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(De-)Latinizing America: How Gilberto Freyre and Mário de Andrade Imagined the Global South

From: MLN
Volume 128, Number 2, March 2013 (Hispanic Issue)
pp. 298-316 | 10.1353/mln.2013.0029

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In Brazilian literary studies the name of Gilberto Freyre is always associated with the regionalist current of the 1920s, and his strained and polemical relationship with the modernism championed by Mário de Andrade. This relationship is frequently described within a national framework, highlighting the conflict between the modernism of a dynamic industrial city, namely São Paulo, and the literary movement associated with a backward and conservative region, namely the Brazilian North-East. Over the years, though, Gilberto Freyre and Mário de Andrade have come to be analysed more in terms of their similarities than their differences. Although there are good comparative studies of Gilberto Freyre and Mário de Andrade (Dimas, Costa e Silva, Lima, Mello e Souza), those analyses focus more on the personalities of the writers, their engagements in the national literary sphere, and the quarrels and misunderstandings provoked in the contest for symbolic capital. In this article, I set out to analyse the work of these two authors in a different framework, with the aim of stepping outside the provincial approach to their output. If my working hypothesis is correct, I believe that the works of Mário de Andrade and Gilberto Freyre can provide us with important material for a study of the positioning of Brazilian culture in the face of decolonization, and its strategic alliances with other peripheral cultures in the formation of a Global South.

Within this new framework it is necessary to examine the ideological projects of Gilberto Freyre and Mário de Andrade. As we shall see later, such projects are not confined to the self-referential framework of the nation. On the contrary, Gilberto Freyre and Mário de Andrade try to understand their country through its interaction with other cultures, thereby establishing a cosmopolitan project for Brazilian culture. To claim that the two leading men of Brazilian letters developed projects for the country based on a cosmopolitan notion of culture is, of course, nothing new. Brazilian intellectuals have frequently seen themselves as the heirs to Western culture, and, to use the precise theoretical language of Antonio Candido —the country's most important literary and cultural critic—they have habitually considered that the best that has been produced in Brazilian culture can be understood as a synthesis, resulting from the dialectic between the "local" and the "global," the "national" and the "international" (Candido 116). If Brazilian men of letters have always regarded themselves as belonging to a cosmopolitan intellectual tradition, what novelty is there in saying the same of the intellectual projects of Mário de Andrade and Gilberto Freyre?

Any deeper analysis of what the terms "global" and "international" mean, in the specific context of pronouncements by Antonio Candido and other Brazilian intellectuals, leads us to the conclusion that these words are no more than synonyms for the "European tradition," with which Brazilian men of letters developed an Oedipal relationship. In line with that view, Brazilians are cosmopolitans in as far as the "world" to which they refer is Europe, and, within that Brazilian intellectual tradition, globalism, internationalism and cosmopolitanism are no more than synonyms for Eurocentrism. It is worth rereading the passage from Literatura e sociedade in which Candido re-elaborates that proposition, so often echoed before:

Se fosse possível estabelecer uma lei de evolução da nossa vida espiritual, poderíamos talvez dizer que toda ela se rege pela dialética do localismo e do cosmopolitismo, manifestada pelos modos mais diversos [ . . . ]. Podese chamar de dialético a este processo porque ele tem realmente consistido numa integração progressiva de experiência literária e espiritual, por meio da tensão do dado local (que se apresenta como substância da expressão) e os moldes herdados da tradição europeia (que se apresenta como forma de expressão).

(116)

It is important to emphasize that Antonio Candido's theoretical proposition is a refined updating of existing perceptions within the Brazilian intelligentsia about the position of the Brazilian man of letters and his relationship with the dialectic of local and global. A small digression is necessary to show how persistent such formulations are in Brazilian cultural history. In 1888, Silvio Romero published his influential Hist...



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