Posthumous letter to Hector Benoit

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By ANDRE KOUTCHIN DE ALMEIDA*

Your whole life was a life of struggle and like the pagan that you were, the gods are now rewarding you for your battles on behalf of the workers of this world.

Professor of the Department of Philosophy at the State University of Campinas (Unicamp) since 1990, Hector Benoit participated in the founding of the Center for Ancient Thought (CPA) and the Center for Marxist Studies (CEMARX) at that institution. After retiring in 2015, he continued to serve as a collaborating professor in the Graduate Program in Philosophy. At the National Association of Graduate Studies in Philosophy (ANPOF), he helped found the Working Groups Plato and Platonism and Marx and the Dialectical Tradition. He was also one of the founders of the Brazilian Society of Platonists (SBP). Born on September 02, 1951, in the city of Montevideo, Hector Benoit died on December 05, 2022, in São Paulo.

 

1.

It was a sunny afternoon. The day was very hot and even the various trees that inhabit the Institute of Philosophy and Human Sciences of the State University of Campinas (IFCH-Unicamp) were not able to soften the heat. I didn't know the university campus. He hadn't even been to Campinas before. He was not, therefore, a graduate and postgraduate student at Unicamp. For this reason, until I got there by bus, I had to get a lot of information to find out where the interviews would take place to apply for a place for a doctorate in philosophy at IFCH-Unicamp. After a short marathon, when I arrived at the room informed, a student from there, from Unicamp, a student of Plato, was waiting for his interview with the appointed advisor. I asked the young man who his possible advisor would be and found out that he was the same as mine.

I was shy, after all, I had come from the interior of Brazil (Campo Grande-MS) to “dispute” a vacancy with people who, like that guy, had all their training in Campinas; people who had taken classes with that teacher, including. After a few minutes of waiting, behold, our prospective advisor arrives to interview us. With slow steps and a simple smile on his face he looked at me and asked me: “who is Andre Koutchin? And you?". I replied yes. He turned to the young man sitting there, who had been his student, and politely asked, “Wait outside, please. I will start the interviews with him”.

I noticed that boy leave the room a little upset, for having been, in a sense, passed over by someone that teacher didn't even know. This was the first time I had met Hector Benoit in person. All my previous contacts with him had been exclusively through his texts and a few e-mails exchanged for the presentation of my research project. However, this first personal contact and this priority in interviewing me demonstrated two striking characteristics of Professor Hector Benoit's personality: initially, a political commitment to militant work. My project was to treat Lenin in philosophy. Secondly, not treating as a priority someone who supposedly had a more traditional education than mine (which, some time later, I found out he learned from his late advisor, Professor José Cavalcante de Souza).

Like me, a good part – if not the majority – of his former advisees (which he used to pronounce in a peculiar way, as “eks” guidance, rather than “behold”) came from different parts of Brazil. Hector Benoit was proud to say that he had several of them serving as professors at Universities across the country. Furthermore, many did not necessarily have a strict philosophical background. For all of these, without a doubt, Benoit was the only possible gateway into such a disputed and exclusive environment, which, almost always, requires this training. Without it, all of us would hardly be teaching classes today, even in these environments.

So, in almost two hours of interview, I met Professor Hector Benoit. I remember him saying, in that same interview, “I was curious to know who was the guy willing to deal with Lenin in philosophy”, while I was thinking there, almost simultaneously, “and who could guide me in Lenin in philosophy?” . Certainly, many of his advisees must have asked themselves the same question, both those who approached Platonism and those who dedicated themselves to Marxism (as we know, his readings and interpretations in both lines were original and revolutionary). For me, however, the answer was already given. Right there, Hector Benoit told me that it would be an honor to deal with the leader of that great philosophical and collective work that had been the Russian Revolution.

There, he also asked me about the origin of my surname. Despite being proudly Basque-Uruguayan, Hector Benoit was always interested in my Russian ancestors. And, until the end, he continued to admire and praise the Russian people to me. After communicating my approval of the interview – as I would also do with the guy waiting outside the room, already clearly tired of waiting – I started to have closer contact with Professor Hector Benoit. Since I didn't live in São Paulo, many of our conversations started to take place by email, but, above all, by phone. It was a habit that Benoit ardently cultivated: making phone calls that lasted an hour, two hours, and in some cases even longer. He called at all hours of the day; sometimes even at dawn.

And in almost all of these calls, he insistently led the conversation, going back and forth to the subjects, with short pauses for a specific question or to identify if the caller was paying attention. Over time I realized that, in addition to demanding consideration from the listener for his undeniable and superior experience of life and struggle, Professor Hector Benoit applied a teaching conferred by Parmenides of Elea to the then young Socrates, in the dialogue parmenides: it was necessary to work out in a “speech gymnastics”. First of all, assisting you at any time of the day, willing to listen to you for hours on end, was already an exercise in patience and effort that many of us, taken by the demands of everyday life, were not willing to practice. .

In one of our last conversations, indignant with those who did not attend to him (he said something like this: "this shows that they are already, in a certain way, adapted to bourgeois life"), he confessed to me that the only one who continued to do So, indiscriminately, was Tatu, a worker and militant from the ABC region of São Paulo who fought at the time of the organization of the newspaper the bugle, of which Benoit was so proud. In this way, and since then, there have been many conversations, or rather classes, that I have had with Professor Benoit over the phone. Over the years, our connections naturally became more intimate and Benoit became, for me, a kind of adviser, a mentor, whom I sought whenever an important decision needed to be taken, even if our conversations often turned to topics more casual.

Anyway, in October of this year, I sent an e-mail with several questions that were bothering me at the time (on this type of occasion, I preferred to write to express myself more clearly and with more precision). Lately, with difficulty handling certain technologies, he replied saying: “I can't write the answer to this email. I will send you a letter by FedEx”. The letter was dated October 24, 2022, reaching me on the 25th, my birthday (Benoit didn't intend this; he wasn't even used to that kind of thing. But today I consider it to be a kind of gift from him to me). It was 28 pages handwritten by Professor Benoit.

 

2.

There, when he answered me, he spoke about his life, his passions and frustrations, the betrayals and blows he suffered, but, above all, his struggle for the workers' cause.[I] Hector Benoit always gave up everything that wasn't a working-class party, its organization, movement and struggle (and that included, for him, money, property and, very painfully, relationships). In the days that followed, the calls became frequent. In November, there were more than 15 phone calls. Since the last elections in Brazil, in October and November 2022, Hector Benoit was clearly upset and, in his own words, “very sad”. For those who knew him, it was not surprising that, with his Bolshevik, dialectical, critical and revolutionary Marxism, Hector Benoit was not satisfied with the capitalist crisis in Brazil and in the world. More than that, in his words, there was a feeling of failure, because the international socialist revolution, for which he worked so hard, had not been achieved.

However, in these last calls, some personal elements caught my attention and, now, they echo in me even more symbolically. Hector Benoit spoke of his eldest son, Alexandre, who in his youth would have, under his influence, dedicated himself to judo. He spoke enthusiastically of training with Olympic champions and of an exceptional waist blow that Alexandre applied. Hector Benoit loved martial arts. He spoke with pride of his initiation into them through Karate, with a master from Okinawa, where the art was created. However, his true passion was Aikido. He was proud to say that he was a black belt in this art. As a dialectician, he appreciated the strategic use of opposite poles in this same art (what Orientals call Yin and Yang). Still in the field of sports, he commented to me that he had become close to his youngest son, also named Hector, through chess. He even told me: “look, if I wasn't playing for real with him, I would lose!”. He also confessed that he had recently discovered that his youngest was ambidextrous – “a quality of exceptional geniuses, like Messi”.

Hector Benoit also liked football. Born in Palmeiras in Brazil, he recognized a certain admiration for the Corinthians fans (in particular, I remember his excitement when I told him about my experiences with the Corinthians fans). On our last phone calls, it was noticeable that the TV in the background was broadcasting the World Cup matches in Qatar while we were talking. In 2014, when the Uruguayan Luiz Suárez was banned from the Cup for biting an opponent's ear, I confessed that I noticed a certain sarcastic pride in him (“Uruguayans are really tough!”).

While still remembering her reconciliation with her youngest son, I remembered a fact that was especially touching for me. I was talking to Hector about my 12-year-old nephew. He told him that he was bothered by the fact that he was, in the usual terms, “posting” comments about the current Brazilian political scene, praising one of the apparent poles and deferring attacks on the other. I commented that I intended to write a letter to my nephew. And I asked him: “what do you think I should say?”. The teacher breathed for a few seconds and then told me: “Tell him to love, so that he can date, love. Let him go in for sports and read a lot. Don't believe fake news. Read on and come to your own conclusions. But, above all, love. It's already a big thing in this world."

Soon afterwards, professor Hector Benoit explained to me what, for him, would be the true meaning of philosophy. Telling me that he considered the current translation in Brazil inadequate (Hector Benoit was fluent in classical Greek) – “love for wisdom” – he said that, in fact, it seemed to him that love, but not the romanticized form of the term, a form of love, seemed to him the most adequate: a universal solidarity, a radical form of love towards everyone in this world. On that day he added, with the modesty that so characterizes great personalities: “I am not a philosopher. I don't even consider myself a teacher. But, there wasn't a day that I didn't enter the classroom trying to make this world a better world”.

That same day, we still talked about Nietzsche – who, with his appreciation for the Greeks, was one of the influences for his studies on Antiquity (although these studies were initially intended to protect him from political persecution). At this point, Hector Benoit, a militant since his youth, told me with a laugh that when he met an old colleague, he would have asked him: “but, what happened? Did you change areas?”. Still about Nietzsche, he spoke of his individual revolt against the decadence of the bourgeois world, something that would have driven Nietzsche himself to madness. But Hector Benoit, as we know, was not a Nietzschean. He was a lucid Marxist who, when comparing such different authors, always insisted: “both Marx and Nietzsche, each in their own way, could not stand the Academy”. Nor did Hector Benoit.

Studying Plato in depth, and in Greek, he confessed to having mistrusted, at a certain point, the Plato he taught in his courses on ancient philosophy, on the campus of the University of São Paulo (USP), in Ribeirão Preto. It was there that Professor Hector Benoit discovered another Plato, the one whose esoteric dialectic runs through all Dialogues reveals him in a communist. For Hector Benoit, it was this Plato, radically different from the Western metaphysical (and Christian) tradition, who founded the Academy. But this Academy of Plato is not the one that Hector Benoit was criticizing either. The Academy that Hector Benoit criticized is that of professorial pedestals, full of medieval ancestry, of spaces conquered on the basis of a selfish, cowardly and servile careerism to the petty-bourgeois bureaucracy. Plato's Academy, which Hector Benoit genially defended in his work, was yet another political party. A party aimed at training citizens committed to the practical project of transforming the world into a better world.

the monumental Plato's Odyssey: the adventures and misadventures of dialectics,[ii] published in 2017, is the legacy of this revolutionary reading and interpretation of Plato left to us by Hector Benoit. Work that Hector Benoit, in his last days, said he would continue. Hector Benoit spoke of his reflection over the years on this need, which had been placed on him by his friend, the now deceased professor Arley Moreno. After several years, he would have discovered and confided to those closest to him the key to proceeding with the Odyssey. She said: “I will not give up. I am unable. For me, it's impossible.

I will publish two more books”. One of them was the aforementioned continuation of the Platonic work. The other was about Marx. Also, the Marx of Hector Benoit was not the Marx of a certain dominant tradition. As a Leninist-Trotskyist, Hector Benoit insisted on the importance of dialectics for reading and understanding Marx's greatest work, The capital. This original dialectic and rigorously found by Hector Benoit in Plato would be in the mode of exposition of The capital (which he always made a point of referencing in German Darstellungsweise). Here, it always seemed to me that Hector Benoit was closely following a lead left by Lenin in his philosophical notebooks (work that Hector Benoit so appreciated): that one should study Hegel from a Marxist perspective.

But Hector Benoit went further. He studied the entire pre-Marxist, Hegelian and also pre-Hegelian dialectical tradition from a Marxist perspective (Proclus, Aristotle, Parmenides, Heraclitus and, above all, Plato). In one of my few texts, I comment that on the eve of publishing The capital, Marx insisted that Engels read a Balzacian novel, pointing out that he, like Marx, would not have time to see his revolutionary work understood and “gaining life”. Tragically, this seems to be the fate of many revolutionary geniuses.

That's how, on a rainy afternoon on November 27 of that year, I had my last telephone conversation with Hector Benoit. There were several subjects. He talked about his mother (“she died aged 98. If I have her genetics, and I think I do, I'm very strong, I have another 20 years to go”). He spoke about his German stepfather, who called little Hector, prejudicedly, “Creole” (Hector came to Brazil with his mother and stepfather very young; his biological father would have stayed and died in Uruguay). This troubled relationship with his stepfather would have encouraged him even more obstinately in the direction of his studies. He also commented to me that very early on he would have done an activity at school and that, to do so, he would have copied an excerpt from a book by Monteiro Lobato, without his teacher realizing it. This would have discredited him from bourgeois school formalism.

He told me that at the age of 6 he started going to libraries (a habit that, among all his classmates, only he had) and that at 71 he wanted to move closer to the USP library to read more and finish his books. At the same USP, by the way, where, in his student days, he met Gérard Lebrun, one of his best professors, and from whom he learned the habit of always writing his classes. He spoke to me wistfully about João, one of the bravest militants he had ever met, but who committed suicide by throwing himself off the sixth floor of a building years ago. He confided in me about his recent family dilemmas (and I, mine to him), spoke again about the children, the pain of losing Gal Gosto (he was writing a short article about her) and Erasmo Carlos (he was sensibly shaken by it). .

He remembered Chico Buarque (and his music that extols the strength of Athenian women), Freud (whom he would have read in German to help with the thesis of an ex-partner), Plato – as always, but, on that day, particularly Estrangeiro de Eleia –, from his experience in France with Pierre Vidal-Naquet, which motivated him to create the Center for Ancient Thought (CPA) at Unicamp. A few days ago, Benoit had been re-elected as the director of the CPA, emphasizing the importance of his historic fight for the maintenance and support of that space, and with which he intended to develop even more work (he said he wanted to promote a colloquium on African antecedents of Greece and Rome, stating: “I have no doubt that we are all, to some extent, African”).

And, throughout the conversation, of course, we talked about politics. Everything for Hector Benoit fundamentally revolved around politics: all the anxieties, disappointments and sufferings of contemporary life could only be resolved with international communism. But that was not how we said goodbye that November 27th. Interestingly, that day, Hector said goodbye to me like he had never done before. His last words were: “Look, don't get me wrong. You know my love for women. But in Uruguay, we have the habit of saying goodbye with a kiss. A kiss between men, on the cheek. So, my friend, a big kiss for you! And that's how we got off the phone for the last time.

That was Hector Benoit: a selfless, demanding and tireless militant; but, dialectically, a sensitive, generous and caring friend. Glad you were asleep and peaceful, comrade. Silently, like those poets of the XNUMXth and XNUMXth centuries that you loved so much and who, when they recognized that bourgeois culture was already liquidated, preferred to remain silent instead of becoming charlatan spokesmen. You wanted to keep fighting, I know. But, you suffered too much for yourself and others. Your whole life was a life of struggle, and I am sure that, pagan that you were, the gods are now rewarding you for your battles on behalf of the workers of this world. Unfortunately, I will not be able to follow the advice given in the preface to your sabbatical report, in which you talk about your work and, at the end, thank the militants with whom you worked together. There you end up like this: “But, enough! Enough of longing, as João Gilberto says, let’s keep João spinning on the record player non-stop…”.

Somewhere in the world, João Gilberto will continue to spin non-stop on the record player. But, for those who, like me, had the privilege of a more intimate contact with you, the longing… ah, the longing… This one will not come to an end. And please don't get me wrong by ending this letter like that. But, in the Uruguayan way, a big kiss for you too, my friend…[iii]

*Andre Koutchin de Almeida is professor of philosophy at the Federal University of Mato Grosso do Sul (UFMS). PhD in philosophy from Unicamp, under the guidance of Alcides Hector Rodriguez Benoit.

Note


[I] With this letter, I intend to pay tribute of a very personal nature. To get to know the militant trajectory and political experiences of Hector Benoit, I recommend the text of one of his most dedicated companions, Rafael Padial. Note on the militancy of Hector Benoit (1951 – 2002). Available in: Note on the militancy of Hector Benoit (1951-2022) – A TERRA É REDONDA (aterraeredonda.com.br).

[ii] Of this work, we can say that other two are part: the first, Socrates: the birth of negative reason, originally published in 1996, is her draft that has not yet been methodologically developed. The second, Plato and temporalities: the methodological issue, from 2015, is precisely the presentation of the methodology that is developed in its content n'The Odyssey of Plato. Benoit's works on the dialectical tradition, he himself said, sought and presented a theoretical unity that he achieved in the instance of the lexis.

[iii] At dawn on December 05, 2022, Benoit left us. The news reached me through one of his most loyal disciples, whom Hector always singled out in this regard, Fernando Dillenburg (Benoit called him Dillenburgo, with “o” at the end. It always seemed to me, and I never asked him, who did so inspired by a certain translation of Rosa Luksenburg's last name, which also, in that translation, received the “o” at the end. Benoit, we know, had a deep admiration for Rosa Luxemburgo).

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