Education as Resistance in Literary Criticism and Journalism: Between Professionalization and Democratization of Literature

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The educational role of journalism is usually taken with caution and suspicion. It is associated with manipulation and indoctrination, in the sense of instilling certain principles and points of view in the readers, generally with commercial or political intentions. Moreover, it presupposes a (not always real) superiority of the journalist over the reader. In Latin America, the assumption of the existence of an unsophisticated mass waiting for enlightenment immediately rouses the ghosts of colonization. Education has always been considered in the continent as an effective tool of social and political control that reinforces existing hierarchies and preserves 'basic power structures'. (1) This controlling power of education can turn journalism into demagogic manipulation disguized as benevolent action.

Didacticism, however, is more acceptable in the cultural pages because of the belief that arts and culture have formative and humanizing powers. This idea is still very prevalent among cultural reporters and critics. A recent investigation into cultural reporters in the United Kingdom showed that they believe arts in general have teaching and healing powers, encourage 'sensitivity', and are a path for 'understanding the world and the human condition'. Most of these critics and reporters see themselves as distanced from the cynicism of other realms of journalism. They 'take on a crusading role' and 'construct themselves as moral saviours, guiding the public towards a better existence through the arts'. (2)

The belief in the emancipatory powers of culture is the basis of a recurrent image in Latin America of the intellectual as a teacher. Jose Marti defined the intellectual as a 'disseminator of knowledge and herald of the future'; Jose Enrique Rodo as 'a spiritual leader to the people'. (3) Angel Rama, talking about Marcha, says that the function of the intellectual at the time was to clarify, illustrate, explain and help people to attain moral values. (4) In Brazil, this idea originates in the nineteenth century, when all intellectuals, with greater or lesser passion, assigned themselves a civilizing mission. (5)

These images of literature as formative, and of the intellectual as a teacher, were central to more than one literary publication in Latin America in the 1950s, in countries with such different levels of cultural development as Brazil and Uruguay. A comparative analysis of Jornal de Letras, a literary newspaper published in Rio de Janeiro during this decade, and of the literary section of Marcha, published in Montevideo at the same time, shows that both newspapers defended the importance of disseminating literature for its capacity for creating modern and civilized citizens, imbued with universal values such as justice and freedom.

Their commitment to education was one element of a desire for modernization that became stronger among intellectuals by the mid-1940s and was felt as a collective project by the 1950s. After all, besides the ties with colonization and control, education in Latin America was also seen as essential to the 'prosperity, political unity, and cultural maturity' (6) of the continent. To educate the newspapers' readers was to introduce in culture the progress that was felt in other areas of life with industrialization and urbanization. From illiteracy in Brazil to a simple lack of knowledge of foreign and national ideas in both countries, the low cultural level of their public was seen as a sign of backwardness.

Jornal de Letras and Marcha wanted to replicate the cultural environment in Europe, where reading was part of the routine and literary newspapers were sold in newsstands. They also wanted to become a modern space of debate, analysis, reflection and circulation of ideas. Finally, journalism was itself a symbol of development and the two publications can be seen as microcosms of the process of cultural modernization: to maintain a cultural product for so many years involved the need to reconcile the same controversial forces at play in an evolving cultural industry, such as intellectual creation, market and politics. …