Walnice Nogueira Galvão is an intellectual like few others. Her enthusiasm is contagious, as is her critical verve, which spares no one “below” Proust and Homer, and her witty humour. She discourses with immense erudition on the most diverse subjects, from carnival marches to agrarian reform – she collaborates with the MST schools, for which she prepares books on literary studies. But it is even in the work of Guimarães Rosa and Euclides da Cunha that she has constantly focused, without losing interest, since her doctoral thesis at USP, The forms of the false – a study on ambiguity in the Grande Sertão: Veredas, of 1970, and the one of professorship, In the heat of the moment – the Canudos war in the newspapers, in 1972.
He would publish several books on the two authors, among others on literary criticism or cultural research. Among them, the collection of reports made by Euclides in Canudos and also a volume with his correspondence. And now prepared the critical edition of the new release of The Sertões (this work she teaches is called “ecdotic”, an expression of ancient Greece). In the following conversation, she tells that she spent eight years gathering the thousands of corrections made by Euclides, talks about the conflicts experienced by the author in the face of the tragedy in Canudos and states that, if he were alive today, the avenger of the slaughtered jagunços would be “leader of the MST ”.
CULTURE! Brazilians – Gather and comment on all corrections made by Euclid in the first editions of The Sertões must have been a tremendous job. How was that?
Walnice Nogueira Galvão – Look, I'm not a medieval monk (laughs), but they prepared editions with annotations and variants in the monasteries; They spent their whole lives doing this. One by one, by hand! I really like the idea of thinking that what I did with this book is located in that lineage. I spent eight years doing this work.
What kind of corrections did he make?
Altogether, in life, he makes ten thousand corrections. He's crazy, right (laughs)? These are mostly minor corrections. It doesn't change any chapters, any whole paragraphs. You notice that he's not at all interested in correcting information (although he knew later that there was some misinformation there); he is correcting style. He is an artist, not a historian. I'll give you an example that seems crazy: he noticed at one point that he used the past participle excessively, which leaves the text with many words ending in "ado". So he was obsessively transforming, doodling, cutting the endings into “ado”. Do you know why? Because he had a style flaw called echo, which we avoid even when he talks. You don't say: I have my hand on my heart to make a statement. It's horrible. Another correction he does a lot is punctuation. He cut off a thousand commas or so. He also implied the word “road”, as there was no road in the sertões. So most of the times that “road” appears, it changes it for a synonym: path, trail, trail, path. This gives an insight into the mechanisms of Euclid's creative process.
Many people prefer to skip the first and second parts and go straight to A Luta, which tells about the war. What do you think?
A Luta is very good, but the first part, A Terra, is the one I like the most, I think it is extraordinary beauty. This is a marvel! It's as if the nature he describes is inside him. It is not even described, it is lived with passion! He is a visionary artist.
How do you see the position of The Sertões in national literature?
It's very strange, because it's one of the most renegade books I've ever seen, and yet one of the most influential. The modernists hated Euclides da Cunha. He was everything they preached against. This high-sounding rhetoric, this demagoguery, these stylistic effects, this boisterous writing. They wanted the colloquial, the simple, the direct; wanted to downgrade the speech. However, what Euclides did in hinterland will serve the so-called regionalist novel of the 30s: a mapping of the main themes of Brazilian literature and social thought. He went to raise hares from poverty, from the sertão, from the jagunço, from the outlaw, from the sertanejo, from the colonel, from the agrarian reform, from the latifundia, from popular religiosity, from religious fanaticism, from underdevelopment, from colonialism, from migrants, from drought. Then in the 1940s, what happens? Brazilian social sciences are born. Who are still dealing with these same themes today. Euclides da Cunha became a precursor of sociology, anthropology, political science, and social sciences in general.
And the issue of racism, so pointed out in the book?
Oh yes, then he fumbles and trips and falls. Every time he tackles this issue head-on, he embarks on some very strange theories that he studied at the Escola Militar, probably the most advanced in its time in Brazil, where determinism, scientism and positivism predominate. He uses this European science and doesn't realize that it is a taxonomy of the world's resources for the imperialist countries to plunder. And that includes theories about inferior races, which only exist to justify that white Europeans could dominate the riches of the colonies and enslave their inhabitants. This disturbs Euclides. But when he describes what he experienced in the Canudos war, these theories are useless. He doesn't have any theory, like all of those in European science, that explains to him where the bravery, courage and dignity that lead those people to death not to surrender lies. There is not! It turned his world upside down, completely.
What do you believe he would be doing today?
He would be leading the MST. Did you like it (laughs)? Which is the logical consequence of what he wrote. The MST is very fond of him. They have a settlement called Antonio Conselheiro and another, in Mato Grosso, called Euclides da Cunha. Cool huh?
and what did you think of The End of the World War, by Vargas Llosa, inspired by the Sertões?
I'm terrified (laughs)! The Sertões expresses Euclid's torn awareness of what he saw. That guy who had studied the newest European science in every field, gets there and finds it's no use. So he aligns himself, emotionally, with the opponent. He takes the side of the jagunços, cheers for them. And he is horrified by the behavior of his army. It is an extremely painful process for him, full of contradictions, which he cannot resolve until the end. That's why the book is tragic as it is. And what does Vargas Llosa do? Turn the book into a bestseller. In other words, it makes everything easier. Remove the conflict, remove the contradictions, remove the antitheses, remove figures of speech such as Hercules-Quasimodo and the Troy of Taipa. Everything is simple, easy and well explained to Vargas Llosa. He ended up with the book. He must have been so jealous of Euclides da Cunha that he does something worse: he creates a short-sighted journalist, who is reporting on the war and then loses his glasses. It's an insult. Portray Euclides as a guy who can't see? I think it's a baseness you can't imagine.
And what do you think of other works that also came from The Sertões?
The best of all is God and the Devil in the Land of the Sun, by Glauber Rocha, who was another genius. He mixes Euclides da Cunha with Guimarães Rosa and José Lins do Rego de bandits e Beautiful stone. It transfers, in fiction, the duality between cangaço violence and fanaticism. He didn't put Antonio Conselheiro in the film. But go into the depths of the book and get the foundation.