Still the Fuvest list

"Fragments of a Book of the Dead", collection of the MET/ New York, c. 1390–1353 BC?
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By MARIA ALICE MONUTTI & RICARDO KOBAYASKI*

In times when opinion becomes the main structure of dominant thought, anyone feels free to assert any nonsense about subjects they know nothing about.

“Education is also where we decide whether we love our children enough not to expel them from our world and abandon them to their own resources, nor to snatch from their hands the opportunity to undertake something new and unforeseen for us, instead preparing them in advance for the task of renewing a common world.”
(Hannah Arendt, “The crisis in education”)

1.

In dialogue with a letter from professors and literary critics against the criteria for selecting literary works for the entrance exam at the University of São Paulo, Maria Arminda do Nascimento Arruda, Aluísio Cotrim Segurado and Gustavo F. de Campos Monaco, members of the Fuvest curatorial board, published in a printed newspaper the article “Fuvest and the marginality of female writers”. Since then, the poverty of his arguments – well detailed by Paulo Franchetti in published text Site the earth is round – opened the door to other articles that followed, as lacking in reflection on the subject.

The three USP bureaucrats rejected the understanding that their criteria for choosing the works required in the entrance exam from 2026 to 2029 weakened the place of literature. Against this criticism, they claimed that other questions in the test use fictional books that are not mandatory. This statement ignores the formative role of literature, the functioning of its teaching in the classroom, reaffirming the instrumental character intended for it.

The resolution of a story question involving an excerpt from a narrative by Clarice Lispector, for example, requires no knowledge of the work in which it is inserted and of the writer's entire production. The entrance exam is limited only to the chosen excerpt. No teacher will teach classes on different works, motivated only by the possibility that they will, who knows, be present as an illustration in some question on the test. The tendency among young people to read only what is mandatory converges towards preparation methods for the entrance exam, based on an instrumental pedagogy.

The composition of high school teaching material will continue to require mainly reading the list of mandatory books. Furthermore, awakening a taste for the arts is not done only by imposition, but through pedagogical work organized by well-prepared and paid teachers, and time available for preparing classes, far from the handouts aimed at the entrance exam. Unfortunately, the Brazilian education system is far from this, especially where it is most needed, in public schools.

The members of the Fuvest board assure in their text that, by choosing an extra-literary criterion for selecting books, their commitment was to induce secondary education to absorb “more advanced research”. If so, they broke an open door, since, regardless of this action and before it, research whether into renowned works, or those of a feminist, anti-racist, LGBTQIAPN+ and indigenous nature was already present in public universities and in high school classes.

The statement by Arruda, Segurado and Monaco that participation in their list of books “confers prestige to authors, publishing houses and is a component of the construction of the literary canon” reveals more than a desire for omnipotence. It demonstrates the belief that its orientation towards the publishing market has the capacity to build new canons, in a confusion between these and the publishers' catalogues.

It is no secret, however, that books that are easily found on the market due to constant reissues and reprints, many accessible on the internet, reduce profit rates. With the Fuvest list, large publishers will reinforce their leadership in the sale of some works, in the ready investment in new paradidactics or in the acquisition of copyrights for books that have not yet entered the public domain, as warned in Paulo Franchetti's article.

In another argument that meets neoliberal expectations of the erasure of history, the members of the Fuvest committee refer to the observation of letter from teachers and literary critics, published on the website the earth is round, regarding the removal of literate production from colonial Brazil from its list for four years. In response to this question, they loudly reaffirm their intention to privilege works that deal with more current issues. For them, the purpose of that withdrawal would be to “bring to the debate the richness of contemporary literature” as if this required the exclusion of a different richness.

At this point, it is good to reiterate to readers who do not have time or are too lazy to leaf through the letter carefully: new works and aesthetic aspects of the list are not contested, nor is it the fact that it contains books written by women. The document questioning Fuvest puts into debate the erasure of fundamental works of Brazilian literature that, due to the miserable education system and because they are not required for the entrance exam, will not be read by a generation of students. Anyone who knows a high school classroom, especially in a public school, knows the obstacles that impede the constitutional right, denied to these young people, to receive at least a reasonable education, in which they can come into contact with works from different times of history. literature of the country and with different forms of artistic expression.

Arruda, Segurado and Monaco believe that a transformation of the canon is already underway, “which refers to the evolution and expansion of the criteria used to determine which literary works are considered essential”. With this far from puerile statement, they position themselves as heralds of progress, of the same ideology that supported violence against indigenous peoples, Afro-descendants and women under the fallacy that they are “inferior” human types. Thus they repeat the desire for “revolutions from above”, in the illusion that the destruction of everything is synonymous with advancement, modernity and transformation. “A poor and misleading evolutionism dominates our conception of change” (Jessé de Souza Martins, The Two Deaths of Júlia Lopes).

The process of building a canon, however, lasts on average more than half a century. It results from a collective project that involves different generations of critics, teachers and writers who place new works in dialogue with established ones, forming a system. Before the romantic movement, which clashed with the rhetorical and poetic tradition that had been in place for centuries, Shakespeare was not considered a good writer. His repositioning in the European canon did not imply, however, the discarding of writers then considered exemplary, but his appreciation alongside other authors.

The rhetorical institution and the romantic movement died, but this group of literati, including those then called “modern”, participate side by side in the wealth of much of Western literature. But in São Paulo's high school designed by Fuvest, a significant portion of the tradition is expected to disappear for three or four years.

The three professors close their text with a quote from Nísia Floresta: “No matter how rigorous the institutions of the people have been, concerning the absolute exclusion of women from all types of public government, who is there who ignores that they have a greater influence on actions of men, and consequently in the destinies of people?” Removing the phrase contrary to the hypermisogynistic practices of its historical time and its pedagogical purpose, Fuvest managers universalize and exalt the function of women to govern patriarchy in secret.

Everything happens, from this perspective, as if no one before the Fuvest management committee was aware of this bourgeois norm, as if this debate had not been being carried out for some time, and in a critical way, by high school teachers, strongly moved by issues of gender, race and social class.

2.

In times when opinion becomes the main structure of dominant thought, anyone feels free to say any nonsense about subjects they are unaware of, about the effectiveness or not of vaccines, the efficiency of the electronic vote counting machine, the consequences of greenhouse effect, the zero point of no return to ambient temperature, etc. etc. etc. They are, in general, hunches that, accumulating categorical platitudes, are imbued with the passion of those who are proud of their own ignorance.

The article “Concealing rationalizations”, by Érico Andrade and João Paulo Lima Silva e Filho, published on the website the earth is round, constitutes one among many examples of the regression to pre-Kantian metaphysical thought. Organized as a collection of jargon, the characteristic feature of Andrade & Silva e Filho's text is contradictory platitude, as in the sentence: “far from being a single criterion, the exclusive choice of female authors by Fuvest seems to be a reaction to so many lists previous ones, predominantly composed of men, mainly white”.

Posted and responded to countless times on social media since the controversy over the list of books for the USP entrance exam began, this argument disregards the history of production and circulation of speeches, claiming the contemporary “right” to perpetuate the mistakes of the past. The main thing, however, is that, it is not known whether through naivety or bad faith, the brilliant phrase grants Fuvest the role of revolutionary agent against ethnic and gender inequalities.

Another triviality in Andrade & Silva e Filho's text is to say that “in a country marked by inequalities, choices that seem neutral and academic are actually influenced by a system that associates merit with privilege”. What are they talking about there, what link do they draw between all types of inequality and the selection of books exclusively by female authors? Andrade & Silva e Filho carried out a sociological analysis of the works selected by Fuvest, verifying that the vast majority of authors are not daughters of the middle or dominant class? Or did they study these works based on sub-Marxism, current in the first half of the 20th century, which disapproved of the artistic productions of the children of the economic elite?

Competent psychoanalysts have the speech analysis skills to help their patients master the language of the unconscious. But in a discursive act far from this trend, the use of the expression “concealing rationality” becomes ridiculous. Andrade & Silva e Filho use it motivated by the intention of tracing the vulgar psychology of more than one hundred signatories of the letter opposing Fuvest. In the following fragment of sentence, these Quixotes of an impossible enlightening rationalization invest themselves, in yet another anti-psychoanalytic act, with the pomp of the master's speech: “what is truly at stake…”. With this “truly”, the two believe they are free from the task of analyzing the letter from teachers and literary critics. They limit themselves to judging, without further ado, that, by claiming the plurality of criteria for the composition of the Fuvest list, the signatories of the letter had, “in fact”, affirmed a relationship between academic merit and social privileges.

The reasons for this “generalizing justice”, typical of the social media criminal court, arise from the repeated use (four times) of the term “intellectuals” to designate the subscribers of the letter against Fuvest and the preconception against academia. Without demonstrating concern about the partiality of their point of view, Andrade & Silva and Filho place themselves, with these two enunciative strategies, on the side of the teaching methodology that defends an anti-intellectual school, resurrecting Olavo de Carvalho.

In their short text as a whole, their insistence on disseminating banalities is hilarious: “the canon is political”; “the meanings of a group’s culture are not nature”; “the choices that seem neutral and academic…”. They reinvented gunpowder. Furthermore, they assume that only in academia are choices made partial. Someone needs to tell them that, since the fall of the Old Regime, the discussion about the impossibility of neutrality in science, in the writing of history, in philosophy, in psychoanalysis and in all fields of knowledge has been widely discussed.

In literature, it supported the creation of Madame Bovary (1856), led Machado de Assis to invent unexpected narrators and accumulated countless titles that fill an entire library. But the availability to consult them will only be possible through liberation from the forms of heteronomous “thought”, typical of the “non” party school.

3.

These two columnists are not alone in their bar chat. A literary critic commented, on her social media page, a suggestion published in an article in a Rio newspaper. For her, the discussion about the aesthetic value of a work disregards social inequalities in the literary world and the value of selling thousands of books to college entrance exam candidates. In a magical flutter over categories of incompatible discursive lineages, this scholar, in favor of the Fuvest list, managed to eclectically bring together residues of Marxist reflections on the class struggle and the defense of a market reserve for women writers. From this perspective, if this ultimate objective is achieved, it is okay for social, ethnic and gender conflicts to continue.

The nonsense festival that governs much of the arguments in favor of the Fuvest list has been accompanied, in some cases, by cancel culture determining that “whoever is not in my favor can only be against me”. This sectarian debate dissociates the battle against the exploitation of workers, by the owners of the means of production, from the fight against racism and in favor of gender equality, sparing the current economic system of domination of everyone from criticism.

In an article published on the website of a São Paulo newspaper, an argument against the letter from professors and literary critics reached a marked degree of ethical and intellectual indigence. In it, the columnist argues that Fuvest's book list would have been a natural consequence of the “affirmative action” policies of the PT governments. The hypothesis shifted the responsibility of this foundation for the entrance exam – an instance, it is worth remembering, from the tucano and republican executive power of São Paulo – to the federal governments. Furthermore, it erased the origin of activism for the recognition and affirmation of rights in the USA in the 1960s, making them a Brazilian product. Pulling a chunk of controversial flour into his mush of decolonialist studies, he decrees that it is forbidden to think. For him, anyone who criticizes Fuvest, threatens, “adheres to a logic of colonialist exclusion”.

Distorting arguments and interpreting his own distortion, the columnist hurriedly understood that the subscribers of that letter would have considered the exclusion of male authorship permanent, which would mean sharing the colonialist thought according to which, “for one to exist, the other must disappear”. This formulation distanced the Fuvest list criteria and the capitalist system from its exclusivist practice, transferring it to those who disagree with them.

None of the texts commented here explored a decisive question raised by the letter from professors and literary critics: that, whether when guiding a contemporary agenda in the reading of works from the past that did not foresee it, or by excluding books that it considers “old”, or selecting a title with an extra-literary objective, Fuvest demonstrates a lack of appreciation for fiction and its historicity.

If the absence from your list of Antônio Vieira, Mariana Alcoforado, Cláudio Manuel da Costa, Gonçalves Dias, Machado de Assis, Lima Barreto, Graciliano Ramos and Guimarães Rosa will not lead to their death in the literate field, it will eliminate them from the training process. of an entire generation of high school students. The exclusion of fundamental authors from the country's literature, arts and history will mean that these students will miss the opportunity to learn about part of this history.

*Maria Alice Monutti She has a degree in Literature and is a Literature teacher in the private school system.

*Ricardo Kobayaski, website coordinator the earth is round, human rights activist, teacher of Portuguese language, literature and writing, taught public schools for the high school and pre-university courses.


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