Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Tropical Truth

Tropical Truth, written by Caetano Veloso. Very good, about the political and philosophical basis for what outwardly appeared to be a musical movement, Tropicalia, but which in reality was a combination of avant-garde artistic movement and a movement aiming at redefining the way Brazillians related to each other and to their culture. It could easily be argued that Brazil, which even today features huge slums and vast areas where people have a standard of living not even close to that of the U.S., and Brazillian thought cannot be applied to the U.S. Well, that's true, but after considering it for a long time---I started writing about a proposed American Tropicalia as an applied Romanticism in 2003---I've come to the conclusion that Tropicalia, despite its intentions, remained a bourgeois movement. If it really wanted to get with the people it would have resembled the PT, or Workers' Party, that Lula heads. Some of the Tropicalistas later joined it but that's sort of beside the point... Tropicalia was the product of an educated elite---although not an elite of predominately European or non-mixed race descent--and tried to balance a wish to produce a Brazillian take on avant-garde art, philosophy, literature, social though, and film, with a desire to root their project not in the Brazil as reflected in official culture but in the Brazil as it really was. This same project can be applied to the United States, especially against the corporate monoculture. However, the basis for all of this is social justice, not just taking on a media image, and a social justice that comes out of being for the particular and the regional rather than for the universal and the national.

See "The Nine Nations of North America" by Joel Garreau. This too praises the regional, in this case proposing that there are nine distinct geographical/cultural areas in North America that have more in common with themselves than with the rest of the country. The book implies that it would be better for them to have self governance than to be squashed under a federal system. Therefore it comes out for regionalism. I think the nine are "Ecotpia", I like the name, which is the west coast, Quebec, the South, South Florida, New England including Nova Scotia, what's termed the rust belt, the breadbasket, and the "Empty Quarter", which would encompass Montana, Wyoming, Utah, Colorado, etc..

But what I like about it is that in emphasizing regionalism it opens the door to a sort of regional conception of social justice. A social justice rooted in traditions in the South would be different from a social justice in New York state would be different from a social justice in Michigan would be different from a social justice in California or the Northwest. This is a highly attractive proposition.

I need to restore the link to the post proposing a confederation based on regional governments encompassing several states as a replacement to the current federal constitutional order.


Andrew said...

I think what Caetano was writing about was defining a Brazilian identity that was a counternarrative to that of the state, which isn't necessarily an appeal to regionalism (especially not an appeal to create separate states based on regions, which is just a different kind of nationalism). The regional identity of the "Bahian Group" within the Tropicalia movement seems to me like it was less about promoting an allegedly authentic notion of Bahian-ness and more about
subverting the dominance of the various metropoles within Brasil (Rio as a cultural epicenter, Salvador as an industrial epicenter, Brasilia as a political epicenter). They were presenting a version of the artist from the periphery that wasn't naive or essentialized, which is exactly what the MPB artists at the time were doing. I feel that's why Caetano makes extra note of the fact that they were from these allegedly backwards areas but they recall watching Fellini films and listening to Stravinsky and working on Freire's popular education programs and all this other stuff.

I guess I'm not really disputing your main point that it was a bourgeois movement, but I think there's something to be said about their aesthetic interventions as a necessary political act in terms of challenging the fascists' narrative of Brazilian-ness that was designed more or less to foment hegemony. That was a fundamentally radical aim, and we shouldn't necessarily dismiss it even if it didn't fit into the formal parameters of a liberatory movement.

John Madziarczyk said...

Thank you for your comment. I think it's sort of a glass half empty, glass half full distinction. These days I actually have come around to not seeing it as a bourgeois movement anymore and instead see it as something that had revolutionary potential.