Author/itarian destabilization in Machado de Assis

One of the authors that I really admire is Joaquim Maria Machado de Assis. I’ve done a couple papers on him so far (well, I’m working on the second). I’m really interested in the way he portrays social interaction: my previous paper examined its almost textual portrayal (people “reading” other people’s faces; characters presenting a certain face so that other people will interpret it in a certain way, characters aware that other characters may be falsely “writing” a certain text on their faces and through their actions, and attempting to “read” or interpret the subtext). In Spanish this is called a “juego de máscaras, but “game of masks” in English just doesn’t sound as good. :)

But one of the things that I’m interested in with this “juego de mascaras” is its purpose within Machado’s texts and the theoretical space it occupies. What I see it accomplishing most obviously is a destabilization of meaning: Machado leaves it up to the reader to interpret and decipher the interaction between these people. There is no longer a “right” way to read the text – it all depends on the interpretation that we decide on. In the case, for example, of Dom Casmurro, the reader is left with a series of clues, none of which build a conclusive case for the adultery or faithfulness of the condemned female protagonist, Capitu.

The narrators in Machado’s texts are rarely – I would venture to say never – trustworthy: in Dom Casmurro the narrator is obsessively jealous and prejudiced, and in many other texts the narrator is mentally unbalanced, or there is a series of narrators – the story has been filtered through many mouths, instilling doubt in the veracity of certain details.

I would say that this technique of Machado’s combines two of Bakhtin’s theories: 1) that of the science of discourse and 2) the process ofcarnivalization.

Click to read on…

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