First, it is important to note that the author of the story, Rubem Fonseca, is known for “mimicking itinerant urban violence”, according to Sergio Mota.
Therefore, this message is present in the analyzed production.
The main character of the story, Augusto, is a lost man. However, with ambitions.
His proposal, as much as we can talk about it, is objective, direct, cutting: saving the city by letter, safeguarding the memory of a world that is being swallowed up by the advance of civilization.
The rhythm given by Rubem to the story tends to make the reader infer that everything is lost in the sense when it is in the city.
“The city is not what you see in the sugar loaf” is an emblematic phrase in the story. When the author writes this, he shows what is spread throughout the text: the frozen and harmonious representations of the city will not be portrayed, they will not be seen as truths.
Thus, the people’s misery and problems with the past challenge the version of the sugar loaf.
Even the nature that corroborates the superficial and reductionist view of the problems in the story appears discarded and pejorative, with problems. The landscape “does not appear as a possibility to learn to look at the city”, according to Sergio Mota.
Conflict between past and present
The modern city is born under the sign of illegibility and transience. Almost nothing from the past has continued or continues. What survived, no longer has the personality of yesteryear.
The physical aspect of the city experiences tensions and fragmentations with the feeling of belonging to the urban space, since it is constantly changing, without the permanence of something that can be used for identification. And, within that, Augusto experiences a limbo between the present and the past.
In this process, he seeks to understand the signs of the erasure of what was once and now is nothing more than a memory. The tale is a “succession of vacuums with pulsating memorialism”, adds Mota. There is an increasing unimportance of memory, a hallmark of our times.
The character’s assimilated absence occurs after the successive clashes and defeats he has with the advance of the world, which cannot be contained and restrained by a man, still less by the subjectivity of Literature. What was left out of the portrait, he brings. Augusto writes frames.
And the places that are shown in the story and that Augusto tries to keep [o passado] in a book, they are not points of reference, but they made reference. Places that no longer exist, whose memory was violated by the construction of new spaces. It is the presence of an absence.
The big city and waste
“The big city produces a lot of excrement”. Although whoever said that was a character who works at, it is clear, in the rest of the story, that the excrement is the people.
The city, which produces a lot of garbage, a lot of excrement, creates the human being dispensed with: the minority. People who are seen as one of the problems of the big city, the new city, modernity. And it can be idealized that they represent a problem to advance because they themselves carry issues related to the past in their bodies and social conditions.
These are some of the utopian residues, what is left of the dream of ordering the metropolis. These characters are the city and constitute it sideways, univocal – as if the outcasts, thieves, street vendors, prostitutes, street children, beggars were just one. In the story, Augusto observes them.
The question of visibility
In history, there is no invisibility, there is visibility for all these people. Augusto, unlike the rest of civilization and the progression of cities, does not segregate them, but rather, makes them visible and tries to reconcile the two parts of the city.
It is possible to verify that the streets are perishable like men, what we write over the city does not accumulate with what the future comes to write.
We are doodles. The rainwater takes us to the culverts, but there are people – the invisible ones – who have always been there.
There is a contradictory view of progress that is discussed in the text: what good is the new if, contrary to what we have in common sense, it does not use the experiences of the past? The novelty swallows what has already passed, feeds, but does not use it as a base.
The city is a text, a book and the Center of Rio de Janeiro is the first chapter of history not by chance, but because it is the place that most relates to the past.
The philosopher Nelson Brissac Peixoto highlights that the city without traces or history is marked by the remodeling of the space, which also does not respect memory.
Progress: forward or backward?
Therefore, this is what we must think about: that progress mishandles memory, as it seeks to advance space, modernity. It is as if to say that the future is made with technology and not with “museums” – physical representations of the past.
The ideal city ceased to exist and lives in the post-utopia of progress and Augusto wonders what remains of the good, since the bad is lived at all times.
At what cost has progress been made? In the creation of a class that covers a large part of the population and, in general, does not exist. So, it’s just numbers, statistics and so on.
Augusto says he will teach prostitutes to read, that is, teach invisible people to see the importance of living in the city. And not only that, he wants to demonstrate to the unseen to put themselves as objects to be seen.
But scene and obscene, however much they coexist, represent fragmented parts of a patchwork city. They are peoples that communicate, but do not happen due to discrepancies in lifestyle, ideologies and, mainly, through explorations – one side submitted and the other imposing.
However, even though this Manichaeism is closely linked to a veiled class struggle, Augusto tries to sew the distant flaps. The character-writer’s dream is to unite what was torn by time, the population and the environment.
How to rescue the memory?
Augusto’s method uses and applies a survival by memory, “an assimilated absence that has been resmantled” (Mota). The character’s perspective is not distant and impartial; on the contrary, he sees things up close, experiencing them. Augusto’s vision is glued to the facts, that’s why he sees the particularity of the city and its uprooting.
I would say that I wrote to retain a memory, to keep what, even if it disappears, remains in existence.
Although it has a nostalgic and dystopian bias, with a somewhat idealized view of the past, this begins to fall apart when the character, in the concomitant attempts to write Rio, becomes disillusioned with the possibility of putting a city in the book.
Worse, a city that does not even recognize itself as what Augusto seeks. In the city, etymology falls apart, everyone is in the same place and visible. Augusto uses this to reconcile the two parties.
The tale opens up the violence of invisibility and discrimination when trying to reverse this state by trying to make the marginal characters visible.
They are not invisible in the book, they are raw materials, because they demanded their own existence and Augusto noticed them, had eyes to see.
The text ends with post-utopian nostalgia and disillusion and overcomes the violence of exclusion, the violence that destroys the past. Nostalgic project lives a post-utopian disillusionment.
The end is like this: the frustration of his idea, the exclusion remains, the miserable suffer. It is a struggle against the destruction of the failed city memory. There is no text to reverse this.
By Gustavo Magalhães – Speak! PUC RIO