The look pandemic

Image: Lara Mantoanelli
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By LUIZ MENNA-BARRETO*

It is very likely that the gaze pandemic spread because of a ritual that was established in the early XNUMXst century.

In that land, few people exchanged glances; most kept their eyes on the ground. Law no. 46.383.492.384.309, of 2053, by the government on duty, prohibited eye contact between citizens. In it, it was written that the exchange of glances transmitted a fatal virus, impossible to be detected, but very contagious. Not that this law was really necessary, it just confirmed a behavior that had been becoming more and more common for some decades.

And so a world devoid of gazes was built among people, who were increasingly condemned to see only their own images reflected in mirrors spread all over the place, as only their own images were considered reliable. Self-appreciation was allowed. More than that, it was encouraged by the authorities. Exchanging glances was forbidden because it was dangerous, because it could cause unpredictable damage. Once infected by the virus, people began to fear any form of contact with others, given the unprecedented effect of these contacts, especially that of exchanged glances.

Among the intellectuals of that land, the gaze was increasingly understood as a luminous reflection, the surface of a momentary, fleeting present, stripped of a before and an after. This luminosity was the only possible representation of reality; the rest, a useless construction.

But there were a few people who still exchanged glances. They tried, in every way, to show the richness of these exchanges, always loaded with individual and collective stories, and also to prove that it didn't do any harm. Dialogue was difficult between these people exchanging glances and those who, fearing contagion, increasingly avoided exchanges.

Incidentally, it is very likely that the pandemic of the look has spread because of a ritual that was established at the beginning of the XNUMXst century, with the fashion of selfies made through a device popularly called cell phone. These self-portraits ended up feeding the illusion that people were exchanging a lot of personal information, but in fact these exchanges were never consummated, as the possible interlocutors were all busy showing their own images as well. Eventual innovations were limited to the exposition of grotesque facts that never invited one to think about the historicity of those involved and the construction of these same facts.

In the 2050s, this situation reached its limit, until the day when the group of those few people who still looked out for each other got together to exchange experiences – a meeting to which all the people of that land were invited. Adherence was small, not least because there was no gratification for the participants, but it was very lively, full of improvised conversations, some creative phrases, but not daring to denounce the law that prohibited the exchange of glances.

Still, the group left the meeting enriched. with the looks from there to here and from here to there. They discovered, for example, that an exchange of looks is never the same when repeated, as each look is unique and always brings something new, another meaning for what is seen. Soon after, the news spread about the existence of another to always be sought after, inviting those uninformed, disoriented and sad people, who only looked at the floor or at the mirrors, to flee the sameness. This search for new looks has infected the entire land, to the point that even the most fearful of the law began to rehearse furtive exchanges of looks. They started by observing their pets, then they saw their family members and, occasionally, a neighbor.

When they realized that it didn't hurt, but, on the contrary, it caused them to look out of their depths, everything changed. Even the landscapes of fields and cities began to be observed and carried stories that went beyond the surface, stories loaded with memories of those who were there and full of possibilities for those who will one day be. The law that prohibited the exchange of glances was dissolved, as useless and perverse.[1]

*Luiz Menna-Barreto He is a professor at the School of Arts, Sciences and Humanities at USP.

Note


[1] In this text I had the collaboration of Cláudia Espírito-Santo (revision).

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