Translating Brazil?

In November 1942 - as at the end of 1941 - Frontini told Cosio that he would spend his vacations overseas, and made himself available to the Mexican publisher so as to broaden their collaboration, offering “whatever you want from Brazil: pineapples, books or an adorable black woman (negrita engra$adinha)”. He also advised him that, as on the trip to the Andean countries, he did not want to be compensated for his expenses. Rather, he requested help for Antonio Rodriguez Luna’s wife and son, who were in Mexico: “ask them to conduct any type of job and pay them generously”. This time, Frontini seemed more prepared and, from Buenos Aires, he carried out his preparations with the help of two Brazilian friends: a painter and a writer. Before leaving, Frontini told Cosio to keep in touch with him through the Argentine embassy in Rio de Janeiro and through Alfonso Reyes, the Mexican ambassador in Brazil at the time. Having been advised of the consequences and misunderstandings during the Andean trip, Cosio asked him to “explore as much as possible, but without making commitments in any case”. This resulted in a feeling of discomfort and a misunderstanding. As far as Frontini was concerned, his efforts to contact the authors forced the publishing house to commit to the candidates. Protected by the physical distance and the FCE’s power to make decisions, Cosio (the FCE) worked independently, accepting proposals, creating contracts, and refusing manuscripts that did not fit the series profile. In spite of some resentment, the Brazilian plan was a resounding success: after working for a month and a half between Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo, Frontini made a list of 38 topics. The decisive participation of the communist leader and writer Astrogildo Pereira, not only during Frontini’s trip but also during the years between the launch of the proposal in Brazil and the publication of the first volumes, was decisive to its success. On January 28, from the Riviera Hotel in Rio de Janeiro, Frontini wrote to Cosfo a long letter full of enthusiasm with the first list:

Table 3.2 Brazilian authors and topics proposed between 1940 and 1943 to be edited by FCE Tierra Firme series (TFS)



Published in TFS

S. Buarque de Hollanda

History of Brazil

Ratces del Brasil (The Roots of Brazil), TF n° 58

Jose Honorio Rodrigues

The Dutch domination

Rubem Borba de Moraes

The Bandeirantes

Luiz Camilo de Oliveira

The Golden “Civilization”

Jose Wanderley de Araujo

Peter II and its time

Pierre Mombeig


Caio Prado Junior

Economic history

Sergio Millet


O. Malta and O. de Mello


E. Castro Rebello

The history of political ideas

No candidate

International politics

Astrogildo Pereira

Gregorio de Matos Guerra

Afonso Arinos de Mello Franco

Tomas Antonio Gongaga

F. de Assis Barbosa

Hipolito da Costa

Octavio Tarqufnio de Souza

Jose Bonifacio

Jose Bonifacio emancipador del Brasil (Jose Bonifacio, Brazil’s Emancipator), TF n° 15

Drummond de Andrade

Castro Alves

Jose Barreto Filho

Machado de Assis

Alvaro Lins

Euclides da Cunha

Lucia Miguel Pereira

Jose de Alencar

Rachel de Queiroz

Nisia F. Brasileira Augusta



Published in TFS

Viana Moog


Hermes Lima

Rui Barbosa

Carlos Chagas

Experimental medicine

Artur Ramos


Las poblaciones del Brasil (The Populations in Brazil), TF n° 5

Edison Carneiro

The Palmares Republic

Guerra de los palmares (War in Palmares), TF n° 21

Gilberto Freyre

Human acclimatization

Interpretacion del Brasil (Interpreting Brazil), TF n° 10

Josue de Castro

The feeding issue

La alimentacion en los tropicos (Feeding in the Tropics), TF n° 18

Vinicius de Moraes

The city of Rio de Janeiro

Mario de Andrade

The city of Sao Paulo

Jose Jardim

The city of Recife

Godofredo Filho

The city of Sao Salvador

Heloisa Alberto Torres

Ethnography and archaeology

Gilberto Freyre

Literary and material folklore

Oneyda Alvarenga

Popular music

Mtisica popular brasilena (Popular Brazilian Music), TF, n° 33

No candidate

Colonial art

A. Machado and R. Navarro

Contemporary visual arts

L. H. Correa de Acevedo

Contemporary music

Manuel Bandeira


Prudente de Morais Netto and Pedro Dantas

Literary prose

Source: correspondence between Norberto Frontini and Daniel Cosio Villegas (1942). Fondo de Cultura Economica archives.

Alfonso Reyes believed the list to be a good one. Later, Cosio went over the list with Renato de Mendon^a, a writer and diplomat based in Mexico. After that checking, he narrowed it down to 23 names. In his statements, Frontini offered typical representations of Brazil as a country that was exotic, sexual, and with luxuriant landscapes. He also thought of Brazil as an unknown country, which accentuated the feeling of his work as a mission:

The plan has been valued and understood at its finest. The need to replace the monologues uttered by the Latin American peoples by a frequent and useful dialogue that supplants diplomatic treatment is becoming more and more urgent. The Brazilians—I consulted hundreds of them—are comprehending it quickly. Brazil is a difficult problem and its isolation in the continent —since it is unknown to others, and especially to the Argentines—is riddled with dangers. We should be ready to encourage vital understandings between that country, which is, in its turn, full of complications, and those countries of Spanish origin. The post-war period is becoming darker and darker for our countries. The aim of the publishing house has been, by itself, well regarded.

In his letters on the Brazilian plan, Frontini expanded on intellectual life in the continent:

Hey, listen, why don’t you have me write a volume with this title: ‘Psychology of the American writer’? My god, there are such small ‘great’ minds in this world! (...) Next year, I am planning to go on vacation to China. Have you planned something for that place?

Regarding Brazil, he emphasized the sociological tendency of the writers, which he considered a “detour” and related it to three factors: the modernist mentality, the situation of political oppression under Vargas’ authoritarian regime (Estado Novo), and the cultural influence from the United States. He also believed that most writers were “self-taught” due to the lack of development of universities and to political censorship. “Nevertheless, there are serious objective studies based on almost un- disputable grounds and with sensible scientific interpretations”. Furthermore, his performance as a representative of the publishing house led him to assess the market and suggest professional actions for Cosio and the FCE: “Do you know the publications of Brasiliana and Jose Olym- pio?” He pointed out that, in Brazil, he did not see any FCE books and offered an alternative: setting up a commercial agreement with Livraria Jose Olympio of Rio de Janeiro, where many of Frontini’s contacts were linked:

You should contact the bookseller Jose Olympio—Rua do Ouvidor 110— His bookstore is a meeting point for all Brazilian intellectuals. He could be your distributor. He is a responsible individual. Try to start conversations with him through Astrogildo. I told the manager that you would write about this matter.

On the list, Frontini indicated the mailing address of each author: Alvaro Lins, Vinicus de Moraes, and Rachel de Queiroz all chose Livraria Jose Olympio (see Sora 2010 and Chapter 6 in this volume). Lastly, Frontini shared a concern with Cosio: he took it for granted that the books written by Brazilian authors would be published in Portuguese, and thus, he asked, “Will they also be translated into Spanish? And the works from other countries that are written in Spanish, will they be published in Portuguese? As you know, the Brazilians know how to read Spanish well”. Thanks to this last point (reflected by a relative lack of translations of Hispanic-American authors in Brazil), the attempt at translating the series into Portuguese vanished. Conversely, the barriers that the Spanish speakers faced in reading the Portuguese language multiplied the translation of Brazilian authors into Spanish (Sora 2003): in addition to the titles published by Tierra Firme, up to 1956, the FCE had published four books by Brazilian authors at Biblioteca Americana (Jose de Alencar, El sertanero; Rui Barbosa, Cartas de Inglaterra; Graca Ara- nha, Canaan; Machado de Assis, Memorias postumas de Bids Cubas), one in the Anthropology series (O. Gonsalves Lima, El maguey у el pulque en los codices mexicanos), three in the Sociology series (Fernando de Azevedo, Sociologta de la educacion; Arthur Ramos, Las culturas negras en el Nuevo Mundo; Diego de Menezes, Pontes de Miranda), two in the Tezontle series (Cyro dos Anjos, El amanuense Belmiro and Graciliano Ramos, Angustia), and two other books for Tierra Firme (Cassiano Ricardo, La marcba hacia el oeste and Joao Cruz Costa, Las ideas contemporaneas en el Brasil).

Frontini’s “selflessness” earned him, little by little, certain renown as an international cultural agent. From Brazil, he requested articles about Argentina, and in Argentina, articles about other countries. The FCE venture as a representative-traveller endowed him with social capital that he put to use as he headed the international section of the literary magazine Latitud. Flowever, a series of letters between Frontini and Cosio in 1943 indicate a growing misunderstanding. The publisher made Frontini liable for the failure of the Argentine plan and the partnership with Losada. Frontini responded that this was the result of not having formalized his position as the FCE representative, which diminished his authority for negotiation. Halfway through that year, Cosio stopped writing, and Frontini kept silent. In a provocative fashion, he only wrote Cosio back from Quito, where he had gone for his vacations in 1944. Cosio answered immediately through a telegram sent to Quito, which Frontini never received: in it, he begged him to start an Ecuadorian plan for Tierra Firme. Despite all this, Frontini suggested to him, months later, the name of the sociologist Manuel Benjamin Carrion (then ambassador in Colombia and a friend of German Arciniegas) to undertake this task. Towards the end of 1944, Cosio sent Frontini the first titles published of the series. Frontini regretted the absence of

[Latin] “American authors at the Fondo headquarters”, title of an article published in La Gaceta del FCE III (25), September 2, 1956 © La Gaceta III (25), September 1956. FCE archives

Figure 3.3 [Latin] “American authors at the Fondo headquarters”, title of an article published in La Gaceta del FCE III (25), September 2, 1956 © La Gaceta III (25), September 1956. FCE archives.

Argentine authors, and suggested once again that the publisher relaunch an agreement with Losada and the plan in that country. Coslo, without any other alternatives, offered him “ample powers”. Just as the project was revived, Frontini had a serious car accident that paralyzed him for several months. When he recovered, Coslo again asked him to assist the FCE with a project for which he himself would no longer be useful: the creation of the Argentine branch. The lawyer conducted a painstaking study of the legal requirements necessary to set up the affiliate and for some years became project manager Arnaldo Orfila Reynal’s legal advisor. When Orfila moved to Mexico, Frontini also assisted him with his separation from Maria Elena Satostegui.

From the University Reform to the Revolution: Towards a New State of Publishing Americanism

The Latin American expansion of the FCE can be visualized via the chronology of the branches’ founding. As we have seen, the first branch, in 1945, was in Buenos Aires. The second branch was in Santiago de Chile, created in 1954 as a strategy to avoid Chilean tariffs on book imports. Then, there came the branches in Lima (1961) and Madrid (1963), set up to counteract the censorship restrictions enforced by Francoism with the complicity of booksellers and publishers, who by the 1950s had already regained the Spanish leadership in the Latin American market, thanks to a well-negotiated protectionism. Later on, the FCE opened branches in Caracas (1974), Bogota (1975), San Diego (1990), Sao Paulo (1991), and Guatemala (1995).

The founding of the Argentine branch represents a milestone in the construction of the Latin American publishing market and in the assertion of publishing as an independent profession in the region. Expansion was synchronized with the first two congresses for Latin American publishers, held in Santiago de Chile (1946) and Buenos Aires (1947). At these events, Cosio was the main representative of the Mexican market, and he stood up as an “intellectual” of publishing: his argument strongly criticized the Spanish attack on their “colonial” markets. The title of one of his articles, published in the first issue of Cuadernos Americanos in 1947, expressed it clearly: “Spain against the Americas in the publishing industry”.

By favouring a historical ethnography of the social and transnational relationships which shaped the progress of the FCE and its continental- cultural power, I have set aside the structural dimensions that led, in my opinion, to each publisher’s choices relative to competitors in the corresponding national and/or linguistic market. Some of these relationships, however, emerged by taking advantage of alliances and tensions among Argentine and Mexican as well as Mexican and Spanish intellectuals and publishers who expanded the frontiers for the Spanish- language book world. This is also why it was necessary to put an end to the Spanish hegemony. Cosfo’s anti-Spanish title took revenge on the arrogant colonial vision of Ortega у Gasset vis-a-vis Latin American publishing: Tierra Firme was based on the idea that the professional publisher had finally arrived in this part of the world and that he was capable of creating a universal democratic culture. In this consolidation of a Spanish-speaking Latin American publishing-linguistic space, Mexico and Argentina began a fight for primacy as two unifying poles of the intellectual tradition in the continent. Since then, Hispanic America reminds us of the unavoidable scale of Spanish language publishing. The history of the FCE is consistent with the size of this territory.

When he moved to the United States in 1948, Cosio recommended Ar- naldo Orfila Reynal as the director of the FCE Mexican headquarters. They had become friends at the International Congress for Students in 1921. While Cosio renewed his leave request in the FCE, Orfila worked as the temporary director. When he wanted to resume his position in 1952, the Governing Board refused, and confirmed the position of the Argentine as director. At that time, the FCE’s business growth and professionalization in publishing prevented the once ambivalent relationship between writing, publishing, and the politics of figures such as

Cosfo. Orfila was a full-time publisher. Although he collaborated closely in intellectual and publishing projects that were central for Argentine university reform movement, he did not foster any intellectual ambitions. Besides being a chemist, he was involved in Socialist politics as a cultural manager, especially following the founding of Alejandro Korn Popular University of La Plata, where he was director since its founding in 1937 and until he joined the FCE.

Under Arnaldo Orfila Reynal, the Americanist and social commitment of the FCE catalogue remained intact. Nonetheless, there are two elements that resulted in significant changes at the company: the publication of series of cheap books for wider audiences (Breviarios and Popular series) and of Mexican literature (Letras Mexicanas series). The latter collection made Octavio Paz, Carlos Fuentes, and Juan Rulfo well known. It represented a huge transformation for the Mexican literary field and brought international recognition. In the 1950s, the FCE had its own big building, with a bookstore and a dynamic cultural centre. The La Gaceta newspaper was launched; this was a monthly publication which deepened the idea of the FCE as a “balcony” for the culture of the Americas. In 1951, Orfila Reynal separated from his first wife Maria Elena Satostegui, to whom he assigned the management of the Buenos Aires branch, and he embarked on a relationship with Laurette Sejourne, a renowned Italian- French archaeologist from Mesoamerica who had arrived in Mexico as Victor Serge’s partner. This was a remarkable alliance, which influenced the radicalization of Orfila’s political thought. At the end of the 1950s, he became an important spokesperson for the Cuban Revolution.

When the Mexican government became rightist in 1965, the new intelligentsia in power accused Orfila of being a “communist foreigner” and he was forced to resign. The most esteemed authors of the catalogue welcomed Orfila immediately and created the conditions for him to lead a new publishing house that would recover the political and cultural programme that the FCE had promoted. Out of this transition Siglo XXI was born, a publishing house that displaced the official company as a beacon of a continental intellectualism and for which the new mainland would be conquered through the socialist revolution. The first action Orfila took in this new post was to create branches in Spain and Argentina. In these countries, as in Mexico, the project was conducted by already renowned intellectuals who had been involved in the American- istic adventures of the FCE in the 1940s and 1950s; they targeted a new avant-garde. In Argentina, for example, the Directing Board gathered Jose Luis Romero and Leopoldo Portnoy (old friends of Orfila’s, former fellow Socialists and FCE authors) with the “young intellectuals” from Pasado у Presente (Jose Arico, Elector Schmucler, etc.) and Signos (Juan Carlos Garavaglia and Enrique Tandeter) publishing projects.

Around Daniel Cosio Villegas and Arnaldo Orfila Reynal revolved some of the most conspicuous events in the construction of an American culture, a reality made possible thanks to their publishing adventures.

< Prev   CONTENTS   Source   Next >