Pedro Spinola Pereira Caldas About the author

REVIEWS

Araujo, Valdei Lopes de. A experiência do tempo: conceitos e narrativas na formação nacional brasileira (1813-1845)

Pedro Spinola Pereira Caldas

Associate Professor II, Institute of History, Universidade Federal de Uberlândia, Santa MônicaCampus. Av. João Naves de Ávila, 2121, Bloco H, sala 1H42. 38400-902. Uberlândia - MG - Brazil. pedro.caldas@gmail.com

São Paulo: Hucitec, 2008. 204p.

Great advantage should be taken of the publication of A Experiência do Tempo by Valdei Lopes de Araujo. It is a rich book, worthy to find a place on the bookshelves of those interested in the political and intellectual history of nineteenth century Brazil, but also in the libraries of those who study the history of historiography and - why not? - the philosophy of history. Even better it can awaken in those of an empirical vocation interest in more abstract questions, as well as showing more speculative and reflexive minds that concepts can find correspondence in mutual historical reality.

Valdei Lopes de Araujo is a professor in the Universidade Federal de Ouro Preto (UFOP), where he is part of the History of Historiography and Modernity Study Group (NEHM). The book is the fruit of his doctoral dissertation in the Post-Graduate Program in the Social History of Culture in PUC-Rio, the result of research supervised by Luiz Costa Lima. The refined approach of Valdei Araujo can be explained, without seeking to diminish the originality of the work, in part by the supervision of an intellectual who always stimulated theoretical reflection and who was one of those responsible for the diffusion of literary hermeneutics in Brazil, and which results in the great contribution of Valdei Araujo's book to theoretical and historiographical debate. Its merit, thus, consists of the sophisticated incorporation of theoretical discussion developed in Germany in the second half of the twentieth century, especially among the heirs and critics of the philosophical hermeneutics of Hans-Georg Gadamer, an author who influenced both the historian Reinhart Koselleck and the important theorist and literary critic Hans-Ulrich Gumbrecht. The influence of Koselleck and Gumbrecht can be felt in Valdei Araujo's text: from the first comes a concern with conceptual history, a genre in which the author comes out really well, giving a good example of how concepts are not polished reflexes of historical life, but the actual way the latter becomes intelligible. Thus, the concept is the place of experience and not the distanced and disinterested cognition of dilettante intellectuals. Nothing better than a good work in the area of the history of concepts to give students of Brazilian history and historiography the chance to break away from the homogenous image of the rhetorical and unoccupied Brazilian intellectual, who is only concerned with the world of letters for distraction and ornamentation. But the concept - and here the influence of Gumbrecht can be perceived - is also the fruit of a radical and circumstantially located historical presence. The book fortunately appropriates theoretical texts such as those of Koselleck and Gumbrecht without at any moment turning the author's research into a list of imported concepts, an application that merely confirms what was already known. As a result although the work deals with sources that have mostly been analyzed by other historians, the way they are used is both original and creative.

The book starts with a fundamental question in relation to the independence of Brazil and what this categorically represents as a modern experience. As Valdei Araujo states in his closing considerations: "The relationship with time and with the past was still conditioned, on the one hand by classical elements of imitation and on the other by a general understanding of the universe as the repetition of eternal laws and cyclical events" (p.185).

The first part of the A Experiência do Tempo, called 'The History of the System', basically describes and analyzes the somewhat tragic trajectory of José Bonifácio de Andrada e Silva, which, taking as a base a cyclical vision of history, conceives the meaning of history in Brazil through regeneration. Regeneration is only possible if it is understood as the stage that follows decadence, a fundamental term for the morphological comprehension of the natural sciences. Incidentally, it is instigating to perceive the similarity of the Brazilian intellectual debate about modernization and the discussion held in German space in the last quarter of the eighteenth century, as shown by the research of Peter Hans Reill.1 1 Cf. Reill, Peter Hans. Vitalizing nature in the Enlightenment. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2005; ______. Die Historisierung von Natur und Mensch. Der Zusammenhang von Naturwissenschaften und historischem Denken im Entstehungsprozess der modernen Naturwissenschaften. In: Küttler, Wolfgang; Rüsen, Jörn; Schulin, Ernst. Geschichtsdiskurs Band 2: Anfänge modernen historischen Denkens. Frankfurt am Main: Fischer, 1994. However, 'regeneration' for Bonifácio implies the recovery of the essence of the Portuguese being, which even when transplanted to Brazil does not signify a return. To use the terms of the author, by 'mirroring' the history of Portugal, the history of Brazil opens the possibility in its search for awareness that there exists "another history that can no longer be that of Portugal" (p.63). This is the dialectic delineated by Valdei Araujo, that of 'time as repetition' (the title of the first chapter) and 'time as a problem' (the title of the second chapter). The attempt to achieve a natural surpassing of decadence thus opens a crack for the modern project. After all, regeneration occurs in pure, virgin nature, fully visible in its creative principles, whose potentiality has been molded by science.2 2 In relation to this please allow me to make a comparison. José Bonifácio reminds us much of the Goethe who travelled to Italy. In the peninsula he found juvenile serenity and the naturalness whose absence he has so resented in Weimar, where he was already an important intellectual name, suffocated by courtly formalities. It is worth remembering that both Bonifácio and Goethe - dedicated themselves widely to natural science. For a vision of conception of nature in Goethe, see Molder, Maria Filomena. O Pensamento morfológico de Goethe. Lisboa: Imprensa Nacional-Casa da Moeda, 1995. The dilemma of the singularity of Brazilian history, since Bonifácio according to the author, is closely unfolded in the examination of the possibility of the historical existence of Brazilian literature and language, which should be constructed taking as a basis the classical Greek-Latin axis, but without making this base a model to be merely copied.

The second part of the book (The System of History), which includes an excursus and two addition chapters, deals with the way that Brazilian intellectuals faced the discomfort generated by the unavoidable necessity to affirm national singularity. Discomfort? Necessity? Yes. The author states this very precisely: "The available theories that can explain the creation of new forms, whether animal or political, are often based on the idea of degeneration" (p.126), and concludes by demonstrating the dimension of the problem that if the organicist model was true, "change could only be understood as improvement, regeneration or degeneration. Would this not also be valid for nations? How to understand the emergence of a new nation?" (p.126).

Valdei Araujo then presents the efforts of the intellectuals involved with Nitheroy journal (such as Domingos José Gonçalves de Magalhães) and the foundation of the IHGB. While in the former it is easier to perceive the romantic tonality with which the national singularity is colored in the phase of affirmation (but in which history belonged to a wide-ranging group of 'lettered' persons), in the founding document of IHGB, dated 16 August 1838, the presence of striking traits can be perceived, which - as the author importantly notes - Arnaldo Momigliano considered to be fundamental for the characterization of modern historiography, in other words the conjunction of the antiquarian and erudite tradition, the concern with the philosophical meaning of history, and finally narrative. For Valdei Araujo the first trait is much more visible that the other two, with the third one being especially discreet.

Another facet of modernity emphasized by the author, as important as the establishment of the foundations of historical research (and arising out of it), resides in the opening of the possibility of experiences in the place of imitation. This is not the recapitulation of an already existing, registered, taught and known example, but above all the expression of the individuality of an epoch. The fact is unthinkable within cosmological or exemplar models, but it becomes cognizable in its assimilation by antiquarian and erudite research in the scope of the attempt to affirm national singularity.

Singularity in any form operates an interest semantic transformation: degeneration leaves room for consciousness of finitude, for consciousness of a typically modern experience - the sensation of the transitoriness of all experiences. IHGB's initial project, as shown well by Valdei Araujo, was marked by an essential ambiguity: distant from the organicism which animated José Bonifácio, the lettered world that revolved around the institute did not breathe the air of evolutionary thought, at that moment the only thing capable of, to draw on an expression of Henry James, being the thread capable of stringing all the pearls. How to differentiate the epochs of the history of Brazil? How to organize the facts?

Valdei Araujo's book plays an important role in the current environment of theoretical and historiographical discussion, marked by the clash between the almost cynical skepticism of the so-called 'post-moderns' and rationalists. Experiência do Tempo shows the Brazilian historiography made a fundamental jump at of moment of crisis of orientation - to use a term of Jörn Rüsen. Therefore, there is no problem in writing history in times of uncertainty. In some way it has always like this and the challenge has always been responded to, albeit in very different ways by historians.

NOTES

  • 1
    Cf. Reill, Peter Hans.
    Vitalizing nature in the Enlightenment. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2005; ______. Die Historisierung von Natur und Mensch. Der Zusammenhang von Naturwissenschaften und historischem Denken im Entstehungsprozess der modernen Naturwissenschaften. In: Küttler, Wolfgang; Rüsen, Jörn; Schulin, Ernst.
    Geschichtsdiskurs Band 2: Anfänge modernen historischen Denkens. Frankfurt am Main: Fischer, 1994.
  • 2
    In relation to this please allow me to make a comparison. José Bonifácio reminds us much of the Goethe who travelled to Italy. In the peninsula he found juvenile serenity and the naturalness whose absence he has so resented in Weimar, where he was already an important intellectual name, suffocated by courtly formalities. It is worth remembering that both Bonifácio and Goethe - dedicated themselves widely to natural science. For a vision of conception of nature in Goethe, see Molder, Maria Filomena.
    O Pensamento morfológico de Goethe. Lisboa: Imprensa Nacional-Casa da Moeda, 1995.
  • Submitted in November 2008.

    Approved in July 2010.

    • 1 Cf. REILL, Peter Hans. Vitalizing nature in the Enlightenment Berkeley: University of California Press, 2005;
    • ______. Die Historisierung von Natur und Mensch. Der Zusammenhang von Naturwissenschaften und historischem Denken im Entstehungsprozess der modernen Naturwissenschaften. In: KÜTTLER, Wolfgang; RÜSEN, Jörn; SCHULIN, Ernst. Geschichtsdiskurs Band 2: Anfänge modernen historischen Denkens. Frankfurt am Main: Fischer, 1994.
    • 2 Nesse sentido, permito-me uma comparação. José Bonifácio lembra muito o Goethe que viaja pela Itália. Na península, encontra a serenidade juvenil e a naturalidade de cuja falta tanto se ressentia em Weimar, onde já era um grande nome intelectual, sufocado pelas formalidades cortesãs. Vale lembrar que ambos - Bonifácio e Goethe - dedicavam-se largamente à ciência natural. Para uma visão da concepção de natureza em Goethe, ver MOLDER, Maria Filomena. O Pensamento morfológico de Goethe Lisboa: Imprensa Nacional-Casa da Moeda, 1995.

    1 Cf. Reill, Peter Hans. Vitalizing nature in the Enlightenment. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2005; ______. Die Historisierung von Natur und Mensch. Der Zusammenhang von Naturwissenschaften und historischem Denken im Entstehungsprozess der modernen Naturwissenschaften. In: Küttler, Wolfgang; Rüsen, Jörn; Schulin, Ernst. Geschichtsdiskurs Band 2: Anfänge modernen historischen Denkens. Frankfurt am Main: Fischer, 1994. 2 In relation to this please allow me to make a comparison. José Bonifácio reminds us much of the Goethe who travelled to Italy. In the peninsula he found juvenile serenity and the naturalness whose absence he has so resented in Weimar, where he was already an important intellectual name, suffocated by courtly formalities. It is worth remembering that both Bonifácio and Goethe - dedicated themselves widely to natural science. For a vision of conception of nature in Goethe, see Molder, Maria Filomena. O Pensamento morfológico de Goethe. Lisboa: Imprensa Nacional-Casa da Moeda, 1995.

    Publication Dates

    • Publication in this collection
      26 May 2011
    • Date of issue
      June 2010
    Associação Nacional de História - ANPUH Av. Professor Lineu Prestes, 338, Cidade Universitária, Caixa Postal 8105, 05508-900 São Paulo SP Brazil, Tel. / Fax: +55 11 3091-3047 - São Paulo - SP - Brazil
    E-mail: rbh@anpuh.org