The Imagination of Paradox

Image: João Nitsche


Commentary on the interview given by Guimarães Rosa to Günter Lorenz in January 1965

Interviews involve not only things said, effects on the enunciation, but also ways of saying, pragmatic regulation of the enunciation. This text is set up as a scene of the articulation of Lorenz and Rosa's speeches, sticking to some assumptions of the speeches in play. In the interview, the reader reads the confrontation, sometimes opposition, of two discursive machines with different determinations.

Let us start quickly with the speech of the critic Günter Lorenz, who advances as a discourse that distributes the meanings of what he says and hears in two excluding series, fixing them in a logical interpretation system, which guides the questions and the translation/interpretation of the answers of Pink. A discourse that presupposes and works with contradiction, Lorenz's metalanguage does not admit that two contradictory opposites can be true or valid simultaneously. This happens, obviously, not due to any inadequacy, but due to his situation as a mediator – very fine, it should be said – between João Guimarães Rosa and the public; therefore, with the astuteness of an interviewer and a certain obstinacy of a critic, in his enunciation

Lorenz tries to surround his extremely slippery object, demanding from it a metalanguage that makes explicit positions in the face of an external determination (the discussion on politics at the International Congress of Literature in Genoa, in 1965) or internal to the interviewee's work (language/work relationship, method of work etc). With humour, irony as well, Rosa's speeches carry out an analysis of language and events - not only those of the circumstances of the interview and those of the Congress, but also literary and biographical ones - through paradoxes, which affirm two opposite meanings that are simultaneously valid. .

A skilful way of dodging the critic's conceptual grid, this other discourse, fabulator/fabulist, places the discussion partner in front of alternatives that cause a short circuit in the logical categories of his discourse of contradiction, requiring continuous stops to carry out metalanguage of metalanguage (rereading the effect of Lorenz's impatience, his almost irritation, when he is unable to follow a pseudo-paradox that Rosa (dis)assembles, in which he converts the work into the author, at the same time that he says it is necessary to avoid any intimacy or subjectivism to talk about the work).

Speaking through paradoxes – and insisting on their value as opposed to logic in her books –, Rosa insists that her discourse, as a practice and an effect, aims at continuously displacing the explicit limits of established languages ​​and, always subordinating what she says to the way in which says, shows that it operates with decisions and not with adequacy of discourse to already constituted truths. This is certainly why, after reading the entire interview, one can still wonder about the real opposition that is camouflaged in the comings and goings of the two discursive strategies, especially Rosa's, which produces a humorous vacuum in which the critic's questions are forgotten.

One hypothesis is to think of Rosa as a literary critic – in this case, a critic of criticism – demonstrating in his language game the insufficiency/irrision of the binary apparatus (of the “political/apolitical”, “logical/illogical”, “real/magical”, “life/work” etc.) used by criticism that does not leave the frame of representation. Due to two different imaginations of language and meaning, we are certainly also facing two different conceptions of the meaning of “political”. (Strategically considered as the main one in this text, the paradox that permeates the entire interview consists in the fact that Rosa refuses politics and simultaneously affirms the writer’s political responsibility – as one reads, for example, when he says he is on the side of Asturias and not on the side of Asturias. Borges).

It doesn't matter whether he is idealistic through the use of categories that refer his discourse to the metaphysical, absorbing it in an atopic place out of time, Rosa's insistence on speaking about language is clear - in this sense, her feigned horror for intimacy and the affirmation of her desire to writing a dictionary that would be his autobiography to be published on his centenary should be thought of as furtive traces of his poetics and, implicitly, of his political relationship with language and language.

Valuing the dictionary as a virtual language of poetry implies, in this case, a kind of compendial activity temporally immanent to the designated objects, in which language is not worked as an adequacy, similarity or reflection, but as a force, since the objects of discourse do not they are predetermined and prevail as an infinite virtuality of meaning: Rosa calls the process alchemy and, quoting Novalis, magic algebra. Binarily, one could think of formalism, here, as opposed to any realist content.

But Rosa does not believe in an autonomy of the linguistic, as he does not confuse the symbolic material with the collective objects articulated in it – read what he says about sincerity in the use of language or about the responsibility of the writer or, even, about the language of metaphysics . And, as we are still writing binary, it should be said that Rosa also does not accept literary writing put instrumentally at the service of standards: “Zola… came only from São Paulo”, she says as an example of form / content dissociation.

What can be glimpsed, then, in his refusal of easy formalism and instrumentalism? Briefly, the statement of a work that Lorenz translates as contradiction: denial of logic, defense of the irrational – operated by an intellectual. Not seeing any contradiction in what he says, since he does not speak through the discourse of contradiction, he says that "a genius is a man who does not know how to think logically, but prudently". Here, with her modesty, Rosa reaffirms the presupposition of her speech: “logic” is equivalent to prudence that has become scientific, as the petrification of patterns that no longer produce ideas (in this sense, her work with the paradox could also be understood as a refusal to of dogmatism, somewhat paradoxically).

But it is their non-acceptance of a “paper balloon” language of the cultural industry – an expression that recalls the common of another great loner of invention – which can better explain his repugnance for the logical: this corresponds to meanings that have already become official with ecclesiastical, philosophical and scientific blessing. As a counterpoint to the refusal, Rosa asserts a work of language corrosion/mixing that dissolves the mediation of representation and stretches it towards an origin that, without paradox, is a future and a virtuality of enunciation (and a realization, if we think of his work , which is what counts): language as the medium from which the extension/tension of a “reactionary” work with the word comes and takes place.

Giving the word its “original meaning”, his production overflows the pre-established boundaries of linguistic designation/meaning, effecting a pure event as the invention of another that metaphysical categorization can candidly think of as a soul or another catalogable myth – but which, through the work of paradox and compensation (liberation of the “impurities of spoken language”, use of dialectal variants not yet literarily codified, resort to archaic Portuguese, use of the dialect that is the language of modern science, etc.) is a formidable modern machine for producing differences, singularities. It's about working with a language in progress, in which the multiplicity of patterns of collective enunciation converge and dialogue – Brazilian Portuguese, a language that is not yet static, a mix of Portuguese, Indian and African forms, and the various contributions of other languages.

The method: (dis)assembling such patterns in the combinatorics of the utterance, purifying, transforming language into language, loosening or releasing languages ​​from language, umsorgen. Thinking about “Brazilianness” – which is the “language of the unspeakable” – and also saying that his character Riobaldo is probably just Brazil, Rosa intuits a language policy that necessarily leads to the confluence of party languages: the perhaps impressive, for his reader , is that the festival of languages ​​finds its counterpoint and rhythm in the bush, in this crazy and crooked “sertão” and not at all metaphysical, marked precisely by the absence of voice.

Unfortunately – perhaps – Rosa does not theorize him sufficiently, because when he talks about him his categorization is metaphysical – therefore, he is as if blinded to the radical radicalism of his language, the third margin. And, in this way, as this text wants to be short, the paradox of the beginning is resumed: is Rosa a politician? It certainly is not, if “political” is thought of as engagement with the work and/or propaganda of a certain praxis – and it should be clear that here engagement of the heart is not taken into account, even if it were an opportunity for a writing on the theater of women. intentions. But Rosa is intensely political when, paradoxically, he makes speak what has not yet had a voice and is silently preparing the celebration of the languages ​​of the bush; metaphysics, in this case – and despite himself, a man out of date with regard to his work – is quite the metaphor of this emptiness.

*John Adolfo Hansen is a retired senior professor at USP. Author, among other books, of Sixteenth-century sharpnesses – Collected work, vol 1 (Edusp).

Originally published in Magazine Art – The 60s. São Paulo: Kairós, May/Aug. 1979.



Gunter Lorenz. Dialogue with Latin America: An overview of a literature of the future.

São Paulo, EPU, 1973.


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