the graded university

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By EUGENIO BUCCI*

The pandemic and the flagged or unflagged fences that separate, frame and quarter the Butantã campus

The pandemic put us out of USP. I say this with a certain methodological reservation, because the information is not exact. To be more precise, I should stick an adverb in there. The sentence would look like this: in terms face to face, the pandemic put us out of USP. Yes, the style is rough, but the sense improves. For us, professors, students and employees at USP, the pandemic has put us out – but in person, barely in person.

USP was not emptied of our work as professors, the day-to-day dedication of its employees and student attendance – it was emptied of the physical presence of all of them. Technology, which has been providing capitalism with the intense activity of telepresence, has generated the new idiomatic inflection of everybody invoking the adverb in person or the adjective in-person or all the time. the adjective in-person or is ancient (comes from the Latin, præsentialis), but has now become a plague. From the point of view of style, the adjective and its adverb are brutal. They overwhelm prosody, block the musicality of speech. Nevertheless, they prevail. They sound like cyber passwords, custom markers for the digital age. They fulfill, without the competition of almost any other word, the function of distinguishing what we do with a present body (“presential” acts) from what we do from afar, without a present body or absent body (“virtual” acts).

The amount of things we do today without the body is absurdly high. We pay bills, buy groceries, testify, sign petitions and make love (do not be surprised: sexual intercourse, impossible in the opinion of some and some, is a plot that is woven into the imagination, not into the tough flesh, without requiring muscles and nerves nearby; in matters of the libido, the body sends memories through the signifiers that cover it, it does not need to be there at the time of the act). People attend religious services without having to go there in person, they celebrate funeral ceremonies on the seventh day and there are even teachers who vote for collegiate bodies without any “presence” (there is ugliness in the vernacular).

That's why we – professors at USP – started giving classes of this type, non-face-to-face classes. We don't go to the Butantã campus, but classes take place anyway. The students don't go either, only their avatars go, when they don't lack the other bad word in vogue: connectivity.

In the pandemic, USP continues at a thousand per hour, as long as it is virtually. And there is a teleproductive frenzy that has no limits. In addition to teaching classes, we do research, give grades, correct work, set up meetings and fill out forms until we can't anymore. Digital bureaucrats fibrillate in ecstasy. And from afar. We request virtual vacations, issue opinions and control the presence (not in person) of student bodies. We even do non-face-to-face congregation and university council sessions. The body is barred at USP, more so now than before. Technology is not exactly a turnstile, but it is the nirvana of technique that made the body an expendable entity in production relations.

Tour

Hardware aside, I tried, the other day, to take my body for a walk around USP (or was it my body that took my head for a walk?). I tried and, more than that, I did it. I must say I got it. Victorious, I entered the glorious university city through the old Gate 1.

The sky glowed a clear blue, sprinkling good humor on the earthlings. There I was (me, no, my body) wearing orange shorts, a white T-shirt and a pair of blue sneakers. There I was (not me, my conscience) imbued with the sensorial appetite of walking healthily under the sun filtered by the tops of tipuanas profiled in the lanes. USP, ghost town, although university. There I was, without witnesses – without witnesses, rather, other than the capybaras (or are they pacas?) with their paws, on the edge of the ray. Between me and the herbivores (or are they rodents?), only the rusty wires. There was USP, with its fences to confine the animals.

I remember that, at the aforementioned Gate 1, a man in uniform asked me point-blank: “Where are you going?”. There was USP and its monitored ordinances. “Where are you going?”, reiterated the representative of the private guard at the public university. Before sketching a word, I showed my badge, my teacher card, which did not sensitize the security guard behind the black mask. In a flash of inspiration, I stammered that I would go to the bank. I argued that I would go to the ATM next to the ECA to get some caraminguas. It was as if I ordered “Open, Sesame”. The watchman undid his bodily stiffening, disarmed that overly present choreographic rigidity and, in a gesture that made his left arm describe a generous arc, as if moving a heavy curtain to the side, he consented to my passage.

Nothing like the financial argument at this university, I thought, as I walked away with no intention of typing anything on any electronic screen at any bank branch. Let's just say I lied remotely. Let's say at the very least that I had changed my mind: I wasn't going to follow the itinerary announced at the ticket window. It bothered me, but only a little. I let it go. I left it behind.

In the light of midday, walking through the dry leaves, I felt the sensation of being a single body in the vastness of the campus. Or almost unique, because, as I already warned, the pacas (or are they capybaras?) stalked me without interest. I continued my walk almost happily, although I couldn't stop thinking about the fences, about guardhouses and even about the rodents (or were they herbivores?) at the university. My legs walked and my head wandered in search of understanding the cleavage between the university body and the functional human body. I and my pedestrian subjectivity followed, under the light shade of the tipuana trees, with no similar bodies nearby, even though the vultures hopped around among pacas.

(With all due respect to Tom Jobim and glider pilots, vultures are foreboding when they fly, disgusting when they land, and lurid when, as a group, they prance awkwardly at each other. Vultures find compatibility with pacas, not with joy.)

I looked at USP while ignoring carrion birds. All I could see were railings, fences, balustrades and barriers, some of which were glazed. I went along the path in the midst of mental ruminations (do pacas ruminate?): what are the barbed wires, the glassy sheets and the symbolic trenches in the highest mission of the University of São Paulo for?

I didn't find answers. I still can't find them now. Even so, the lines that follow will deal with that. Let no one expect too much from them. I suspect that the pillboxes imposed themselves. sneaky and brutish, between the imperative to write and what was left of writing at the end.

at ECA

I start by talking about my school, ECA. It was there that the restraining drive took hold of us most crudely. A few years ago, a grid crossed the middle of the school where I attended one of my two undergraduate courses, where I graduated in my postgraduate course and where I now teach (not face-to-face, as I believe I have already warned). Anyone who has gone through the ECA will see what I'm talking about now. If you've never been there, I recommend a visit. At the campus entrance, say you are going to the bank and the security will let you through. There, try to see and touch the ECA enclosure. Is unforgettable.

For those who have never seen it (or seen it, but never touched it), here is a summary description. Behind the main building of my school, a wide, very wide field opens up. All that exists there of construction is a heavy, compact and dismal block in the left corner, where a cafeteria, academic center and athletics used to be. With the exception of the clumsy construction (cacofact included), the vast open space extends with rural spaces. If I knew the size of a football field, I would say that there would be room for three or four, or even six or seven. The problem is that I don't know how big a football field is. I only know that, in the open area, there was a parking lot, which I think is deactivated, in addition to a backyard that would tire anyone willing to cross it on foot. We have trees over there, a little grass, and some cement tables with benches. Otherwise, there is emptiness. Students nicknamed the idle piece of “prainha”, although the land in question does not overlook the sea.

One sad day, as I was telling you, this whole domain without an owner, through which people came and went from all sides and in all directions, was placed in confinement by a pachydermic fence. What were plagues of free circulation has been closed. Since then, the only entrance is the entrance of the main building. The only way out too.

The fence, impenetrable for human bodies (not for vultures), made of steel, with a design that resembles a matrix spreadsheet, is about three meters high. Through it, we see the other side, but it doesn't pass. Its appearance is no longer oppressive because the bars were painted green, in an ecological mimicry. There are no pacas or capybaras in the surroundings.

As I recall, the metallic wall sprang up overnight, or from one week to the next. It is said that the rectory ordered the territory to be armored. There are no official statements about it, but the thesis is convincing. The purpose of the device seems to have been to isolate not the ECA, but the rectory itself. The bulkhead with the air of an Excel table connects the back of the USP “headquarters” building to the ends of the ECA headquarters. There are dozens and dozens of meters of fence, tons of metal, demarcating an unproductive academic land, in the form of a quadrangular lot, which make any hypothesis improbable that a student protest in the backyard of ECA could bother the rectory. The ECA grid is a political trick.

Which shouldn't be surprising. We are in a university town that has walled itself off to prevent people from entering. We are in a university citadel, which refused to house a metro station and, even more, which has a fortified rectory building, with reinforced fences, to repel demonstrators. USP protects itself from the metropolis and the rectory protects itself from the rest of USP.

No other method has ever been found other than railings to prevent the reduced occupation of three or four dozen students, who would interrupt the bureaucratic routine of the university's governing body for months. areas not vascularized by dialogue.

barriers and dams

The mentality prone to entrenched dams is old in the old pond of Butantã, and has already yielded us unclassifiable urban pearls. Recently, a kilometric glass wall was implanted in a long stretch of the boundary between the Olympic Raia and the slopes of Marginal Pinheiros. Another stretch, at the end closest to the Jaguaré Bridge, continued to be walled by a tire-colored soot-covered concrete fence, but a considerable stretch, up to the Cidade Universitária Bridge, gained a new look – and suspicion.

At first, I believed that the glass barrier had a security function. marketing: give the USP a more – there goes another buzzword – “transparent” appearance. If that were all, glass wouldn't just be harmless nonsense. Turns out it wasn't just that. It was worse than that.

It was not for the virtue of transparency, but for the misfortunes of the architectural project that the work gained notoriety. It didn't work, for two different reasons. The first is that the crystalline panels, designed to provide passers-by with generous views of the university landscape, were installed on a concrete base that was too high, in such a way that they only allowed a partial and frustrating view of what is on the other side of the showcase. Due to the height of the base, whoever travels on the Marginal and turns his eyes to the right cannot see the Olympic Range itself. All he sees are the roofs of Cidade Universitária, the tops of the trees, the priapic tip of the concrete clock and, for the rest, the sky. It is true that bus passengers, whose windows are higher, can enjoy the quick contemplation from less unfavorable angles, but these are a tiny portion of those who travel along the waterfront. Result: also for the look on four wheels, USP is only accessible to a minority.

The second reason why it didn't work is more serious: the glass blades, so imposing, decorated with black figures of vultures in full flight (always vultures), began to break non-stop, one after the other. The incident was embarrassing, as the expensive undertaking, which would have been pharaonic if it had not strayed into the braggart, could not result in an architectural disaster. But it worked.

In the days of the inauguration, it was announced that the financing would come from private coffers. Oddly, though, the donors never fully identified themselves. When they admitted their participation in the millionaire apportionment, they were laconic (as attested by a report by Gabriel Araújo in the Campus News in 29 October 2019 [I]). Due to extreme inconsistency or discretion, those who paid the bill never presented themselves with much, so to speak, transparency. According to information, they would have been enlisted by the business prestige of the then mayor of the municipality of São Paulo. It does not matter. The crushing anticlimax of crystals in pandarecos inhibited in them, in particular, the exhibitionism so common in donors in general.

A mystery intrigued the press. What was the sudden shattering? Immediately, it was suggested that the cause was vandalism, but the theory that mysterious shooters were playing target shooting with the stained glass windows did not stop. Tricked, so did she. The attempt to blame the external factor for the university's ills was broken, denied by experts. The academic hutch was broken due to structural flaws in the construction, as technical analysis pointed out. The work did not have dampening to neutralize the vibrations caused by the high tonnage wheels of the Marginal [ii].

In the end, with transparency in sharp ruins, USP's memory was left with yet another failed act (failed project) of a bureaucracy that only feels whole when it shields itself, whether with steel, rhetoric, or its leaden silences. Once again it became clear that the impregnable fences – made of glass, concrete, metal or oratory – integrate and sometimes determine the cultural context of the University of São Paulo.

We, who love the university, are not well received when we criticize the management that grades it. We, who love USP, feel, in addition to the barred body, the shredded spirit.

Grades

I now return to the ECA grids. They bothered and still bother the school, but they were assimilated in silence. It was speculated that, in addition to protecting the rectory, they would have the subsidiary use of inhibiting the holding of weekly student parties, which had been causing quite serious incidents. These speculations were never admitted by any ECA authority, not least because the parties continued despite the tons of steel. Worse: as the festivities continued, the risks became even more worrisome. What would happen if, suddenly, thousands of young people, inside the confined perimeter, needed to vacate the area quickly? Panic? Trampling? Deaths?

And the ECA community, apart from a stridency here and there, remained silent. The school saw itself split into two halves – an ECA in the South and an ECA in the North – and the split became natural. In our daily trips between the blocks of the university, when we go from the Department of Journalism and Publishing to the cafeteria, or from Audiovisual to Xerox, we can no longer cut across the lawn, as was obvious. Instead of the usual route, we learn, through behaviorist training, to deviate and head towards the entrance, without a thread of grumbling. People acquiesced. No one organized a hurdling championship. Nobody set up an exhibition of photographs using the grids as a support. Anything.

The afternoon of March 7, 2017, a Tuesday, never left my memory. The students, huddled on the edges of the ECA railing, were protesting against the University Council meeting. The gates of the rectory bars were clogged with demonstrators. On the pretext of guaranteeing the entrance of the members of the Council, the administration summoned the police, and this, in turn, did what it knows how to do: it distributed bombs and clubs.

ECA students were beaten up. Present at that war square, some teachers wondered: which educators expose their students to beatings by troops trained not to dialogue, but to beat those who disobey? Even if the students weren't right, even if they bullied older teachers, it doesn't matter. Is calling in the troops a solution? Which educators were the ones to take the risk of seeing students get hit in the head? What kind of mentality is this that, within a university, asks brucutus to complete the work that the bars, alone, were not able to deliver?

That afternoon, the scheduled session of the University Council ended up happening, hours late. The minutes record that, during the work of the Council, there were teachers who protested against the violence. Although they did not agree with the unfriendly harassment adopted by some protesters against professors who wanted to enter the meeting, these professors did not accept the use of brute force by the authority.

It was a traumatic day, and I replayed it in my memory walking beside the Olympic Range. Until when will we continue to pretend that the railing is a vegetable that grows in the grass? We are researchers and we live by thinking. To give up questioning the pigsties around us, behind our backs, behind our backs and in front of our noses is to give up questioning what is real in our surroundings and in our navel. It's impossible not to talk about it.

Spaces also educate – or mis-educate. Spaces form – or deform – ways of looking. Spaces organize – or disorganize – ways of living together. What do boys and girls learn about freedom whose steps are guided by steel bars? What do we expect from communicators and artists in training, under our care, who have not had real experiences of freedom?

What are the sign (or semiotic) conditions that precipitate on the sensible reality when this heap of deaf commands interposes on our unreflected itineraries? A linguist from the last century said that the elements of reality are also signs, as if they were words. If he was right, and he was, what's the point of so much steel that, without having been claimed by a congregation, divides a college into two halves? What does this monstrosity enunciate for our eyes and for our bodies? What does it teach? What does it teach? What is the weight of this in the culture? Why pretend that this sign, in its high industrial tonnages, is invisible? Why do we pretend he's not there?

Not that we should use violence against the bars that bar us, that divide us, that permeate and divide us. It would be pathetic. We must, rather, move the language against them. Language can do more than weapons. We must speak of strangled senses. We must accuse the interdiction by force. In a university, which is not a kennel, which is not a penitentiary, bars do not think and do not allow thinking. Only the spoken word, stronger than steel, will be able to demolish them.

In this matter, attention, what is valid for ECA is valid for all of USP. Until we deal with this, governance through grids will have overcome us with fatigue. Why muted? Perhaps we should ask about this for capybaras, pacas and vultures. I can't say about the symbiosis between them, but they, who don't speak, but aren't mute, know about the asperities between us.

Meanwhile, the sun is still watering the trees at USP, while the vines climb the wires, given over to rust and the oxidation of thought.

* Eugene Bucci He is a professor at the School of Communications and Arts at USP. Author, among other books, of About ethics and press (Company of Letters).

Notes

[I]http://www.jornaldocampus.usp.br/index.php/2019/10/orfao-de-concreto-e-vidro/

[ii] See reports on Sheet (https://www1.folha.uol.com.br/cotidiano/2019/04/abandonado-ha-4-meses-muro-de-vidro-da-usp-tem-falhas-de-instalacao.shtml) and in G1 (https://g1.globo.com/sp/sao-paulo/noticia/2019/04/03/muro-de-vidro-da-usp-nao-foi-concluido-um-ano-apos-inauguracao.ghtml e https://g1.globo.com/sp/sao-paulo/noticia/2019/02/19/muro-de-vidro-da-usp-inaugurado-em-abril-de-2018-ainda-nao-esta-concluido-e-coleciona-serie-de-problemas.ghtml).

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