Episodes in the Cultural Politics of Brazil's "Almost-Decade," 1955–64

Saturday, January 7, 2012: 11:50 AM
Old Town Room (Chicago Marriott Downtown)
James P. Woodard, Montclair State University
The last dozen or so years have witnessed the emergence of a strange lacuna in the English-language historiography on twentieth-century Brazil.  Beginning in the late 1990s, U.S.-based historians produced fine works of Brazilian cultural history spanning the years between the early 1930s and 1954 (the so-called Vargas era).  The same twelve or so years have also witnessed the beginnings of serious historical study of the culture and cultural politics of Brazil under military rule (1964-1985), with a marked emphasis on the period beginning in around 1967.  The in-between years, however, have been largely neglected, and as a result one finds a period in which, with very few exceptions, textbookish understandings of Brazilian culture and cultural politics prevail, as in the hackneyed cliché of “rising nationalism”; the citation of slogans trumping textual analysis (Fifty Years in Five!); an emphasis on production over consumption and on producerist developmentalism over consumerist values; and an over-estimation of the reach, influence, and “authenticity” of national cultural production when compared to international cultural influence exerted by the North Atlantic countries and especially the United States.  While a single conference paper could not be expected to make up for over a decade of historiographical neglect nor to overturn three generations’ worth of accepted wisdom (indeed, an entire book could scarcely be expected to achieve all of that work, however necessary), an exploration of selected episodes in what one critic memorably called Brazil’s quase década (translated here, inevitably inelegantly, as “almost decade”) may restore some of the historicity of these years and offer an illustration of some of what U.S.-based cultural historians have lost by leapfrogging from the “Vargas era” to what leading scholars, including one co-panelist, have insightfully termed Brazil’s “long 1968.”