By Harold Emert
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – The surprising news announced this week by the Minister of Education that President Jair Bolsonaro’s government will be cutting by 30 percent the budget of all Federal Universities has shocked this American-born post-graduate student of literature at UFF in Niteroi.
Federal Fluminense University (UFF) and Federal Universities in Brasilia and Bahia, accused of promoting “Marxist ideology”, were targeted for the Brazilian President and an uproar resulted as cuts were extended nationwide, to all Federal Universities.
As a graduate of the City University of New York City (CUNY) who also did my post-graduate studies in my native city as well as studies in Freiburg-im-Breisgau, Germany, and extension courses at the internationally esteemed New School for Social Research, I have a yardstick to judge the value of a Brazilian Federal University.
Despite the lack of funding for facilities equal to the luxurious universities abroad, my studies at UFF have not only enriched my intellectual life but enhanced my understanding of this great and little understood culture called Brazil. At UFF I discovered the other side of Brazil besides samba, Carnaval, and football.
Meaning such literary figures as Machado Assis (perhaps Brazil’s answer to Charles Dickens), Euclides de Cunha and his great saga on the bitter war of Canudos, contemporary novelist Clarice Lispector and currently Brazil’s answer to Eugene O’Neill or Greek tragedy, Nelson Rodrigues, among others.
These literary figures have put this great and often mysterious culture on the world’s cultural map, proving Charles de Gaulle was wrong when he stated Brazil “is not to be taken seriously”.
Surprisingly, my studies at UFF have made up for gaps in my American education because, despite my veneration for British and Russian literature, American literature is esteemed in Brazil.
It is hard to believe that my own U.S. education missed it but I had to study at UFF to appreciate Melville (Moby Dick), Saul Bellow, and even Dashnell Hamiett, who (due to being accused of being a Communist during the McCarthy witch hunts in the USA) was not in my curriculum.
Instead of going to shooting ranges, I also found myself studying at UFF Hannah Arendt’s lucid accounts of Totalitarianism and Adolf Eichmann’s trial in Jerusalem, which condemned the Nazi to death.
Originally written for the New Yorker magazine, Arendt’s lucid reporting was condemned at first by her contemporaries but survived them to be read and appreciated worldwide.
We cannot live in the past although my education, like others, is rooted in the 20th century and before that. My education at the Federal University included noble prize winner Coetzee, science fiction and a fascinating two-term study on writers of immigrant descent in Brazil.
In this era of increasing “misplaced’ persons, these descendants of immigrants are changing (for the better?) world literature.
Due to past governments’ relatively generous scholarships to study abroad, my professors have included Brazilian scholars who have studied at the Sorbonne in Paris and such top U.S. universities as Brown, USC (Irving) and NYU.
It is ironic that Lula, an ex-President in jail who never had schooling, incentivated universities not only here but in the arid lands of Paraiba (where I personally witnessed students of solar energy inventing new projects for the future of Brazil.)
Other Brazilian Presidents have included novelists (Sarney and Temer) to University Professors (Henrique Cardoso and Temer).
How odd and shocking that with so many areas to possibly cut, the first economic ‘slice’ of President Bolsonaro is aimed at these worthy universities, including my beloved UFF.