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In the shadow of the past

The 125th anniversary of the birth of Stefan Zweig is a good moment to remember the 64 years of Brazil, the country of the future

reproductionBrasil, país do futuro: [Brazil, country of the future] the title of the book written some 65 years ago by Stefan Zweig (1881-1942) transformed itself, in the national imagination, almost as if it were a curse that, after having been conjured up by the poor Austrian writer, has left us prisoners in a limbo of eternal “come to be”, without ever reaching there. On the anniversary of the polemic publication of the book (seen by many intellectuals of that era as a diabolical trade off made between author Zweig and president Vargas), of the 125 years of the author of O jogador de xadrez [The chess player] and of the exactly 70 years of his first visit to Brazil, author Zweig, who had loved the past so much, merits a revisit. “País do futuro can be read as an eulogy to the human and economic potential of the country, but also understood as a chant to Neverland, the paradise, like everything infeasible. Zweig’s book was not accepted by the hardened experts of the occasion, but by the negligible price of a residence permit conceded to that anguished refugee; Brazil had the best and simplest national project: a harmonious, pacific and natural society”, observed the journalist Alberto Dines, author of Morte no paraíso [Death in paradise].

He is one of the lecturers of the colloquy The Country of the Future 65 Years After, a special forum, composed of two panels, which will take place in Rio on the 21st of September, organized by the National Institute of Upper Studies at the BNDES, under the general direction of professor and ex-minister of Planning, Joao Paulo dos Reis Velloso. As well as the journalist Dines, the participants will include: Boris Fausto, Rubens Ricupero, Regis Bonelli, Bresser Pereira, Wanderley Guilherme dos Santos and Ricardo Neves. On panel II, The Future Now (Ideas for the coming new government’s agenda), present will be: Antonio Barros de Castro, Roberto Cavalcanti de Albuquerque, Sonia Rocha and representatives from the presidential candidates. Also forecast is the exhibition entitled, Stefan Zweig in the country of the future in the National Library of Rio de Janeiro (between August and September), which will bring all of the documentation referring to the work of Zweig (some personal objects, first international editions, letters, contracts, reports, clippings and photos), under the curatorship of journalist Dines. There is the possibility of taking the exhibition to Berlin, where it will be accompanied by a Teutonic-Brazilian colloquy.

The exhibition should render a book, Stefan Zweig no país do futuro, 1939-1942, [Stefan Zweig in the country of the future, 1939-1942], the first volume of a series of three coming from the National Library archive and the Stefan Zweig House. “As well as this, País do futuro will come out now, on the 19th, with a new translation and a preface by me, being published by LP&M in pocketbook format at the Book Biennial in Petropolis”, says the journalist. As well as all of these events,  Dines is also responsible for the return of an ancient project: to transform into a museum the house in Petropolis where the writer lived his last few years, and where he killed himself along with his wife Lotte.

reproductionOn the left, the writer in Vienna, during his youthreproduction

“Since the death of Zweig this has been spoken about. The journalist Raul Azevedo was one of the first to launch the idea, which in 1944, the diplomat Pascoal Carlos Magno attempted to execute”, he explains. Bringing together personal objects of the Austrian intellectual, the museum will open its doors in 2007 and will be a memorial to all of those refugees who came to Brazil. Rendered characterless by various reforms, with the fame of being haunted, the house on Gonçalves Dias street will be restored into its original form, which to a certain extent, will resemble something of the writer’s house in Salzburg, which he left in order to flee from Nazi persecution, for being a Jew and a thinker. The publisher L&PM also intends to republish Brasil, país do futuro and two volumes with the main short stories written by Zweig. In Europe, Drei Leben, by Oliver Matuschek, the author’s new biography on the occasion of his 125 years, will come out in September.

Zweig came to Brazil in 1936 to give a series of lectures and fell in love with the country. In an apparent paradox, he saw in the warm and underdeveloped land a substitute of his beloved Vienna and of the World of Yesterday (the title of his autobiography), lost within modernism. In the opinion of j Dines, the curious juxtaposition would have roots in the vision of Vienna as “a garden”. “Garden with idyllic and harmonious territory, where man submits to nature without destroying it. The land of Utopia, Eden like reconstructed without any sins”, he analyzes. With unequal peoples, obliged to live together, a respectable monarch with white beard, such as our Don Pedro II, Austria and Brazil appeared to Zweig analogous equations, especially at the moment in which his ideal world was breaking into pieces and barbarianism had begun its escalade in Europe. “Whoever visits Brazil doesn’t like to leave it.  No matter what, he wants to return to it. Beauty is something rare and perfect beauty is almost a dream. Rio, this majestic city, became reality in the saddest hours”, wrote the writer in the introduction of his País do futuro. “The Iberian America, visualized by Zweig as the successor to Europe, toppled taking as a model only its Middle Ages. Humanism and bonhomie, so decanted, resulting in the decades of the 1960’s and 1970’s in a bath of blood and lies equal to those of the period of colonization. As yet it has not  experimented IIluminism and pities for this”, analyzed journalist Dines.

For the author of Death in Paradise, devoid of political malice, injured by world tragedy, Stefan had sought refuge for his devotion to “yes” and his plaintive vocation. “I wanted to only discover the contestation of hell that Hitler had disclosed. In the Brazilian intellectual groups this was incomprehensible. The Viennese garden, idyllic and serene, transferred with all the passion to the luxuriant vegetation, had not been negotiated with the New State. He painted Brazil with a sublime palette, pushed forward by an anxious belief in humanity, a ray of optimism”, he evaluates. But, he completed, this optical distortion was seen by Brazilian colleagues as a business, the arrival of the international celebrity into decadence. Shortly after its publication, País do futuro received criticism from all sides, considered by intellectuals at the level of Carlos Drummond de Andrade and Jorge Amado (who regretted later his criticism) as an agreement between the writer and the dictator in exchange for a residency permit. This is a hypothesis not completely discarded, as observes  Dines.

In his book the journalist relates a conversation between Zweig and a Viennese lawyer, who lived in Brazil and had become upset with the writer’s posture of not highlighting, at a lecture given to the PEN Club of Rio, the importance of the Jews in the life and culture of Vienna. “You possibly don’t understand me. Look, I was obliged to write a book about Brazil. What do I know about Brazil?” As an Austrian of good breeding, the lawyer did not question the writer. But it is impossible not to feel Zweig’s despair in eulogies to Vargas in his book. “Today, though the government is considered a dictatorship, here there is more liberty and greater individual satisfaction than in the majority of the European countries”, among other encomiastic praises upon the New State. The dictator, however, hated the comments made by Zweig about the prostitutes of the swampland in Rio, among other observations. Throw the first stone the one who would act differently. “A country in the shape of a harp, as he says in the introduction, could not delude him. This was his last illusion. He had studied Brazil with an eye on the future, while, intimately, was getting prepared to compose his memoirs, a glimpse back into the past. In this collision of times, he lost his footing, falling into  the present.”

reproductionWith his wife, Lotte, in Brazilreproduction

The biographer draws attention to the trap of the title. “By far, with some critical distancing, although touched by hospitality, he spoke of the country of the future, a dream, an illusion, chimera, land of the future, a country that is not yet. The country of the future would be the prospecting of its potential. Gentle and delicate, the writer had taken a position: he didn’t know how to do it differently.” The idea of a future land was old, a phrase from the Austrian diplomat Count Prokesch Osten, who in 1868 wrote to his French colleague, the Count of Gobineau, to convince him to accept the position of Ambassador to Brazil. An ideologist of racism, Count Gobineau did not appear inclined to confront the tropics and its “monkey like climate” (as Zweig would write later in a letter to friends). But the perception of a land of the future attracted him and he came here, implanting an intense friendship with Don Pedro II. “Country of the future” also served as the title for various publications before Zweig’s book. But it is important to know that he did not read Casa-grande & senzala [Mansion and Slaves’ quarters] by Gilberto Freyre, nor even Raízes do Brasil [Roots of Brazil], by Sérgio Buarque de Holanda (even though his work guarded approximations to that of the cordial man).

“Stefan, in País do futuro, only perceived the rustic garden, whilst his bitter critics wanted that he had discerned the emergent nation, jingling with novelties”, observed journalist Dines. Like Sir Morosus, the protagonist in A mulher silenciosa  [The silent woman] (a Zweig play transformed into an opera by Richard Strauss and censured by the Nazis for having a Jew librettist, Zweig hated noise and did not resist the noise of history. He preferred confirming and invigorating repetitions that would maintain his illusion of being in tropical paradise. “After Zweig, a Brazilianism predecessor, hundreds of other would come, all of them in love with the object of their studies, few understanding it, none received with sympathy The eye of continues being looked upon as a badly regarded”, alerts the journalist, for whom the writer did not know how to develop, in a more revolutionary form, his love for “yes”, “preferring to warm himself in nostalgia and his suaveness was badly used”. A pity? Perhaps not. The most notable book written by Zweig (the last one written in Europe) is simply called Cuidado com a piedade [Take care with pity].