by Eneida Maria de Souza is Professor of Literature and Compared Literature at UFMG,
The fingerprint printed, in close, on the cover of Caiman Operation, portrays (emblems) the literature of the 80’s, fragmented by the passion of the multiple and by the loss of an identity touch. The thumb in ink printed in the document – revealing signature of the original trace – contrasts apparently with the false name of the author Tom Laughwood. Because of the multiple effect, it makes evident the authoral griffe, produced by “Oficina Literaria Informatizada” and put in the figure of a blase American. Representing the android and detective-like character of the post-modern literature, Tom Laughwood – author mingles with the cover illustration and pseudonym-signature starts to be trademark of the culture of imitation.
Caiman Operation develops a clever plot of contra-information between the CIA and the KGB, exposing the political scene of Central America (and of the third world), played by Keith O’Brien, English journalist from London Chronicle and guided by effects of abbreviations and simulations.
The fingerprint of this reality disappears and becomes multiplied in images through the intrigue that dissolves identities and articulates the trick of policial plots. With dirty and blurred traces of journalistic-political touches, the text registers the connection between politics and literature, through the mediator character of fiction. Considering Tom Laughwood also as a character – golem and replicant – and using a kind of narrative in the moulds of a best-seller, the author of Caiman Operation doesn’t do it only with the intention of the pastiche. Like a text to be decyphered, the policial plot of the novel is composed equally of false names, exchange of identities, disguise operations and mirrorring of abbreviations, multiplying metaphorically the artistic production. It establishes a complo. The writer, acting like a criminal in a robbery and collection of other texts, still forges identities and hides himself behind masks. The critic-reader, searching constantly for hints, drives his look to anything that causes suspicion and conspiration.
Filled with clichets, the construction of the plot is made in England, El Salvador and France, cleverly made by Tom Laughwood, author with the perfect style of the good best-sellers. The landscapes are similar to postcards or reports published on the first page of the newspaper. Keith O’Brien, searching for good news in El Salvador, involving gun smuggling, is the target of prosecutions of CIA and the KGB and transforms himself much more in victim of abbreviations than reality. He unmasks the political intrigue in which the two superpowers participate and he is eliminated in a spetacular way. The final message of the novel blames the CIA in the Operation and the agents regret their bad behaviour. Tom Laughwood goes against his country’s ideology and the good character doesn’t meet, in the airport, his girlfriend Antonia.
What is the reason or what is new in writing this kind of novel? How can we put this in the picture of the contemporary literary production, clearly among those like Rubem Fonseca or Umberto Eco, that approaching the policial plot, also pastiche this style? Caiman Operation invents another griffe that doesn’t care about supporting the signature of a Brazilian writer, but of creating a fictional American author who acquires his own fictional life. It is done much more, with this trick, the filigrane of the artistic making and the condition of the literature of the Third World, made in the moulds of the imported samples. It is searched, in the middle of this discharacterization, a signature.
Tom Laughwood, also a best-seller critic, leaps from the cover of the book and falls in the pages of Jornal do Brasil, confessing his literary friendships in a dialogue in which are mixtured personal opinions and intellectual gossips. Or he is interviewed, in the occasion of the launching of the novel, in O Risco do Oficio, publication from the same Oficina Literaria Informatizada. Journalism and fiction get together, nowadays, in the art of producing authors and characters. In Jornal do Brasil, Tutty Vasques is the author without “real” identity and Radical Chic, character by Miguel Paiva, stands for the interviewed in “Perfil do Consumidor.”
The trick, fingertip of Literature and other speeches, reinforces the ficticious and multiple aspect of post-modernity, contamined by the mild poison of simulation. In discrediting the media, the politics, the art, the existence of truths or depth of meaning, author and work present themselves as surface effect. “The deepest is the skin,” had already said Valery.
The exhibition in shelves, of Caiman Operation, and of its author in the pages of newspapers, acts like answer to the editorial market, getting more opened to the foreign literature, to translations of best-sellers, when they use critically the recipes offered. It is discussed this kind of literature either in the novel or in the reviews written by the author to the section “Ideias Livros.” In a text of 30/09/89, “Perigo sob os turbantes,” Tom Laughwood gives his opinion about the book by Robert Lundlum: “If A Agenda Icarus is a good or a bad book, it is not me who must tell you. This is for the list of best-sellers. The publisher is good, the author is popular and the promotional scheme was well set up. Particularly I got satisfied with the novel. If I expressed here one or another restriction, don’t reproach me. I’m only trying to earn a living. And Robert knows about it. My opinions, like his, never correspond to reality.”
It is limited the concept of literature when they denounce the tricks that happen in the publishers or the interested exchangesof favours among friends. Tom Laughwood, avoiding to emit serious opinions, keep alive the fictional game and calls attention, as acritic of best-sellers, to the fragility and prejudice in which are built the literary truths.
Inscribed in a significative part of this glass culture that W. Benjamin mentions, where disappear the traces and object “aura” is empty (and so is the subject), the trace of identity in Caiman Operation gets volatile in imitations and reflexes. The burgeois scenery of the countryside, originated from the police novel, gives place to the shadow show, ruins of a time in which people believed in the signature and in the author propriety. Losing the object “aura”, are signed masterpieces and the author is hidden in the back seat of the car. Tom Laughwood’s fingerprint acquires, in this space mined with fiction, the signature trick. And the trademark of Caiman Operation is worth just for the pleasure of taking off the seriousness from the author stamp, waving in a jocular way to the lack of character in literature.
1989 – Copyright of the Portuguese version by