Marco Aurélio Garcia – two snapshots

Maria Bonomi, Plenilúnio, color woodcut, 89 x 157,8 cm, 1987.


Testimony about the historian and political activist

Two snapshots give an idea of ​​the greatness of the person, who opened horizons more than any other. Extremely intelligent and highly educated, with the manners of a great lord, his impeccable courtesy converged with the agility of his thinking.

The first concerns the publisher of the Perseu Abramo Foundation.

Marco Aurélio created the História do Povo Brasileiro collection for her and presented an initial list of twenty or so themes. The idea was to celebrate, with serious studies based on original research, the achievements of the Brazilian people. He handed me the list and asked for my cooperation.

Immediately, I told him that it wasn't “from the Brazilian people”: where were your three greatest creations, which are football, samba and carnival? Marco Aurélio was not shaken, he added the three new themes right then and there and even took the opportunity to demand participation, which would later result in the publication of a book of mine, entitled To the Sound of Samba – A Reading of the Carioca Carnival. The collection also included the other missing themes: just check the catalogue.

He also adapted another theme, which brought Canudos and Contestado together, separating them, so that, a few years later, I was able to deliver The Empire of Belo Monte – Life, passion and death of Canudos. Both were part of the História do Povo Brasileiro collection, created by Marco Aurélio for the Perseu Abramo Foundation publishing house.

The second has to do with her tenure at the São Paulo Secretariat of Culture, when Marta Suplicy was mayor.

Having founded the Colégio de São Paulo along the lines of France secondary school, who he knew well from his years of exile, called me to propose that I take charge of a course he entitled “Formation of Brazilian Literature”, to be held at the Mário de Andrade Library, explaining to me what it was all about. I considered that there were dozens, if not hundreds, of Brazilian literature courses throughout Brazil, from Oiapoque to Chuí, since they were mandatory in the diplomas of Letters of the countless Philosophy Faculties. I made him a counter-proposal: a course in universal literature, which, indeed, did not exist in the country. He, as always, was on time. And there I prepared a semester course, which ended up being divided into others, so that in total there were about two years of universal literature.

With your support, I was able to call only specialists to the conferences. There was a class on Homer, another on Hesiod, another on Dante, finally on all the greatest names in Western tradition up to the present day. But also embarking on other traditions: classes on Mahabharata, about the thousand and one nights, or about Attic tragedy or about Noh theatre. Marco Aurélio nodded to everyone and everything, and it wasn't cheap, because, apart from the lecturers' remuneration, in many cases it was also necessary to pay for a plane ticket and a hotel.

Thanks to him, the course program, until then non-existent in the country, as well as its conception – a class for each high point of literature regardless of language, period or nationality, taught by a specialist -, was able to win a place in the sun and passed to be copied by public and private institutions.

For myself, I reserved, naturally, the lecture on Proust. I also thought I should give the inaugural project presentation class, which would be panoramic and would cover the entire history of literature from the Babylonians with Gilgamesh – that left marks on Odyssey and Bible -, until today. Marco Aurélio, as always very busy, only attended the first class, which was already a great honor.

Specialists from São Paulo were more at hand, and came as soon as they were invited. In some cases, they came from further afield. Benedito Nunes came from Pará to talk about Rilke, just as Ivan Junqueira, translator and organizer of the bilingual edition of TS Eliot, came from Rio to talk about his poet.

Both episodes show the democratic and flexible nature of Marcus Aurelius, who, rather than dismissing the impertinent contestant, embodied her contribution. It is not usual for so much tolerance to fit neither in the intellectual world nor in the political world...

In 1998, the Perseu Abramo Foundation decided to hold a congress to celebrate the thirtieth anniversary of 1968. When Marco Aurélio joined the project, director Zilah Abramo immediately warned us: now its magnitude would be different, no longer shy as before, but much greater than that was foreseen, well within his horizons. The result was a monster congress, held in São Paulo and duplicated at Unicamp in Campinas, which was attended by European and Latin American specialists, in response to Marco Aurélio's summons.

And he took it upon himself to organize a book, publishing the proceedings of the congress with the excellent title of Rebels and protesters – 1968: Brazil, France and Germany, also of international scope, since it was he, with his immense prestige, who managed to get works written by his order from authors. Making it clear, once again, that he didn't do anything by halves.

*Walnice Nogueira Galvão is Professor Emeritus at FFLCH at USP. She is the author, among other books, of reading and rereading (Senac/Gold over blue).


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