the multifaceted art

Josef Albers, Homage to the Square: Broad Call, fall 1967


Reflections on writers and their obsessions

In Literature, as in other arts, there are two well-definable types of artist: the one who insatiably experiments with different forms, exploring angles, textures, materials, techniques, languages, paths and bifurcations, and those who obsessively dive into an object of study (of desire?), tracing a route of progressive deepening, in a heroic and vain attempt to reach the core, the final and definitive unraveling, the limpid and absolute crystal.

There are other motivations, we know, but let's stick with these two opposites for now. And before we opt for the generalist or the specialist (categories that don't work very well when it comes to art), it's important to make a caveat: this type of classification does not imply a value judgment.

Indeed, there are bad experiencers and wonderful obsessives, and vice versa. The synthetic radicalism of haiku, for example, is one of the most treacherous pitfalls for budding poets. Bashô is genius, but he has a universal legion of mediocre followers, with few exceptions.

How can one not admire Malevitch's suprematist plunge, which cost him dearly in Stalinist Russia, and at the same time not be astonished by his return to figurativism? And here comes another complicating fact: there are artists who are “specialists” in a certain phase of life and “generalists” in another. Absolute masters at one point, and self-diluters at another. Those that have a long life are more targeted by this type of criticism, it is obvious, since the set of works tends to be uneven the larger it is.

Does anyone suppose that Mozart could retain excellence if he lived another forty years? Or Rimbaud? Is it easier to be a genius dying young? Again, we cannot set a rule. There are brilliant and long-lived artists who created provocative masterpieces in the so-called third age, such as Verdi, who premiered his opera Falstaff (based on the part The Merry Wives of Windsor, by Shakespeare) at the age of 80, or Oscar Niemeyer, who inaugurated the Niterói Museum of Contemporary Art at the age of 89 (and continued creating until he was 105).

Others exploded early like fireworks, spending the rest of their lives trying to relight the ashes of their glorious work. Or looking for other ways, moved by a restlessness that, depending on the case, can be confused with lack of objectivity, opportunism, pure survival or even aesthetic relaxation. And there is the inevitable appeal of the publishing market, which throws its data into works that are easy to digest, consumed quickly and exchanged for others. Much cited in Brazil is the case of Jorge Amado, a radical in his early works, who, as he became a major book seller, gave in to the temptation of eroticism seasoned with palm oil, as several critics point out.[1]

Brazilian literature is the ground where all kinds of writers flourish. From brilliant and synthetic storytellers, such as Dalton Trevisan, to great authors of little-remembered works, such as Otávio de Faria, whose bourgeois tragedy, scheduled for twenty volumes, had thirteen published during his lifetime and two more posthumously. However, these two examples are obsessive, each in its own way. While one scrutinizes the relationship of love, jealousy and hate between johns and marias, another seeks to dissect carioca society from the class point of view, without diverting the focus from the scenario.

Contemporary Brazilian literature, like music or the visual arts, is multifaceted and permeable to many influences, typical of a media and globalizing era. Despite this, it is still possible to observe creative (or paralyzing, depending on the case) aesthetic obsessions. Rubem Fonseca's legion of epigones, for example, seeks to emulate the atmosphere of the master's first stories. The ambitious undertaking of Alberto Mussa, building a history of Rio de Janeiro for five centuries, in police plots.

Chico Lopes's magnifying glass on small town life in change/stagnation in a Brazil that is always a set of frustrations. Feminist writers who break ties and, paradoxically, become entangled in new enclosures. Writer Chico Buarque's effort to achieve composer Chico Buarque's excellence. Chroniclers from the periphery hammer out essential themes, because it is impossible not to talk about violence, prejudice, hunger or misery, issues that span centuries without losing their urgency. Each in their own way sustains their obsessions as best they can, with the tools they have at their fingertips.

Art allows for various views, interpretations, hearings and readings, and this multiform nature contains all the grace and mystery of the thing. A distorted mirror of the world we live in, it can magnify or reduce qualities and defects, but it never ceases to be a thermometer of the anxieties of the time in which it was produced. Made by obsessed cranks or delusional pantheists, it can always provide us with some keys to understanding the world, heaven or hell in which we live.

* Daniel Brazil is a writer, author of the novel suit of kings (Penalux), screenwriter and TV director, music and literary critic.


[1] It is worth checking Motta, Carlos Guilherme, Ideology of Brazilian Culture (1933-1974) (Publisher 34).

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