Carlos Henrique Escobar (1933-2023)

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By LUIZ EDUARDO MOTTA*

Homage to the Brazilian philosopher, poet and playwright

The 5th of August dawned sad for me.

I learned from Felipe Melonio Leite, in a message sent during the night, the death of this great Brazilian thinker and philosopher. Carlos Henrique Escobar was not only one of the greatest promoters of Louis Althusser's work on the American continent, but also one of its main interpreters in the field of linguistics and semiology, being the pioneer of Michel Pêcheux's studies in Brazil.

I met Carlos Henrique Escobar in 1984 and we got closer when I started to study Louis Althusser in 1986, although in that context he was dedicating himself to the studies of Friedrich Niezstche and Gilles Deleuze. I was present at the defense of his doctoral thesis at ECO-UFRJ Tragic Marx, under the guidance of Márcio Tavares d'Amaral, and I remember the participation of his former student Moacir Palmeira in his committee.

Then, in 1992 or 1993, I went to his house to do an interview about the magazines Brazilian weather e Brazilian Civilization, the subject of my master's thesis. In this interview, he told me about his and his brother's difficult childhood when they lived on the streets of São Paulo. Very young, at the age of 13, he joined the PCB and faced his first arrest at the age of 15. His first work was written when he was 17 years old, the play Antigone-America. After moving away from the PCB due to political differences, Carlos Henrique Escobar married actress and theater producer Ruth Escobar in the late 1950s, and then they went to live in France for a while, where he became a student of Maurice Merleau Ponty.

Upon returning to Brazil in the early 1960s, and already separated from Ruth Escobar, he came to live in Rio de Janeiro in 1962 to attend a film course promoted by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. In his testimony given to me in 1992 when I did my research on the magazines Time Brazilian e Brazilian Civilization, Escobar told me that he lived in a hotel near the Central do Brasil and obtained a UNE card so that he could have lunch and dinner at the Restaurante Central dos Estudantes, also known as “Calabouço”.

In order to survive and pay the bills, he taught philosophy courses to groups of students (including Gilberto Velho, Octávio Velho, Moacir Palmeira and Yvonne Maggie), whose classes focused on the work of Jean Paul Sartre. In 1969, Escobar joined the School of Communication at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro (ECO-UFRJ), from which he left in 1976 and returned in 1986. In addition to UFRJ, Escobar taught at the (Pontifical Catholic University (PUC-RJ) ), at Universidade Federal Fluminense (UFF) and Faculdades Integradas Hélio Alonso (FACHA) – in addition to teaching in various study groups and philosophy courses in extra-university spaces.

Among his most important books we can highlight Propositions for a semiology and a linguistics (1972) The sciences and philosophy (1975) Science of history and ideology (1979) tragic marx (1993) Marx, philosopher of power (1996) Nietzsche (of the “companions) to Zarathustra (The body and people of tragedy), both published in 2000.

We met in person for the last time in 2000 when I started teaching at FACHA, and he was already leaving for Portugal, with his partner, Ana, for the city of Aveiros. When I started my first articles on Althusser and Poulantzas, I wrote about him entitled “Who is afraid of Louis Althusser? by Carlos Henrique Escobar” in the defunct magazine contributions. At the beginning of the last decade I started to get in touch with former students of his like Clodoaldo Lino, Selmo Gliksman, Irlam Farias and Deivy Frajman at Luiz Carlos de Oliveira e Silva's house where we were programming a documentary and the re-launch of his work, but unfortunately the project did not move forward.

After almost a decade, and on the initiative of Lucas Zubelli and Klaus Scarmeloto, we managed to republish the books Tragic Marx e Marx Philosopher of Power in the year 2022. It was a real odyssey to send these two books, since last year the books were returned after spending a few months in Portugal. Finally, in a second attempt, he received the two books in Portugal at the end of July a few days before he died (in one of his last emails sent to me, he confessed that he was very sad to die and not have the republication of these two books in his hands ) and, according to his partner, Ana, he was immensely happy to see the books in a new edition.

And, more than ever, given the current academic stagnation, his work needs to be republished. I am happy that on my initiative, and also that of João Marcos Kogawa, and more recently Felipe Melonio Leite, Alberto Kelevra and João Pedro Luques, Escobar's work remains alive and with a new public eager to drink from critical, radical and transformative new perspectives on Marx's work.

Carlos Henrique Escobar, present!

* Luiz Eduardo Motta is a professor of political science at UFRJ.


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