Echoes of futurism in Brazilian and Portuguese modernism

Paul Klee, Ghost of a Genie, 1922.


A moment of intense dispute for the hegemony of discourse and cultural movements

The beginning of the XNUMXth century was marked as a period of intense social, political and cultural transformations. From the emergence of aesthetic vanguards to the outbreak of the first proletarian revolution in a still backward country, from the first world war to the rise of totalitarian regimes, the first years of the last century can be considered the preamble of what would come to be in the words of the Italian Giovanni Arrighi, “the Long XNUMXth Century”, while for the British historian Eric Hobsbawm, it would be the “Short XNUMXth Century”.[I]

In the midst of such an accentuated process of changes, Brazil and Portugal could not remain unscathed by this dynamic of transformations. It is worth clarifying that throughout the article we will focus on cultural transformations, specifically the literary relations between intellectuals from both countries. To carry out such reflection, I propose using the epistolary production of these subjects as a guide to understand this process.

We must understand that the period analyzed, as it is a moment of strong cultural upheaval, is also a moment of intense dispute for the hegemony of discourse and cultural movements. Here we work with the concept of hegemony according to the conception of Antonio Gramsci, for whom hegemony would be the result of the dispute surrounding the construction of different corporate projects.

Still according to the Italian thinker, two great superstructural “planes”: what can be called “civil society” (that is, the set of organisms commonly called “private”) and that of “political society or State”, “which correspond to the function of “hegemony” that the dominant group exercises throughout society and that of direct dominance or command, which is expressed in the State and legal government” (GRAMSCI, 1982, p.11).

Although Gramscian formulation seems restricted to the political sphere, the evolution of studies of its production[ii] contributed to the perception that its interpretation could also be taken to the cultural sphere, as it cannot and should not be thought of as an autonomous corpus within society.

Let's see what the British Raymond Williams says in Marxism and Literature: “The traditional definition of “hegemony”[iii] is power or political dominance, especially in relations between States. Marxism expanded this definition to relations between social classes, especially the definitions of a dominant class (…). “Hegemony” is a concept that immediately includes, and goes beyond, two previous powerful concepts: that of “culture” as “a whole social process”, in which men define and shape all their lives, and that of “ideology”, in any of its Marxist senses, in which a system of value meaning is the expression or projection of a particular class interest. “Hegemony” goes beyond “culture”, as we previously defined it, in its insistence on relating “the entire social process” with specific distributions of power and influence” (WILLIAMS, 1979, p. 111).

Carlos Nelson Coutinho in rehearsal “Culture and society in Brazil”, warns that “one of the first topics for a fair conceptualization of the “cultural issue” in Brazil is the analysis of the relationship between Brazilian culture and universal culture” (COUTINHO, 2011, p. 36), based on the warning placed by Coutinho is that I will seek to analyze not only Brazilian culture, but also Portuguese culture in the light of universal culture, that is, how the transformations and emergence of cultural movements impacted the intellectual scene in both countries.

Within this amalgam in which the particular and the universal were synthesized, forging an idea of ​​modernity, Jorge Schwartz stated that, “Brazil had 'modernisms' multiplied throughout the country (…) The greatness of the project resides not only in the individual attributes of the founders of the movement, but in its interdisciplinary character” (SCHWARTZ, 2008).

In the first decades of the XNUMXth century, Brazil is still going through a period of great transformations, whether due to the consolidation of the recently installed republican regime, the social transformations arising from the struggles for abolition and also the demographic leap caused by the large contingent of immigrants arriving in the country. Warren Dean in The Industrialization of São Paulo,[iv] notes that the period from the turn of the XNUMXth to the XNUMXth century is fundamental for the transformation of São Paulo, which went from being a secondary province to becoming the country's great metropolis alongside Rio de Janeiro, then the federal capital.

Warren Dean shows us that during this period São Paulo was the scene of unprecedented demographic growth, going from 30.000 inhabitants in 1872, to 240.000 in 1900, finally reaching almost 600.000 inhabitants in the early 1920s (DEAN, 1991)[v]. In this way, population growth added to the enormous influence brought by the newly arrived immigrant population would be fundamental to this process of cultural transformation.

This migratory flow, added to the emergence of several cultural publications, would be significant for the dissemination of avant-garde ideas that were simmering on the old continent. One of the first manifestations of avant-garde that ends up gaining resonance overseas is futurism,[vi] a supposedly revolutionary manifestation that in the midst of the transformations occurring within Italian society ends up revealing its conservative side, transforming into an appendage of fascism.

The then young Peruvian intellectual José Carlos Mariátegui, spending time in Italy, was an eyewitness to the movement created by Marinetti. Let's see what he says about the futurist movement: “Futurism is not like Cubism, Expressionism and Dadaism, just a avant-garde art school or trend. It is, above all, a peculiar thing about Italian life. Futurism did not produce, like Cubism, Expressionism and Dadaism, a defined or peculiar concept or form of artistic creation (…). There was a moment when the most substantial artists of modern-day Italy took part in the framework of futurism (…). Futurism was then an impetuous and complex desire for renewal (…). The war gave the futurists an occupation suited to their tastes and aptitudes. Peace, on the other hand, was hostile to them (…). Futurism denied, above all, its anticlerical and iconoclastic antecedents (…). Futurism thus becomes paradoxically past. Under the rule of Mussolini and the Blackshirts, their symbol is the littorio bundle of Imperial Rome” (MARIÁTEGUI, 2010, p. 240).

During the process of consolidating Brazilian modernism, a topic that generated a lot of controversy among the members of the movement was exactly the supposed link between its members and Marinetti's movement. The issue was so sensitive that it caused a schism in the relationship between the two great exponents of Brazilian modernism, Oswald and Mário de Andrade. According to Kenneth Jackson, Marinetti's visit to Brazil in 1926 aroused “fascination and disgust” (JACKSON, 2022, p.140) generating criticism from Mário, who classified the conference held in Rio de Janeiro as hermetic, false and monotonous. .

João Cezar de Castro Rocha, when discussing the controversies and legacy surrounding the manifestos of the period, will highlight that despite having as its axis the polarization of artistic experience, futurism, “due to its aversion to tradition, was important as a first strategic step, in the next moment, however, 'the problem is different'” (ROCHA, 2022 p.164), transforming the movement into a bulwark of a discourse where freedom – so poorly worked on by Marinetti according to Mário de Andrade – would be the justification for joining the Mussolini's project.

As Monica Pimenta Velloso shows us in her work on the theme of friendship in modernist writing, letters, in addition to being an activity aimed at exercising sociability, could also be considered an instrument to measure the collective reach of the aesthetic and cultural projects of the time. Dealing specifically with Mário de Andrade's epistolary production, the author observes how the production of letters was fundamental in boosting the Brazilian modernist movement, let's see: “It is through this network that ideas circulate and affinities are reactivated that give original impetus to the Brazilian modernist movement . Letters are instruments for composing networks, triggering exchanges, memberships and sociability. Historically we know the importance of epistolary writing, fostering intellectual movements that changed forms of thought, action and sensitivity (…). In modernity, friendship and sociability become an inseparable pair. Friendship establishes a network of influences, invents places of coexistence, bonds of resistance, managing to expand opportunities for meetings and social interactions” (VELLOSO, 2006, p. 2).

Here we cannot help but agree with the author regarding the letter appearing as a way of bringing people together around a common cultural project. A hypothesis to be raised and that can be worked on rear, would be exactly the idea of ​​the distinction between the public and private spheres as independent fields for intellectual activity. As a public arena, we can identify the newspapers and magazines that held heated public debates at the time regarding these avant-garde movements, recently published books, etc., that is, they made the circulation of works and ideas public.[vii]

Correspondence, in turn, being restricted to the private sphere would be the moment for the consolidation of closer ties between some characters. Borrowing the concept from the German Max Weber, we could say that this is the moment when elective affinities come to the surface.

Still regarding letter writing, we can turn to Genèvieve Haroche-Bouzinac for whom: “A letter is a communication from individual to individual, its author is always the main one questioned; however, it should not be forgotten that, behind it, lies the set of practices in use, of automatisms and codes that depend closely on sociocultural factors and norms rooted in history (…) the letter finds itself at the “crossroads” of the paths individual and collective” (BOUZINAC, 2016, p. 25).

In addition to delimiting the framework for the emergence and development of a common program, we can attest through epistolary readings and comparisons that they are fundamental not only for the outlining of this project, but also so that within this framework of elective affinities that emerged the interlocutor through the Contact with the other character provides a better understanding of their internal influences.

Thus, the letter, in addition to being a record of how these networks of sociability are constructed, is also important to us for the process of memory regarding the circulation and reception of works. The record of how a certain reading was carried out, criticisms and suggestions regarding it, etc., without forgetting to also observe the relationships that are designed around the concept of a common culture, built through personal affinities and programmatic agreements. However, without also disregarding the class aspects that guide these relationships.

Let’s see what TS Elliot tells us about it: “The term culture has different associations depending on whether we have in mind the development of an individual, a group or class, an entire society. Part of my thesis is that the culture of the individual depends on the culture of the society to which this group or class belongs” (ELLIOT, p. 33).

Despite containing a conservative argument, where the dual discourse of high culture prevails as a counterpoint to a certain popular culture, we notice in TS Elliot's work a strong class character in his reflection, a discourse that we also find in Terry Eagleton, as what can be seen below, in the highlighted excerpt from his short essay Marxism and literary criticism: “Social relations between men, in other words, are in close relationship with the way they produce their material life (…). Art for Marxism is thus part of the “superstructure” of society. It is part of the ideology of a society – an element in that complex structure of social perception that ensures that the situation in which one social class has power over others is seen by most members of society as “natural” or not at all.” (EAGLETON, 2011, p. 19).

We cannot automatically apply the class cut-off to analyze these relationships, otherwise we would exclude a large part of the convergences built in this correspondence. Two great examples that we can cite to demonstrate the fact that culture highlights the issue of class is the connection between Oswald de Andrade himself and Mário de Andrade, the first originating from the São Paulo coffee elite and the second from the São Paulo middle class, another example can be found in the dialogue that emerged from the correspondence between Casais Monteiro and Ribeiro Couto, here we have the record of the intellectual dialogue between an already recognized diplomat and a young student aspiring to write.

In her work on the connections between Portugal and Brazil in the 2016th and 37th centuries, Tania Martuscelli, when dealing with the intellectual dialogue between Brazilian and Portuguese authors, highlights several factors that for us are fundamental in trying to understand this dynamic of exchanges between writers, ambassadors, journalists from both countries, one of them is specifically the phenomenon known as cultural hybridism. As demonstrated by Tânia Martuscelli, the pre-modernist period is a moment marked by great exchanges between the two cultures with a pronounced influence of French culture on both, let's see: “We can think of a cultural hybridism related to perception and even ostentation of what was the cultural role of France in the two nations, although it is not restricted to them (…). Brazilian society began to be seen by the Portuguese eye as an ape ape of Paris, in its tupiniquim way, therefore ridiculous. Such a Portuguese perspective, which tends to view imitation as absurd, seems incapable of making a self-evaluation and, therefore, recognizing the meaninglessness it sees in others” (MARTUSCELLI, XNUMX, p.XNUMX).

The author demonstrates that even though there were several ties and an immense intellectual exchange between the two nations, the intellectual/cultural protagonism sought by a portion of Brazilian intellectuals was something that caused discomfort to the Portuguese, this discomfort can be explained by the fact that Brazil was a colony Portuguese until the beginning of the XNUMXth century, a fact that after almost a century would still justify a supposed Brazilian inferiority compared to its former metropolis. Non-existent inferiority, especially because, as several studies attest, the circulation of publications at the time was more profitable in Brazil than in Portugal. In other words, what we have here would still be traces of cultural imperialism.

Returning to Terry Eagleton, we can shed light on this discussion when the author states, among other things, that the two central meanings of the word “culture” are, thus, “socially distributed: culture as a body of artistic and intellectual works is the domain of elite, while culture in its anthropological sense belongs to the common people. What is vital, however, is that these two forms of culture intersect” (EAGLETON, 2011, p. 167).

This elitist view of culture, something that in our view could be observed in some aspects of the Brazil – Portugal relationship in the context of the construction and development of the modernist movement, would be the denial of the view of culture as habitus and also the denial of the possibility of self-reflection (EAGLETON, 2011, p. 164) as an intrinsic capacity of man.

Finally, we would like to state that despite the tensions presented throughout the work, it is essential to highlight how positive the dialogue between the two nations was for the establishment of a culture with a cosmopolitan air, attentive to artistic and intellectual transformations in other countries. This contribution could not be properly analyzed without examining the respective publications and public documents as well as the epistolary production of the actors involved in this process of cultural renewal that still resonates in both nations today.

* Daniel Costa graduated in history from UNIFESP.


ARECO, Sabrina. Past present. The French Revolution in Gramsci's thought. Curitiba: Appris, 2018.

BOUZINAC, Genèvieve Haroche. Epistolary writings. São Paulo: EDUSP, 2016.

COGGIOLA, Osvaldo. (org.). Spain and Portugal. The end of dictatorships. São Paulo: Shaman, 1995.

COUTINHO, Carlos Nelson. Culture and society in Brazil: essays on ideas and forms. São Paulo: Popular Expression, 2011.

DEAN, Warren. The industrialization of São Paulo. São Paulo: DIFEL, 1991.

EAGLETON, Terry. The idea of ​​culture. São Paulo: Editora UNESP, 2011.

______________ . Marxism and literary criticism. São Paulo: Editora UNESP, 2011.

ELIOT. TS Notes for a definition of culture. São Paulo: Editora Perspectiva.

GRAMSCI, Antonio. Intellectuals and the organization's culture. Rio de Janeiro: Brazilian Civilization, 1982.

JACKSON, Kenneth. The frames of modernism. In: ANDRADE, Genesis (org.). Modernisms 1922-2022🇧🇷 São Paulo: Companhia das Letras, 2022.

LEITE, Rui Moreira. (Org.). Correspondence. Monteiro and Ribeiro Couto couples. São Paulo, Editora UNESP, 2016.

LIGUORI, Guido; VOZA, Pasquale (org.). Gramscian Dictionary. Sao Paulo: Boitempo, 2017.

MARIÁTEGUI, José Carlos. Marinetti and futurism. In: PERICÁS, Luiz Bernardo. (org.) The origins of fascism. Sao Paulo: Alameda, 2010.

MARTUSCELLI, Tania. (Dis)Connections between Portugal and Brazil. XNUMXth and XNUMXth centuries. Lisbon: Edições Colibri, 2016.

ROCHA, João Cezar de Castro Rocha. Manifestos: aesthetics, politics, controversies and legacy. In: ANDRADE, Genesis (org.). Modernisms 1922-2022🇧🇷 São Paulo: Companhia das Letras, 2022.

SCHWARTZ, Jorge. Latin American Vanguards. Controversies, Manifestos and Texts🇧🇷 São Paulo: Edusp, 2022.

VELLOSO, Mônica Pimenta. Reason and sensitivity: the theme of friendship in modernist writing. In: New World New Worlds, 2006.

WILLIAMS, Raymond. Marxism and Literature. Rio de Janeiro: Zahar Editores, 1979.

[I] See: ARRIGHI, Giovanni. The Long XNUMXth Century. Money, power and the origins of our time. Rio de Janeiro: Counterpoint; São Paulo: Editora da Unesp, 1996 and HOBSBAWM, Eric. The Age of Extremes. The brief XNUMXth century. São Paulo: Companhia das Letras, 1995.

[ii] Faced with this question, it is essential to understand how Gramsci understood the relationship between art and politics. According to Sabrina Areco: The way he treated Balzac offers interesting indications for approaching this topic (ARECO, 2018, p. 200).

[iii] According to Giuseppe Cospito in an entry published in Gramscian Dictionary, the term hegemony cultural, should not be opposed to political, as witnessed by the use of expressions such as “political-cultural hegemony”, “political-intellectual”, “intellectual, moral and political” and similar, in addition to the thesis by which “the philosophy of praxis conceives the reality of human relations of knowledge as element of “political hegemony” (LIGUORI; VOZA (eds.), 2017, p. 365).

[iv] For an interpretation of the relations between society and culture in São Paulo in the same period, see: SEVCENKO, Nicolau. Ecstatic Orpheus in the metropolis: São Paulo – society and culture in the roaring 20s. São Paulo: Companhia das Letras, 1992.

[v] Due to the space and proposed approach, they do not deepen the discussion about the transformations in Portugal. For more information consult: LEONZO, Nanci. Welcome, general! Brazil and resistance against the dictatorship in Portugal and MEDINA, João. Salazar and Franco: two dictators, two dictatorships. The two articles are in the work organized by historian Osvaldo Coggiola entitled: Spain and Portugal. The end of dictatorships.

[vi] In the introduction to the collection of Mariátegui's writings on the origins of fascism, historian Luiz Bernardo Pericás presents the reader with the Italian context of the period. Regarding the position of the futurist group, the author states that: It was essential that a strong, authoritarian and expansionist State be established (…) The futurists, for their part, also followed similar political paths. In 1909, Filippo Tomaso Marinetti had published his “Manifeste de futurisme” in the Paris newspaper Le Figaro, and soon his ideas began to be adopted by some followers in Italy. A year later, he would publish Mafarka, a chaotic novel that would deepen his theories, followed by the play Le ROI Bombace e Anti-neutrality, as futuristic synthetic theater. He will defend war and Italian interventionism (PERICÁS, 2010, p.17).

[vii] In addition to Castro Rocha's work, also check out: PIRES, Paulo Roberto.  The modernist century that was going to be futurist: about headlines, avant-garde and the consensus of 22; TRENCH, Daniel. The restless form. From Klaxon to the Sunday Supplement of Jornal do Brasil and FONSECA, Maria Augusta. Brazilian Modernism: Pioneering literary criticism. All works are gathered in: ANDRADE, Gênesis (org.). Modernisms 1922-2022. São Paulo: Companhia das Letras, 2022.

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