domingo, 6 de maio de 2012
Brazilian Culture: National by Elimination by Roberto Schwarz (1986)
In Brazil intellectual life seems to start from scratch with each generation. (3) The hankering for the advanced countries' latest products nearly always has as its reverse side a lack of interest in the work of the previous generation of Brazilian writers, and results in a lack of intellectual continuity. As Machado de Assis noted in 1879: 'A foreign impetus determines the direction of movement.' What is the meaning of this passing over of the internal impulse, which is in any case much less inevitable than It was then? You do not have to be a traditionalist or believe in an impossible intellectual autarky to recognize the difficulties.
It is not a question of continuity for the sake of It. We have to Identify a set of real, specific problems - with their own historical insertion and duration - which can draw together existing forces and allow fresh advances to be made. With all due respect to the theoreticians we study in our faculties, I believe we would do better to devote ourselves to a critical assessment of the ideas put forward by Silvio Romero, (5) Oswald and Mario de Andrade, Antonio Candido, the concretists and the CPCs. (6)
A certain degree of cultural density arises out of alliances or disagreements between scientific disciplines, artistic, social and political groups, without which the idea of breaking away in pursuit of the new becomes meaningless. We should bear in mind that to many Latin Americans Brazil's intellectual life appears to have an enviably organic character, and however incredible it may seem, there may be some relative truth in this view.
The search for genuine (i.e. unadulterated) national roots leads us to ask: What would popular culture be like if it were possible to isolate it from commercial interests and particularly from the mass media? What would a national economy be like if there were no admixture? Since 1964 the internationalization of capital, the commodification of social relations, and the presence of the mass media have developed so rapidly that these very questions have come to seem implausible.
In 1964 the right-wing nationalists branded Marxism as an alien influence, perhaps imagining that fascism was a Brazilian invention. But over and above their differences, the two nationalist tendencies were alike in hoping to find their goal by eliminating anything that was not indigenous. The residue would be the essence of Brazil. The same illusion was popular in the last century, but at that time the new national culture owed more to diversification of the European models than to exclusion of the Portuguese.
in which the real Brazil is found not in the colonial past - as suggested by Lima Barreto's hero — but in the heart of the interior, far from the Atlantic coast with Its overseas contacts. A group of characters mark the centre of the country on a map and go off in search of it. After innumerable adventures they reach their destination, where they find ... an ants' nest.
The standard US models that arrived with the new communications networks were regarded by the nationalists as an unwelcome foreign presence. The next generation, however, already breathing naturally in this air, considered nationalism to be archaic and provincial. For the first time, as far as I know, the idea spread that it was a worthless enterprise to defend national characteristics against imperialist uniformity. The culture industry would cure the sickness of Brazilian culture - at least for those who were willing to delude themselves.
In the 1960s nationalism also came under fire from those who thought of themselves as politically and artistically more advanced. Their views are now being taken up in the context of international mass media, only this time without the elements of class struggle and anti-imperialism. In this 'world' environment of uniform mythology, the struggle to establish an 'authentic' culture appears as a relic from the past. Its illusory nature becomes evident, and it seems a provincial phenomenon associated with archaic forms of oppression.
so the anti-nationalists invoke the authoritarianism and backwardness of their opponents, with good reason, while suggesting that the reign of mass communication is either emancipatory or aesthetically acceptable.
A commonplace idea suggests that the copy is secondary with regard to the original, depends upon it, is worth less, and so on. Such a view attaches a negative sign to the totality of cultural forces in Latin America and is at the root of the intellectual malaise that we are discussing.
Above all, the problem of mirror-culture would no longer be ours alone, and instead of setting our sights on the Europeanization or Americanization of Latin America we would, in a certain sense, be participating in the Latin Americanization of the central cultures. (7)
It remains to be seen whether this conceptual break with the primacy of origins would enable us to balance out or combat relations of actual subordination. Would the innovations of the advanced world suddenly become dispensable once they had lost the distinction of originality? In order to use them In a free and non-imitative manner, It Is not enough simply to divest them of their sacred aura.
Contrary to what the above analysis might lead us to believe, the breaking down of cultural dazzlement in the underdeveloped countries does not go to the heart of a problem which is essentially practical in character. Solutions are reproduced from the advanced world in response to cultural, economic and political needs, and the notion of copying, with its psychologistic connotations, throws no light whatsoever on this reality.
It should be noted that while nationalism has recently been almost absent from serious intellectual debate, it has a growing presence in the administration of culture, where, for better or worse, it is impossible to escape from the national dimension. Now that economic, though not political, space has become international - which is not the same as homogeneous - this return of nationalism by the back door reflects the insuperable paradox of the present day.
In the 1920s Oswald de Andrade's 'anthropophagous' Pau-Brazil programme also tried to give a triumphalist interpretation of our backwardness. (8)
Returning once more to the idea that Western culture has been inappropriately copied in Brazil, we can see that Oswald's programme introduced a change of tone.
In the new circumstances technological optimism no longer held water, while the brazen cultural irreverence of Oswald's 'swallowing up' acquired a sense of exasperation close to the mentality of direct action (although often with good artistic results).
Since the last century educated Brazilians - the concept is not meant as a compliment but refers to a social category - have had the sense of living among ideas and institutions copied from abroad that do not reflect local reality. It is not sufficient, however, to give up loans in order to think and live more authentically. Besides, one cannot so much as conceive of giving them up. Nor is the problem eliminated by a philosophical deconstruction of the concept of copy. The programmatic innocence of the Antropófagos, which allows them to ignore the malaise, does not prevent it from emerging anew. 'Tupi or not Tupi, that is the question!' Oswald's famous saying, with its contradictory use of the English language, a classical line and a play on words to pursue the search for national identity, itself says a great deal about the nature of the impasse.
Meanwhile a kind of absurdity developed ... a tiny intellectual elite separated itself off from the mass of the population, and while the majority remained almost entirely uneducated, this elite, being particularly gifted in the art of learning and copying, threw itself into political and literary imitation of everything it found in the Old World.
So now we have an exotic literature and politics, which live and procreate in a hothouse that has no relationship to the outside temperature and environment. This is the bad side of our feeble, illusory skill of mestizo southerners, passionate, given to fantasy, capable of imitation but organically unsuited to create, invent or produce things of our own that spring from the immediate or remote depths of our life and history.
In colonial times, a skilful policy of segregation cut us off from foreigners and kept within us a certain sense of cohesion. This is what gave us Basilio,(3*)Durão, Gonzaga, Alvarenga Peixoto, Claudio and Silva Alvarenga, who all worked in a milieu of exclusively Portuguese and Brazilian ideas.
With the first emperor and the Regency, the first breach [opened] in our wall of isolation by Dom João VI grew wider, and we began to copy the political and literary romanticism of the French.
We aped the Charter of 1814 and transplanted the fantasies of Benjamin Constant; we mimicked the parliamentarism and constitutional politics of the author of Adolphe, intermingled with the poetry and dreams of the author of René and Atala. The people ... remained illiterate.
The Second Reign(4*), whose policy was for fifty years vacillating, uncertain and incompetent, gradually opened all the gates in a chaotic manner lacking any criteria or sense of discrimination. Imitation, mimicking of everything -customs, laws, codes, verse, theatre, novel - was the general rule.
Regular sailings assured direct communication with the old continent and swelled the inflow of imitation and servile copying....
This is why, in terms of copying, mimickry and pastiches to impress the gringos, no people has a better Constitution on paper ..., everything is better ... on paper. The reality is appalling. (10)
The original sin, responsible for the severing of connections, was the copy.
It would seem, then, that the origins of our cultural absurdity are to be found in the imitative talent of mestizo southerners who have few creative capacities. The petitio principii is quite transparent: imitativeness is explained by a (racial) tendency to that very imitativeness which is supposed to be explained.
Silvio Romero goes on to sketch how the vice of imitation developed in Brazil. Absolute zero was in the colonial period, when writers 'worked in a milieu of exclusively Portuguese and Brazilian ideas.' Could it be that the distance between elite and people was smaller in that epoch? Or the fondness for copying less strong? Surely not - and anyway that is not what the text says. The cohesion' to which it refers is of a different order, the result of a 'skilful policy of segregation' (!) that separated Brazil from everything non-Portuguese.
The act of copying, then, did not begin with independence and the opening of the ports*, as Silvio Romero would have it. But it is true that only then did it become the insoluble problem which is still discussed today, and which calls forth such terms as 'mimickry', 'apeing' or 'pastiche'. How did Imitation acquire these pejorative connotations?
It is well known that Brazil's gaining of independence did not involve a revolution. Apart from changes in external relations and a reorganization of the top administration, the socio-economic structure created by colonial exploitation remained intact, though now for the benefit of local dominant classes. It was thus inevitable that modern forms of civilization entailing freedom and citizenship, which arrived together with the wave of political emancipation, should have appeared foreign and artificial, 'anti-national', 'borrowed', 'absurd' or however else critics cared to describe them.
Silvio Romero's list of 'imitations', not to be allowed through customs, included fashions, patterns of behaviour, laws, codes, poetry, drama and novels. Judged separately against the social reality of Brazil, these articles were indeed superfluous imports which would serve to obscure the real state of impoverishment and create an illusion of progress.
When Brazil became an independent state, a permanent collaboration was established between the forms of life characteristic of colonial oppression and the innovations of bourgeois progress. The new stage of capitalism broke up the exclusive relationship with the metropolis, converting local property-owners and administrators into a national ruling class (effectively part of the emergent world bourgeoisie), and yet retained the old forms of labour exploitation which have not been fully modernized up to the present day.
The thesis of cultural copying thus involves an ideology in the Marxist sense of the term - that is, an illusion supported by appearances. The well-known coexistence of bourgeois principles with those of the ancien régime Is here explained in accordance with a plausible and wide-ranging schema, essentially Individualist in nature, in which effects and causes are systematically inverted.
The defects normally associated with imitation can be explained in the same way. We can agree with its detractors that the copy is at the opposite pole from originality, from national creativity, from independent and well-adapted judgements, and so on. Absolute domination entails that culture expresses nothing of the conditions that gave it life, except for that intrinsic sense of futility on which a number of writers have been able to work artistically. Hence the 'exotic' literature and politics unrelated to the "immediate or remote depths of our life and history'; hence, too, the lack of 'discrimination' or 'criteria' and, above all, the intense conviction that all is mere paper.
The exposure of cultural transplantation has become the axis of a naive yet widespread critical perspective. Let us conclude by summarizing some of its defects.
1. It suggests that imitation is avoidable, thereby locking the reader into a false problem.
2. It presents as a national characteristic what is actually a malaise of the dominant class, bound up with the difficulty of morally reconciling the advantages of progress with those of slavery or its surrogates.
3. It Implies that the elites could conduct themselves in some other way which Is tantamount to claiming that the beneficiary of a given situation will put an end to it.
4. The argument obscures the essential point, since it concentrates its fire on the relationship between elite and model whereas the real crux is the exclusion of the poor from the universe of contemporary culture.
5. Its implicit solution is that the dominant class should reform itself and give up imitation. We have argued, on the contrary, that the answer lies in the workers gaining access to the terms of contemporary life, so that they can re-define them through their own initiative. This, indeed, would be in this context a concrete definition of democracy in Brazil.
7. The idea of the copy that we have been discussing counterposes national and foreign, original and imitative. These are unreal oppositions which do not allow us to see the share of the foreign in the nationally specific, of the imitative in the original and of the original in the imitative. (In a key study, Paulo Emilio Salles Gomes refers to our 'creative lack of competence in copying'.) (15) If I am not mistaken, the theory presupposes three elements - a Brazilian subject, reality of the country, civilization of the advanced nations - such that the third helps the first to forget the second. This schema is also unreal, and it obscures the organized, cumulative nature of the process, the potent strength even of bad tradition, and the power relations, both national and international, that are in play. Whatever its unacceptable aspects - unacceptable for whom? - Brazilian cultural life has elements of dynamism which display both originality and in lack of originality. Copying is not a false problem, so long as we treat it pragmatically, from an aesthetic and political point of view freed from the mythical requirement of creation ex nihilo.
1. Mário de Andrade (1893-1945), novelist, poet and critic, was the acknowledged leader of the modernist movement in Brazil and bore the brunt of the initial scandal that it caused. The language of his Macunaima: The Hero without Any Character (1928) synthesizes idioms and dialects from all the regions of Brazil. [Trs.]
2. For a balanced and considered opinion on the subject, see Antonio Cândido, 'Literatura e subdesenvolvimento', Argumento No. 1, São Paulo, October 1973.
3. This observation was made by Vinícius Damas.
4. Joaquim Maria Machado de Assis (1839-1908) is regarded as the greatest of all Portuguese-language novelists. He wrote nine novels and two hundred short stories, including Epitaph of a Small Winner (1880), Dom Casmurro (1990) and Esau and Jacob (1904), which are considered to be far ahead of their time. [Trs.]
5. Silvio Romero (1851-1914) wrote the first modern history of Brazilian literature, a work which is still of interest today, despite the scientistic language of the period. [Trs.]
6. The Centro Popular de Cultura (CPC) was established in 1961 at the start of the social ferment that ended with the military coup in 1964. The movement was created under the auspices of the National Union of Students, which wanted to fuse together artistic irreverence, political teaching and the people. It produced surprisingly inventive cinema, theatre and other stage performances. Several ol its members became major artistic figures: Glauber Rocha, Joaquim Pedro de Andrade and Ferreira Cullar among others. The convergence of the student and popular movements gave rise to completely new artistic possibilities. [Note supplied by Ana McMac]
7. See Silviano Santiago, 'O Entre-lugar do discurso latino-americano', in Uma literatura nos trópicos, São Paulo 1978; and Haroldo de Campos, 'Da razão antropofágica: diálogo e diferença na cultura brasileira', Boletim Bibliográfico Biblioteca Mário de Andrade, vol 44, January-December 1983.
8. Oswald de Andrade introduced European avant-garde ideas into Brazil. He espoused extreme primitivism (anthropophagy) and his Manifesto da Poesia Pau-Brasil (1924) and Manifesto Antropófago (1928) are the most daring writings of the 'modern movement ' which merged in 1922, attacking academic values and respectability and seeking poetry written in the Brazilian vernacular. [Trs.]
9. The greatest achievement of Raul Bopp (b. 1898) was his 'cannibalist' poem 'Cobra Nora to' (1921), an exploration of the Amazon jungle.
10. Silvio Romero, Machado de Assis, Rio de Janeiro 1897, pp. 121-3.
11. Antonio Cândido, Formação da literatura brasileira, São Paulo 1969, vol. 1, p. 74.
12. Sergio Buarque de Holanda, Do império à republica, II, São Paulo 1977, pp. 77-78.
13.Emília Víotti da Costa, Da monarquia à república: Momentos decisivos, São Paulo 1977, Chapter I; Luis Felipe de Alencastro, 'La traite négrière et l'unité nationale brésilienne', Revue Françaisce de l'Histoire de l'Outre-Mer, vol. 46, 1979; Fernando Novais, 'Passagens para o Novo Mundo', Novos Estudos Cebrap 9), July 1984.
14. See Celso Furtado, A Pre-Revolução Brasileira, Rio de Janeiro 1962, and Hernando H. Cardoso, Empresário industrial e desenvolvimento económico no Brasil, São Paulo 1964.
15. Paulo Emílio Salles Gomes, 'Cinema: trajetória no subdesenvolvimento', Argumento No. 1, October 1973.
(1*) Policarpo Quaresma is the hero of the novel Triste fim de Policarpo Quaresma (1915) (translated as The Patriot [London: Peter Owen, 1978], by Afonso Henriques de Lima Barreto [1881-I922]. The hero Is a caricature patriot. If a sympathetic character, who gradually becomes disillusioned with the state of Brazil. For a brief description of Quarup novel, published In I967, see pp. 157-8 below.
(2*) Rui Barbosa (1849-1923) was a prominent liberal politician, and regarded as a model of culture, linguistic purity and erudition in the early twentieth century: he achieved an almost mythical status, known as `The Eagle of the Hague`for his diplomacy at the International Conference there in 1906. In this phrase, obviously, it is the incongruity of such false representatives of high culture in Brazil which is underlined.
(3*) The names of a group of the so-called Minas group of Arcadian poets who flourished in the interior, gold-mining area of the country in the latter half of the eighteenth century.
(4*) That of the Emperor Pedro II, which lasted from 1840 to 1889.
In: Misplaced Ideas. Essays on Brazilian Culture. Roberto Schwarz. Edited with an Introduction by John Gledson. London Verso, 1992, pp. 1-18.