At a recent meeting in Alexandria, an Egyptian professor asked a question: In the 1970s he was enlightened by writings from Brazil, like that of Celso Furtado. Why is it that now, at the beginning of the 21st century, he does not receive any new ideas from here?
I remembered this when I was informed this morning, November 21, of Celso’s death, which represents an impoverishment of the Brazilian intelligentsia.
Few Brazilians have made as great a contribution to international thought as Celso Furtado did. And a great lesson for our professors and intellectuals is that he did not make these contributions by translating foreign ideas but, rather, by formulating his own.
This, perhaps, is the response that the Egyptian professor wanted:
Brazilian intellectuals stopped contributing to international thought because they became imprisoned in imported texts and devoted themselves to obtaining their doctorates.
They stopped thinking of Brazil as Brazilians. At the most extreme, they began to interpret Brazil through the eyes of foreigners.
A second memory is that he educated a generation because he wrote in a style that everyone could read. This is why he was translated abroad.
Today’s Brazilian intellectuals write in a manner that can only be understood by the initiated in their professions because they write thinking of the public abroad. This public does not need a copy here of what they think and write there.
Celso Furtado was an example of theory linked to the practical commitment to politics. This enriched his thought instead of imprisoning it because he made this connection coherently. This quality is rare in professionals who enter politics and, in their difficulties in power, wind up losing their intellectual coherence.
When he died, Celso Furtado left the Brazilian intelligentsia more impoverished but left a country richer for his work and all that he did for our development, for his contributions to our ethics, and for his example of serious-mindedness and coherence.
Cristovam Buarque was a student of Celso Furtado. He has a Ph.D. in economics and is a PT senator for the Federal District. He was Governor of the Federal District (1995-98) and Minister of Education (2003-04). You can visit his homepage – www.cristovam.com.br – and write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Translated from the Portuguese by Linda Jerome - LinJerome@cs.com.