I arrived in São Paulo in the middle of September to begin my three month stint at USP to research ‘A Cultural History of Irish Partition’, which is my tentative postdoctoral project. I had the little matter of my doctoral thesis to finish first, however, and once that unfortunate nuisance was out of the way, I was able to focus on my future research plans. The time I spent in Brazil helped me to sharpen some of my thoughts on the fairly provisional topic of culture and partition, and to sketch out more concrete plans for future research. In particular, reading partition through the lens of cultural trauma was a useful exercise during my time here, not least because one of the foundational articles, Jeffrey C. Alexander’s ‘Toward a Theory of Cultural Trauma’, uses the later troubles in the north of Ireland as a case study of defining trauma.
Aside from this introduction to fresh theoretical concepts and frameworks, my time in São Paulo also introduced me to a number of researchers in contemporary Irish literature and culture. I was based at the Faculdade de Filosofia, Letras e Ciências Humanas (FFLCH), where my very generous mentor Prof Laura Izarra and her colleagues were also. In particular, my fellow visiting researcher from Trinity Prof Ruth Barton’s Irish Cinema classes on Mondays were informative, and the depth of knowledge and critical understanding of Ireland at FFLCH was eye-opening.
In October, I delivered a paper on my doctoral research, entitled ‘The Country and the City in the Irish Novel, 1922-51’, at the bespoke postgraduate conference at FFLCH, III Encontro de Pós-Graduandos em Estudos Linguísticos e Literários em Inglês – EPOGELLI. I also had regular meetings with the University’s postgraduate reading group, where they introduced me to Roberto Schwarz’s work on the nineteenth century novel and Brazilian society in his Misplaced Ideas. In my second meeting with the postgradute group, myself and Dr Daniel Faas from Trinity gave presentations, with my own being on my current project. I also gave the group a copy of a chapter of Peter Leary’s work on the border in Ireland, which provided for some interesting discussions and perspectives on the impending border controls or regulatory alignment.
Away from the academy, I stayed in the trendy Pinheiros district during this time, which was near the more famous areas of Jardim Paulista and Vila Madalena. I was near the Beco de Batman (Batman Alley), a world renowned alley which has become a canvas for graffiti artists, and an unlikely meeting space for Pele, one of the best footballers of all time, and erstwhile Beatles drummer (as well as Thomas the Tank Engine creator) Ringo Starr:
Around the corner from the touristic efforts in the glamorous Beco, I found a noticeable point of contrast in this celebration of Pele as a national cultural icon with a much simpler mural painting around the corner. Here ‘Football and Carnival’ are distractions from the everyday reality of Brazil:
The political energies of the backstreet murals were also reflected in the major cultural institutions of the city. In my first few weeks, I visited the Museu de Arte de São Paulo in Paulista, where I was very impressed by the depth of collections they had – Van Gogh, Goya, Botticelli – and also with the unique way in which they were presented. On the bottom floor of the museum I particularly enjoyed the Guerrilla Girls exhibition, not least because it featured a number of posters critiquing the Irish academic and artistic establishments for their lack of gender-diversity, with the line ‘Irish Museums are Boy-Crazy’ a particular stand-out.
Some of the problems I had anticipated before coming here – pollution, noise, traffic – were always visible. In particular, the unstable political situation was almost as alarming to me, a visitor, as the devastating levels of poverty which were evident on a daily basis. Although the city often suffers in comparison to Rio (which city wouldn’t?) I found São Paulo to be an energetic and welcoming place, particularly for one of the few Irish people around here.
I was grateful for the opportunity provided by the SPECTRESS Project and I’d like to thank Laura Izarra, Eda Nagayama, as well as Trinity’s Ruth Barton and Daniel Faas for making me welcome in Brazil.