Houses, ruins, remembering and forgetting



Considerations on “Noon”, a recently published book by Henry Burnett

There is a "Picture of Thought”, written by Walter Benjamin on February 25, 1933, which is called “Short Shadows”, in which he reminds us that the closer noon approaches, the shorter the shadows become, to the point that they even disappear , retreating to its mysterious structure, leaving us only the curiosity to know what is the enigma, which they always carry. However, he continues, midday is also the “hour of Zarathustra”, the thinker of “the midday of life”, the hour when “like the sun at noon, knowledge delineates things with the utmost rigor”.

When I received Henry Burnett's book, its title immediately reminded me of this “image” of Walter Benjamin. An enigmatic image, in which the German thinker does not fail to point to the possibility of knowledge, whose brightness is as intense as the midday sun. But, on the other hand, this glow is fleeting and transitory, as soon after the shadows reappear, while its secret will always remain hidden. Benjamin speaks here of another temporality, which, under the inspiration of Nietzsche, concerns a kind of intensification of the instant.

This is not the time, of course, for a conceptual exegesis, which would try to show why Benjamin referred to the “Of noon” section of the fourth part of Thus spake Zarathustra. I content myself only with saying that the hour of noon is for "Zarathustra" shot through with a feeling of happiness and joy, the hour of the eternity of the instant, the hour when silence must replace the song. As if the past were suspended and the future just an unclear and immeasurably distant edge.

But, there is another side to this Benjaminian image that connects with other elements and concerns, precisely, memory and oblivion. Fleeting and transitory are also the flashes of memory, as well as those of oblivion. Yet another Nietzschean horizon, which Benjamin appropriates: neither the ideal of a full and complete memory, in which there is no place for forgetting, nor forgetting as simple erasure, like forgetting everything, especially what causes pain and suffering, was a kind of saving balm.

Could midday also be thought of as the happy encounter between the radiant need for a memory, which overcomes oblivion, and, on the other hand, the short shadows – an image of oblivion? – that insist on reappearing, after they had momentarily gone into hiding. The knowledge that is most rigorously delineated in midday light is the one that cannot appear without the short shadows. The effort to remember is certainly the effort not to forget. But, that effort is just an effort. Nothing guarantees your success in advance.

Henry Burnett's book – a foreign and strange name, for someone born in Belém – is marked by this effort to remember, to not let his story fall into oblivion. History at the same time personal and social, as it is inseparable from his experience with his hometown and with the other cities he visited without, however, failing to point out, here and there, sometimes subtly, sometimes insistently, how much he remembers him. and forgetting are entangled and nourish each other. Deviating from the magnificence of figures such as Aunt Lucy and her father, for example, presented without any commiseration, I am captured by those figures of forgetting necessary for the effort of remembering, which are much more present in objects on the verge of disappearing. . Among these objects, so to speak, the house occupies a special place.

Entirely devoid of their function as “things that shelter”, the houses appear in these memories impregnated by contradictory affections brought about by the urgency to remember. Be it the aunt's house, which has disappeared among today's commercial establishments, which did not spare even the first bookstore known to the "narrator", arriving in adolescence (there is no place for bookstores anymore, except in shopping malls) and that the adult no longer can no longer recognize and of which a bookcase remains, gained as a kind of inheritance, when the house was sold. Or even, in the image of Ananindeua's house, its wall and the cotton in the yard, which impregnated his memory, to the point, Henry tells us, that he can no longer forget it, despite the short time he lived there, at the onset of adolescence. Or even his friend Alex's house, where time seemed to stand still and where another idea of ​​family appeared before his eyes. Yet another house, but in this one the foreign and strange feeling that marks it from its name found a kind of delicate welcome, this house was, as he himself says, a “place”. hey hey hey House.

There is also his uncle's house in the interior, for holidays or weekends, full of gutters, which had the noble function of refreshing the boy from the inclement heat, even at night. “Casa humid”, the title of one of the “thought images” present in this book, synthesizes these stories of houses crossed by the inclemency of time, whose ruins memory not only registers, but also insists on pointing out what was absent, lacking. , of an emptiness that probably no word, no memory or even any renunciation of remembering can fill.

It is as if, exemplarily, in this whirlwind of affections glued to images of what is about to disappear or that has already disappeared, we can still recognize, in an instant of a second, the intense light of midday and the retreat of the shadows to their secret.

* Ernani Chaves He is a professor at the Faculty of Philosophy at UFPA. Author, among other books, of On the threshold of modern (Pakatatu).



Henry Burnett. Meio-dia. Rio de Janeiro: Editora 7 Letras, 2021.

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