Opinion – José Manuel Diogo: São Paulo Book Biennial was not just any event


When the CBL (Brazilian Book Chamber) chose Portugal to be the guest country for the biggest event dedicated to literature and books that takes place all over the world in Portuguese, I knew that the invitation has a greater meaning.

CBL didn’t choose Portugal “just” because Brazil celebrates the bicentennial of Independence, literature celebrates the centenary of the birth of José Saramago or because (to name just two) the writer Valter Hugo Mãe and the comedian Ricardo Araújo Pereira are true pop stars in the two sides of the ocean.

Nor was it because Abel Ferreira, the winning coach and idol of Palmeiras —some say that he will soon be the national team’s coach— was pleased with his finger and wrote a book that he launched with notorious success, in the presence of the Portuguese ambassador in Brasília, who went to São Paulo on purpose.

All these reasons are good, valid, obvious, but they are not the cause of this choice. They are your consequence. The cause lies in something much simpler, less evident and therefore more difficult to explain.

The choice has to do with an intrinsic feeling of “finding” that, emanating from the Brazilian (cultural and economic) elites, has developed rapidly in the last two decades as a result of an increasing complexity of the mechanisms for sharing information between the various social strata. of the two Portuguese-speaking nations.

This process is turning into a true movement (the first) of counter-colonization of history. But this time politically planned, organized by the elites, desired by the people and in which its protagonists are aware that they are experiencing this event live.

The direct link that the Portuguese Minister of Internal Administration, José Luís Carneiro, makes between “the necessary remodeling of the Foreigners and Borders Police” (the main bottleneck in Portuguese emigration processes) and the demographic issue that Portugal needs to solve, is proof from that.

Along with the creation of long-term visas for looking for work, these measures are as relevant from a historical point of view as were, in the 1750s, the territorial incentives that the Marquis of Pombal gave to marital ties between Portuguese and indigenous people.

The technological paradigm shift brought about by the pandemic — adults in Zoom meetings, Teams and Meets and the controversial and unexpected encounters between Brazilian youtubers and Portuguese school-age girls and boys — accelerates all this.

Those responsible for the CBL know that today the Portuguese language is no longer just an organized code of words and meanings that, every hundred years, distinguished university students, agree to wake up again, opening notorious, but useless, academic disputes.

They, who publish books, know that today the products of the language are destined to the global speaking citizens and that the traditional geographic constraints are disappearing. They know that language has more economic value than ever and that, in the specific case of books —the country “Portugal” needs emigrants so it doesn’t “die”—it’s a generational opportunity.

Perhaps fulfilling the fate of that Royal Library, forgotten in 1808 on a Lisbon quay, and later the object of separate negotiation in the independence negotiations with Portugal, books are once again the starting point for projecting a new global, multi-territorial and permanent society. where language is a new citizenship.

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