Archives for category: Books


He is laughing on us

It would be 61 years in the future, not 53. And the people leaving Southern towns in a new Exodus would be Latino, not black. But otherwise, Ray Bradbury was eerily prophetic. Bradbury, who died June 5 in Los Angeles at the age of 91, was a writer of science
fiction only in the sense that some of his stories were set on other worlds or in alternate realities—there isn’t much science in them. What there is in abundance is a revelation of interior life and what he once described as an effort to prevent the future, which meant arresting the disturbing present. The threat of nuclear annihilation was part of that present, and so was the national nightmare of racial segregation and lynch-mob violence. In “The Million-Year Picnic,” a couple and their three sons land on Mars just as everything on Earth goes dark. The boys believe they are on a vacation trip, and when they ask to see the Martians, Dad shows them their reflection in the waters of a canal. Maybe humanity, as new Martians, can get it right this time.

When I first read last year about the hapless farmers of Alabama and Georgia, whose workforce of skilled but undocumented pickers had departed en masse ahead of the new laws that would have got most of them jailed and deported, something clicked. The farmers were complaining that legal locals just couldn’t hack it. Wayne Smith, a tomato grower in northeast Alabama for 25 years, told the AP he’d never been able to keep a crew of American workers for any length of time. “People in Alabama are not going to do this,” Smith said. “They’d work one day and just wouldn’t show up again.” Millions of dollars worth of crops were going to rot in the fields.

That news from Alabama brought me back to 1952 when I was 12, addicted to EC Comics, from Weird Science and Mad to The Vault of Horror and Tales from the Crypt. In the early 1950s, EC began publishing illustrated stories by classic writers of gothic fiction, such as Ambrose Bierce and Edgar Allan Poe (safely dead and in the public domain), as well as the living, breathing, 30-ish and copyrighted Ray Bradbury. After the first of these appeared, Bradbury sent the publisher a pleasant note saying that his check must have gone astray. EC apologized for the misappropriation, sent him some money and a contract, and over the next few years published about a dozen illustrated Bradbury stories.

I’m pretty certain one of those stories was titled (in its comic book form) “The Day the Negroes Left the Earth.” In his short-story collection The Martian Chronicles, the title is “June 2003: Way in the Middle of the Air,” which was first published with that title in the magazine Other Worlds in July 1950.

Like “The Million-Year Picnic,” “Way in the Middle of the Air” looks to a new beginning. Samuel Teece, proprietor of a hardware store somewhere in the South, is on the porch of his shop with Grandpa Quartermain and some neighbors, and one of them asks if he’s heard about it.

“About what?”
“The niggers, the niggers.”
“What about ’em?”
“Them leaving, pulling out, going away, did you hear? … Every single one here in the South.”

The women of the town come running to find their menfolk. Clara Teece implores her husband to come home because their maid, Lucinda, is leaving. But he’s got problems of his own, and we see them unfold as he tries to deal with two black men, sometime employees, from among the multitudes now tramping down the street past the hardware store, on their way to the rockets that will take them to Mars. The social conventions that have governed race relations in the Jim Crow South prove insufficient to allow Teece to exercise his normal command over them, and both go on their way. The last of them, a 17-year-old named Silly, turns as he leaves and calls to his tormenter, “Mr. Teece, Mr. Teece, what you goin’ to do nights from now on? What you goin’ to do nights, Mr. Teece?”

“What in hell did he mean?,” Teece wonders, and is enraged when it dawns on him that Silly knows of his participation in a gang of night riders. He recalls the “many nights of the wind rushing in the car, flopping their hair over their mean eyes, roaring, as they picked a tree, a good strong tree, and rapped on a shanty door!”

Later, after a failed attempt to chase down and shoot Silly, Teece and his friends are back on the porch as the rockets blast off into space. “Did you notice?” Teece says. “Right up to the very last, by God, he said ‘Mister’!”

Wounded white pride, if not on the order of Teece’s resentment, would seem to account for much of the animus that has propelled the anti-immigrant campaign. The illegal immigration of Polish janitors, Irish nannies and Greek busboys, among others, never seemed to be much of a problem, even when it was common in the ’70s and ’80s—but our nativist rabble has been angry that, in the words of a 1981 New York Times editorial, “We’ve Lost Control of Our Borders.” (And they weren’t referring to Canada.)

The Obama administration’s overzealous ICE raids and deportations, Arizona’s “papers please” law of 2010, and the even more aggressive anti-immigrant laws passed last year in Georgia and Alabama, all seem to have brought the system to the point of collapse. South Carolina, apparently gripped by Antebellum nostalgia, tried to escape a similar fate this year by carving out exemptions for faithful field laborers and household servants, which would seem to defeat the original purpose of the law requiring employers to verify the immigration status of all new hires.

Even in the Pacific Northwest, migrant workers are avoiding chance encounters with the authorities: In Washington state, third-generation grower Al Robison told CBS News correspondent Ben Tracy last fall that for all the unemployed people in the area, he still can’t get “American” workers—Tracy’s word—to pick the required 8,000 pounds of apples, per person per nine-hour day, for $150. (I wonder why?) The state’s apple crop, worth $1.4 billion a year, might not survive long term, said Bruce Grim, state ag-industry executive who wants an expanded official guest-worker program.

As Bradbury sensed in 1940s Dixie—the only change in his 2003 setting seems to be the availability of rocket travel—the old order is once again under tremendous strain. Voting citizens who get hassled on the highways and whose non-citizen friends, relatives, and co-workers have been deported or slammed into ICE detention, are mad as hell—not exactly fired up and ready to go for Obama. The businesses—agriculture, construction, landscaping and others—long dependent on cheap, reliable immigrant labor, will now have to fight their right-wing allies to reverse policy or somehow convince “American workers” to take on hard manual labor for Third World wages.

On their way out, the undocumented may say “Señor,” but it will carry the same sneer as Silly’s “Mr. Teece.”

Book review

Moreover, we are fortunate that these fragments survived because they provide us with searing glimpses into the nature of the Nazi occupation of Poland. As Shallcross compellingly shows, Szlengel, Ginczanka, Nałkowska, Miłosz, Andrzejewski, and Borowski all focused on the wartime fate of ordinary material objects in especially intense and vivid ways. They wrote about the seizing, sifting through, recycling, and abandonment of things, the detritus of genocide–sheets, desks, dishes, tables, shoes. In so doing, these early scribes of the Holocaust created some of the first attempts to represent the Nazi murder of European Jews. As Shallcross writes: “I believe that the nature of this genocide is representable, even though those who lived through it, and first spoke of it, were given no real opportunity or time to master strategies of representation that would express their experience. This representation occurs more vividly when the Holocaust experience is evoked through ordinary objects” (p. 11).

Two early writers of the Holocaust, along with Shallcross’s illuminating analysis of them, struck me most powerfully. The first writer is little known outside the field of Polish Jewish studies. Born in 1917, Zuzanna Polina Gincburg, who published under the pen name of Zusanna Ginczanka, was a noted poet in Warsaw’s interwar literary scene. When the Nazis invaded Poland in 1939, she fled to her hometown of Równe and then to Lwów, before ending up in Kraków, where she was executed in December 1944 in a Gestapo prison courtyard. While Ginczanka wrote little during the war, her untitled poem of 1942, which somehow made it to a childhood friend who submitted it for publication in 1946, wrenchingly tells of plundering and death in Ginczanka’s own bedroom.

The ordinary objects of her bedroom function as props of murder. Ginczanka’s enumeration of her things in the poem, as Shallcross puts it, “becomes so intense that the reader can feel [them] almost tangibly” (p. 44). And yet this is not a poem of self-pity; it is one, rather, of jouissance in Shallcross’s reading. Ginczanka secured an uncanny victory over her perpetrators; she endowed her Polish neighbors–whom she called “my dear ones”–with the inheritance of permanent guilt for their participation in looting and murder, a guilt to which her blood-soaked goods would remind them long after the war had ended.

O, how they will work, like a house on fire,
Skeins of horsehair and sea grass,
Clouds from torn pillows and feather beds apart
Will cling to their hands, will change both hands into wings;
My blood will glue the oakum with fresh down
And will suddenly transform the winged to angels (p. 38).

Shallcross has rendered Ginczanka’s poem into English for the first time; the poem will now receive the broader audience that it most certainly deserves.

Borowski is the second early writer of the Holocaust whose poetry Shallcross examines with particular force. While Borowski has received no shortage of attention, Shallcross provides fresh analysis of his work. She examines, among other themes, the loss of tactility in his writings, analyzing the ending to Borowski’s “A Day at Harmenz.” Borowski concluded this story with the image of Becker, an older Polish Jewish prisoner who is near death, struggling to feel his way to his last meal. Becker is “vainly groping with his hand for the board to pull himself on to the bunk,” Borowski wrote (p. 117). Shallcross argues that Borowski articulated here the Nazi destruction of the human body and its sense of touch. He revealed a process of degradation that ended with the body turning almost into an object. In Borowski’s words: “I stared into the night, numb, speechless, frozen with horror. My entire body trembled, and rebelled, somehow even without my participation. I no longer controlled my body, although I could feel its every tremor” (p. 125).

Shallcross has written an erudite book that provides novel insights into a broad range of themes, including memory, representation, ethics, the human senses, and Polish Jewish relations. From my perspective as a cultural historian of memory and of the Holocaust, I see her book making two key interdisciplinary contributions. First, Shallcross labors, in many ways, as a cultural historian as much as she does as a literary scholar. Her analysis of Polish and Polish Jewish responses to the Holocaust as it was taking place (or just shortly after it ended) vividly reconstructs the Nazi destruction of Polish Jewry and the distinct literary encounters with human violence that the Holocaust engendered. Her book marks a significant addition to the historiography of the Holocaust. Second, Shallcross’s work enriches our understanding of early Polish and Polish Jewish responses to the Holocaust. Analyzing Miłosz’s poem “A Poor Christian Looks at the Ghetto,” she pauses to reflect on the significance of its creation: “To my knowledge, no non-Jewish author who lived under the terror of the Nazi rule would have signed an audacious poetic document of this caliber. The fact that Miłosz kept his poem close to him, in a suitcase, demonstrates an incredibly high level of both self-awareness and ethical conscience fused with a sense of responsibility” (p. 83). In analyzing the artifacts of writers who took up the ethical and precarious charge of testifying to the destruction engulfing and surrounding them, Shallcross has written an important book.


Michael Meng. Review of Shallcross, Bożena, The Holocaust Object in Polish and Polish-Jewish Culture

Book review

O primeiro dos artigos que abre esta coletânea, integrado na parte sobre Política, inicia-se com uma referência ao processo singular que deu origem aos Estados Africanos e ao facto de estes terem sido impostos de “fora” e relaciona três temas: Estado, Descentralização e Cidadania. O seu autor, João Óscar Monteiro, coloca no título do seu capítulo a questão que lhe sugere esta complexa relação–“Equação possível ou imperativa”–e que guia a sua reflexão. Reflectindo na formação e evolução dos Estados africanos, o autor centra-se, posteriormente, nas formas através das quais o processo de descentralização está a ser conduzido, afirmando que embora o conceito de descentralização tenha uma conotação favorável, actualmente “fez parte da panóplia crítica dos poderes excessivos do Estado” (p. 25) sendo também “gerador de receios de fragmentação” (p. 26). Lembra-nos que a descentralização também está identificada com autarcização e que o grau de descentralização é geralmente quantificado através do ritmo de criação de autarquias. O autor crítica o facto de esse processo ser imposto de cima para baixo (“iniciado pelo Governo e negociado em sede parlamentar” (p. 27) e pergunta se não seria possível dar “mais relevo à vontade popular” e fazer resultar a criação das autarquias da capacidade dos cidadãos se organizarem a nível local e “tomarem conta dos seus assuntos” (p. 27). Por outro lado, o autor afirma que existe a tendência de se considerar que apenas a descentralização autárquica é descentralização quando, segundo ele, existe também em Moçambique uma “descentralização administrativa participada” (p. 29) no caso em que as leis consagram o papel das comunidades na gestão dos seus recursos. O autor enumera no final do seu artigo os principais desafios que o processo de descentralização enfrenta em Moçambique.

O conjunto de desafios colocados por este autor contêm–como muitos dos desafios que ao longo deste livro são colocados por vários autores–um conjunto de premissas que necessitam de ser ultrapassados para que os desafios colocados o possam deixar de ser. Essas desejáveis mudanças passam por ver a realidade (neste caso concreto a descentralização) sobre outros prismas (como um processo que vai “para além de mudanças entre escalões administrativos,” p. 33), ultrapassando diversos obstáculos e receios (como sejam o ver a descentralização como fragmentação) e incapacidades (dos diferentes órgãos governamentais provinciais e distritais) e ainda o desafio de saber sé possível vencer a “mentalidade dirigista” (p. 34).

O segundo artigo intitulado “’Transformações sem mudanças?’ Os conselhos municipais e os desafios da institucionalização democrática em Moçambique”, da autoria de Salvador Cadete Forquilha e Aslak Orre, coloca dois importantes desafios relacionados, igualmente, com a descentralização politica e com os poderes e as formas de governação local em Moçambique. No primeiro dos desafios, os autores abordam os processos de inclusão políticos a nível local e a representatividade dos conselhos locais e, no segundo desafio, equacionam as possibilidades de estes órgãos de poder locais, os “conselhos locais”, se tornarem em órgãos efectivos de governação local. Na sua conclusão, os autores resumem as principais constatações a que a sua análise sobre a “institucionalização democrática de Moçambique” a partir das “dinâmicas e logicas de funcionamento dos espaços de participação criados no âmbito do processo de democratização” ao nível dos distritos (p. 36), chega e afirmam que, embora o processo de democratização iniciado nos anos de 1990 tenha implicado a existência de novas instituições, estas não trouxeram mudanças significativas pois a “estruturação do campo politico … conduziu à constituição de um sistema de partido dominante, cristalizado numa cada vez mais captura do Estado pelo partido do poder” (p. 51) que domina as instituições politicas a nível distrital e que os conselhos locais têm um papel marginal nas decisões de nível local não sendo instrumentos políticos participativos e inclusivos.

A segunda parte desta coletânea, designada Economia, inclui cinco artigos que equacionam questões relacionadas com as diferentes opções económicas que se colocam a Moçambique. A essas opções não são alheios interesses e dependências externas e interesses instalados de diferentes grupos sociais.

Esta parte inicia-se com uma análise de Carlos Nuno Castel-Branco, sobre a questão da mobilização dos recursos domésticos e as formas através das quais essa mobilização pode ser feita, apresentando, o autor, o debate que tal tem gerado em Moçambique, as motivações que o impulsionam e as questões que levanta. O autor apresenta seis grandes questões/motivações: a substituição da ajuda externa; a redução da interferência politica; o aumento da receita e mudança da estrutura fiscal; a eliminação de benefícios fiscais redundantes; o que fazer com os recursos naturais; e, por último, aborda os perigos e desafios do endividamento público. Conclui que “do ponto de vista da construção de uma economia diversificada e articulada a tributação do capital parece ser a melhor opção para mobilizar recursos domésticos” (p.122). No entanto, o autor, ao interrogar-se sobre as razões que explicam a não opção por esta via, refere que estas se predem com o facto de a “função principal do Estado moçambicano na fase actual” ser o de “facilitar o processo de acumulação de capital das classes capitalistas emergentes … na completa dependência das dinâmicas e interesses do capital multinacional, através da expropriação e controle dos recursos naturais a baixo custo para o capital” (p. 123). Por último refere que “o debate sobre opções de financiamento do Estado é também sobre opções e padrões e reprodução social” (p. 128). Se o segundo artigo desta parte reforça a ideia que o aumento das receitas do Estado deve ser feito por via da tributação dos rendimentos do capital (em especial das grandes empresas que gozam de benefícios fiscais), o terceiro artigo levanta a possibilidade de esse financiamento poder vir a ser feito através do endividamento e reflecte sobre os diferentes tipos de endividamento possíveis.

O último artigo que se insere nesta segunda parte do livro é da autoria de Zaque Sande e foi publicado a título póstumo (o livro é-lhe dedicado). Este artigo aborda a polémica questão dos “7 milhões” e coloca dois desafios. No primeiro, o autor, refere que importa relacionar o impacto dos “7 milhões” com o alargamento, a diversificação e expansão da base produtiva local na estratégia de investimento público e privado e na estratégia de expansão do sistema financeiro em Moçambique (p. 223), e no segundo desafio refere que esta a iniciativa “precisa de gerar uma base de dados de informação de forma a permitir análises detalhadas” (p. 224).

Ana Benard. Review of de Brito, Luís; Castel-Branco, Carlos Nuno; Chichava, Sérgio, eds., Desafios para Moçambique. H-Luso-Africa, H-Net Reviews. August, 2012.


That’s what I seem to prize, the child or the ingénue, the less worldly characters. You can say that the world may not be getting worse—in a pinch you can say that. But it absolutely incontrovertibly is getting less innocent. You get the feeling that childhood does not last as long as it used to. Innocence gets harder to hold on to as the world gets older, as it accumulates more experience, more mileage and more blood on the tracks.

Your youth evaporates in your early 40s when you look in the mirror. And then it becomes a full-time job pretending you’re not going to die, and then you accept that you’ll die. Then in your 50s everything is very thin. And then suddenly you’ve got this huge new territory inside you, which is the past, which wasn’t there before. A new source of strength. Then that may not be so gratifying to you as the 60s begin [Amis is 62], but then I find that in your 60s, everything begins to look sort of slightly magical again. And it’s imbued with a kind of leave-taking resonance, that it’s not going to be around very long, this world, so it begins to look poignant and fascinating.

A book to read. Here is an interesting review.

Historians of science have expended much effort on the study of objectivity. The ways they have done so, however, have changed enormously in the last fifty years. Charles Coulston Gillispie’s The Edge of Objectivity: An Essay in the History of Scientific Ideas (1960) was one of the most influential works of the history of science in the 1960s. (…)

A study of objectivity of a very different sort from Gillispie’s is provided by Lorraine Daston and Peter Galison’s Objectivity, originally published in 2007 but recently reissued in paperback with a new preface. For Daston and Galison, unlike for the earlier students of the Scientific Revolution, objectivity means different things at different times and its history did not begin in the seventeenth century. In their telling, mechanical objectivity emerged as a scientific ideal in the mid-nineteenth century, and it did so in tandem with subjectivity.

Objectivity is concerned with images and provides a meticulous examination of visual practices in various disciplines that range from astronomy to zoology. Much of the book offers detailed commentaries on the numerous images that are reproduced in the book, some in color. Daston and Galison are relentless too in establishing what these images meant for the scientists who produced them. While far from a work on British science alone, many of the examples deal with images created by British scientists. Indeed, the book starts with the efforts of the British physicist Arthur Worthington to capture images of the impact of a liquid droplet, and there are remarks on such British figures as John Herschel elsewhere in the book.

Daston and Galison deal with scientific depictions of various kinds (photographs, drawings, and so on), but their focus is on collections of images in scientific atlases. These the authors take to be “any compendium of images intended to be definitive for a community of practitioners. These profusely illustrated volumes depict carefully chosen observables–bodily organs, constellations, flowering plants, snowflakes–from carefully chosen points of view” (p. 63). From their analysis of atlases, Daston and Galison identify three epistemic virtues–truth-to-nature, mechanical objectivity, and trained judgment–which they associate with different historical periods. Daston and Galison argue that together with the different epistemic virtues came different self-images for scientists so they write at length about what it meant to be a scientist as well as how scientists conceived of themselves, that is, the “covariance of scientific self, image, procedure and object” (p. 371).

In their account of truth-to-nature, Daston and Galison quote Goethe who in 1798 described how in his research in morphology and optics he sought “pure” phenomena. But teasing out a pure phenomenon demanded a careful series of observations. “To depict it,” Goethe warned, “the human mind must fix the empirically variable, exclude the accidental, eliminate the impure, unravel the tangled, discount the unknown” (p. 59). Daston and Galison present numerous examples of natural historians who fashioned images such that each was the distillation of many individual specimens diligently recorded. Carolus Linnaeus, for example, stressed that botanists should seek out certain and constant characteristics and not be misled by irrelevant details.

Capturing what practitioners of truth-to-nature might have regarded as “irrelevant details,” however, was central to the program of mechanical objectivity. An image-based scientific objectivity began to emerge in the scientific atlases of the 1830s and 1840s, and it was nearly ubiquitous by the 1880s and 1890s. The appearance of mechanical objectivity meant major shifts not only in the methods of depicting nature, but also in ethics and metaphysics, with the ethical requirement now being restraint so as to enable nature to appear on the page through rigorous procedures, and sometimes the workings of a machine, untainted in the ideal case by human interventions.

In the early 1900s, the strategy of trained judgment started to be added to the goal of producing objective images by mechanical means. As one example, Daston and Galison show an image from 1959 of the sun’s magnetic field which was the result of both the output of complex scientific apparatus together with intervention of scientists, using trained judgment, to smooth the data in order to eliminate artifacts produced by their instruments.

Objectivity is a provocative book. It has generally been received with enthusiasm by philosophers of science, but has been given a much more mixed reception by historians. Its approach certainly goes against the grain of some contemporary historical practices. With their concentration on the production of scientific atlases, Daston and Galison rarely tackle questions about the reception or actual uses to which the scientific atlases were put and how those uses compared with the employment of images found, for example, in the pages of scientific journals. Nor are they concerned with how and why images traveled through different social spheres, the subject of substantial research by an assortment of historians of science as well as specialists in science studies.

Objectivity is therefore narrow in terms of the emphasis on work on images by scientists within particular scientific communities and disciplines. At the same time, Daston and Galison’s view of their subject is also a “panoramic” one in terms of both time and space, as it stretches from Linnaeus and his botanical images in the eighteenth century to contemporary practitioners of nanotechnology. This is an ambitious approach. It is not in line with much of the recent work in the history of science–toward which Daston and Galison are critical–which has to do with microstudies and thick description rather than sweeping across centuries and disciplines.

Essential reading for anyone interested in the visual culture of the sciences over the last few centuries, Objectivity is a bold, challenging, and important book. It raises questions of great consequence, but how many historians will be persuaded to follow its methodological strictures remains to be seen.

This reading habit is something I’d self-diagnosed over the past few years, but this was the first time I had admitted it to anyone. I worry that perhaps it’s a symptom of some larger weakness of character or fatal atrophy of the intellect. On my bedside table, there’s a precarious column of half-read paperbacks that taunts me with the evidence of my own readerly promiscuity. The reason I don’t finish books is not that I don’t like reading enough; it’s that I like reading too much. I can’t say no. I’ll be reading a novel and thoroughly enjoying it. Then I’ll be in a bookshop and I’ll see something I’ve been anticipating, and I’ll buy it. I’ll start reading the new book on the bus home that evening, and that will be the end of the original affair. I’m certainly invested in the relationship with the book that I’m currently reading, but I can’t help myself from pursuing whatever new interest happens to turn my head. Perhaps that’s just a tortuous way of admitting to being a pathetic serial book-adulterer who’ll chase after anything in a dust jacket.

This year sees the 50th anniversary of a book that – whether through inspiration, disagreement or unintended hints – has been hugely influential in the history and philosophy of science (HPS). It is Thomas Kuhn‘s Structure of Scientific Revolutions, which was discussed in this great piece by John Naughton in the Guardian last week.

For me, Kuhn’s influence feels somewhere near second or third hand. Responses to him informed the work of my tutors and supervisors, and have long been part of the daily bread of those training in HPS. Considering where we have got to, and how much we have (or haven’t) achieved since Kuhn, is a regular hobby.

Someone who recently did this particularly well, making a convincing case for development in the discipline, is Greg Radick in his inaugural lecture on becoming professor at the Centre for History and Philosophy of Science at Leeds. I therefore wanted to share on this blog some of his ideas about the directions in which our field has moved, or is moving.

Radick is particularly interesting in being able to work between history and philosophy – areas that have become increasingly separated since Kuhn’s time – and with scientists as well as colleagues in the humanities. As he shows in the lecture, some of his and the discipline’s newer approaches take us considerably beyond Kuhn and his immediate legacy, although its significance remains.

I remember that I loved to read Christa Wolf’s Cassandra in a Portuguese translation.

Christa Wolf was born on March 18, 1929 in Landsberg/Warthe, today Gorzó Wielkopolski in Poland. In 1945 she moved to Mecklenburg, and in 1949 she graduated from high school and joined the SED, the former East German Communist Party. She studied German literature in Jena and Leipzig. Later she became a member of the German Writers’ Association, working as editor of the magazine “Neue deutsche Literatur” and chief editor of Neues Leben publishing house. In 1961 she published her first prose work, “Moscow Novella”. The book was well received in the GDR, but not published in the Federal Republic. Since that time she has worked as a freelance author. Her first big success was the novel “Divided Heaven”, which deals with the divided Germany. The book won her the prestigious East German Heinrich Mann Prize, and was made into a movie by East German filmmaker Konrad Wolf in 1964.

From 1963 to 1967, Christa Wolf was a candidate of the Central Committee of the SED, but resigned after giving a critical speech. In 1974 she became a member of the East German Academy of Arts, and from 1981 on was also a member of the Academy of Arts in West Berlin. In 1976 she spoke out against the denaturalisation of singer-songwriter Wolf Biermann. She was allowed to travel freely, and gave visiting lectures in the Federal Republic, Italy, Scotland, Switzerland and the USA starting 1978.

In 1983, her book “Cassandra” appeared, dealing with the conflict between the sexes. The book made her an all-German author and was her biggest international success. In 1987 she was also presented the 1st Class National Prize of the GDR. Two years later, in June 1989, she left the Communist Party – five months before the fall of the Berlin Wall.

In 1990 she published “What Remains”, a strongly autobiographical short story documenting her supervision by the Ministry for State Security. The book initiated a discussion on the complicity of intellectuals in the misanthropical conditions of the GDR. Christa Wolf was attacked in the West as a “hypocrite” and “state poet”, whereupon she retired from public life.

1993 brought a further benchmark. Christa Wolf acknowledged she had been an unofficial informant for the Ministry for State Security. She herself published the files documenting her engagement at this time. In all, Christa Wolf has written over thirty books, radio plays and film scenarios. In 1996 her novel “Medea” appeared. As with “Cassandra” it adopts the narrative voice of a figure from the world of ancient mythology.

In 2003 her book “Ein Tag im Jahr” (one day in the year) appeared, comprising her minutes from the day on each September 27th over the past four decades.

read here (in Portuguese), this text from Domingos Lobo

Jorge Amado pertence a uma geração de autores brasileiros que produziu, a partir dos anos 1930, uma literatura que começava – depois do fulgor realista de Machado de Assis – a pensar o Brasil fora da herança arcádica do colonialismo, fugindo aos apelos do modernismoe, até, da Renascença Portuguesa em cuja revista Águia poetas como Ronald de Carvalho e Guilherme de Almeida haviam colaborado.

Essa nova geração de poetas e prosadores, de Carlos Drumond de Andrade a Vinícius de Moraes, de Guimarães Rosa a João Cabral de Melo Neto, visava criar uma literatura autónoma face ao legado do romantismo e do realismo portugueses, que fosse, a um tempo, consciente e interventiva, centrada na realidade brasileira e sul-americana, exprimindo uma sintaxe nova mas fugindo ao folclorismo romântico de José de Alencar, e investindo a sua capacidade discursiva na denúncia das escandalosas desigualdades sociais, as misérias e sevícias sofridas pelo povo miúdo, que a crise de 1929 e o avanço, na Europa, do nazi-fascismo tornavam evidentes mesmo num país que tentava, através do discurso hiperbólico de Getúlio Vargas, proclamado pelos seus seguidores como pai dos pobres, manter o Brasil neutral face ao vasto conflito que abalava o mundo. A neutralidade não o impediu, no entanto, de manter clara simpatia pelos países do eixo, de perseguir, com o patrocínio do clero reaccionário, os comunistas e seus companheiros de jornada e de luta.

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Com Gaibéus, de Alves Redol Esteiros, de Soeiro Pereira Gomes, estabelecem-se as coordenadas fundamentais do quadro iniciador de um movimento cultural que pretendia traduzir, no processo literário, a lutapela dignidade da pessoa humana, como Armando Bacelar não deixou de assinalar numa nota crítica publicada em 1947 na revistaVértice.


A obra que Alves Redol ergueu, poderosa na sua configuração estética, interventiva e cultural, iniciou-se como uma contra corrente que se impôs, como antítese, à «política do espírito» desse ideólogo do fascismo que foi António Ferro, mas, de igual modo, e não menos combativo, opondo-se ao conservadorismo estético da Presença, sendo ainda, num registo mais sóbrio, igualmente de ruptura com o ideário político-cultural que António Sérgio e Raul Brandão defendiam nas páginas da Seara Nova.

A escrita de Redol é de claro compromisso com o povo e a sua cultura, com um projecto de elevação social e cultural do povo, definido pelo grupo neo-realista de Vila Franca de Xira (1936/37) e do qual faziam parte Alves Redol, Dias Lourenço, Garcez da Silva, Bona da Silva, Mário Rodrigues Faria, Arquimedes da Silva Santos e Carlos Pato.

Daí a pesquisa incessante das fontes: no Douro, nas lezírias do Tejo, na Lisboa das docas e do operariado urbano; na Nazaré dos amores desesperados, da heroicidade dos homens frente ao mar bravio, revelada em Uma Fenda na Muralha, imaginário que o autor transporta para o guião a partir do qual Manuel Guimarães realizou o filme Nazaré; as conversas no Aljube com um mercenário a soldo do franquismo, ou as metamorfoses de um herói (A Barca dos Sete Lemes); a Lisboa da 2.ª Guerra, cidade povoada de judeus em busca de um passaporte que lhes permitisse serem livres em terras da América (o Cavalo Espantado), tema, sobre a diáspora dos judeus, igualmente presente no livro de contos Nasci com passaporte de turista. Uma busca permanente desse espaço telúrico essencial, a um tempo lírico, desassombrado e agreste, o corpo textual interdependente do corpo social, pelos caminhos em que as tarefas dos homens, dos descamisados, melhor se expressa e afirma. As paisagens humanas, esse conflituoso, esquivo território em que o homem se representa inteiro, se move, se expõe, consciencializa, luta e transfigura.

Alves Redol constrói com autenticidade, uma plêiade imagética única e poderosa na ficção portuguesa de grande parte do século XX, anunciando outro tempo, o tempo da afirmação e da dignidade do humano, da sociabilidade, da arte romanesca como espaço privilegiado de intervenção cultural e política que o neo-realismo veio fixar e, como nenhum outro movimento literário e artístico do século XX português, tornar perene.

Esse posicionamento face à literatura vamos encontrá-lo logo em Gaibéus, no ceifeiro-rebelde, no qual o pensamento do então jovem escritor se projectava. Ele simboliza, no seu esquematismo individual, a idealização da consciência colectiva que só nas obras posteriores o autor desenvolverá com mais clareza. Daí o ceifeiro rebelde, demiurgo do sonho colectivo, saber que «Falava pelos homens que ainda não se haviam encontrado».

Para nos encontrarmos, face às lutas deste nosso tempo, precisamos destas vozes, desse grito que ia para o futuro,destes autores, deste exemplo cívico, cultural e humano que a obra de Alves Redol lúcida e plenamente inscreve na imanência do corpo textual da literatura portuguesa contemporânea.

Repesco aqui um excerto de um texto de Mário Dionísio publicado na Seara Nova em 1942: «Quando mais tarde se estudar a literatura portuguesa do século XX, os seus períodos de apogeu e os seus períodos de decadência, o estudo de Alves Redol impor-se-á como o estudo do primeiro grito de reacção contra a enxurrada de abstenções e falsidades» sobre a realidade desses tempos. A verdade opondo-se à mistificação, eis o que Redol oferece,reclamando, em pleno, o direito de cidade, às letras portuguesas.