An almost memorial

Jorge Luis Borges & Jorge Schwartz / Image by Madalena Schwartz


Speech given thanking the granting of the title of Professor Emeritus at FFLCH-USP, in March 01th, 2024

First of all, I would like to thank everyone present here, my lifelong friends; Included are former mentees. I receive this title today thanks to the initiative of a professor and the head of the department of my discipline, both of Spanish-American literature, and the happy coincidence of both being former students: Laura Hosiasson and Pablo Gasparini here at this honors table.

It is no small emotion to receive, at the initiative of the Department of Modern Literature, DLM, the title of “professor emeritus” from FFLCH, an institution to which I have had the honor and pleasure of belonging for more than five decades. Even more so in the so-called “older age”, close to 80 – which is no small surprise. I must quote Groucho Marx, in a phrase attributed to him, that “in every old man there is a young man wanting to know what happened”.

My personal and academic life is the sum of a few significant places and moments: Argentina, where I was born and lived until 1960; Brazil, where I completed my secondary studies that began in Buenos Aires; Israel, where I attended my undergraduate degree between 1967 and 1971; The United States, where I spent a year and a half, and other shorter periods, and of course, Brazil where, along with teaching, I completed postgraduate studies until obtaining a degree.

And an initial caveat: upon seeing smiling portraits of Antonio Candido, Alfredo Bosi, Walnice Nogueira Galvão, Davi Arrigucci Jr., Leyla Perrone-Moisés, Marilena Chaui, Kabengele Munanga and Fernando Novaes in the corridor of FFLCH Emeritus, I come to the humble conclusion that there are Emeritus… and Emeritus.

Among the various possibilities for preparing this text, I found it more appropriate to make a retrospective and an assessment of my academic career – an almost memorial, without a panel or thesis defense.

I confess that, of the two unavoidable elements, which cannot be evaluated objectively and which are part of the destiny of any human being – chance and luck – both have always accompanied me. As the Latin proverb says Fortis fortune adiuvat [fortune favors the bold].

I arrived with my family at the port of Santos in March 1960, and only after two years was it possible to resume my studies, in the evening course of the 4th year of high school, at Escola Estadual Rodrigues Alves, still today on Avenida Paulista. From a public school in Buenos Aires, exclusively male and repressive, I fell into a 4th grade class at that time, mixed and with Afro-Brazilian students. They start calling me Jorge, instead of Señor Schwartz with the coat and tie from the Bonaero school.

I would like to take this opportunity to comment that mine was 100% public schooling; I am the result of that: it started in Argentina and I continued here until the end of my career. It is important to highlight this aspect, when so many efforts have been and continue to be made in Brazil for private education to the detriment of public education. An outbreak during the dictatorship, with many consequences, like the one in the Objective group where I taught for a few years at the beginning of my career.

Trying to continue my high school, I managed to enroll at the USP School of Application on Rua Gabriel dos Santos, without having much idea at the time of what that school meant. Let's say it was a first turn towards what my future in the humanities would be. And much more than that. Among my teachers, true trainers and unforgettable figures, it is worth mentioning Dilu (Maria de Lourdes Gianotti, now professor emeritus at the same FFLCH), Sabina Kundman and Munira Mutran. To give you an idea, the classic course had classes in philosophy, comparative literature, English, French and Latin. Several of the students, teenagers, were arrested and tortured. It was a very intense experience.

The passage from Buenos Aires to São Paulo, in the young teenager's imagination, was like going in and out of a wormhole.

Santos, 27.04.1960/XNUMX/XNUMX.

After finishing the classical course, and with great difficulty in defining a profession, I went to Israel in 1967, as a volunteer in an exchange program, and there I was, hidden in a bunker a kibbutz near Gaza, during the Six Day War. Thousands participated in these programs at that time, and they were offered scholarships at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, where, without thinking twice, I entered the undergraduate course: a second and big shift.

With the end of my degree, I signed up for my master's degree, but I came to spend the holidays in São Paulo, in August 1971, when I met Davi Arrigucci Jr., in the same apartment where he lives today, on Rua Dona Veridiana (a friendship lasting more than half a century). Davi Arrigucci recommended that I look into the Spanish area, which was “lacked”. This was the adjective used at the time and I consider this recommendation to be the third shift.

My training at the Department of Latin American Studies and English Literature at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem was based on the exercise of close-reading, heir to the new criticism, without context analysis or theoretical studies – an intense training in text analysis that proved to be very useful in future teaching and writing. There were master classes, in large auditoriums, and tutorials, with small groups of students and young teachers, almost all of them Israeli. The big name at that time was Professor Adam Abraham Mendilow, author of Time and romance, translated into Portuguese by Flávio Aguiar.

Of my mentors, the influence of Shlomit Rimon Kenan, now professor emeritus at that university founded in 1918, more than three decades before the creation of the State of Israel, was decisive. Shlomit made us “distrust” the text, to delve into it and analyze it in its different interpretative layers. A great expert in literary ambiguity, and just as an illustration, she led a symposium to find out whether or not Desdemona had betrayed Othello (!).

In the same year of 1971, I had the privilege of attending a conference by Jorge Luis Borges, who went to Israel to receive the prestigious Jerusalem Prize, presented in the large auditorium by the Israeli writer Shmuel Yosef Agnon, who a few years earlier, in 1966, had received the Nobel Prize for Literature. Jorge Luis Borges spoke about the Argentine classic Martin Fierro, scaring us with his almost messianic presence and impressive memory.

Back in Brazil, professor Julio García Morejón, head of the Department of Modern Literature at USP, hired me straight away, in the first meeting we had, to teach Spanish classes, in the Language and Literature courses. This was in 1971, when there were no selection processes, no public competitions, and not many candidates trained for these positions. I hadn't even received my undergraduate degree from Israel yet.

I didn't know that many tense years awaited me, with management and department heads (Spanish/English/German) that were not only conservative, but repressive and far-right. It was shortly after the compulsory retirements of professors across USP. Representative department meetings were real battlefields. It was the time of the famous interdisciplinary Council, which together with Adusp were centers of resistance during the period. Founded in 1976, this period was a true school of political activism for me. Names like Antonio Candido, Ernst Hamburguer, Eunice Durham, Modesto Carvalhosa, were undisputed leaders.

My entry into postgraduate studies, under the guidance of Professor Antonio Candido, coincidentally occurred in the same year, 1971. That year, he received the last group of students. It was not necessary to present a dissertation project – it was developed over the five years of the master's degree. There were decisive seminars, led by our master, and group studies, with the awareness that we were being guided by someone who, for decades, had not stopped growing as one of the greatest intellectuals, if not the greatest intellectual in Brazil in the XNUMXth century. I tell these details to record the gigantic and insurmountable differences with the University today.

Returning to Brazil meant diving into the structuralism of Roman Jakobson, Tzvetan Todorov, René Wellek and the Prague Linguistic Circle, and also Bakhtin and the magazines Communications e poetic, true bibles awaited monthly. In other words, the Anglo-Saxon meridian of literary theory migrated to Russia, Eastern Europe and Paris. Amid so many theoretical possibilities at the moment, it took me a few years to find my own language.

Once I defended my master's degree in 1976 on Murilo Rubião – a study influenced by the tradition of Latin American fantasy literature (especially Argentine) –, I began a long trajectory in comparative literature, with Brazil and Spanish-America as its axes. In the words of Alfredo Bosi, I developed a “comparatist vocation” – without forgetting that my supervisor’s department was precisely Literary Theory and Comparative Literature.

The comparative practice was a consequence that I would consider natural, due to the fact that I was born in Argentina and immigrated to Brazil when I was 16 years old. There was a process of “being between languages”, as Sylvia Molloy defines it. Choosing Latin American literature allowed me a unique privilege: keeping my mother tongue, Spanish, alive. Even in the 1970s, there were many studies and publications called “Latin Americanist”, which systematically excluded Brazil, which is now a thing of the past – any supposedly Latin Americanist cultural map that does not include Brazil is today considered flawed.

My stay at Yale for a year and a half to develop my doctoral research, under the supervision of Emir Rodríguez Monegal, meant a huge qualitative leap. His arrival at USP in 1975 was a turning point in our limited Spanish-American literary repertoires. Among many other things, and the most important of them, Emir Monegal, the great critic and biographer of Jorge Luis Borges, taught me how to read him. The result of this research was the thesis Avant-garde and cosmopolitanism: Oswald de Andrade and Oliverio Girondo, defended in 1979, in an attempt to establish in a comparative way the historical avant-gardes of Argentina and Brazil, building a poetic tradition in both countries, from the 1920s to the 1950s.

  APCA Award 1983, best essay.


The outcome of this project was the free teaching in 1987 – Latin American avant-gardes: programmatic and critical texts  –, initially published in Spain, then in Mexico and finally by Edusp, which continues to publish it. To carry out this work, research carried out in the Hispanic division of the Library of Congress in the United States was essential. If the doctorate was defended in three years, the full professorship meant ten years of research.

Staying true to my vanguards, Oswald de Andrade and Oliverio Girondo had their respective developments. In Brazil, the most important of them culminated in the edition in two volumes, by the “Archivos” collection and by Edusp, of incomplete work, by Oswald de Andrade.

     8th ABREU Award

It is a work of genetic criticism. The publication waited more than two decades and Edusp, as always, did a formidable job. This is a reference work by the writer from São Paulo. No commercial publisher would be able to finance this project of 1.500 pages drawn one by one, with notes and marginalia, an image notebook in addition to the internal images. In Argentina, research on the Argentine poet continued, culminating in the New tribute to Girondo.

The study of historical avant-gardes inevitably led me to approach the visual arts, which I could define as my “years banquet”, in Roger Shattuck’s terminology. The most important development of this trajectory was the exposure From anthropophagy to Brasilia, at the Instituto Valenciano de Arte Moderno (IVAM), in Spain, in 2000, and his stopover in São Paulo, two years later, at the Fundação Armando Alvares Penteado (Faap). Invited by Juan Manuel Bonet, author among many other things of Dictionary of vanguards in Spain 1907-1936, the exhibition meant an interdisciplinary and multicuratorial approach, involving the spheres of plastic arts, literature, cinema, architecture, music and foreign presence in Brazil. I would dare to say that to date there has not been an exhibition with this scope of 700 works belonging to 100 collections. This multiplicity of areas of knowledge was the result of several postgraduate courses abroad, which allowed me to continue research in libraries and visits to museums.

I taught courses, for example, in addition to those at USP, at Yale (1977); at the University of the Republic, in Montevideo (2001); at the University of Texas at Austin (twice, in 1988 and 1999, as the Tinker Visiting Professor); at New York University (2002); at Johns Hopkins (three times: in 2001, 2003 and 2004); at the University of Maryland (1989); and at the University of California, Irvine (2005), as a distinguished visiting professor. Also at the University of Besançon.

I would like to take this opportunity to mention that I was a member of the jury for the Casa de las Américas Prize, in Havana, Cuba (1992), a country where I spent a month, in one of its moments of greatest economic difficulty. Among the members of the jury that year were Davi Arrigucci Jr. and Silviano Santiago. It was an opportunity to talk to Roberto Fernández Retamar, now deceased, a historic figure in Cuban culture and Casa de las Américas itself. I must recognize that these teaching and research trips increased my network of friends, most of whom continue to this day. It is the permeability that our life, very particular in relation to other professions, allows to link the public with the private and academic life contaminating the world of affections.

An outcome of the research and exhibitions was the publication of the modernist box, recently reissued by Edusp – a way of making facsimiles of the first editions of Brazil, by Oswald de Andrade, and maddened Pauliceia, by Mário de Andrade, as well as several other documents that are very difficult to access.

Regarding facsimile editions, it was also a joy to put into circulation in Brazil two very rare artist's books, by Vicente do Rego Monteiro, originally published in France: Amazon legends and beliefs (1923) and Quelques visages de Paris (1925), under the title From Amazonas to Paris, now also republished by Edusp.

The artist from Pernambuco had never managed to publish these works in Brazil – the beautiful watercolors that inspired the illustrations of the Amazonian legends are spread across several Brazilian museums. Another bibliographical happiness was the facsimile edition by Companhia das Letras of one of the most beautiful books of modernism, Oswald de Andrade's first poetry student notebook, with critical apparatus.

I believe that this Latin Americanist trajectory culminates with the publication, in Brazil and Argentina, of the collection of articles fervor of the vanguards. Here I must publicly thank Walnice Nogueira Galvão, for having suggested and insisted that this publication take place. It includes those who have accompanied me for decades and until today: Oswald de Andrade, Oliverio Girondo, Lasar Segall, Xul Solar, Joaquín Torres García, Vicente do Rego Monteiro, as well as Borges and the Argentine photographer Horacio Coppola.

The Borges adventure, which began in Jerusalem in 1971, had an unexpected continuation in Brazil, when he was invited by Eliana Sá to coordinate the translation of the Complete works published in four volumes by publisher Globo, the first of which was published in 1999, coinciding with the centenary of his birth, a work for which I worked with seven translators. The second time I saw Borges, up close, was on his apotheotic visit to São Paulo, for two days, in 1984, that is, two years before he passed away. Hauntingly lucid. The outcome of this visit was the publication of Borges in Brazil, by Editora da Unesp, in 2001. I never fail to notice that the first person to mention Borges here in the country, and prominently, was none other than Mário de Andrade, in 1928, in a series of newspaper articles about modern Argentine literature.

The greatest adventure, however, almost an epic, was the collective work, started with Spanish and American History undergraduate students at USP, which culminated, after ten years, in the edition of the dictionary Babylonian Borges, in 2017, by Companhia das Letras. I confess that the best recognition of this work was the publication of this book, which is more than a dictionary and less than an encyclopedia, in Spanish in Argentina, in 2023, at Fund of Economic Culture, with more than 1 thousand entries and 75 contributors, with a first reprint in the same year.

Regarding teaching, it is a pleasure to see former students occupying positions in the most diverse universities in Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay and Peru. I find it a privilege and a source of pride to be able to leave a legacy with talented and dedicated teachers. Time passes, and most former students are already calculating their retirement. It was never a condition of guidance to research the avant-garde, on the contrary. It was a way to avoid the mirror effect in the advisor-advisee relationship. Only two students followed in my footsteps. Theses were thus defended on the most diverse writers, Ricardo Piglia, Juan José Saer, Néstor Pérlongher, Virgilio Piñera, Witold Gombrovicz and others. I had the opportunity to found in 1996, the series Receipt notebooks, at the time on paper and today in digital format, recording the passage of illustrious visiting professors through our area.

Of the extension activities, I would like to mention my time as director of SIBi (USP's integrated library system), from 1991 to 1994. It was an experience full of challenges; among other things, the implementation of Dedalus and Dial-Braille, allowing book searches for non-sighted people at the Louis Braille Municipal Public Library, at CCSP on Rua Vergueiro.

Today I am a senior professor, somehow linked to the institution from which I benefited so much and continuing and providing advice to post-doctoral projects. In retrospect, I can say that it would be very difficult for me to have an academic career in Buenos Aires; Brazil allowed me a privileged place to speak and spend “a life among books”, as the title of José Mindlin’s well-known autobiography says.

My work, much of it collective, would not have been carried out without the competence of advisors, or better said, faithful teams. “A rooster alone cannot weave a morning” tells us João Cabral. Firstly, I want to record the continued collaboration of Gênese Andrade, who knows my work best; my undergraduate and postgraduate student, with whom I continue developing projects. Her works are now a reference for our Week of 22 and the themes that surround it. I also highlight the contribution of Maria Carolina de Araújo, my assistant at the Babylonian Borges. Finally, it is up to me to point out Patricia M. Artundo for her various partnerships, but especially with regard to editing the Babylonian Borges, this one in Spanish, and also for the cooperation as responsible for the Xul Solar library in Buenos Aires – it was a pleasure to have spent a month researching in the library of this great little museum.

Probably due to my history of curating exhibitions, I was invited to direct the Lasar Segall Museum (MLS), the only federal museum in São Paulo, which I did for a period of almost ten years (2008-2017). It was a challenge and perhaps it was my most tangible contribution to the work in the sphere of the necessary extension of the university's knowledge production. However, to go beyond the walls of USP, it was necessary to get the museum up and running. Moving from the municipal sphere of the University to the federal sphere was an experience in addition to the challenge that it meant taking on the direction of an art museum like Lasar Segall. I had complete freedom in management. Today I owe favors to the half city of São Paulo.

There were several improvements made there during my management, such as the lighting of the rooms and the reactivation of the Cine Segall, with digital equipment, today one of the few small theaters (80 seats) that survived in São Paulo, serving mainly the population of Vila Mariana . It was possible to purchase an electric generator, which guarantees the air conditioning of the works, which cannot suffer fluctuations, also allowing the continuous power cuts in the neighborhood to be overcome. Another important achievement was obtaining the firemen's license (AVCB), which few museums can achieve, given the requirements regarding security, in a country that seems to have specialized in fires at large museum institutions. A museum director's greatest terror has always been fire and theft. Visiting the MLS today continues to be a joy, knowing that its collection is protected.

Making a report on the ten years leading MLS would mean a separate session from the emergency. In any case, I would like to mention the holding of several long-term and many temporary exhibitions, sometimes created by the museum itself, or sometimes with guest curators, and the publication of 25 catalogues. And two names are necessary: ​​Roberta Saraiva, who helped me with the transition, and Marcelo Monzani, my right-hand man and now interim director.

But, with the luck of having landed in the right place (or landing on my feet, as they say in Spain), the museum gave me a real dive into expressionism, which I had left a little aside in my research on the avant-garde, in which Cubofuturism has always been the great privileged one. In this sense, I think I redeemed myself from this lack with one of the most precious initiatives, when publishing through Edusp the famous Almanac The Blue Knight (Der Blaue Reiter), by Kandinsky and Franz Marc.

And, in this sense, an exhibition on the Jewish Holocaust, in collaboration with Helouise Costa, professor at the Museum of Contemporary Art (MAC USP), is also worth highlighting. In fact, I don’t need to say that the “holocaust” theme is reborn today with crazy debates and I need to quote my words of introduction to the 2017 catalogue, where I warn “about the latent existence of conservative forces ready to emerge and occupy spaces”.

        The “Degenerate Art” of Lasar Segall.


Last but not least, where everything begins and where, apparently, everything culminates: Madalena Schwartz. I owe my education through my eyes to her. My mother had a posterity in the history of photography in Brazil that was never imagined. She also would not have been the same person if it had not been for her second immigration to Brazil. I mention this fact because I deeply regret not being able to share these moments with her, who was in the Salão Nobre photographing my various thesis and degree defenses.

To her, to her friends and disciples, and to my dear teachers – I think of them with emotion, with a certain pride and with infinite gratitude – my most sincere tribute.

Plagiotropy: to conclude, I would like to usurp the words of Marilena Chauí, from her Professor Emeritus speech in December 2017, which could also serve as an epigraph: “the honor [of this title] is a joyful passion, which strengthens our power to exist, thinking and acting, a joy that increases when we know that those who honor us are friends.”

Thank you all for coming and being here today.

* George Schwartz He is professor emeritus at the Department of Modern Literature at USP. Author, among other books, of fervor of the vanguards (Literature Company). []

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