When we think of Modernism, a few names come to mind: Ezra Pound, Virginia Woolf, T.S. Eliot. They’re all European, though Pound was born in America, or perhaps “Western“, if we really need to give them a label.
However, there are more Modernisms that never truly went global and that are worth knowing more about.
Brazilian Modernism is conventionally considered to have been founded in the week between 11th and 18th February 1922, at an arts festival in São Paulo called “Semana de Arte Moderna” (“Modern Week Art“). This single event was bound to help Brazilian literature move forward, as literary master Oswald de Andrade had been quoted saying Brazil was “fifty years behind” upon his return from Europe in the early 1910s. It’s after this event that Brazilian Modernism was seen taking a concrete and definite form and direction. Initially, the group seemed to share the same goals, despite uniting a very diverse group of perspectives. His novel “Memórias Sentimentais de João Miramar” (translated: “Sentimental Memories of John Miramar“) is seen as one of the key works of Brazilian Modernism. At a first glance, the synopsis of this work is not too distant from the way Miguel de Unamuno narrates his 1914 masterpiece “Niebla” although very different in characterisations and development. His friendship with poet Mário de Andrade will be the glue that keeps this group together. Prior to 1922, Mário de Andrade had published the crucial poem collection “Há uma gota de sangue em cada poema” (in English, “There’s a Drop of Blood in Every Poem“), under the pen name of Mário Sobral, to protest against World War I.
But later on, during the 1920s, things changed. Two main groups formed out of the Brazilian Modernists: Oswald de Andrade launched the “Movimento Pau-Brasil“, later presenting the “Manifesto Antropófago” (“Cannibal Manifesto“), where he clearly used cannibalism as a metaphor for his creative process of devouring European influences to convey a new original message from and for Brazil. As a reaction to other European influenced Modernisms, the “Movimento Verde-Amarelo” (literally “Green-Yellow Movement“) had a life of its own. It was mainly led by Cassiano Ricardo, Menotti Del Picchia, Plinio Salgado and others, but later took a way too nationalist route., recalling the principles of Fascism. Criticism branded Salgado’s works as both “pure power” and “dumbest literature“, reflecting the academic opinion towards these intellectual groups.
As one can understand from this short synopsis of what happened in Brazilian literature in the 1920s, but also before and after, relations with Europe were the very crucial point which united or divided thoughts. Yet, there is no way that a country which had been subjected to colonialism and that had been granted full independence only in 1889, could not make this an inevitable question. From whichever way one looks at it, it’s all about Brazil. Whether or not modernists drew inspiration from the European scene, the final outcome, the works and thoughts on the matter came from Brazil as a homeland, and all that was originated in the process was and is an integral part of Brazilian culture. They were the voices of Brazil, its past, its present and its future. A unique voice.