Reinventing Brazil
Laura P.Z. Izarra



The geographic and intellectual displacements allow a person to better understand themselves, their own culture, their intrinsic differences and their inter-relations. Brazil is a country of immigrants, formed by miscegenation; it is exotic and sensual (in 'Jack Lynch', the father who comes from Ballinasloe, 'was devoured by a mulatto working-class goddess'), and in the overlapping of cultures and genders it is defined in the global and the local. These new hybrid identities that appear from the intersection of several regional and foreign cultural expressions are also a product of cultural diasporas, as expressed in 'The Daring Middle-Aged Man on the Flying Trapeze' where Dublin and São Paulo each intersect with the 'other' in the celebration of Bloomsday at Finnegans Pub in São Paulo:

However, when I heard that on June 16

In Finnegans Pub in São Paulo

A Japanese actor would be declaiming in Portuguese

Extracts from Ulysses

My wife persuaded me to fly with her to Dublin.

I remonstrated with her: 'Fly?'

She insisted: ‘Dublin is a gas,

Dirty, ordinary, transcendental city – just like São Paulo!' (30)

In this poem, Durcan tries to give voice to the hybrid native in a process that the cultural critic Homi Bhabha (1995) calls transnational and translational. Brazil at the turn of the twenty-first century is a diaspora space, whose culture is transnational because it is anchored in specific stories of decolonisation and displacements: 'Myself, I am Brazilian Armenian Orthodox'. The poet narrates how Brazilian culture builds its own meanings from the perspective of the 'other'. Ireland and Brazil become one in the voice of the persona: the presence of a Brazilian couple in a garden of red, white and yellow roses at midnight in Dublin converges tangentially with the Japanese actor in São Paulo at Finnegans at nine in the evening; James Joyce is the intersection point. Ulysses revisited provokes the circularity of signs that are resignified or translated into different forms in contexts and systems of multiple cultural values, thus forming cultural hybridism. It must be questioned, then, as to how the production and reproduction of transnational social and cultural phenomena reveal external socio-cultural references that incorporate and transform the 'original' alterity into new dislocated structures that allow different cultural practices:

I thought

James Joyce is the only man in the world who comprehends


Who comprehends that a woman can never be adumbrated,

Properly praised

Except by a Japanese actor

In Finnegans Pub in São Paulo

Declaiming extracts from Ulysses. (31)

What happens then to the notion of ‘authenticity' of a symbol when it appears in a new cultural context? How can one ‘authenticate' hybridism in new cultural practices? The syncretic, creolised, translated and hybrid cultural forms represent the energy in the resignification of cultures in intersection, of identities in the process of decentralisation and reinvention/construction of themselves; they also represent the translational movement of symbols and myths of a culture, in signs that are expanded into new meanings, that always refer to the heterogeneity of their origins.

In my view, it is this transnational and translational process that is the high point of Paul Durcan's poetry: How does one ‘authenticate' the multifarious cultural reality as seen through the various reflections of a prism? I believe that Durcan's poetry represents this value and multi-axial intrinsic power of cultures, by transforming and giving new meaning to its symbols, and attributing to poetry the function and meaning that Seamus Heaney (1995) has claimed of the poetic art. On receiving the Nobel Prize for Literature, Heaney said that poetry was necessary as an order, 'true to the impact of external reality and [...] sensitive to the inner laws of the poet's being' (16). Heaney insists that a poem should surprise and that this surprise should be transitive; and that the representation of the external world should be 'a returning of the world itself' (16). Paul Durcan's poetry, inserted in the representation of the quotidian, suggests a ‘new' means of constructing cultural identities that give life and meaning to the world itself through its multiple re-readings of the past.

Laura Izarra


[1] I appropriate Avtar Brah's concept of diaspora space. It is a site of immanence that marks the intersectionality of 'diaspora', 'border' and the 'politics of location'. Thus, it addresses the 'contemporary conditions of transmigrancy of people, capital, commodities and culture'; the effects of crossing/transgressing 'the construction and metaphorisation of territorial, political, cultural, economic and psychic borders'; the way 'contemporary forms of transcultural identities are constituted', and how 'belonging and otherness is appropriated and contested' (1996:242).

[2] The text of the lecture can be found at the National Library of Ireland. Angus Mitchell and Geraldo Cantarino published it in the form of a bilingual pamphlet entitled Origins of Brazil: A search for the origins of the name Brazil, with the support of the Brazilian Embassy in London as part of the commemoration of the 'Festival Brazil 500'. As a defender of the rights of subjected peoples, Roger Casement (1864-1916) was British consul in Africa (1895-1904), and Brazil: Santos (1906), Belém do Pará (1907) and Rio de Janeiro (1908). After many years of dedication to the British diplomatic service, he started to defend the cause of Irish nationalism. In 1916 he was condemned and hanged for high treason against the British Crown.

[3] Published in The Anglo-Brazilian Times, n° 41, Vol. 2, Rio de Janeiro, 09 October 1866.

[4] The Mulhalls were of the Anglican religion and Anglo-Irish. They would not have identified with the Irish nationalist movement.

[5] Green and yellow are colours that represent the spirit of the country, as they are the colours of the Brazilian flag and represent its forests and its gold.

[6] Name given to the first explorers leaving from São Paulo in order to expand the country's territory westwards.

[7] Similar to bandeirantes: member of an armed band of early explorers in Brazil; person travelling into the hinterland of the country

[8] 'The Last Shuttle to Rio'. In Greetings to Our Friends in Brazil. 17-19.



- Basto, Fernando L.B. Ex-Combatentes Irlandeses em Taperoá. Rio de Janeiro: Vozes, 1971.

- Bhabha, Homi. 'Freedom's Basis in the Indeterminate'. Rajchman, The Identity in Question. New York & London: Routledge, 1995, pp. 47-61.

- Boland, Charlie. 'Greetings to Brazil in our friends! People, Place and Tradition in Paul Durcan's Poetry' em: Mutran, M. & Izarra, L. (eds.) ABEI Journal – The Brazilian Journal of Irish Studies Nº 3, June 2001: 119-134 (São Paulo: Humanitas).

- Chauí, Marilena. Brasil. Mito fundador e sociedade autoritária. São Paulo: Fundação Perseu Abramo, 2000.

- Durcan, Paul. Greetings to Our Friends in Brazil. One Hundred Poems. London: The Harvill Press, 1999.

- Hall, Stuart. 'New Ethnicities'. In: Morley, David & Kuan Hsing Chen (eds.) Stuart Hall. Critical Dialogues in Cultural Studies. London: Routledge, 1996. pp. 441-449.

- Heaney, Seamus. Crediting Poetry. Dublin: The Gallery Press, 1995.

- Lindsay-Bucknall, Hamilton. (1878) A Search for Fortune. The autobiography of a younger son. Trans. Ezio Pinto Monteiro. Um jovem irlandês no Brasil em 1874. São Paulo & Rio de Janeiro: Livraria Hachette do Brasil, 1976.

- Mitchell, Angus, and Cantarino, Geraldo. Origins of Brazil. A search for the origins of the name Brazil. London: Brazilian Embassy, 2000.

- Mulhall, Marion McMurrough. Between the Amazon and Andes; or Ten Years of a Lady's Travels in the Pampas, Gran Chaco, Paraguay and Mato Grosso. London: E. Stanford, 1881.

- Pratt, Mary Louise. Imperial Eyes: Travel Writing and Transculturation. London: Routledge, 1992.


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Copyright © Society for Irish Latin American Studies, 2006

Online published: 1 July 2006
Edited: 07 May 2009

Izarra, Laura, '
Reinventing Brazil: New Readings and Renewal in the Narratives of Irish Travellers' in "Irish Migration Studies in Latin America" Vol. 4 N° 3 (July 2006). Available online (, accessed .


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