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A Brazilian Oresteia: Geraldo Ferraz's Doramundo.

GERALDO Ferraz's Doramundo (1956) is a blend of modernist narrative, detective fiction and social criticism. (1) The novel addresses the clash of individual desire with the requirements of collective order, highlighting the irrepressibility of the former and the failure of authoritarian solutions to provide the latter. Doramundo is set during the 1950's in the fictional Brazilian railroad company town of Cordilheira. The burg, dominated by a single employer, is an "artificial settlement created to provide an on-site labor supply" for railway station transporting raw materials between Brazil's coastal cities and the country's rapidly developing interior (Lindstrom 56). The essential problem of the community is an excess supply of single men and a corresponding scarcity of unmarried women. The bachelors have affairs with married women and the cuckolded husbands, obeying the "dictates" of the "honor code of machismo," murder the men who have besmirched their names. (2) This practice becomes generalized to the point that the town's social interaction is almost exclusively a cycle of serial adultery and murder. This underlying dramatic tension of Ferraz's novel parallels Aeschylus's theatrical trilogy The Oresteia where a pattern of transgression and revenge takes on a life of its own as the community descends into anarchy (Lattimore 14). (3)

The Oresteia deals with the formation of the basic social contract between the individual and the collective. In return for full membership in society the individual is willing to forego extra-legal revenge and submit all cases of familial or personal honor to an impersonal system of justice (Goldhill 32). The Oresteia, through the character Clytemnestra, also represents a protest against the double standard that surrounds honor and vengeance in the Greek world (Goldhill 41). In a society that does not even recognize women as being worthy of citizenship Clytemnestra, wife of King Agamemnon, temporarily achieves a reversal of gender roles. She dares to avenge herself for Agamemnon's sacrifice of her daughter Ifigenia, as well as the king's adulterous affair with the Trojan princess, Cassandra. While her husband Agamemnon is away at war Clytemnestra takes a lover, Aegisthus. In addition to her open cuckoldry of her husband, Clytemnestra--using Aegisthus as an instrument or revenge--convinces the latter to murder her husband, thereby making herself the undisputed head of the house of Atreus. Agamemnon's and Clytemnestra's son, Orestes, avenging his father's killing, then murders Clytemnestra. The Furies, outraged by the crime of matricide, proceed to pursue Orestes with the intent of eliminating him. The Oresteia's cycle of reprisals for wrongs done by men to women and vice-versa is a clear expression of the "Greek tendency towards polarization where the only alternative to rule by men is the rule by women" (Goldhill 40).

A similar polarization is present throughout Doramundo. The amorphous and transient community of Cordilheira is in the throes of a crisis of libido that has put all values into question. Like the transgressive liaison of Clytemnestra the rampant adultery in Cordilheira temporarily produces a fundamental change in the power relations between men and women. The town's wives, showered with gifts and attention, suddenly enjoy a sexual freedom normally reserved for men. Even in the face of the violent response of their spouses, these women recognize their enhanced authority and prestige while openly taunting their husbands with their infidelities. This state of affairs represents a temporary cessation of the double standard of machismo and constitutes the overthrow of the patriarchal supremacy of the household by the wives through their sexual relationship with itinerant outsiders (the bachelors). Most importantly, Cordilheira's sexual revolution underscores the subversion of the prevailing social order implied in the practice of adultery. By undermining the traditional family unit adultery tends toward dissolution of the basic social entity and, with the potential break-up of the family, threatens to return some or all family members to a state of nomadism. (4) The logical conclusion of Cordilheira's rampant adultery and cyclical revenge killings, exacerbated by the town's conditions of economic injustice, is the community's total disintegration. (5)

The railroad authorities--representing the nexus between foreign and domestic capital--must end the round marital infidelity and murderous revenge that threatens to drive away the entire workforce and put the town out of business. A company employee, Alvaro Flores and, through its acquiescence to the plan, the company view the situation as if the body politic of Cordilheira were diseased and they were the physicians who possessed the cure. Flores pronounces: "Tinha a medicina uma forma de concentrar-se uma infeccao, a que chamavam abcesso de fixacao. Em Cordilheira, essa infeccao generalizada e que invade a honra dos lares com o adulterio" (55). Flores proposes a treatment for the community's "open sore" to his superintendent, Mr. Comb: the installation of a company-owned brothel. It is particularly apt that a railroad company should endeavor to "rationalize" and centralize the town's most intimate social relations. As Elmar Schenkel has noted it was the railway, through its system of fixed transit points and time tables, that first prescribed rigorous, simultaneous regulation of the time and movements of large numbers of citizens (68-69). Flores' remedy betrays a totalizing sense of optimism, a belief in the firm's ability to control even the most basic, deeply-rooted passions and instincts. Flores confidently proclaims: "Nossa solucao, naturalmente bem trabalhada, com mulheres limpas, boa assistencia sanitaria, sem excessos, vai resolver o problema" (56).

This "solution" of socio-sexual engineering, comparable to the one that appears some twenty years later in Mario Vargas Llosa's Pantaleon y las visitadoras, is a satire of top-down command and control by self-anointed experts. (6) As Naomi Lindstrom has noted, Doramundo is a multi-voiced populist narrative favoring the plain--speaking characters' analysis over the "expert" testimony of characters like Flores. (7) The railroad's brothel represents an attempt to command human activity in all its manifestations. The official company bordello simultaneously parodies and exemplifies what Michel Foucault calls biopower: the modern power structure's managed alignment of the human body with the machinery of production and the subordination of human activity to economic efficiency (141). The company house of ill-repute is a bid to administrate--hence to subdue, direct, and comodify sexual desire--thereby seeking a social equilibrium, increased production and a passive work force. Speaking of Cordilheira's brothel, Flores summarizes the goal of his design: "Tudo ficara serenado, num abscesso so" (56).

The establishment of the company brothel brings a momentary cessation of the revenge killings and--with the exception of the lovers Teodora and Raimundo--an end to adulterous activity. Initially the carnal needs of the bachelors are safely and peacefully satisfied. When the married men also begin to frequent the house of ill repute a carnivalesque atmosphere of camaraderie develops among the male population of Cordilheira. This momentary peace and solidarity comes entirely at the expense of the town's women. The brothel's three prostitutes are hardly emblematic of the "vida facil" of erotic liberation or feminine resistance often portrayed in Brazilian literature and film. (8) The unhappy trio must service the entire heterosexual male community, living as if they are under house arrest, as sex slaves plying the most tortuous of trades. The existence of the bawdy house also reinforces the equilibrium of the binary opposition virgin/whore, thereby fostering hatred of women (the wives) for other women (the prostitutes). The town's wives not only suffer the humiliation of losing their men to the prostitutes, they also relinquish their own recently discovered libidinous freedom. Thus the brothel does not merely constitute a crime against traditional morality it also returns the community to its machista status quo ante. Indeed, after the establishment of the bordello, the town's women disappear from public life: "Nao olhavamos mais as mulheres de Cordilheira, subitamente inferiorizadas diante de nossas novas relacoes" (64). This restructuring and channeling of libido has completely denied the most basic of rights for women and has made their objectification intolerably clear. Cordilheira's heterosexual male utopia is, for the town's female population, a dystopia.

However, the railroad authorities and the male workers of Cordilheira have made the mistake of assuming that the community's women will universally accept this one-sided administration of sexual activity. Dona Olga, the town solteira, is neither wife nor whore, neither betrayed husband nor promiscuous bachelor. Operating outside of Cordilheira's matrix of adultery, resentment, revenge, and murder, Olga is in a unique position to provide an alternative response to her community's crisis. She becomes the leader of militant resistance to the company's attempt to monopolize Cordilheira's sexual life. Just as the Furies of the Oresteia are bound to seek revenge for Orestes' murder of his mother (and their sister), Clytemnestra, Olga is moved to incite the women of Cordilheira, "o mulherio enfuricido," to defend their honor (79). Olga's Furies plunge Cordilheira into a Pandemonium of anger and revenge (adding feminine violence to its masculine counterpart) when they attack the bordello's male clientele and burn the brothel to the ground. Olga justifies the violence with one sentence: "Pela purificacao de Cordilheira, para acabar o pecado no lugar onde o demonio pos a tentacao" (82).

One could interpret Olga as an example of the stereotypical, sexually repressed beata. Nevertheless, in many important respects Olga's appeal to the women is not puritanically fanatic. While her vocabulary is folk-religious and reflects the traditional values and culture of the Brazilian hinterland, Dona Olga's practice resembles that of the "silent strike" of fin du siecle feminists who consciously abstained from heterosexual sexual relations as a protest against "men's corrupt sexual behaviors and widespread venereal infections" (Showalter 22). Moreover, Olga attempts to provide self-control and coherence to the community on its own terms, not those imposed by the company. Olga's celibacy is, therefore, a conscious (as well as unconscious) form of resistance to Cordilheira's reigning libidinal tyranny. Ultimately a pragmatist, she not only knows that the brothel will destroy the health of the women and their families as syphilis infects their homes, she also sees the bordello as an instrument of economic exploitation of the community as the men of Cordilheira squander their wages in the railroad's prostibulo.

Like the Furies in the Eumenides, the final play of The Oresteia, Olga's women become "the material and maternal embodiment of revenge" and are prepared to defy all social authority in order to punish those who have transgressed the Furies own, chthonian code of law (Roth 142). The fury of Olga's and her accomplices' actions destroys the facade of tranquility that the brothel provided and reveals the artificiality and fragility of this Brazilian polis. Moreover, Olga's and the women's destruction of the company's bawdyhouse constitutes a rebellion against state and commercial use of biopower and the company's monopolization of sex.

When Cordilheira descends into riotous anarchy Olga herself becomes a victim of the chaos. She is raped, murdered, and her body is thrown into the ashes of Cordilheira's former brothel. Innocent of the original crimes of adultery and murder, she becomes the town's scapegoat, the sacrificial "repository" of all her community's hatreds and hostilities. (9) Supplying the coda to the conflation of sex and cruelty that is the undercurrent of the novel's narrative, Olga's sexually violent demise --along with the destruction of the bordello--also mark the end of the cycle of violence.

In the novel's final chapter two adulterous lovers, Teodora and Raimundo attempt to escape Cordilheira's whirlwind of hatred and brutality. The pair abandons the town seeking to establish a new equilibrium out of the mayhem that surrounds them. In a dialogue they resolve to express their love by calling each other by shorter and more meaningful sobrenomes: Teodora becomes Dora and Raimundo becomes Mundo. The narrator, and by extension the rest of the community (Cordilheira's chorus), then refers to the pair with one name, Doramundo: "O abraco Doramundo projetava de coracao a coracao o licor da vida" (98). This fusion of the lovers' names consecrates the reciprocity of Dora and Mundo's relationship while symbolizing the hope for a new discourse that signifies peaceful coexistence, the fulfillment erotic love, and the desire of two discontinuous beings to achieve a feeling of continuity. Dora and Mundo's rechristening is, moreover, a symbolic rejection of Cordilheira's male-dominated, sexually-fueled anarchy. The polyvalent, androgynous name "Doramundo" rewrites the terms of the patriarchal marriage contract under which the woman becomes her husband's property as she assumes his name. The chaos in Cordilheira is the result of a total war sparked by male dominance and female resistance. Dora and Mundo as "Doramundo" posit a symbolic androgyny as a unifying principle, a new pact of peaceful co-existence between the sexes. (10)

Dora and Mundo's renaming has a parallel in The Oresteia. It is Athena, the sexually ambiguous "warrior androgyne," who brings to a close the violent polarization of male and female antagonists (Goldhill 44). It is Athena who establishes a new order and simultaneously saves Orestes from the wrath of the Furies, choosing reconciliation over destruction of one or both of the antagonists. The goddess sides with Orestes and appeases the Furies--renaming them the Eumenides (the Friendly Ones), thereby confirming their changed relation to the Athenian state by incorporating these former outsiders and according them a place of respect and honor in the Athenian Pantheon. 11 The Oresteia comes to a closure as the renaming of the female powers marks the cessation of violence and the nomadic existence of pursuer and pursued alike; albeit at the cost of the establishment of a potentially tyrannical state apparatus.

Doramundo's narrative is more open-ended. Law and order do return to Cordilheira, not in the form of civil (or civilian) justice, but rather through the imposition of martial law. The authorities impose peace through brute force as soldiers, perhaps the incarnation of patriarchal power par excellence, occupy the town. However, Dora and Mundo (or "Doramundo") do not remain in town to witness the process. They ride a locomotive out of Cordilheira with their new, combined name in the adulterer's "hopeless quest for an area outside the outside" an "impossible world apart" (Tanner 23-4). Their final train journey to parts unknown signifies the acceptance of a peripatetic existence and the never-ending search for the lover's utopia of unmediated passion.

Given the novel's open ending the reader cannot be sure Dora and Mundo will escape the horror and anomie they have left behind in Cordilheira. The lovers' story concludes with an unfinished train trip, which consists only of moments of embarkation and impending terminus (Schivelbusch 44). Their incomplete journey effaces an intolerable present while postponing an encounter with unknown future. (12) Using Deleuze and Guattari's terminology, Dora and Mundo are not migrants moving towards a specific settlement, but rather former sedentaries who have become nomads. On one, liberating plane the couple's choice of continuous, unregulated fluidity of movement stands in radical opposition to the static, commercial-state rigidity imposed on Cordilheira. Dora and Mundo have chosen deterritorialization over remaining in a polis that has fluctuated between anarchy (the constant cycle of adultery and public violence) and excessive order (the company brothel and, finally, the military occupation). (13) On another, less optimistic level the novel's open ending presents a modern inversion of the Oresteia, casting "Doramundo's" journey as one of being homeless in the world or of living in a world that refuses to provide home for them. Unlike the ancients, Orestes and the Furies--who achieve peace, stability, and identity --the twentieth century Brazilian lovers will remain eternally displaced persons. As they ride the rails out of town, their bodies fixed to no space but the mechanized motion of the train, it is clear that this Brazilian narrative reflects the prevailing, mid century influence of existentialism. Doramundo portrays an absurd rootlessness from which its inhabitants can never escape but can only endure by embracing perpetual transience. Paradoxically, the adulterous couple's unfinished journey also signals their mutual agreement to share the "contingency of the unknown and unknowable future" which is, after all, the marriage vow's principal stipulation, chief demand and exclusive point of departure. 14



Aeschylus. Oresteia. Trans. Robert Fagels. The Norton Anthology of World Masterpieces. New York: Norton, 1985.

Bataille, Georges. Erotism: Death and Sensuality. Trans. Mary Dalwood. San Francisco: City Lights, 1986.

Boldt-Irons, Leslie Anne. "Anarchy and Androgyny in Artaud's Heliogabale ou L'anarchiste couronne." Modern Language Review 91.4 (1996): 866-77.

Brunn, Albert von. "Trilhos de papel: o trem de ferro na literatura brasileira contemporanea." Sexto Congresso da Associacao Internacional de Lusitanistas. Brasilia: Associacao Internacional de Lusitanistas, 1997.

Casais Monteiro, Adolfo. "Prefacio a Doramundo." Doramundo. Rio de Janeiro: Jose Olympio, (1956) 1959. xi-xx.

Deleuze, Gilles and Felix Guattari. A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia. Trans. Brian Massumi. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 1987.

Ferraz, Geraldo. Doramundo. Rio de Janeiro: Jose Olympio, (1956) 1959.

Foucault, Michel. The History of Sexuality: An Introduction. Trans. Robert Harley. New York: Pantheon, 1978.

Girard, Rene. Deceit, Desire, and The Novel. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins Press, 1965.

--. Violence and the Sacred. Trans. Patrick Gregory. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins U P, 1977.

Goldhill, Simon. Aeschylus, the Oresteia. Cambridge: Cambridge U P, 1992.

Kovacs, Katherine S. "The Bureaucratization of Knowledge and Sex in Flaubert and Vargas Llosa." Comparative Literature Studies. University Park, PA 21.1 (1984): 30-51.

Lattimore, Richard. Aeschylus' Oresteia. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1953.

Lindstrom, Naomi. "Doramundo by Geraldo Ferraz: The Problem of Talking about Crime." Tropical Paths: Essays on Modern Brazilian Literature. New York: Garland Publishing, 1993. 77-90.

--. "Innovation in the Novel's Popular Subgenres: Two Brazilian Examples." Luso-Brazilian Review 24.1 (1987): 47-57.

Marcus, Laura. "Oedipus Express: Trains, Trauma and Detective Fiction." The Art of Detective Fiction. New York: St. Martin's Press, 2000. 201-22.

Moore, Barbara. "Love and Its Vicissitudes." Salmagundi. 137-38 (2003): 188-203.

Rago, Margareth. "Prazer e sociabilidade no mundo da prostituicao em Sao Paulo, 1890-1930." Luso-Brazilian Review 30.1 (1993): 35-46.

Roth, Marty. "The Blood that Fury Breathed: The Shape of Justice in Aeschylus and Shakespeare." Comparative Literature Studies. 29.2 (1992): 141-56.

Rougement, Denis de. Love in the Western World. Trans. Montgomery Belgion. New York: Pantheon Books, (1940) 1956.

Schenkel, Elmar. "Chesterton on Trains, or, the Art of Disorientation." Inklings Jahrbuch fur Literatur und Asthetik 14 (1996): 67-80.

Schivelbusch, Wolfgang. The Railway Journey: Trains and Travel in the Nineteenth Century. Trans. Anselm Hollo. Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1980.

Showalter, Elaine. Sexual Anarchy: Gender and Culture at the Fin du Siecle. New York: Viking, 1990.

Southerland, Madeline. "Mimetic Desire, Violence and Sacrifice in the Celestina." Hispania 86.2 (2003): 181-190.

Tanner, Tony. Adultery in the Novel: Contract and Transgression. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins, 1979.

(1) For a description of Doramundo's contribution to Brazilian fiction and uneven publishing history see Naomi Lindstrom's "Innovation in the Novel's Popular Subgenres: Two Brazilian examples." See also Adolfo Casais Monteiro's preface to the 1959 edition of Doramundo.

(2) In "Doramundo by Geraldo Ferraz: The Problem of Talking about Crime" Naomi Lindstrom states that Doramundo "functions both as an exploration of social problems, particularly the social causation of violent crime and the modern vestiges of the honor code, and as a lyrical, critical meditation on the difficulty of formulating an adequate expression of these concerns" (77).

(3) This cycle of desire and violent revenge follows Rene Girard's concepts of mimetic desire and reciprocal violence as discussed in Deceit, Desire and the Novel. For a recent application of Girard's theory see Madeline Southerland's "Mimetic Desire, Violence and Sacrifice in The Celestina."

(4) See Tony Tanner's discussion of Vico's history of civil society in Adultery in the Novel (58).

(5) As Georges Bataille has noted, even the most basic social taboos fall by the wayside in the despair of extreme poverty (135).

(6) Vargas Llosa based his "Special Service" brothel on an actual "operation" of the Peruvian army in a remote area of the country during the 1950's. See Katherine Kovas (43).

(7) See "Doramundo by Geraldo Ferraz: The Problem of Talking About Crime"; especially pages 79-84.

(8) For a study of traditional Brazilian images of the prostitute see Margareth Rago's "Prazer e sociabilidade no mundo da prostituicao em Sao Paulo, 1890-1930."

(9) See Rene Girard's Violence and the Sacred (99).

(10) "An androgynous being does not excise the male or female in order to let one or the other principle dominate" (Boldt-Irons 866-67).

(11) The new arrangement is one-sided for there is no need for Orestes to change his name.

(12) Discussing Schivelbusch's quote from The Railway Journey, Laura Marcus adds: "The spatial dimensions of the present are thus effaced: there is only the past and the future" (203). Trains and railway journeys often provide sinister undertones in literature and their role is especially ominous in Doramundo. See Albert von Brunn's "Trilhos de papel: o trem de ferro na literatura brasileira contemporanea."

(13) Dora and Mundo seek to create a "smooth space" as opposed to the "striated space" imposed on their former community. For a discussion of nomadology and space see Deleuze and Guattari, especially pages 357-423.

(14) See Barbara Moore's "Love and Its Vicissitudes" (192). See also De Rougement's Love in the Western World (303-05).
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Author:Waldemer, Thomas P.
Publication:Romance Notes
Date:Sep 22, 2004
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