2020: marks and scars

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By FLAVIO AGUIAR*

The pandemic and pandemic year

What images will remain on our retinas, as fatigued as the marks and scars of this 2020, as pandemic as it is pandemic? Let's resort to certain – or uncertain – literary modalities to risk some guesses. On the tragic stage will be the photos of shallow graves, improvised by the thousands in different parts of the planet, due to the mortality that Covid-19 caused, sometimes helped by the genocidal negligence of rulers like Trump, Bolsonaro and initially Boris Johnson.

If we move to the dramatic level, we find what may become the symbol of the paradoxes of this terrible year: the mask, incensed by many as the icon of saving lives, condemned by denialists of all stripes and cardinal points as the tongs of state authoritarianism restricting the field of “individual freedoms”, that is, in this case, the field where contempt for one's own life and above all for the lives of others is manifested. One cannot lose sight of an ironic aspect of the mandatory use of a mask in various circumstances. This obligation came in the wake of the Islamophobic practices of the “Christian-Western” melodrama, persecuting and prohibiting the use of burqas, scarves and other garments by Muslim women, many times for hiding their faces.

Entering the field of tragicomedy, we can privilege the crude phrases of Bolsonaro and Trump, one talking about a “little flu” in relation to the pandemic, obstinately trying to “discredit” vaccines, especially the Chinese “enemy”, and the other, defeated partly because of his negligence in the face of the American catastrophe, tenaciously clinging to his chair in the Oval Office of the White House. Both resemble those characters that the philosopher Henri Bergson characterizes as “automatons” of the comic bass, who always react to everything in the same monotonous and grotesque way, denying the reality of the context in which they are, and living in the alternative plane of their egocentric narcissism. , opaque and obtuse.

If we were actually on a stage, we would have a truly satirical comedy, a dish made for an Aristophanes, a Plautus, to incarnate the Braggart Soldier of Comedy of Art, or, more closely, to the comedy of manners by our Martins Pena or to the scathing gaze of Oswald de Andrade in The Sailing King. As we are in the theater of real life, we see that this silly automatism of both is one of the vectors of the tragedy we are experiencing: hence, the feeling of tragicomedy. Or even, at the limit, Theater of the Absurd.

Let's move on to the epic. Two types of characters compete – amicably with each other – for the proscenium of this genre. On the one hand, there are the millions of health workers, fighting to save lives, often in adverse conditions, putting their own at risk. On the other, the millions of militants who, often putting their own lives at risk, committed themselves during a fateful year to the fight against racism.

On May 25 of this year, black George Floyd was murdered in the city of Minneapolis, Minnesota, in the United States, by white police officer Derek Chauvin with the complicity of three other colleagues in uniform. Floyd had been arrested on charges of passing a counterfeit $20 bill when buying cigarettes at a convenience store. Handcuffed and knocked to the ground, he was suffocated by the policeman's knee pressing on his neck for more than 8 minutes.

From then on, the anti-racist movement exploded in the United States and throughout the world, under the slogan “Black Lives Matter", "Black lives matter". The extreme right and its rulers accused the protesters of “terrorism”, also accusing the demonstrators who gathered under the banner of anti-fascism. The demonstrations required a triple courage: that of defying police repression, that of defying the pandemic and also that of maintaining the essential health protection rules, often ridiculed by those same rulers who accused the militants of “terrorist practices”.

In this year 2020, the fight against racism led the fight against other forms of discrimination, those against other fragile groups, minority or not, also symbolically embodying the fight against social discrimination due to adverse conditions such as poverty, religious and cultural differences .

If we move to the lyrical genre, things get complicated. First, because we all live, those immersed in the Extended Capitalist West (because it includes much of the former Communist East Europe), in a state of exalted lyricism, according to some modern versions of Classical Poetics (see Emil Staiger, Grundbegriffe der Poetik (1946) Fundamental Concepts of Poetics, Tempo Brasileiro, 1969). Let me explain: for the Swiss philosopher, what defines classical literary genres is the relationship between the articulating voice of the text (hereinafter called the “poet”), the text, and the reader or audience. In the original tradition of the epic, the Greek court, poet and audience are face to face, because the poet sings the "text", which was not written. In the dramatic genre, the poet disappears behind the “text”, whose proscenium is occupied by characters who address the audience directly. In the lyrical genre, the opposite happens: the audience disappears behind the poem, because the poet seems to address himself directly to the source of his poem, be it Nature, God, his self-projection, whatever.

Like Narcissus, the lyric poet addresses his image, which assumes and projects humanity. Today, in this Expanded Capitalist West, densely introverted between its triumphs and crises, dominated by the perception of cellulosic, smartphone, virtual and television spaces, we live in a moment of extreme narcissism. The screens that surround us subsume the Other, the Alterity. Nothing is more vehemently narcissistic than an internet argument. Our “poet”, transfigured into an “internet user” or whatever, basically only sees himself on the screen. This is why the texts become so aggressive, so irritated, as they are brief: the “Other” and his reaction to our burning words of exalted subjectivity are not seen.

Platforms such as Skype gave us a brief glimpse of the face of others, soon lost in the small screen of Smartphones and WhatsApp, or in the labyrinths of Facebooks, Instagrams, Twitters, etc. We live in an accelerated time of permanent complaints, ephemeral satisfactions and lasting frustrations. The old saying goes that for English, nothing is older than the “Times” of yesterday; for the French, nothing more aged in the afternoon than the baguette in the morning. We would have to add: for us, nothing is more overcome than the post two or three hours ago.

There are those who can survive this shipwreck in limitless individualism. For me, the ultimate icon of this survival was the continuous intervention in our 2020 by Pope Chico I, with his prayers, homilies, encyclicals, sermons, everyday phrases, whatever. Chico I seems to address directly to the Threatened Nature and for that very reason Menacing, to God (his Merciful God, not the Ogre worshiped by the extreme right), the Expanded Humanity, which is not limited only to the Catholic or Christian universe. It carries with it the word of tolerance against the intolerance of these individualist times that got worse after the 2008 crisis and the salvationist plans of neoliberal austerity. Steve Banner and Cardinal Raymond Burke are right when they consider Chico I their main enemy.

I know that there are many people who turn up their noses, claiming that the Catholic Church continues to have conservative dogmas (which is true) and that the Pope does little about it. I humbly remember that Chico I was elected Pope of Rome, not leader of a cell of an extreme left party on the outskirts of a big city. And that he, unlike many people who settle down, has been doing what he can.

Do what you can, aspiring to be able to do more and more: perhaps this is the profound lesson of this 2020 that started badly, continued badly and will end up leaving us with a legacy of doubts and uncertainties. We are in the position of those sailors on the Columbus expedition, at a certain point in Ridley Scott's film 1492, the Conquest of Paradise: standing in the middle of the ocean, without wind, with the tasks of our disorganized daily life piling up, accelerating, knowing where we started from, but without having the slightest idea of ​​where we are going. To make our situation worse, we, the viewers of the film, know that the leader of the expedition, the navigator Columbus (Gerard Depardieu), has a vague idea of ​​where he is going, but that he is completely wrong.

May Chico I bless us.

* Flavio Aguiar is a journalist, writer and retired professor of Brazilian literature at USP. Author, among other books, of Chronicles of the World Upside Down (Boitempo).

 

 

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