Inside the text, inside the life

Image: Michelangelo Pistoletto


Introduction by Bento Prado to the collection on Antonio Candido

Narcissism is the natural enemy of intelligence; Sympathy for the Other, on the contrary, being a condition for understanding oneself, is also a rule of method in the cultural sciences. The choice of title for this book was certainly inspired. With it, we point to the most lively center of our author’s writings and to the counterpoint they make to the inaugural work of Sílvio Romero, which always occupied a privileged place in Antonio Candido’s critical imagination, from his first thesis to the essay “Fora of the text, within life”, published in education at night.

Let us dwell for a moment on this curious relationship between Antonio Candido and Sílvio Romero. I cannot, to describe her, fail to allude to another teacher and another text. I am thinking of the monumental biography of Gustave Flaubert, to which Jean-Paul Sartre devoted his last intellectual energies, settling scores with an obsession that accompanied him from an early age.

Everything happens as if the care that Antonio Candido and Sartre dedicate, each one, to the other, had the same form, but rigorously opposite meanings. For Jean-Paul Sartre, it is about understanding how an essentially mystified conception of literature (absolute art, paroxysmal aestheticism) can, however, give way to the illumination of reality, as if against the author's will. For Antonio Candido, it is about explaining how a certain blindness to the textual or aesthetic dimension of literature does not prevent a broad and, ultimately, true view of Brazilian literature and culture.

In either case, the exemplary contradictions of writing and existence function as revealing essential matrices of society and literature, in a past close to France and Brazil, supporting our contemporary conscience. Beyond the explicit intention or theory of Flaubert and Sílvio Romero, these authors, so dissimilar, also function as, very delicate seismographs, which it is necessary to consult, in the past, to better diagnose the underground behavior of our current experience of literature and of society.

Text and life, literary form and social form are not opposed here, as in literary theory manuals. It was Roberto Schwarz who best described the subtle way in which Antonio Candido's critical method was able to include the immanent analysis of the literary work in the general movement of self-understanding of culture. It is not appropriate here to resume this analysis that reveals, in the master's work, the important operation of widening the idea of ​​form, which fortunately ceases to be understood in a strictly technical way. Operation that does not imply a “sociologization” of the literary; which, on the contrary and contrary to all reductionisms, allows the social sciences to be guided and illuminated by what could be called, for lack of a better expression, “literary knowledge”. Finally, with Antonio Candido, we discover that the life of the spirit and social life are one and the same life.

It is precisely this broadening of the idea of ​​form that explains the extraordinary reach of Antonio Candido's writings, which cover the entire arc of the cultural sciences, from literary history to philosophy, passing through the social sciences. A scale (like that of Sérgio Buarque de Holanda) that has always been rare in our country and that seems to be less and less frequent on our planet. A reflection of this irradiation of wide-ranging theoretical interests is the very composition of this book. In it, as a line of increasing totality, texts that range from personal testimonies to the examination of Antonio Candido's thought, passing through the different vectors of his research.

I wouldn't say that this collection of testimonials from colleagues, friends, direct or indirect disciples makes up a complete cartography of the work (and not just the written work) of Antonio Candido. We have, here, at least, a first tracing of this indispensable map.

In the first part, a portrait of the man, of the professor, and a record of the impact he had on those lucky enough to live with him more or less closely. In the second, it is the work of the sociologist that is highlighted in some of its richest aspects, especially in those in which the sociological enterprise converges with those of anthropology and history – in a style that, unfortunately, as Fernando Henrique Cardoso observed some time ago, has not he had the posterity that a better understanding of Brazil would demand.

The third and fourth parts are aimed at the historian, critic and theoretician of literature, in the incessant back-and-forth that Antonio Candido weaves between text and life, and which makes him the incomparable master of these areas of literature in Brazil. With the last part, it is the ultimate ends of our author's reflection that occupy the proscenium – it is the figure of the thinker who ruminates, with the instruments he invented and the results he obtained, the situation of culture and society in Brazil and in the world of today, animated by the hope of a fairer society and a more lively culture.

In a word, let's say that reading this book helps us to appreciate what is prodigious about the tactics of this light brigade, which is capable of making such deep incursions on so many different fronts, without losing sight of its final target, always keeping in touch with its base, to which he has to return in order to replenish his breath and energy. Secret base that is Antonio Candido himself, or the secret of a straight and inflexible character, despite generously kind and understanding. A secret that explains the fascination it exerts on all of us and explains why every page of this book is so permeated with both admiration and affection.

*Bento Prado Jr. (1937-2007) was professor of philosophy at the Federal University of São Carlos. Author, among other books, of Error, illusion, madness: essays (Publisher 34).



Inside the text, inside life – essays on Antonio Candido. São Paulo, Companhia das Letras, 1992.

Originally published in the newspaper Folha de S. Paul, on May 31, 1992.

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