Machado de Assis – o Bruxo do Cosme Velho – em 10 pensamentos expressos nas suas obras.

Machado de Assis é considerado por muitos o maior escritor brasileiro de todos os tempos. Conhecido como o Bruxo do Cosme Velho (o tradicional bairro carioca onde morava), Machado foi um dos fundadores da Academia Brasileira de Letras (1987).



Machado de Assis

Autor de poemas, peças, romances e inúmeros contos, suas obras mais famosas incorporaram as características do movimento literário realista no final do século XIX e início do século XX. Destacam-se, sobretudo, os romances Memórias Póstumas de Brás Cubas, Quincas Borba, Dom Casmurro, Esaú e Jacó, e Memorial de Aires. Machado morreu aos 69 anos, deixando um legado literário inestimável.



Pão de Açúcar: o maior cartão-postal do Rio de Janeiro.

Irônico, perceptivo e sagaz, Machado revelou-se um profundo conhecedor da sociedade brasileira (especialmente a carioca) da sua época, e da alma humana de forma geral. Eis alguns dos seus pensamentos mais populares, expressos nos seus livros:

Tudo acaba, leitor; é um velho truísmo, a que se pode acrescentar que nem tudo o que dura dura muito tempo. Esta segunda parte não acha crentes fáceis; ao contrário, a ideia de que um castelo de vento dura mais que o mesmo vento de que é feito, dificilmente se despegará da cabeça, e é bom que seja assim, para que se não perca o costume daquelas construções quase eternas. (Dom Casmurro)

A imaginação foi a companheira de toda a minha existência, viva, rápida, inquieta, alguma vez tímida e amiga de empacar, as mais delas capaz de engolir campanhas e campanhas, correndo. (Dom Casmurro)

O destino não é só dramaturgo, é também o seu próprio contra-regra, isto é, designa a entrada dos personagens em cena, dá-lhes as cartas e outros objetos, e executa dentro os sinais correspondentes ao diálogo, uma trovoada, um carro, um tiro. (Dom Casmurro)

Assim, apanhados pela mãe, éramos dois e contrários, ela encobrindo com a palavra o que eu publicava pelo silêncio. (Dom Casmurro)

Prazos largos são fáceis de subscrever; a imaginação os faz infinitos. (Dom Casmurro)

Eu não sou propriamente um autor defunto, mas um defunto autor. (Memórias Póstumas de Brás Cubas)

Gosto dos epitáfios; eles são, entre a gente civilizada, uma expressão daquele pio e secreto egoísmo que induz o homem a arrancar à morte um farrapo ao menos da sombra que passou. (Memórias Póstumas de Brás Cubas)

Matamos o tempo, o tempo nos enterra. (Memórias Póstumas de Brás Cubas)

O maior pecado, depois do pecado, é a publicação do pecado. (Quincas Borba)

Deus, para a felicidade do homem, inventou a fé e o amor. O Diabo, invejoso, fez o homem confundir fé com religião e amor com casamento. (Esaú e Jacó)

Au revoir

Jorge Sette








Which novels do you wish you had written yourself?

When you are at the stage of brainstorming for a nonfiction blog post or a piece of creative writing, it’s inevitable to remember a couple of articles, books and novels related to the topic you read at some point and enjoyed. They will be a source of inspiration and influence in your writing, making you somehow even slightly jealous, wishing you had thought of that first. But, of course, you would also have needed the right language to encapsulate it. After all, more important than the plot itself is how you say things.

Take the book Life of Pi by Yann Martel, for example, whose original idea some people claim was stolen from our Brazilian writer Moacyr Scliar. Well, plagiarism is hard to establish, there are a lot of gray areas, but one thing I’m sure of: Martel did not write the same story nor, most definitely, used the same language as Scliar. Jorge Luis Borges, in his marvelous piece Pierre Menard, Autor del Quixote, from the book Ficciones takes this idea even further, asserting that a book written with the exact same words by a different author at a different time would be read in a new way, due to the dissimilar historic contexts, and therefore would not be the same book at all. I agree.

After reading a comment on Facebook by a friend saying that she is full of ideas for blog posts but do not find the time to write them (yes, we all know how teachers are busy!), I made a joke saying that all my good ideas had already been stolen by the likes of Shakespeare, Tolstoy or Philip Roth.

Then I though for a moment, and decided to give serious consideration as to which novels I really wished I had written and why. This is my humble list:

Books I wish I had written

Books I wish I had written

1.The Human Stain, by Philp Roth: it’s hard to discuss this book without giving a bit too much away, so apologies for the spoilers. The story of a light-skinned black boy who grabs the opportunity to pass for a Jew in 1950’s America and later becomes a Classics Professor at a small college is a complex account of the choices you make in life and the responsibilities and consequences that come with them. The need to make concessions and compromise basic values to achieve a bigger goal is the central theme of the book. The deep moral dilemma you face when you take such a radical decision, including the necessity to abandon and cut relations with your family and community to start a new life somewhere else as a completely different person, is evaluated by the author from unusual and unexpected angles in this impressive book. As irony is the hallmark of Roth, the book starts with the most paradoxal of incidents: the professor, noticing that two of the students enlisted in his class never seem to be present, asks the class the question which brings about his doom: “do they exist or are they spooks?” The latter being an old loaded word, a racist epithet for blacks. It turns out that the Professor, never having seen those students before, meant spooks in the most common sense of the word, that is, ghosts, and, after all the pressure and hassle he goes through, without support from any of his colleagues and students – for a number of political reasons – he decides to resign and end his career. I would love to have written this story for its universality: any minority can identify with what Coleman, the Jewish/Black professor, goes through, and can easily put themselves in his shoes. Given the opportunity would you do the same? Would you change your race, color, nationality, sexual orientation or gender? Or would you just give up all of your chances of fully growth and spend the rest of your life as a second class citizen in a society that will only offer you the fulfillment of your whole potential if you are the right color?

The Human Stain

The Human Stain

2. Dom Casmurro, by Machado de Assis: this must be the book I reread most often in my entire life. I know it almost by heart. What attracts me is the way the characters are so well-rounded and fully developed, leaping out of the page as if you could go for a walk and talk to them. This does not mean, however, that you will know them any better. This is the whole point of the story. The dissimulation, the fact that we never know anyone completely. The impossibility of dealing with only one version of the reality. I can’t get enough of the artistry of the author, who, narrating the story in the first person, never lets the reader be sure about what really happened: was the main character’s wife an adulterer? Is the boy she gives birth to his son or his best friend’s? The doubt will corrupt his marriage and ultimately destroy all the love in his life. He becomes empty and isolated, having chosen the version of reality which will cause him the most pain and damage. Don’t we all choose the latter?

Dom Casmurro

Dom Casmurro

3. We need to talk about Kevin, by Lionel Shriver: a professional woman is in love with her work and her husband. She writes and publishes travel guides, having the chance to go places, tour interesting and remote regions, avoiding getting stuck in a housewife’s rut, being independent most of the time. Yet, she can count on a loving husband to comfort and look after her when she comes back home after a long trip: this is a dream life. She has the best of both worlds. Then, what else is it that society claims will make every woman even happier and more complete: to have a baby. From the birth of Kevin, her firstborn, to the dantesque crime scene at the end of the book, We need to talk about Kevin reads like a nightmare. You can’t put it down. A thriller in every sense of the word. But one that goes way beyond the limitations of the genre. Shriver’s ambitions are a lot more encompassing. She discusses the nature of evil. Is it caused by nurture or nature? How is it created? Has Kevin always been the monster she feared he was or was his low self-esteem caused by his mother’s lack of love and care that turned him into a criminal? Was the mother’s resentment for having to give up all the pleasure and independence of her former life, her pre-baby life, toxic enough to corrupt and undo the little creature? The sense of guilt of a mother for not conforming to the patterns of a society that takes motherly love for granted only contributes to the character’s anguish and mental confusion. Of course, the book will show different perspectives of the scenarios we painted, but the conclusion will be up to the reader.

We need to talk about Kevin

We need to talk about Kevin

These are all great themes and I don’t need to tell you how masterfully these concepts and ideas are exploited by those wonderful writers. The angles they illuminate, the perspectives they reveal would hardly have occurred to the average reader. That’s why they are geniuses and we are blog writers. But we can always try to get closer to their art in our writing. According to Malcolm Gladwell, another writer whose books I wish I could have written (although they are nonfictional), all it takes is a dedication of 10,000 hours of work to become a world class master at your craft.

Which books would you like to have written yourself? Let us know.

Au revoir

Jorge Sette.

“You’re so vain” (Books I think are about me)

I got a funny reaction to my blog post on Wuthering Heights ( from an anonymous reader. He or she wrote to me saying: “You are so vain, you probably think Wuthering Heights is about you”. I suspect this is an adaptation of a line of an old Carly Simon song, who allegedly was referring to Mick Jagger. In a way, I found the comment rather amusing, and, to be quite honest, remarkably true. Even more worrying: I tend to think that every single book I love is about me! As a matter of fact, it only interests me if I can somehow relate to it. And I guess this is what happens to every reader, at least the more romantic ones, like me. So, yes, you got it right, dear anonymous e-mail writer.

Take for example some of the best books I have read (and often reread) : Dom Casmurro (by Machado de Assis), Nemesis (by Philip Roth) and The Bonfire of the Vanities (by Tom Wolfe). They are really all about me.


Dom Casmurro, by Machado de Assis.

The first time I read Dom Casmurro I was still in high school, and totally fell in love with Capitu. The kiss she and Bentinho exchange while he is combing her hair and she drops her head back, making their faces align in opposite directions, is  one of the most romantic scenes I remember as a teenager. Imagine my surprise when I saw a repeat of that scene decades later in the movie SPIDER MAN! This time he was hanging upside down from a wire fence while Mary Jane was looking up.  The same kind of kiss. Also, like Bentinho, the main character in Dom Casmurro, I can be quite jealous in a relationship and totally understand how paranoid it must feel to have your kid grow up to look like your best male friend. And the best thing is, every time I read the book again, I find new clues that indicate that Capitu must have been unfaithful, although we can never be one hundred per cent sure, as the story is very cleverly told from the point of view of the narrator only, who happens to be Bentinho, the husband.


Nemesis, by Philip Roth

Nemesis by Philip Roth is a very universal story, and if you can’t identify with it, I’m afraid you have a problem. Although I’m not Jewish and am fortunate enough not to be physically disabled (the story is about the terrible consequences of the outbreak of a polio epidemic in the mid-1940s New Jersey), I fully identify with the book’s themes. The main message, as I see it, is, if you are struck by tragedy, if you have a disability of any kind, or anything else people may look down upon or reject you for (and that probably applies to all of us), there is no point in blaming God or the Universe for it. Get on with your life, it’s your responsibility to make the most of it and restore or construe your own meaning for happiness. Or fight back. This is something everyone needs to hear: take full ownership of your failures and problems, and deal with them. No one else will care as much. Tough, but real.


The Bonfire of the Vanities, by Tom Wolfe

The Bonfire of the Vanities: the main character finds himself in a kafkaesque situation: he gets lost in a dangerous part of  the city while driving back from the airport with his mistress, and accidently seems to strike a young black man he was sure was trying to mug them.  What a nightmare!  Was it a hit-and-run accident? Should they tell the police straightaway? But the wife will find out about the mistress then. Was the kid really hit, all they heard was a little noise (“thok”) after all. Surely the boy was OK. What decisions do they need to make? Mistakes are inevitably made along the way and there are terrible consequences. Moreover, there are many third parties (journalists, community leaders, attorneys, politicians, etc) trying to profit politically from the situation. Nothing is as morally simple as it first looks. Interesting questions. The reader gets deeply involved in the plot and its turns. “Unputdownable”. Besides, it’s very tempting to picture myself living the good life of a succesful Wall Street yuppie in a huge two-story apartment off Park Avenue in Manhattan…without the tragedy! Another book that COULD be about me.

So I’m really sorry if the anonymous e-mail writer intended to hurt my feelings accusing me of believing that Wuthering Heights is about me. Catherine, one of the book’s main characters, says at one of the most important plot points in the story: “I am Heathcliff!”  Well, so am I!

Au revoir

Jorge Sette.

Gosto de roçar minha língua na língua de Luís de Camões

Não,  caro leitor de curta memória, o título desse post  não faz qualquer referência ao famoso primeiro beijo gay da televisão brasileira (ou melhor, da maior emissora de TV brasileira em horário nobre, porque me parece que outros beijos, menos concorridos  e populares, já houve). Acho que esse assunto já está esgotado.

O título diz respeito ao primeiro verso de uma canção do compositor Caetano Veloso, chamada Língua,  popularizada nos anos oitenta, cuja primeira estrofe segue mais precisamente assim:

Gosto de sentir a minha língua roçar
A língua de Luís de Camões
Gosto de ser e de estar
E quero me dedicar
A criar confusões de prosódia
E um profusão de paródias
Que encurtem dores
E furtem cores como camaleões
Gosto do Pessoa na pessoa
Da rosa no Rosa, (etc, etc, etc)

É um hino de amor às idiossincrasias e ao potencial criativo e vibrante da variante brasileira da língua portuguesa. Sem negar sua origem europeia, mas ressaltando o rico substrato local sobre o qual se formou, a gama de influências que a forjaram,  e que a tornaram de uma plasticidade e “antropofagia” invejáveis.

Mas tampouco estou aqui para enaltecer Caetano,  que ele não precisa de mim para isso. Meu ojetivo é alertar o leitor, caso seja professor, aluno e mesmo amigo e parente de estrangeiros,  do aumento espetacular do interesse internacional pela “Última flor do Lácio, inculta e bela” – outra referência à nossa língua, do poeta Olavo Bilac (prometo, esta é a última!).

Evidentemente, as razões econômicas e a dinâmica do mercado, com o Brasil entre as 10 maiores potências econômicas do planeta, e  em pleno crescimento (apesar dos soluços do processo)  são o motivo primordial desse renovado interesse. O fato de termos sido escolhidos os anfitriões da Copa do Mundo neste ano, e das Olímpiadas em 2016, certamente contribui também para esse aumento da popularidade da língua. Afinal, fazer negócios com brasileiros  em sua própria terra, em Português, certamente ajuda.

Além disso,  segundo minhas últimas pesquisas na Wikipédia, o português “é uma das línguas oficiais da União Europeia, do Mercosul, da União de Nações Sul-Americanas, da Organização dos Estados Americanos, da União Africana e dos Países Lusófonos“. E  a encicloplédia online continua, dizendo que “com aproximadamente 280 milhões de falantes, o português é a 5ª língua mais falada no mundo, a 3ª mais falada no hemisfério ocidental e a mais falada no hemisfério sul da Terra.”

Se essas não são razões mais do que suficientes para convencer o leitor de que deve se preparar para ou aprender ou ensinar português diante das oportunidades político-eonômicas que se abrem,  eu usaria meus próprios argumentos, inquestionavelmente mais românticos e pessoais. Vamos a eles…

Venhamos a eles:  falaria, por exemplo, dos prazeres únicos de se ler Machado de Assis e José Saramago no original. Indagaria como apreciar a letra da música Vapor Barato, cantada pela cristalina voz de Gal Costa no final do belíssimo e poético filme Terra Estrangeira de Walter Salles, sem entender a nossa língua?  Como mergulhar de cabeça (as metáforas marítimas são sempre muito bem-vindas em se tratando de produtos brasileiros e portugueses)  na trama complicada e nas nuances verbais do violento Cidade de Deus (filme ou livro, pois não acredito que o turista vá se aventurar nessa área da zona oeste da capital carioca), e, mesmo assim,  admito que ele precisaria chegar a um nível mais que intermediário da língua para conseguir decifrar as gírias e a gramática peculiares ao tráfico.

Finalmente, como brasileiros hospitaleiros, é nosso dever lembrar ao gringo que, depois de poucos dias no Rio, uma vontade visceral de adaptar-se  ao local e assumir sua persona carioca, e quiçá ser confundido com os nativos, corroerá  sua alma de imigrante, turista ou mulher de negócios!

Ao estirar-se nas confortáveis cadeiras de praia,  diante de um magnífico marzão em dia de ressaca (e sem poder associar as rebeldes ondas aos olhos de Capitu (OK, quebrei a promessa, fiz  mais uma referência literária local!! Me considero culpado.), com uma caipirinha na mão e o olhar fixo nos  corpos esculturais  das garotas e garotos de Ipanema, que se encontrarão espalhados à sua volta no Posto 9, nosso amigo gringo se perguntará por que não se dedicou mais ao estudo dessa bela língua: “Chomsky, seu sacana – dirá amargurado –  por que não posso ajustar meu LAD (language acquisition device, mecanismo inato, que , segundo o teórico, já vem preparado para absorver a língua nativa quando somos crianças) para a aprendizagem natural e automática do Português?” E prosseguirá: “Deus, vós que sois brasileiro, como poderei celebrar as vitórias e os gols brasileiros da vindoura Copa, e discutir os detalhes dos jogos com esses torcedores bravios, sem fluência no idioma nativo?”

Deus responderá, mas em português, e o gringo não entenderá.

Daí já será tarde demais!

ipanema, Rio

Ipanema, Rio. Clique para aumentar.

Bem, acho que já lhes dei motivos mais do que suficientes para desejarem que suas línguas rocem a de Camões.

Num proximo post, lhes contarei minha experiência de ensinar português para estrangeiros, numa época em que nossa língua nem era tão popular assim, em Lisboa e no Algarve, como falante nativo de PORTUGUÊS “BRASILAIRO” (como se é pronunciado em Portugal).

Au Revoir

Jorge Sette.