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Indelible Poverties - Ambiguous Visions of the Poor in Four Brazilian Authors


This dissertation focuses on modern representations of precariousness in Brazilian literature through the lens of its canonical fiction. Starting with the rise of industrial capitalism in Latin America, I draw attention to a continuum between colonial and postcolonial forms of marginality that have led to representations of socioeconomically vulnerable subjects under the same category of “the poor”. Drawing upon scholarly debates from affect studies, biopolitical criticism, and post-humanistic theory, I explore the extent to which this label of “the poor” has naturalized class prejudice, systemic oppression, and cultural stigmatization of the lower-class members of Brazilian society whose form of life are primarily perceived by what it lacks. In doing so, I look at how four major twentieth-century literary narratives expose and press against this stigma derived from the traditional idea of “the poor” with an ambiguous characterization of the precarious subject as simultaneously powerless and powerful. These narratives are: Euclides da Cunha’s Os Sertões (1902), Graciliano Ramos’s São Bernardo (1934), Clarice Lispector’s A Hora da Estrela (1977), and Rubens Figueiredo’s Passageiro do Fim do Dia (2010). My analysis of these novels allows me to theorize what I call the “negative sovereignty of poverty”: the emergence of invisibility, animality, and sublimity as alternative forms of power that allow individuals lacking in material resources to counter oppression with resilience, wonder, and wisdom, thereby defying typically demeaning representations of the poor. By placing the dissenting narratives of poverty in Brazil at the heart of the debate on how literature can open windows to the intricacies of sociocultural values in the Global South, this dissertation stresses that the ambiguous narration of the poor has subtly made poverty one of the most potent literary motifs at the intersection of politics and aesthetics.

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