The far-right insurrection

Image: Eva Bronzini


For the insurgents, the real people are those who destroy representations of power

The most expressive historical actions are carried out by those who have no idea what they are doing. It was impossible not to think about it when seeing the image of the demonstrator who entered the Planalto Palace and decided to stab, with a violence that was all the more impactful because of his carelessness, the screen The Mulattoes, by Di Cavalcanti. It would be easy to say that this is simple vandalism, committed by a person so brutalized that he is incapable of realizing the value of a painting “of 8 million reais”, as it was said at the time. But the truth is that real social conflicts always end up finding their images and meanings, regardless of the intention of their agents. What the protester wanted to do or believed he was doing is of little importance, since it was not exactly he who acted, but a whole structure through him. And, as Jacques Lacan used to say, there are times when structures come down to the streets.

It is possible to look at everything that happened in Brasilia on January 8th and act as if it were the irrational expression of mass violence. But what happened – and will probably be repeated later on – was not really “irrational”. It was, in fact, an event several times predicted and announced: a certain repetition of what was seen in the invasion of the Capitol, in Washington. For a long time, a place was highlighted for this event in the rationale of current political struggles in Brazil. The point is that this rationality has changed, although many prefer not to admit it.

The desire not to see is so strong that, after the much-seen images of January 8, unseen images followed, such as the one that recorded what happened in Praça dos Três Poderes, last January 31, Tuesday. That afternoon, a 58-year-old man, whose identity was not disclosed, set himself on fire shouting slogans against the Federal Supreme Court (STF) and Minister Alexandre de Moraes. The man died on February 2, and most of the press chose not to report on the case. Questionable decision, as it only reinforces public opinion's lack of knowledge about the moment in which we actually find ourselves, marked by the strength of engagement and sacrifice of the extreme right.

The best way to not solve a problem is to systematically ignore its true breadth and depth. But anyone who follows the political events of recent decades will remember how the Arab Spring began. In December 2010, in a small town in Tunisia, a man immolated himself as a desperate form of protest against the extortion he suffered from the police and the local government. “This is mere analogy without real explanatory power”, some will say. I would, however, like to insist on the contrary. This repetition with the inverted signs demonstrates that we are once again facing an insurrectionary dynamic, but this time led by the extreme right.

In recent months, a part of the country has been taken by surprise by the insistence, self-denial and enthusiasm with which people from the extreme right have mobilized. To think that this dynamic has been broken just because some arrests have been made is simply taking our wishes for reality. We saw something very similar in 2021, following the events that took place on Sete de Setembro, when Bolsonaro attacked the STF and encouraged incendiary speeches: there were arrests and declarations that the then president had “crossed the line”, thus dismantling his base. popular. However, what happened was something else. The mobilization of the extreme right has not retracted, it has not cooled down, it has not ended. In other words, one should absolutely not discard the hypothesis that Brazil has become the laboratory of a new phase of the world extreme right, namely, precisely, the insurrectionary phase.

In this context, “insurrectional phase” means that the world's extreme right will tend, more and more, to operate as a long-lasting anti-institutional offensive force. This strength can be expressed in large popular mobilizations, in direct actions, in forms of explicit refusal by the constituted authorities. In other words, a whole grammar of struggle that until recently characterized the revolutionary left is now migrating to the extreme right, as if we were in an inverted world.

Better to accept this than to continue with “deficit” explanations about Bolsonarism, as has been done to exhaustion in recent years. Deficient explanations are those that place the cause of the phenomena in alleged deficiencies of the agents, such as saying that Bolsonarism is the result of resentment (psychological deficiency), obscurantism and fake news (cognitive deficiencies), of hatred (moral deficiency). Explanations of this nature serve more to corroborate the analyst's belief in his alleged moral and intellectual superiority than to help in the effective understanding of a sociopolitical phenomenon of undeniable complexity.

It is significant that the extreme right describes the Brazilian left using the same terms. In the eyes of the extreme right, the left is obscurantist, ideologically blind, resentful and marked by hatred. Which shows the eminently strategic character of these “analytical concepts”. They are pieces of a rhetorical clash and, at best, describe effects, not causes. No one spends months taking the rain in front of a barracks moved by resentment, but because they believe they are part of a real movement of rupture and transformation that will “clean up the country” and rebuild Brazilian history, which requires sacrifice. There is a positive system of motivations moving these people that needs to be analyzed as such.

This text began with a digression on the stabbings against a canvas by Di Cavalcanti that seems to have been lost in the first paragraph. In fact, it was a way of introducing the true argument of the article: in every process of popular insurrection there is an assertion that the people represented by power are not the real people. For the insurgents, the real people are those who destroy representations of power.

For this reason, there has never been a popular insurrection without the toppling of statues, the desecration of public spaces, the degradation of historical and artistic heritage. Public power is not just a set of control and legislation apparatuses. It is a set of aesthetic systems for presenting people. It is the continuous management of a whole series of hymns, “popular” songs, architectural spaces, paintings, images, poems, novels that aim not exactly to “represent” a people, but to build it. And there is no better country to demonstrate how this works than Brazil.

 In a way, Brazil is an aesthetic construction. If every nation mobilizes, on some scale, this dimension to constitute itself as a people, it is a fact that modern Brazil is unthinkable if it is not also seen as such. It is not possible to understand the desires for modernization and development in the country without articulating them to a broad process of construction and aesthetic modernization of the people themselves. The apex of this is the creation of Brasilia. As the art critic Mário Pedrosa used to say, at the time of the founding of the federal capital (and it is good to read this noting its tone of concrete utopia), “building the new city is the greatest work of art that can be done in the XNUMXth century”. ”. It should be added that whoever builds a city does not just build an urbis: he also builds its inhabitants.

 As every popular insurrection is, among other things, a process of aesthetic disavowal, the protester who stabbed Di Cavalcanti's canvas ignored not only this work, but also opposed Oscar Niemeyer's curved lines, Athos Bulcão's murals and landscaping. by Burle Marx. With his gesture, he wanted to say, as others have said at various times in history: “These people represented by the modernist works of Brasília are not the real people. The people are elsewhere.”

 It is worth reflecting on this at length. Because it is possible to imagine that some people have said: “Every popular destruction of signs of power has something liberating. It is not possible to criticize those who did what they did in Brasilia on January 8th.” But this position results from a double misunderstanding. The first consists in believing that all destruction is equal. The second, and even worse, that all construction is also the same.

Let's start with the second mistake. As I said earlier, “modern” Brazil is an artistic idea. National construction has among its fundamental axes the use of aesthetic modernization as a force for redefining space, time and territory. Brazil entered history as the only country in the world (along with the Soviet Union) where modernism became a true State project. Which led the architect Lucio Costa, who designed the Pilot Plan for Brasilia, to announce that, with the construction of the capital, “a new political era was emerging, in which art would once again take control of technique”.

The idea of ​​the aesthetic construction of a people, or the founding of a people based on symbolic production forces and social unification typical of certain artistic experiences, dates back to the beginning of the XNUMXth century in Europe. Every philosophy professor, including myself, knows the historical meaning of texts like The Aesthetic Education of Man (1795), by Friedrich Schiller, and The Oldest System Program of German Idealism (1796-7, authorship uncertain, attributed to Hegel, Schelling, and Hölderlin). They are texts that defend the historical task of using the arts as a device for political and social emancipation. And it is not by chance that they were animated by the global transformations driven by the French Revolution.

One of the consequences of a popular revolution is the belief that new dynamics in the constitution of the people can emerge, enabling the structural modification of sensitivity and imagination. A society liberated from the material reproduction of founding traditions and myths can mobilize aesthetic experience as a ground for social creation in new ways. Something of this belief guided the development of modernism in certain countries with a late national constitution, such as Brazil. Animated by a process that was not a social revolution, but a “revolution from above”, from 1930 onwards, Brazil used the utopian horizon of modernism to drive the formation of a national State that propelled an “ambiguous” modernization.

The adjective “ambiguous” was not used by chance. No power is associated with the constructive force of autonomous aesthetic experiences without this bringing about unstable agreements that are difficult to control. Brazilian modernism was not an emulation of the state. It was realized as an aesthetic of national conciliation, in which the avant-garde aspiration of “creating a people that is lacking” met the wishes of conservative modernization and progress of the Brazilian populist State from the Vargas era. For this conciliation to work, many erasures and silences were necessary. For, in order to create a missing people, it is necessary to deny a people that already exists, it is necessary to make invisibility those people that do not fit the stellar geometry and the amplitude of the architectural free space that Brazilian modernism enshrined.

On the other hand, this modernization – and therein lies its ambiguous feature – demands that we no longer lean on the ground, on the territory, on tradition, on already constituted forms of life. It calls for a thrust of creation and invention that, as I said, no power can control very well. Imbued with this spirit of Brazilian modernism, Celso Furtado spoke of an improbable “organized fantasy”, one of the most beautiful expressions to refer to the national aesthetic utopia. Something not far from what Lucio Costa said when he declared that, with Brasília, he had built a city capable of combining “orderly work and daydreaming”. Indeed, the process is contradictory, but this contradiction is real. Sad the time when critical thinking no longer knows real contradictions.

The person who stabbed Di Cavalcanti's canvas inside the Planalto Palace acted against both sides of the contradiction. She refused the conciliation promised by the official representation of the people, saying with that that there is an active irreconciliation, that these are not the real people. But it didn't stop there. Her gesture also included a second intention, which is also not to accept the impulse of creation and rupture that the modernist construction of the people expressed in Brazil. This second unconscious gesture, but brutally real because it is unconscious, reminds us of the first mistake I mentioned earlier: that of believing that all destruction is the same. There are destructions that are the condition for creating the unseen. And there are destructions that only deny what still retains the silent force of creating new social configurations. In this case, through denial, he seeks to restore

This second gesture by the aggressor on Di Cavalcanti's canvas can only be understood in its true intention if we understand that Bolsonarism is not simply “the destruction of culture”. It is the incarnation of a centenary clash that crosses the history of Brazil and consists of trying to overthrow a project of aesthetic construction of the people in the name of another, supposedly more popular and that is not the expression of the “globalist cultural elites”. The movement will always be this: to aesthetically build a people, but destroying another. In the same space.

When Bolsonaro lost the elections and left the palaces of Alvorada and Planalto, there were many who made fun of the “works of art” of dubious taste received by the former president and packed for his move, such as a motorcycle carved in wood, sculptures made of bullet casings and paintings in which he appears next to Jesus Christ. Social media reveled in such aesthetic misery. They were handmade works or made by self-taught people who celebrated Bolsonaro himself. However, anyone familiar with Brazilian integralism would not fail to recognize aesthetic elements of the movement in them, with their mix of popular forms, “naive and sentimental poetry” and religious and patriotic references.

In fact, integralism, that is, Brazilian fascism, was initially another aesthetic construction of the people – opposed to the modernist project that prevailed. What could not be different, if we remember that the founder of Integralism, Plínio Salgado (1895-1975), in addition to exercising political activity, was a writer and participated in the Modern Art Week of 1922 and in the internal clashes of Brazilian modernism, having he wrote his own artistic manifestos, such as that of the Movimento Verde-Amarelo, in 1926. Integralist aesthetics celebrated another form of national conciliation, even more violent – ​​and much less ambiguous – between primitive capitalist accumulation, of an extractive nature, religion, tradition and indigenous extermination.

As it is a modernism cut from its roots of formal rupture, but which preserves its desire for autonomy in the present, integralism adapts tradition to the demands of capitalist predatory development, which does not shed tears for what it destroys. It is the expression of a people that would be reconciled with the violence of colonial and extractive progress, of capitalist entrepreneurship, with the current order of sensibility, which does not question what socially appears as “natural”, the “naturally” given hierarchies (such as those that constitute the bourgeois family and theological-political power). Many of these elements will be updated in this “aesthetics of exporting agricultural production” that seals the association between the Brazilian cultural industry and Bolsonarism. It is enough to remember, for example, the dichotomy constructed by Plínio Salgado between the Tupi, who in his conception would allow themselves to be decimated “peacefully” to live in the blood of every Brazilian, and the Tapuias, whose warrior impetus and hostility to assimilation led them to complete erasure. .

All this indicates a phenomenon that is important not to forget. If there is something that the political aestheticization produced by fascism understood, it is that there is no popular insurrection without the aesthetic reconstruction of the people. There is a profound dimension to political clashes that are aesthetic clashes – between different forms of affections and the circulation of sensitive experience. In a way, involuntarily – as every true political act is involuntary –, the protester who stabbed Di Cavalcanti's canvas said exactly that.

*Vladimir Safatle He is a professor of philosophy at USP. Author, among other books, of Ways of transforming worlds: Lacan, politics and emancipation (Authentic).

Originally published in the magazine Piaui No. 198 of March 2023.

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