Something rotten in the state of São Paulo: politics and style in Latin America’s biggest megacity

Mccaul, Kathleen (2022) Something rotten in the state of São Paulo: politics and style in Latin America’s biggest megacity. Doctoral thesis, University of East Anglia.

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Megacities are cities with over ten million residents. In developing countries particularly, they operate differently to the cities which flourished in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. These new megacities have grown rapidly and without apparent control, spreading outwards, often illegally, and with little thought given to the public space so valued by earlier urban planners. Their sheer uncontrolled size, as well as the breadth and variety of experiences they contain, present different formal challenges to a writer aspiring to capture the contemporary urban landscape. One question this thesis sets out to investigate is just how fiction writers are responding to the new stylistic demands of the world’s biggest urban hubs. A key finding has been how central the politics of inequality are to the formal choices made in the two novels I have showcased.

In both my critical and creative components, I’ve concentrated on São Paulo, where my first child was born and where my husband was raised. In my critical thesis I have used key urbanist texts from the city to analyse local contemporary fiction, focussing on two award-winning books that offer very different depictions of the megacity: There Were Many Horses by Luiz Ruffato and Sheyla Smanioto’s Desesterro. By analysing these texts side by side, I hope to illuminate some of the different ways in which São Paulo writers are responding stylistically and formally to their enormous, mutated version of a city, as well showing just how critical politics and literary activism is to both Ruffato and Smanioto, as well as other contemporary São Paulo writers.

My creative component, June in São Paulo, is a novel based on my own experience of first coming to São Paulo as a young journalist with a new Brazilian boyfriend, staying with his family in a small apartment on the outskirts of the city, living in a neighbourhood that was not very safe, hours away from the museums, bars, parks and general city life of the centre. In a similar way to my critical component, the novel questions how a megacity citizen, living generally a more isolated life than they would in older, traditionally modelled cities with large amounts of public space, can capture accurately the experience of living closely with millions of others in unequal conditions. My answer, which drew inspiration from Ruffato and Smanioto, was to anchor down into the individual, drawing out from personal stories the urgent political challenges presented by the turbulent and often traumatic new landscape of the megacity.

The way in which the colonial history of Brazil, a country founded on illegality, inequality and violence, is embodied in the contemporary megacity architecture of São Paulo, and also in urban writer’s responses to this cityscape, is one of the final conclusions of this thesis.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Faculty \ School: Faculty of Arts and Humanities > School of Literature, Drama and Creative Writing
Depositing User: Nicola Veasy
Date Deposited: 29 Jan 2024 08:27
Last Modified: 29 Jan 2024 08:27


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