Imagining Brazil: Seduction, Samba

Posted in Anthropology, Articles, Brazil, Caribbean/Latin America, Media Archive, Women on 2014-01-05 01:22Z by Steven

Imagining Brazil: Seduction, Samba

Canadian Woman Studies / Les Caheiers de la Femme
Volume 20, Number 2 (2000)
pages 48-56

Natasha Pravaz, Associate Professor
Wilfrid Laurier University, Waterloo, Ontario, Canada

En utilisant des paroles de chants rythmés sur la samba et d‘autre matériel ethnographique, l‘auteure detecte la presence du mulâtre et de propos racistes dans la construction du nationalisme brézilien et discute sur l‘évidente ambivalence dans le discours ethnique local entre le désir et la rejection envers ce personage.

Using the words of songs and rhythmic samba on other ethnographic material, the author detects the presence the mulatto and racism in the construction of Brazilian nationalism and discusses the obvious ambivalence in the local ethnic discourse between desire and rejection to this personage.

A polysemic category, mulata in the Brazilian context can refer to “a woman of mixed racial descent,” but it also connotes voluptuosity, sensuality, and ability for dancing the samba. In its restricted sense, however, it names an occupation. That is, only women who engage in dancing the samba in a commodified spectacle and receive some form of remuneration for it can be called mulatas. Under this specific signification, the concept of the mulata can be contrasted to that of the passita, a solo dancer in the Carnival parades who performs, not for money, but out of love for samba and for her Samba School of choice. However, regardless of the subtleties of this and other distinctions, mulata and passista are perhaps merely privileged signifiers in a larger paradigmatic chain associating multiple cultural terms such as cabrocha, morena, criouh, brasileira, nega, pretinha, baiana, to name just a few. These multiple signifiers denoting “black woman” in Brazil may be seen as lexicological crystallisations of what has been described by Marvin Harris as a fluid “system of racial classification.” In Brazil, “race talk” has a dermal character, where slight gradations in skin colour are constructed as distinctions begging specific denomination. Depending on the context of utterance, most of the above mentioned racialized and gendered terms carry with them a certain fetishistic quality. In Brazil, the mulata is commonly portrayed as a woman always ready to deploy her tricks of sorcery and bewitching, embodying sensuality, voluptuosity, and dexterity in dancing the samba. She has become a figure of desire in the Brazilian imaginary. It is due to this semantic proliferation that I have decided to use the Brazilian lexicon, rather than to reduce its meaning by making reference to a “mulatto woman.”

Using a series of samba lyrics as my ethnographic material, I will address the figuration of the mulata as the embodiment of sensuality in the Brazilian imaginary; explore the use of racialized tropes and the figure of the mulata in the constitution of Brazilian discourses of national identity; and briefly discuss the conspicuous ambivalence between desire and abjection toward the mulata in local discourses of race…

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Defying Categorization: The Work of Suzette Mayr

Posted in Articles, Canada, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, Women on 2013-12-28 03:06Z by Steven

Defying Categorization: The Work of Suzette Mayr

Canadian Woman Studies / Les Caheiers de la Femme
Volume 23, Number 2 (2004)
pages 71-75

Katie Petersen

Le corpus littéraire de Suzette Mayr examine les croisements raciaux, la sexualité marginalisée et la formation de l’identité personnelle dans des espaces indéfinis. Ses recueils de poemès et ses nouvelles ont tous remis en question la situation et le classement des populations. L’auteure a exploré et validé les espaces non explorés et non compartimentés qui sont présents dans les réalités traditionelles.

The literary corpus of Suzette Mayr examines racial mixing, marginalized sexuality and the formation of personal identity in undefined spaces. Her collections of poems and novels have questioned the status and the classification of the groups concerned. The author has explored and validated the unexplored spaces and those spaces not compartmentalized that are present in traditional realities.

In the afterword to her Master’s thesis “Chimaera Lips” (1992), the Calgary poet and novelist Suzette Mayr states that

a positive approach to categorization would not rely on having to distinguish oneself through comparison to another group, but would emphasize the whole or merged self, rather than the categorized self. (59)

In this work, Mayr explores “existence between ‘realities.'” She investigates and attempts to undermine the binary constructions surrounding race, sexuality and gender, by writing about, and presumably from within, what she terms “middle spaces;” spaces which exist between the starkly delineated realities commonly associated with various racial, sexual and gender categories (61). Mayr posits an absorption of “realities” by these in-between spaces, leading to an integrated system in which neither reality nor intermediate space dominates. The novels Mayr wrote following “Chimaera Lips,” Moon Honey (1995) and The Widows (1998), and her chapbook of poems, Zebra Talk (1991), all serve to challenge the ways in which people are necessarily located or categorized and to explore, expose, and validate uncharted, uncompartmentalized middle spaces…

Mayr’s chapbook, Zebra Talk, is a collection of poems of a relatively personal nature which describe Mayr’s own perceptions as a lesbian and a Canadian of mixed, Black-Caucasian, race. She explores issues of race and sexuality, identity and family, describing middle and hybrid spaces. Mayr treats her poetic subjects in much the same way as she does the characters in her novels; their appearances, actions and significances are described in unique, creative and at times ambiguous ways which emphasize the difficulty, if not impossibility, of categorizing individuals without that action being destructive and/or reductive.

Zebra Talk contains poems which discuss the idea of being a “zebra,” a person of mixed race. Mayr details the process of coming to terms with racial hybridity and of understand ing how a person of mixed race locates herself within a multiracial family setting and within the larger setting of a multiracial community or nation. Clearly, racial and cultural hybridity create new spaces. People of in-between colors and in-between cultures have to forge in-between identities and locations for themselves. However, what stands in the middle cannot be identified simply in relation to the poles it stands between.

Mayr’s use of the repetitive imagery of skin, invertebrates, volcanic insides, and people made of earth turns ordered family and romantic structures into a tempestuous and vividly multicolored mixture. In the first poem, the speaker describes her family:

The skin on a drum
The skin stretched over a moving rib cage
The skin stretched and bitten by two other heads on this
three-headed body
2 brothers 1 sister 3 heads and 1 body
plus 1 and 1 parents. (2)

The children, each different versions of the same mixture, form a three-headed being, sharing a body. The parents, “1 and 1,” remain separate. The skin to which Mayr refers appears thin but strong, stretched and fitted over skeleton and roiling core: “(Zebra pelt stretched over a hot and bloody centre)” (2). This particular mixture of heat and blood and guts is never given a clear meaning. It could be a reference, as George Elliott Clarke suggests in “Canadian Biraciality and Its ‘Zebra’ Poetics,” to “a volcanic core—a history of violence and death … O the same seething hurt,” an internal upheaval particular to people of mixed race (233). Or, Mayr could be pointing out that everyone, regardless of race, is, at the core, composed of the same unstable material, which cannot be classified or associated in any way with outside appearance…

Read the entire article here.

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