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The discrete charm of the academy

Reissue brings wisdom from Gilda de Mello e Souza

Clarity, calm elegance that shuns effects and impacts are characteristics peculiar to the style of Gilda de Mello e Souza. A style averse to both lyricism and to exalted debates. This is the tranquil way in which she proclaims a discordance in her book O tupi e o alaúde, published once again, with slight updating: “I shall now try to discuss the position of Haroldo de Campos, to adopt a different point of view from his”. Supreme discretion that did not stop her, though, at the time of the first edition, in 1979, from a polemical game of articles in newspapers.

Rereading O tupi e o alaúde today, it becomes clear how much these pros and contras, attacks and defenses, that it arouses, fall short of its qualities. They are not, in any way, provocative, as in circumstantial and immediate challenges. If they were, the book would have lost its interest and permanence. On the contrary, it confirms itself as an essential analysis of a major work of Brazilian literature, Macunaíma.

Gilda de Mello e Souza sets out the links of Macunaíma with the organization of forms that are proper to popular music (but with popular not to be understood as the production connected with the record industry, music for which, let it be said en passant, Mário de Andrade did not have much indulgence; we are dealing here with what the convention is to call folklore); and she finishes with an illuminating parallel between Macunaíma and the Arthurian Romances, more precisely, the quest of the Holy Grail.

The author locates the work well, within the nationalist perspective that in 1928, the year when Macunaíma was published, was acute in Mário de Andrade’s perception. But nationalism, which was a genetic determinant of prime importance for the work, forms today its most arguable and dated sense. In O tupi e o alaúde, it takes up the post of historical circumstance, giving room to the universal character that the book does in fact have.

tupi e o alaúde became a classic landmark. It brings with it something else, though: its nature of exemplary intellectual work. Classic and exemplary, that is to say, something that ought to be taught in classes, and which should serve as an example. Gilda de Mello e Souza fends off every narrow application of methods, every spirit of system, in setting out, from sound intuitions and solid knowledge, some of the deepest meanings of the object she analyzes. Her text is strict, her proofs always show themselves to be well grounded.

For its demonstrative rigor, it cannot even be said that it has the nature of an essay. It seeks a direct comprehension of the questions raised by the work, with the most suitable instruments. It is, by no means,anti-academic: its qualities are those that every university text ought to have. It can prompt just one regret: that the author did not publish more.

Her students of 30 to 35 years ago will perceive, in the book, several ideas that the author set out in her courses. But they will also remember many other fecund analyses that she used to put forward and that never emerged in print. They will have kept in their memory notable conversations, in which there shines a comparison between the book by Mário de Andrade and the film by Joaquim Pedro de Andrade, for us to remain just in the ambit of Macunaíma. Gilda de Mello e Souza brought up her pupils insisting on the essential role of intuition and on the way for cultivating it, on the manner for interrogating and loving a work, on the grounding of hypotheses, on the necessary rigor in thinking. All this is present in the spirit of her writings that, for being so rare, have become the more precious.

Jorge Coli is the chair professor of the History of Art and Culture at Unicamp’s history department. He was Gilda de Mello e Souza’s pupil at USP’s philosophy department.

O tupi e o alaúde [The Tupi and the Lute]
Gilda de Mello e Souza
Editora 34
96 pages
R$ 20.00