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Rereading Pepetela's O Desejo de Kianda after 11 September 2001: signs and distractions.

How could the significance of a text that involves the inexplicable collapse of high-rise buildings, interpreted as a terrorist attack, not acquire some new meaning, or at least force, after 11 September 2001? Pepetela's 1995 novel, O Desejo de Kianda, set in the Angolan capital with its collapsing blocks of flats and ensuing international media frenzy demands a rereading in light of the event that took place in New York six years after its first publication. Indeed, the spectacular destruction of the World Trade Center has reinforced the hyper-real world in which we live where the value of signs and symbols often bears little relation to, but more force than, the reality from which they are extracted. For Baudrillard, the collapse of the Twin Towers heralds the Fourth World War, 'the only really global one, since what is at stake is globalization itself'. (1) It was an attack on globalization which globalization perpetuated in what we took to be real time around the globe. Of course, Pepetela had no knowledge of the events of 11 September 2001 when he wrote O Desejo de Kianda yet one of the principle messages to emerge from the novel is as potent now, if not more so in the televised epoch of 'the war on terrorism': discourses of power always have a way of incorporating events and signs, however innately horrific or banal, and using them symbolically to distract attention away from their own manipulative machinations. In the age of mass and globalized media that is ever more the case. Indeed, the collapse of the Twin Towers was an incident that the whole world lived, as Pepetela himself has pointed out, as someone who witnessed and re-witnessed the simultaneously horrifying but also mesmerizing spectacle on his television screen in Luanda. (2) Subsequently, the image has been burned onto our psyches and then used to silence effective debate about the sweeping erosion of individual liberties within the US, the targeting of minority communities and international students as potential terrorists, and to justify overt American intervention abroad. The war on terror that the collapsing towers have now come to symbolize means that we live a life of double fear: from another horrific attack that we are constantly reminded will occur any second to keep us distracted in a spectacularized fear; and from the possibility that we may be mistakenly classified as a security threat and denied the protections of the civil law. In some ways, the Twin Towers' destruction is the culmination of the postmodern age for it has become a sign that smashes reason and 'that defies not just morality, but any form of interpretation'. (3) The role of the media in promulgating the sense of fear, and distracting the public's attention away from issues of injustice and social concern, has been overpowering. Immorally, the murder of thousands of people has become a coopted distraction away from moral and ethical choices, because we are left with no choice; only the spectacular distraction of the mentally and visually replayed image of the collapsing towers.

The overpowering effect of the attack on the World Trade Center on the parameters of ethical acceptability in our cultural aesthetic would probably have prevented Pepetela from writing O Desejo de Kianda using the trope of collapsing buildings to make a point about society's distraction from issues of social justice. However, he published the novel six years before 11 September, and, through it, made a series of powerful observations about the way power works in an increasingly globalized world, and particularly in Angolan urban society at a time when the former rhetoric of egalitarian revolution has been replaced by the blatant embrace of capitalism. His novel paves the way to re-establish a sense of ethics, and to strip down the mystifying power of the sign, literally by flaunting nakedness in the faces of those who over-infuse signs in order to obfuscate injustice so that reading O Desejo de Kianda after the events of II September becomes a useful way of reflecting on how we should refuse to allow a catastrophic event that gains reality for most of the world through a television screen to deflect us from critiquing daily injustice.

The Angolan author and winner of the Premio Camoes has a remarkable skill at prescient critique. The novel which established his literary credentials, Mayombe, written during the struggle for liberation, already contained a profound analysis of what the post-independence revolutionary movement to which he belonged would sadly become. (4) O Desejo de Kianda in some ways continues Pepetela's profound and damning portrayal of a betrayed utopia, in which double-speak and shifting nomenclature transfigure the surface but never the substance of funda mentally abusive power structures.

The story relates the complex ideological shift of a certain Carmina Cara de Cu, henceforth designated as CCC, who shows from an early age a dominating ambition to control those around her. The death of her father allowed her to occupy his position in an essentially patriarchal structure at the tender age of twelve, controlling her mother and siblings in a glimpse of the way she would repeatedly exploit the social structures of her changing circumstances to exercise power. In the Angola of her youth, this meant espousing the virtues of Marx. As the novel progresses, this means that CCC must use Marx to justify her appropriation of the market economy. (5) By the end, she even appears to appropriate the mores and designations of the colonial era, obliging her ever-changing domestic servants to bear just one name, Joana, in her house, thus avoiding the inconvenience of having to learn their actual names, subordinating their individuality to their functionality within her power structure. Portuguese colonial mistresses were reportedly so demanding and discarding of their domestic help that they had neither the time nor the inclination to learn their phonologically difficult names, preferring, so the stereotype goes, to brand them with just one good, simple Christian name. CCC's adoption of that stereotypical colonial practice is one of several subterfuges that distract criticism away from the current exploitative power structures enmeshing Angola, by highlighting the structures of a truly bygone era. Even the name of the shady import-export company she establishes to trade in arms and exploit the privatization of the State in the name of globalization, 'Ultramar', harks back to the colonial era, when Angola was the 'ultramar' to a distant metropolis, an association of which she is well aware, and whose nostalgia-value she even hopes to exploit for profit.

For CCC appearance and, more importantly, its ever-absent counterpart, occlusion, is intrinsic to her success. Her repetition of the stereotypical colonial practices of the Portuguese, and her use of a terminology designed to tap a nostalgic vein, may be interpreted to conceal the actual forces behind Angola's neocolonization. Boaventura de Sousa Santos in an exceptionally perceptive essay on the specificity of the Lusophone (neo)colonial experience argues that Portugal's semi-peripheral status, as a false centre of an empire and a periphery of Europe, played itself out on the colonial stage in a constant metaphoric slippage between Prospero and Caliban, between colonizer and colonized. Despite being the first European power to subscribe to a process of global colonization, and the last to relinquish the dream that direct colonization could be made to work to its advantage, Portugal rarely controlled the rules of the colonial game, which became increasingly dictated by a normative colonialism designed with the interests of the British Empire in mind. While Britain established a clear link early in its colonial enterprise between the colonizing process and capitalism, Portuguese imperialism, according to Sousa Santos, 'assentou num desequilibrio [...] entre um excesso de colonialismo e um defice de capitalismo'. (6) One result of this inherent disjunction at the heart of Portuguese colonialism was that the groundwork for the task of neocolonizing Lusophone Africa was never laid. Furthermore, unlike the decolonizing experiences of Anglophone and Francophone Africa, the liberation of Portugal's five colonies on the continent, like the independence of Brazil in the previous century, took place at moments of rupture in the metropolis, when Portugal became introverted rather than interested in preparing for the future economic dependence of its former territories.

Given the specificity of the Lusophone case, what did the process of neocolonization entail in Angola? If the former colonial power was otherwise engaged, and indeed, never really equipped to dominate Africa through the creation of concealing capitalist links, does that mean that Angola could have achieved real independence by default, unlike her Anglophone and Francophone fellow African nations, who may have changed their flags and anthems but could never effectively prevent foreign ownership of their nation's most important natural assets and means of production? Here CCC's transition to capitalism, her immense, near pathological dislike of all things American and appeal to the rhetoric of the former colonial regime are crucial. Her conversion mirrors the manner in which the nation was truly neocolonized by stealth and cooption. Her anti-Americanism is the symptom of an intense desire. She projects hatred onto all things American because she wants to occupy America's privileged space in the global power hierarchy. Her use of the mannerisms of Portugal's deficient form of colonialism serves as a distraction. They draw attention away from the current manifestations of power by harking back to a discredited system, and mimicking it vacuously. CCC does not want to take over the position that the Portuguese once occupied in the colonial era. Why should she aspire to the position of what Sousa Santos terms 'um Prospero calibanizado' or a 'Caliban prosperizado'? (7) If it is real power that she craves, the model provided by the Portuguese colonial system is inherently flawed. However, a cooption of its appearance usefully serves a purpose, because it allows her to simulate a false origin, to become a simulacrum of a colonial era that was itself already marred by a disconnection between its own rhetoric and praxis. Aping the 'senhoras portuguesas' allows her to appear to be something that she obviously is not, and in the process, to conceal the more powerful agent of neocolonization that she will become, an entity more closely allied to the Anglophone world than a semi-peripheral Portugal. She encapsulates the very problem of postcolonial theory applied to Lusophone Africa: for Angola's plight today, and the injustices perpetrated on the vast majority of the Angolan people bear only a trace of Portuguese intervention on the continent. To identify the colonial relationship as the problem, to focus on the vestiges of what effectively became a poor imitation of more efficient and ruthless colonial systems, and to claim to be able to recuperate voices silenced as a result of that profoundly ambiguous colonial experience, misses the overpowering arrival of international capitalism, a system that was neither the result of nor the driving force behind Portuguese colonialism. Postcolonial studies within Lusophone studies is little more than an academic exercise, unless it recognizes that the direct object of its critique is no longer defined in terms of the former colonial relationship; it is something more discrete and all-embracing. It matters less that CCC pretends to be a 'senhora portuguesa', and much more that she becomes one of the ever more faceless owners of corporations that determine the nature of people's lives and what they can, and indeed must, buy. Or it only matters that CCC mimics the 'senhoras portuguesas' insofar as that action becomes the subject of a critique, conveniently sliding over her more nefarious, neocolonizing activities.

The novel begins with CCC's marriage to Joao Evangelista, the son of Mateus who detests his son's choice of wife, as much for her avowed atheism as for the dominance she is able to exercise over his apparently feeble-minded son. Interestingly, Pepetela chooses to introduce CCC through her connection to Joao. Despite her narrative dominance, it will be through the perspective of her subservient and to some extent doting husband that the reader learns of her exploits. Through his male gaze over her female body, Pepetela subverts a patriarchal expectation in the narrative, for his ability to see and describe her does not endow Joao with any power over his wife. Indeed, his perspective is almost always exercised from a position of decided weakness, and under the constant cloud that it is obvious what he saw in her, but a complete mystery as to why she chose to marry him. The choice to marry him was hers, the next subversion of patriarchal expectations, leading to the conjecture that the computer she offered him as an unexpected wedding present was, in fact, the dowry she paid to buy him.

The power CCC exercises over her husband is not one of stereotypical enchantment. She is far from a witch or siren drawing a willingly helpless male into a fate that is best avoided. If that were the case, it would be difficult to argue that Pepetela was not reinforcing the tenets of patriarchy which, when unable to contain women, have chosen to exclude them by rendering them mad or bad. CCC's attractiveness is grounded on her association to power, and the obvious way in which she knows what she wants and knows how to attain it. Her convictions appear strong, but are only retained as long as they propel her into a position of power, and will be reconfigured into equally strong, if diametrically opposite, beliefs when the need arises. She destroys the power of Joao's male gaze by filtering it through a mechanism of distraction, in this case the computer-game addiction which she instigates in him. His entire perspective of the reality around him is impaired and refracted by the entertaining weight of his computer screen. The signs of Luanda become detached and recodified through an installed simulation of reality.

CCC's influence over Joao marks a crushing defeat for everything that Mateus Evangelista, his father, and Rosario Evangelista, his grandfather, represent. Yet, obliquely, there is more than a hint of irony in the conflict that separates Joao's father from his wife, as CCC's character changes her ideological tune. Rosario was responsible for the family name; in fact, Pepetela describes him as the 'iniciador do apelido respeitavel, pelas suas funcoes de pastor duma igreja protestante'. (8) A good Protestant surname was used in an attempt to obliterate their Africanness at the height of the colonial era. Their name represents a prevalent variety of assimilation into the mores and codes of European civilization, and a clear rejection of ancestral roots. Assimilation was, of course, one of the rhetorical cornerstones, alongside miscegenation, of the Portuguese 'civilizing mission'. The fact the rhetoric often bore little relation to the reality has been amply demonstrated. (9) What is more interesting in the case of Rosario and his descendants is that Protestantism did not form part of either the praxis or the theory of that 'civilizing mission'. Indeed, Protestant missions were only allowed to be in Portugal's African territories at the insistence of the British, who managed to have clauses on religious freedom inserted into the treaties that altered the colonial game in Africa at the end of the nineteenth century. (10) The worst practitioners of British colonialism were driven by a Protestant zeal and despised the Catholic, inefficient and, to their mind, scarcely civilized Portuguese in Africa. The religious freedom clauses, which meant that Protestants could proselytize in officially Catholic areas, were seen by the colonial British as a way of spreading their influence over the continent. Hand-in-hand with those Protestant missions went the rise of capitalism, for they were an inherent aspect of the ideological framework through which the prototype of global capitalism was established in Africa. By the end of O Desejo de Kianda, CCC will have come to subscribe to precisely that economic system whose presence was most vigorously felt in nineteenth-century Africa through the religious groups of which Rosario and Mateus became compliant members. Mateus's attempted reconciliation with his son and daughter-in-law later in the novel comes after her whole-hearted conversion to capitalism and, while it is obviously a begrudging effort to reach out to the next generation on Mateus's part, and one that is immediately rebuffed by CCC, its occurrence reminds us of the extent to which CCC's ideological development is as regressive as it is progressive. It may appear that ultra neo-liberalism is a new solution to Africa's problems; it has, however, been on the continent in inefficient guises for a long time, the religion that Mateus espouses being one of them. In other words, CCC comes to subscribe to the economic power structure once hidden by Mateus's cult, now refracted through a simulation she instigates and, as far as possible, controls.

CCC's wedding present to Joao represents a fundamental aspect of the nation's neocolonization: it acts as a metonym for distraction. The computer offers him an outlet for his effective castration at her hands, and serves to delineate one of the principle realms of the novel--that of simulacrum. Beneath this realm is the occluded world in which CCC operates, a world of power shifts and exploitation that is always concealed by diverting the attention of those who, if conscious, could stop her. Joao is too busy playing computer war games to notice or care about the reality of his wife's unethical actions. The other realm of the novel is the atavistic universe where the spirit of Kianda resides, which is interpreted by a young girl called Cassandra who grows to understand that progress has not meant advance as she gradually interprets the spirit's song. Like her mythological namesake, initially no one believes her. The interaction between these three worlds structures the narrative, and offers a new series of classifications to account for contemporary Angolan society. It is no longer wholly adequate to talk about class, race, sex, or an urban-rural divide if we want to access and evaluate the dynamics of power. Instead, the categories must demarcate what is hidden, what distracts and what is always already lost. It is more than likely that what is lost, the atavistic universe, never existed in a concrete form but, at least for some, in the heady days when they believed that they were fighting for the liberation of a reclaimed Angola, it was an image towards which they felt compelled to quest. Logically, it appears, therefore, that both the world of simulacrum and the atavistic universe are mirror images of one another, for they both are illusionary and have been used to distract attention away from concealed power structures. The difference between them is that simulacrum depends on an apathy induced by immediate or apparent gratification and entertainment, or as in the case of the collapsing towers by a numbing yet amazed fear. In contrast, the atavistic universe, defined as a reclaimed hope which, in the case of the novel, is based on a restitution of lost values, but which could equally well be, and in the case of the political struggle was, based on a utopian image of the future, is structured in a time deferred from the present. It resides in either a future or a past, but equally well connives with the concealment of the real world if deployed, as it often is, abusively.

Joao's world of computer games that invariably centre on a desire for world domination in ever more sophisticated manifestations but always through the destruction of the spirit of others simultaneously mirrors and conceals the modus operandi of CCC's world. But the spirit of Kianda, as it comes to be restored in the novel, is not for the taking. And this is where Pepetela's novel teaches us something about very recent history, and in an astonishingly if accidentally prescient manner. For the novel revolves around the destruction of the multi-storey buildings that delineate the skyline of Kinaxixi. There is no immediate explanation about what happens to the buildings; they just collapse, one by one, and trigger a frenzy of speculation as to the nature of their demise. It is almost as if the buildings commit suicide, like the 'unpredictable complicity' Baudrillard saw in the apparently suicidal collapsing Twin Towers that were 'tired of being a symbol which was too heavy a burden to bear [...] they collapsed vertically, drained of their strength, with the whole world looking on in astonishment'. (11) CCC is convinced that the collapse of the Kinaxixi buildings is a terrorist attack. Indeed, that is the terminology she uses, as she defends her theory to anyone who will listen. Behind this 'terrorist attack' is the centre of her axis-of-evil, a United States with territorial ambitions and imperial designs, whom she blames for the failure of the Angolan revolution. Of course, the revolution fails precisely because she wants to be what she imagines America to represent, but denies it to herself. She wants total power, concealed behind facile images, and she will deploy and subscribe to any discourse to achieve her goal. Central to her rise up the ranks of the political greasy pole is an adeptness at keeping those around her distracted in a zone that imitates the wars and conflicts of the real world, but which is contained as something with an entertainment or spectacularized value. As a result, form rather than substance is the key to her power game. In other words, power as it has come to operate is an evacuating phenomenon, devoid of content and voracious for signs. It is not just a matter of relations and dynamics although that is an intrinsic part of what power means. In CCC's universe, the globalized world where power is concealed through media and entertainment, power depends on superficialities. It operates most efficiently in tandem with the world of simulacrum, rendering Joao's computer and its games the perfect totem of our age. It is both an emblem and a screen. It marks the operation of power but hides it too.

Amidst the malaise of collapsing buildings, a media spectacle emerges, and people fear which building will fall prey to the mystery Luanda syndrome next. Every group, from geologists to politicians, from biologists to religious extremists, from East Europeans to the Japanese, tries to appropriate the event in the service of their own discourse. As the tale draws to a close, the spirit of Kianda, a water god whose image has been corrupted by a European mindset imposed onto the African nation for the Portuguese made Kianda look like their notion of a mermaid, reclaims her jurisdiction over Kinaxixi, and brings the building which houses CCC, Joao and his computer tumbling to the ground.

Laura Cavalcante Padilha reads the collapsing buildings as a metaphor for the collapse of Angola's 'projeto politico-ideologico'. (12) In some ways, the collapsing buildings represent an injunction to quest for pre-modern values, for they go hand-in-hand with a spontaneous movement from people who have been left with nothing while fundamentally equivalent modes of power within modernity masquerading behind divergent rhetorics have been appropriated into the overriding system of globalization. This spontaneous protest takes the form of nakedness, as the dispossessed flaunt their nothingness in the faces of those who have everything. The moral outrage of the former adherents to Marx turned capitalists raises the specter of religion that looms heavily over Pepetela's understanding of the way communism came to function in Africa. It filled the void and drew on structures it claimed to replace, so that the confessional was renamed 'autocritica', and one hierarchical system overtly dislodged, but covertly slid into another. The naked protest that takes place at the end of the novel is the embodiment of a wish to set the disguise of discourse aside, stripping the nation down to an essential humanity to which Pepetela aspires, and divesting it of ideological baggage. Flaunting nakedness in the faces of these newly converted capitalists is a powerful gesture that simultaneously points to a rejection of any form of concealment and the immense poverty that has been hidden, forgotten, or simply not spoken of, as the nation is swept along on the tidal wave of capitalism, which now operates through a relentless and refractive exchange of signs. The statement that the protesters make, with which CCC cannot cope, is that this is all they are, and that beneath the various layers and facades, acknowledging a shared humanity and resultant ethical imperative for less inequity is the most potent limitation that can be placed on CCC's world. Once the facades are dropped so that the draining flows of globalization become obvious, and the population is no longer distracted from its exploitation but instead understands its causes as those who continue to use concealment (which in the novel means those who continue to wear clothes), Pepetela ventures to suggest that a real revolution will take place in Angola. Not one steeped in rhetoric and meaningless ideology, for the pretense of a Marxist model foisted on the Lusophone African nations at independence really did function as an ideology in the Marxist sense of a mechanism used to distort reality for the benefit of the ruling classes. (13) Pepetela's revolution is one that reintroduces a clear sense of right and wrong, and veers the nation towards justice based on a moral and meaningful equality.

The collapse of the final building that houses CCC, Joao and his beloved computer signals Kianda's victory over the world of simulacrum that Joao represents, and the sphere of power in which CCC operates, and which depends on the palliative effect of simulacrum. Joao passes his life playing progressively more sophisticated computer games, all of which focus on world domination and constantly distract his attention away from what is going on in the real world. It is not by chance that his wife should introduce him to this fabricated universe, and be happy to maintain him their as she pursues her own ambition of real domination. The more he proceeds in his quest for high scores, and is concomitantly distracted from what is happening outside his window, the further his wife advances. Pepetela is reconfiguring Marx's critique of class manipulation to suggest that simulacrum is the new opium of the masses. Indeed, like religion, simulacrum alienates those it affects, and so is a profoundly ideological tool. As Denys Turner has pointed out, the primary effect of religion as construed by Marx is 'that the believer relates not to a false world by means of an alternative to the real world but to the real world in and through the prism of belief in a false world'. (14) The effect of Joao's simulated reality is that his perspective on his physical environment is altered and distorted. CCC can manage and manipulate her husband by keeping him addicted to a fabricated universe of wars and conquests. He hardly notices the death and destruction that flairs up again around him as the country stumbles back into civil war, because he is too busy planning to invade North America in his simulated reality. However, two lessons he learns as he progresses from the game based on the Roman Empire to one centred on the creation and maintenance of ever-expanding civilizations is that true democracy based on consciousness rather than media-manipulation impedes imperial ambition (so that he prefers to play the role of a dictator within his simulated world), and ultimate conquest is a cultural phenomenon.

Here again we see how meanings change and how colonial legacies are qualitatively different in Lusophone Africa, for where once cultural empire signified Pessoa's formulation of the Quinto Imperio in the Lusophone world, it now triggers thoughts of America's reach over Angola, and the erosion of an identity independent of global mass culture. The new Empire is that described by Hardt and Negri, in which difference is fetishized to the extent that everything becomes the same, the false image of a long forgotten and much distorted original. Within this late-twentieth-century set-up, CCC becomes a true agent of Empire, not so much for her repetition of the petty paradigms of the 'senhoras portuguesas' of old, but rather because she gives Joao the quintessence of that Empire, the sine qua non of the new imperial mandate, that is addictive distraction, designed to emulate the occurrences of the real world in order to conceal and contain them. In essence, CCC gives Joao America in a box on their wedding night. The computer games that fill his every waking thought function in a manner analogous to the media coverage of the destroyed buildings in which the truth about what is going on can never be accessed. Instead, there is a constant stream of concealing speculation--discourse mounted on discourse. The event is itself replaced by the coverage of the event, a self-generating phenomenon that strikes at the heart of any revolutionary agenda since content is consumed by form, meaning transforms into image. So much so that seemingly opposing political stances are reduced to repetitive images of power structures, and the formerly devout Marxist, CCC, can seriously declare: 'Acabaram as morais de convento, agora estamos na economia de mercado, existem tres seculos de etica capitalista a demonstrar a legitimidade da coisa.' (15)

Pepetela's choice of CCC to be the substance that hides behind and manipulates the form foregrounds the extent to which gender is becoming secondary in the age of Empire a la Hardt and Negri. One of their concerns is the extent to which identity politics have been outflanked by Empire's power structure. (16) I am not suggesting that gender inequality is not still rife, and particularly so in post-independence Lusophone Africa. Instead, and this seems to be one of the potent points of O Desejo de Kianda, the new mechanisms of power that are becoming increasingly insurmountable on the world stage are ever more gender-blind. Or rather, the age of globalization in which we live coopts whatever it can into its discourse, it entertains in order to contain, it simulates in order to shield and, in the process, it is never very clear where the power resides. In a post-conflict Angola, where the country's oil wealth is rapidly being auctioned off to faceless corporations, all that matters is that capital flows, and so the people who should be asking awkward questions, like the Joao Evangelistas of this world, must be otherwise entertained.

Yet there will come a moment when we must face bare reality, a moment Joao experiences at the sight of the protestors' naked flesh. His response is to reclaim an ethic, to see clearly for the first time the real results of his wife's world. As Carmina declares her intention to end the disgraceful display of nakedness, which represents 'um escandalo, uma falta de etica', Joao finally contains her by momentarily refusing her simulation of ethics and describing the nation's reality. 'Deixa disso', he warns her:
Pior etica e andarem a roubar a comida do povo e ninguem fazer nada para
o impedir. [...] P[sz]ra com moralismos superfluos. O que interessa e o
essencial da coisa, ninguem se preocupa pelos refugiados, ninguem se
preocupa pelas criancas que vivem aos milhares pelas ruas, ninguem se
preocupa pelos mutilados de guerra, a revolta tem de estoirar. (17)


As the novel ends and the last building collapses, what world does Pepetela suggest? He appears to call for an end of, or at least an ethical limitation on, the power of the sign, and for an attempted reconnection between image and reality. For Pepetela, simulation has assumed too much importance; the pretence of a screen echoes the pretence of a section of society that cannot distinguish between what happens and what it is led to imagine happens. Their pretence is a complicit process that has led to effective and affected blindness: everything has become ideologically overweight, in the Marxist sense of ideology as a distortion of reality, while being devoid of any radical political agenda, including the so-called Marxism espoused by the cadres of the MPLA, and its free-market replacement. Even the experience of Portuguese colonialism can become detached from its reality, and redeployed as a distorting sign used to trigger nostalgia and divert attention from the possibility of true social change. To answer my initial question, it is simply not possible for us to read O Desejo de Kianda today in the same way we did before 11 September. The symbolic value of buildings that collapse is now overloaded. A more interesting question may be can reading O Desejo de Kianda inform the way we try to interpret the subsequent symbolic use of the defining event for the world at the beginning of the twenty-first century? Is it not time we reined in the power of the sign?

(1) Jean Baudrillard, The Spirit of Terrorism, trans. by Chris Turner (London: Verso, 2002), p. 11. Baudrillard defines the Third World War as the Cold War, and links each war with the termination of a system. The First World War, according to Baudrillard, ended the supremacy of Europe and colonialism. The Second ended Nazism, and the Third ended Communism.

(2) Pepetela discussed his televised 'experiencing' of the collapse of the Twin Towers with me in April 2002.

(3) Baudrillard, p. 13.

(4) In Mayombe, the tensions between and blatant self-interest of a range of characters fighting for independence, and the hypocrisy of the movement's leaders, embodied in the character of Andre, who lives in comfort while the freedom fighters starve, foreshadow the nation's future. See Pepetela, Mayombe, 3rd edn (Lisbon: Edicoes 70, 1988).

(5) Challenged by her husband about the corrupt selling off of state assets, CCC declares 'Meu filho, o mais velho Marx explicou ha bue de tempo. Para se criar os empresarios, alguem tem de perder capital a favor deles. E sempre e melhor ser o Estado, assim e menos sensivel, do que expropriar ou roubar directamente os cidadaos. Nao decidimos ir para a economia de Mercado?'. Pepetela, O Desejo de Kianda (Lisbon: Dom Quixote, 1995), p. 24.

(6) Boaventura Sousa Santos, 'Entre Prospero e Caliban: Colonialismo, Pos-colonialismo e Inter-identidade', in Entre Ser e Estar: Raizes, Percursos e Discursos de Identidade, ed. by Maria Irene Ramalho and Antonio Sousa Ribeiro (Porto: Afrontamento, 2001), pp. 23-85 (p. 26).

(7) Sousa Santos, p. 78.

(8) O Desejo de Kianda, p. 7.

(9) See, for example, Gerald Bender, Angola under the Portuguese: The Myth and the Reality (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1978).

(10) Malyn Newitt, A History of Mozambique (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1995), p. 331.

(11) Baudrillard, pp. 48-49.

(12) Laura Cavalcante Padilha, Novos Pactos, Outras FicCoes: Ensaios sobre Literaturas Afro-Luso-Brasileiras (Porto Alegre: EDIPUCRS, 2002), p. 41.

(13) Richard Miller explains Marx's use of the term ideology as follows: '[Marx] almost always uses the label [ideology] as entailing condemnation. His important discussions of what he calls ideologies are directed at socially significant systems of belief, presupposition, or sentiment that depend on a false perception of reality, the currency of which is due to truth-distorting social forces.' Richard W. Miller, 'Social and Political Theory: Class, State, Revolution', in The Cambridge Companion to Marx, ed. by Terrell Carver (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991), pp. 55-105 (p. 72). In the case of Lusophone Africa, a national elite took over at independence, deploying Marxist shibboleths to great 'ideological' effect as a means of guaranteeing personal gain at the expense of the masses.

(14) Denys Turner, 'Religion: Illusion and Liberation', in The Cambridge Companion to Marx, ed. by Terrell Carver (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991), pp. 320-37 (p. 324).

(15) O Desejo de Kianda, p. 59.

(16) Hardt and Negri describe the outflanking of the 'liberatory weapons' of the politics of difference by 'the structures and logic of power' in the contemporary world. See Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri, Empire (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2000), p. 142.

(17) O Desejo de Kianda, p. 117.

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Author:Rothwell, Phillip
Publication:Portuguese Studies
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Geographic Code:6ANGO
Date:Jan 1, 2004
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