Sei sulla pagina 1di 20

Storia della Storiografia

Histoire de lHistoriographie
History of Historiography
Geschichte der Geschichtsschreibung
Rivista internazionale Revue internationale
International Review Internationale Zeitschrift

65 1/2014

Fabrizio Serra editore, Pisa Roma

Autorizzazione del Tribunale di Milano n. 310 del 26/07/1982

Direttore responsabile: Edoardo Tortarolo
Sono rigorosamente vietati la riproduzione, la traduzione, ladattamento,
anche parziale o per estratti, per qualsiasi uso e con qualsiasi mezzo effettuati,
compresi la copia fotostatica, il microfilm, la memorizzazione elettronica, ecc.,
senza la preventiva autorizzazione scritta della Fabrizio Serra editore, Pisa Roma.
Ogni abuso sar perseguito a norma di legge.
Propriet riservata All rights reserved
Copyright 2014 by Fabrizio Serra editore, Pisa Roma.
Fabrizio Serra editore incorporates the Imprints Accademia editoriale,
Edizioni dellAteneo, Fabrizio Serra editore, Giardini editori e stampatori in Pisa,
Gruppo editoriale internazionale and Istituti editoriali e poligrafici internazionali.
Stampato in Italia Printed in Italy
issn 0392-8926
issn elettronico 2281-1141
Amministrazione e abbonamenti
Fabrizio Serra editore
Casella postale n. 1, succursale n. 8, I 56123 Pisa,
tel. +39 050 542332, fax +39 050 574888,
I prezzi ufficiali di abbonamento cartaceo e/o Online sono consultabili
presso il sito Internet della casa editrice
Print and/or Online official subscription rates are available
at Publishers web-site
I pagamenti possono essere effettuati tramite versamento su c.c.p. n. 17154550
o tramite carta di credito (American Express, CartaSi, Eurocard, Mastercard, Visa)
Uffici di Pisa: Via Santa Bibbiana 28, I 56127 Pisa,
Uffici di Roma: Via Carlo Emanuele I 48, I 00185 Roma,

metahistory forty years after
Guest Editors :
Claudio Fogu and Kalle Pihlainen

Claudio Fogu, Kalle Pihlainen, Metahistorys Fortieth Anniversary


Arthur Lima de Avila, A Plane, a Bomb, a Museum : the Enola Gay Controversy at the
National Museum of Air and Space of the United States (1993-1995)


Chris Lorenz, It Takes Three to Tango. History between the Practical and the Histo rical Past


Claudio Fogu, Figuring White in Metamodernity


Ewa Domanska, Retroactive Ancestral Constitution, New Animism and Alter-Na tive Modernities


Hans Kellner, Reading Hayden White Reading


Julio Bentivoglio, Caio Prado Jnior, the 1930s Generation and the Brazilian His torical Imagination : Exercising Metahistory


Kalle Pihlainen, The Eternal Return of Reality : On Constructivism and Current

Historical Desires


Mara Ins La Greca, Narrative Trouble, or Hayden Whites Desire for a Progressive
Historiography Refigured by Judith Butlers Performativity Theory


Nicols Lavagnino, Specters of Frye : Muthos, Ideology and Anatomy of (Historio graphical) Criticism


Omar Murad, Modernist Figuration in the Representation of Argentinas Recent Past


Robert Doran, Metahistory and the Ethics of Historiography


Ruth V. Gross, Everyday Figuralism and Narrative Confusion, Kaf ka Style


Vernica Tozzi, Hayden White and Conversational Pluralism


Wulf Kansteiner, At the Limits of Historical Realism : Narration, Argumenta tion, and Ethics in Synthetic Holocaust Historiography


Notes on Contributors


Caio Prado Jnior, the 1930s Generation

and the Brazilian Historical Imagination :
Exercising Metahistory

Julio Bentivoglio
This article applies the theoretical model offered by Hayden White in Metahistory attempting
to classify a generation of historians that defined the Brazilian historical imagination between
the 1930s and the 1960s. This brief analytical exercise has a double goal : a) to demonstrate the
applicability of Whites model to a generational scale of analysis of historical representations
formulated by twentieth-century non-European historians ; and b) to show the rich metahistorical content in the writings of one of the members of the 1930s generation, Caio Prado
Junior, by focusing on the most famous chapter, The sense of colonization, of his 1942 classic : The Formation of Contemporary Brazil : a Colony.

I. Hayden White and the Poetical Foundations

of Historical Writing

ccording to Hayden White there are some norms, or inconspicuous laws that
determine historical narration. 1 Their contents are meta-historical because
they articulate the latent structural foundations that allow the production of all histories. This premise constituted a real turning point in Western historical thought,
and inaugurated a new stage in contemporary epistemology and philosophy of history. 2 According to White,

Before the historian can bring to bear upon the data of the historical field the conceptual apparatus he will use to represent and explain it, he must first prefigure the field that is to say,
constitute it as an object of mental perception. This poetical act is indistinguishable from the
linguistic act in which the field is made ready for interpretation as a domain of a particular
kind. 3

Histories (and philosophies of history as well) combine a certain amount of data, theoretical concepts for explaining these data, and a narrative structure for their presentation as
an icon of sets of events presumed to have occurred in times past. [] They contain a deep
structural content, which is generally poetic, and specifically linguistic, in nature, and which
serves as the pre critically accepted paradigm of what a distinctively historical explanation
1 H. White, Trpicos do discurso. Ensaios sobre a crtica da cultura (So Paulo : Edusp, 2001), 74.
2 Robert Doran has evaluated this impact in : R. Doran, Choosing the Past : Hayden White and the
Philosophy of History, Philosophy of History After Hayden White (New York : Bloomsbury, 2013), 1-33 ; and
R. Doran, Humanismo, formalismo y el discurso de la Histria, La ficcin de la narrative (Buenos Aires :
Eterna Cadencia, 2011).
3 H. White, Metahistory : The Historical Imagination in Nineteenth-Century Europe (Baltimore : Johns
Hopkins University Press, 1973), 30.

Storia della Storiografia, 65 1/2014


julio bentivoglio

should be. This paradigm functions as the metahistorical element in all historical work that
are more comprehensive in scope than the monograph or archival report. 4

The historical field, therefore, depends on lexical, grammatical, syntactical, semantic,

and pragmatic elements of language, since every historian must adopt a linguistic
protocol filled with those elements in order to write his history on his own terms
(and not with the terms written in the documents), and to formulate a narrative.
According to White, however, the number of explanatory strategies is not infinite.
They are based on four major tropes of poetical language : metaphor, metonymy,
synecdoche and irony. These are articulated in three types of strategies used by historians to produce an explanatory effect : explanation by formal reasoning, explanation
by the development of a plot, and explanation by ideological implications. And, in
turn, these three strategies can yield four possible modes of argumentation :

For arguments there are the modes of Formism, Organicism, Mechanism, and Contextualism ; for emplotments there are the archetypes of Romance, Comedy, Tragedy, and Satire ;
and for ideological implication there are the tactics of Anarchism, Conservatism, Radicalism,
and Liberalism.

A specific combination of modes, White concludes comprises what I call the historiographical style of a particular historian or philosopher of history. 5

II. The 1930s Generation

and the Burden of History
From these initial considerations, we proceed directly to the selected object of our
analysis : the work of Caio Prado Jnior (1907-1990), known for writing very prominent historical works in the 1930s and 1940s, but also for belonging with Gilberto
Freyre (1900-1987) and Srgio Buarque de Holanda (1902-1982) to a cohort of innovating historians, identified by Brazilians historians of historiography as a proper historiographical generation. 6 In what follows I will compare and contrast the work of
Caio Prado Junior with that of his peers, but, in doing so, I will also include in my
considerations Oliveira Viana (1883-1951) who did not by age belong to the generation in question, but whose work was being most appreciated in those years, because
it presented several points of contact with that of these authors, and, simultaneously,
served to highlight the differences between themselves and a previous generation of
historians with more traditional styles of historiography. 7
An analysis of the so-called 1930s generation allows us to identify some important
aspects of this key moment in the evolution of the Brazilian historical imagination.
A great number of interpreters consider that generation as producers of the fundamental oeuvres that refashioned Brazilian historical studies, thereby exercising a
powerful influence over works that came afterwards. The literary critic Antonio Candido, for example, states that their

4 White, Metahistory, ix.

5 White, Metahistory, x.
6 Several authors consider these three intellectuals as composing a seminal generation. See in particular :
A. Candido, Formao da literatura brasileira : momentos decisivos (So Paulo : Martins Editora, 1959), and S.
Miceli, Intelectuais e classe dirigente no Brasil : 1920-1945 (So Paulo : Difel, 1979).
7 Especially significant were Vianas O ocaso do Imprio [The sunset of Empire] (1925) and Populaes meridionais do Brasil [Southern Brazilian Populations] (1920).

caio prado jnior, the 1930s generation


books might be considered turning points that expressed a mentality linked with the radical
intellectual wind that blew after the Revolution of 1930 and that, despite its radical tenor, was
not repressed by the Estado Novo. [...] They denounced racial prejudices, valued the color
element, criticized the agrarian and patriarchal foundations of the State, discerned the economic conditions of the country, and demystified liberal rhetoric. 8

In his 1986 post-scriptum to De Holandas Razes do Brasil [Brazils Roots] (1936), the
same author argues that this book, together with Freyres Casa-grande e senzala [Farmhouse and Slave-quarters] (1933) and Caio Prados Formao do Brasil contemporneo
[Formation of Contemporary Brazil] (1942), constituted the best guides for learning
about the country. 9 Along similar lines, historian Evaldo Cabral de Mello points out
that these authors undertook an innovative approach that overcame a merely sociological view of the Brazilan past, and constituted the first properly historical discourse about it. 10 Yet, what made these three authors a generation may have been
more than collective impact. In the first place, their works all dealt with four basic
aspects of the Brazilian past : the Portuguese colonial heritage, the dilemmas of liberalism, the presence of modernism, and the national question. Secondly, and I will
turn to this in the second part of this paper, their intimate awareness of each others
work may have facilitated a process by which they, as a whole, covered the entire
map of tropological positions available to historians according to Whites scheme,
and thereby defined the generational horizon of the Brazilian historical imagination
in those decades.
Astor Diehl has also argued that the 1930s generation engaged in a direct debate
with conservative thought, whose spokesman at the time was Alberto Torres. He
was one of the apostles of social realism in Brazil, who defended a renewed, but
conservative, rational politics. As many a right wing intellectual, Torres criticized
the dominant oligarchic character in public life and defended the need of civilizing
the nation in the double sense of the term. 11 Economically backward and orbiting
around the figure of the colonels, the country lacked deep reforms. It was necessary
to think about how changes should be conducted, whether in a radical or a gradual
direction. And, in order to understand the political and economic situation of their
times, all these thinkers turned to the evaluation of Brazils colonial past, drawing
from this evaluation their different recipes for modernizing the country. Yet, they did
so under profoundly different cultural conditions than their predecessors : directly or
indirectly, the 1930s generation of historians was greatly influenced by the modernist
atmosphere that set the intellectual tone in the arts and science of those decades. As
Bernardo Ricpero aptly puts it :

8 A Candido, O significado de Razes do Brasil, Razes do Brasil, ed. S. B. de Holanda, (So Paulo : Companhia das Letras, 1995), 9-11.
9 These are books we might consider keys which seems to express the mentality connected to that
breath of intellectual radicalism and the social analysis that erupted after 1930s Revolution, Candido, O
significado de Razes, 9.
10 E. C. de Melo, Razes do Brasil e depois, Razes do Brasil, ed. S. B. de Holanda (So Paulo : Companhia das Letras, 1995), 191-2.
11 A. Diehl, A cultura historiogrfica brasileira. Dcada de 1930 aos anos 1970 (Passo Fundo : Editora da Universidade de Passo Fundo, 1999), 241.


julio bentivoglio

Since modernists had already established the symbols by which to think about Brazil, it behooved Gilberto Freyre, Srgio Buarque and Caio Prado Jr. to launch themselves, in more or
less systematic ways, into the study of the grammar and syntax that constituted the country. 12

Lastly, a certain nationalist feeling is detectable in our generations sense of urgency to find answers to the economic and political crisis that occurred in Brazil after
the 1929 Wall Street crash, and as an antidote to the simultaneous crisis of liberal
thought. Ricpero, for instance, notices that Caio Prado Jr.s national project circumscribed him to authoritarian Brazilian thinkers, for in the eyes of many of his contemporaries he seemed a moldy nationalist. 13 In other words, for him it was necessary
to overcome the colonial situation through the imposition of a national order. Still,
according to Ricpero,

nationalism, more than an articulated thought, was essentially a mental attitude, [and] therefore represented, with all its limitations and possibilities, a significant part of the political and
intellectual horizon from which Caio elaborated his work. 14

In the early twentieth century, Brazilian historiographical consciousness was going

through changes concerning traditional forms of historical representation, gleaned
from the chronology of the political aspects of the nations political and administrative history. The product of such changes was histories endowed with a greater level
of complexity in opposition to a more nave conception inherited from the nineteenth century. Oliveira Viana, Alberto Torres (1865-1917), Nelson Werneck Sodr
(1911-1999) and Afonso Taunay (1876-1958) were some of those who illustrated existing tensions in historiography, by constituting a transitional moment between traditional forms of political-chronological historiography, and the more socio-political
history typical of the 1930s generation. According to Jos Roberto Amaral Lapa, the
factual element, a narrow dialogue with the social sciences, as well as a preference
for a political, administrative, and biographical history, predominated in the historiography of the twentieth centurys two first decades. 15 In the 1930s, opposition to this
traditional historiography materialized itself in the emergence of more essaystic
works. Although still devoted to investigate the nation State, and embedded in a
strong political character, they were no longer dependent on a purely factual approach. They shared a critique of so-called objectivity in the discipline and used an
erudite form of writing which was highly subjective. In one word, they represented
and self-consciously embodied a modernist image of renewal. 16 Yet, in evaluating the
nations trajectory, they also questioned the optimism of progress, looking forward
in breaking with all received models.
In addition, by this time, the advent of a scientific historiography produced in the
University by trained historians started to qualify history as an autonomous field
of inquiry. The University of So Paulo was established in 1934, that of the Distrito
Federal in 1935, and the Universidade do Brasil (in Rio) in 1937. And yet, non-spe

12 B. Ricpero, Caio Prado Jr. e a nacionalizao do marxismo no Brasil (So Paulo : Editora 34, 2008), 117.
13 Ricpero, Caio Prado Jr., 229.
14 Ricpero, Caio Prado Jr, 121.
15 Modos de produo e realidade brasileira, ed. J. R. A. Lapa (Petrpolis : Vozes, 1980), 80.
16 Diehl, A cultura historiogrfica brasileira, 143.

caio prado jnior, the 1930s generation


cialists continued to dominate Brazilian historical writing. Paradoxically, and at the

same time reinforcing this aspect, none of the re-inventors of Brazilian historiography belonging to the 1930s generation was a trained historian : Gilberto Freyre was
an anthropologist, de Holanda and Caio Prado Junior had graduated in law. Nevertheless, in writing about the past, they imposed a certain future to the discipline. In
other words, they became the spokesperson for a new historical consciousness that
had awakened by producing new histories that also reflected an intrinsic philosophy
of history. Being innovative in the answers they offered, and in their theoretical and
methodological devices, they were, however, quite traditional in relation to their use
of sources especially Caio Prado Jnior, who used bibliographical works more than
archival documents. According to Paulo Miceli,

The three developed their intellectual career by being supported only by their own social and
material possessions, owing almost nothing to political or party supporters. They would be,
therefore, isolated free-shooters [...], the last representatives of a large class of self-taught
intellectuals. 17

While Gilberto Freyre was more nostalgic about the past, Srgio Buarque was more
optimistic about the present and sought out signs that pointed to the possibilities of
overcoming its current problems ; Caio Prado Jnior, instead, used the past as a way
of contemplating the future. Although Marxism did not provide a full understanding
of Latin America in that context, Caio Prado Jnior was able to turn it into a profitable tool for the understanding of Brazil, and to create quite an unorthodox Marxist
reading of Brazils colonial past. 18 On this last point, it is worth noting that the Brazilian Communist Party (PCB) did not produce organic intellectuals within the party
until the mid-1940s. Intellectual efforts came therefore from outside the party, by
non-members like Caio Prado Jnior. Even so, Brazilian Marxism entered the Universities only by the end of the 1950s, and, according to Paulo Arantes, it was born in
the Universidade de So Paulo. 19

III. Caio Prado Jnior

Caio Prado Jnior was a son of one of So Paulos most traditional families of politicians and farmers, being born in that states capital in the year 1907. 20 He studied
for two years in England, returning to Brazil thereafter and graduating in law at
the Faculdade do Largo de So Francisco. In 1932 he visited the Soviet Union where
he got in touch with the literature and experience of socialism, which from that
moment on formed his political and intellectual horizon. Inspired by Marxism he
published Evoluo Poltica do Brazil (The Political Evolution of Brazil) in 1933. This
radical change had been augmented by him and his whole familys disillusion with
the Revolution of 1930. 21 In 1934 while still studying law, Caio Prado also attended

17 S. Miceli, Histria das Cincias Sociais no Brasil (So Paulo : Sumar, 1989), 102.
18 Ricpero, Caio Prado Jr., 66.
19 P. Arantes, Um departamento francs de ultramar (Rio de Janeiro : Paz e Terra, 1994), 239.
20 See D. Levi, A Famlia Prado (So Paulo : Cultura, 1977), 70.
21 The 1930 Revolution was a coup dtat that deposed Brazils president at the time, Washington Luiz,
on October 24th, and prevented the rise to power of Jlio Prestes, who had won the presidential elections
that year. Supported by the Army and accusing his opponent of electoral fraud, Getlio Vargas who had


julio bentivoglio

a course in Human Geography taught by Pierre Deffontaines (1894-1978), and one in

the History of Philosophy taught by Jean Maug (1904-1990), with whom he studied
the works of Hegel, Marx and Freud. 22 Meanwhile, he had also become an avid reader
of the journal of the American Geographical Society, of the Revue de Synthse Historique
of Henri Beer, of the Cahiers Rationalistes founded by Paul Lanvejan, and of the Annales dHistoire Economique et Sociale of Marc Bloch and Lucien Febvre. In the following year, he also joined and chaired the Aliana Nacional Libertadora in So Paulo,
which aimed to combat the advance of fascism in the country. 23 Arrested in 1936, and
released a year and a half later, he went into exile in Paris where he took courses
at La Sorbonne in 1937-38, familiarizing himself with mile Durkheims sociology,
Georges Lefbvres History of the French Revolution, and Vidal de La Blaches geographical studies. From 1938 to 1944 he wrote political diaries searching connections
and relations between politics, culture, and society, while at the same time refining
his instruments of criticism and interpretation, and even writing several travelogues,
on the Netherlands (1938), the Scandinavian countries (1938), Ouro Preto (1940) and
Diamantina (1941).
In 1943, Caio Prado, along with Monteiro Lobato (1882-1948) and Arthur Neves
(1916-1971), founded the Brasiliense publishing house. 24 The companys offices were
situated in a very central position in So Paulo, and in the same building as its famous bookstore in Ponto Chic do Largo Paissandu, on Libero Badar Street. 25 In the
bookstore, many exhibitions of Brazilian modernist artists and photographers took
place. Then, in May 1944 Caio Prado visited the state of Minas Gerais famous for
its colonial art and architecture with a group of artists that included Srgio Milliet, Alfredo Mesquita, Dcio de Almeida Prado, Paulo Emlio Salles Gomes, Anita
Malfatti, Tarsila do Amaral, Alfredo Volpi, Mario Schemberg and Eduardo Maffei. 26
This network of artists influenced his feeling that Brazil had not produced a true
civilization yet, thereby intensifying his judgment on the colonial legacy as a trail
of misery and ruin. Back home, in 1945 he lectured about the Soviet Union at the
Clube dos Artistas Modernos, which brought together the artistic avant-garde of So
Paulo. 27 In the same year he assumed the co-directorship of the communist newspaper Hoje of So Paulo, with Milton Caires de Brito, Jorge Amado, Nabbor Caires
de Brito and Clvis Graciano, and, in the next year, with Milton Caires Brito alone.

been defeated in those elections rose to power in a provisional government that marked the end of the so
called First Republic and the beginning of a Second Republic, which turned out to be an authoritarian
government that lasted until 1945.
22 Arantes, Um departamento francs de ultramar, 27.
23 At that time the Integralist movement, sympathetic to European fascist movements, and led by
Plnio Salgado, grew in strength and appeal all over Brazil. For more about the Integralist movement see
W. Montagna, A Aliana Nacional Libertadora (ANL) e o Partido Comunista Brasileiro (1934-1935) (So Paulo :
PUC-SP, 1988).
24 One of the most important Brazilian writers in the twentieth century, who wrote especially children
literature. He was born in the state of So Paulo in the city of Taubat.
25 P. T. Iumatti, Caio Prado Jr. e as Cincias Naturais : sua apreenso das transformaes epistemolgicas da virada do sculo xix, Estudos Sociedade e Agricultura, 14 (2000) : 152.
26 These were all important names of Brazilians modernism. P. T. Iumatti, Dirios Polticos de Caio Prado
Jr. 1945 (So Paulo : Brasiliense, 1998), 162.
27 L. Secco, Caio Prado Jnior : 100 anos (debate), Revista de Economia Poltica e Histria Econmica, 4
(2007) : 68.

caio prado jnior, the 1930s generation


Many members of Brazils Communist Party, like Astrojildo Pereira, Mrio Pedrosa, Otvio Brando and Olvio Xavier, had attempted, without much success, to
interpret Brazilian history inspired by a vulgar Marxism on a Soviet model. 28 Despite
having read few works of the Marxist canon, such as Marxs Capital in a French translation, a Brief History of the Soviet Unions Communist Party by Max Beer, a few writings
by Lenin and some manuals, like the one of Bukharin, which he had translated to
Portuguese, Caio Prado Junior was able to construct an original brand of Brazilian
Marxism. His work, however, was not well received by the Party, which marginalized
him, though he never broke up with its leadership.
Rejecting the apriorism and dogmatism of party intellectuals such as Nelson Werneck Sodr, Caio Prado Jnior represented a new phase in his countrys Marxist
thought. He insisted that Brazilian history and reality should be studied on its own
terms, rather than through the use of concepts exterior to it. Formao Econmica
do Brasil (The Economic Formation of Brazil, 1942), for example, departs, as its title
suggests, from morphological features in order to find the contents of the forms, to
paraphrase White. His starting point was Marxs thought, but, antagonizing previous interpretations, Caio Prado argued that Brazil had already been born modern,
while its society had delayed its modernization. And from this dialectical construct
he derived the conclusion that Brazil had undergone a conservative modernization.
In his own words, as written already in 1933 :

the way in which Brazils emancipation has taken place [has] all the characteristics of a
political arrangement [...], of backroom maneuvering, with the fight taking place exclusively
around the Regency. [...] The independence was done over and above the peoples rebellion,
which completely excluded the people from participation in the new political order. Brazils
independence is much more the achievement of a single class than of a nation considered as
a whole. 29

IV. Caio Prado Jnior

and the Brazilian Historical Imagination of the 1930s
As a member of a new generation of Marxist intellectuals that promoted and configured a time of national renewal, Caio Prado Jnior introduced a type of historical
materialism in which classes emerged for the first time on the explanatory horizon
of social reality as an analytical category. 30 But, as anticipated above, he was also
part of a historiographical generation that comprised Gilberto Freyre and Srgio
Buarque de Holanda. The contribution of this generation cannot be measured on
the scale of methodological innovation, or theories of modernization per se, but can
be best appreciated through the classifying powers of Whitean tropology. This table
provides a snapshot of the results of my analysis of the 1930s generation, which,
due to space limits, I cannot even attempt to summarize in words here [Table 1]. 31 I
have included in my study Oliveira Viana because, even though he did not belong to

28 Secco, Caio Prado Jnior, 89.

29 C. Prado Jnior, Evoluo poltica do Brasil e outros estudos (So Paulo : Brasiliense, 1972), 49-50.
30 C. G. Mota, Ideologia da cultura brasileira (1930-1974) (So Paulo : tica, 2000), 28.
31 This analysis will soon be available in a monograph in which I discuss in a broader way each of the
authors of the 1930s generation in light of Hayden Whites Metahistory.


julio bentivoglio

the referred generation by age, at the time his work was the most widely read and respected among that of his cohort of peers, and he thus came to ironically express the
limits and the agony of the previous generations historical imagination. Naturally
this classification is necessarily reductive and restrictive. Hayden White himself has
alerted us to the tensions present within different works by the same author, which
necessitate a process of continuous adjustment of metahistorical analysis. Flexibility
is essential for a better understanding of the complexity and semantic elasticity of
any authors narratives. What follows will be even more reductive than the table I
present here, and my focus will be mostly directed at one member of that generation, Caio Prado Junior. My intention is merely to suggest the virtues of applying
Whites tropological scheme to a generation of historians, and to show how this
specific historian presented the most visible and self-conscious traits of a historical
style that fit all the components of Whites tropology.





oliveira viana


gilberto freyre





caio prado jnior





srgio buarque
de holanda






Tab. 1. The historical representation of the 1930s generation in Brazil.

Caio Prado Jnior structured his narrative under the aegis of a tragic model, organizing his arguments in a mechanist form and taking a radical stance. Compared to
the others, his style was the cleanest and most direct. This does not imply a lack of
literary or interpretative qualities on Prado Juniors part. One could say, with Antonio Candido, that he
neither disguised the labor of the composition nor cared about the beauty or the expressiveness of his style. Bringing to the forefront the colonial informers of a more solid and practical
economic mentality, he produced the first great example of an interpretation of the past in
relation to the basic realities of production, distribution, and consumption. No romance, no
willingness to accept certain categories embedded in a qualitative aura [...] ; just an interpretative line for historical materialism, which in our intellectual environment represented an
extraordinary leverage of intellectual and political renewal. 32

Regarding the other three authors, Freyre was perhaps the most conservative among
them, for his refusal of inquiring about causal relations and his distaste for the category of identity, which marked instead the work of Prado Jnior, De Holanda, and
Viana. Caio Prado Jnior, on the other hand, was unique in merging the synecdochical strategies of Marxs thought with the metonymic features of Durkheims positivistic sociology. He created a materialist and dialectical mode of representation that
32 Candido, O significado de Razes do Brasil, 11.

caio prado jnior, the 1930s generation


had both historical and mechanist features, and strived to give a scientific and logical
order to his histories. More than Freyre or De Holanda, Prado Jnior was aware of
the ideological implications in the writing of history, and his conception of history
could be anything, except ironical.
V. The Syntax of Brazilian Historiography
in the 1930s
The basic functions of subject and object of knowledge suggest a unique relation
of the 1930s generation authors to Brazilian past. As already pointed out, some elements structured the available alternatives for the historical construction of this past.
First, it is possible to identify the problem of contiguity between past and present,
between the Portuguese colony and the independent Empire : the colonial burden
for some, represented for others a heritage. This aspect determined the relationship
between the historian and History as a whole. Facing the colonial past, two strategies were configured : one that claimed its positivity, like in Caio, Viana and Freyre ;
the other stressed its negativity, like in Srgio Buarque de Holanda. The recognition
of ones own historicity and the historicity of historiography itself exerted a crucial
and decisive function in those narratives. On this score, Srgio Buarque de Holandas
negative attitude went further than any others, since for him even the present time
carried an original scar : after all, Brazilian democracy was nothing more than an unfortunate misunderstanding. 33
A second structural element arose from the intellectual and ideological atmosphere
they were embedded in. Although they had all absorbed elements of Marxism, they
were all born liberal, and they read Brazilian history from the perspective of a Brazilian liberal tradition. Liberal ideas, we could say, imposed themselves as a rule of
thumb, transforming themselves in the hands of each of them into more radical or
more moderate strands of liberal thought. Caio Prado and Srgio Buarque belong to
the more radical strand, while Freyre and Oliveira Viana can be positioned in a more
moderate field. We could further say that the liberal rule of thumb constituted an
ethical starting point common to all the histories produced by the 1930s generation,
for it prescribed an attitude that we could summarize as one should not do to the past
what one would not like to be done onto the present. Their key analyses of the continuing
presence of slavery, of the pitfalls of a centralized political-administrative organization, and of the slow pace of juridical transformations, all show the existence of this
second structural element. Hence, also their ponderings on the relationship between
property and authority nurtured their bottom-line liberalism.
The third element, responsible for the amalgamation of the two previous ones was
the influence of modernist ideas. Adherence to this new artistic and literary protocol
with its rhetorical conventions, figures, and stylistics, set the tone for the histories
written by that generation. Srgio Buarque and Caio Prado, in particiular, plunged in
that atmosphere of cultural renewal. In deeply original ways, they sought to reduce
the gap separating past from future, keeping them both close to the present. Unlike
Freyre or Viana, who revered the classics, recognizing and assimilating the weight of

33 S. B. de Holanda, Razes do Brasil (So Paulo : Companhia das Letras, 1995), 179-180.


julio bentivoglio

the previous historiographical tradition, they radically broke with previous historiography, explicitly pointing out its problems and defects. The last structuring aspect of
this generations historical syntax came from nationalism. The national issue gained
new dimensions with the Revolution of 1930, producing movements with a warm
nationalist expression. Thinking about Brazil and characterizing Brazilian people became an indispensable element for intellectuals who lived in the 1930s. The agenda
included questioning the symbols and the meanings attached to people and nation.
In this respect, the relation between State and society guided Prado Jniors reflections, putting his emphasis mostly on the role of people.
VI. The Semantics of Brazilian History
in Caio Prado Jnior
Guided by a skeptical view of existing traditional history, Caio Prado Jnior believed
that reality was characterized by an irreversible conflict, and his natural ideological
stance was that of being a permanent critic. Hence, he was not only a radical historian but also a radical and engaged intellectual. He advocated a scientific history,
marked by the existence of causal laws, but equally inspired by a tragic mithos of
men that were socially, politically and economically split, and whose future would
be marked by a destiny that might be detected in the past and known only in the
present. He constituted, therefore, an interesting model of society, being the first
one to apply the concept of class to Brazilian history. Mechanist features marked
the emplotment of his histories, whose relations between its parts connected in
mechanical-causal terms of action and counteraction. His basic argument was that
colonization explains Brazils historical reality by integrating it with world capitalism as a producer zone and a supplier of agricultural genres through slave labor. In
his words :

Every people has in its evolution, when seen from afar, a certain sense that is not perceived
in the details of its history, but in the set of essential facts and events that constitute a long
period of time. Whoever observes that set, chipping away at the quagmire of secondary incidents that always accompany it, and leave it sometimes confusing and incomprehensible, will
not fail to realize that it is formed from a master and unbroken guideline of events, which
follow one another in a strict order, bearing always a certain orientation [...] all moments and
aspects are only parts, each incomplete, of a whole which must always be the last goal of the
historian. 34

For Caio Prado Jnior, the sense of colonization was that of producing goods for
the metropolis, linking it to the process of primitive capital accumulation. The chapters of Formao do Brasil Contemporneo are directly in dialogue with Marxs Capital,
as each one articulates the organizing process of the capitalist mode of production. 35
The sense of colonization, therefore, explained every sphere of society. Still, Caio
Prados narrative dealt with real men and not only the economy, setting him apart

34 C. Prado Jnior, Formao do Brasil Contemporneo : Colnia (1942) (So Paulo : Publifolha, 2000), 7.
35 Prado Junior starts by dealing with the productive forces, placing society in its geographical setting in
the first part of the book, and analyzing later material life, when dealing with production and commerce.
He ends by addressing social life and political administration.

caio prado jnior, the 1930s generation


from the economicist emphasis animating the orthodox Marxism of his times. 36 He
articulates man with another fundamental category of historical materialism : labor.
For him, the Portuguese trade company in Brazil resembled a commercial trading
post characterized by a small staff, summary administration, and a military apparatus in defense and support of ownership.
With their mechanist character, and metonymical articulation of reality, Caio
Prados histories of Brazil aim at revealing the fundamental engine of Brazilian history. Just like in Schleirmachers hermeneutic circle, in which the parts illustrate the
whole and vice-versa, Brazil integrated a productive capitalist world system, so that
no aspect, whether micro or macro, would escape that system. Only the unveiling
of that system could lead to an understanding of the trajectory of Brazilian peoples
evolution. 37 Like Whites Marx, Caio Prado used [the mechanist strategy] to sanction a Tragic account of history which is heroic and militant in tone. 38 In his own
words :

On the whole, and seen from a global point of view [...] the colonization of the tropics has
the appearance of a vast commercial enterprise, more encompassing than the old factory system, but always with the same character of it : destined to exploit the natural resources of a
virgin territory to benefit European commerce. That is the real sense of tropical colonization,
of which Brazil is one of the results, and [as such] might explain the basic elements, in the
economic as well as social aspect of the formation and historical evolution of the American
tropics. 39

That is the sense of Brazilian history, but Caio Prado goes even further, indicating
its tragic agon : Brazilian mans struggle to overcome his colonial condition. Saying it
with White once again, in Caio Prados tragic vision of history, there is a clear perception of the laws governing human nature in its contest with fate and, a fortiori, of
the laws governing social processes in general. 40
Imbued with that feeling, and driven by moral imperatives, Prado Jnior could
not operate in an ironical mode of historical representation, like Oliveira Viana or
Gilberto Freyres. And he could not produce a comical narrative of Brazilian history
in the mode of synecdoche, as Freyre also did. To him, it was necessary to fight and
overcome the colonial legacy, that is, there still existed in his present time a tragic and
foundational conflict. In tragedy there are no celebrations, if they exist, they are illusory, because in tragedy there is only falling and shattering of the world. Reconciliations in tragedy are always gloomy. Comedy and tragedy take the conflict seriously.
Still unfinished, the history of Brazil was tragic and had enduring, and structural contradictions, whose foundation was slavery. 41 Unlike the novelistic history structured
around a heros triumph over evil, or vice-versa, a tragic history does not present an
ending. In Caio Prados own words :

36 See especially J. Melo, O economicismo em Caio Prado Jr., Novos Estudos Cebrap, 8 (1987) : 47-48.
37 Prado Jnior, Formao do Brasil Contemporneo, 8.
38 White, Metahistory, 27.
39 Prado Jnior, Formao do Brasil Contemporneo, 19-20.
40 White, Metahistory, 199.
41 An emphasis on this aspect is given on the third part of the book, Vida social, which opens the following considerations : Of course that first and foremost, and above all, what characterized Brazilian society in the beginning of the nineteenth century was slavery. Everywhere in which we find that institution,
here as elsewhere, no other exerted the influence that it has in the role that it represented in all sectors of
social life. Prado Jnior, Formao do Brasil Contemporneo, 277.


julio bentivoglio

The symptoms of each of those (colonial) characters appear in the course of our whole colonial evolution, but it is only in the end of this course that they complete themselves and
clearly define themselves for the observer [...] This historical process is expanded, and creeps
until nowadays. And it is still not finished. 42

That inconclusive character also appears in other moments. Thus, for example, in
the economic sphere, Caio Prado affirms that free work has not completely organized itself in the whole country, and at the social level, the same thing could be
said : the Brazil of his times tragically manifested a striking colonial orientation
which he saw revealed in the statements of foreign travelers who visited us in the
early nineteenth century and are often applicable to today. 43
Finally, with his synchronic narrative, Caio Prado Jnior points to the sense of a
structural historical continuity in which the occupation and settlement of the territory that constituted Brazil is an episode, a small detail in that huge framework [...]
or, put it in explicitly synedochis terms it is just a part in a whole, incomplete without that vision of the whole. 44 Similarly, he refers to the maritime expansion and
to the subsequent colonization of America as a chapter in the history of European
commerce. 45 In the end, while being a supporter of dialectics, he contradicts its
progressive movement by elaborating a synthesis that affirms an eternal destiny for
Brazil : to reproduce the colonial burden.
Constructing his plot in a mechanist way, Caio Prado sees in acts of agents that
populate the historical field, manifestations of extra-historical agencies, which have
their origins in a broader universe, in which action, as described in narrative, is developed. He searches for causal laws that determine the outcome of historical processes, in which phenomena are investigated as human relations within the capitalist system, revealing historical laws that govern actions, and exposing the effects of
these laws, thereby fitting perfectly Whites definition of the mechanistic historian
for whom

an explanation is considered complete only when he has discovered the laws that are presumed to govern history in the same way that the laws of physics are presumed to govern
nature. He then applies these laws to the data in such a way as to make their configurations
understandable as functions of those laws. 46

Building his arguments metonymically in order to indicate that Brazil belongs to

the table of world capitalism, Caio Prado presents his elements always in a way that
the parts (Brazilian economic activities such as sugar production, mining, ranching,
industry, commerce, etc.) replace the thing itself. He also structures the combination of the facts in a way that the first and the last causes become explicit : part of
the population and of the productive activities still in the Colony, during the sixteenth, seventeenth, eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, getting one more time to
the social organization, and then to the Empire, which was still an enslaver. Breaking
with the interpretative model, which was dominant in the Third International of the

42 Prado Jnior, Formao do Brasil Contemporneo, 2.

43 Prado Jnior, Formao do Brasil Contemporneo, 3-4.
44 Prado Jnior, Formao do Brasil Contemporneo, 11.
45 Prado Jnior, Formao do Brasil Contemporneo, 12.

46 White, Metahistory, 17.

caio prado jnior, the 1930s generation


Communist Party and associated colonies with feudalism, Caio Prado affirmed that
Brazil had already been born capitalist. For Caio Prado, in Brazil there was not even
the possibility of [free] white work. [It was] the work recruited among inferior races
that dominated, whether indigenous or imported African blacks. 47 In short : a radical
analytical point of view, with a conservative tone in the end, when related to ethnic
and racial issues.
According to the tropology proposed by White, Caio Prado Jniors historical textual artifact reveals the warp of the events in a tragic form, based on explanations
of a scientific character through the laws of putative or causal determinations, tied
to an inexorable fate in the future. His is a History modeled in a radical tone, with
the use of mechanist arguments. The other components of the 1930s generation display very different characteristics from his, which, however, uncannily articulate the
tropological scheme offered by Whites analysis of the European historical imagination in the course of a long nineteenth century, in all its variations. This suggests that,
as a general theory of historical poetics, Whites tropology can be quite adaptable to
a scale of analysis that illustrates the structures of a generational historical imagination as resulting from a set of warp modes, argumentation, and ideological positioning, bringing new light on the problem of historical writing.

Universidade Federal do Esprito Santo

47 Prado Jnior, Formao do Brasil Contemporneo, 18-19. Emphasis by the author.

c o mp os to in car atter e dan t e mon ot y p e d a l l a

fabr izio serr a editor e , p i s a r om a .
stamp ato e rileg a t o n e l l a
t ipog r afia di ag n an o, ag na n o p i s a n o ( p i s a ) .

Luglio 2014

Tutte le riviste Online e le pubblicazioni delle nostre case editrici

(riviste, collane, varia, ecc.) possono essere ricercate bibliograficamente e richieste
(sottoscrizioni di abbonamenti, ordini di volumi, ecc.) presso il sito Internet:
Per ricevere, tramite E-mail, periodicamente, la nostra newsletter/alert con lelenco
delle novit e delle opere in preparazione, Vi invitiamo a sottoscriverla presso il nostro sito
Internet o a trasmettere i Vostri dati (Nominativo e indirizzo E-mail) allindirizzo:
Computerized search operations allow bibliographical retrieval of the Publishers works
(Online journals, journals subscriptions, orders for individual issues, series, books, etc.)
through the Internet website:
If you wish to receive, by E-mail, our newsletter/alert with periodic information
on the list of new and forthcoming publications, you are kindly invited to subscribe it at our
website or to send your details (Name and E-mail address) to the following address: