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Machado de Assis, the Brazilian Pyrrhonian

José Raimundo Maia Neto

Machado de Assis, the Brazilian Pyrrhonian examines the towering figure of nineteenth century Latin American letters from a fresh perspective. Machado is a writer of philosophical fiction. His subtle criticism of cherished institutions is evident to all readers, and his skepticism (sometimes confused with pessimism) has often been mentioned by critics. Not until Maia Neto’s study, however, has Machado’s philosophical position been seriously examined by a philosopher.

Maia Neto traces Machado’s particular brand of skepticism to that of the ancient philosopher, Pyrrho of Elis, and reveals the sources through which he inherited that line of thought. The author then shows how Machado’s own philosophic development (as seen primarily through his fiction) follows the stages proposed by Pyrrho for the development of a skeptical world-view: flight from hypocritical society in favor of domestic quietude, investigation of manipulative social interactions, suspension of judgment, and mental tranquility.

Impressive for both the breadth and the depth of its reading, the study pays particular attention to the Brazilian master’s short stories and novels, pointing out how characters during different phases of the author’s career tend to portray the stages in the development of a skeptical philosophy.

For those who study literature, Maia Neto’s book will provide a foundation for understanding the thought of one of the most important writers of the Americas. For philosophers, the book will reveal a fascinating modern world-view, thoroughly rooted in the traditions of ancient skepticism.

"In the past few decades, Machado de Assis's fiction has begun to elicit the caliber and diversity of critical response that it justly deserves. For this reason, students and scholars should welcome this highly original and enlightening book as an outstanding addition to the few, but seminal studies.... [Maia Neto's] is a well-documented and clearly articulated thesis that expands our understanding of the philosophical roots of Machado's Weltanschauung and provides a highly convincing theory for the formal and thematic coherence of the Brazilian writer's complex and, in many ways, enigmatic work." —Gene Steven Forrest, Romance Quarterly

"De todos modos, y aún cuando el uso que de ellas hace Maia Neto pueda ser objeto de críticas y ajustes que hagan más flexibles sus hipótesis, su obra sigue aún ofreciendo una marco de categorías sumamente sugerentes con las cuales intentar penetrar el complejo universo machadiano. Sin duda, Machado de Assis. The Brazilian Pyrrhonian es una guia orientadora fundamental a la hora de internarse en el mismo." —Eíias José Palti, Revista de Crítica Literaria Latinoamericana

"While Maia Neto discusses Machado's novels and short stories as 'works written by a skeptical thinker rather than a literary author' and accordingly, employs the critical vocabulary and method 'of a philosopher, not of a liteary critic' (xiii), his readings of the Brazilian writer's fiction are detailed, thorough, and revealing, and deserve to be read attentively also by those whose interest lies precisely in the complex literariness of Machado's works.... [an] important and thought-provoking contribution to the understanding of [Machado's] work...." —Anna Klobucka, Hispania

"...with this careful study, José Raimundo Maia Neto has placed Machado, if not within a philosophical College, within a tendency at least: Pyrrhonian skepticism.... a major contribution to Machadiana...." —Gregory Rabassa, Journal of the History of Philosophy

"... a major contribution to the study of skepticism in modern literature and of the works of a master." K. D. Jackson, Choice

For the complete text of the above reviews, see
Romance Quarterly 44.1 (Winter 1997): 61-62.
Revista de Crítica Literaria Latinoamericana 26.51 (2000): 255-57.
Hispania 79.1 (Mar. 1996): 68-69.
Journal of the History of Philosophy 34.4 (Oct. 1996): 624-26.
Choice (Apr. 1995): 1308.

For more reviews, see
Year's Work in Modern Language Studies 56 (1994): 495.
Coloquio Letras
141-48 (Jan.-June 1998): 394-96. (by John Gledson)
Kriterion [Belo Horizonte] no. 93 (June 1996): 206-17. (by Eduardo Jardim de Moraes)
Manuscrito (Apr. 1996) 1-11. (Richard Bett)
British Bulletin of Publications No. 94 (Apr. 1996).
Revue Canadienne de Comptes Rendus en Philosophie / Canadian Philosophical Review 15.5 (Oct. 1995): 349-51.
Reference & Research Book News 1 Feb. 1995.

José Raimundo Maia Neto, Federal University of Minas Gerais, has published articles and book reviews on skepticism in the history of philosophy, the philososphy of religion, and literaure.

ISBN: 978-1-55753-051-6
1994. PSRL 5. xiv, 231 pp. Cloth $29.95 PRICE REDUCED