On Two Waterfronts: The Inconstant Trajectories of Gilberto Freyre and Sergio Milliet

Saturday, January 5, 2019: 2:30 PM
Wabash Room (Palmer House Hilton)
James Woodard, Montclair State University
This paper takes as its starting point parallel moments in the intellectual biographies of Gilberto Freyre (1900-1987) and Sergio Milliet (1898-1966), the former widely seen as towering over twentieth-century Brazilian letters like no other, the latter now occupying a position of second or third rank, despite contributions of comparable originality and insight, to say nothing of greater discipline and self-abnegation. The parallel moments were ones in which the two men pondered their mixed-race compatriots, sailors disembarking from the Minas Gerais on the Brooklyn waterfront in the case of the former, porters on the docks of Rio in the case of the latter. Freyre’s much-mythologized remembrance of that moment, in his Casa grande & senzala (1933, trans. The Masters and the Slaves, 1945) and other writings, is contrasted with Milliet’s fictionalization in the now-forgotten autobiographical novella Roberto (1935), their respective cringing--informed, in each of their cases, by racist North Atlantic theories of social degeneration--at the prospect of sharing a nationality with figures of such evident inferiority making way for a larger consideration of the two intellectuals’ trajectories through twentieth-century Brazilian letters and politics, emphasizing the question of where their loyalties lay, in regard to nationality, region, political ideology, and individual intellectual projects. In consideration of their inconstant trajectories lies insight into the postcolonial condition of well-born intellectuals in twentieth-century Brazil, and perhaps in the postcolonial world more generally, as they navigated the competing claims of cosmopolitanism and rootedness, region and nation, ideals and interests.
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