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Volume 56 / Humanities

LITERATURE: BRAZIL


Crônicas

CHARLES A. PERRONE, Professor of Portuguese and Luso-Brazilian Culture, University of Florida


THE MAIN ISSUE EXAMINED IN STUDIES of the crônica - for which there is no adequate English translation - continues to be its very definition. Scope and depth have concerned all those who want to characterize the genre. Agrippino Grieco, for example, noted that in contrast to the novelist who swims seas, the crônista swims in swimming pools (see quote by Viana in item bi 94011768). The space of the crônica may be fiction or history, but it moves in a day-to-day realm, ranging from intimate confessions of family life to reactions to current affairs. The genre continues to evolve and expand, as authors and publishers (as well as catalogers) stretch concepts of the crônica and its practical applications in order to embrace a spectrum of short prose phenomena. This mixed type of literature comprises more than ever a fluid category with hazy lines of demarcation, ranging from a sketch of manners and the loose forms of a journal column to memoirs in short segments and poetic prose.

The current primary and secondary bibliographies are as varied as ever in terms of authors' states of origin, chronology of titles, style, and subject matter. The corpus of materials reviewed for this volume incorporates materials ranging from 1920s reprints (item bi 95000636) to an anthology honoring a recognized master of the genre (item bi 94011769). Significant new critical studies, such as those by Antônio Cândido (item bi 96005697), consider the historical roots of the genre, its birth in 19th-century periodicals, and its consolidation in the modernist decade of the 1930s. Following the recent deaths of "classical" exponents of the 1950s-60s crônica - Carlos Drummond de Andrade (1902-87), Braga (1913-90), and Paulo Mendes Campos (1922-91) - there is a trend towards diversification, as Preto-Rodas has emphasized in a retrospective of the past quarter century of production (item bi 95019356).

Constantly challenging the cultural hegemony of Rio de Janeiro, authors in (or from) many different states are asserting their presence. Settings and frames of reference are local, regional, national, and sometimes international. Realistic content (social problems, decadence, etc.), related commentary, and more serious tones are increasingly evident, constituting counterweights to the conventions of humor and levity in the genre. Opinion-giving in crônicas is on the rise, often overshadowing the tradition of evocation. Attempts to convey forward-looking attitudes may be found in articles about eco-politics and the changing role of women in society (e.g., item bi 94011772). National self-examination - with the advent of the New Republic, and the disastrous Collor Administration - and self-questioning were commonplace during the preceding decade (item bi 94011761).

In publishing terms, crônicas in the 1990s continue to be popular and relatively widely consumed works. All manner of producers and publishers - established houses, small presses, government printers, self-producers, and so on - issue new editions. There are many reprints and republications of living (e.g., item bi 95000637) and deceased writers (e.g., items bi 95000628 and bi 95000636), both of earlier books and of material gathered in periodical literature (e.g., items bi 95000622, bi 95000647, and bi 95004899). Numerous "specialty items" have appeared, such as business chronicles (item bi 94014466), soccer commentaries (item bi 95000625), crime pages (item bi 95000636), and biographical notes (item bi 95000647).

Meta-literary manifestations in recent production are significant. In addition to frequent allusions to the art and craft of the crônica, there have been numerous compositions about the genre itself (items bi 94014466 and bi 94011772). Several studies in Cândido et al. (item bi 96005297) refer to writers who tried to define the genre, notably Mário de Andrade. In a preface to his own collection in the 1940s, the "pope" of modernismo wrote that the crônica is a short free text, neither an article nor fiction, not requiring exhaustive artfulness nor informational rigor, yet inventive.

If, in comparison to the most admired authors of the crônica of previous decades, the linguistic art of today's authors has been questioned, there is no doubt that many still seek originality. With so many competitors, it is not surprising to find authors of crônicas seeking a mark of distinction, a signature procedure, to distinguish themselves as writers. The best example of this effort in the current body of reviewed works is Viana (item bi 94011768). His approach, what he calls diagnostic "sessions," all conclude with linguistic shorts - puns, witticisms, aphorisms, pseudo-proverbs, microdramas, etc. In one instance he writes: "Man is a domestic animal who gets bored at home." And in the domain of readership, what better remedy for such tedium than the compelling contemporary crônicas? The editor gratefully acknowledges Barbara Domcekova for her assistance in preparing this section.


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