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WWB Weekend: Alcibiades in Brazil, or Machado de Assis for the Impeachment Debacle

By Eric M. B. Becker

Unless you’ve been taking a break from the international headlines, you’ve no doubt caught wind of the turmoil sweeping Brazil in recent weeks, culminating with Brazil’s chamber of deputies taking the first step toward the impeachment of president Dilma Rousseff, a move many maintain is a soft coup. While there’s much room for debate—whether the impeachment in the works constitutes a coup or whether the fiscal acrobatics Rousseff engaged in constitute an impeachable defense—what’s indisputable is that the world’s fourth-largest democracy has become a heated ideological battleground.

And since the impassioned dispute centers on the integrity of democratic process, what better reason to dig into Machado de Assis’s short story “A Visit from Alcibiades,” translated by Clifford E. Landers for our 2009 science fiction issue, in which the Brazilian master imagines he is visited by the Greek statesman, general, and orator. (Given that Brazil’s VP has been leading the charge for impeachment against his own president, who better for a visit from antiquity than a man who changed sides multiple times during the Peloponnesian War!)

At one point, Machado’s narrator confesses to the reader that he has become a spiritist (Fun fact: Brazil boasts the greatest number of adherents to spiritism worldwide):

“Convinced that all systems are total nullities, I decided to adopt the most recreative of them. The time will come when this is not merely recreative but also useful for the solution of historical problems; it is simpler to evoke the spirit of the dead than to expend one's critical forces, wasting them in pure futility, for there is no reasoning or document that can better explain to us the intention of an act than the author of the act itself.”

Whatever the solution to Brazil’s political crisis, many may join the same camp as Machado’s narrator amid a situation where easy answers are elusive.

And finally, here’s something everyone can agree on: stay tuned for our July issue, Brazil Beyond Rio, with writing from all corners of Brazil and the globe.

Image: The Drunken Alcibiades Interrupting the Symposium, Engraving by Pietro Testa, 1648 (public domain)

Published Apr 22, 2016   Copyright 2016 Eric M. B. Becker

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