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240 pages, Paperback
First published January 1, 1881
I wrote it with a playful pen and melancholy ink and it isn’t hard to foresee what can come out of that marriage. I might add that serious people will find some semblance of a normal novel, while frivolous people won’t find their usual one here. There it stands, deprived of the esteem of the serious and the love of the frivolous, the two main pillars of opinion.
I had a passion for ballyhoo, the limelight, fireworks. More modest people will censure me perhaps for this defect. I’m confident, however, that clever people will recognize this talent of mine. So my idea had two faces, like a medal, one turned toward the public and the other toward me. On one side philanthropy and profit, on the other a thirst for fame.
Men are worth something in different ways, and the surest one of all is being worthy in the opinion of other men.
Note that I’m not making a man a simple vehicle of Humanitas. He is vehicle, passenger, and coachman all at the same time. He is Humanitas itself in a reduced form. It follows from that that there is a need for him to worship himself.
He had no other philosophy. Nor did I. I'm not saying that the university hadn't taught me some philosophical truths. But I'd only memorized the formulas, the vocabulary, the skeleton. I treated them as I had Latin: I put three lines from Virgil in my pocket, two from Horace, and a dozen moral and political locutions for the needs of conversation. I treated them the way I treated history and jurisprudence. I picked up the phraseology of all things, the shell, the decoration ...
And I, drawn to the tin rattle that my mother shook before me, would go on ahead, falling here and there; and I walked, probably not too well, but I walked, and so I kept on walking.Machado de Assis was born in Morro do Livramento, Rio de Janeiro, the grandson of ex-slaves, growing up in a poor family, he barely studied in public schools and never attended university. He struggled to rise socially, supplying himself with intellectual superiority and cultural capital. To do so, he took several public positions, passing through the Ministry of Agriculture, Trade and Public Works, and achieving early notoriety in newspapers where he published his first poetry and chronicles.
To the worm that first gnawed at the cold flesh of my cadaver, I dedicate as fond remembrance these posthumous memoirs.Brás has nothing to lose – being dead and all - and therefore he tells the story precisely as he wants to, convention be damned. The novel unfolds in brief, bright chapters, brightened further by the endless self-referentiality and self-doubt. "I am beginning to regret that I ever took to writing this book," Brás writes in a chapter called "The Flaw in the Book." "Not that it tires me," he continues. "I have nothing else to do, and dispatching a few merger chapters into the other world is invariably a bit fo a distraction from eternity."
I don't believe I was born for complex situations.Brás's disconcerting freedom as a narrator is rooted in his disproportionate perch in a highly arbitrary Brazilian society. Machado's appropriation of the Sternean form becomes a critique of his country's relationship to power, albeit one so finely executed and so unwilling to be didactic that it would be perceived as such only belatedly. Brás as a frivolous, blithely inconsistent member of the ruling class has all the privileges – among which is also the privilege to tell his story exactly the way that he wants.
The reader, like his fellows, doubtless prefers action to reflection, and doubtless he is wholly in the right. So we shall get to it. However, I must advise that this book is written leisurely, with the leisureliness of a man no longer troubled by the flight of time; that is a work supinely philosophical, but of a philosophy wanting in uniformity, now austere, now playful, a thing that neither edifies nor destroys, neither inflames nor chills, and that is at once more of a pastime and less than a preachment.The more I read, the more I come to understand that the trait I admire most in authors is not so much a matter of elegant prose, complex plots, characters that leap off the pages and make their home in your heads when the last page has been turned and the story has ended. Those are all very entertaining in their own right, but clever is as clever does, and rarely provokes long-lasting admiration in my mind. What I prefer is a simple matter of trust, belief, faith even if that is the direction your theological tendencies swing. Faith of the author in themselves, but more importantly, enough faith in their audience to lead them without expounding, carry them along in the pages without tending to their every need and pandering to their every expectation.