Eclipse of Reason: Euclides da Cunha’s “Improper City”

  • Marzena Grzegorczyk


Voluntary seclusion and rigid domestic borders mirror and, at the same time, secure for the protagonist of Machado de Assis’s novel a way of living out the Brazilian transition from monarchy to Republic with the least disruption. Almost simultaneously, Canudos, a settlement in northeast Brazil, thousands of miles away from Rio de Janeiro, gains fame as a hotbed of political fanaticism. Its messianic leader, Antônio Conselheiro (“the Counselor”), was a charismatic caboclo1 who vowed to end the old world of misery and begin a new era of justice, which he in no way confused with the recently proclaimed Republic of Brazil (1889). Throngs of suffering people were attracted by his apocalyptic sermons, swelling a provincial town into a throbbing city practically overnight. The settlement was soon perceived as a threat to the new state, and when the Counselor initiated a tax revolt against the sinning cosmopolitans of the Republic, the Brazilian government moved aggressively to put down the insurrection. During 1896–1997 almost thirty thousand inhabitants were killed, including the Counselor himself. As a result of a series of conflicting reports, rumors, and scandalous lies, the desperate battle against the Republican forces turned into a symptom of generalized dysfunction. Canudos came to signify more than a place: it became associated with a particular sense of community, people, ideas, and events—an entire way of inhabiting a place.


Urban Form Latin American City Organic Extension Urban Reality Latin American Culture 
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© Marzena Grzegorczyk 2005

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  • Marzena Grzegorczyk

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