The Comparative Literature Undergraduate Journal

A Premier Humanities Research Journal at the University of California, Berkeley

“Capitalism at the Edge of the World”: Portrayals of Fragmentation and Identity in the City in Contemporary Brazilian Literature

“Capitalism at the Edge of the World”: Portrayals of Fragmentation and Identity in the City in Contemporary Brazilian Literature

By Jamie Huffer

This paper compares the different stylistic and narrative approaches taken by Brazilian authors Luiz Ruffato and Marcus Vinícius Faustini in portraying the fragmentation of São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, and the lives of the residents of their marginalized communities. Both novels consider the relationship the individual has with the urban space and confront the question of how the marginal subject can construct identity in a precarious space that nullifies the construction of stable sociocultural identities. The hyper-realistic depictions of the poverty, racism and injustice found in Brazil’s cities, which represent significant barriers to equality for those on the fringes of society, are indicative of the profoundly political nature of both texts.

Faustini and Ruffato masterfully counter not only the global exoticization of Brazil but also the common domestic narrative that dehumanizes favela communities and suggests that they are places devoid of culture where gang violence reigns supreme. Having themselves originated from these communities, both authors are committed to demonstrating the potential of the marginalized, who we see consistently frustrated and stifled by civic, judicial and economic inequality.

Now more than ever, it is important to welcome new voices into global literary discourse, particularly those not writing in English. Naturally, diverse voices have diverse modes of expression, but it is precisely these differences in arriving at the same ideological goal that are so fascinating. Although Faustini’s narrative is viewed through the eyes of a sole optimistic protagonist and Ruffato’s is a dark, postmodern patchwork of experience seen through the perspectives of countless anonymous outsiders, both writers create space for subaltern voices to rise to the surface and tell their own stories freely. In this way, both works share a common goal: to give voice to those who have been silenced in order to democratize narratives concerning peripheral urban communities.

Luiz Ruffato’s Eles eram muitos cavalos[1][There Were Many Horses] and Marcus Vinícius Faustini’s Guia afetivo da periferia[2] [An Affective Guide to the Periphery] are texts that contend with conditions faced by socially, economically and spatially marginal groups in the Brazilian urban sphere. Many of Brazil’s most popular cultural exports of the 21st century – namely the internationally-acclaimed films City of God and Elite Squad – have perpetuated the crisis of perception that surrounds the country, feeding on the popularity of the “cosmética da fome”[3] [“cosmetics of hunger”][4], an aesthetic approach that thrives in the exoticization of Brazil that fetishizes the poverty and violence found in the favelas and urban peripheries of its largest cities, Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo. Conversely, both texts avoid stylized, caricaturesque depictions of these cities: physical violence is either presented as an unavoidable part of daily life or, in Faustini’s case, nearly entirely absent from the narrative. In its place, the systemic violence suffered by marginalized groups is depicted with stark realism. Both authors, therefore, use their platforms to shed light on the dissonant voices present in a society wracked by injustice, and on the unequal systems that reinforce a pervasive dichotomy of insiders and outsiders.

With this in mind, in this essay I will demonstrate how Ruffato depicts a reality in which the capitalist structures of modernity have created profoundly fragmented urban spaces and have failed the individual, leaving them alienated both from themselves and other members of their community. Moreover, I will assert that Ruffato exhibits that these processes have reduced the construction of personal identity to the mere acquisition of consumer goods or to what the individual can produce through the quotidian personal tragedies of his many characters. Subsequently, I will argue that Faustini’s novel challenges what this social construct imposes on the individual as they form personal identity, and confronts the alienation of marginalized communities in the urban space and the spaces to which they are confined in the city, thereby presenting the cultural heterogeneity of the periferia[5] by giving voice to members of disenfranchised communities and allowing them to tell their own stories. In order to achieve this, the narrator-protagonist presents a series of memories from his youth in which he establishes himself as a citizen of the entire metropolis by traveling through it on foot, by bike or public transport, observing and interacting with people of all social classes in the mode of a modern flâneur. In turn, through his engagement with the arts, he is able imagine a parallel vision of the city as a place for fiction that exists independently from the oppressive reality of the one dominated by capital. In this way, having experienced the legitimacy of their physical communities denied, their cultural identities homogenized by external narratives, Faustini demonstrates the importance of action over passivity – that it is incumbent on members of these communities to exercise their rights to citizenship in an “insurgent” manner, thereby exercising their potential to autonomously construct identity.[6]

The periferia originated during the 1940s, a period in time that marks the beginning of mass population migration from rural areas in the Brazilian hinterland to the fringes of the nation’s largest urban centers.[7] As cities expanded in reaction to their growing populations, the improvised communities that had been established on their fringes by economic migrants became incorporated topographically into the cities themselves. The roots of the systemic oppression faced by these communities, however, are found in the fact that their relationship to the city remained wholly separate on a judicial level during this period of development: their ‘rural’ denominations remained despite their ostensive urbanity.[8] As anthropologist James Holston has observed, the consequences of this judicial inconsistency were drastic, leaving these communities isolated, deprived of access to municipal infrastructural development and at the mercy of rapidly modernizing society:

the development of the urban peripheries and the institutionalization of social rights based on urban labor consolidated a centrifugal pattern of segregation in Brazilian cities and modernized the already differentiated citizenship of Brazilians. Thus, spatial segregation and citizenship differentiation were concurrent processes in a project of national modernization.[9]

In an environment where life is so precarious, any literature that aims to depict it with great realism – as Faustini’s and Ruffato’s works do – ought to reflect exactly that; it must present tangible examples of the consequences of the urban fragmentation outlined by Holston above. Literature permits a more immediate access to this world, functioning as “dramatizações de ideias, situações em movimento que implicam uma pluralidade de centros” [dramatizations of ideas, fluid situations that imply a plurality of centers][10] that establish the presence of a diversity of experience, as well as an empathetic connection between reader and said characters. As a consequence, we perceive that giving voice to these marginal figures is an inherently political act. Indeed, to readily engage with wider socio-political discourse, EEMC “had to give an account of the characteristics of capitalism at the edge of the world […], [of] this abyss in the peripheries […]. In Brazil the plunge into poverty is deeper and stronger.”[11] Indeed, as Ruffato has commented, such circumstances fundamentally alter the way in which an individual relates to the people and the world around them, and, thereby, how they construct identity:

[What] marks this kind of capitalism is the precariousness of everything. You can have money, jewellery, live in a mansion but your life is much more precarious in São Paulo […]. This lack of security changes everything, changes your perception of the world, it changes the way you have relationships with things and people.[12] [my italics]


Both Ruffato and Faustini share a belief in the importance of circulating through the modern city as flâneurs, as this action permits “the birth of a vision of a city”[13] and enables empathetic connections among its inhabitants. However, EEMC is marked by a stark sense of division that seems impossible to overcome: the city’s millions of residents seldom interact with each other, communication is fraught and mutual understanding between people is rarely achieved. Physical barriers (walls, fences, roads) and intangible obstacles (the fear of violence) prevent the movement of people, instead creating a space that is functional for the movement of vehicles and of capital. This space, therefore, unilaterally nullifies the potential for the wanderings of an archetypal flâneur, as imagined by Walter Benjamin.[14] Instead, Ruffato defines a new literary vocabulary for depicting life in the modern mega-city, marked by a wealth of stylistic and formal experimentation. EEMC narrates the city at a remarkable pace, “como se alguém pegasse um carro e andasse pela cidade sem parar e contasse as histórias que encontrou” [“as though someone jumped in a car and drove non-stop around the city and related all the stories they saw”],[15] producing a montage of images that replicates film–“uma técnica pós-cinematográfica,” asserts Helder Macedo, “resultando em uma obra mais realista do que a literatura realista alguma vez havia sido” [“a post-cinematographic technique that creates a work that is even more realist than realist literature had once been”].[16] By extension, the cinematic hyper-realism that underpins Ruffato’s “visão parcial de tragédias individuais, sociais e econômicas” [“partial vision of individual, social and economic tragedies”][17] represents one of the stylistic foundations of his criticism of modernity, the effects of which are succinctly outlined by Alladi Venkatesh:

Under conditions of modernity, real becomes hyperreal, representation becomes interpretation, substance becomes form, objects become images, and modernism begins to be consumed in its own images. Modernism, while incorporating uniqueness, produces fragmentation, while emphasizing real produces the imaginary and the hyperreal, while stressing representational fidelity in art and science produces illusions by a clever application of technologies, and while exalting the bourgeois subject into a privileged position alienates him/her and then fragments him/her. Thus the paradox of modernity is the unconnectedness of its ideality to its reality. In this sense modernity is viewed as a myth, or more exactly, its own myth.[18]

In focusing our attention on modernity’s paradoxes, Venkatesh highlights its harmful consequences for both the individual and wider society. Consequently, we see that Ruffato uses the same hyper-realism that modernity creates to expose the brutality of Brazilian social reality that lies veiled behind a broader myth of progress. One of Ruffato’s principal targets is the narrative that maintains that contemporary technological, scientific, and social advances ought to bestow greater freedom upon the inhabitants of Brazil’s cities. However, the often banal mundanity of daily life, particularly when depicted in hyper-realist detail, serves to underscore the true lack of individual freedom within a fragmented city. Therefore, in EEMC what we encounter in response to the failures of modernism “is not a single postmodernism, but several postmodernisms”,[19] as the daily reality of São Paulo “não é internalizada pelo drama de um indivíduo, mas pelos pequenos dramas de muitos” [“is not internalized through the drama of a sole individual, but through the small dramas of many”].[20] Indeed, as a result of its compositional fragmentation into 69 individually named and numbered sections, EEMC relies on spatial and temporal unifiers – the fact that all of its events take place on the same day in the same city, 9th May 2000 in São Paulo – for it to be distinguishable as novel.[21] The author himself has described the text as a “romance-cebola” [novel-onion],[22] an apt metaphor for the diverse layers of society that are explored throughout the text, as well as Ruffato’s desire to present its vignettes as almost simultaneous, thereby mimicking the sensory experience of living in a mega-city where, according to the author, time functions differently than in other smaller cities.[23]

Another consideration that arises is the agency afforded to the characters. Through narrative, they either emerge from the shadows of their marginalized, peripheral communities or, conversely, the reader is brought therein, thereby affording their stories visibility without judgment or prejudice, and with accurate representations of their idiolect and sociolect. Ruffato’s characters are typically “pessoas anônimas, sem brilho e sem reconhecimento” [“anonymous people, unremarkable and unrecognized”][24], often devoid of even the most basic signifier of identity: a name. This reality forces the reader to consider how these people are able to construct and subsequently enact cultural and personal identity in a physical space that often prohibits such an exercise. The consequence of this, in combination with the fragmented mode of narration, is a striking yet seemingly superficial immediacy. The direct access given to the most intimate thoughts and moments, the hopes, fears, and dreams of the city’s countless outsiders, its dissonant voices, provokes the uncomfortable feeling that the reader’s gaze is intrusive, even voyeuristic.

A perfect example of this is “45. Vista parcial da cidade” [45. Partial vision of the city], in which a disembodied voice wonders aloud about questions of belonging, emphasizing the dichotomy between the city’s insiders and outsiders: “(são paulo é o lá-fora? é o aqui-dentro?)” (82) [“(is são paulo the out-there? is it the in-here?)”]. In a flash, the narration jumps to a description of  an elderly woman that is quick and devoid of punctuation, focusing principally on her aspect and possessions. However, towards the end of her description, the focus shifts from what is visually perceptible to a more humanizing observation: “olhos assustados nunca se acostumará ao trânsito à correria ao barulho” (82) [“frightened eyes she’ll never get used to the traffic to the mad rush to the noise”]. Through her eyes, the woman’s alienation from and fear of the city is made apparent and, from this simple observation, the reader’s relationship to the character changes substantially. It raises the question of why she will never adapt to everyday urban reality, which is answered by a divergent narrative voice in an italic typeface, a daydream recalling rural life: “a corda canta na roldana o balde traz água salobra pouca o silêncio das vacas mugindo” (82) [“the rope sings in the pulley the bucket brings up a little brackish water the silence of the mooing cows”]. Within a matter of moments and several narrative shifts, the passage moves from the macro view of the city, to a focus on the identity of a single woman. Through this approximation to her thoughts, the reader is able to extrapolate that, for her, life in the city is a necessity, not a choice.

Moreover, just as the reader notes the reflection of the city’s oppressive and overwhelming qualities in the woman’s fearful eyes, the hope a teenage girl has of forging a better life for herself there is apparent in her “impossíveis olhos abertos” (83) [“impossible open eyes”] as she travels on a bus. Said hope, however, is shattered by her mother, who explains the impossibility of her dreams: “e meia de ônibus a mãe pergunta minha filha tanto sacrifício vale a pena? e migalhas de seus sonhos esparram-se sobre os ombros da velha” (83) [“and in the middle of the bus the mother asks my daughter is so much sacrifice worth it? and the crumbs of her dreams fall onto the old woman’s shoulders”]. In much the same way, a working man standing behind the two women is removed of personal agency as his large body is thrown around the bus as it speeds along Avenida Rebouças, a motion mirrored by the layout of the text:

pendula o corpanzil pálpebras semifechadas (semiabertas?) cansado suado contas para pagar prestações atrasadas o corpo

para frente


para trás (83)

[his bulky body swings his eyes half-closed (half-open?) tired sweaty bills to pay loans overdue his body thrown




Ruffato places great importance on the descriptions of the eyes of these three characters, and it is through them that the narrative perspective is able to shift and assume their points of view. Where the eyes of the “velha” communicated fear and her inability to ever adjust to the daily realities of urban life and those of the “adolescente” gave the impression of youthful hope, those of the man reveal his physical and mental exhaustion. In turn, a shift to the man’s perspective, somewhere between wakefulness and sleep, is reflected in the stream of consciousness narration that depicts the conflation of internal thoughts with the images that flash by outside the bus window, providing a partial view of the city:

carros e carros

assaltantes ladrões prostitutas traficantes

carros e carros

mais um dia

terça feira

fim de semana longe

as luzes dos postes dos carros dos painéis eletrônicos dos ônibus

e tudo tem a cor cansada

e os corpos mais cansados

                     mais cansados

a batata das minhas pernas dói minha cabeça dói e (83)

[cars and cars

burglars thieves prostitutes drug dealers

cars and cars

another day


long weekend

lights of the lampposts cars electronic panels buses

and everything has a tired colour

and the bodies even more tired

                            even more tired

my calves are killing me my head is killing me and]

By the end of the fragment, his observations of the people and things that surround him are marked by monotony and fatigue, “e tudo tem a cor cansada / e os corpos mais cansados / mais cansados.” Moreover, the voyeuristic tone that has dominated the fragment is interrupted by the abrupt introduction of a first person speaker in the final line. From the escapist exercise of observing the surrounding world, they return to the self where they only find pain, which, as the incomplete final sentence suggests, is without resolution.

What little the reader is able to glean of the personal identities of these characters is symptomatic of the spatial and social fragmentation of São Paulo that make it an archetypal “divided city.”[25] Consequently, residents of these far-flung and often precarious communities are forced to spend vast swathes of time on public transport, which form part of a phenomenon French anthropologist Marc Augé terms ‘non-places,’ “territórios de transição, nos quais se anula a possibilidade de construção de identidades socioculturais estáveis” [“places of transition, in which the possibility of constructing stable sociocultural identities is nullified”][26]:

A person entering the space of non-place is relieved of his usual determinants. He becomes no more than what he does or experiences in the role of passenger, customer, or driver […]. The space of non-place creates neither singular identity nor relations; only solitude, and similitude. There is no room for history unless it has been transformed into an element of spectacle, usually in allusive texts.[27]

The non-space is also characterized by its capacity to obstruct and impede communication between those within. Indeed, due to the inability of the novel’s characters to communicate or connect with each other on personal and emotional levels, the fragments are laden with “a pluralidade de vozes, as frases interrompidas, as falas abortadas, os pensamentos incompletos, as multiplicidades de sentidos” [“the plurality of voices, interrupted sentences, aborted utterances, incomplete thoughts, the multiplicity of meanings”].[28] These competing voices overwhelm each other and fail to establish any feeling of mutual comprehension, thus rendering communication between them fractured and incomplete.

“25. Pelo telefone” [“25. Over the phone”] exhibits the isolating effect of this communication breakdown on the individual. Its call and response pattern mirrors that of actual conversation; however, the consistent monotony in the mechanical repetition of the answering machine’s pre-recorded message is exceptionally jarring when contrasted with the anger and devastation expressed by the woman behind the messages:

O quê você ganha com isso?, cadela!, o quê (Pausa) O quê que você ganha com o sofrimento de outros, heim? (Pausa) Ver um filho chorando… sem entender… o pai… noites fora… A filha rebelde… a mãe… (Voz esgarçada) O pai… tem… outra… (Descontrolada) Desgraçada! Desgraçada! O quê você ganha com isso? Filha-da-puta! Filha-da-puta! (48)

[What do you get out of this?, bitch!, what (Pause) What do you get out of making other people suffer, huh? (Pause) Seeing a son cry… without knowing why… his father… spends nights away… His rebellious daughter… her mother… (Voice breaking with anguish) Dad… is seeing… someone else… (Unbridled anger) You slut! You slut! What do you get out of this? Whore! Whore!]

Although the reader knows nothing of the woman leaving the messages, other than what she reveals about herself and her personal life, the strength of and humanity in her reaction forges a significant empathetic connection between character and reader. In so doing, the fragment foregrounds the speaker’s yearning, and it is here that the reader is able to locate its tragedy. What we see is an exchange not between two people of equal standing, but rather one between woman and machine. The dehumanized back-and-forth, characterized by the answering machine’s unwaveringly upbeat tone in the face the anonymous speaker’s desperate pleas for compassion, resoundingly demonstrates modernity’s capacity to alienate, isolate and rid individuals of empathy. Indeed, elsewhere in EEMC, when conversations between people are established and interpersonal connections made, “there is usually a clear lack of communication, if not a blatant absence of civility or compassion, which contributes to an overall feeling of alienation.”[29] Through these examples we reach the conclusion that under conditions of modernity, alienation and dehumanization of others is an inescapable reality of life. However, Ruffato forces his reader to consider the social and personal consequences of this process in his vivid dramatizations of this phenomenon and, in this way, EEMC forges a direct link between modernity and the entrenchment of social inequality. Fragments such as “25. Pelo telefone” [“25. Over the phone”] exhibit how dehumanisation in social interactions fosters ambivalence and impassivity towards the suffering of others. If we no longer interact with others with humanity, Ruffato’s text contends, we lack the capacity to acknowledge and to alleviate the suffering of those living in poverty, resulting in the entrenchment of existing socioeconomic hierarchies.

Individual characters’ reactions to this phenomenon, however, are varied. On one hand, some show a distinct yearning to establish physical, emotional or psychological contact with another person and to redress the balance of their alienation. Others, like the downtrodden speaker of “21. ele)” [“21. him)”], withdraw totally from city life, as seen through his internal monologue:

Dia havia era assim, um desassossegamento, lugar algum bom, formigamento excursionista, pernas mãos braços, por tudo desinteresse, pessoa nenhuma, nem conversa, cavar um buraco: trancar-se, Tem Corinthians hoje… Num vai não?, ventania em-dentro da cabeça, pensamentos redemunham, o corpo angustioso. (42)

[The day was something like this, a pain in the ass, no place any good to go, a wandering tingling feeling, in his legs hands arms, total disinterest for everything, for everyone, just the urge to dig himself a hole and shut himself away in it, Corinthians are playing tonight… Aren’t you going?, the wind’s blowing a gale in his head, his thoughts a whirlwind, his body in agony.]

His subsequent immersion in a crowd of people, however, does not approximate him to those around him; rather, the confusion and facelessness of the masses serves only to alienate him further. Indeed, this phenomenon of urban solitude, the unique feeling of emotional distance and alienation felt in the face of intense physical proximity, was something of great concern to Baudelaire, and is highly applicable to a modern megacity like São Paulo:

the anonymity of the crowd is close to the definitional heart of the word ‘alienation’, precisely because in it the element of familiarity, both actual and potential, is lacking. That element is replaced in the crowded city by a sense of singularity. People one glimpses in the street seem strange or bizarre – they resist one’s interpretive skills – not just because one doesn’t know them but more particularly because there is so little chance of one’s ever encountering them again.[30]

As the reader follows Ruffato’s character along the avenue, this description of a crowded space is arguably more apt when considering São Paulo than it ever had been for Haussmann’s Paris. His inability to process the plethora of occurrences that happen before him in the street confounds him and is reflected by a prose that is marked by fractured rhythm and inconsistent line length. His helplessness and confusion are articulated through rhetorical questions that are neither spoken nor answered, the absence of response further highlighting his alienation. The resulting effect is disorientating and leads him to question his judgement over something as simple as the temperature outside or as seemingly innocuous as whether the prevention of a robbery represents the collapse of normal society:


e o dia?

é bonito o dia? é feio?

faz frio? faz calor?

¿o vento embalou as nuvens no céu ou elas regaram mansamente o asfalto?

¿um motoboy se esparramou na faixa-de-pedestres?

¿um executivo espancou um menino-de-rua com o laptop?

¿um cobrador impediu um assalto?

¿o mundo, o mundo acabou? (43)


what’s the day like?

is it nice? grim?

cold? hot?

did the wind clear the clouds in the sky or are they softly falling to the asphalt?

is the moto-driver lying flat out on the zebra crossing?

did that executive just smack a street-kid with a laptop?

did the ticket collector just stop a mugging?

did, did the world just end?]

The speaker’s individuality is wholly lost, subsumed by the crowd, and we see an interior monologue entirely devoid of personal and cultural identifiers. In contrast, we learn that his only recourse for expressing identity is what he consumes and, indeed, this is all that he sees when he sees his face in the mirror: “mira-se no espelho, vontade de mandar tudo à, a mensalidade do curso de informática, as prestações do aparelho-de-dentes, o presentinho para o Dia das Mães, o cedê prometido à irmã-caçula, os dedos ginasticam, boceja” (43) [“he looks at himself in the mirror, he wishes he could sent all to the, but there’s the monthly IT course fee, the instalments for his braces, the little gift for Mothers’ Day, the CD he promised to his little sister, he twiddles his fingers, he yawns”]. His depiction is tragic. However, its tragedy is born out of its quotidian nature, which, in turn reveals him to be symbolic of the wider urban population: “estão pessoas isoladas dentro de espaços delimitados de produção e de consumo: o trabalho, o transporte, o ambiente domestico”[“they are people isolated within defined spaces of production and consumption: work, transport, the domestic space”]. [31]

A further hallmark of “capitalism at the edge of the world” is the importance that the individual places on material goods as signifiers of identity and of social class. In the context of a world defined by rigid socioeconomic divisions that create physical boundaries between people, for many of the novel’s characters the only way to transcend these borders is through the acquisition of material possessions. For example, “10. O que quer uma mulher” [“10. What a woman wants”] depicts an argument between a married couple whose marriage is falling apart and places culture and the arts into direct conflict with purchasing power. While the husband ambles through life, contented by his well-established routines and intellectually high-brow reading topics, the wife is unable to sleep, traumatized by a violent shootout she witnessed while returning home. Her panicked state is reflected in the lack of punctuation, as one observation melts seamlessly into another:

comecei a ouvir o maior tiroteio pensei em fugir mas ainda corria o risco de ter o carro roubado já pensou? aí tirei a chave da ignição deitei na poltrona de bruços um medo de morrer ali sozinha e então aconteceu uma coisa engraçada parece que eu desmaiei viajei no tempo sei lá me vi de novo mocinha com meus colegas do grupo-de-jovens (24)

[i started to hear the biggest shoot-out i thought about running away but then i’d be running the risk of having my car stolen you know? so i snatched the key from the ignition lay flat across the seats terrified of dying there alone and then something funny happened i guess i passed out time-travelled who knows i saw myself as a little girl again with friends from my youth group]

This traumatic near-death experience triggers immediate self-reflection of her present personal and financial circumstances, though she is never able to establish an open dialogue with her husband. Their fractured argument mimics the shootout mentioned moments before, and it becomes clear that she can only evaluate her life in material terms. Her “desejo pequeno burguês” [“petit-bourgeois desire”][32] to surpass their stagnant socio-economic position becomes her primary concern,[33] and we see her “sufocada entre a violência material que diminui o poder aquisitivo da classe média e a agressão física e social que involucra os residentes das metrópoles” [“suffocated between the material violence that diminishes the purchasing power of the middle class and the physical and social violence that city residents are wrapped up in”].[34] In this way, the egocentrism of characters that construct their identity in strictly material terms, such as the arms dealer in “28. Negócio” [“28. Business”] and the middle-class swinger couples of “53. Tetrálogo” [“53. Tetralogue”] who cement their friendship in a shared belief in the oppression of the middle class,[35] demonstrates plainly how the divided city functions. Those of financial means are able to create distance between themselves and others, whether behind bullet-proof glass or at altitude in a helicopter, thereby indicating that social status has an inherent influence on the way the individual relates to the city.

Violence, Lehnen writes, “não é somente causa, mas também efeito da fragmentação”[“is not only a cause, but also an effect of fragmentation”].[36] It is, therefore, one of the “fronteiras invisíveis, mas altamente demarcadas” [“invisible, yet clearly demarcated, borders”][37] that divide the city. EEMC acknowledges violence as an everyday commonplace – an inescapable reality of life. In “39. Regime” [“39. Diet”], the title of which suggests this very degree of the quotidian, a description of the subject’s daily working routines and family life meshes seamlessly with an account of a violent robbery at her place of work:

achava-se o máximo!, o namorado trainee no hã! o cano do revolver na sua testa o rapaz voz engrolada Enfia o dinheiro aqui, anda! um saco plástico do Carrefour meio pao de cachorro-quente meia salschisa atravacando a língua […] Enfia o dinheira aqui, porra! […] a voz de alguém na cobertura, a máquina-de-costura industrial se cala um ganido a falta de ar o gatilho plec (71)

[she thinks she’s the shit!, and her boyfriend’s a trainee at the ahhh! the barrel of a revolver on her forehead the guy’s growling voice Stick the cash in here, come on! a plastic Carrefour bag and her mouth is full of half a hot dog […] Fucking stick the cash in here! […] someone’s voice from the penthouse, the industrial sewing machine falls quiet a yelp a lack of air the trigger bang]

The juxtaposition between the quotidian and the violent is particularly striking: in no way does the presence of the barrel of a gun at the girl’s head disrupt the flow of the passage. However, the reader is able to gauge a greater sense of the act of violence committed through the expletive-laden orders shouted, as the run-on prose of the fragment’s finale, which implies the girl’s murder, delivers a great sense of pathos through anti-climax.

Another example of violence as a barrier between people is related by the speaker of “20. Nós poderiamos ter sido grandes amigos” [“20. We could have been such great friends”], who leads the reader through a friendship that he hoped would emerge out of an evening of food and music. The narration is delivered entirely in a mysterious conditional mode that lulls the reader into a daydream-state, from which they are abruptly awoken by a sudden shift in verbal tense that brings the narrative firmly into the cold reality of the present day:

Hoje soube que ele não vai mais voltar para casa.

Ele foi vitima de um sequestro-relâmpago.

Os bandidos […] roubaram os documentos, cheques, cartões de débito e de crédito.

Depois […] puseram ele de joelhos, deram um tiro na nuca.

O corpo foi encontrada hoje de manhã.

O carro ainda não. (42)

[Today I found out that he won’t be coming home anymore.

He was the victim of a quick-fire kidnapping.

The gangsters […] stoles his documents, cheques, debit and credit cards.

Then […] they made him get on his knees, and put a bullet in the back of his head.

The body was found this morning.

Still no sign of the car.]

The speaker’s description of his would-be friend’s execution reveals very little emotion, instead opting for the objectivity and impassivity of a journalistic description. In keeping with the idea of a ‘câmera-flâneur’ that navigates the city documenting it objectively, Ruffato very clearly underscores the precariousness of life in São Paulo by mimicking journalistic objectivity in his description of violent events. Moreover, the plain reactions of the speakers communicates a wider desensitization of the city’s population to the violence that occurs on its streets, which stems directly from a heightened lack of empathy caused by social fragmentation and the bombardment of information that people are subject to in an age of global communication, as individuals are anaesthetized by a world dominated by consumerism.[38]

Instances of violence in EEMC, however, are not uniquely physical, as the author is conscious to demonstrate the effects of the systemic violence of corrupt political figures and the consequences of the racially motivated prejudices of agents of the state enacted against minority figures. In “46. O prefeito não gosta que lhe olhem nos olhos” [“46. The mayor doesn’t like anyone looking him in the eye”],  the newly-elected mayor’s promise that “ia acabar com a roubalheira” (84) [“he would put an end to all the corruption”] is presented side-by-side with accusations of impropriety, that “‘Ele’ tem conta no exterior, que ‘Ele’ comprou um apartamento triplex nos Jardins, que ‘Ele’ é o chefe da quadrilha que roubava os cofres da Prefeitura…” (85) [“‘He’ has an off-shore bank account, that ‘He’ bought a triplex apartment in Jardins[39], that ‘He’ is the leader of the gang that was emptying the municipality’s coffers…”]. This description epitomises the divisions that exist between the powerful and the powerless in the urban space. Those with financial means are able to manipulate the existing power structures to be able to further consolidate their social position, as the speaker comments, “Pra mim ‘Ele’ é igual a todos os outros que passaram por aqui” (85) [“As far as I’m concerned ‘He’ is the same as all of the others who have come through here”]. The message is very clear: this man will not enact any change, and political power is a commodity that allows the faceless members of the upper reaches of society to perpetuate their status with impunity.

“47. O ‘Crânio’” [“47. ‘Braniac’”[40]] brings the disparity between the powerful and the powerless into sharp focus by raising concrete examples of oppression faced by the residents of the periferia. Its eponymous subject is an outlier in the hyper-masculine environment of his community. His personality, interests and actions run counter to those of other young men: he reads voraciously, “não fuma nem cheira” (86) [“he doesn’t smoke or snort”[41]], “é romântico” (88) [“he’s a romantic”[42]], “confessou uma vez que escreve poesia / um dia te mostro me falou” (88) [“told me one time he writes poetry / one day I’ll show you he said”[43]], and he recognises the systematic oppression that he and the other members of his community suffer. However, where these traits may have isolated him, instead, he and his observations below are the source of great pride and respect within his community:

e a gente feito mosca pousada na bosta

esperando a hora do pipoco feito formiga na fila do formigueiro

esperando a hora do coturno

aí pessoal fica meio puto

mas ninguém reclama porque sabe que no fundo o crânio tem razão

ele sempre tem razão

[…]ele fala seus babacas os ricos não estão nas ruas

estão lá no alto em helicópteros

cagando de rir de mim de você se matando (87-88)

[and you guys are like flies hanging out on horseshit

waiting your turn to get popped off like ants in a line on the anthill

waiting to get booted out and then people get kinda pissed off

but nobody complains because deep down they know Brainiac’s right

he’s always right

[…]he says these idiotic things that the rich don’t live on the streets anymore they’re way up there in the helicopters

shitting their pants laughing at me and you down here killing each other[44]]

His awareness that wealth disparity in Brazil defines the space that individuals occupy, of how this reality subsequently concretizes urban fragmentation along economic and geographic lines, and of how this threatens to cement his community’s sub-class status for good, is met with a bitter and violent irony. Due to his lack of identification – itself a symptom of the precarious nature of his living situation and his fragmented community – he is handcuffed and forced by nameless, faceless military police officers to lay face-down in sewage run-off water, before being thrown into a police van and brutally beaten as it travels through “essa são paulo tão comprida” (89) [“this grand city of são paulo”[45]], a description laden with venomous sarcasm.  The final words of the fragment, “porra o crânio este é o mal dele o crânio tem um coração destamanho” (89) [“shit man Brainiac worst thing about him Brainiac’s got a heartthisbig”[46]], indicate that the empathetic faculties o crânio possesses have little use in the face of oppressive state forces who lack said capacity. Indeed, that the fragment concludes with the speaker – o crânio’s elder brother – and his friends heading home to pick up weapons, ammunition and the addresses of the complicit police officers, demonstrates the inevitability of the cycle of violence that continues to divide the city and its residents.

Ultimately, this interaction is indicative of wider corrupt and repressive systems that contemporary authors like Ruffato and Faustini seek to combat. In this dynamic, the state not only demonstrates physical dominion over the marginalised individual through forcing him to lie face-down in sewage-water or violently beating him, but also economic and cultural control through “more subtle forms of repression against those like Braniac, a burgeoning young black writer from the favela, who use literature to contest their allotted social place, question unremarked forms of consensus, or make connections across the disjunctive social spaces of the novel”.[47]


If we consider the modern city as depicted in EEMC as fragmented, populated by eager consumers with little humanity, divided by the imposing and deeply-rooted structures of late capitalism, by the “fluxo constante de bens materiais, de informação e de sujeitos” [“constant flux of material goods, information and subjects”],[48] we acknowledge that there is neither room for alternative discourse nor for the individual to construct identity. In this way, it becomes clear that these structures directly cause the growth of geographical and sociological divisions between rich and poor, further sustain social alienation, alienation from the self and are also what further cement the overriding social narrative “que descreve a cidade como lugar de medo, como lugar que a gente não pode circular, que deve ser apenas funcional para os carros e o fluxo de capital” [“that describes the city as a place of fear, as a place that we can’t circulate, that must be exclusively functional for vehicles and the flow of capital”].[49]

Through the vignettes of EEMC, Ruffato makes abundantly clear that the degree of personal autonomy the individual is able to access within this narrow framework is defined uniquely by their relation to capital. Therefore, members of fragmented, peripheral communities become victims of consensus of both representations and perceptions of their culture and identities that stem directly from what they lack economically, as Jailson de Souza e Silva argues: “O eixo paradigmático da representação desse espaço popular é a noção de ausência. A favela é definida pelo que ela não é ou pelo que não tem […] devido ao fato de [os espaços populares] não serem reconhecidos como espaços legítimos” [“The central pillar of the representation of this public space is the notion of absence. The favela is defined by what it is not or by what it does not have […] due to the fact that [the public spaces] are not recognised as legitimate spaces”].[50]  Denial of their legitimacy by wider society can be seen as the direct cause of limitations of the marginalized individual’s potential to autonomously construct identity in these interstitial spaces. What we instead confront is a series of homogenizing discourses that dictate the social identities of disenfranchised communities in accordance with the agendas of external political, religious, cultural or social groups.[51]

A criticism of this discursive homogenization, as well as of fragmentation caused by the consideration of capital as a defining characteristic of identity, lies at the heart of Faustini’s GADP. The novel is “uma resposta editorial, política e afetiva ao direito da periferia de contar sua própria história” [“a political, editorial and affective response to the periferia’s right to tell its own story”][52] that “counteract[s] the symbolic construction of Rio de Janeiro as a ‘divided city,’ partitioned along socioeconomic lines”.[53] It also demonstrates the importance of the emergence of “insurgent” voices from within marginalized communities and of enabling these people to exercise their rights to citizenship, to culture, and to self-expression in the fragmented urban space.

Thus, recognizing the systemic difficulties faced by the marginalised individual within the aforementioned framework, in which low-income communities occupy a space that that is at once geographically and socially peripheral, Faustini’s narrator-protagonist presents a parallel, personal urban narrative that subverts commonly held conceptions of the city. The stories of his circulation contradict the narrative of the city as a place exclusively for the flow of capital, thus forging a counter-narrative of movement and communication that exists beyond capitalist constraints of both time and space. In so doing, the protagonist reconceptualizes Rio de Janeiro “como um lugar de ficção, um lugar de invenção: invenção de ambiente, invenção de ações, invenção de encontros, de possibilidade” [as a place of fiction, a place of invention: invention of environment, action, encounters and possibility”].[54] Whereas EEMC presents a city fragmented, GADP – though structurally divided into three distinct sections, each comprised of various sub-sections – seeks to unite all occupants of the urban space: “[Faustini] concentrates on communal spaces and constructs narrative bridges between the metropolis’s different socioeconomic terrains […] and traverses them, [through which] the narrator […] establishes himself as a citizen of the entire urbe.[55]

By forging a narrative parallel to the ‘excessively real’ commercial systems that oppress the individual,  Faustini’s narrator-protagonist demonstrates that he is able to engage with the whole city in a way that frees him from the same excessive reality in which the reader encounters the isolated figures of EEMC.  Explaining his approach to the city as a place for encounter in a section of the novel entitled “Excesso de realidade” [“Reality in excess”], the narrator-protagonist comments: “Nunca gostei do excesso de realidade presente na boca dos arautos que falam sobre o Rio, seja em mesa de bar, entrevista de canal a cabo ou seminário de universitárias charmosas. Na cidade, eu procuro a ficção” (74) [“I never liked the excessive reality spouting from the mouths of the know-it-alls who sound off about Rio, whether at a bar table, in television interviews or in seminars at charming universities”]. In this instance, the speaker pointedly criticizes all forms of sedentary talking heads, regardless of platform, at once taking aim at mass media, academia, and atomized individuals at a “mesa em bar.” The implication the reader is encouraged to draw is that, in contrast with these generalized representative types, the individual who comes to know Rio de Janeiro whilst in transit has a more profound and, therefore, an inherently more powerful understanding of the polis. Indeed, lest he be misunderstood, he is also careful to emphasize to his reader that the process of circulating the city in search of fiction is one that is definitively grounded in reality, though that relies upon an adjustment of one’s perception: “Não se trata de inventar histórias, nem de negar-se ao mundo, aos objetos e às relações formativas desta civilização carioca. Trata-se de fruir, de buscar ao longo do dia o direito a esse instante.” (74 [my italics]) [“It has nothing to do with making up stories, nor with turning against the world, its objects and the formative relationships of Carioca society. It has everything to do with searching all day long for and enjoying the right to this moment.”].

Moreover, the speaker’s mention of the “direito a esse instante” [“right to this moment”] is particularly pertinent, and further compounds the revolutionary nature of the narrative act he undertakes throughout the course of the novel. As Leila Lehnen has correctly observed, this is an example of an “act of citizenship,” and when one conceives of citizenship

in terms of acts or agency, […] citizens [are seen] as agents of change rather than merely as passive holders of rights and obligations. In other words, GADP enacts the city […], [it] demonstrates how sociocultural agency can be claimed through the act of reappropriating the city […]. [It] communicat[es] a new perception of citizenship – ‘the right to have rights’.[56]

When one considers that the narrator-protagonist’s circulation through the city is representative of the personal agency that he possesses, it subsequently becomes clear that it permits him to autonomously construct individual identity. Indeed, having learned in his adolescence from “algumas meninas que eu era um cara diferente” (83) [“some girls that I was a different kind of guy”], the cultural identity he forges is unique. His love of “filmes esquisitos, livros esquisitos, músicas esquisitas e roupas esquisitas” (83) [“strange films, strange books, strange music and strange clothes”], acquired as a direct result of his interactions with a wide range of people from around the city, is considered strange by members of his immediate community, who, as marginalized members of society, lack the same exposure to the whole urban space and its resultant cultural capital. In turn, it allows him to form part of improvised communities of different kinds and establish identity in places that Augé maintained were, by their very definition, devoid thereof: “Um condomínio de pessoas, e não de prédios se realizava dentro do 882” (39) [“A condominium of people, and not of buildings, was forming inside the number 882 bus”].

The protagonist’s circulation through the city and trespassing of defined barriers of social separation in search of the stories present in everyday reality forces the narrator-flâneur to incorporate spaces in the center city that belong to “the Other” into his own world. At the same time, however, his physical presence in these spaces has the reciprocal consequence of forcing members of other social classes and spaces to treat him, “jovem da periferia” [“kid from the slums”], as human. However, this process is far from easy, and the narrator demonstrates that his conscious act of circulating the city is naïve. He recognizes that, despite his love for the arts and his desire to be a citizen of the entire urban space, external perceptions of an individual do not necessarily align with autonomously conceived identity:

Percebi que esta segunda-feira eu era perfeito para o argumento: ‘Jovem que não estudava mais, morador da periferia, trabalhando em cemitério e com folga apenas nas segundas, pega a bicicleta […] e sai pedalando pela comunidade com walkman ouvindo aula de inglês’ (59).

[I recognised that this Monday I was perfect for the script of: ‘Kid who left school, lives in the slums, works in a cemetery with only Mondays off, who grabs his bike […] and takes off through the favela listening to an English lesson on his Walkman.]

Consequently, what the narrator-protagonist seeks alongside physical freedom of movement is freedom in how he is perceived by the external world, which the fictionalized city allows him to achieve. This idea comes to a head as he recounts his decision to move around Rio during Carnival wearing a mask, thereby plunging himself into a world teeming with fiction, as “De dentro da máscara, nada ao redor é realidade” (75) [“From inside the mask, nothing around is reality”]:

Na hora de descer, posicionei o meu rosto no espelho retrovisor do centro do ônibus e vi a máscara. Gostei do que vi. Não se trata de viver algum personagem. Trata-se de poder entregar-se à fruição. De não se preocupar com as reações faciais que você terá de fazer ao encontrar pessoas. No Rio de Janeiro da ficção, a liberdade é total. (75)

[When it came time to get off, I positioned my face in the line of the bus’s rear-view mirror and I saw the mask. I liked what I saw. It wasn’t like I was dressed up as a character. Rather it was the feeling of wholly handing yourself over to satisfaction. Of not having to worry about the facial expressions of others as you normally would upon meeting them. In the Rio de Janeiro of Fiction there is total freedom.]

The personal and social ramifications for the narrator’s encounter with “total freedom” are tremendous. On the one hand, this action permits his anonymous travel through the city, allowing him to revel in the multiplicity of occurrences and experiences as a classless agent.[57] On the other, the reality that he has to assume a different, masked guise in order to not be looked upon by people in the city centre as “Other” reinforces the sense of distinct class hierarchy. However, as has already been noted, the narrator is both self-aware and aware of the social reality he confronts on a daily basis. In this context, his fear of being mistaken for a criminal[58] communicates a double meaning. On a superficial level, this fear is readily perceptible; however, through fear, the narrator aligns the act of putting on the mask – thereby entering the free, classless “Rio de Janeiro da ficção” – with an act of insurgent criminality.

Additionally, instead of imposing limitations, the novel’s structural fragmentation and its temporally non-linear, affective chronology becomes a source of freedom for the retelling of the narrator’s life and relationship with the city. In this way, any one of the fragments could, in theory, be read as a standalone piece.[59] This is indicative of Faustini’s publicly stated desire to “romper com [a estructura do] espaço colocado para a gente e inventar outro” [“break with the spatial structure imposed upon us and to invent another”].[60] Consequently, GADP avoids the constraints of linear time by functioning in much the same way as memory itself; stories and reflections are triggered by sensorial details, objects or places, affording it the same simultaneity that dominates EEMC.  Indeed, the sequential mention of a series of odd jobs – from office-boy for Banco do Brasil to attendant at an Esso petrol station to work at a cemetery – is disorientating for the reader. This feeling stems from the fact that the simultaneity with which these events are presented renders confining them to an exact timeframe impossible, which, I would suggest, is very deliberate on the author’s part. This allows him to depict how he can be an empowered citizen of the whole metropolis and “appropriate and inhabit its entirety, even when he is constrained to the limited areas of his childhood, such as his immediate neighbourhood”[61] – as reflected in the title of the first section, “Meu Território” [“My Territory”], which tells stories concerning the entire city.

The narrator’s engagement with culture, specifically literature, is a fundamental aspect of his identity and stems directly from his exposure to the city and its wide array of inhabitants. From the intimate insight into the narrator’s psyche granted by the novel’s use of the first-person and its tone “of a personal diary with literary pretensions,”[62] his dedication to his reading and, more importantly, to what he learns from it are abundantly clear. His desire to exist outside of the world of capital is reflected in changing consumer habits: he forfeits a childhood custom of buying Coca Cola after having read Marx and expresses humiliation about having to wash the Esso sign in light of his history as an anti-capitalist student organizer.

Instead of feeling further isolation and marginalization as an intellectual in the urban periphery, as overriding discourses might lead one to believe, his circulation through the city reveals a kinship in the arts that he shares with all manner of peripheral societal figures, to whom he approximates himself emotionally regardless of the urban setting. For example, the Rodoviária de Campo Grande, described as “suja, sempre suja” (33) [“dirty, always dirty”], is a place that bustles with people in transit; however, in contrast to Augé’s “non-spaces” theory, the gathered mass of street vendors breathe life and identity into it. One camelô’s[63] tendency to read Paulo Coelho whilst not serving customers captures the narrator’s attention. However, when he sees the same man reading Dostoyevsky, a perceived shared kinship of literary pretension triggers within him a moment of profound realization about the nature of literature as a popular pursuit, and a moment of realization that he is not alone: “Estavam ali, dispostos naquele momento diante de mim, engolindo a madrugada como eu engolia o churrasquinho, universos que até então eu acreditava antagônicos: churrasquinho, filme pirata, cheiro de mijo, Paulo Coelho, Dostoiévski” (33) [“In front of me in that moment, devouring the dawn just as I was devouring my churrasquinho, were universes that, until then, I believed to be incompatible: churrasquinho, pirated movies, the smell of piss, Paulo Coelho, Dostoyevsky”].

The arts, therefore, become a primary method through which the narrator can establish connections with a truly wide variety of people throughout the novel. In an exchange he has with a French woman one night on Ipanema beach, they form a bond through their mutual appreciation of film, of conversation, and of circulação – though, he around the city, her around the world. Despite her French origins, Eunice is depicted as feeling at ease in the Zona Sul; however, the narrator admits that “Nunca tive coragem de frequentar Ipanema durante o dia” [“I never had the courage to visit Ipanema during the day”]. Despite the marked disparity in scale of the journeys they make to increase their cultural capital, their praxis of politics is the same. Additionally, he forges a two-pronged connection to a wider historical literary canon. The first is very much conscious – his active desire to explore the city as a flâneur, made explicit by his explanations of the verb ‘flanar’ forming part of his teenage seduction routine. The second is his contraction of tuberculosis, itself steeped in Romantic literary tradition and “fortemente associada às condições sanitárias de moradia das classes mais pobres da população, é o elo de Faustini com uma geração de poetas, e a dureza da convalescença é contrastada a oportunidade de ler Proust” [strongly associated with the sanitary conditions in which the poorest social classes live, links Faustini with a generation of poets and the arduous nature of the recovery is contrasted by the opportunity to read Proust”].[64] The alignment of his health with that of past writers is indicative of the extent to which the arts consume his life, as he openly expresses the desire for his life to replicate moments of fantastical and sexually charged literary or cinematic reality:

‘imagina se aquela mulher ali sentasse do meu lado e me falasse coisas incríveis e depois fôssemos para o motel!?’ Creio que meu gosto por leitura foi absolutamente influenciado pela possibilidade de encontrar-me numa situação dessas dentro de um sebo do centro do Rio. (82)

[‘imagine if that woman there sat by my side, said unimaginable things to me and then we went to a motel!?’ Think my love of reading was absolutely influenced by the possibility of finding myself in one of these situations in a second-hand book shop in the centre of Rio.]

However, when one of these literary moments comes to pass and a mysterious “voz rouca, mas suave” (83) [“a husky, but smooth, voice”] asks him “O que você achou do filme?” (83) [“What did you think of the film?”] the superficial thrill is soon replaced by a deeper connection between the two individuals, as they begin to discuss their common cultural interests and, significantly, their shared social origins:

O papo sobre o filme me rendeu a descoberta de que ela também era moradora da periferia e que era acusada de ser diferente por gostar de filmes esquisitos, livros esquisitos, músicas esquisitas e roupas esquisitas. Para coroar essa experiência literária deste momento da minha vida, ela também morava em Santa Cruz. Começamos a andar juntos pela cidade. (83)

[The chat about film offered up the fact that she too lived in the slums and that she was accused of being different because of her love of strange films, strange books, strange music and strange clothes. That she also lived in Santa Cruz was the crowning moment of the literariness of this moment of my life. We began to walk through the city together.]

In this unnamed companion, the narrator finds a kindred spirit who he welcomes into his “Rio de Janeiro da ficção” through their shared act of walking together through the city. However, their relationship is brought to an abrupt end in its literary infancy as the girl has to find work at a McDonald’s in Barra da Tijuca. The speaker comments that “a vida é dura para um jovem da periferia” [“life is tough for a kid from the slums”] and here we see very clearly how the demands of the “Rio de Janeiro do excesso de realidade” impinge on the “Rio de Janeiro da ficção.” In this instance, employment by a powerful multinational company is shown to denigrate and repress the cultural identity and imagination of a potentially upwardly mobile young individual.

Of course, having grown up in an economically and socially peripheral region, the events that depict the narrator’s youth are played out against a background of domestic poverty. This cycle repeats in the narrator’s consistent underemployment in adolescence and young adulthood, though occasions in which he sleeps rough or needs to verify that he has enough money to eat are mentioned with little to no fanfare. His lack of economic agency is never considered an obstacle to his exploration of the city and never impinges on his identity. Instead, he trades in cultural capital and the power of moments of life-affirming emotion:

Naquele momento, ficou provado que Deus existia e que a vida, mesmo para um moleque da periferia, pode ser tão incrível, ácida, intempestiva, sexy e irônica, como foi para o Amory Blaine […]. Eu me senti vivendo um prazer burguês sem um centavo no bolso. (83)

 [The existence of God was proved, as was the fact that life, even for a kid from the slums, could be truly incredible, sour, unexpected, sexy and ironic, just as it was for Amory Blaine […]. I felt myself experiencing bourgeois pleasure without a cent in my pocket.]


Given their nature as novels that epitomize a literature of precariousness and grapple with social concerns of the communities that occupy the urban peripheries of major Brazilian cities, it is clear that EEMC and GADP are profoundly political texts. In their desire to criticize how modernity has fragmented society and alienated the individual from themselves and others, they have also succeeded in combating the exoticized image of Brazil in the international cultural zeitgeist as well as challenging domestic perceptions of marginalized social groups, who are often victims of cultural erasure and/or homogenization.

It can be argued, therefore, that both authors follow in the ideological footsteps of Brechtian theatre, which sought to confront “audiences who wanted nothing more than a comforting, self-affirming, emotional theatrical experience.”[65] EEMC in particular demonstrates the stifling effect fragmented conditions of modernity have had on the individual’s ability to construct personal identity, beyond what they consume or produce, in a distinctly stylized manner. Its highlighting of uncomfortable subject matter in a style that renders comprehension difficult, either through omissions of information or jarring dialogue, is a powerful social act that gives both agency and voice to marginalized communities. In this way, the narrator-protagonist of GADP represents this legacy by exemplifying the creative and cultural power that exists despite systems that limit this by design.

Moreover, this approach is indicative of a theory concerning contemporary art set out by Walter Benjamin in his essay “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction,” which considers whether new forms of mass media, communication and culture had emancipatory potential for systemically oppressed social groups. The capacity for the mass reproduction of a given object, he argues, results in the decay of its aura, the degradation of its uniqueness.[66] What we confront in the work of Ruffato and Faustini is exactly this: the mass reproduction of the city through the perspectives of a multiplicity of people whose individual stories represent different versions and representations of the city. Through this artistic process of representation, the aura of the modern city has decayed; a singular depiction of it has perished. These novels are exemplary of the city’s total democratization, providing a platform to bridge social divides established by modernity. Therefore, in this context, “the total function of art is reversed. Instead of being based on ritual, it begins to be based on another practice– politics”.[67]

Faustini and Ruffato have both spoken openly about their belief in the transformative power of literature, having experienced it in their own lives. As such, their texts offer the promise of hope for marginalized communities by providing a platform through which oppressive discourse and its economic systems can be subverted and/or avoided, allowing the individual to redefine their relationships with the space they inhabit. In this way, both authors see the emancipatory potential of literature in its capacity as a democratic tool to redress societal power imbalances in “essa região situada na periferia do mundo” [“this region located on the edge of the world”].[68] Therefore, through their democratization of discourse surrounding the periferia, it is clear that Faustini and Ruffato seek to empower their communities to bridge divides in the fragmented city and independently forge socio-cultural identities.



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Ruffato, Luiz. Eles eram muitos cavalos, 11a edição (São Paulo: Companhia das Letras, 2013).


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–––––––. Uma cidade em camadas: ensaios sobre o romance Eles eram muitos cavalos de Luiz Ruffato (Vinhedo, SP : Editora Horizonte, 2007).

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–––––––. ‘Os não-espaços da metrópole: espaço urbano e violência social em Eles eram muitos cavalos’, in Uma Cidade em Camadas ensaios sobre o romance Eles eram muitos cavalos de Luiz Ruffato (Vinhedo, SP : Editora Horizonte, 2007), pp. 77-91.

Macedo, Helder. ‘Um livro que exacerba’, in Uma cidade em camadas: ensaios sobre o romance Eles eram muitos cavalos de Luiz Ruffato (Vinhedo, SP : Editora Horizonte, 2007), pp. 53-55.

McCaul Moura, Kathleen & Ruffato, Luiz. ‘Urban Protest in Brazil: the City and the Politics of Luiz Ruffato’, Asymptote Journal, (Available at: <Accessed: 5th January 2018>.

Ruffato, Luiz. ‘Discurso de Luiz Ruffato na Feira do Livro de Frankfurt 2013’ (27th March 2014),  (Available at: <Accessed: 8th January 2018>.

Sá, Lúcia. ‘Dividir, multiplicar, repetir: a São Paulo de Luiz Ruffato’ in Uma cidade em camadas: ensaios sobre o romance Eles eram muitos cavalos de Luiz Ruffato (Vinhedo, SP : Editora Horizonte, 2007), pp. 92-101.

Scannell, Paddy. ‘Benjamin Contextualized: On “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction”’ in Canonic Texts in Media Research, E. Katz et al (eds) (Cambridge: Polity, 2003), pp. 74-89.

Schollhammer, Karl Erik. ‘Fragmentos do real e real do fragmento’ in Cidade em Camadas: ensaios sobre o romance Eles eram muitos cavalos de Luiz Ruffato (Vinhedo, SP : Editora Horizonte, 2007), pp. 68-76.

de Souza e Silva, Jailson. ‘Um espaço em busca de seu lugar’ in O novo carioca (Morula Editorial: Rio de Janeiro, 2012), Kindle Edition.

Ventura, Zuenir. Cidade Partida (São Paulo: Companhia das Letras, 1994).

Venkatesh, Alladi. “Postmodernism, Consumer Culture and the Society of the Spectacle”, in NA – Advances in Consumer Research vol. 19, eds. John F Sherry, Jr. and Brian Sternthal, (Provo, UT: Association for Consumer Research, 1992), pp. 109-202.


[1] Luiz Ruffato, Eles eram muitos cavalos, 11a edição (São Paulo: Companhia das Letras, 2013). Hereafter, EEMC.

[2] Marcus Vinícius Faustini, Guia afetivo da periferia (Rio de Janeiro: Aeroplano, 2009). Hereafter, GADP.

[3] Ivana Bentes, “Sertões e favelas no cinema brasileiro contemporâneo: estética e cosmética da fome.” ALCEU, 8, no.15 (2007), p. 245.

[4] All translations my own unless stated.

[5] Meaning ‘periphery’. In this context, the Portuguese refers to not only to people living in slums on the geographical fringes of large cities but also to disenfranchised favela communities that, while located centrally, remain excluded from what is generally perceived as ‘the city’.

[6] James Holston, Insurgent Citizenship Insurgent Citizenship: Disjunctions of Democracy and Modernity in Brazil (Princeton University Press: Princeton, NJ, 2007), p. 147.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Holston, 147.

[9] Holston, 146.

[10] Lúcia Sá, ‘Dividir, multiplicar, repetir: a São Paulo de Luiz Ruffato’ in Uma cidade em camadas: ensaios sobre o romance Eles eram muitos cavalos de Luiz Ruffato (Vinhedo, SP : Editora Horizonte, 2007), p. 94.

[11] Kathleen McCaul Moura & Luiz Ruffato, ‘Urban Protest in Brazil: the City and the Politics of Luiz Ruffato’, Asymptote Journal, < > .

[12] Moura & Ruffato, ‘Urban Protest in Brazil’.

[13] Ibid.

[14] I will return to Walter Benjamin’s thoughts about the work of art in my conclusion.

[15] Renato Cordeiro Gomes, ‘Móbiles urbanos: eles eram muitos…’ in Uma cidade em camadas: ensaios sobre o romance Eles eram muitos cavalos de Luiz Ruffato (Vinhedo, SP : Editora Horizonte, 2007), p. 138.

[16] Helder Macedo ‘Um livro que exacerba’, in Uma cidade em camadas: ensaios sobre o romance Eles eram muitos cavalos de Luiz Ruffato (Vinhedo, SP : Editora Horizonte, 2007), p. 54.

[17] Sá, Camadas, 94.

[18] Alladi Venkatesh, “Postmodernism, Consumer Culture and the Society of the Spectacle”, in NA – Advances in Consumer Research vol. 19, eds. John F Sherry, Jr. and Brian Sternthal, (Provo, UT: Association for Consumer Research, 1992), p. 202.

[19] Venkatesh, ‘Postmodernism’, 202.

[20] Sá, Camadas, 94.

[21] Marguerite Itamar Harrison, ‘“São Paulo Lightning”: Flashes of a City in Luiz Ruffato’s Eles eram muitos cavalos’, Luso-Brazilian Review Vol. 42, No. 2 (2005), p. 151.

[22] Marguerite Itamar Harrison, Uma Cidade em Camadas: ensaios sobre o romance Eles eram muitos cavalos de Luiz Ruffato (Vinhedo, SP : Editora Horizonte, 2007), p. 11.

[23] Moura & Ruffato, ‘Urban Protest in Brazil’.

[24] Karl Erik Schollhammer, ‘Fragmentos do real e real do fragmento’ in Cidade em Camadas: ensaios sobre o romance Eles eram muitos cavalos de Luiz Ruffato (Vinhedo, SP : Editora Horizonte, 2007), p. 69.

[25] This term was first coined in reference to Rio de Janeiro by Zuenir Ventura, Cidade Partida (São Paulo: Companhia das Letras, 1994), cited by Leila Lehnen, Citizenship and Crisis in Contemporary Brazilian Literature (New York, NY : Palgrave Macmillan, 2013), p. 15.

[26] Leila Lehnen, ‘Os não-espaços da metrópole: espaço urbano e violência social em Eles eram muitos cavalos’, in Uma Cidade em Camadas ensaios sobre o romance Eles eram muitos cavalos de Luiz Ruffato (Vinhedo, SP : Editora Horizonte, 2007), pp. 77-78.

[27] Marc Augé, Non-Places: Introduction to an anthropology of supermodernity, trans. John Howe (London/New York: Verso, 1995), p. 103.

[28] Harrison, ‘Introdução’ in Camadas, 12, citing Sá, Camadas.

[29] Harrison, ‘São Paulo Lightning’, 153.

[30] Ross Chambers, ‘Baudelaire’s Paris’, in Cambridge Companion to Baudelaire (Cambridge; New York: Cambridge University Press, 2005), p.104.

[31] Lehnen, Camadas, 81.

[32] Lehnen, Camadas, 81.

[33] “você acha que a vida realmente se resume a isso morar mal dever pra tudo mundo nunca ter dinheiro pra comprar uma coisinha diferente comer fora viajar”, (EEMC, 26) [“you think that life really comes down to this living badly owing money to everyone never having enough cash to buy a little something different go out for dinner travel”].

[34] Lehnen, Camadas, 83.

[35] (“R – É… nós, da classe media, estamos acuados… / N – É isso mesmo… / A – Acuados! / M – Exacto… Acuados… / A – Bom, acho que já podemos nos considerar amigos, não é mesmo?” (EEMC, 97-98) [“R – It’s… us in the middle class, we’re surrounded… / N – Spot on… / A – Surrounded! / M – Exactly… Surrounded… / A – Good, well I guess we can consider ourselves friends now, right?”].

[36] Lehnen, Camadas, 86.

[37] Lehnen, Camadas, cited by Harrison, Camadas, 11.

[38] Harrison, ‘São Paulo Lightning’, 157.

[39] An upper-class neighbourhood in the west of São Paulo.

[40] Translation by R. A. Lippman & P. Lehman, ‘Brainiac: An excerpt from they were many horses by Luiz Ruffato’ in Mester, 42(1) (2013), p. 99.

[41] Ibid.

[42] Lippman & Lehman, 102.

[43] Ibid.

[44] Lippman & Lehman, 101.

[45] Lippman & Lehman, 102.

[46] Ibid.

[47] Lippman & Lehman, 98.

[48] Lehnen, Camadas, 78.

[49] Marcus Vinícius Faustini, ‘O encontro dos diferentes na cidade: Marcus Faustini at TEDxJardimBotânico’ (27th August 2013) (Available at: <Accessed: 8th January 2018>.

[50] Jailson de Souza e Silva, ‘Um espaço em busca de seu lugar’ in O novo carioca (Morula Editorial: Rio de Janeiro, 2012).

[51] Holston, 156-157.

[52] Heloisa Buarque de Holland, Prefatory note to: Faustini, Guia afetivo da periferia, 7.

[53] Lehnen, Citizenship, 160.

[54] Faustini, ‘O encontro dos diferentes na cidade’.

[55] Lehnen, Citizenship and Crisis, 160.

[56] Lehnen, Citizenship and Crisis, 160.

[57] “Ficar escondido sob a máscara era tão encorajador para a minha vida” (75) [“Being hidden behind the mas was truly encouraging for my life”].

[58] “apesar do medo, denunciado por minha respiração, de ser confundido no ônibus com um bandido.” (75) [“despite my fear, given away by my breathing, of being confused with a criminal on the bus”].

[59] Gabriel Estides Delgado, ‘Marcus Vinícius Faustini e a Produção Literária da Biografia’ in Revista Criação e Crítica, n. 11 (novembro 2013), p. 40.

[60] Faustini, ‘O encontro dos diferentes na cidade’.

[61] Lehnen, Crisis, 177.

[62] Lehnen, Crisis, 177.

[63] Brazilian name for street food vendors typically found in all cities.

[64] Estides Delgado, p.43.

[65] Paddy Scannell, ‘Benjamin Contextualized: On “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction”’ in Canonic Texts in Media Research, E. Katz et al (eds) (Cambridge: Polity, 2003), pp. 41-42.

[66] Walter Benjamin, ‘The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction’, in Illuminations (London: Collins-Fontana Books, 1973), p. 225.

[67] Benjamin, 227.

[68] Luiz Ruffato, ‘Discurso de Luiz Ruffato na Feira do Livro de Frankfurt 2013’ (27th March 2014),  (Available at: <Accessed: 8th January 2018>.