Antonio Obá, Artist and work, 2018.

By Durval Muniz de Albuquerque Júnior*

What images does listening to the sertão evoke?
In Brazilian social thought, in Brazilian literature and arts, the question about what the sertão is, about its meaning, about the figures that could represent it was and is recurrent. After all, what do you say when you say sertão? In the search for a single meaning, in the search for a single definition, the encounter with the diverse, with the dispersed, with the divergent, the encounter with the ambiguous, with the ambivalent. In the quest to see and say the sertão, the encounter with the sertões. In the incessant excavation in search of the sertão being, authors and works were and are engulfed by the vortex of meaning that is the sertão utterance, they swirl in the hollow of their meaning, they are captured by the whirlpool of their reality, their identity. A being so multiple, so unconform to itself, how to say it, how to express it? But, after all, what images, what imaginary revolves around these topos and this locus so present in Brazilian cultural production? Let us open the chests of the Brazilian imagination and make a small inventory of what is seen and what is seen when talking about the sertão.

The wilderness is the other. Alterity, difference. The wilderness is strange. The sertão is the other side of the coast, of civilization, of the city, of modernity, of contemporaneity. The sertão is distant and distinct. That space with which there is no proximity or identity. It is the place of the other,
the strange, the savage, the barbaric, the rustic, the rude, the backward, the dissimilar, the beast, the inhuman. The sertão is another and has the infinite capacity to be different. He is always dissimilar, he always becomes another when we approach him. The more you spy, the more he appears changed, metamorphosed. The sertão is a snake that sheds its skin every single day.

The sertão is never where we look for it and yet it seems to be everywhere. The sertão lives in a border condition, it is always on the move. The sertão is always further ahead, it is a search and a wait. We are always losing sight of the hinterland. When we arrived, he was already gone, stampeded. The sertão is always after there, after the turn of the road. The sertão is a waywardness, it is perdition, it is wandering. The sertão is to err, the sertão is wrong. When we reach the edges of the sertão, it jumps further. When we think we have conquered the sertão, it capriciously denies it. When we think we have mastered the sertão, he retreats, he flees further in.
However, it continues as an obsessive presence, as a question to be answered, as a challenge to be faced, as a goal to be reached. The sertão is there, but it is here, it is there. When we step on the backlands it escapes from our feet, although it continues to hurt in our soul, being a mirage in our eyes.

The hinterland is a distance. Ehe is always more over there than over here. But where to place it? The sertão is a distance in time. The sertão is anachronistic, it is a thing of the past, it is a thing of other times. The sertão belongs to the past, it is its expression and incarnation. The sertão is tradition, it is folklore, it is old-school things, it is artisanal, not industrial. The sertão is made by hand, in cross stitches. The hinterland is dead, the hinterland is the place of death par excellence and incencies. To walk towards the sertão is to walk against the grain of time1. The sertão is a retreat, the sertão is ruin, the sertão is what remains of times gone by. In the sertão time drags on heavy, slow, banzo. In the sertão, time stretches, stretches, sleepy. The time of the sertão is sticky, it is like slime, imprisoning everyone in its drowsy march.2 Therefore, in order to see the hinterland, it is necessary to take a distance, it is necessary to look at ancient, previous, ancestral times. You can only see the sertão with the eyes of memory or history, because the sertão has always been left behind. The sertão is a measure of time, it allows us to measure the distance in which we find ourselves from the times of origins, from primeval, primitive times. The sertão is a principle, it is primordial, it is armorial.3

The hinterland is a distance. Remote space, distant place, thickets, thickets, thickets. The backlands are tyrannical leagues.4 The hinterland is as far as the eye can see. Open horizons, endless lands, space to conquer, to tread, to unravel the secrets and mysteries. The sertão is an appeal to displacement, an invitation to nomadism. The sertão is a land without gates, doors without trammels. The sertão is a sink of people. Space of enchantment and disappearance. The sertão is full of people and animals. The hinterland is land of burrows, burrows and ambushes.5 It's mufumbo, it's scrubland, it's carrascal, it's Judas' backyard, where he lost his boots. The sertão is beyond, it is paradise and it is hell. The sertão is what is inside, it is what is inside each one of us. The sertão is so far away, the sertão is so close. Agent always leaves the sertão, but does the sertão leave us? The sertão is maria-vai-com-as-others, it follows us and pursues us wherever we go. He inhabits us and inhabits all the places where we are. When you least expect it, the sertão comes, sprawling right in the middle of the street, right in the middle of the square, in the shape of a hand in the shape of a gun. The sertão revolves and revolves, bullets and weapons as a solution. The sertão, a space from which we always seek to distance ourselves, but which insists on living among agents.

The sertão landscape without figures.6 Sertão, desert, desert. To be deserted, to be faceless, to be of sand and wind. To be whirlwind, to be devilish, to be divided and conflicted. To be dispersed, to be in profusion and proliferation. The being of the sertão is baroque, folded, pleated, called, mottled, complex and in profusion. The sertão is a spotted jaguar, it is a gray jaguar, it confuses the eyes of any Christian. The sertão is a mirage, it is an illusory and delusional image. The wilderness hurts the eyes. Plethora of light, red, gray. Sertão where green is stain, and dry is fate. Sertão that paints everything yellow, ocher, the dust that flies on the summer rack. Sertão of men and sunsets red as fire. The sertão is an aesthetic of the poor, the little, the least, the dirty, the ugly, the minimal, the withered, the skeletal, the starving, the dry, the gray, the Caatinga condition, death and severe lives.7 The sertão is the poetry of stone, it is the melancholy of loss. It is the aesthetics of hunger, violence, despair, lamentation, lamentation, litany, medallion, medallion, from meganha and the harlot, the colonel and the jagunço.8 The goat's sertão marked for death9 and of the Antonios of the deaths10, the cangaceiro and the blessed, the godfather and the sponsored. The sertão of the macho goat and the working men. The sertão is just bone, it doesn't require grandiloquent rhetoric, but gnawed words, ruminated words, painful as stones between the teeth. The sertão dries up any verbose spillage. But why do we keep gnawing on the bones of the sertão without ever being able to grasp its flavor? Why so much drool spilled from salivation around the sertão being? Is the sertão for delights or not?

The wilderness is a longing. The sertão is an absence, in time and space. The sertão is a departure and I want it back. The sertão is see you later and never again. The sertão is a pain, it is a poignant tear. The sertão is sounds, it's smells, it's flavors lost and found, re-enchanted, retold, demure, redone, withdrawn, exiled. The hinterland enters through all the senses, stoking those more used to reminiscences, to memories. The sertão is a skin that you painfully need to undress. The sertão is a gesture, the sertão is a way, the sertão is a gesture, the sertão is a verb, the sertão is a saying and deed. The sertão enters through all the holes in the head and body. The sertão leaves us softly when we least realize it. The hinterland is detached, detached, withheld and denied in the folds of our body. The sertão is an old garment that no longer serves any purpose, but it is an ornament and a delight for our literary and musical gems. The sertão is bad to live in, but it is good to relive on screens and pedestals, in speeches and contests. The sertão is a storehouse of meanings, a cauldron of signs, an archive of scenes and characters, a chest of artistic and intellectual happiness. The sertão is an absence that makes itself a permanent and pressing presence.

The sertão is our reserve of imagination, for being that other, that outside, that distant, in time and space; for being that stranger, that foreigner; for being that desert; for being that devastated and open space where everything can be built, everything architected, everything figured; for being this space of travel, visages and nomadisms; for being this deterritorialized land, which can be taken anywhere, because it travels within each one who says and thinks he is a sertanejo. The sertão agent takes it in the suitcase, takes it in speech, takes it in the soul, washes with tears in each work that, from it, is written, created, composed, painted, portrayed, formatted, contracted and mistreated. . The sertão continues to function in Brazilian culture as this great interrogation, as this great question, this momentous question, as this enormous anguish around being, which one day led Rosa to pursue the being of the sertão or the being in the sertão through roads and paths. without end.11  If the sertão is the lands of the endless12, this inquiry will never cease, it will be infinite and endless like him. From time to time we will be able to look back and take stock of what was said about him, but this will only reopen the hunger and thirst to say it, it will only feed the lack of meaning, it will only encourage the continuous digging of that hollow of times and spaces that are the sertões: plural, diverse, immense, that hollow of the senses in which each one sinks in when leaning over the edges of the sertão and trying to look it in the eyes and face. The sertão always escapes and, therefore, the search never ceases. The sertão is like human life, lacking in meaning, but, at the same time, flooded with all possibilities of meaning, including no meaning at all, open to nothingness, willing to be nothingness. 

1 So thought Euclides da Cunha. CUNHA, Euclid. Os Sertões: Canudos campaign. 30th ed. Rio de Janeiro: Francisco Alves, 1981.
2 The time of the sertão is thus described by Raimundo Carrero. CARRERO, Raymond. Embroidery and the Black Panther Romance. São Paulo: Illuminations, 2014.
3 The sertão is armorial, full of coats of arms, symbols and markings in the work of Ariano Suassuna. SUASSUNA, Arian. Romance of the Stone of the Kingdom and the Back-and-Back Blood Prince🇧🇷 Rio de Janeiro: José Olympio, 1972.
4 In the voice and music of Luiz Gonzaga. tyrant league (Luiz Gonzaga and Humberto Teixeira), 1949 (RCA Victor).
5 This is Jorge Amado's sertão. Beloved, George. Big ambush: the dark face. Sao Paulo: Record, 1984.
6 The backlands of the poet João Cabral de Melo Neto. MELO NETO, João Cabral de. Landscape with figures. In: Complete Poetry (1940-1965). Rio de Janeiro: Sabiá, 1968, p. 245-272.
7 Reference to MELO NETO, João Cabral de. Death and Severine Life. In: Op. cit., P. 203-244.
8 Reference to ROCHA, Glauber. Eztetyka of Hunger (1965). Accessed on May 30, 2019.
9 Reference to Eduardo Coutinho's documentary, Goat Marked to Die, 1984.
10 Reference to the character in Glauber Rocha's films, God and the Devil in the Land of the Sun (1964)  e The Dragon of Evil against the Holy Warrior (1969)
11 ROSA, Guimaraes. Grande Sertão: paths. 15th ed. Rio de Janeiro: José Olympio, 1982.
12 Reference to AMADO, Jorge. endless lands. Sao Paulo: Record, 1981.

*Durval Muniz de Albuquerque Júnior is a doctor in history, professor at the State University of Paraíba. He wrote the book A Invenção do Nordeste e Outros Artes, 1999, Cortez Editora.


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