Celso Fernando Favaretto

Celso Fernando Favaretto
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By RICARDO FABBRINI*

Speech to be given at the ceremony granting the title of Professor Emeritus to the philosopher, educator and arts critic

It is with great pleasure that I participate in this ceremony granting the title of Professor Emeritus of the Faculty of Education of the University of São Paulo to Celso Fernando Favaretto. This satisfaction at being able to honor him is certainly shared by all those who were his students and advisees, as well as by the professors and staff at the Faculty of Education at USP, which he joined in 1985.

Even though I am aware that “all remembrance is a retrospective illusion” – as our honoree often reminds us – I will highlight some aspects of his rich career. Having already been your reader, I was your student in the Teaching Practice in Philosophy discipline, in the undergraduate course, shortly after you entered this Faculty, and since then, that is, in the last thirty-nine years, I have followed your lively reflection with grateful attention.

This lively reflection goes back to the intellectual curiosity raised by the cultural, political and artistic debates initially experienced in the school environment, in the informal activity of a teacher, and also in the fervor of friendships, in the city of Americana, in the early 1960s. a city in the interior of the state of São Paulo, which revived in him the desire to read and live everything: literature, the arts, education, politics, amid the profound and contradictory transformations of the so-called Brazilian reality resulting from the process , then underway, of modernization of the country.

This desire to not only understand, but also to act culturally to change Brazilian society led Celso Favaretto to abandon his degree in mathematics with a minor in physics, which he had followed from 1961 to 1964, for which he had already shown talent, with the aim of being a teacher of these subjects in high school, through the undergraduate course in philosophy, which he took at PUC-Campinas, from 1965 to 1968.

Thus, the 1960s resulted in his interest in everything that referred to “education for development”, whether in terms of ISEB, through awareness of the national reality, or in the sense of engaged cultural projects such as the CPC of UNITE; from Teatro de Arena and Grupo Opinião; whether in protest music, song festivals, Teatro Oficina or Cinema Novo.

This interest in everything related to artistic modernity led Celso Favaretto to acquire a very wide repertoire of cultural references that he would then begin to mobilize in the following years, to the admiration of his students, in his activity as a teacher, initially in high school and, then, in higher education, in São Paulo. The epistolary guidance of the literary critic José Geraldo Nogueira Moutinho, to whom he always showed gratitude, contributed greatly to the expansion of this repertoire, as well as the readings exchanged with his friends João Adolfo Hansen and, once in São Paulo, with Leon Kossovitch.

After completing his degree in philosophy, Celso Favaretto moved to São Paulo, at the beginning of 1969, to pursue postgraduate studies in aesthetics at the philosophy department at USP, bringing with him, in addition to a vast literary repertoire, his readings on phenomenology , existentialism, Marxism, psychoanalysis, and the critical theory of society, especially Walter Benjamin and Herbert Marcuse, which allowed him – alongside Roland Barthes, Marshall McLuhan and Guy Debord – to reflect on the mass media in society. consumption, and more specifically, about the opposition between engaged (or protest) art and experimental (or avant-garde) art, whether in theater, literature, and, in particular, popular music.

In the postgraduate course at USP, Celso Favaretto recalls, the classes taught by Gilda de Mello e Souza (“Dona Gilda”) and those taught by French professor Jean Galard were decisive, as they sharpened his perspective on painting, photography and cinema. . Dona Gilda's classes took him to the theory and historiography of art by Erwin Panofsky, Heinrich Wölfflin, and Pierre Francastel, among other art historians, as well as showing him the importance of closely analyzing the details of works, such as those that her own Dona Gilda accomplished this by showing her students the beauty of the bodily gesture in the figure of the rural worker in the paintings of Almeida Júnior and Candido Portinari, or in the almost incorporeal gesture – “colorless arabesque in full flight” – of the dancer Fred Astaire, in the cinema.

It was Dona Gilda who invited him to publish, in 1971, an article in the second issue of Discourse Magazine, from the philosophy department at USP, a publication that, by its mere existence, was already, in those years, one of resistance to the military dictatorship due to the political dimension of the theory. His first publication was therefore an article on the 1967 French edition of Iconology studies: humanist themes in Renaissance Art, by Erwin Panofsky, originally published in English in 1939.

The classes in the postgraduate course of Jean Galard, who had arrived in Brazil the previous year, in 1968, were of utmost importance to him, as were the conversations they sparked in the following years, resulting in a solid friendship that became remains alive, fifty years later. I suppose that two aspects of Jean Galard's presence in Brazil, at that time, were decisive in the direction of Celso Favaretto's research in the area of ​​contemporary aesthetics.

The first aspect is the updating of French thought promoted by Jean Galard by putting his students in contact with the recently published work of Gilles Deleuze, such as Difference and repetition, and also with the anthropology of Lévi-Strauss, the linguistics of Saussure and Benveniste, the psychoanalysis of Lacan, the semiology and semiotics of Roland Barthes, among other references.

The second aspect is that his interaction with Jean Galard showed him that it was possible to carry out research at the university on a topic with which he had already been involved, even existentially, namely: the aestheticization of life, which had already been the subject of the book by Jean Galard, Death of beaux-art, published in 1971, in France, and which would be resumed in “The beauty of gesture: an aesthetic of conduct”, translated into Portuguese in 1997 with technical revision by Celso Favaretto; as would also happen in Brazilian editions of Exorbitant Beauty: Reflections on aesthetic abuse, from 2012 and Gioconda is on the stairs: the prosaic condition, 2023. Jean Galard thus encouraged him, in those years, to cultivate his interest, which resisted the test of time, in the relationship between art and life – which would lead him, in the following years, to dedicate himself in his master's dissertation to the study of “tropicália”, and in the doctoral thesis on the work of the artist Hélio Oiticica.

At the center of this research is, in my opinion, the political idea of ​​life as a work of art. His attention had therefore turned to “modes of existence”, in Gilles Deleuze’s expression; or to “lifestyles” in Michel Foucault’s term: to “aesthetics of life”, in short, which is also an ethics. He was interested in the “modes”, that is, the processes of subjectivation, in no individual or personal way that indicated new possibilities of life. Because it is “lifestyles that constitute us in one way or another”, said Deleuze in 1986, and “sometimes all it takes is a gesture or a word” for this to happen.

In a figure, one can assume: it would be the deviant gesture, a minimum detournement – “in a time shorter than the minimum thinkable continuous time” – in the characterization of the clinamen em Natural Rerum, by Lucretius – which would establish freedom in the dead horizontality of routine (or within a mutilated life); it would be the vitality of an agile leap, the filigree of malice, the nuance of a hump, which would allow us to glimpse – as in a flash – the possibility of reinventing politics and life.

Parallel to his postgraduate studies in philosophy, Celso Favaretto began, in 1969, an intense career as a philosophy teacher in secondary and higher education, in private and public institutions, which would only end with his compulsory retirement from USP, in 2011. In 1976 , joined the philosophy department at PUC-SP, to teach the discipline of Aesthetics, as well as Introduction to philosophy for other courses at the university. He remained at PUC-SP, where he held various management roles, including department head and course coordination, until 1985, when he began teaching at the Faculty of Education at USP, on an exclusive dedication basis.

His entry into the Faculty of Education at USP as head of the Philosophy Teaching Methodology subject occurred at a time when the return of this subject to the high school curriculum was being discussed, after its absence during the period of the military dictatorship. I was able to see the importance of his lively and original contribution to this debate, not only in his undergraduate courses, but also in his texts, as well as in his interventions in seminars, lectures, colloquiums, congresses, and extension courses for teachers, from which resulted in a philosophy teaching perspective that had repercussions in official documents, including the Curriculum Proposal for the teaching of 2nd grade philosophy. Degree, presented in 1992 to CENP of the State Department of Education of São Paulo.

I highlight as seminal texts of this reflection that has since been welcomed by students and teachers, the essays Postmodern in Education?, published in 1991, in USP Faculty of Education Magazine, volume 17, and Notes on Teaching Philosophy, published in the book Philosophy and its teaching, from 1995, organized by professor Salma T, Muchail. I consider one of the contributions of these innovative essays to be thinking about education, and in particular, the teaching of philosophy in Brazil, based on conceptual operators raised by the texts of Jean-François Lyotard, until then ignored in Brazil, such as Le Cours Philosophique, from 1986, which would become part of the book Le Postmoderne Expliqué aux Enfants, which had not been translated in the country.

In his undergraduate courses, Celso Favaretto not only commented on the process of implementation, acclimatization, and consolidation of philosophy in Brazil, using texts by Jean Maugüé, Gaston Granger, Gerard Lebrun, Bento Prado Jr., Oswaldo Porchat Pereira, and Marilena Chauí , among other teachers, but also exposed the position on the teaching of contemporary French thinkers, such as Roland Barthes, Gilles Deleuze, or Jean-François Lyotard. In these classes, he showed that a reading is not philosophical just because the texts are considered philosophical — or because their authors are considered authors of the History of Philosophy, from Plato to Sartre —, since “one can read philosophical texts without philosophizing and read texts considered artistic, political, journalistic, philosophically”.

In other words, Celso warned that what makes reading a text a philosophical activity is not the disciplinary nature of the text read, but the way the reader reads this text; which presupposes considering philosophy a perennial operation, a vision or interpretation marked by the awareness of the impossibility of confining language. Philosophical reading would not be exhausted, therefore, in the simple application of reading methodologies. It would be a “listening exercise”, in a sense analogous to that of psychoanalysis, that is, an “elaboration that unfolds its assumptions and sub-understandings”. Neither a sophistical “false knowledge” that can prove everything — in the sense of Socratic criticism — nor an “official doctrine” with the “claim to absolute knowledge”; but a tireless scan of signs that can produce – especially in high school students – “the security of intellectual domination”.

The philosophy class, according to Celso Favaretto, “does not aim to explain, elucidate, but to interpret, in the sense that it is a continuous, unfinished activity, focused not on the meaning of things, but on the action of inscribing signs”. Lyotard, in this vein, stated that “the long course of philosophical reading does not only teach what is necessary to read; but that one has not finished reading, that one has only begun, that one has not read what one has read.” In short: learning, for Celso Favaretto, is acquiring a practical familiarity with signs: “Issuing signs to be developed in the heterogeneous” – in his own terms – is what every teacher can do, aware that “violently seizing these signs, dominate situations, give shape, structure, impose relations of force”, situates the one who educates himself.

“Educating yourself, knowing, learning: the art of multiplying meaning and modifying the nature of signs that, by establishing relationships between something hidden and a surface, manifest themselves as symptoms”. All education thus takes place – according to Celso Favaretto – “at the level of symptoms to place the interpreter in the activity of valuing signs”.

Finally, I remember the surprise caused to his students, his observation regarding the concrete difficulties of the philosophy teacher, especially at that time when they sought to legitimize the return of this subject to the secondary school curricula. Our difficulty consists essentially – he said, evoking Lyotard – in the “requirement of patience”; after all, the philosophy class can show students “that one must bear not progressing (in a calculable, apparent way); that it is necessary to always start, contrary to the dominant values ​​of progress, development, appreciation, performance, speed, execution, enjoyment.

From this original and rigorous, finely woven reflection, which I outline here, on the teaching of philosophy developed by Celso Favaretto over the years, resulted in his Free Teaching Thesis in Teaching Methodology and Comparative Education, entitled Modern, 'postmodern, contemporary in education and art, presented to the Faculty of Education of USP, in 2004. At the heart of this Thesis is, in my opinion, the replacement of the conception of education as training (Education), understood as the achievement of autonomy towards emancipation, in the Enlightenment sense, with its metaphysical assumption of the unity of the subject and experience, through the notion of “transformation”, open to the multiplicity of singularities (to events), that is: to “production of new subjectivities”; to “changes in behavior”, to “mutations in artistic practices”, which put the systems of moral, technical and political justification of education in crisis.

In 1974, Celso Favaretto entered the master's degree in philosophy at USP, under the guidance of professor Otília Arantes with a research project on tropicalist song. This work on a cultural manifestation, still recent in the country, which was very different from research based on the structural reading of classic authors in the history of philosophy, was extremely relevant since it opened, with its pioneering spirit, the field of investigation in the area of ​​contemporary aesthetics. from the philosophy department at USP.

His master's thesis, which was defended in 1978, and published in 1979, by Kairós, entitled Tropicália, allegory, joy, which is currently in 5th. Published by Ateliê Editorial, it is a book that has already emerged as an editorial landmark not only in studies on tropicalist song, but, more broadly, on the tension between artistic experimentalism and political participation in Brazilian culture in the 1960s.

I highlight as one of the ingenuities of this book the mobilization of the notion of “allegory” of German Baroque Drama, by Walter Benjamin, from the 1920s – which would only be published in Brazil in 1984 – in the interpretation of tropicalist procedures. Celso Favaretto shows that the structure of the tropicalist song, as an allegorical form, is that of an assembly by juxtaposing fragments (archaic/modern; rural/urban; mass culture/erudite culture; pure form/thanks to ) without resulting in any synthesis or conciliation (in the sense of organic or symbolic art). The tropicalist song is not, however, for the author a random circle of disparate musical references in the sense of post-modern pastiche, which would imply a regressive position, because evasive or nostalgic, but, in his own terms, “games, inversions and dissimulations” which, “as a rule, are demystifiers”.

In tropicalist carnival, there would therefore be historical awareness, a “work of culture”, of elaboration of tradition, which produces both a rupture with the past and the irruption in the present of possibilities from that past that have not yet been realized. This work of culture operated in the tropicalist song is approximated by the author to the dreamlike elaboration in the Freudian sense, because in a similar way to the surrealist exercise, the tropicalist practice, resorting to procedures such as condensation and displacement, would have fertilized Brazilian reality through the dreamlike imagination, bringing to it surfaces repressed dimensions of cultural tradition.

This memory work carried out in the form of a song is also close to the psychoanalytic technique of perlaboration (Durcharbeitung) by Freud; because just as “the patient tries to elaborate his current disturbance by freely associating it with elements apparently inconsistent with past situations” in his life; Tropicalist musicians would have elaborated in their songs the modernization that the country was going through, freely associating it with elements of cultural tradition (such as Oswaldian anthropophagy) revealing hidden meanings of Brazilian life.

After finishing his master's degree, Celso Favaretto coordinated, with professor Otília Arantes and her students, the Center for Contemporary Art Studies (CEAC) in the philosophy department at USP, which published, from 1979 to 1984, eight issues of Art in magazine, by the publisher Kairós, which by bringing together, from a critical perspective, valuable documentation on Brazilian culture from the 1960s and 1970s – which had remained in the shadows due to the censorship imposed by the military regime – motivated several researches on contemporary art and literature.

I remember, for example, the impact caused by its penultimate issue, which brought together the positions of Mário Pedrosa, Peter Burger, Jürgen Habermas, Andréas Huyssen, Paolo Portoghesi, and Jean-François Lyotard on the supposed end of artistic modernity, if not of art itself, introducing the debate on postmodernity into the country, which would be discussed by Celso Favaretto in his postgraduate courses at FEUSP.

Celso Favaretto, in 1985, began his doctorate in philosophy at USP, now under the guidance of professor Leon Kossovitch, with a project on the work of the artist Hélio Oiticica. Defended in 1988, his doctoral thesis was published by Edusp/Fapesp in 1992, with the title The invention of Hélio Oiticica (APCA Award for best art book of the year) and is currently in its 3rd edition. edition. This book, also a pioneer, constitutes, like the previous one, a reference work, and was the first to reconstruct with ingenuity and rigor the experimental trajectory of Hélio Oiticica, from 1954 to 1981.

It is a book that reconstructs the “coherence of the program” and the “critical lucidity” of this “artist inventor” who “dug into the unknown”, as the author says, “defining his own rules of creation and categories of judgment”; because what we had until then were just collections of the artist's sparse texts; light art criticism in newspapers and magazines; presentations in catalogs and photographic documentation. Only now is all this material subjected to an interpretative activity that shows that the artist's “delusional device” is made up of two intertwined series: that of artistic production and that of verbal discourse, both of which are deeply coherent.

Nothing escapes Celso's sensitive scrutiny, which explains step by step the constructive meaning of in progress program of the artist. There is no, in The Invention of Hélio Oiticica, only the collection and reporting of its production (the “experimental exercise of freedom”, in Mário Pedrosa’s verbal finding), but the specification of its own legality, of its order that never exceeds, of the secret network of its internal relations; finally, from the instinctual reason of its device that interconnects the works: from the visual phase (of art) to the “supersensory” phase (beyond art).

This book, which resulted from the expansion of the author's research on art projects of the 1960s and 1970s, as he moved from tropicalist song to plastic arts with a constructive bias, also allowed him to develop his reflections on the exhaustion of avant-garde projects and the new cultural condition, contemporary or post-modern. This is what is indicated, at the end of his book, in the mention of one of Hélio Oiticica's last interviews, after his return to Brazil, in which the artist “said he was just starting”: “Everything I did before I consider a prologue. The important thing is starting now”, he stated in 1978. Given this statement, Celso Favaretto concludes: “his death left the question suspended: after art slipped into the beyond of art, what could happen?”. Could there be, I am led to suggest, a new prelude, post-everything? If everything had been seen, said, proposed, nothing was lost, where is the unexpected?

After completing his doctorate in 1988, Celso Favaretto was initially accredited in the postgraduate program in education, offering courses and guiding master's and doctoral research, as well as supervising post-doctorates, and then in 1992 , in the postgraduate program in philosophy, following an invitation from the philosophy department at USP. In these programs, he completed many orientations – always interconnecting practices: philosophy, education, art, psychoanalysis, literature – in addition to being part of numerous defense panels for master's and doctorate degrees, professorships and public examinations throughout Brazil.

If I avoid, however, specifying the numbers, it is because Celso was always averse to the idea that the university should be managed like a company, in the neoliberal way, which evaluates the academic production of its professors, using metrics, rankings and “impact indices”. ”, as if they were products on the market.

I didn't have the pleasure of having formally supervised him, but I can assume from having heard him in seminars, panels and various conversations, how his guidance process takes place. His students, moreover, are unanimous in describing him as welcoming given that, initially, he helps them to define, themselves, the topic they want to effectively research. Once this is done, the text in preparation begins with a shared reading, in regular meetings, with the aim of adapting its way of enunciation, and modulating the meaning of the terms, always in favor of clarity and precision, without anything be imposed on the student.

This generous guidance results in the researcher being aware of the risk of incontinently adhering to the concept to the point of instrumentalizing it, and of the need to pay attention to the nuances of each word used in their work. In these guidelines, in short, the advisor's demand and rigor in relation to the student's writing, which often leads him to re-present several versions of his text, does not strain the relationship because it is already guided, from the beginning, by delicacy or mildness – dispositions or feelings, it is worth noting, increasingly rare in our days. I suppose that Celso conceives the orientation, and even the philosophy class, less as an intellectual agreement, and more as a musical chord, with its intensities and resonances – as Gilles Deleuze said about Michel Foucault's classes.

Since the 1980s, Celso Favaretto has given several lectures and written several texts on the developments of tropicalismo and the countercultural experience of the 1970s, which were partially collected in the book Counterculture, between enjoyment and experimentation, published in 2019, by n-1 editions. In these essays, the author reacts to the characterization of Brazilian culture at the beginning of the 70s – despite the effects of AI-5 and censorship still in force – as a period of “impasse” or “cultural void”, arguing that in those years the a broader notion of culture of resistance to the dictatorship, namely: “alternative culture”, understood as an “artistic production combined with behaviors” that privileged exemplary gestures, experiences, other daily life – everything that could be considered marginal in relation to established or official culture.

This alternative production from the 1970s, which reacted to the myth of cultural modernity according to which art totalizing the real would produce social redemption, attributed a power of resistance (or life-affirmation) to the symbolic dimension of gestures, to experiences of limits, to new forms of intersubjectivity or community. Celso Favaretto has also been examining, in addition to post-tropicalism, the so-called post-modernism, without attributing an immediate implication relationship between the two terms. More precisely, his reflection, in the last twenty years, has focused on the terms modern; post-modern; and contemporary, in an attempt to explain what resulted from the exhaustion of avant-garde projects from the last century; or, more specifically, to highlight the “assumptions implied” in artistic-cultural modernity that “remain active”, in what came to be called post-modern or contemporary.

The field of contemporary art is not, for Celso Favaretto, the result of the overcoming of modern projects, but one in which a productive reflection on modernist devices takes place. His theoretical-critical essays, from 2001 to 2021, which are part of the international debate on the modern and contemporary in an authorial and erudite way, were collected in 2023 in the book Still contemporary art, by n-1 editions.

I say erudite, among other reasons, because Celso Favaretto was one of the first to comment in Brazil on the aesthetic reflections not only of Jean-Franços Lyotard and Jean Galard, as we have already seen, but also those of Jacques Rancière and Giorgio Agamben, which are now more widespread. Celso Favaretto mobilizes from Jacques Rancière, the idea of ​​art as a “collective of enunciation” that calls into question “the already given sharing of the sensible (of roles, territories and languages)”, in his essay Around art and politics, 2009; and by Giorgio Agamben, he uses the idea of ​​contemporary art as “that which does not perfectly coincide with its time”, as that which is “not current”; in other words, as “the one who fixes her gaze on her time to perceive, not the lights but the darkness”, and then bring it closer – in her essay Between lights and shadows, contemporary art, 2020 – of the conception of “horror as the unnameable, as the unrepresentable”, highlighting, however, that “it cannot be said that the void [unlike horror] is also unrepresentable”. “And where it imposes itself – concludes Celso Favaretto – the attempt to fill this void is surprising, when, on the contrary, it would behoove art to “discover the interstices of the void” (or, its fissures), as Jean Baudrillard proposed; Only then could one speak of creation as resistance, since art is [according to Celso Favaretto] always the invention of new becomings and not the reiteration of a programmed becoming”.

A position that is shared by Gilles Deleuze who in his Abecedário states: “And what is resistance? Creating is resisting… [Art] is a liberation from life, a liberation from life. There is no art that is not a release of a life force. There is no art of death. This is its splendor.”

I know that my light observations do not do justice to the honoree's merits. In any case, to express the gratitude and admiration of this Faculty of Education, or, more extensively, of all those who had the privilege of living with Professor Celso Favaretto, it is also necessary to remember what was perhaps, for many, his main lesson: the experience of friendship; understood in the sense of Giorgio Agamben, as “a sharing without an object”, as an original “com-feeling”, since friends do not share something [a birth, a law, a place, a taste]: they are shared by the experience of friendship”; in other words: “friendship is the division that precedes all division”, because “what there is to share, between friends, is the very fact of existing”.

Thank you, to professor emeritus Celso Favaretto, for having him as our friend.

*Ricardo Fabbrini He is a professor at the Department of Philosophy at USP. Author, among other books, of Contemporary art in three periods (Authentic). [https://amzn.to/4a35odf]

The ceremony granting the title of Professor Emeritus to Celso Favaretto will take place this Friday (March 15, 2024) at 16 pm in the Auditorium of the Faculty of Education at USP.


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