Heaven Hell

Willem de Kooning, Untitled (Torsos), c. 1954.


Commentary on the book by Alfredo Bosi

This book presents the fruit of more than twenty years of work. There are articles, prefaces, studies and essays that can give the exact measure of who conceived them with lucidity and sensitivity. Alfredo Bosi is wholly present in these writings – a true journey of the critical spirit of a man of letters, in his uninterrupted confrontation with the texts and the multiple problems of the world that they somehow contain.

From the early years, dedicated to Italian culture, there were still vivid traits in his literary personality. A certain taste, refined in the aesthetics of Croce's expression; a way of probing the intuition of a universe in language, fleshing out in the poem a core of images and the feeling that animates them. At the same time, the comprehensive vision, the search for the humanist sense of the arts; deep down, a persistent restlessness – philosophical and socio-political – awakened within the very fabric of the texts.

Several works go back to that more distant time: such as those that outline an internal history of realism in prose in Italy, linking Verga, Svevo, Pirandello, Moravia in a common lineage. And also analyzes of the modern poetry of Montale and Ungaretti, of Pasolini's passion, of Gramsci's thought. It was deep and fertile to season Italian from Bosi.

But it is in the space of Brazilian literature and in some incursions into the theoretical terrain that the book shows its strength. Bosi is the author of concise history, an indispensable manual for every scholar of our letters. Now come back changed; more closely, penetrating deeply into central figures of our literature – Raul Pompeia, Graciliano, Guimarães Rosa, Drummond… The essayist matured and intensified his analytical focus, reflecting on the very art of interpretation, without, however, abandoning the historical perspective, a fundamental point of view in literary studies. It does not neglect, therefore, the formal analysis or distance itself from the present. On the contrary, he strives to integrate every significant detail into the general movement of society and the course of ideas, without losing sight of his own time.

Criticism then becomes an act of understanding and judgment, moved by a look with a double focus: turned to the past, but sensitive to the novelty of the present; attached to the data, but aware of what is implied; fixated on the aesthetic structure, but attentive to ideology. An act governed by a pertinacious ethical sense, by a search for value and a broad trust in the human person, corresponding to an acute awareness of the necessary negativity and resistance at all costs in times when living has become more difficult.

Hence a certain dramatic tension on the part of the critic, soberly restrained, but sometimes ferocious in his subtle irony and always fervent in the face of breaches of hope. Fueled by a truly encyclopedic curiosity for culture, he remembers, for several of these traits that make up his way of being, the exemplary and unforgettable figure of Otto Maria Carpeaux. As in the case of this one, interpretation and judgment do not stray from the person they are based on, and a dense wave of humanity imprints its warm rhythm on the prose of the critic. It's because she is here the living measure of a man who looks at the world with clarity and passion.

*David Arrigucci Jr. He is a retired full professor at the Department of Literary Theory and Comparative Literature at USP. Author, among other books, of the trapped scorpion (Literature Company).


Alfred Bosi. Heaven, Hell: Essays on Literary and Ideological Criticism. São Paulo. Publisher 34, 496 pages.


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