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A still fertile work about Brazil

Articles re-evaluate the still updated thinking of Gilberto Freyre

Is Gilberto Freyre in fashion? It seems so. On of the most visible manifestations of the many talks and success surrounding the author is the recent re-edition of a significant part of his work. In the Brazilian academic world, we can also see the composition of numerous theses concerning his writing. Literary critics, sociologists, anthropologists, and historians are occupying themselves in trying to understand the ideas of the polemic Pernambucano gentleman. The question that follows this verification is inevitable: why this very sudden interest for Gilberto Freyre?

The reading of the articles in Gilberto Freyre em quatro tempos could well help us to respond to this question. The book contains a significant sample of the works about the author that are being developed today in Brazil. The texts of which it is composed were presented at the 7th Meeting of Social Sciences, held by the São Paulo State University (Unesp) in the town of Marília during November 2000.

On the pages of this book what we can see are some of the best specialists in various areas of knowledge reinterpreting both the most sacred writings and the least known works of writer Freyre. They have sought to recognize his influences and dialogues, calling attention towards explicative factors explored by the sociologist, and they have investigated the reception of his works, deciphered concepts and pointed out paradoxes. The texts represent very well the recent phenomenon of a critical re-evaluation of the works of Freyre. According to the organizers of the second book, it is finally possible (now that we are more distant from the ideological polarizations) that the interpretation of the works of Freyre can be more selective.

Behind the variety of themes and approaches to the articles (that attest to the complexity of the sociologist, who is the object of the analysis) one can perceive an effort to identify the contribution of Gilberto Freyre towards revealing (and in some cases obscuring) social processes in Brazil. One of the articles, which is particularly representative of this, stands out: the one by Jessé Souza, whose emblematic title is A atualidade de Gilberto Freyre [The presentness of Gilberto Freyre].

The article’s author proposes an alternative way of reading Casa-Grande & Senzala [The Masters and Slaves] and Sobrados e Mucambos [The Mansions and the Shanties]. To this end, he makes use of an interesting strategy: that of using the described data in the works against the arguments of Freyre himself. Thus, she wishes to extract a contribution for the understanding of the reasons for which there does not exist in Brazilian society citizens, but only sub-citizens or super-citizens.

In the first instance, Jessé Souza calls one’s attention to the singularity of colonial Brazilian society, marked by a peculiar form of slavery characterized by an identification (socially conditioned) of slaves as the property and at the beck and call of the master. This phenomenon allowed, among other things, that in Brazil Blacks were turned into foremen or captains of the runway slaves hunters (a situation unthinkable in North American slavery). Secondly, Jessé Souza tries to characterize the process of Brazilian modernization. She verifies that the rational State and the capitalist market were institutions that, although they had inflicted a deadly wound on patriarchal behavior, were not capable of creating homogeneous conditions and social opportunities.

And that, according to M. Souza, a continuity of the colonial past made the formation of an equalitarian ideology difficult in Brazil: slavery. Here it instituted a perverse standard of social inclusion and exclusion. On the one hand, it threw all of a social class that of the slaves outside of the productive function. On the other hand, it created a regulation mechanism for social ascension, guaranteeing it only for those who had identified themselves with the dominant values. This discussion undertaken by Jessé Souza (whose content we only suggest) reveals the fertility of reflection about the work of Freyre for an understanding of contemporary Brazil and responds, in the end, as to why there is interest in his work.

Simone Meucci is a master in Sociology, taking his doctorate degree in Social Sciences at the IFCH/Unicamp and is a member of the Brazilian Studies Center (CEB/Unicamp).

Gilberto Freyre em quatro tempos [Gilberto Freyre in four beat time]
Ethel Volfzon
Kosminsky, Claude Lépine and Fernanda
Arêas Peixoto
(The organizers)
Edusc / FAPESP/ Unesp
380 pages / R$ 49.00