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Volume 58 / Humanities

LITERATURE: BRAZIL


Crônicas

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


AS THE NEW MILLENNIUM BEGINS and the shapes of communication media inevitably change, definitions of crônica - a brief composition about an aspect of contemporary life - continue to be reworked, as can be noted in the prefaces and afterwords of some current collections. Carlos Lacerda describes this literary-journalistic type as "esse discretear luminoso e calmo sobre as coisas que vão passando à beira do caminho" [that calm and luminous chat about things that happen by the side of the road] (quoted in item #bi 97004090#). While by necessity and practice the literary, editorial, and bibliographical senses of what crônica may mean to readers, writers, and publishers are more fluid than those of the standard genres of literature, a consensus remains. Poet Ledo Ivo wrote that we [the literate Brazilian public] all presume to know, through direct experience as newspaper readers, what a crônica is, or are able to recognize one, even when it is masked as criticism of customs or political reflection, or is clearly sliding toward the essay ("Os dias que passam," Estado de São Paulo, 3/23/1981). Given the thematic and tonal variety of today's production, an informed and experienced reader might say, "I can't give a perfect definition, but I know it when I see it," and wonder whether certain publications titled, subtitled, self-classified, or otherwise described as crônica indeed fall within the bounds of this genre. Acknowledging gray areas and blurred lines, new publications are questioned as encroachments on the crônica and are regarded more as opinion columns, political analysis, or commentary, especially when consistently heavier tones pervade the writing (items #bi 97004049#, #bi 97004042#, #bi 97004041#, and #bi 97004086#).

As for the staying power of the crônica, writers and publishers who title or register a borderline book as a volume of crônicas indicate enhanced confidence in the genre. The widening of definitions is a symptom of the growth of the genre and the consolidation of its late-century manifestations. Lyric (poetry) and epic (fiction) may be losing readership in the age of electronic media, but crônica has maintained public interest, growing in availability as newspaper websites continue to appear. In addition to works by new authors, notable reprints also still appear, notably the "classics" of Rachel de Queiroz (items #bi 97004078# and #bi 97004088#). Publishers gather the newspaper work of noteworthy modern figures - such as Rodrigues (item #bi 97004107#) and Antônio Maria (item #bi 97004076#) - and of salient turn-of-the-century writers - Machado de Assis (item #bi 99008151#), Bilac (item #bi 99008145#), and João do Rio (item #bi 99008153#). In the late 20th century, poets and fiction writers continued to double as cronistas; the present group (in addition to the venerable Queiroz) includes Ribeiro (item #bi 97004097#), Abreu (item #bi 99008150#), João Antônio (item #bi 97004068#), and the friends of Plínio Doyle (item #bi 97004052#). These literary associations and historical editions further suggest a diversified readership.

A general market interest is evident in the access Brazilian migrant communities abroad have to crônicas, which now appear on the Internet and in Portuguese-language periodicals in Japan and Portugal and in US states such as Florida, New York, and Massachusetts. Favorite readings are naturally included in Internet editions of metropolitan dailies, but crônicas also are posted ad hoc to news and discussion groups, or simply passed along by avid readers sharing the textual experience. The brevity of the genre naturally facilitates consumption in the fast-paced digital world.

Appearance on the ever-changing Internet again raises the question of the fundamentally ephemeral journalistic nature of the crônica and its continuation in book form. Ledo Ivo asserted that publishing books of crônicas was the authors' way of saving themselves from the perishable quality of the genre and of giving a lasting image to the attentive reader. This concept may have been true in previous generations, but now more collections are being published at the initiative of editors and cultural promoters, rather than by the authors themselves. There are also several examples of crônicas written not just for newspapers or magazines, but in anticipation of a subsequent anthology or for direct inclusion in a made-to-order book.

The latter type of crônica is found in volumes produced both through local municipal and regional state interest in the genre as a vehicle of self-promotion, self-discovery and civic pride. Of the publications reviewed for HLAS 58, nine items are from state capitals other than the metropolitan centers of Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo and Brasília. The case of Vitória is exemplary (item #bi 97004079#). Quantitatively, Rio Grande do Sul is a leader in such promotion (items #bi 97004040# and #bi 97004109#), including a specific regional ethnic case of bilingualism (item #bi 97004054#). Elsewhere, Germanic heritage is central (item #bi 97004069#), and an example from the remote state of Acre focuses on Middle Eastern ancestry (item #bi 97004103#).

As communication technology expands and the pace of modern life quickens, so do the thematic and geographical bounds of the crônica broaden. Concurrently, the 1990s saw a growing presence of international and travel motifs. Whether in the US (items #bi 97004101# and #bi 97004064#) or Europe (items #bi 97004077#, #bi 97004097#, #bi 97004090#, and #bi 97004061#), cronistas go beyond mere touristic curiosity to provide a meeting place between foreign and Brazilian experiences.

Finally, new scholarly interest should be noted. Less than two decades ago, Ledo Ivo also said that academic curiosity in this area was so scant that it did not even merit the label "curiosity." Though today, as Eduardo Portella said years ago, there is still no theory of the crônica, there are more critical editions and studies. Pereira's effort joins the group of general studies (item #bi 99008147#), while specific historical interest in the previously-mentioned turn-of-the-century authors are well served by the work of Gledson (item #bi 99008151#), Dimas (item #bi 99008145#), and Levin (item #bi 99008153#). Such contributions should inspire additional serious studies as we embark upon the third century of the crônica.


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