phase of national redefinition that juxtaposed colonial to present time, modernist poet Murilo Mendes invented the phrase "bagunça transcendente" ["transcendental confusion"], a poetic take on the theory of Brazil's confused character. The poet's História do Brasil (1932) ["History of Brazil"] satirized and distorted national stereotypes, heroes, and historical episodes. A related perspective exploited for its humor by the modernists was the innocence of Brazil as a New World possessing magical and natural beliefs. Mário de Andrade reversed the perspectives of colonizer-colonized in his celebrated novel drawn from indigenous legends, Macunaíma [Macunaíma] (1928), particularly in the hilarious letter to the Icamiabas, or Amazon women, penned by the hero in the style of an inverted classical epistle addressed to his goddesses. The "herói sem nenhum caráter" ["hero without any character"] reinforces the concepts of Brazil as an indeterminate synthetic construct. The aesthetic of emptiness is reinforced by Macunaíma's celebrated interjection: "Ai! Que preguiça!" ["Oh! What a drag!"].

Lacking a metaphysics, Brazilian society used humor, so Isabel Lustosa affirms, to express its philosophy of irreverence (Lustosa, 72). This vein of modernist humor and satire continued to an apex in recent decades in fiction: the virtuostic novel by Haroldo Maranhão, O Tetraneto del-Rei ["The King's Great-great-grandson"], a linguistic and thematic parody of the founding episodes in Brazilian colonial history by the doubting discoverer, Jerónimo Albuquerque; A Expedição Montaigne ["The Montaigne Expedition"], by Antônio Callado, an ironic narrative of the forced return to the wild of reluctant savages who prefer institutionalization and coca cola; Galvez, Imperador do Acre [Emperor of the Amazon] by Márcio Souza, a comic fantasy on decadence of European institutions when implanted in the exuberance of an Amazonian jungle; and The Incredible Brazilian, by Zulfikar Ghose, a synthesis of major historical episodes in colonial history recounted in the life of a single magical hero, among many other examples of this comic tradition.

The modernist authors previously cited worked in the wake of a lesser-know comic novel by Mendes Fradique, published in 1922 with ties to the aestheticist circles of the belle-époque, in the bohemian style of João do Rio, Emílio de Menezes, and others. História do Brasil pelo Método Confuso ["The History of Brazil by the Confused Method"] parodies and rewrites the conventional histories of its day, establishing bohemian caricature as the backdrop of succeeding modernist satire. The humor of extreme caricature is also found in companion works such as A Divina Increnca ["The Divine Snafoo"], Juó Bananere's (Alexandre Ribeiro Marcondes Machado) satire of the Italo-Paulista culture and language. The novel by Mendes Fradique, pen name of José Madeira de Freitas, formed by inverting a pseudonym of the Portuguese novelist Eça de Queiroz, raises the confused origins of Brazil to an ironic and twisted system, composed of a series of accidents:

Sendo a História uma série contínua e coordenada de deturpações mais ou menos originais do que em verdade se passa no seio dos homens através do tempo e do espaço, sendo estas deturpações, às vezes, tão profundas, que repelem para os domínios da lenda fatos absolutamente reais e fantasticamente adulterados pela imaginação das gerações...tomei a deliberação humaníssima de poupar à posteridade esse trabalho fastidioso de ordenar e mascarar a história, no que se refere a este país de desfalques e conselheiros. (HBMC, prefácio)

[History being more or less a continuous and coordinated series of deformations of what actually happens in men's breasts across time and space, and these deturpations being at times so deep that they cast absolutely real facts into the dominion of legend, fantastically altered by the imagination of generations... I took a most humane decision to spare posterity the fastidious job or ordering and hiding history, in what refers to this country of embezzlers and lawyers.].

True to its title, the HBMC scrambles the very order of a book, from a long list of non-existent "works" by the author, several fake prefaces, to historically confused footnotes of dis-identification and irreverent explanations. The book continues with numerous articles attributed to statesmen and journalists of the day, often printed with spellings following an invented "orthographic reform" placed in a Concretist graphic arrangement. Mendes Fradique's "History" ridicules grade-school texts, carrying their innocence into the fatuous and ridiculous: "A Terra--Sob o ponto de vista geográfico era o Brasil um dos países mais originais do globo... Limites--Ao sul, o Borges de Medeiros; a leste, o cabo submarino; a oeste, o Acre. Não tem norte." ["Earth--From the geographic point of view, Brazil was one of the most original countries on the globe... Borders--On the south, Borges de Medeiros; on the east, the submarine cable; on the west, Acre. It doesn't have a north."]. The book's chronological excursion through Brazilian history is always portrayed from the present moment: Cabral arrives in Guanabara Bay and sights passengers waiting for the ferry to Niterói. The Caramuru owns a pharmacy on the "Largo da Segunda-feira", where he lives with Paraguassu, in reality a Polish woman named Catarina. The fourteenth-century tragic heroine Inês de Castro becomes the concubine of the Emperor of Brasil. An excursion around Rio by streetcar and automobile is the vehicle for parody of numerous political figures, monuments, and historical allusions. The Federal Capital, where the revolutions are peaceful but the parties are ferocious, is characterized by the jogo do bicho ["animal game"], corruption, and esperteza ["deception"], or the art of coming out on top. This comedy of ill manners, exploiting humor for moral condemnation, exhibits many of the stylistic and comic techniques common to modernist and mid-century fiction. Mendes Fradique's fundamentally conservative personal orientation becomes apparent in the increasingly militant participation of the author in the neo-fascist Integralist movement, including an attempt against the life of Vargas.


III.Humanitas and Antropofagia: Two great principles


The formulation of Brazil's "confused" reality as a crazed system has two related masterful comic treatments in modern writing: Humanitas and Antropofagia. Machado de Assis invents the character Quincas Borba, the philosopher who also gives his name to a dog, to be architect of the supreme philosophical system he calls Humanitas. In expounding his system to the incredulous disciple Brás Cubas, Quincas speaks from a state of delirium and eventually knows that he is mad; yet his madness can be explained as a natural part of his comprehensive, archetypal philosophy. Humanitas, to the extent that it induces the reader to accept it as a philosophy, goes beyond satire to produce a more universal sense of the comic. While Quincas' theories satirize Darwinian natural selection and the Positivistic order influential in late nineteenth-century Brazilian social and political thought, they also foreshadow tenets of the literary vanguard, particularly those of primitivism, hunger, and war that associate aggression with transcendence.

Quincas' exposition of his system to his latter-day disciple Brás Cubas allies Panglossian optimism with national regeneration:

É singularmente espantoso este meu sistema; retifica o espírito humano, suprime a dor, assegura a felicidade, e enche de imensa glória o nosso país. Chamo-lhe Humanitismo, de Humanitas, princípio das cousas... e se alguma cousa há que possa fazer-me esquecer as amarguras da vida, é o gosto de haver enfim apanhado a verdade e a felicidade...após tantos séculos de lutas, pesquisas, descobertas, sistemas e quedas, ei-las nas mãos do homem. (Memórias Póstumas de Brás Cubas, XCI)

O amor, por exemplo, é um sacerdócio, a reprodução um ritual... verdadeiramente há só uma desgraça: é não nascer... [o homem] é o próprio Humanitas reduzido... sendo a luta a grande função do gênero humano, todos os sentimentos belicosos, são os mais adequados à sua felicidade. (MPBC, CXVII)

--Ora, adeus! concluiu; nem todos os problemas valem cinco minutos de atenção. (MPBC, CXLIX)

[This system of mine is singularly astonishing. It rectifies the human spirit, suppresses pain, assures happiness, and will fill our country with great glory. I call it Humanitism, from Humanitas, the guiding principle of things... And if there is anything that can make me forget the bitterness of life it is the pleasure of finally having grasped truth and happiness... After so many centuries of struggle, research, discovery, systems, and failures, there they are in the hands of man. (MPBC, XCI)

Love, for example, is a priestly function, reproduction a ritual...there is truly only one misfortune: that of not being born... Every man is a reduction of Humanitas. Since fighting is the main function of humankind, all bellicose feelings are the ones that best serve its happiness. (MPBC, CXVII)

So goodbye, then!, he concluded. Not every philosophical problem is worth five minutes attention.]

The new system comes replete with literary parody:

Há nas cousas todas certa substância recôndita e idêntica, um princípio único, universal, eterno, comum, indivisível e indestrutível,--ou para usar a linguagem do grande Camões:

Uma verdade que nas cousas anda,

Que mora no visíbil e invisíbil (Os Lusíadas, VI, 26-27)

(Quincas Borba, VI)

[In all things there is a certain hidden and identical substance, a principle, unique, universal, eternal, common, indivisible and indestructible--or to use the language of the great Camões:

A veracity that in all things does exist

That is to be found in the seen and the unseen...].

In Humanitas, Quincas the penniless beggar presents himself comically as a god-like philosopher, having formulated a kind of ultimate Unified Theory: "Humanitas é o princípio... Humanitismo é o remate das cousas; e eu, que o formulei, sou o maior homem do mundo;" ["Humanity is the principle. Humanity is the apogee of all things, and I, who formulated it, am the greatest man on earth."] (QB, VI). Machado's great comic sense is conveyed in the joining of the deep human quest for knowledge with aberrations of authority and conceit, comparable in concept to Cervantes' mad transcendent, Don Quixote. On the level of the comic, Humanitas may further be read as another of the grand comic operas that are staged in Machado's novels for the purpose of codifying and representing human folly to a public destined to relive its libretto.

One of the themes of Humanitas that directly relates it to Antropofagia is that of hunger. Remembering that his grandmother had been killed by a run-away carriage, Quincas explains to Rubião:

Humanitas tinha fome. Se em vez de minha avó, fôsse um rato ou um cão, é certo que minha avó não morreria, mas o fato era o mesmo. Humanitas precisa comer. Se em vez de um rato ou de um cão, fôsse um poeta, Byron ou Gonçalves Dias, diferia o caso no sentido de dar matéria a muitos necrológios; mas o fundo subsistia. O universo ainda não parou por lhe faltarem alguns poemas mortos em flor na cabeça de um varão ilustre ou obscuro; mas Humanitas (e isto importo, antes de tudo), Humanitas precisa comer. (QB, VI)

[Humanity was hungry. If, instead of my grandmother, it had been a rat or a dog, it is true that my grandmother would not have died, but it would still have been true that Humanity needed to eat. If, instead of a rat or a dog, it had been a poet, Byron or Gonçalves Dias, the matter would have been different in that it would have furnished material for many an obituary notice, but the fundamental fact would have remained the same. The universe has not yet come to an end for lack of a few poems that have died a flower in man's head, be the man illustrious or obscure; but Humanity (and this, above all, is important), Humanity must eat.]

Humanity is a cannibal who eats by chance in the struggle for survival. Events are organized by Quincas into the inevitability of a supreme unifying principle: since everything belongs to Humanitas, Humanity devours itself in a continuous anthropophagic ritual:

...a fome (e ele chupava filosoficamente a asa do frango), a fome é uma prova a que Humanitas submete a própria víscera... Assim, este frange, que eu almocei agora mesmo, é o resultado de uma multidão de esforços e lutas, executados com o único fim de dar mate ao meu apetite. (MPBC, CXVII)

[Hunger (and he sucked the chicken wing philosophically), hunger is a discipline to which Humanity subjects its own viscera. Thus, this chicken on which I have just lunched, is the result of a multitude of efforts and struggles carried on for the sole ultimate purpose of satisfying my appetite.]

Quincas Borba explains the struggle for survival in terms of the metaphor of hunger: indigenous tribes battle for the right to cross a mountain and gain access to a crop of potatoes, which will ensure their survival. Machado's comic challenge to the efficiency of war and struggle is summed up in the nutshell motto of Humanitas: "Ao vencedor, as batatas." ["To the victor, the potatoes."] (QB, VI)

Quincas Borba's demise is reported in a journalistic phrase that conjoins disease with philosophy: "Faleceu ontem o Sr. Joaquim Borba dos Santos, tendo suportado a moléstia com singular filosofia." (QB, XI) ["Sr. Joaquim Borba dos Santos died yesterday after a singularly philosophical sufferance of his illness."]. The cavalier phrase is reminiscent of Brás Cubas's own attitude toward his dead relatives:

levei-os ao cemitério, como quem leva dinheiro a um banco. Que digo? Como quem leva cartas ao correio: selei as cartas, meti-asna caixinha, e deixei ao carteiro o cuidade de as entregar em mão própria. (MPBC, CXVI)

[I took them to the cemetery like a man taking money to the bank. Or rather like one taking letters to the post office. I affixed stamps, dropped the letters in the box, and left it to the mailman to deliver them to the right party.]

In Humanitas, the individual is subsumed into the organic whole and ceases to exist, without their being registered any loss or gain: "Os indivíduos são essas bôlhas transitórias... Bôlha não tem opinião." ["Individuals are... transitory bubbles. A bubble doesn't have an opinion."] (QB, VI).

Quincas' philosophy codifies a form of cannibalism of the parts by the whole.


Oswald de Andrade's "Manifesto Antropófago" ["Cannibal Manifesto"] (1928) is the comic formulation of a supreme and universal system of truth that unifies mankind: "Só a antropofagia nos une. Socialmente. Economicamente. Filosoficamente. Única lei do mundo. Espressão mascarada de todos os individualismos, de todos os coletivismos. De todas as religiões. De todos os tratados de paz." ["Cannibalism alone unites us. Socially. Economically. Philosophically. The world's single law. Disguised expression of all individualisms, of all collectivisms. Of all religions. Of all peace treaties."]. Oswald's comic formulation also reflects the presentation of Brazilian reality as a strange, atavistic entity, tribal and matriarchal. His manifesto can be read in the light of projected stage dramas, never realized, during his residence in Paris with Tarsila do Amaral, particularly "A Filha do Rei" ["The King's Daughter"], to have a libretto by Oswald, stage decorations by Tarsila, and music by Villa-Lobos. Struggle and aggression, drawn from contemporary revivals of the primitive, are constants in the human drama and necessary for happiness and culture: "Só me interessa o que não é meu. Lei do homem. Lei do antropófago." ["I am only concerned with what is not mine. Law of Man. Law of the cannibal."]. Comedy is produced by the encounter of decadent colonial invaders with the wise rituals of devouring, indigenous primitives. Brazilian reality faces the dilemma of its mixed reality, synthesized in the punning aphorism "Tupy or not Tupy, that is the question."

As in Humanitas, Antropofagia is beyond dialectic; everything becomes part of the absorbing center: "Absorção do inimigo sacro. Para transformá-lo em totem. A humana aventura." ["Absorption of the sacred enemy. To transform him into a totem. The human adventure."]. Every individual is the expression of the cosmic constant of cannibalism: "Morte e vida das hipóteses. Da equação eu parte do Cosmos ao axioma Cosmos parte do eu. Subsistência. Conhecimento. Antropofagia." ["Death and life of all hypotheses. From the equation "Self, part of the Cosmos" to the axiom "Cosmos, part of the Self." Subsistence. Experience. Cannibalism."]. The innocence of propounding a "universal philosophic system" is an inherent ingredient of national identity that preceded colonization: "Foi porque nunca tivemos gramáticas, nem coleções de velhos vegetais. E nunca soubemos o que era urbano, suburbano, fronteiriço e continental... Antes dos portugueses discobrirem o Brasil, o Brasil tinha descoberto a felicidade." ["It was because we never had grammars, or collections of old plants. And we never knew what urban, suburban, frontier and continental were... Before the Portuguese discovered Brazil, Brazil had discovered happiness."].

Parodying language of the manifesto, Oswald de Andrade constructs an intentionally mad comic system, whose national hero is a cannibal with a voracious appetite for meaty philosophy and a twisted sense of humor.


IV. From Brasiliana to Besteira


The tradition of popular humor as outlined by Magalhães is a fundamental part of modernist comic writing. The "first dentition" of the Revista de Antropofagia ["Cannibal Magazine"] carries ten columns titled "Brasiliana" that reproduce journalistic reports telegraphed from the interior to the urban newspapers, somewhat in the style of the pithy quotes in our New Yorker magazine. The episodes selected by Oswald de Andrade express the mystery and latent violence inherent in a national identity lacking rational coherence:

1. "Surpresa. Telegrama de Curityba para a Folha da Noite de S. Paulo, n. de 2-11-927: Informam de Imbituba que o indivíduo Juvenal Manuel do Nascimento, ex-agente do correio, reuniu em sua casa todos os amigos e parentes sob o pretexto de fazer uma festa. Durante o almoço, Juvenal mostrou-se alegre e, ao terminar a festa foi ao seu quarto, do qual trouxe um embrulho contendo uma dynamite, dizendo que ia proporcionar a todos uma surpresa.

Todos estavam attentos e esperando a surpresa quando, com espanto geral, o dono da casa approximou um cigarro acceso do embrulho que explodiu, matando Juvenal e ferindo gravemente sua esposa e todas as pessoas que haviam assistido ao convite fatal."

["Surprise. Telegram from Curitiba to the Folha da Noite of São Paulo, 2 November 1927: News comes from Imbituba that a certain Juvenal Manuel do Nascimento, ex-postal clerk, gathered together all his friends and relatives under the pretext of having a party. During lunch, Juvenal seemed happy and when the party was over went to his room, from which he brought out a package containing dynamite, saying that he had a surprise for everyone.

All were attentive and awaiting a surprise when, to everyone's amazement, the owner of the house put a lighted cigar close to the package which exploded, killing Juvenal and gravely wounding his wife and all those who had accepted the fatal invitation."]

The bizarre or irrational action is intensified through comic episodes of life in Brazil's interior:

2. "Negócio Brasileiro. De uma correspondência do interior do Estado para o Diário Nacional de São Paulo, n. de 13-VI-28: Na vizinha cidade de Cândido Motta, ha dias, appareceu um individuo que se dirigiu a uma fazenda, offerecendo ao fazendeiro uma troca esquisita: offerecia 40 contos, que queria trocar por 6, sem outras condições... O fazendeiro, desconfiado, entabolou o negocio, emquanto mandava á cidade avisar o delegado. O homem foi preso, mas, logo depois, solto, pois o delegado não encontrou entre os 40 contos nenhum dinheiro falso."

["Business in Brazil. From a letter from the interior of the State to the Diário Nacional of São Paulo, 13 June 1928: In the neighboring city of Cândido Motta, for some days an individual has appeared who goes to a ranch to offer the rancher a strange exchange: he offers 40 contos, which he wants to exchange for 6, with no strings attached... The rancher, suspicious, tabled the matter, while he sent to the city for the sheriff. The man was arrested, but soon afterwards released, since the sheriff couldn't find any counterfeit notes in the 40 contos."]

Oswald's column generalizes the aphorism about the Brazilian people found in the celebrated poetic lines of Bandeira, "língua errada do povo, língua certa do povo" ["mistaken speech of the people, correct speech of the people,"] while accumulating a rogue's gallery of eccentricities.

Festival de Besteira

In the tradition of "Brasiliana," the humorist Stanislaw Ponte Preta (Sérgio Porto) composed the "Festival de Besteira que Assola o País" ["Festival of Nonsense that Sweeps the Country"] (FEBEAPÁ) in reaction to the military revolution of 1964. His work predates and strengthens that of a generation of comic writers and media artists, including França Júnior, Juca Chaves, Chico Anísio, Jo Soares, Paulo Frances, and Millôr Fernandes, among others. In the column "Fofocalizando", Ponte Preta takes on the pretensions of the "revolution," which he terms the "redentora" ["redeemer"], by composing a list of officials who have become prime players in the "festival de besteira" and recounting their episodes. The missing marbles of the national intelligentsia become a prime target of his satiric humor:

1. Abril, mês que marcava o primeiro aniversário da 'redentora", marcou também uma bruta espinafração do Juiz Whitaker da Cunha no Departamento Nacional de Estradas de Rodagem, que enviara seis ofícios ao magistrado e, em todos os seis, chamava-o de "meretríssimo". Na sua bronca, o juiz dizia que "meretíssimo" vem de mérito e "meretríssimo" vem de uma coisa sem mérito nenhum.

["April, the month marking the first anniversary of the "redeemer," also marked a tough dressing-down by Judge Whitaker da Cunha of the National Department of Roads, which had sent six briefs to the judge and in all six addressed him as "meretríssimo." In his ire, the judge sent word that "meretíssimo" comes from merit and "meretríssimo" from something without any merit at all."]

Linguistic parody in the tradition of the "Letter to the Icamiabas" is central to his definition of Brazilian besteira:

2. Quando se desenhou a perspectiva de uma seca no interior cearense, as autoridades dirigiram uma circular aos prefeitos, solicitando informações sobre a situação local depois da passagem do eqüinócio. Um prefeito enviou a seguinte resposta, à circular: "Doutor Eqüinócio ainda não passou por aqui. Se chegar será bem recebido como amigo, com foguetes, passeata e festas."

["When there was a serious prospect of drought in the interior of Ceará, the authorities sent around a circular to the mayors, asking for information about the local situation after the passage of the equinox. One mayor sent the following response to the circular: "Doctor Equinox hasn't come through here yet. When he arrives, he will be well received with rockets, parades, and parties."]

Elements of the carnivalesque and touches of the absurd are also invoked as ingredients of Brazil's confused historical reality:

3.Era o IV Centenário do Rio e, apesar da penúria, o Governo da Guanabara ia oferecer à plebe ignara o maior bolo do mundo. Sugestão do poeta Carlos Drummond de Andrade, quando soube que o bolo ia ter 5 metros de altura, 5 toneladas, 250 quilos de açúcar, 4 mil ovos e 12 litros de rum: "Bota mais rum."

["It was the IV Centenary of Rio and, in spite of its penury, the Government of Guanabara decided to offer the largest cake in the world to its masses. A suggestion from the poet Carlos Drummond de Andrade, when he found out that the cake was to be 5 meters high, weigh 5 tons, have 250 kilos of sugar, 4 thousand eggs and 12 liters of rum: "Put in more rum."]

Finally, themes linking madness with social progress reminiscent of Machado's Humanitas are presented as typical of governmental and bureaucratic expertise:

4.Agora aparece o projeto do Deputado Fioravante Fraga. Vejam que beleza! O projeto obriga as delegacias distritais a contarem permanentemente com um biombo, para esconder os que morrem nas vias públicas. Como se isso adiantasse. O homem é atropelado na rua... pode morrer de indigestão ou morrer de fome, não importa... termina a notícia com as palavras de sempre: "O corpo do extinto ficou durante horas exposto à curiosidade pública, porque a Polícia demorou a chegar com o biombo."

["Now comes the project of Representative Fioravante Fraga. What a beauty! The project obliges the district precincts to keep a screen permanently on hand in order to hide those who die on the public thoroughfares. As if this helped. A man is run over in the street... he could have died of indigestion or hunger, no matter... the notification always ends with the same words: "The body of the deceased remained exposed to public curiosity for many hours because the Police were late arriving with the screen."]

Ponte Preta undoubtedly touched a nerve of the humorless revolution. After an evening show of humor at the expense of the military, he was found dead in his dressing room. Ponte Preta fell victim to the very cathartic role that satirical humor had played throughout Brazil's history, when the drole targets of his attacks were pleased to have him literally die laughing.

V. Conclusion: Play and Pleasure-Humor ludens

Brazilian humor has been connected traditionally to theories of its own history, nature, identity, and reality. While there exists a rich tradition of satire and popular humor, the highest expression of the comic is to be found in some of the complex theories of Brazil as a system (DaMatta, 1991), combining theory, language, character, and large doses of idiosyncrasy. In modern literary humor, the popular carnival of besteira has been milled into great literature by Brazil's more noble windmills of Humanitas and Antropofagia.



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