Gilberto Freyre and USP

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By LINCOLN SECCO*

The examples of violence in Casa Grande and Senzala are neither despicable nor gratuitous. We must ask ourselves why the author was forced to multiply them

At the end of the 20th century it was reported: “Historical hostility between the university and a sociologist from Pernambuco is softened at a USP event dedicated to him”[I]. The choice of the verb “soften” suited Gilberto Freyre’s style. According to professors from several universities interviewed at that seminar, there had been a dispute over the Freyrian legacy for decades between academics from São Paulo and Pernambuco.

Sociologist and historian Gilberto Freyre – Photo: Collection / Fundação Gilberto Freyre

Carlos Guilherme Mota declared at that moment that the “arengas” between the university and Gilberto Freyre had begun in 1943, “with a blunt criticism by literature professor Antonio Candido of the Pernambuco author’s conservatism”. Freyre's relationship with Salazarism, his defense of the “world that the Portuguese created”, his support for the 1964 military coup and his rapprochement with the Médici government cemented the Uspian preference.[ii] by Florestan Fernandes' sociology and his scientific writing against Freyre's meandering and literary essayism. Between the image of the USP professor wearing an apron and leader of research groups and that of the master of Apipucos[iii] Spread across the net, there would be an abyss.

Dante Moreira Leite

At the University of São Paulo, it was Dante Moreira Leite who launched the systematic questioning of Freyre. Despite his later career at the Institute of Psychology, Leite graduated in Philosophy from the Faculty of Philosophy, Sciences and Letters of the University of São Paulo (FFCL – USP), in 1950. In 1954 he defended his doctoral thesis The Brazilian national character: Description of the Psychological Characteristics of Brazilians through Ideologies and Stereotypes, published in a book later.

In 1975, historian Carlos Guilherme Mota defended his thesis on free teaching, published under the title Ideology of Brazilian Culture, with numerous reissues. In the thesis, Gilberto Freyre has a central place among the authors that Mota classified as ideologues.

Freyre had acquired importance in 1933, when he launched Grande and Senzala, because his book had an air of avant-garde and narrative beauty. In an epoch-making page, written decades later, Antonio Candido placed him alongside Caio Prado Júnior and Sergio Buarque de Holanda as one of the three explainers of Brazil who emerged after the 1930 Revolution.

Freyre's criticism of racism at the beginning of the 1930s also stood out, although it was not new. Sergipe doctor Manoel Bonfim, who received some splinters in Casa Grande and Senzala due to his “inordinate” sympathy for the indigenous people, he had already fought in his Latin America: evils of origin, racist theories. However, as the scientism of the time constituted a mindset which imprisoned its own critics within its conceptual limits, it did not free itself from the language of social biology as Roberto Ventura and Flora Sussekind noted.

Even Euclides da Cunha, despite writing a book favorable to subaltern groups, did not escape studying them in the light of racialist theories of the time. It stood out, it is true, for the revolution in form, for the adjective writing of a dictionary, for the vocabulary of medicine leaflets, scientific treatises, military manuals and technical reports; and which, in the end, came to fruition into a great literary work as unclassifiable as the Facundo from Sarmiento.

What Freyre added again was the vast knowledge of what was most advanced in anthropology, incorporating from foreign debate what allowed him to justify the miscegenation that he identified as a Brazilian characteristic.

Dante Moreira Leite is adamant, however: “And here a fundamental difference appears between Euclides da Cunha and Gilberto Freyre: while the former, although accepting a wrong theory, does not distort the facts he observes, Gilberto Freyre performs an almost opposite task: has a correct theory, but ignores the facts, in a way that distorts reality”[iv]. Euclides realized the inadequacy of his theory and the limits of his knowledge in the face of the reality he encountered and, unaided by the readings of his time, he reconstructed reality through observation and narrative talent.

Exploring Freyre's contradictory statements in his various works, Dante Moreira Leite condemned his method for not using quantitative resources and limiting itself to anecdotal and picturesque history, interpreted from the point of view of the ruling class. This led Freyre to statements without a documentary basis, or anchored in distorted analyzes of the sources, such as that black people ate as well or even better than the master to carry out productive tasks, with poor free men being squalid, poorly fed and useless for work.

The idea of ​​checking the slave's average lifespan and trafficking figures did not cross Freyre's mind, to deduce the mortality and constant replacement of those who the masters treated as “pieces”. For him, the slave’s life “was not just one of joy”… The adverb needs no comment.

Cardoso, Mota and Novais

The investigations into race relations in São Paulo led by Florestan Fernandes and Roger Bastide in the 1950s, under the auspices of UNESCO, largely buried the idea of ​​racial democracy, a term that Freyre did not use in Casa Grande and Senzala, but it remained glued to his image.

Historian Carlos Guilherme Mota made his criticism at a decisive moment. At the height of the Dictatorship he was willing to confront luminaries of Brazilian culture such as his teacher Sergio Buarque de Holanda and Gilberto Freyre.

Mota first examined the idea of ​​revolution, in an important thesis above all as a methodological exercise. His advisor Eduardo D' Oliveira França had written a beautiful thesis on Portugal in the Restoration Period, in Braudelian style, whose importance was fundamentally to present a method for the study of mentalities in the 17th century.

Following his advisor, but refusing his conservatism, Mota sought “awareness” of the historical process, that is, “awareness of the reality experienced” at the end of the 18th century. Mental manifestations, for Mota, could not be emancipated from social and economic history. Concepts crystallize ongoing transformations and, at the same time, are catalysts for processes of awareness[v].

In his research, he constructed a mobile, fluid historical classification, in which revolutionary forms of consciousness emerged, but also forms adjusted to the system and intermediate ones. It was a book inspired by the African revolutions that were destroying the “world that the Portuguese created”.

But, surprisingly, Mota turned to another task, certainly also pioneering, but which led to less objective results. Mota's criticism of Gilberto Freyre will appear in his controversial Ideology of Brazilian Culture.

Mota preferred the controversy of the present and engagement in the battle of ideas. Regardless of the judgment one may make, Mota's book became unique, as it was an attempt at a comprehensive critical history of an ideology. Unequal, it ranged from a precise questioning of the ideology of the university's own mandarinship to a light questioning of an author like Nelson Werneck Sodré[vi], accused of being Stalinist, populist, schematic and hasty, as if he were only endowed with a “rigid and mechanical theory of social classes”, as he continued to state later[vii].

It goes without saying that Nelson Werneck Sodré was a staunch critic of the dominant ideology. His mistakes and successes did not put that condition on trial. Sodré's response didn't take long, he made objective criticisms of Mota's thesis, but he also slipped into excessive adjectives and the generalized accusation against “USP's insufficiency” in the field of social sciences.[viii]

Turning the sights to the other side, Mota proposed reading Casa Grande & Senzala as an expression of an aristocratic and decadent elite[ix]. It would have been the saga of the dissident oligarchy. Freyre represented, according to Mota, “a project that softens contradictions in contrast to a historical sociological project that examines conflicts in the transition from a slave-owning estate society to a class society, in a peripheral condition”[X].

Mota found in Freyre a “negative dialectical method” through which polarizations, antagonisms and conflicts are harmonized[xi].

Fernando Henrique Cardoso also accentuated, a few years later, the balance of antagonisms and saw in Freyre “the mythologized idea of ​​ourselves, of Brazil, which is necessary to give national identity”.[xii]

Another USP professor, Fernando Novais, stated that Freyre “always analyzes Brazil from its past, that is, from what it no longer was; Caio Prado Jr., on the contrary, always thinks of the country in terms of its potential, that is, in terms of what it could become. If this vision could perhaps be considered utopian, the first is certainly nostalgic”.[xiii]

Freyre was an admitted nostalgic fan, as evidenced by the beautiful opening pages of Casa Grande and Senzala and the disillusioned comments about the children of abandoned mills, living in Swiss chalets and frequenting brothels in Paris. For him, the slave was replaced “by the factory outcast; the slave quarters by the mucambo; the planter by the absent capitalist mill owner. The houses were abandoned by landowners driving around the cities in cars.”[xiv]

But traditionalism and conservatism are two different things, as Mannheim taught, although there are also coincidences between the two attitudes.

In Freyre there is a conservative program that aims first and foremost to direct politics in a given direction, dictate its rhythms and moderate radical outbursts.

Violence

For critics, Freyre did not hide social conflicts, but they were secondary in his work, appearing appeased and softened. He would have been, for example, shrewd in incorporating black people into a Brazilian national ideology. Countless pages of Casa Grande and Senzala were dedicated to proving the equality of talents between blacks and whites. But then, he relativizes the rigor and harshness of social relations between the big house and the slave quarters through the “alliance of the black nanny with the white boy, the maid with the sinhá-girl, the little man with the kid”.

At the patriarchal table, numerous mulattoes, according to Freyre, sat like children and “pet brats” and even accompanied their masters on car rides.[xv]. He turned to several travelers to confirm, as a rule, the large number of black and mulatto kids raised inside the big house “with extreme care” (the expression is taken from Vilhena).

There is a persistent slippage from the ect towards internal relations to the big house, from planting to the kitchen, from documentation on the management of the mill to that of customs, from economic history to intimate history. If this made Freyre, alongside Alcântara Machado[xvi], a pioneer of everyday history long before the French historiographical fashion arrived in Brazil, on the other hand, blurred the world of material production where there was no room for the reconciliation of opposites.

Freyre runs away from relations of production and takes refuge in those of sexual reproduction. Not that these were less violent and we will see that he does not hide this factor; but in them a gap opens up to the humanized sphere, if not of love, at least of eventual mutual pleasure and even stable alliances, in the Freyrian vision. Work in the field, under the sign of maximum displeasure, bypasses most Freyrian descriptions. Dealing and disagreement, agreement and disagreement, even leading to torture and death, slip into the realm of individualities.

Caio Prado Junior later wrote that, in colonial Brazil, the “love of the slave quarters did not and could not fulfill” the “properly human sphere of love” in which the “sexual act” involves a “whole complex of emotions and feelings ” that go so far as to push “the act that ultimately gave rise to it” into the background.[xvii]

Freyre felt the blow and in a note to a later edition of his book Casa Grande and Senzala, he changed the subject and claimed to characterize the colony based on the triad “large property, monoculture and compulsory work”. Although considering Caio Prado's work extraordinary, it would only have confirmed the idea outlined by him (Freyre) in 1933[xviii].

It is not the case here to debate this statement, suffice it to say that Caio Prado Júnior's book was not limited to revealing those foundations of colonization; he placed them in a colonial system that Gilberto Freyre ignored, although he made allusions to an undefined and abstract “system” when it came to explaining, sometimes justifying, where the social ills of the colony came from.

Vices, for Freyre, are inseparable from the slave economy and the positive traits of our formation would come from cultural inclinations. For him, the white-skinned boy was almost as much a victim as the slave of patriarchal sadism. This is because both were dominated parts of a system. In this case, the definition of the system does not directly involve the economy, but patriarchal male power. Thus, white children were subjected to spankings, quince sticks, sometimes with a pin on the end, ear pulling, pinching, slapping, etc. White women were raped, beaten and murdered by their husbands.

The “system” would also be responsible for the anticipation of sexual activity, the ignorance of mothers, the transmission of diseases, rude manners, vicious language, etc. But the explanation stopped at an unintelligible macrostructural level and there were no mediations that integrated the facts into a rational historical process, everything being lost in the picturesque and the exception.

It is true that he explains the lust of the Portuguese who, “loose without family, in the midst of the naked Indian, served reasons of State, populating colonial society in a wide and deep mix”.[xx]. But then, the scarcity of white women serves to justify, without evidence, the emergence of zones of fraternization between winners and losers, between masters and slaves:

“Without ceasing to be relationships – those of white men with women of color – of “superiors” with “inferiors” and, in the greatest number of cases, of abused and sadistic masters with passive slaves, they were sweetened, however, with the need experienced by many settlers of starting a family within these circumstances and on this basis. The miscegenation that was widely practiced here corrected the social distance that would otherwise have remained enormous between the mansion and the tropical forest; between the big house and the slave quarters. What the landowning and slaveholding monoculture accomplished in the sense of aristocratization, extremening Brazilian society into masters and slaves with a thin and insignificant mess of free people sandwiched between the antagonistic extremes, was largely contradicted by the social effects of miscegenation. The Indian woman and the black girl at first, then the mulatta, the cabrocha, the quadrarona, the octana, becoming homemakers, concubines and even legitimate wives of white masters, acted powerfully towards social democratization in Brazil”[xx].

In any case, the mere mention of colonial violence is not unimportant, as we will see below, even if the author moderates them. The problem for the author would again be in the “system”. Interpersonal relationships corrected him as far as possible. The Freyrian system is situated in the sphere of historical necessity. Quoting Oliveira Martins, Freyre wonders whether slavery would have been a crime and responds: “for some publicists it was a huge mistake. But no one has told us to date what other method of meeting labor needs the Portuguese colonizer of Brazil could have adopted.”[xxx].

Records!

The examples of violence in interpersonal relationships are strong in the book Casa Grande and Senzala.

There is the master who had two slaves killed and buried in the foundations of the house; there is the Viscount of Suaçuna who ordered black people tortured by his “patriarchal justice” to be buried in the garden.[xxiii]In many large houses bones of slaves were unearthed. Freyre records masters ordering pregnant slaves to be burned alive in factory furnaces. Sexual resentment led young ladies to have the eyes of pretty maids gouged out and served them to their husbands, for dessert, inside sweet preserves, floating in blood.[xxiii].

In rough games, the children of planters rode the kids as riding horses or horse carriages in which black boys and even girls served as teams, with a string as a rein and a guava tree branch as a whip. There is no Brazilian from the upper classes who “does not feel related to the boy Brás Cubas in his wickedness and his taste for playing with black people”[xxv].

The dominated are not always erased as subjects, although Freyre almost always emphasizes adaptive resistance, opening space for negotiation. He records the violence and tricks of the dominated, such as the kidnapping of Indian women by quilombolas; the ladies who could rub themselves against the black people of the house to calm the fire between their skirts and petticoats and their social isolation; although Freyre, once again criticizing Manoel Bonfim, found this very rare. The stories of daughters and wives murdered by planters were due to them being ensnared by priests or “black entanglers”. But revenge was not the only thing that linked mistresses and slaves and they could also be procurers.[xxiv]

Sexual relations, whose description is almost idyllic in terms of the encounter between Portuguese and indigenous people, is also highlighted in its violent aspect as “sadistic and bestial practices”, as we saw previously: “The first victims were children and domestic animals; later came the big pile of meat: the black or the mulatto”. Watermelon and mandacaru fruit “with their viscosity and almost meat-like astringency” also served as initiation. Animals, women, children and fruits were equal[xxv].

For Freyre, the European missionary brought extermination and degradation, diseases and the repression of homosexuality among indigenous people. At the same time, he mentioned the cute white boys, raised under the skirts of their wet nurses, their maids and their mistresses, who lost their way and degraded themselves like effeminates.[xxviii].

Full of contradictions, Freyre did not write a treatise in which the scientific character predominated. Before, he left us an ideological essay, without a doubt, but brilliant and based on a lot of information. In which author would we find the record that Brazilians historically wear the color red and not green and yellow, whether in the interior of São Paulo or in the north and northeast? The origins of the appreciation of red are, for Freyre, simultaneously in Portuguese, African and, particularly, indigenous culture.[xxviii]

The big house, an expression of the command of the production system and social relations, would be, despite everything, the best expression of our “social continuity”[xxix], and in it we find the only possibility of a totalizing social history of Brazil.

Conclusion

After several decades of the critical movement towards Freyre's work, today we can recalibrate the analytical instruments and assess the author in the light of the country we have reached. Each historical moment allows us to read an author highlighting different aspects of their work. In this case, we remember the record of violence in Casa Grande and Senzala.

It is also necessary to review one of the mistaken points in the criticism of Gilberto Freyre, which historian Nelson Werneck Sodré recalled: Freyre was an author who went through many phases. He may have defended racist stances before[xxx], but not after 1930; just as he was progressive in 1945 and reactionary in 1964. Just remember his sympathy for the Democratic Left at the end of the Estado Novo and his role in the Constituent Assembly, despite being a deputy for the National Democratic Union (UDN). From liberal to supporter of the Médici government and the persecution of intellectuals like Florestan Fernandes, a few decades passed.

Another element to reconsider is the role of regional and class origin. Although it may have provided an important framework, it did not inescapably determine his thinking. It would not be unusual to find a critical position in aristocratic conservatism, as in the reactionary monarchist Eduardo Prado with his anti-republican and anti-US imperialism libel: The American Illusion.

When Fernando Henrique Cardoso titled an article about Freyre with the expression “big industry & favela”, he intended to speak from São Paulo to a conservative intellectual from Pernambuco. But his blague quickly lost its meaning with the deindustrialization of the country that he himself promoted and, today, he would have to write “the big agribusiness and the favela”.

Our duty is to historicize thought, so here I focused exclusively on Home Grande and Senzala, as I would lack the inclination, space and time to deal with all of Gilberto Freyre's work. His later conservative positions were mobilized only to explain his critics and not himself, as it would be necessary to evaluate his many books, public interventions and his political career, in addition to being impossible to classify him as an ideologue without paying attention to the fact that all , in some way, we are enveloped in an ideology.

The countless examples of violence in Casa Grande and Senzala They are neither negligible nor gratuitous. We must ask ourselves why the author was forced to multiply them. Even though he did not want to paint a picture different from the system he idealized, the facts he felt the need to describe revealed, through force and atrocity, something dissonant with any idealization of a racial democracy. However, on the whole, Casa Grande and Senzala provided an ideology that concealed racial and class exploitation in Brazil. The baroque nature of his style took Freyre to the limits of criticizing a system that, in the end, he preferred to tame and circumvent.

* Lincoln Secco He is a professor in the Department of History at USP. Author, among other books, of History of the PT (Studio). [https://amzn.to/3RTS2dB]

Originally published on GMarx USP Bulletin.

Notes


[I]       Folha de São Paulo, August 19, 2000. Under a false neutrality, that journalistic company was known for its political uncertainty and easy search for controversies to increase sales. Unlike O Estado de S. Paulo, in the throes of its conservative history, before losing its identity, the relationship between Folha de São Paulo and USP was characterized by the search for “scandals”, such as the list of “unproductive” professors ” in the 1980s.

[ii]      Certainly, when I speak of “uspian”, at no point do I wish to reduce the institution to the dominant thought of some of its exponents, but to define a trend that predominated, not quantitatively, but in terms of its ability to polarize the intellectual debate on a given topic at a defined time.

[iii]     In 1940 Freyre bought the Dois Irmãos mill, a house owned by Santo Antônio de Apipucos, in Recife, where the Gilberto Freyre Foundation currently operates.

[iv]    Leite, Dante M. The Brazilian National Character. 4 ed. São Paulo: Pioneira, 1983, p. 302 and 314.

[v]     The Braudelian inspiration of the term is evident. Also by Henri Lefebvre. I based myself on this book by Mota, as well as on Braudel and Vovelle, to write my thesis defended at USP in 2003, The Crisis of the Portuguese colonial Empire: economies, spaces and awareness (1961-1975).

[vi]    In the History Department at USP, despite the severe questioning or forgetting of Sodré's work, he was still valued by professors such as Emilia Viotti da Costa and Edgard Carone. Later, Wilson do Nascimento Barbosa, Jorge Grespan, Lincoln Secco, Luiz Bernardo Pericás and, especially, Marcos Silva were included. See: Silva, Marcos A. Nelson Werneck Sodré Critical Dictionary. Rio de Janeiro: Editora UFRJ, 2008. Id. (Org). Nelson Werneck Sodré in Brazilian Historiography. Bauru: Edusc, 2001. Grespan, George Luis da Silva. “The Marxism of Nelson Werneck Sodré”. In: Silva, Marcos A. Nelson Werneck Sodré in Brazilian historiography, cit. Secco, L. Presentation in: Sodré, Nelson Werneck. Military History of Brazil. São Paulo: Expressão Popular, 2010; Secco, L.; Deaecto, Marisa M. “What you should read to get to know Brazil”. In: Silva, Marcos Antonio da (Org.). Critical dictionary Nelson Werneck Sodré, op. cit. A classroom is named after Sodré, at least until now (February 1, 2024).

[vii]   Motta, Carlos G. History and Counter-History. São Paulo: Globo, 2010, p.162.

[viii]  In this case he gave Caio Navarro de Toledo as an example, but considered his work a serious research effort. He even charged (Florestan Fernandes?) for remaining silent in the face of Mota's attack on Fernando Azevedo. The student would have sacrificed his former master in exchange for praise received. Sodré, Nelson W. History and historical materialism in Brazil, São Paulo, Global, s/d, p. 72.

[ix]    Mota, Carlos Guilherme. Ideology of Brazilian culture: 1933-1974: starting points for a historical review. 4th Ed. São Paulo: Ática, 1978, p. 58.

[X]     Folha de São Paulo, August 17, 2000.

[xi]    Mota, CG History and Counter-History. São Paulo: Globo, 2010, p. 229.

[xii]   Cardoso, Fernando Henrique. “Waiting for big industry & favela” . Mr. Vogue, São Paulo, n. 2, p. 115-116, May 1978. p. 115-121.

[xiii]  Novais, Fernando. “Caio Prado Júnior historian”. In: New Cebrap Studies, no. 2, 1983.

[xiv]  Freyre, G. Casa Grande and Senzala. São Paulo: Círculo do Livro, p. 33.

[xv]   Freyre, G. Casa Grande and Senzala, pp. 353 and 371.

[xvi]  The two authors were the first readers of the History of Everyday Life course by Laura de Mello e Souza at USP in 1988.

[xvii] Prado Júnior, C. Formation of Contemporary Brazil. São Paulo: Brasiliense, 4 ed., 1953, p. 342.

[xviii] Freyre, G. Casa Grande and Senzala, P. 295.

[xx]  Freyre, G. Casa Grande and Senzala, P. 128.

[xx]   Freyre, G. Casa Grande and Senzala, P. 13.

[xxx]  Freyre, G. Casa Grande and Senzala, P. 269

[xxiii] Freyre, G. Casa Grande and Senzala, P. 19.

[xxiii] Freyre, G. Casa Grande and Senzala, pp. 27 and 358.

[xxv]               Freyre, G. Casa Grande and Senzala, pp. 357 and 388.

[xxiv] Freyre, G. Casa Grande and Senzala, pp. 81, 359, 359, 417, 439 and 441.

[xxv]               Freyre, G. Casa Grande and Senzala, P. 389.

[xxviii]Freyre, G. Casa Grande and Senzala, p. 143, 152.

[xxviii]Freyre, G. Casa Grande and Senzala, pp. 139-143.

[xxix]               Freyre, G. Casa Grande and Senzala, P. 26

[xxx] As demonstrated by the professor at the Faculty of Education at USP, Maria Pallares. See: Hollanda, Bernardo Buarque. “Interview with Maria Lúcia Garcia Pallares-Burke”. Historical studies, Rio de Janeiro, v. 32, no. 68, p. 765-811, Dec. 2019 . Available at < http://www.scielo.br/scielo.php?script=sci_arttext&pid=S0103-21862019000300765&lng=pt&nrm=iso>. accessed on March 25th. 2020.


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