Gabriela Siqueira on Discovering Dos Passos

I’m happy to present another guest entry, our first from the country of Brazil. My grandfather loved Brazil and my mother and sister have visited the country and reported great experiences. My sister is fluent in Brazilian-Portuguese. I aspire to fluency, not just because of my Portuguese heritage, but because the country’s culture is so wonderfully rich and joyful. I’m delighted to be a part of maintaining my grandfather’s legacy in Brazil. Best wishes for Gabriela’s future research.

-John Dos Passos Coggin

Gabriela Siqueira’s Guest Entry

I first discovered the work of John Dos Passos during the period I was writing my master’s dissertation. It was a surprise, for I had never before read anything about him. At that time I was writing about Alfred Döblin’s Berlin Alexanderplatz – a very impressive German novel published in 1929 – and, in the literature concerning this novel, Manhattan Transfer was constantly mentioned either as the American counterpart of Berlin Alexanderplatz or as a possible influence. When I read Dos Passos’s novel, I was amazed by the style of the text, the techniques used in its composition, and the sensibility of its narrative. It seemed a highly experimental form, but I believed it to be much more.

Some years after, while planning my initial PhD proposal, I felt it would be interesting to investigate how some of the discussions carried out in my master’s dissertation (the development of the novel as a genre, the avant-garde techniques, the relationship between the growth of the metropolis and the form) would appear in the literary tradition of two former colonies, Brazil and the United States. Of course, for such a research project, the work of John Dos Passos was the perfect subject.

At the beginning of this new study I was really astonished to find out there were no in-depth analysis of Dos Passos in Brazil. Except for some courses on American literature, Dos Passos is rarely read or discussed.

During the thirties, and especially in the forties and fifties, Dos Passos was an important name among Brazilian writers and critics. Oswald de Andrade, for instance, who met Dos Passos in Paris in the 1920s, recognized the relevance of his work as early as 1939. Dos Passos’ name also appeared in essays by Antonio Candido and Otto Maria Carpeaux. But instead of becoming a more constant subject of study and discussion in the academic community, Dos Passos faded away.

In 2013, however, the new Brazilian edition of Brazil on the Move sparked renewed interest in his writing. I believe this represents a very significant progress in the field of literary studies in Brazil, for the work of Dos Passos can be of great importance not only to discuss the tradition of the American novel, modernism, and the Great Depression, but it can also help to consider some of the problems of the “New World” with its “lack of tradition” and emerging independent literatures. I believe that a novel like Manhattan Transfer is perfect to pique students’ curiosity about United States history, modernism, and literary experimentalism. Manhattan Transfer is full of originality, invention, and freedom.

Gabriela Siqueira is a PhD candidate at São Paulo University. She is a Visiting Scholar at CUNY’s Graduate Center and is currently studying Manhattan Transfer and American modernism.