I spent 2.5 months (August–October 2017) in São Paulo as a SPeCTReSS scholar, based at USP’s FFLCH – School of Philosophy, Literature and Human Sciences, under the caring and inspiring supervision of Prof. Laura Patrícia Zuntini de Izarra.
The scientific goal of my stay was preliminary research for a project dedicated to possible similarities and parallels between the post-traumatic memory cultures of Poland and Brazil: while the former would be defined by the dynamics of overlapping traumas of the Second World War and the Shoah on the one hand and of the state of dependence during communism on the other, for the latter the founding experiences would be its colonial past and slavery, as well as the dictatorship, 1964–1985. Thus, I was interested both in discussions with the scholars researching on related topics and in acquiring knowledge on Brazilian literature and arts rendering these issues, as well as the related commemorative and institutional practices of museums and galleries. Another realm of (anticipated) affinity between Poland and Brazil (or between Central-Eastern Europe and South America in general) is the position of these two countries on the map of global politics and cultural production: recovering from various forms of dependency; provincial, yet very much aspiring to the global North (or West); rapidly developing and proud of their own achievements, but full of resentment towards the more privileged regions; striving for social, gender, sexual and racial equality, however haunted by a colonial or semi-colonial past, class divisions and patriarchal culture.
Therefore, I considered myself as a scholar coming from THE Europe, yet from its “lesser” part and I hoped my position would give me a possibility to experience both the otherness and the familiarity during the time of my stay. It was my first visit to Brazil, but not to South America, since I traveled to Chile before.
My stay in São Paulo turned out to be more than I expected: not only could I pursue my research goals, but also the city and its distinctive culture provided me with many opportunities to develop my interests and gain some new ones. Thus, I could debate the issues related to my project during the seminar organized by Prof. Izarra and her PhD students at FFLCH; I presented a paper related to my research at the “Rethinking Cultural Trauma from Transnational Perspectives” conference (22–25 August) organized by the SPeCTReSS network and XII Symposium of Irish Studies in South America, and had the great opportunity to discuss with other scholars from the network; moreover, I met with Prof. Márcio Seligmann-Silva, author of essential work on dynamics of memory cultures in Brazil. Finally, I could develop my knowledge thanks to the cultural infrastructure of São Paulo itself: libraries (USP’s Brasiliana and Mário de Andrade were my favorites), various museums and art galleries (MASP, Instituto Tomie Ohtake, Instituto Itaú Cultural and Museu Afro Brasil, as well as the exhibition “Ways of Seeing Brazil” at Oca turned out to be seminal for me), vivid arts scene at numerous SESCs and theatres.
All of them contribute to the absolutely unique and fascinating phenomenon of São Paulo as an urban organism with its own rules, beauty, and pride: culturally abundant, with outstanding cityscape (e.g., Higienópolis with its striking modern architecture; skyscrapers of Centro and Avenida Paulista; Ibirapuera Park and other projects by Niemeyer), as well as the exceptional paulistana culture of public sphere: the city’s work ethos; culture of commuting through the endless network of public transport; frequent civic protests and demonstrations (São Paulo holds one of the biggest gay pride parades in the world, and it also gave birth to the idea of rolezhinos as a way of social resistance against inequality); weekends spent in Ibirapuera Park or along one of the closed streets: Avenida Paulista or – even more noteworthy – the
Minhocão, i.e. Via Elevada Presidente João Goulart – huge highway cutting the city in half, a child of the reckless urbanization of the 1960s. Yet, São Paulo is also a city of striking social inequality, racial segregation, poverty, drug abuse, homelessness and amnesia of its own violent past (e.g., the present visual non-existence of the Carandiru prison – there is a library built at the place of the massacre), and the very fact that the rich and the poor live so close to each other makes these problems even more evident. It was compelling for me on various levels to realize how those issues sprout from the overlapping traumas of the Brazilian past and to what extent they expose a coming to terms with a country’s history as a necessary endeavor.
Finally, I would like to express my gratitude to Eda Nagayama; Rita Sepulveda de Faria and Stella Tennenbaum; Óscar Alejandro Castillo, Maria Jaciara Pimentel and their daughter Nicolle – for making my stay in São Paulo a unique experience and for generosity in sharing with me their knowledge about Brazilian culture, politics, history, geography, cuisine and way of life. I would like also to thank Tomasz Bilczewski for making this trip possible, and aforementioned Laura Izarra for providing me with an academic milieu, as well as Jennifer Edmond for managing the project.