ANTONIO CANDIDO 1918–2017
Antonio Candido, of whom I was a pupil and a friend, was the central figure in Brazilian literary criticism from the 1940s onwards. While very young, he started writing weekly newspaper tailpieces, first for the Folha da Manhã and then the Diário de São Paulo, which soon earned him a national reputation. These articles remain interesting today, for the quality of their prose and the discernment with which they followed day-to-day publishing, whether Brazilian, European or North American. He also co-founded the cultural magazine Clima, which ran from 1941 to 1944. Advanced aesthetic positions combined with militant anti-fascism and opposition to Stalinism made for an uncommon clarity of mind that did not age with the years. At a time when the Vargas dictatorship was persecuting the left, and the Communists, victims themselves, were persecuting in their turn, his stance called for courage. Thus, for example, in 1943, by greeting Trotsky’s autobiography with an essay entitled ‘An Exemplary Life’, the young critic was exposing himself to possible reprisals from both sides. (At that time, the epithet ‘Trotskyite’ was one of the gravest insults in the language of politics.) He was active in the clandestine opposition to the dictatorship, the Frente de Resistência, later participating in the political developments that led to the formation of the independent Partido Socialista Brasileiro in 1947. For the next three years he edited the party paper, Folha Socialista. He withdrew from active politics in 1954, while remaining a member of the psb—then, decades later, in 1980, returned to militancy as a founding member of the Partido dos Trabalhadores, in which he remained active until Lula’s election to the Brazilian presidency in 2002. For all that, however, aesthetic and political positions are not enough as an intellectual characterization. Antonio Candido was above all a critic and a teacher, and one with a rare sense of cultural strategy, in the face of the pressing concerns arising in a marginal, backward country for which literary theory had no name. It fell to the critic to deprovincialize Brazil, avoiding both obtuse nationalist introversion and subaltern fascination with metropolitan trends. This has been one of the lasting tonic effects of his work.
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