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Volume 60 / Humanities

LITERATURE: BRAZIL


Crônicas

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


IN 1999 FERNANDO SABINO RECIEVED the prestigious Machado de Assis Prize for lifetime achievement in literature. Given that half of his more than 40 books are of crônica and that his reputation is so closely connected to the genre, Sabino took the award as a sign of official recognition of crônica despite its "minor tone and... unpretentious spirit." At the same time, he questioned the traditional view of this type of writing as a lesser genre, noting that it was practiced by such luminaries as Machado de Assis himself, Mário de Andrade, and Carlos Drummond de Andrade (acceptance speech cited in introduction of item #bi2003000523#).

Writers and critics alike continue to be concerned with the definition of crônica and its status in literature. Affonso Romano de Sant'Anna, the poet-cronista who assumed Drummond's place in the Rio newspaper upon his retirement, symptomatically asks in "Teoria da crônica" why some practitioners are referred to as cronistas, while others are considered writers who also wrote crônica. He cites various authors who have presented metaphors for writing the widely popular, brief compositions that frequently appear in periodicals. The 19th-century master Machado de Assis pictured the cronista as a hummingbird who stops to taste (beijar) an issue here and there, while a current leader in the field, Luis Fernando Veríssimo, offers a different zoological explanation: the cronista is like a chicken who has to lay an egg with regularity. Sant'Anna himself distinguishes the usual crônica writers from columnists and commentators in the press, maintaining that the former still should elaborate language literarily and give it transcendence. The talented cronista connotes, though with transparency, while the other journalists denote. Nevertheless, like reporters or opinion editors, cronistas write with a deadline; they must be spontaneous and current. They are individuals drenched in their time (item #bi 00003748#, p. 272–274).

Beatriz Resende, recognizing the immediacy of crônica, stresses that the very sense of being provisional gives the writing its lightness and exceptional authenticity, giving authors a certain courage lost in slower writing (item #bi2003000522#, p. 11). Recalling the Romantic legacy of entertaining and informally discussing issues in crônica, Leodegário A. de Azevedo Filho conceives of the modern version as an "autonomous literary genre characterized by a lightness of style, quick commentary, poetic tone, and grace in the analysis of people and facts, by being current and thematically varied (item #bi 00003871#, p. ix–x). Familiarity with the language and issues of the present, in sum, continue to mark the standard sense of crônica and to set it apart from literary fiction. There is, however, somewhat less grief and anxiety about the relationship with belles-lettres in the current era of postmodern, postcolonial, cultural and multicultural studies, which have their peculiar manifestations in Brazil as well. It is symptomatic that the category for short story in the Prêmio Jabuti (the national book prizes awarded by the Brazilian publishing industry) now also encompasses crônica.

At the turn of the millennium, publications from around Brazil classified as crônica increasingly challenge the lines of demarcation of the genre. Thus, there have been numerous titles focused on a specific discipline or profession, including medicine (item #bi2003000526#) and even economics. A notable increase in political themes includes both more conventional light moods (items and #bi2003000511# and #bi2001005774#) and more serious approaches (items #bi 00003741# and #bi2003000518#). Moving from the collective to the individual, there are recent examples of very personal reflections and diary-like writing that are self-cataloged as crônica in view of more flexible notions or for lack of a better technical term (items #bi 00003746# and #bi 00003744#). As was the case throughout the 1990s, regional works continue to be published in a constant stream, including those from the Northeastern states of Pernambuco (item #bi2001003833#), Rio Grande do Norte (item #bi 00003740#), and Bahia (item #bi2003000514#). While demonstrating a pervasive interest in and identification with the genre, an example from the North comprises brief writings that are closer to oral literature and memoir (item #bi 00003749#).

Travel-inspired crônica, often reminiscent of travel writing of past centuries, now written for the historically dominant domain of Rio de Janeiro and for the massive market of São Paulo describes sites both in Brazil and abroad, mostly Europe and the US. Examples in late 1990s' publications include recent works (items #bi 00003740#, #bi 00003866#, and #bi 00003748#) and noteworthy new editions explicitly about and of travel (item #bi2003000519#). Comparisons with situations in other nations color various kinds of crônica about cosmopolitan existence and ethics. Both international awareness and an appreciation of tradition (for better or worse) are evident in a series of articles about interpersonal relationships (items #bi 2001003835#, #bi 00003866#, and #bi2003000527#). Authorship by women, general gender issues, and specifically feminist articulations are important in current cronistas with contrasting stances (items #bi2003000515#, #bi2003000517#, #bi2001003835#, and #bi 00003866#) and canonical Modernist names (item #bi 00003871#) and, extraordinarily, in historical discoveries (item #bi 00003743#). While a given focus often stands out, the sum of these instances show that variety and open-ended thematics are still the rule of this genre.

The body of work under consideration here includes editions in homage to deceased 20th-century writers (items #bi2001003834#, #bi2001005776#, and #bi 00003871#) and crônica collections of well-established novelists from around the country (items #bi 00003741#, #bi2003000513#, #bi2003000512#, #bi 00003866#, #bi 00003867#). Given the number of literary figures involved, it is no surprise that there should be an abundance of volumes with pieces about the craft of writing, books, authors from Brazil and abroad (items #bi 00003741#, #bi 00003866#, and #bi 00003748#), and entire volumes dedicated to language, literature, and authors (items #bi2003000513# and #bi2003000524#). Given the different roles that writers assume, the words of critic Eduardo Portella about the press pieces of one exceptional, well-recognized novelist-cronista are applicable to others: "the sustainable lightness of the crônica has recourse both to the taste of the essay and the fluency of narrative. The luck of the texts is cast in solidarity among the chronicler, the essayist, and the narrator" (item #bi 00003741#, preface p. xi). Essays and studies about the genre have favored historical approaches, looking back to Machado de Assis and 19th-century contexts, on to 1920s–30s, then to the peaks of the genre in the 1960s (item #bi2003000522#). Other sources include brief introductions with biographical information (item #bi 00003743#) and academic theses in Brazil (item #bi2003000516#) and abroad (both Europe and US). Growth of interest beyond the country's borders is further indicated by the publication of translations, e.g. Caio Fernando Abreu's Pequenas epifanias in France, and by the actual writing of crônica by foreigners, e.g. Matthew Shirts, in O Estado de São Paulo. Resende and Valença are regathering and evaluating the work in periodicals of a key early 20th-century writer ("A crítica emerge das crônicas de Lima Barreto" O Estado de São Paulo, caderno 2, May 5, 2001).

The growth of the Internet in Brazil has widened opportunities for readers and writers of crônica. Major newspapers put scheduled print pieces on line and maintain archives, and amateur writers post their contributions. There have even been crônica contests on the Internet resulting in virtual and paper publications (item #bi2003000521#). The innovative organizer Mário Prata (item #bi2003000520#) noted that the competition demonstrates the resurgence of the genre in the 1990s after a lull (in the 1970s and 1980s) and, to return to the issue of prestige raised above, that the writers who most influenced him were indeed the classic cronistas of the 1950s–60s. In overall terms, Brazil is producing more crônica than ever. Reading these pieces counterbalances the heaviness of day-to-day news, and subject matter, as the front page of any newspaper illustrates, is everywhere around the country ("A crônica volta," Sept. 13, 2000, Caderno 2, O Estado de São Paulo). Reflecting the role of crônica in the press, the publishing industry, as well as government institutions with book-production capacity, maintain a firm interest in the genre, historically important practitioners of the genre and current talent alike. Authorship and readership continue to make crônica, irrespective of any critical bias, Brazil's most popular form of imaginative literature.

The editor would like to acknowledge the assistance of Mary Risner in the preparation of entries for HLAS 60.


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