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Cities of Dreams and Despair: Utopia and Dystopia in Contemporary Brazilian Film and Literature

  • Author(s): Burt, Benjamin David
  • Advisor(s): Johnson, John R
  • Passos, Jos� Luiz
  • et al.
Abstract

This dissertation employs a theoretical framework rooted in utopian studies to examine the role of utopia, dystopia, and related concepts in literary and cinematic depictions of Bras�lia and S�o Paulo since 1980. By centering the concept of utopianism, understood broadly as “social dreaming,” this project departs from idealized or mythologized representations of Brazil and focuses instead on hopeful imagination. Though national cultural production long reflected optimistic myths about Brazil and its territory, the military dictatorship of 1964-1985 heralded a turn towards pessimism and dystopian aesthetics. Brazilian artists of the current, democratic period negotiate these dual legacies in a predominantly urban society during an era of global skepticism about utopia. While references to Brazil and its cities as utopian or dystopian abound in recent criticism, this dissertation is among the first projects to analyze contemporary cultural production through the lens of utopian studies. Consequently, the primary objectives of this study include surveying the role of utopianism and correlated concepts in recent film and literature, identifying trends among the included works, and considering techniques used to evoke these concepts.

My choice of focal cities facilitates comparative analysis of the influence of local history, culture, geography, and urbanism on utopian thought. Whereas Bras�lia remains closely tied to both utopian yearning and dystopia, critics rarely associate S�o Paulo explicitly with either concept despite the megacity’s simultaneous embodiment of wealth, dynamism, chaos, and division. The selected texts representing both cities most often respond to a shared baseline of disillusionment with cautious hopefulness. Allegorical and realist dystopian aesthetics remain influential, as does the limited, critical desire outlined in Haroldo de Campos’s theory of post-utopian poetry. Few texts embrace a fatalistic, anti-utopian outlook, while hopeful perspectives breaking meaningfully with the status quo are likewise uncommon. The Federal District is a more frequent site of radical utopianism as authors and filmmakers draw from Bras�lia’s history of revolutionary aspiration, whereas such ambition is almost entirely absent from the included works centered on S�o Paulo. Despite this divergence, however, texts using dystopia or post-utopia to critique specific social or ideological phenomena predominate among the included representations of both cities.

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