gratitude and memory

Jackson Pollock, Untitled, c. 1950


Speech delivered on the occasion of the delivery of the title of Professor Emeritus of FFLCH-USP

“Much has to be forgotten when the essential is to be preserved” (Curtius).

This is an hour of gratitude and memory par excellence.[1] Taking up the words of the Scriptures: there is a time to give thanks and a time to remember. Sometimes, as happens at this moment, both times merge into one. Thanking and remembering become a single movement of our spirit.

I remember and thank with nostalgia my parents, Alfredo and Teresa Bosi, who have already left. I warmly thank Ecléa, my wife, dimidiam animae move. I tenderly thank my children, Viviana and José Alfredo, with redoubled tenderness my grandchildren, Tiago and Daniel, with affection my friends, with respect the masters, with admiration my beloved authors. Well, we, who spend so many hours poring over their books, it's also fair that we thank them.

And the words spoken by Montesquieu, when composing his self-portrait, come to mind: L'étude a été pour moi le souverain remède contre les dégoûts, n'ayant Nunca eu de chagrin qu'une heure de lecture ne m'ait ôté. [Study was for me the sovereign remedy against heartbreak, never having suffered sadness that an hour of reading could not free me].

Sorrows can come at any time, and when least expected, but reading depends on our desire, and fortunately, like so many of us, that desire came early. My father, who had studied Italian at a primary school in Brás called Regina Margherita, knew passages from the Divine Comedy, his Bible, by heart. My mother delighted in serial novels, romanzi d'appendix, which occupied the footers of the Italian newspaper Fanfulla, which survived until World War II. And I, what did I read? I confess that I read poetry. I keep a notebook in which I copied poems that enchanted and moved me. I hope those sheets never serve as a sample for some post-graduate student with no subject, who decides to research the literary taste of high school students from São Paulo in the 50s.

But since it's time to remember, I advance that this taste was quite eclectic. There was no shortage of sonnets by Camões (a catchphrase of indelible memory, “Seven years as a shepherd…”, “My gentle soul…”, “Love is a fire that burns unseen”)…, nor the serious “Formoso Tejo meu”, by Sá de Miranda (who left so many resonances in the verses of Manuel Bandeira), all alternating with the Tupis of Gonçalves Dias, the slaves of Castro Alves, the eloquent stars of Bilac, the silent moon of Raimundo Correia, the plaintive litanies of Alphonsus de Guimaraens , the sea breaking in waves by Vicente de Carvalho, who also appeared with the poignant “Pequenino Morto”, whose reading aloud brought me to tears.

So my sentimental education began with poetry and probably also the intuition that the Literature teacher needs to love the poetic word, and that he will only be able to convey this love by reading aloud to his students. Not doing so would be like wanting to teach music without listening and producing the magic of sound. The ideas will come later, the concepts must not precede the images (which I would learn in the Italian Literature courses given by Ítalo Bettarello, reader of Vico and Croce). Aesthetic concepts will have flesh and blood, sound and color, in a galava, they will receive a living form when the sensibility has already been nourished by poetry and art.

And when mentioning the name of master Bettarello, memory already took a leap and crossed times and spaces. The high school student took the classical course and has already climbed the steps of the Faculty on Rua Maria Antonia, where he chose the Course of Neo-Latin Letters. I wish I had the talent of a storyteller to evoke the atmosphere that lived in that now mythical building, as I knew it in the late 50s. , from Letters to Physics, from Geography to Philosophy. It's true, we were together and the common space enriched us.

But, as a Literature student, I would have to add that there were not always very subtle hierarchies. Undeniable was the growing prestige of a science that was then shining and already aspired to govern the knowledge of all things that pass between heaven and earth. It was called Sociology, in fact a hybrid term created by Auguste Comte: partner it's latin, logia is Greek: a somewhat irregular verbal formation, as our mentor of Romance Philology, the late master Isaac Nicolau Salum, taught us. I believe that the hegemony of a science is a cultural and seasonal phenomenon that deserves study. The fact is that we have already seen Linguistics succeed Sociology and be, in turn, succeeded by History, which still prevails, but we do not know for how long. As for Philosophy, it can always wait like Hegel's owl that only sees its time when night falls.

But look, it wasn't just an academic aura emanating from eminent French gurus who had competed to train São Paulo sociologists, the two Bastides and Lévi-Strauss. There was more: the transition from the 50s to the 60s was a time of strong hope in overcoming our underdevelopment, a moment of maturation for a university Left in which the desire for change pulsated. Radical or reformist, this hope united communists, socialists and progressive Catholics and nurtured a counter-ideology (skeptics will say, a utopia) that aimed at nothing less than victoriously confronting the ideology of capital. Outside USP, it was the time of ECLAC, of ​​Celso Furtado's first essays, of the national-developmentalist ISEB that grew in the shadow of the projects of the JK Era. And it was the nascent Base Education Movement anchored in a new literacy method invented by a great Brazilian named Paulo Freire.

Around and close to USP, the undeniable presence of Caio Prado, a figure in Marxist historiography. Within USP, to quote the axis name, the fierce figure of Florestan Fernandes loomed, who created a school and dedicated himself to knowing and overcoming what he considered forms of resistance to change. I believe that his campaign for the public elementary school was the first rallying point for the students of this Faculty.

I do not multiply names to avoid dispersing the discourse. The important thing is to characterize the complex and somewhat uncomfortable condition of the Languages ​​student, passionate about poetry, novels and essays, a scholar of the classics of the Romanesque world, and who saw himself, at the same time, caught in a network of vital extraliterary stimuli for the their training as a participating citizen. The situation was unresolved to the extent that the way of treating the poetic text practiced in Literature courses did not rhyme with the doctrines that led to political militancy. A programmed Marxist current of literary interpretation did not yet exist in those years of apprenticeship. I would say today, hoping to be understood: this current was not yet in force, for better or for worse.

For the good: the student was invited to approach the poem, without dogmatic a priori, analyzing its images, its sound resources, or expressive resources in general, the composition processes, the semantic structure of its motifs and themes; and, if the teacher also had historicist tendencies, the student should recognize the presence of literary movements that had left relevant marks in the meaning and aesthetic construction. Immanent sounding, at the bottom of the text, was Spanish stylistics, of an intuitionist nature, which was governed, ultimately, by the lapidary definition that Croce had given of poetry, “a complex of images and a feeling that animates it”.

Fruit of another culture, it was the text explanation, intellectualist and didactic in its exposition of the fundamental ideas of the text; anyway, the new criticism Anglo-American, more sophisticated and modern, as it combined the analytical study of images, symbols and myths with psychological or even psychoanalytical hypotheses. As for historicism, at that time a diffuse derivation of culturalism, it concentrated on the recognition of the characteristics of the great cultural-historical styles, classicism, baroque, arcadianism, romanticism, etc. On the favorable balance, I would also point out a relative initial ideological exemption of the interpreter, who did not feel obliged to patrol the narrators and poets in the eagerness to discover secret reactionary layers in them, given that which currently compels some university readers to the unexpected profession of detectives or judges of first and last instance.

But for the worse: that absence of a robust dialectical, Hegelian-Marxist culture left the student-reader at the mercy of ultra formalist fashions (lesser heirs of the great Russian formalists), as happened during the structuralist interregnum of the 60s and 70s, or, at the other extreme, it left him helpless in an impressionism saturated with irrationalist pretensions and puns. In this MMA critique, epistemological irresponsibility ran rampant when the subject took the liberty of disconnecting from the object and its context.

I believe that my stay in Italy in the academic year 61-62 helped to open a path for my Croatian education to meet with the new winds of Marxism that, driven by the discovery of Gramsci, were blowing in all university circles in the country. Gramsci, whose prison notebooks maintained a lively controversy with Croce's idealism, had not failed to receive from his great adversary the fertile hypothesis of the “dialectic of distincts”, whereby knowledge and action moved in their own spheres, attributing cognitive work to the art and science, and the work of the will to political praxis and ethics. This difference underlies Gramsci's statement: “It is up to art to represent the world, and to politics to transform it”. As long as the ties between both instances are safeguarded, the distinction still seems valid to me today. Even because a dialectic of the distinct is not a dialectic of absolute and irreconcilable opposites.

Returning to Brazil, I realized that everything invited action rather than aesthetic contemplation. The two years that preceded the 1964 coup were agitated by turmoil that broke out around João Goulart's center-left policy. Closing ranks in defense of the “basic reforms” proposed by the government, socialists, communists, nationalists, labor and progressive Christians allied themselves tactically. The atmosphere was one of expectation, and I remember with nostalgia how much that convergence of ideals stimulated me, which was expressed, for example, in the fight newspaper Brazil Urgent, founded by Fr. Carlos Josaphat, for whom I collaborated, enthusiastically welcoming the reformist proposals of the Economy and Humanism movement created by the tireless Father Lebret. Yours Principles for Action they were bedside books for many militants who were moving from Christian democracy to socialism.

The coup came, the dictatorship with its institutional acts, the impeachment of some of our most distinguished and active colleagues. Those who stayed resisted as best they could in the semi-clandestine nature of the classrooms, the renewed studies on Brazilian society, the first base communities formed at the end of the 60s, and whose memory transports me to meetings in Vila Yolanda, Osasco, with the presence of a worker-priest, Domingos Barbé, a luminous figure that I now wish to evoke with veneration. Reading Dried lives with young people from that community, I realized that I was talking to the children of Fabiano and Sinhá Vitória…

And speaking of almost clandestinity, it is not possible to forget the meetings of the Justice and Peace Commission created by D. Paulo Evaristo in 72, at the height of the repression; or the risk of protest marches, or, much more recklessly, to use Jacob Gorender's strong expression, the fight in the dark of those who opted for armed resistance. But this is already a collective remembrance, which transcends each one of us, and is called History. And there is no obtuse or truculent denialism that can erase it. We are still alive to give our testimony.[2]

The university routine continued with its demands and work. Teaching courses in Italian Literature, I chose authors who represented the “pessimism of intelligence” rather than “the optimism of the will” as the subject of theses, an antinomy dear to Gramsci's thought. But what did it mean as existential choices to study Pirandello and Leopardi?

Pirandello's narratives attracted me because of the impasse they highlighted between form and life, public identity and the flow of subjectivity, a romantic and modern conflict par excellence that existentialism would formulate in terms of destiny and freedom. The Pirandellian theater, which was born from this narrative, would enter the alley of the very impossibility of living an authentic, self-determined existence in society, since the constraint of social roles, of the “external form”, far surpasses our desires to sustain a freely assumed self. Pirandello's art, with the exception of the flight into the surreal atmosphere of the last stories, focuses on the figuration of the impasse. We are now one, now a hundred thousand, now none.

Background anarchism and ultimate determinism are parts of this truly challenging psychosocial drama. Croce, in his severe criticism of Pirandello, said that this mobile lack of definition is characteristic of adolescence, and that maturity overcomes it by choosing a cohesive and active self. It could be, I hope so, sew and see stop, but looking at me and around me, I suspect that this is a condition that survives long into the teenage years… For Luigi Pirandello, it only ends with death, the end of our “involuntary soggiorno sulla Terra".

“Myth and Poetry in Leopardi”, an essay presented for Habilitation in 1970, traverses the long tunnel of the poet considered akin to Schopenhauer's pessimism. As is known, it was the philosopher who read the poet declaring with his notorious modesty: “In 1818 the three greatest pessimists in Europe were in Italy: Leopardi, Byron and I, but we did not meet”. By the way, our Machado de Assis was also a reader and admirer of the poet, having been inspired by one of his dialogues when he wrote the chapter on the delirium of Brás Cubas.

I concentrated on examining the myths of the golden age and the fall present in Leopardi's lyrics, but I was able to glimpse a light in the Promethean or titanic myth of individual resistance that emerges from the last poems. Among these, certainly the most beautiful is The ginestra or the flower of the desert. The poet speaks of the survival of a wild flower, the broom, which does not wither even after being buried by the lavas of Vesuvius, on whose slopes it grows and sprouts for centuries. Leopardi lived his last years in Naples, at the foot of the smoking mountain that was always on the verge of erupting, and it was this arcane and threatening landscape that inspired in him the feeling of a Nature that is more stepmother than mother, a sower of lethal and flexible violence at the same time. delicacy. The broom still brightened the flanks of the volcano with its golden yellow petals, which were sand, mud and stone.

The image ended up being the driving motif of some essays that I wrote from the 1970s onwards. The text “Poesia Resistência”, which closes the book The Being and Time of Poetry, demanded a survey of the various types of poetic tones in which a tension is set up between the subject and the dominant ideologies of his time. Resistance can occur both in satirical and lyric verse with the highest degree of interiorization. The History of Men pulsates at the heart of the lyrical word, but it does so in its own regime, the regime of expression, a “poetic logic” (Vico) that is not to be confused with that of rhetorical persuasion, which uses the word as an instrumental device. . That's what I learned by reading the Aesthetics de Croce composed half a century before Adorno wrote his estimable essay on the relationship between poetry and society.

In other works, focused on Brazilian literary history, I tried to thematize the expressions of conformism and rebellion that coexisted in more than one period of our culture. It was this co-presence of ideological and counter-ideological meaning that I was interested in capturing, and that I tried to show in a didactic work written at the invitation of the poet and friend José Paulo Paes, the A Concise History of Brazilian Literature. My mandatory reference book, the History of Western Literature by Otto Maria Carpeaux, had taught me to see the contrasts that occur in each cultural movement by detecting an anti-baroque in the heart of the baroque, and an anti-romanticism in the wide range of romantic expressions. I was able to test Carpeaux's hypothesis.

In the same Brazilian romantic period, the conservatism of Gonçalves de Magalhães alternates with the rebellious indigenism of Gonçalves Dias, and the acceptance of the sacrifice of the black mother, dramatized by José de Alencar, is coeval with the abolitionist epic of Castro Alves. The extreme sentimentality of Casimiro de Abreu and the vaporous idealism of Alencar bear fruit together with the bold realism of Memórias de um sergeant de milícias by Manuel Antônio de Almeida. Shortly afterwards, in the same years of prideful Parnassianism, Bilac would eloquently express the grandeur of a heroic Brazil, while Cruz e Sousa wept over the anguish of the black walled up by the stones of prejudice and racist pseudoscience. Arriving at the belle époque, Afrânio Peixoto attributes to literature the role of “society’s smile”, while Lima Barreto gives us the autobiographical narrative of the humiliated and offended mestizo in Rio who was civilized under the reforms of Mayor Pereira Passos. And Euclides da Cunha composed the tragic epic of the sertanejo massacred in Carnudos.

Closer to us: cultured Brazil, in the midst of the modernizing race of “50 years in 5”, met the writing that would make the archaic background of backcountry and Minas Gerais culture emerge in Guimarães Rosa's prose. 1956 is the year of publication of Great Sertão: Veredas and it is also the date of the manifesto of the concretist movement in São Paulo. Popular tradition and technological modernity. Mere coincidence, or structural contradiction? I prefer to quote the Hegelian words of Antonio Candido, already then (and still today and always) our common teacher: contradiction is the very nerve of life.

But there is also the force of chance for each personal route. In the same year of 70, when I saw the publication of a work on Brazilian literature, the reform of USP took place, which allowed me to move to the Department of Classic and Vernacular Letters, where I began to teach Brazilian Literature, at the invitation of José Aderaldo Castello , my teacher since my undergraduate years. I cannot assess what remains of my courses in the memory of a few thousand Language students who had to attend my classes. But I know well what I owe to those years of teaching. At that time, the course obeyed a chronological series. It started from the past to reach the present. The before came before the after. I have always found this order to be reasonable, although I admit that others may think differently.

The fact is that I benefited a lot from starting my collaboration with the discipline for the study of letters in the colonial period. To tell the truth, cologne was the ugly duckling of the program and the colleagues thanked me very much for taking charge of their teaching. Year after year, analyzing autos and lyrics by Anchieta, satires by Gregório de Matos, sermons by Vieira, economics texts by Antonil, neoclassical poems such as the uruguay, sonnets by Cláudio Manuel da Costa and lyres by Gonzaga, I was able to develop general hypotheses about colonization, the vast process that, after all, presided over all these symbolic manifestations.

At one point, thanks to a grant received from the Guggenheim Foundation, I was allowed to research texts by and about Vieira and Antonil in Lisbon and Rome. When I returned, I thought I would be able to put on paper the fruit of those years of teaching and research. Colonization no longer appeared to me as a homogeneous whole in which symbolic processes would only mirror the economic infrastructure. In addition to the mirror, which was evident and preponderant, there was its opposite, always the hypothesis of an eventual resistance, in terms of conscience and speech, to the dominant ideological style.

I did not forget then that I had been a student in Florence of an extraordinary Indo-European philologist, Giacomo Devoto, who had taught me the importance of the history of words. The word colony has a family that deserves to be visited. the latin verb lap, which means cultivating the dominated land, the colony, has the form cultus, which refers to tradition, to the religious memory of a past of beliefs and values ​​still present, and by future participle culturus, a form that refers to the project of cultivating the habitat and the inhabitant not only physically but culturally, a lay program of civilization elaborated by the Enlightenment from the XNUMXth century onwards. These process components sometimes overlapped, sometimes dissociated.

To this movement of yes and no, of mirror and inside out, it seemed appropriate to assign a name that still holds for me all the force of truth: dialectic. colonization dialectic it is a modest book with an ambitious name. But it faithfully corresponds to what I think I perceive as the movement of ideas and values ​​in the face of a reality of exploitation and oppression. The power to say did not make it possible to generate Gregório's virulent satire (in which it is necessary to separate the wheat of the criticism of Bahia merchants from the chaff of the prejudices of the time), Vieira's vehement homilies (in which it is necessary to separate the wheat from the defense of the indigenous people from the chaff of accepting African slavery, despite his ability to describe its perverse effects on the captive's body like no one else). Antonil, Vieira's secretary, and his informer before the Roman Jesuit authorities, did not know how to sympathize with the slave's pain, but he deplored the martyrdom of crushed cane on the mills. He felt sorry for the tears of merchandise, he was our first economist.

Ideological differences also cover the history of imperial Brazil, which, in some respects, preserved structures from colonial times. The abolitionism of Luís Gama, Joaquim Nabuco, André Rebouças, Rui Barbosa and José do Patrocínio reflects a democratic liberalism that opposes the oligarchic and exclusionary liberalism of the dominant politicians in the first decades of the Second Empire: and each type of liberalism had its place in our political history, each representing the interests of a class or the ideals of a group. Ideologies and counter-ideologies are never gratuitous and false because their intellectual origins are in Europe: the phenomena of diffusion and cultural grafting are fundamental when dealing with ex-colonial formations. Reactions to the transplants of cultural matrices are what matters most, because without them the history of the so-called peripheral nations would tend to reproduce itself as it is forever.

Closer to us, the republican positivism of Ordem e Progresso moved towards centralizing regimes such as the one inaugurated after the 30s revolution by Getúlio Vargas and his collaborators from Rio Grande do Sul, all trained in the anti-liberal school of their supreme mentor, Júlio de Castilhos. But without the strength of this Comtean indoctrination, which accepted the disciplining role of the State, the victorious revolution would hardly have placed, among its priorities, the urgency of a social legislation that was beginning to spread throughout the West.

Only culture, as a set of values ​​that are not intrinsically economic in each society, can give meaning and purpose to political action – this is what I learned reading the writings of a heterodox economist, Celso Furtado, who asked his professional colleagues for a supplement of political imagination. To him, to Jacob Gorender, a communist militant, and to D. Pedro Casaldáliga, a Christian militant, I dedicated my book, because in them I recognized the passage from thought to action, which finally resolved the ever-resurfacing tension that governs the dialectic of distinctions.

I come to the end of these memoirs by thanking the opportunity, in these last years of my university career, to work with the Institute of Advanced Studies created in 1986 by inspiration of a group of professors from ADUSP. The main idea was to compensate for the fragmentation of the university, which the reform had caused, by creating an institution that brought together researchers from the human, biological and physical-mathematical sciences.

You don't need to be very astute to realize that it was a matter of recovering, at least in terms of intentions, what our alma mater, the Faculty of Philosophy, Sciences and Letters had represented since its foundation. It was in this spirit that I agreed to cooperate in the administration of the IEA and, mainly, to take over the edition of the magazine Advanced Studies, an undertaking that already has 22 years of existence and 64 issues. I have learned a lot in accomplishing this task. Science, which I was never able to understand because of my literary training, today appears to me as an exceptional instrument of human transformation in the sense of valuing everyday existence. Initially aloof from the conquests of information technology and electronic communication, I now know how much their effectiveness can transmit the highest ethical and cognitive values ​​of our civilization. Wanting the ends without the means is pretense or caprice. Advanced Studies is now fully available to all internet users.

[Opening issues of the magazine at random, I happily recall the conferences that gave rise to so many of his articles: there are the political reflections of Raymundo Faoro, Celso Furtado, Mikhail Gorbachev, Edgar Morin, John Kenneth Galbraith, Michel Debrun and Aníbal Quijano, the philosophical speculations of Habermas, Derrida and Granger, and Mario Schenberg, the daring interventions of Berlinguer and Chomsky, the fine cultural history observations of Vernant, Chartier, Michel Vovelle and Luciano Canfora, the eco-development lessons of Ignacy Sachs and André Gorz, the interviews of Hobsbawm and Bobbio and Karl-Otto Appel, an as yet unpublished text on the Baroque by Otto Maria Carpeaux. I cite the names of those who have already left us to avoid involuntary omissions of several hundred Brazilian collaborators, scientists and humanists who represent the best that research has produced among us and have already reached a level of excellence that honors our university].

Most dossiers from Advanced Studies it focuses on the basic problems of the Brazilian people, such as health, nutrition, education, housing, energy, work and security; and I would say that also in this constant concern for our greatest needs, the IEA has shown itself to be faithful to the purposes of its founders, the old and always new guard of the University of São Paulo, such as Alberto Carvalho da Silva, Rocha Barros and Erasmo Garcia Mendes, who closely followed the institution's projects. I mention only those who are no longer physically with us.

Occupying part of the time editing the magazine, I did not abandon the studies that marked out my itinerary at this Faculty. Letters continue to be faithful companions that, however, do not always console. Sometimes they hurt us even more, casting in our spirit the shadows that hover over the human condition. This is what happens when one chooses to read the work of Machado de Assis, to whom I have been dedicating some essays. To the figure of the satirist from the Empire of Brazil, which recent critics have highlighted with perhaps a little extrapolating zeal, it seemed fair to me to add that the humor of the disillusioned moralist carved out other dimensions in him, which universalized his disbelief in men and was not confined to observation. of local behaviors. Machado de Assis belongs to the high lineage of Ecclesiastes, Montaigne, Pascal, La Rochefoucauld, La Bruyère, Vauvenargues, Chamfort, Swift, Sterne, Leopardi, Stendhal, Schopenhauer.

Machado did not find, like Pascal, whom he so admired, the path of transcendent hope, nor, like Leopardi, the broom flower sprouting in the desert. As for me, descending vertically from such heights, I confess that I bet on Pascal's belief, and also that I asked Ecléa to plant a broom tree in our garden. The broom is still there, flowering and, I hope to God, for a very, very long time.

[March 12, 2009]

* Alfredo Bosi (1936-2021) was Emeritus Professor at FFLCH-USP and member of the Brazilian Academy of Letters (ABL). Author, among other books, of Heaven, Hell: Essays on Literary and Ideological Criticism (Editora 34)


[1] I would like to sincerely thank my colleagues in the subject of Brazilian Literature, who took the generous initiative of proposing the granting of this most honorable title. To our director, Prof. Sandra Nitrini, holder of Literary Theory, to the head of the Dept. of Classical and Vernacular Letters, Prof. João Roberto Faria, colleague of the discipline and friend of all hours, and to the members of this distinguished Congregation who endorsed the proposal. And to my colleague Prof. José Miguel Wisnik, who knows how to compose beautiful songs and that's why his friendly words sound like music to my ears.

[2] Allow me to ask for a moment of silence to honor all the students and professors of this and other Brazilian universities who were tortured or killed by the military dictatorship and who deserve the respect of our memory.




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