After completing a degree in social sciences and beginning a career as a sociologist, Antonio Cândido embarked on a brilliant career as a literary critic. His essays have helped to define the writings of a generation of young Brazilian critics. His objective, as his students and followers have indicated, is not simply to define the parameters of the discipline of literary criticism, but rather to articulate the question of aesthetics through psychology, sociology, economics, philosophy, and art. One could say that he has inaugurated the field of Cultural Studies in Brazil. To this end, Cândido integrates the practice and experience of the critic with the objective data obtained through his investigations. As a trained social scientist, Cândido is just as likely to pursue empirical research—usually considered anathema to literary criticism—as critical textual analysis.
Cândido’s essays mobilize information from structuralism, psychological criticism, and sociopolitical empiricism. His genius lies in his ability to combine the disciplines without producing impressionistic texts and, more importantly, without falling into the reductionist trap of a mechanical approximation to a text. Indeed, he has labeled some critics imperialistic for their use of the scientific method alone in the analysis of texts.
Well ahead of the now fashionable New Historicism, Cândido proposed a revisionist reading of Brazilian literature. His project involves a recontextualization of Brazilian letters from the point of view of literary tradition juxtaposed to a critical perspective that he finds missing in most textual analyses. His method, or as some have called it, his theory, involves analyzing the formalistic aspects of a text as merely a step toward comprehending the diversity that encompasses a work of literary art. Once analyzed, the text then becomes organic and dialogic.
To reach his own maximum critical creativity, Cândido attempts “to focus simultaneously on the work as its own reality and on its context as a system of texts” (Formação da literatura brasîleira [1959; The formation of Brazilian literature]).
For Cândido, the contextualization of a work of literary art involves bringing it into dialogue with all other texts surrounding it, be they literary or not. In this process, he proposes placing the literary text on an equal level with all other texts present when the literary text was written, and more importantly, when it is being read. In the introduction to Formação da literatura brasîleira Cândido writes that “it is necessary to see simplicity where there is complexity, trying to point to the harmony in contradiction. The spirit of the system intervenes as form to translate the multiplicity of the real: be this an art form applied to life, or scientific form applied to data.” Cândido proposes that literature and its analysis make up a system of intrinsically linked texts. To understand this system, one must analyze in chronological, sociopolitical, and economic contexts not only the critical
terms that are used to define it, but also the very discourse that is present in the text.
Rather than discarding some literary works as unworthy of analysis, Cândido proposes a different kind of reading—the deconstruction of these texts’ position in the “literary system.” Not to do so, according to Cândido, is to fall into the trap of “colonizing” the literary text, much as the indigenous ideologies were colonized by the ideal of “civilization.”
Perhaps more so than his contemporaries, Cândido has been able to maintain a balance between ideology and culture. Ideology as he defines it presents all of the political underpinnings suggested by or projected onto the text. Culture, on the other hand, is a mirror of a period’s aesthetic judgment. Within these definitions lies the system that will guide the rereading of all past literary texts.
Cândido’s essays are both products and examples of his system, for he enters into dialogue not only with the literary texts, but also with his own context and ideology. As Celia Pedrosa (1990) has indicated, the essayist “may articulate intelligence and sensibility, information and evaluation, mobilizing at the same time the theoreticalmethodological recourses of several disciplines.”
Antonio Cândido continues to develop his essays within an organic system. He has helped to define the field of literary analysis in a culture where imitation is often valued over originality, and the adaptation of foreign models over the development of national ones. Cândido breaks with this tradition in his essays, in doing so pointing an entire generation of young Brazilian critics toward a new vision of Brazilian literature.
CARMEN CHAVES TESSER
Antônio Cândido Mello e Souza. Born 1918. Studied at home; moved to Paris at age II, where he was tutored in French culture and language; returned to Brazil as a teenager; studied anthropology at the University of São Paulo. Taught sociology for 15 years at the Universidade Estadual Paulista; coordinator of language studies, Universidade Estadual de Campinas; currently professor of literary theory, University of São Paulo. Founding member, Partido dos Trabalhadores (Workers’ party).
Essays and Related Prose
Brigada ligeira, 1945
Ficção e confissão: Ensaio sôbre a obra de Graciliano Ramos, 1956
O observador literário, 1959
Tese e antítese, 1964; revised edition, 1971
Literatura e sociedade: Estudos de teoria e história literária, 1965; as On Literature and Society, edited and translated by Howard S. Becker, 1995
Vários escritos, 1970
Teresina, etc., 1980
A educação pela noite e outros ensaios, 1987
Brigada ligeira e outros escritos, 1992
O discurso e a cidade, 1993
Other writings: Formação da literatura brasîleira: Momentos decisivos (2 vols., 1959) and a book on Sylvio Romero (1963). Also edited several collections by other writers.
Gomes, Renato Cordeiro, “Um olhar para além das fronteiras: ‘Literatura e subdesenvolvimento’ de Antonio Cândido,” in Toward Socio-Criticism: Selected Proceedings of the Conference “Luso-Brazilian Literatures, a Socio-Critical Approach”, edited by Roberto Reis, Tempe: Arizona State University Center for Latin American Studies, 1991:87–94
Leite, Ligia Chiappini Moraes, Formación de la literatura brasileña o la historia de un deseo, Miami: Casa de las Américas, 1990
Pedrosa, Celia, “Antonio Cândido e a crítica como experiência,” Chasqui 19, no. 1 (1990):64–76
Schwarz, Roberto, “Presupuestos, salvo engano, de ‘Dialectica del malandrinaje’,” Revista de Teoria y Crítica Literarias 4, no. 8 (1979):191–211
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