About the Beginnings of the Faculty of Philosophy, Letters and Human Sciences at USP



The presentation and one of the articles from the recently released book

Presentation, by Walnice Nogueira Galvão

An unusual initiative shook São Paulo in the 30s: the creation of the Faculty of Philosophy, Sciences and Letters. The objective of the undertaking was, basically, to consolidate a University dedicated to universal knowledge, as its name indicates. Bringing together the few existing higher schools, such as those of Medicine and Law, the Faculty brought something new to our lands, namely the dedication to pure and non-applied science.

Hence the new disciplines: philosophy, sociology, psychology, but also physics, chemistry, biology, geography, mathematics and the like. For this purpose, European specialists were recruited, with the French predominating in the human sciences, the Germans in the natural sciences, the Italians in the physical sciences and mathematics. In these pages, students from the first classes testify to what was the extraordinary intellectual experience of those pioneering times.

The horizons that opened up to young people thirsty for knowledge and novelty appear clearly in the testimonies of this volume. Barely out of their teens, they came across something new, a Faculty of Philosophy, Sciences and Letters that did not prepare for a profession but indulged in the speculations of pure knowledge. Such a golden opportunity was provided by the first-rate faculty, brought from Europe with weapons and baggage. Something of the air that was breathed in the new institution is a memory of these students from the first classes, who lived the hitherto unprecedented experience here of disinterested research.

In philosophy, in sociology, in mathematics, in physics, in literature, the state of the art of European culture was aired in the classrooms. Anyone who today considers the gigantic size of USP on the one hand and the proliferation of Philosophy Faculties throughout the Brazilian territory on the other, can hardly assess what this opportunity was, which would take the breath of any young person. Everything was possible, ideas permeated the atmosphere, incessant debate disrupted routine.

If until then the privileged went to study in Coimbra and Paris, now Alma mater, right there in the center of the city, it welcomed those interested and offered a higher education diploma with a guarantee of high quality. The culture broth that then fermented was responsible for the formation of some of the most influential Brazilian intellectuals, who would become the masters of the following generations. These, in turn, would bear fruit in secondary and higher education teachers, propagating what they learned. In this selection of students from the first classes who received the impact of the unusual, the testimonies recall not only the impressions of the first hour but also everything that later ruminations would decant.

This precious set of high-level reflections that we now offer readers recovers a unique moment in the country's intellectual history, as well as the measure of the ambition it implied: to create from scratch an institution of non-applied higher studies, a public education institution and that offered the unique opportunity to connect to the knowledge produced in European centers with their secular universities.

The participants are: Paul Arbousse-Bastide, Mário Schenberg, Candido Silva Dias, Florestan Fernandes, Antonio Candido, Ruy Coelho, Gilda de Mello e Souza, Fernando Henrique Cardoso. The set is completed by a lecture by Michel Butor on the University's destiny, given at USP during the celebrations of its fiftieth anniversary, in 1984.

Knowledge and action, by Antonio Candido:

[Speech given by Antonio Candido de Mello e Souza, upon receiving the title of emeritus professor at FFLCH-USP, on August 30, 1984]

I am grateful for the words of Professor Ruy Galvão de Andrada Coelho, my classmate, intellectual life companion, friend since youth. I am grateful for the words of Professor João Alexandre Costa Barbosa, a friend who so generously analyzed my works, and represents the valuable presence of the team that I was fortunate enough to form in the field of Literary Theory and Comparative Literature. I am grateful for the honorable solidarity of the professors of the Faculty of Law. I would like to thank all those who were kind enough to attend this ceremony. Finally and above all, I thank the illustrious Congregation, which conferred on me the most honorable title of Professor Emeritus.

Acknowledging these acknowledgments, I think of some masters and colleagues who deserved and deserve this honor much more than I do, and are in my mind as examples of university performance, for their leadership qualities and the deep mark they left. To mention just those with whom I worked closely, I remember one who had the opportunity to receive him, the great master Fernando de Azevedo, a lucid and bold fighter in the fight for the modernization of education at all levels. He elaborated the basic statute of the University of São Paulo, of which he was one of the main founders; and he was characterized in this House by his commitment to the best university policy.

In the same sense of imaginative fearlessness and enriching presence acted Lourival Gomes Machado, who never received this title, which he so deserved. To him the university owes the refinement of its Faculty of Architecture and Urbanism; to him Brazil owes a decisive role in the process of constituting and guiding the Art Biennials, to him we all owe a human and fraternal action.

Didn't he also receive this title, among the living, the great excluded, Florestan Fernandes, my friend and co-worker, who in a way was one body with our faculty, for his passionate identification with its problems, his inflexible bravery, his creative activity, complemented by the capacity to inspire the work of young people, to show paths and discern the points where university life converges with political action. Brutally separated from our institutional environment, with other notable colleagues, some of whom are his disciples, he is the Emeritus par excellence.

As for me, what happened is that I had the valuable opportunity to live with these and many others of great caliber, from the group that integrated in this faculty, in the year of 1947, the magazine Climate, bringing together students and some recent graduates, who all ended up on the faculty of the University of São Paulo.

In addition to the professors, I owe colleagues like these, and so many others, much of what I am and could do, because they embodied the strength of the intellectual and affective coexistence that I found in this House, and it is as important as study and systematic teaching. In this regard, it would be appropriate to quote Oscar Wilde's saying, according to which “education is an admirable thing; but it is convenient to remember from time to time that nothing that is essential can be taught”… For these and other things, which I will go on to talk about, perhaps there is a certain paradox in the fact that such distinction is conferred on me individually, since I have always received so much from Faculty of Philosophy, that I feel a permanent debtor, treated as if I were a creditor of something.

Indeed, from the time I entered the 1st section of the extinct and excellent Colégio Universitário, in 1937, until I retired in 1978, I had the privilege of learning the best there was, being a student of notable professors, interacting with colleagues and students who became life companions, having in the teaching profession the material support and the spiritual conditions to do what he wanted.

In 1939 I was admitted to higher education at two schools: this one and law school. If my vocation was here, in Law I received the teaching of some exemplary masters, I immersed myself for years in one of the best libraries in São Paulo and, above all, I received from the environment a stimulus to define a political conscience. There, I began my activity against the dictatorship at the time – first, among liberal colleagues; then, between socialist colleagues, gathered for the same combat. The Faculty of Law was my great school of citizenship.

At the Faculty of Philosophy, my generation came into contact with the most positive aspects of the culture of the metropolises, through professors who functioned as civilizing heroes. Its decisive importance lies in the fact that it launched us in two complementary directions: initiation into the relevant processes of disinterested knowledge, and the awareness that the reality of our country was the central object of its application.

I am not trying to say this obvious thing, that knowledge must be completed by practice, or it is justified as a path to it. After all, this was what was done in Brazil in terms of higher culture, guided by the nature of the liberal professions. I mean the opposite: the Faculty of Philosophy was created to change the perspective and systematically develop what is called disinterested knowledge, since only this knowledge allows for deeper investigation that advances knowledge and, therefore, its eventual application.

The foreign masters, called with this assumption by the founders of the university, showed that the moment of suspension of the act is indispensable, in order to establish knowledge, opening the way to correctly restore the act as knowledge inserted in the world. Therefore, in order to understand their contribution, it is necessary to view these masters as a differentiated group, in which some were absorbed in speculation, others immediately turned to the concrete, but all created the renewing atmosphere that allows disconnecting mathematics from engineering, science politics of legal practice, the literary theory of grammatical analysis. Correct knowledge requires an intellectual and moral commitment as important as participation in life.

With regard to the two aspects I mentioned, perhaps an example taken from the performance of the first group of students of foreign professors fits: I think of Lívio Teixeira, focused on the wise analysis of the great classics of philosophy, and João Cruz Costa, applying reflection to the ideas in Brazil. Together, they represent not only the division of intellectual labor, but the creative synthesis function of the university as a diverse group.

This was possible for certain reasons, of which I highlight two.

First, the fact that foreign professors do not act through a sporadic and passing presence, but during the time of a generation, involving, in varying periods, almost one hundred scientists, researchers, intellectuals, mostly French, German and Italian, with some Portuguese, Spanish and English. It was as if the university mechanisms of the high centers started to function here as much as possible, allowing a creative assimilation. Before, there was mainly a more or less happy adaptation, mediated by distance and fleeting contact. With the lasting presence, the thought and science of the European centers started to be produced here in a continuous way, building a habitat and ceasing to be something imposed or imitated. In a word, the possibility of creating and transmitting culture according to the tenor of the most advanced countries, and within our structural limitations, was formed among us. With that, the tradition of carbon paper was torn up.

Here comes the second reason: the presence of foreign masters occurred at a time when Brazil had already matured its vision of itself, and created a cultural equipment that, although modest, was capable of receiving influences without disfiguring itself. Unlike the Jesuits in the colonial period, and unlike the French Artistic Mission at the beginning of the XNUMXth century, the professors hired by the University of São Paulo did not plant in the desert, or in almost uncultivated land; but they adjusted to an environment capable of freely absorbing their contribution – and not suffering it as an imposition. So much so that there was a considerable countercurrent, with Brazil influencing the agenda, sensibility and vision of the world of our European masters.

It can be seen from there that the foreign presence was not alienating, but founding, insofar as it endowed us with initiative. Caio Prado Júnior, the great master, told me several times that he learned from Pierre Deffontaines to see his land, which before only looked. It is not surprising that our faculty, in its gloriously complex structure from 1934 to 1969, was such an important point of reference for the entire Brazilian university. It was, without a doubt, a fundamental event in the history of the country's culture, within the equally important framework of a university integration whose achievement was mainly due to the ideal and effort of Julio de Mesquita Filho and Fernando de Azevedo.

In the sector of Human Sciences and Philosophy, where I graduated, it is also necessary to note that the presence of professors was, if not an explicit teaching role, a suggestion of cultural and, to a certain extent, political radicalism. Some of them were even conservative, while others were more or less close to the ideologies of the Popular Front, the Popular Front, which in the first years of the Faculty's life prevailed in France and had a great impact among us, adding to the sympathy for the Spanish republicans in the fight against fascism. But both conservatives and radicals introduced us to the basic intellectual attitude: nonconformity, which ranges from distrust of established knowledge to assertions of political rebellion; which ranges from contempt for arguments from authority, the cult of ornamental citation, the use of intelligence as exhibitionism – to the critique of social organization, the search for hidden aspects of reality, the desire to work for its transformation. Our French masters helped us to see the real Brazil, because that was a consequence of the critical attitude they taught us.

These words are said to suggest how much I owe to college, which was the world where I lived and matured, at the pace of an unprecedented university experience in Brazil, which we try not to betray in relation to our students. My generation was formed in this house, which includes our director Ruy Galvão de Andrada Coelho and many colleagues present. Other generations were formed in this half century, my students were formed, whom I think of at this moment with the affection and consideration of someone who had in them the main point of reference for his activity, and from them he received more than he could give. We participated, therefore, in a great cultural experience, and this justifies the position of wonder that was ours for so long. But we wouldn't be faithful to what we've learned and experienced here if we hadn't been able to develop a critique of the institution, at times when it seemed to call for corrective analysis.

Over the past twenty years, we have shared all the hardships of a negative moment in the life of the country, with the establishment of the military dictatorship in 1964. What it cost our faculty, especially from 1968 onwards, does not need to be remembered, because it is alive in the open wounds, which ranged from the invasion and depredation of our workplaces to the exclusion of colleagues; from the persecution of our students to the establishment of a dirty and sneaky mechanism of espionage, denunciation and restriction of all kinds. This state of affairs corresponded to the institution's moment of crisis, the failed and imposed reforms, the dismemberment of the Faculty and the awareness that many of our norms were out of line.

Even then, the Faculty reacted within its spirit of open radicalism, by playing, with institutes spun off from it, a decisive role in the democratic movements of the University of São Paulo. Here, at our university, the movement of really active associations of higher education teachers was born, which spread across the country from ours, and today is one of the forces of renewal in the university system.

Here the first Brazilian strike of university professors in public education took place, a historical landmark that showed how in our time the figure of the gentleman and scholar, circulating in the co-optive environment of closed organizations such as elite clubs; which showed how, in the face of numerical growth and the impoverishment of the category, both the alliance with other categories and the attitude of those who fight at the mass level were necessary, such as the march, the rally, the collective demand, the strike.

Here, the alliance between professors and employees matured, which will certainly play an important role in the future physiognomy of the university, in the search for new criteria to organize itself according to an order and authority based on the democratic spirit. Therefore, at the University of São Paulo in general, and at our school in particular, conditions persist to face the crisis that worries everyone, because it is the reflection of this immense change in civilization that, according to a former professor at the University, Claude Lévi-Strauss, it only has a parallel in the obscure events that marked the effective humanization of man millennia ago.

I believe that reflection on our roots makes us have confidence in the future, because the future is built. We will arrive at a university where political activity does not serve as a pretext to escape the hard and difficult task of knowledge, which requires concentration and sacrifice, in stages in which the scholar can put the world in parentheses. A university where, reciprocally, the fundamental search for knowledge is not a pretext for ignoring the serious problems of the time, nor the duty to participate in their solution. If I prefer to be optimistic, it's because I grew up intellectually in a school that brought so much important things to our country, and has the resources to renew itself.

Thinking about all these things, the figures I evoked, the friends who marked my life here, the immense contribution of this Faculty and of our entire University of São Paulo, it was that I evaluated the meaning of this last title. Therefore, it is with the utmost sincerity that I say, my dear director, my dear colleagues, my dear friends, that you cannot imagine how honored and grateful I feel.

*Walnice Nogueira Galvão is Professor Emeritus at FFLCH at USP. She is the author, among other books, of Euclidean. Essays on Euclides da Cunha (Company of Letters).

*Antonio Candido (1918-2017) was Professor Emeritus at the Faculty of Philosophy, Letters and Human Sciences at USP. Author, among other books, of The speech and the city (Gold over blue)


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