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Day 8

The Posthumous Memoirs of Brás Cubas by Machado de Assis

Ch 123-160

March 15, 2021 by Larry Rohter

M so loved Shakespeare that I can’t help but think he is channeling the funeral oration from Julius Caesar in CXXIII. BC describes his brother-in-law Cotrim as a “ferociously honest character,” then reveals that he smuggles, hunts, and tortures slaves.

As BC’s fortunes decline, M grows increasingly playful with form. In CXXX, he tells us “this chapter is to be inserted between the first & second sentences” of the previous chapter. CXXXVI is one sentence on “uselessness”, and CXXXIX a blank page. What?

So much madness in this book! But mostly in the background, like the slaves. Besides Quincas Borba’s mental collapse in CLXIX and BC’s own occasional hallucinations, as in XLI, let’s not forget the madman on the ship taking BC to Portugal, back in XIX.

In the end, who is BC? Is his a life well lived? He’s a 19th-century playboy, a wastrel, but one who recognizes what he is. If, as he says in XLIX, love and procreation are part of life’s “capital forces,” no wonder “this last chapter is all negatives.”

But wait. Maybe BC gets the last laugh on us, his readers. “I came out even with life,” he avers, because of “the final negative in this chapter of negatives.” No spoiler alert here: let’s just say that his final sentence is devastating in its cynicism.

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