Literary Theory and South-South Comparison: The Case of the São Paulo School

Tuesday, 6 September, 2016 - 12:00

Stefan Helgesson

WISER invites you to a talk by Stefan Helgesson, Stockholm University.

Tuesday September 6, 2016, at 12:00

In the wake of debates around “theory from the South” and the push towards South-South paradigms of critical thinking, this talk takes a step back to trace the development of a powerful strand of literary criticism in Brazil. Emanating from a project that also investigates three African cases (Johannesburg in the 1970s, Ngugi wa Thiongo and Nairobi in the same period, and Leopold Sengor and the Dakar-Paris connection) the focus lies on the institutional and intellectual labour required to “resemanticise” literature in a postcolony such as Brazil. Centered around the University of São Paulo, and with Antonio Candido as its leading thinker in the 1960s and 1970s, this school of criticism powerfully revoked the anxious provincialism of Brazilian intellectual life – expressed as an obsessive importation of ideas from “elsewhere”, i. e. Europe and North America – and attempted instead to rethink literature from within Brazilian history. A frequently quoted phrases in Brazilian literary criticism is Candido’s declaration, in his seminal study Formação da literatura brasileira, that he aimed at writing a history of the Brazilians in their “desire to have a literature”. As the talk will demonstrate, this led Candido both to develop an innovative sociology of literature that anticipates Bourdieu and, eventually, to issue seminal statements concerning what we today would call literature from the global South. Viewed from a contemporary vantage point, one must however also interrogate the contradictions and limitations of Candido’s outlook, such as his Enlightenment elitism.