This essay is by Brazil’s leading theoretical physicist, the politician and art critic Mário Schenberg (1914–90), who usually published scientific articles on thermodynamics, quantum and statistical physics, astrophysics, and mathematics. He was president of the Brazilian Physics Society (1979–81) and director of the Physics Department at the University of São Paulo (1953–61). He served two terms as a congressman for the state of São Paulo. His association with the PCB (Brazilian Communist Party) had a devastating effect on his life after the military coup in 1964, when he was stripped of all his political, academic, and personal rights. These were the early years of the Brazilian military dictatorship that was in power for two decades (1964–85), a time Schenberg identified as a period of great creativity in Brazil. Two years later (1969) the 10th São Paulo Biennial “went ahead” though it was severely boycotted by other countries as a result of AI-5 (Institutional Law no. 5) that deprived Brazilian citizens of their constitutional rights. That year Professor Schenberg was fired and denied his right to a pension, and was forbidden to enter the USP campus.
This essay, which introduces PANAMÉRICA (Rio de Janeiro: Tridente, 1967), by José Agrippino de Paula e Silva (1937–2007), stresses the book’s mythological and fantasy aspects, and discusses the ambiguity prompted by its fascination with and desire for Latin America’s independence from both the United States and the seduction of mass culture. The book does not provide a linear narrative based on logical conclusions, but uses a variety of stories told in the first person by popular culture celebrities, including Che Guevara and Hollywood movie stars. The author’s imagination reminds Schenberg of other works, such as Gulliver’s Travels (1726).
PANAMÉRICA, incidentally, was hugely influential among Brazilian artists and musicians who were part of Tropicália, the movement that appeared in the late 1960s (see “O tropicalismo é nosso, viu?” ). Some of the ideas expressed in the book found their way into stories and songs written by major members of the movement, such as Caetano Veloso, Gilberto Gil, Torquato Neto, Tom, Zé, Jorge Bem, and the group Os Mutantes, among others. Ten years after PANAMÉRICA was published it was quoted in Sampa (1978), Veloso’s popular ballad about the City of São Paulo and its myths.