Art, artists, suffering

Dante Gabriel Rossetti - paper - 1864 - (Tate Gallery, London)


Fragments or shrapnel of a future book

Today, dear reader, I decided to write a completely different chronicle. Anticipating, in fact, a little piece of a book that I'm writing and that deals little, almost nothing with my usual themes – neither economics, nor politics, nor Brazil.

Since my days in China, I have taken scattered notes, in the form of sentences, aphorisms and chronicles. Pieces, fragments or shrapnel of a future book. I ended up settling on the most dramatic word – shrapnel. I wanted to call the book “Shards of the Heart”. But one of my first few readers didn't like the title. She found the reference to “heart” appealing, sentimental, soap operatic. Another friend burst out laughing when she heard the title… I had no option but to reluctantly cut out the word “heart”.

Reluctance has its reasons – reasons of the heart that “reason itself does not know”, as a great French philosopher said who was not afraid to make use of the heart, the word and the self! I know that Pascal has all the rights, but anyway…. I froze, however: how can I calmly cut the heart, if the affective side is fundamental in my book in gestation – and more important than its fragmentary side? However, I didn't want the book to end up in the self-help or sentimental sections of bookstores! And I gave in. (But the reader will notice, of course, that I have resurrected the original title here!).

I am going to transcribe here some passages from “Estilhaços” that almost always concern art, the artist and suffering – the suffering that is inseparable from beauty. I advance that I will only deal with one type of art and one type of artist – romanticism and the romantic artist, and not the enlightened or illuminist artist. In other words, Wagner, not Mozart. In Lohengrin, and not Magic Flute. Let's go then.

Suffer, suffer, suffer – condition for writing well. Don't want to be an artist, Dostoyevsky warned—unless you have an extraordinary ability to endure suffering.

A seducer. The artist – seductive, fanciful, volatile – will always be dangerous for others. In real life, ordinary mortals should avoid it whenever possible.

The artist's invaluable role for ordinary mortals, and for that they are eternally grateful to him – knowing how to say, knowing how to express suffering, suffering that in the common man lives in a raw state. The artist, more sensitive, more likely to suffer this suffering common to all, finds ways to elevate it, value it and show that it has or can have some meaning.

So, rule of practical wisdom – love the art, but keep a prudent distance from the artist.

Amorality or immorality of the artist. The true artist is beyond good and evil, said Nietzsche (or I say, paraphrasing him). But let's not forget that the true artist conquers through suffering the right to transcend good and evil.

Beauty and suffering. Beauty, when it is too much, dazzles, paralyzes, floods – it makes one suffer. Who has not thought of seeing a beautiful woman – “so beautiful that it hurts”.

Imagination versus experience. Those who are not imaginative must always experience. And that's okay. What is imagination compared to living?

Second nature. Education and culture, the second nature, overshadow and almost obliterate the first. Is there, for example, pure love, in its raw state, without literature? Madame Bovary would be unthinkable without the romantic literature that she consumed and consumed. In its raw state, love is pure and simple sex. But that doesn't even exist anymore. Second nature intrudes into everything.

Don Juan – an incomplete typology. Types of Don Juan, real and imaginary. The sick, sexually compulsive Don Juan. The impotent Don Juan – perhaps the most paradoxical type: threatened by impotence, he seeks variety to keep himself stimulated, to fight his fragile sexual drive. The Romantic Don Juan Tondichtung by Richard Strauss, in a painful and futile search for the perfect woman. Mozart's Don Juan, cheerful, carefree in love with many women - the Don Giovanni of the opera. The prudent Don Juan, who looks for variety in a way to protect himself against the greater risk of disappointment in love when he depends on a single woman. The afflicted Don Juan, who seeks in the acceptance of a large number of women a compensation for the lack of love on the part of the mother, the original woman – case of the main character of The Man Who Loved Women, from the film and book by François Truffaut.

It is not up to the artist to reason. The artist should only show and explain as little as possible. The explanation falsifies, restricts. Truffaut's error, therefore, when offering in the preface of the book that followed from the film the key to understanding the central character of the Man who loved women: he would not be who he was, he explains, a man hopelessly fascinated by so many women, if he had been more successful with his own mother.

Artistic rule without art. The artist's rule number one: run away from clichés like the devil runs away from the cross – a formulation, as you can see, in which the rule violates itself. An artistic rule stated without art is worse than nothing. For this and many other reasons, we must leave the privilege of writing and talking about art to the artists themselves.

Comparison between Kant and Stendhal in Nietzsche. Nietzsche, who was also an artist, discussed the idea of ​​beauty in his Genealogy of Morals. What is beauty? he asked. “Disinterested contemplation”, as proposed by Kant, the non-artist ultimate? Never. Before: “Promise of happiness”, as Stendhal wrote, who spoke with experience of cause. Explanatory contrast of opinions! To whom to entrust beauty? To the teacher who classifies and organizes? Or to the artist who lives and suffers beauty?

Talking and other ways of expressing yourself. Verbalization is a form of limited communication, more clearly dominant among “civilized” peoples, peoples where reason prevails. Accustomed, trained to think logically, to respect the facts, they lose access to other forms of interaction. They are as if enslaved by the word. In “backward” peoples, verbalization is despised, it generally serves as a last resort. Before her, comes body communication, through the look, through posture, through gestures, through energy. As a last or first instance, verbalization offers an illusory clarity, often lying, because the words, supposedly univocal, also keep their ambiguities and mysteries.

Find your own voice. The great moment, the revelation of a writer's life is when he finds his own voice. Which presupposes, of course, that he has reached the point of writing as if he were speaking, simulating verbal communication.

There is no such thing as artistic naturalness – all art is simulated, falsified, as Fernando Pessoa already confessed, without disguise (“The poet is a pretender / He pretends so completely / That he even pretends that he is pain / The pain that he really feels”). And as Plato also warned, who said he did not like poets “because they lie a lot”. And the curious thing is that he himself was a poet, a poet in prose, but a poet nonetheless.

Prose, poetry. The prose has to be poetic, not prosaic. Platonic, not Aristotelian.

Instruments of seduction and enchantment. The words! Knowing how to say, knowing how to write! Like everything else, it's practice, practice and… more practice. But the main basis of everything is reading. Reading, more than listening, teaches writing and even speaking better – and writing like someone who speaks, with the seductive and simulated naturalness of someone who is simply having a conversation.

Sensibility and audacity as qualities of the scientific spirit. To defend science from its enemies, it takes common sense. To make it go forward, foolishness, audacity.

The innovative scientist is more of an artist than one might think.

Perplexity of the romantic artist. Being an artist is not an option, but destiny, a curse. My God, the artist always asks himself, why so much suffering to arrive at a little beauty!

Destiny costs every drop of beauty.

Heart. In English, there is a beautiful popular romantic expression: “My heart missed a beat” – my heart skipped/missed a beat. As in all languages ​​(the western ones, at least), the heart – heart, Herz, coeur, cuore, corazón – is seen metaphorically as the seat of affections, especially the loving ones. And the beating of the heart, as a simple, intuitive symbol of the manifestation of these affections.

Real life, imagined life. The real, lived life, superior to the imagined, recreated life? Doubtful. On the one hand, art can show breathtaking perfection. Thomas Mann said that nothing in real life surpassed the impact for him of Lohengrin, especially the prelude and the first act, which he considered “the height of romanticism”. On the other hand, imagining, just imagining, is not fully satisfying. And isn't reality more creative than art? So much so that the artist lives vampirizing, for his creative purposes, his own life or that of others.

Life and the rest. Everything essential for life, fragile life, always threatened, always vulnerable, escapes the reach of reason, of pure and unassisted reason. The essential is inaccessible to her, but not to the heart. Pascal already said, Unamuno already echoed. As well as Pessoa, in a different way, in “Ilhas Afortunadas”: “What voice comes in the sound of the waves/ That is not the voice of the sea?/ It is the voice of someone who speaks to us,/ But who, if we listen, is silent ,/Because there was listening./ It’s just that, half asleep,/ Without knowing how to listen, we hear,/That she tells us hope/ The one that, like a child/Sleeping, we smile while sleeping.”

Pascal versus Descartes. In Pascal, the most impressive thing is his moving struggle with reason, with intelligence – in defense of a fragile faith, marked by hesitations, by lacerating doubts. The golden doubt – Pascal's, not Descartes'. Descartes, as Nietzsche noticed, did not even know how to doubt properly. His methodical doubt is a joke, it doesn't stand up to even coldly rational scrutiny.

The heart needs no defenders. So easy to undo from the heart, dismantle its fanciful pretensions, denounce its exaggerations and ridicule. But it's no use. The heart survives all assaults and all storms. For the simple reason that he is the most interior thing we have, the deepest part of us. It survives because it is, after all, nothing less than the most basic, most rooted within the soul. Reasoning, arguments, facts end up being worthless against its seductions, its artifices, its tricks and its countless fascinations.

Thus, Dostoyevsky declared loudly: "If it proves to me that Christ is against the truth, I stand with Christ and against the truth."

Heart reasons. In clashes with the heart, reason hurts, shakes, but can never annihilate. The war goes on forever, with no winners and no losers.


That was all, dear reader, that I intended to reveal today. If I had a more accurate notion of ridicule, I would not have written this chronicle. sui generis. My heart is in my hand, I confess. I did my best. But is my best enough? I leave the question in your loving hands, reader.

Which reminds me of a wonderful scene from the novel Tess of the D'Urbervilles, by Thomas Hardy, beautifully recovered by Roman Polanski, in the film Tess, with Nastassja Kinski in the lead role. I recap quickly. Tess is proposed to, but has a terrible secret that could ruin everything. Unable to talk about it, she writes him a letter, telling him everything – a letter that ends torn like this: “I pray, I hope, I love you” (“I pray, I hope, I love you”).

Every confession, including the one I am now concluding, is always accompanied by a prayer, the hope of acceptance and, ultimately, of love.

*Paulo Nogueira Batista Jr. he holds the Celso Furtado Chair at the College of High Studies at UFRJ. He was vice-president of the New Development Bank, established by the BRICS in Shanghai. Author, among other books, of Brazil doesn't fit in anyone's backyard: backstage of the life of a Brazilian economist in the IMF and the BRICS and other texts on nationalism and our mongrel complex (LeYa).

Extended version of article published in the journal Capital letter on 29 October 2021.


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