“We Must Push Back Against Authoritarian Legalism”: An Interview with Prof. William E. Scheuerman

“It’s not old-fashioned dictatorship; it’s somehow a new form of authoritarianism. And I think we have to worry about that.”

Global Convivial Forum 

Gabriel Brito (NDD-Cebrap), Marina Slhessarenko (NDD-Cebrap),
Bianca Tavolari
(Mecila/ Cebrap/ Insper), Joaquim Toledo Jr. (Mecila)

Gabriel Brito, Bianca Tavolari, William Scheuerman and Joaquim Toledo Jr.
Image: Marina Slhessarenko

From August 3-10, Mecila hosted Professor William E. Scheuerman (James H. Rudy Professor, Political Science, Indiana University) for a Short-Term Research Visit, a new academic exchange modality inaugurated in 2022 as part of the Centre’s academic exchange program.

During his stay in Mecila’s São Paulo offices, Prof. Scheuerman attended workshops and meetings with researchers from Mecila and Cebrap’s Law and Democracy Nucleus (NDD), and delivered a Distinguished Lecture on «Politically Motivated Property Damage».

In this interview, Prof. Scheuerman discusses his experience at Mecila and topics that are currently occupying his research interests, including the connection between civil disobedience and politically motivated property, the global crisis of democracy, and the emergence in the United States of a right-wing legal and political thought influenced by interwar conservative German intellectuals.

Scheuerman Convivial Forum 1

Joaquim Toledo Jr.: Can you tell us about the academic activities you’ve been involved in so far in Mecila and how the short-term visit has helped your research?

William Scheuerman: I’ve already been to Cebrap before, which is a famous institution. I’m familiar with many of the people who work here, and I’ve always learned a great deal from them. I think the research here is really important. This was the first time I encountered people from Mecila, and I had a very similar impression. I thought the group of fellows and PhD students are all doing exciting projects. During the second session, I was humbled because I realized how little I know about all the things they’re working on. The projects seem politically timely as well as scholarly significant. I’ve just been very impressed with everything I’ve seen.

Bianca Tavolari: You mentioned you had been to Cebrap before and that it seemed to have been a lifetime ago. What’s the difference between then and now? I’d like you to comment on those two moments.

WS: I was here almost five years ago. Trump had just been elected in the United States. As you know, we no longer have a President Trump, although he’s still active. Bolsonaro had not yet been elected; COVID hadn’t taken place. So yes, it seems like a very different world in some ways. Of course, those things were probably all in the making. But I don’t think you here in Brazil expected Bolsonaro to get elected at that point. And nobody expected COVID.

I’m really enjoying not just the formal discussions, presentations, questions, and so on, but also the chance to catch up with people and hear about their work. That’s at least how it works for me. During a conversation, something might just get dropped, I think about it, and it becomes something. And I think that’s something we did lose during COVID, and it’s just wonderful to have it back.

Gabriel Brito: You now have very practical worries about current social struggles and the state of democracy, especially in the work you presented during your stay. Could you comment briefly on how your work relates to the contemporary political climate?

WS: I like being here so much because I feel very much at home. The people here are also committed to serious scholarship but think that scholarship should matter in the real world. And that’s always been my view. Unfortunately, I don’t think that’s the view of everyone in the academy. Not because they’re bad people, it’s how the academy is structured. I don’t think it always encourages us to address timely political questions in a serious scholarly way.

I stumbled into the issue of civil disobedience. A colleague asked me in 2014 to do a presentation on Edward Snowden in our law school. I initially got interested in these debates about whistleblowing, and that brought me into a broader discussion about civil disobedience. I don’t want to claim to be prescient, but you could certainly see much more attention getting paid to these new protest movements, to these new forms of disobedience in the US and elsewhere.

And then, of course, Trump was elected. That was crucial. I received money to do a project in Germany, but when I got there, I decided to do something very different. I was fortunate that I was allowed to do that. I decided that working on civil disobedience was potentially very important, even if just in terms of sorting out the debate. I saw a lot of confusion there, and I thought it could be at least somehow useful for people worried about these authoritarian trends. There is a direct political link in this project.

Marina Slhessarenko: How do the debates on the crisis of democracy relate to your work on civil disobedience?

WS: There is a danger in speaking about crisis in an overly inflated way. It can also become a dangerous self-fulfilling prophecy. Trump likes to talk about crisis, which is his way of justifying executive rule. That question requires some serious scholarship and discussion. We can argue about how best to define a democratic crisis, but the evidence, it seems, is there. We have authoritarian political leaders. Political parties that previously were not authoritarian have become authoritarian.

The Republican party was the party of Lincoln and abolitionism. Then it took a conservative, yet not authoritarian, turn. But now, it has become a kind of authoritarian cult in some ways. If that is not a crisis, I don’t know what is.

At the same time, history doesn’t repeat itself. I don’t think we’re going to see some dramatic democratic collapse. We don’t see as many coups as we used to, which is a good thing, but we are seeing this democratic erosion or backsliding process, and at some point, that becomes a crisis.

There are many examples of a step backwards in terms of some model of democracy you might have. Hungary, Poland and Turkey still have elections, but they’ve been hollowed out. The press is not free for all kinds of reasons. It’s not an old-fashioned dictatorship; it’s somehow a new form of authoritarianism. So yes, I do think it makes sense to talk about crises. And I think we have to worry about that.

JT: The idea of a crisis of democracy can be like a Rorschach test: how it is seen says a lot about who is looking. You are currently writing on how far-right US think tanks are appropriating conservative views from interwar Germany to denounce the decay of the US republic. What is their version of the crisis of democracy?

WS: The hard right describes the United States as being in a specific kind of crisis. I was looking for academic literature on states of emergency, and the first thing that came up was State of Emergency (2006) by Patrick Buchanan. He is this extremely right-wing, xenophobic politician. It’s about how the United States faces an emergency and how immigration has destroyed the American identity.

You can see different versions of a manipulated type of crisis thinking. Trump talked about crises from his political perspective. The phenomena you’re referring to is very specific, and I was also surprised by it. I’m happy that few American academics and intellectuals were enthusiastic about Trump. That’s partly because the right-wing in the US has been bashing universities. That’s also become part of the political program, which is disturbing.

When I started teaching in the early 1990s, I had many conservative colleagues, often in the “hard sciences”. But that is decreasingly the case because Republicans have committed themselves to climate denialism, among other things. They’re beating up on science. Many of these people would not vote for a conservative today.

Not many people in Academia got on board with Trump, but there was a group of enthusiasts based at the Claremont Institute. It’s a long and complicated story, but in the United States, many people, particularly in political theory, were influenced by Leo Strauss, a pretty complicated thinker. Very conservative, but in an unusual way. His heroes were Plato and Aristotle. He’s not a free market conservative by any means. Maybe a cultural conservative in some sense of the term.

The Claremont Institute is a group of hard-right Straussians on the West Coast. They have been coming up with a romanticized defense of the American founding as having certain moments that connect the US republic to what they call classical natural law. They’ve decided that Trump can be the vehicle for the resurrection of that lost moment which has been under attack. Some of the documents you’ll find on official websites are taken directly from this institute.

They tell this story of the United States, where it has declined since the modern government was formed. They don’t want to roll back the last twenty or thirty years of reform; they want to roll back much more. That’s the group that gravitated towards Trump. Not surprisingly, since there weren’t too many academics he could call on, they ended up being very influential in his government and having a quite important role. The most infamous of all these figures is John Eastman. He was a lawyer who recommended to Trump that he overturn the 2020 election results.

What drove this is the idea that Trump could be the strongman who could save the virtuous core of the republic, and there are echoes of the Weimar Republic here. Conservative reactions to Weimar were about alleged moral degradation. And this is the American right’s story about the American Republic, and they’re looking for a savior. The good news is that there are also followers of Leo Strauss who push back against this.

BT: This interview takes place during an important week for Brazil’s presidential elections. Tomorrow, August 11, there will be a manifesto for democracy in front of the University of São Paulo law school. Meanwhile, some threats from the right here in Brazil have been influenced by the attack on the Capitol on January 6, 2021. How do you see the relationship between these threats to democracy, the rule of law, and renewed interest in the Weimar Republic?

WS: That’s a great question. I don’t have a good answer. I think the reason for the preoccupation with Weimar is because it culminates in National Socialism, which we universally believe was a total disaster. It was such a cataclysm that people had to come back to it.

There is a reason why in the US, and to the extent that American political science has been influential elsewhere, why Weimar is such a preoccupation for better and worse. I think there are some problems with that, which we’ll talk about later. We had so many refugees, and people also had lived through this traumatic experience, were involved in World War II, and were trying to make sense of what happened.

Regarding January 6, I find that interesting. Let’s hope anyone imitating it is as inept as Trump. He thought the Executive was his property, and the United States Attorney General was his personal lawyer. Trump didn’t get the distinction between office and person. This is another way in which he’s authoritarian. It’s almost pre-modern, before you have the modern state and we started distinguishing office from the person. Trump didn’t get the Constitution as a restraint on him.

The good news in the US was that these crucial elites in the military, in the Department of Justice, in the State Department and so on did not go along with this craziness. He had to rely on the kind of people I was talking about, who I hope will be viewed as ridiculous historical figures.

I’m hoping things look similar in Brazil and you have enough people in the military who recognize that a military dictatorship is not even a great thing for the military. They’re the ones who have to take responsibility. You may commit horrible crimes and, at some point, pay for them. I’m also hoping that the US government under President Biden plays a much more positive role than the US government in 1964 when it played a disastrous role, based on my understanding of what happened in this country.

Nobody should try to imitate it, but it could be an inspiration for people sitting in the Brazilian state to resist a president trying to overturn elections. If that’s an inspiration in some way, maybe something positive came out of that terrible day. I’m hoping something positive comes out of it.

MS: The judicial system has played a key role in the crises of democracies. It is expected to contain authoritarian advances, but also co-opting and packing courts with loyalists are two of the main authoritarian strategies. What role does the rule of law play in this crisis?

WS: I have an easy answer and then a hard answer. The easy answer is if anyone thought that the rule of law or constitutional government doesn’t matter, I don’t know where they’ve been the last couple of years. What we’ve been seeing is a frontal assault on the rule of law. Legal institutions and constitutional mechanisms are crudely instrumentalized to undermine the core of what they’re supposed to be about. That’s the ABC of the rule of law: nobody should be above the law. Trump and his followers still don’t understand that, which is terrifying.

Now the more complicated answer, and this speaks to this issue of these people who are advising Trump. One of the things I found fascinating in a kind of perverse way is that they rely on a reified notion of the US Constitution as a pristine document from the past that we shouldn’t touch. We call them originalists. They believe in an original meaning, which they somehow have access to. Constitutional originalism means there were these heroic semi-divine founders who read the classics, and God forbid we touch their masterpiece.

We must push back against these views of the rule of law and constitutional government. I would say that for Trump, the rule of law is what we would call authoritarian legalism, to the extent that you can use the law as an authoritarian mechanism to go after enemies. People in the United States think the rule of law is law and order, more police. One has to have a political battle about that and say, no, that’s not what it is.

We’re in trouble. That is just a reactionary agenda in the deepest sense of the term. We have a tradition of constitutional worship which is very problematic. On the one hand, it does lead people to respect the constitutional government. That’s a good thing, but it does lead or invite this reified understanding of the founders as these great men. That’s a profoundly anti-democratic notion of constitutional government.

Image: Crowd of Trump supporters marching on the US Capitol on 6 January 2021, ultimately leading the building being breached and several deaths by TapTheForwardAssist CC4.0


Recent works by Prof. William E. Scheuerman:

Good-Bye to Non-Violence?” (2022), Political Research Quarterly (online first), 1-13.

Politically Motivated Property Damage” (2021), The Harvard Review of Philosophy, 28, 89-106.

Civil Disobedience (2018), Polity Press.


Biblioteca Mecila-CLACSO: Explorando los nexos entre lo que nos une y lo que nos separa

Global Convivial Forum 

Antología inaugura la serie de publicaciones que consolida la cooperación entre Mecila y CLACSO y busca ofrecer al público hispanohablante una introducción cualificada a los estudios sobre convivialidad-desigualdad.

La vida en sociedad se basa, al menos aparentemente, sobre una contradicción. Nuestra supervivencia como sociedad y también como especie está estrechamente vinculada a la interdependencia tanto entre los seres humanos entre sí, como entre éstos y otros seres vivos como las plantas y los animales. Esta interdependencia, sin embargo, es negada por las formas de vida concretas de las sociedades contemporáneas, casi todas ellas estructuradas sobre profundas desigualdades sociales y en la ideología del excepcionalismo humano, es decir, la creencia de que el futuro de la humanidad independe de la supervivencia de los demás seres vivos.

Al dividir las distintas dimensiones de estas interdependencias en varios campos de debate, la literatura disponible sigue siendo insuficiente para estudiar en profundidad la aparente paradoja entre convivencia y desigualdad. Es decir, normalmente la bibliografía relevante está divida en campos que no se comunican de suerte que, por ejemplo, estudios culturales y teorías del reconocimiento investigan las diferencias humanas y sub-áreas de la sociología y de economía estudian las desigualdades sociales. La convivencia de humanos entre sí es más bien investigada en la antropología y los estudios sobre diversidad y interculturalidad, mientras las interacciones entre humanos y no humanos son objeto de los llamados estudios post-humanos o de áreas específicas como la ecología o sub-áreas de la geografía. Al fin, esta segmentación del conocimiento, en lugar de facilitar, impide investigar y aprender cómo se articulan las diferentes dimensiones de la vida social en sus entrelazamientos entre si y con las otras formas de vida sobre el planeta.

En vista a ello, el nuevo campo de estudios que definimos como convivialidad-desigualdad pretende llenar este vacío mediante la construcción de un marco teórico-analítico y del desarrollo de estudios empíricos correspondientes, en el que se puedan investigar en toda su extensión los nexos inseparables entre la diferencia, la desigualdad y la coexistencia entre los seres humanos entre sí, así como entre éstos y otros seres vivos.

El término convivialidad fue introducido en las ciencias humanas por el filósofo vienés Ivan Illich en su libro de 1973 Tools for Conviviality, publicado en español bajo el título La Convivencialidad, en 1978. En esa época, Illich dirigia el Centro Intercultural de Documentación (CIDOC) de Cuernavaca (México), un espacio ecuménico y plural en el que confluían los ideales de solidaridad global de la izquierda latinoamericana y los valores libertarios del pensamiento crítico europeo. El libro de Illich combina estas influencias transformando la convivialidad en un programa de investigación y acción para la construcción de sociedades más democráticas, igualitarias y habitables.

Desde entonces, y más claramente desde la década de 2000, los estudios sobre la convivialidad se han extendido a diversas disciplinas y campos temáticos, desde la antropología y la sociología hasta la geología y la informática, convirtiendo la convivialidad en un término polisémico y catalizador de reflexiones y estudios innovadores.

La desigualdad es también una noción relacional y multidimensional. Las desigualdades pueden ser materiales, pero también de poder, de acceso a los recursos naturales y la protección contra los riesgos derivados de la acción humana, de derechos, de posibilidades epistémicas y de posiciones y condiciones sociales. La desigualdad, como una marca omnipresente de la vida social, es un punto inevitable de partida para entender cualquier contexto social y las interacciones que ahí tienen lugar. Así pues las desigualdades son tanto estructurales como (re)producidas en las interacciones cotidianas. Entender la vida social en sus múltiples aspectos y formas requiere, por lo tanto, comprender cómo esta está constituida por la desigualdad. Entender las desigualdades, a su vez, es comprender como esas se constituen y adquieren significado en las relaciones sociales.

En el programa de investigación de Mecila, el rasgo polisémico del término convivialidad se entiende siempre en asociación con los elementos multidimensionales de la desigualdad, potenciando sus posibilidades analíticas y su fuerza explicativa. El guion en el nombre del Centro («Convivialidad-desigualdad») subraya el íntimo nexo entre desigualdad y convivialidad y el hecho de que se constituyen recíprocamente. Investigar la desigualdad es investigar la convivialidad, y viceversa. En español, para no complicar desnecesariamente el uso del término, optamos por traducir la palabra conviviality por convivialidad y no convivencialidad como hizo originalmente Ivan Illich.  


La articulación de estas dos nociones, desigualdad y convivialidad, constituye la base de la colaboración interdisciplinaria que se lleva a cabo en Mecila. Desarrollados en varios campos temáticos, los estudios sobre convivialidad-desigualdad en el Centro ofrecen una plataforma abierta para la innovación en la cooperación interdisciplinar en el amplio campo de las humanidades, las ciencias sociales y en diálogo con las ciencias naturales. Buscamos proporcionar un entorno intelectual y académico en el que las diferentes disciplinas puedan desarrollar sus investigaciones en colaboración con el trabajo empírico, la síntesis teórica y métodos que van más allá de los límites disciplinarios habituales. En consecuencia, Mecila es un espacio abierto a la experimentación académica que desafía el nacionalismo metodológico, el antropocentrismo y el eurocentrismo que están profundamente arraigados en nuestras disciplinas.

Para los propósitos institucionales muy abiertos de Mecila, convivialidad-desigualdad se refiere a las constelaciones constituidas por lazos de solidaridad y cooperación, pero también por las diferencias, el conflicto, la violencia y la dominación. En este sentido, el compuesto convivencia-desigualdad nombra menos el punto de partida que los hallazgos (posibles, esperados, potenciales) de la investigación que pueden surgir al mirar la realidad desde las perspectivas desarrolladas en nuestro Centro. Así, convivialidad-desigualdad corresponde a una perspectiva, una mirada dirigida tanto a las interacciones cuanto a los elementos estructurales de los patrones de convivencia existentes.

Hoy en día, dado el actual contexto de vigencia del pluralismo teórico e institucional, es más probable que esfuerzos similares solo logren éxito cuando se emprendan no por una sola institución sino dentro de una red internacional de investigadores e institutos, de la cual CLACSO es un ejemplo muy exitoso. Asimismo, es relevante contemplar nuevas formas de cooperación capaces de superar o al menos mitigar las jerarquías regionales, generacionales, étnicas, de clase y de género que marcan tan profundamente los circuitos convencionales de producción y circulación del conocimiento. El desarrollo de nuevos formatos de colaboración no solo interdisciplinar, pero también transdisciplinar, incluyendo por lo tanto la cooperación entre expertas y expertos académicos y no académicos (chamanes, activistas, artistas, líderes de comunidades, etc.), es también crucial cuando se trata de producir conocimientos sofisticados y socialmente relevantes.

En Mecila creemos que podemos ofrecer una contribución única, aunque sea modesta, al tan necesario proceso de construcción institucional de una amplia reflexión sobre América Latina desde una perspectiva transdisciplinar y transregional. Para lograr nuestros objetivos académicos e institucionales, es esencial la estrecha cooperación con instituciones internacionales con sede en América Latina, como el Consejo Latinoamericano de Ciencias Sociales (CLACSO) y la Facultad Latinoamericana de Ciencias Sociales (FLACSO), entre otras. También la cooperación con los otros cuatro Centros Merian (en Nueva Delhi, Guadalajara, Accra y Túnez) es indispensable para dar forma a nuestra perspectiva transregional.

El libro está estructurado en cuatro secciones para que las lectoras y los lectores con diferentes formaciones y distintos intereses por el tema puedan profundizar su reflexión en las diversas dimensiones abarcadas por el tema general convivialidad-desigualdad. La primera sección está dedicada a las definiciones conceptuales: ¿Qué es la convivialidad y cómo ella se articula con los debates sobre la desigualdad y la diferencia? ¿Cómo se incluyen los debates en campos afines, como la interculturalidad, la decolonialidad, el cosmopolitismo, en las discusiones sobre convivialidad y desigualdad? La segunda parte está dedicada a los debates epistemológicos, es decir, a las discusiones sobre las diferentes políticas del conocimiento y sus relaciones con la díada convivialidad-desigualdad, pensada no solamente a partir de las relaciones humanas sino también a través de las relaciones entre humanos y no humanos. La tercera parte estudia itinerarios de la convivialidad-desigualdad en América Latina, es decir, como se estructuran, en distintos niveles (de la nación hasta las ciudades), el lidiar con diferencias y desigualdades en la región. Por fin, la cuarta y ultima parte del libro busca aplicar el marco analítico convivialidad-desigualdad a casos limítrofes de coexistencia, como espacios de trabajo profundamente asimétricos y organizaciones criminales.

La expectativa del consejo directivo de Mecila es que este libro tenga una amplia difusión y discusión de suerte a promover un diálogo rico y fructífero entre investigaciones de punta en el plan internacional y las recientes investigaciones de excelente calidad desarrolladas en América Latina y aún poco conocidas y reconocidas internacionalmente.

Feria del Libro de Ciencias Sociales Latinoamericana y Caribeña, de la 9ª Conferencia Latinoamericana y Caribeña de Ciencias Sociales.

Image Credit: Joaquim Toledo


Mecila estuvo presente en la feria con su primer publicación de la serie de libros Mecila-CLACSO: “Convivivialidad y desigualdad explorando los nexos entre lo que nos une y lo que nos separa”.
Image Credit: Joaquim Toledo

Mecila (ed.) (2022): Convivialidad-Desigualdad. Explorando los nexos entre lo que nos une y lo que nos separa, Biblioteca Mecila-CLACSO, vol. 1, Buenos Aires; São Paulo: CLACSO; Mecila.

Autores: Arjun Appadurai (New York University), Sérgio Costa (FU-Berlin / Mecila), Tilmann Heil (UzK / Mecila), Fernando Baldraia (Mecila), Nilma L. Gomes (Universidade Federal de Minas Gerais), Encarnación Gutiérrez Rodríguez (Goethe-Universität Frankfurt / Mecila), Maya Manzi (Universidade Católica de Salvador / Mecila), Peter Wade (Manchester University / Mecila), Claudia Briones Universidad nacional de Ró Negro), Ramiro Segura (UNLP / Mecila), João José Reis (Universidade Federal da Bahia / Mecila), Raquel Rojas Scheffer (FU Berlin / Mecila), Gabriel Feltran (Universidade Federal de São Carlos).

Acesso abierto.



Postmemory: The Holocaust and its Effects on the Lives of Brazilian Jewry

Global Convivial Forum 

Joanna M.  Moszczynska (University of Regensburg / Mecila Junior Fellow 2022)

Jewish-Brazilian post-Holocaust literature is a legitimate and integrated part of the global and transcultural efforts to work through the Holocaust.

Following the end of twenty years of military dictatorship in Brazil in 1985, a new literary phenomenon emerged, one that can be termed post-Holocaust literature. This literature consists mainly of short stories and novels by Jewish-Brazilian authors who, using a particular aesthetic involving so-called postmemory, traumatic realism, and blurred genres, work through Holocaust memory and its effects on the lives of Brazilian Jews.

My book A memória da Destruição na escrita judaico-brasileira depois de 1985: Por uma literatura pós-Holocausto emergente no Brasil (Peter Lang, 2022) provides a re-reading of texts published between 1986 and 2016, which have so far been discussed primarily as marginal and dispersed expressions of local Jewish ethnic literature. Instead, what I propose in my study can be understood as an act of theoretical-interpretive revival, reinterpreting the results of previous studies while aiming at a new systematic critical conceptualization that enables the identification of a literary corpus with common and distinguishable characteristics.

This aim is rooted in the perception of Jewish-Brazilian post-Holocaust literature as a legitimate and integrated part of the global and transcultural efforts to work through the Holocaust. Based on this, three hypotheses guide the definition, description, location, and contextualization of the subject of this study, which, after all, did not emerge in a vacuum but has a traceable historical genesis.

Based on this, I propose a second hypothesis concerning the emergent dimension of this literature. Emergence within a literary field, analogous to the cultural emergence defined by Raymond Williams refers to “new” meanings, values, practices, and relationships continuously created and received about what is dominant and generally established. Apart from being subject to the objective power relations within the literary field, emergence is viewed here as a characterization of a literary ensemble of particular substance and recognizable features.

Such a literary ensemble is defined as emergent when it irrevocably shares the conditions of the other ensembles that had emerged previously, even if it approaches them in a different way or, rather, approaches them through processes of selection and reorganization that favour change or rupture. In my book, I argue that emergent literature cannot be readily comprehended within the hegemonic view of literature or within the methodological and theoretical guidelines by which canons and national literatures are established. Finally, then, this literature has the potential to determine itself in relation to the cultural memory and historiography of the national, ethnic, regional, and global frameworks of the subject matter while forming its own cultural memory in Brazil.

While the subject of the Holocaust can be found in Brazilian literature as early as 1946, the year 1986 marks a turning point and the beginning of a new chapter of its existence. It is evident that an authorized post-Holocaust literature started to emerge at this point in Brazil, and it now extends beyond the boundaries of Jewish communal memory as it strives to participate in the transcultural and transnational memory of the Jewish extermination, the contemporary post-traumatic culture included. Authorization, or authorized memory practice, is understood here, following David Roskies and Noemi Diamant, in the context of the diversity of styles and genres, reception, as well as the degree of (un)reliability of narrative instances. It is further reflected in the shift from the languages in which the Holocaust was lived to those in which it can be relived and mourned, as well as have its discourses deconstructed and re-examined. Emergence further refers to the public memory in Brazil that both shapes and is shaped by this literature.

The third hypothesis arises in response to the primary importance of testimony in the first theories of Holocaust literature in Brazil. The term “witness through the imagination,” introduced by Norma Rosen in her 1974 essay “The Holocaust and the American Jewish Novelist”, through which the emphasis is placed on aspects of transmission and distance, has been well received by some scholars of Brazilian literature due to the reception of witness theory in Brazilian research. Witness theory has been advocated particularly by Márcio Seligmann-Silva, who applied it not only to the Holocaust but also to the experience of Latin American dictatorships.

Nevertheless, using this term could lead to the loss of the specificity of testimony and the witness figure and eventually drift into a metaphor for fictional writing. Moreover, it could suggest a tension or even mutual exclusion between witness memory and imagination, which ultimately creates analytical problems and is counterproductive in the context of the witness theory. Therefore, I propose using the term “postmemory”, which is already well-established in the study of trauma literature. The term refers here to the aesthetics and the socio-cultural context of the authors who can be said to constitute a Jewish-Brazilian generation of postmemory.

This last hypothesis further states that this literature offers a response to the demands of representation and a reading of the collectively traumatic past. Those responses are given through aesthetics that can be identified in post-Holocaust literature produced in the West, producing acts of individualized memory inscribed in cultural and transcultural Holocaust memory discourses, and reporting on contemporary post-traumatic culture. Postmodernism, Robert Eaglestone argues, should be understood as the time when people began to think about the Holocaust. Put another way, postmodern thought is the response given to the Holocaust using what Geoffrey Hartman has called the “instruments born of trauma”.

Given the evolution of the Brazilian literary field in the last thirty years, the urgency to update and advance the state of knowledge is recognized here. The cultural studies-based literary analysis is carried out within the frameworks of filiations and affiliations of texts. The reading method employed is close reading, including intertextual reading, which is maintained in contrast to the idea of the full autonomy of the text.

This approach favours tracing the text’s inscription in other discourses, resulting in a multiple cultural and sociohistorical contextualization on which the meaning of the text and its “worldliness”, to quote Edward Said, are built. Here, Michael Rothberg’s concept of multidirectional memory resonates and is applied in the analyses as a method to capture the processes of negotiation, borrowing and cross-referencing between different collective memories whose actors create a dialogue between the manifold traumatic past and the immanent aftermath of World War II. It should be emphasized that the emergence of Holocaust memory itself has been inflected by histories of slavery, colonialism, and decolonization and has even entered into a multilayered dialogue with military dictatorships, as exemplified by the case of Brazil, whose post-Holocaust literature provides a space for polymorphous working-through of the legacy of structural violence.

Jewish-Brazilian post-Holocaust literature is a literary ensemble that offers new insights into local memory practices as they are in the process of relating to its own cultural memory and creating the memory of the Holocaust in Brazil. Thus, the texts by authors: Cíntia Moscovich, Roney Cytrynowicz, Samuel Reibscheid, Giselda Leirner, Halina Grynberg, Luis S. Krausz, Michel Laub, Jacques Fux, Paulo Blank, and Rafael Cardoso, contribute to and are influenced by the development of a new public memory space in Brazil.

Cover image by brewbooks, CC licence.

A memória da Destruição na escrita judaico-brasileira depois de 1985: Por uma literatura pós-Holocausto emergente no Brasil (Peter Lang, 2022)


Moszczynska, Joanna  M.  (2022): A memória da Destruição na escrita judaico-brasileira depois de 1985. Por uma literatura pós-Holocausto emergente no Brasil (Luso-Brazilian Studies: Culture, Literature and Audiovisual Media), Berlin: Peter Lang Verlag.

David Roskies and Naomi Diamant (2012): Holocaust Literature: A History and Guide, Waltham: Brandeis University Press.

Michael Rothberg (2000): Traumatic Realism: The Demands of Holocaust Representation, Minneapolis, University of Minnesota Press.

Regina Igel (1997): Imigrantes judeus, escritores brasileiros: o componente judaico na literatura brasileira, São Paulo: Perspectiva.

Berta Waldman (2003): Entre passos e rastros: presença judaica na literatura brasileira contemporânea, São Paulo: Perspectiva.

Márcio Seligmann-Silva (2005): “Escrituras da Shoá no Brasil.” in: Noah/ Noaj, 16-17, 137- 156.


Postcolonial Resistance and Ecofeminism in the Latin American Jungle Novel

Madalina Stefan (Junior Fellow 2021-22)

Global Convivial Forum 

The narratives of the ‘novela de la selva deconstruct and subvert the colonial discourse by portraying nature as a moment of postcolonial resistance that opposes the white male master model

Colonial processes have usually been intrinsically linked to the exploitation of natural resources. and terms such as Decolonization and the Anthropocene have become keywords in the context of late postmodernity, foregrounding that ways of narrating nature are gaining increasing importance as nowadays threatening scenarios of natural disaster and social injustice overshadow our completely medialized realties.

Against this backdrop, it seems worthwhile  to reach out and see look at how nature narratives have been used in a productive manner, this is to say, as an empowering moment of postcolonial resistance that denounces the exploitation of nature and indigenous people.

In this sense the research project aims to focus on an particularly fit literary moment that is famous for its entanglement of postcoloniality and nature writing, namely the Spanish American jungle novel (novela de la selva), which turned to the rainforest and the indigenous communities and emerged between 1924 and 1953.

It is crucial to understand that since the discovery of America, the representation of the New World’s nature has played an important role in the process of colonization. and that nature discourses are at the heart of the debate on Latin American identity: from Colombus’ diaries to Humboldt’s romanticizing views, the European imaginaries of the New World were linked to nature and the exotic.

Nevertheless, with Latin American literary modernity, a change in the representation of American nature takes place. Characterized by the search for an American identity of its own, the Latin American literature of the first half of the 20th century marks a significant turning point, and, indeed, unlike colonial utopian narratives that mask the exploitation of nature and colonial violence by idealizing pristine landscapes of a lost terrestrial paradise that are in need of European male management, the narratives of the novela de la selva deconstruct and subvert the colonial discourse by portraying nature as a moment of postcolonial resistance that opposes the white male master model. Thus, these narratives present their own perspective, denounce the inequality of colonial conviviality and describe the jungle as a space of power struggle and exploitation of nature, indigenous peoples, and women.

In this sense, it has to be pointed out that besides focusing on human and non-human nature, the project aims to cover an often-overlooked perspective. Thus it is outstanding that the conviviality between colonizers, indigenous people, rubber workers, farmers, slaves, traders and explorers, on the one hand, side and flowers, trees, bushes, omnivorous ants, leeches, hippopotami etc., on the other, is not only depicted as marked by unequal power relations and colonial hierarchies but foremost as traversed by gender issues.

Given the striking female characters and the gendered representation of the rainforest, the research project proposes an ecofeminist reading that highlights how the hyper-separation between culture and nature is accompanied by the separation between male and female and how the exploitation and oppression of nature go hand in hand with the oppression of women. Since gender plays a crucial role in the novels but has not been studied in relation to colonial nature discourse so far, this approach promises new insights and perspectives in the context of Latin American Ecocriticism.