Hugo Rogelio Suppo
Between 1934 and 1943, French cultural diplomacy in Brazil was the task of intellectuals, the so called “intellectual ambassadors.” Notwithstanding the differences in their individual profiles, political convictions, academic conceptions, and religious beliefs, they all carried out their common mission of creating a pro-French profile in the Brazilian academic realm. The article is an analysis of the strategies, means, actors, and results of French cultural diplomacy in Brazil between 1934 and 1943, whose success can be explained, fundamentally, by the symbiosis between the university field and the diplomatic field.
In Brazil between 1920 and 1945, the potential for professional advancement increased significantly among literate individuals in three main areas: the intellectual and academic field in São Paulo and the emergence of a university-based intelligentsia; the boom in the publishing industry and the rise of professional novelists; and the Vargas regime’s widespread and deliberate co-optation of intellectuals. The interpretation presented in this article links class dynamics to changes within the activities of intellectuals, some of whom are analyzed here in the context of political and institutional tensions produced by the collapse of the oligarchic Old Republic (1889–1930).
Short and stout in physical stature, Brazilian statesman Getúlio Dornelles Vargas (1882–1954) still stands as an outsize figure in modern Latin American history. The politician’s long political career began in the 1910s and spanned terms as state deputy, federal minister, state governor, chief of state four times over, and federal senator. Vargas spent nearly two decades in the presidential palace, the longest of any figure during the republican period. By the time his second democratically elected presidential term (and his life) ended on August 24, 1954, Vargas had been dragged down by personnel scandals, factionalism, and economic destabilization. He likened the political climate of the final months in office to a “sea of mud.” Yet in his sudden death the president was able to free himself from the muck. Among adherents of the Brazilian Labor Party and key sectors of the working poor, “Getúlio” was elevated to the status of civic sainthood. Even after military rule dismantled the Brazilian Labor Party and banished Vargas’s political heirs to exile, the Vargas state managed to endure. Forty years after Getúlio’s death-by-suicide, president-elect Fernando Henrique Cardoso imagined the state interventionism of the Vargas years to be finally over. In reality, Vargas and his era still survive in the enduring Brazilian vocation for statism. Reminders of Vargas and his era are found in the innumerable streets, plazas, and commemorative plaques that bear the name of a politician of enigmatic charms and confounding contradictions.
This complex, resilient legacy draws in part from the bold accomplishments and ambiguous outcomes of the robust cultural policies of Vargas’s successive terms as chief of the provisional government (1930–1934), president (1934–1937), and president-dictator (1937–1945). Federal cultural policies during these fifteen years collectively known as the “First Vargas Regime” were innovative and far-reaching. Reversing decades of elite reverence for imported standards of civilization, official culture after 1930 was unapologetically and self-consciously nationalist. Policymakers, culture critics, entertainment entrepreneurs, and key figures in the arts and letters associated with the first Vargas regime self-presented as advocates for the cultural needs, aptitudes, and aspirations of the Brazilian povo (people). The central state, correspondingly, played a principal role in consolidating a canon of artistic and architectural treasures that endure in global imaginaries of Brazil and Brazilianness.
Paradoxically, the democratizing impulses of cultural management during the first Vargas regime drew their legitimacy from state authoritarianism and anti-popular politics. Most notably during the Estado Novo dictatorship (November 10, 1937–October 29, 1945), cultural policy and programming worked in tandem with censorship and manufactured paranoia. State agents orchestrated acts of violence against ideas, symbols, and creative expressions branded inimical to national interests. “Subversive” books were burned; dissidents confronted silencing. Some authors went into exile and novelist Graciliano Ramos (1892–1953) spent ten miserable months on an island penal colony for unproven charges of participation in a Communist insurrection. The oppositionist newspaper O Estado de São Paulo was outright expropriated by the state. Although the Vargas era included the official elevation of Carnaval, samba, and capoeira as authentically national cultural idioms, Afro-Brazilian popular culture remained under the watchful eyes of local police. Numerous cultural expressions vaunted as organically democratic were, in fact, shaped by regime demagoguery, symbolic violence, and, ironically, internationalism. The bold, sometimes mystifying contours of state- and culture-making in Brazil during Vargas’s first regime are explored here.
Gabriela Pellegrino Soares
The flourishing of the publishing market in Brazil in the first decades of the 20th century is associated with the social, economic, and political transformations that accompanied the advent of the republic and, after 1930, the inflections of the so-called Vargas era. Publishers with growing prestige began to create repertoires that could capture the multiple dimensions of the nation and affirm identarian matrices. Through letters, lively soirées, and political complicities, they constituted solid sociability networks, reflected in the names of the authors in their catalogues.
In the presentation and selection of works, they assimilated the impulses of the modernist and regionalist literary movements, revealing talents from various regions of Brazil. They benefited from the expansion of educational policies, the birth of universities, and the maturing of the human sciences. In addition, they made efforts to educate the reading public using rigorously organized collections under the curatorships of renowned writers and bibliophiles. They were aware of the cultural mission they carried out in a country with a still-precarious cultural and educational structure.
Among the many collections which appeared, involving the translation of classics of literature or foreign popular science books, a central place was given to the '(re)discovery of Brazil.' In austere or finely made editions, the Brasilianas (works about Brazil), literary collections, individual works by Brazilian writers, poets, and essayists from different generations, and also foreign perspectives of Brazil all gained materiality.
Echoing the famous phrase by the Paulista writer Monteiro Lobato, “a country that makes men and book,” the publishers of the period acted in a profound connection—even in positions of confrontation—with the ideas of the nation that appeared on the horizon at that time.