Course Description: In his Tristes Tropiques (1955), Claude Lévi-Strauss refers to Jean de Léry's History of a Voyage to the Land of Brazil (1578) as the "breviary of the anthropologist.” Indeed, since the Renaissance, accounts of the native cultures of Brazil (sometimes utopian, sometimes nostalgic and melancholic) have played a central role in Western epistemologies, as well as in the construction of the modern Brazilian nation and aesthetics. By studying ethnographic and fictional narratives about Brazilian indigenous peoples, this course is intended first, to understand the role played by ethnographic accounts in the construction of nationality in Brazil (and in Latin America in general) and, second to understand the role of the imagination in 20th anthropological writing. We will analyze, for example, how the Brazilian lettered elite responded to the image of Brazil that was constructed by Europeans as an exotic space, and how they incorporated it into their projects of nation building (from 19th-century Romanticism to Modernist Avant-gardes and beyond). In addition, we will discuss how indigenous cultures remain a heterogeneous space in the national and global imagination, and the political consequences of this contradiction in contemporary societies. Readings will include travel narratives, novels, poems, essays, ethnographic accounts and films. Essays by Montaigne, Jacques Derrida, Frank Lestringant, Michel de Certeau, Silviano Santiago, James Clifford, Johannes Fabien, Philippe Descola, Viveiros de Castro, among others. Assignments for the first class will be posted on CANVAS.
Up next week: three essays by Montaigne ("Of books," "Of a monstrous child," and the classic "On some verses of Virgil"), and one essay by Abraham Cowley ("Of Greatness"). I already love Montaigne, and have also arrived at his On friendship in the Great Ideas series, so if I end up reacting strongly to Cowley I might write about him in order to shake things up a bit. On the other hand, "On some verses of Virgil" is always good for a bawdy laugh. We shall see!
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