The ABL (Brazilian Yearbook of Literature): An Instrument to Imagine the National Book Market

It was not by chance that in the same year of INL’s creation, the Anuario Brasileiro de Literatura (ABL) was founded, a publication produced by publishers and, ultimately, for publishers. Edited by the Pongetti Irmaos publishing and printing house (between 1937 and 1941) and by the Zelio Valverde distribution company (versions of 1942 and 1943/1944), the ABL was the first exhibition (in the broad sense of public, systematic, and lasting expression) of publishers as a collective category; a form and function later inherited by international book fairs. Before demonstrating this homology, I analyse the publication project and its contents, data that allow us to interpret the differentiation of publishing practices between the late 1930s and early 1940s.

The ABL sought to record a complete picture of the intellectual activity, of the possibilities and obstacles of the cultural industry. Its project can be summarized in questions such as what has been done in artistic, intellectual, and publishing matters? What is cultural production like in provinces and in other countries? Which sectors of creative activity are more developed or which are more representative? How to communicate and achieve national unity in a huge country that is hardly known? What is the state of evolution of our culture? What position do we have, as a result, in the concert of civilized nations? What should be done?

Each volume distributes a hierarchy of agents, of themes and multiple ways of conceiving, of classifying the activities that gravitated around the book object. The first pages were written by the most renowned literary critics of the time. They sketched images on a national scale. For example, “Some facts of the intellectual year 1940”, by Osorio Borba {ABL 1941: 17). At the beginning, there was also a calendar with the most relevant cultural events of the previous year: book launches, State policies, visits by famous intellectuals and foreign artists, etc. Among the first articles we see, in some yearbooks, lists of writers living in the main cities, with their respective postal addresses. The geographical function was explicit in the 1938 issue: “A map of Brazilian intelligence”. The communities of intellectuals were also included in articles signed by institutions such as the Instituto Brasileiro de Letras (ABL 1938: 311) or the PEN Club (ABL 1938: 420).

Like all literary journals, current or past, the ABL published aesthetic evaluations in articles such as “Poetry in 1937” (Manuel Bandeira, ABL 1938: 23); “The Brazilian Novel in 1940” (Jorge Amado, ABL 1941: 25); “A Walk through the Black Question” (Melo Nobrega, ABL 1939: 129); and “Art and Psychoanalysis” (Karl Weissmann, ABL 1939: 78). If we contrast the space dedicated to the various forms of intellectual production, we can see that the pages of ABL amplified the tendency, already accentuated throughout the 1930s, to ennoble the novel as the most legitimate written genre of the time. Nevertheless, the re-emergence of poetry in the early 1940s is palpable. In the last issues of the ABL there were numerous critical articles dedicated to the old genre, as well as the publication of unpublished poetry by established authors and, to a lesser extent, new talents.7

But the tradition was translated by a varied palette of innovations. Among these are articles on the lifestyles and ways of working of artists and intellectuals: “How does the intellectual work?” (Vitor D ‘Almeida, ABL 1938: 177); “What would you like to be if you were not a writer?” (ABL 1939: 342). After the national panoramas, there followed articles on the artistic and intellectual reality in the provinces. For example, “Overview of Fluminense8 Literature” (Alvarus de Oliveira, ABL 1941: 77); “Bororean9 Literature” (Jose de Mesquita, ABL 1938: 41);

“Bahian Literature in the Last 40 Years” (Alexandre Passos, ABL 1941: 136); “Letters in Natal” (Mario Linhares, ABL 1937: 137); “Synthesis of the Intellectual Movement in Mato Grosso” (Lobivar Mattos, ABL 1937: 57). These texts characterized the “literary movement” that was expressed in the present of the various States. Very frequent was the rescue of glorious precursors, as if it was their mission to found regional intellectual traditions that predicted bright futures. An anthropogeo- graphic style prevails in this type of text, as if the genius itself were an emanation of characteristics of man and the environment in each territory. Unlike the texts of the genre in past times, when the tendencies were particularistic and included interregional rivalry, in the provincial panoramas that appeared in the ABLs, the submission of the particular to the national was clear, the specific contribution that from each corner of the country was expected to be made to the intellectual future of Brazil. The common moral imperative was the unity of the national culture. The (spatial) meaning of the messages had changed, but the cultural games reproduced the elementary in every differentiated field of production: competitions for representation, for representatives, for the name of those who best interpreted the values of the time. Behind this new race, the presence of the State apparatus, which was attentive to the co-option of the most highly valued intellectuals in order to shape cultural policies, was increasingly noticeable. In the ABL, the presence of the State was permanent, visible in notes produced by the DIP such as “Getulio Vargas. Statistician and sociologist”, by Luis Vieira (ABL 1941: 65); and “The Brazilian Man” (ABL 1941: 35). The “official guideline” of Estado Novo increased every year and guaranteed material support for Pongetti and Valverde’s projects. However, the interaction with the State bureaucracy did not reach the coercive point of prohibiting the publication of articles signed by intellectuals critical of the government, such as Jorge Amado, or advertisements from opposing cultural companies, such as Martins bookstore and publishing house.

Behind the critical articles and cultural panoramas of the country and the regions, there is a segment dedicated to education and the formation of communities of readers. The pedagogical function of the ABL was clear in articles that alluded to educational policies (for example, “The Ministry of Education and the Scientific Production”, ABL 1941: 424; “Purposes of Education”, ABL 1941: 228), to the readership (articles such as “The Feminine Evolution and the Need of Culture”, by Nair de Andrade, ABL 1938: 383 or “So That the Young People Read”, by A. Austregesilo, ABL 1938: 44), and to the national language (for example, “Operas in Brazilian”, by Benedito Margulhao, ABL 1939:453).

As I stated in the hypothesis of the introduction, the main novelty of the ABL was the centrality it gave to the publishers, a corporation that in the pages of the publication affirmed the role of its professionals as the main organizers of literary and intellectual activities. Advertisements for bookstores, publishing houses, printing workshops, or paper industries already appeared in literary publications of the past. However, in the ABLs, the proportion of these is notorious as a sign of the accentuation of competition between companies from different parts of the country. In addition, advertising became a problem in itself and a matter of corporate policy. This is evidenced by articles that considered the improvement and the forms of techniques to expand business. For example, “Propaganda and Culture” (ABL 1939: 382) or “The Book and Advertising” (ABL 1941: 210).

As we saw in the testimonies of Pongetti or Freitas Bastos, the book and publishing activity was treated through interviews with managers of the firms and intellectuals linked to a particular label. The publishing houses made a mark (a reputation as an accentuation of their identification by the public consuming printed goods) by describing in these notes the publication programmes of the year outlined by the yearbooks and the projects in progress.

There was also space in the ABLs to comment on the agendas provided by music, painting, and theatre for the year under review. If by chance the fine arts ennobled the book, the new media desacralized it. Radio, cinema, and weekly magazines were the subject of numerous articles, such as “The Brazilian Cinema” (ABL 1937: 249); “Literature on the Radio” (by Alziro Zarur, ABL 1937: 145); “The Book and the Radio” (by Roberto Seidl, ABL 1938: 232); and “Cultural Magazines and Newspapers of Brazil” (ABL 1938: 15). In these notes the book was a pedagogical tool or a pastime within the reach of any citizen. Popularization was also generated by the attention given to the sales. In “Foreign writers Whose Translations Are Most Read in Brazil” (ABL 1937: 292-293), for example, the names of Karl May, Sax Rohmer, Edgar Wallace, Axel Munthe, Andre Maurois, and Stefan Zweig were ranked.

A basic action to visualize the book market was to generate and disseminate (precarious) book production statistics. The ABLs disseminated data never before projected by public or private agents. Another instrument for calculating the volume and variety of books published in the country was the publication, in the final section of each issue, of the bibliographic movement. In the first two yearbooks, the information from the catalogues of companies advertising in the ABLs was collected and classified there. As a “catalogue of catalogues”, the production was ordered by publishing houses. As in the case of a fair exhibition, each publisher showed not the entire production but a representative “sample” of its firm. But from 1939, as we anticipated, the bibliographic movement reproduced the lists organized by Aureo Ottoni, an official of the publications section of INL. Since then, the national bibliographic production was shown by genres and not by companies. From the moment it was granted power as a “legal deposit”, the National Library

158 Brazil

“A little bit of statistics”. Anuario Brasileiro de Literatura 1940

Figure 5.2 “A little bit of statistics”. Anuario Brasileiro de Literatura 1940: 378 © Bibliographic source - image taken from a copy in the author’s own library.

struggled “with varying degrees of failure, to produce an up-to-date national bibliography” (Hallewell 1985: 313-314).

 
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