I am based in the very centre of sprawling, skyscraper, stimulating Sao Paolo and have now visited a few of the intellectuals’ salons. These exist amongst the mostly Brazilian intelligentsia who are urbane and Europhilic, looking to Paris, Berlin, Rome, but less to New York or London. The salonistes are exquisitely educated and multilingual – the creme de la creme of their educated society. But they are also politicized, and you cannot be an intellectual here without declared political position, mostly to the left side of centre.
I notice more than anything how the arts and sciences have historically been split here: the artistic camp entrenched on the political left, scientists for the most part on the right. And the two groups have little common ground and rarely assemble. I have yet to find one prominent Brazilian scientist in the salons, a very different arrangement than exists in most Western countries where the two cultures have developed in tandem for three generations, at least since Snow and Leavis blasted their differences. As someone who has straddled the two cultures, I feel something of an outsider in the salons, especially whenever trying to defend the sciences among the salonistes. We shall see … perhaps the scientists will surprise me with a different view of the arts than the one I imagine they hold.
The universities, unlike ours, are in no crisis. The fiscal crunch of America and Europe has bypassed rich Brazil, and the mood within the universities glows with dreams of ever-more expansion and links with other countries. What a contrast to our demoralized, depressed, cutback quarters.