Consuming mining

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By PIERO DETONI*

The link between presentism and neoliberal capitalism

1.

The State Secretariat for Culture and Tourism of Minas Gerais (SECULT) launched, in 2022, the project The year of Minas Gerais, whose objective was to promote tourism in the State with a view to economic developments for its municipalities, such as the generation of jobs and income from what has been called the “creative economy”.

Immediately, in the News On the aforementioned Secretariat's website, we find the guiding definition that supported the Minas Gerais government's initiative: “A unique accent, an appreciated cuisine and the already recognized hospitality of a people”. These would then be the marks of the identity of the State and, consequently, of the miners. The anniversary was created, in this way, to celebrate the aforementioned identity elements, “which make up this Minas Gerais signature”.

SECULT therefore wanted to make “the traditions, customs and histories of the many Minas Gerais” evident. Still on the Secretariat's website, we see below an attempt to conceptualize Minas Gerais, which no longer includes those “many Minas Gerais”, an expression more of a rhetorical appeal, as the aim was to do nothing more than “celebrate the roots of the people of Minas Gerais”. ”. Note that the plural is giving way to the singular. SECULT intended, with this project, to “highlight the feeling of being from Minas Gerais”. The department's secretary, Leônidas Oliveira, would have stated the following to the person in charge of reporting the event in a journalistic format, which took place on March 23rd, on the premises of the Palácio das Artes, in Belo Horizonte: “the launch of this initiative aims to awaken the feeling of pride of the people of Minas Gerais”.

After learning about the project, I started looking online for possible developments of the initiative, and how it would have been received by people. I found some signs on the website Minas Gerais, which aims to promote tourism in this State. There I found one text called Being a miner: celebrate the year of mining. There is, in it, the reinforcement of the government's program to commercialize the identity of Minas Gerais, which even though “there are many” would bring an invariable core: the accent, the simplicity, the Minas Gerais cuisine and, of course, the hospitality. This last aspect, perceived as an identity trait of Minas Gerais, something preserved in the past of Minas Gerais, will become the great commodity to promote tourism in the region.

Now, there is nothing like a supposed “good hospitality” as an attraction for tourists. Romeu Zema, governor of the State, seems to know this very well, as we noticed in his speech on the day of the launch of the anniversary: ​​“We are a differentiated people, and we are proud of it. We are welcoming, our historic cities and other attractions are a huge force to attract more tourists and enhance our wealth even more.” Continuing in the text of the Minas website, there is a part reserved for the so-called “Minas Gerais way”, which would combine “welcoming way”, “coffee table”, appreciation for “Minas Gerais music” and a way of speaking known as “Mineirês”.

Soon after, there is an image with the caption: “This photo looks like Minas, right? The simple house, the cup of coffee and most important of all, our cheese bread”! There is a following story from motorcyclist Mauro Assumpção, which strengthens this core identity: “Being a miner means knowing how to be. I, as a good person, am, in addition to being from Minas Gerais, a motorcyclist and passionate about the roads of Minas Gerais, I always go there, because we insist on coming back. Being a miner means being like that, simple.” It is not known whether these statements were intentionally made up and attached to the website, as a marketing strategy, or whether they are spontaneous reports, as the association with the SECULT project is completely direct.

Minas Gerais cuisine products are also offered for sale to those interested in Minas Gerais: Minas Gerais cheese, cheese bread, bean tutu, chicken with okra, beans with tropeiro, ora-pro-nóbis and dulce de leche. Wood stove and affection would be the components of the Minas Gerais kitchen. Material and immaterial culture are openly commercialized. Francisco Silveira made this evident in his statement on the Minas website: “Anyone who wants to know the essence of Minas Gerais cannot miss a farm kitchen where food is served on a wood stove. Where the coffee is strained through a cloth strainer and served in an enamel cup. And between one slice of Minas cheese and another, the prose unfolds and the essence of Minas Gerais is felt in the welcome and warmth of the coffee with a beautiful view of the sea of ​​Minas Gerais hills through a wooden window.”

The being from Minas Gerais is activated, in addition mode, once again through the testimony of Tailane Araújo: “The land of cheese bread and homemade delicacies, the wonderful waterfalls, each landscape more beautiful than the other. But a special memory is sitting on the wood stove and eating the rain cakes made by my mother or grandmother, and a very memorable memory is of the old mansions with floors.”

We are faced, then, with the revival of Minas Gerais, which was first elaborated in the First Republic and the Estado Novo. A synthetic image of “being from Minas Gerais”, whose objective would be to unify and share customs and values ​​in common, resulting in the assumption of an identity specific to the state and its people. What was desired, in that context, was the elaboration of a cohesive discourse that specified Minas Gerais within the new republican order, something that led to accentuated discursive effects, which began to be assimilated and subjectified by people over time, to the point of receiving the conceptualization of mining.

This synthetic image was related to the idea of ​​forming republican and patriotic (modern) citizens. Evidently, a republican sphere that is quite exclusive in terms of rights and citizen development. Now, however, there is a mutation of this first interest: Minas Gerais aimed at neoliberal (presentist) consumers. The notion of homeland, of being rooted in a place, is reconfigured for a horizon in which its intention becomes the intensification of conservative values, which were already present in the republican concept of homeland, as a kind of escapism, or compensation , for a world whose order of time points to an uncertain future, something captured by neoliberal rationality, thus enabling market uses of the past.

2.

Minas Geraisity became, over time, subjectivized, moving from the imaginary to the very understanding of the real, implying forms that activated social, political and cultural practices and values. We highlight the materiality of Minas Gerais discourses in shaping ways of thinking and feeling, crystallizing a Minas Gerais identity. Walderez Ramalho argues, when analyzing the matrix texts and constructors of the discursivity of Minas Gerais, that it is nothing more than the establishment of fixed or essentialist identity standards: “essentialism defines the identity of a cultural group through the idea of ​​'essence'. ', that is, a set of physical, psychological and social characteristics, which would remain unchanged throughout history and would form the 'collective character' from an external and objective point of view” (RAMALHO, 2015, p. 250).

The issue can be understood, in a complementary way, based on the reflections developed by Paul Ricoeur on identity (1988). Even though the philosopher is concerned, more specifically, with personal identity, we project his theorization to the social sphere. The problem of identity would be, for the scholar, linked to its two possible uses. The first would be arranged on the plane of the so-called sameness, characterized by identity-idem, which we could understand as an identity that is maintained, in which no changes are perceived. It is in this pole that we identify the Minas Gerais identity conceptually translated as Minas Geraisness. This way of elaborating identity, as in the case at hand, would be different from ipseity, or identity about oneself. She apprehends, in a different way, identity through the sign of transformations, that is, in the sense of mutabilities in the temporal plane.

Minas Gerais as sameness is characterized by the continuity of traits that identify Minas Gerais and the miners in an essentialized way. A character, therefore, of fixed distinction. A cohesive and unbreakable unit. The change, typical of ipseity, should be appeased, as it would become threatening to the unity of that community. Walderez Ramalho notes that the discourse of Minas Gerais has, correlatively, the intention of justifying the status quo, something that becomes a resistance device with regard to social changes.

To this end, Walderez Ramalho described the semantic elements of Minas Gerais and how they were capable of directing identity essentialization: “collective character”, “true tradition”, “race”, “Mineiro spirit”, “historical heritage” (RAMALHO, 2015, p 250). The content of these discursive elements therefore points to the conservation of the past and the control of changes, a condition for essentialist identity cohesion through strategies that trigger political uses of that past. The intention was, however, modern, as this identity conservation was linked to progress itself, which made Minas Gerais launch itself as a political project for the future.

Walderez Ramalho described a veritable archive of statements that inform the fixed identity of Minas Gerais over time. Several authors were mobilized by him, who paid careful attention to the semantic contents that informed this identity model: Diogo de Vasconcelos, Nelson de Sena, Oliveira Viana, João Camilo de Oliveira Torres, Alceu Amoroso Lima and Gilberto Freyre. In such texts produced by these intellectuals, who turned to social reality and began to inhabit the collective imagination of Minas Gerais, there is a prevalence of authoritarian political and social dispositions, and such an attitude of the authors ended up projecting itself onto the supposed character of Minas Gerais. .

This led Walderez Ramalho to perceive in the content of the semantic expressions that informed the identity of Minas Gerais a “conservative view of the world, which emphasizes traditionalism and the mark of conciliatory balance, structuring themes of the imaginary of Minas Gerais” (RAMALHO, 2015, p. 260) . Furthermore, this disposition led Minas to be considered, amid the accelerated changes of modern times, to appear as a “symbol of tradition”, of “changes without rupture”, of “political conciliation”. The scholar concludes (2015, p. 261): “In contrast to the modernizing centers of the country, Minas would represent stability, permanence and conservation of nationality”.

These movements, presented in this discursive logic, paved the way for the establishment of Minas Gerais, understood through the notion of identity essentialism. There are several discursive elements mobilized to achieve this, all of them traced by Walderez Ramalho. The identity unity of Minas Gerais can be captured by the terms character, people, tradition, Minas Gerais soul/spirit, average Minas Gerais – expressions, it should be noted, that are always singular. Minas Gerais is guided by its character of immutability, sameness, a totalizing abstraction, which does not encompass the heteroglossia of voices, the regional diversities of social actors and actresses, non-Westernized pasts, as well as social and social asymmetries. economic structures that make up the State.

The strategy was modern: evoke the past, understand the present and project the future. There is, therefore, the formulation of a fixed identity, the naturalization of inequalities and the establishment of stereotypes. This disposition will, in any case, be revived in a presentist mode.

3.

It must be said, in any case, that The Year of Minas Gerais is an anniversary, having a sense of celebration. In theory, a celebration of Minas Gerais’ past. In Latin celebrate meant something repeated many times. Because an ephemeris has the mark of ephemerality, it was always revisited every year. Unlike the Year of Minas Gerais, a great celebration of past consumption, which should therefore be even faster. There was only one year for this event. Therefore, it does not seem to be a celebration in the sense of exemplarity (ancient) and projective elaboration of the past (modern), but a celebration whose effects would tend towards the immediate (presentist).

We can approach the problem at hand from what Andreas Huyssen (2000) called memory boom, being an indication of forms of experimentation in contemporary time. The author located this situation in the 1970s. Several movements invoked memory: the historicizing restoration of urban centers, museum cities, and entire landscapes; various heritage development projects; retro fashion; the commercialization of nostalgia; self-museumization through the video camera, memorial literature; the dissemination of memory practices in the visual arts; the increased consumption of historical documentaries.

“Since then, Western cultural industries have brought together an increasing number of pasts into a simultaneous and ever more timeless present: retro fashions, authentic retro furniture, the museologization of everyday life through camcorders, Facebook and other social media, nostalgic reunions of older rock musicians, etc” (HUYSSEN, 2014. p. 15). Huyssen's notes are important for us to understand the ephemeris of the Year of Minas Gerais and the ways of experimenting with time involved with it, which we believe are guided, in agreement with François Hartog, by presentism.

We believe that the description of presentist temporality carried out by the French historian, in which its developments are perceived through the problems of memory, heritage and commemoration, opens up space for us to understand the consumption of the past of Minas Gerais. Presentism is, as we assimilated, a situation in which the space of experience and the horizon of expectation, trans-historical dimensions of time, to use Reinhardt Koselleck's (2006) argument, become mediated by an immediate present. This non-duration of the present prints two simultaneous movements: the loss of experience and articulations of meaning from the past and the destabilization of the future, prevented from being elaborated as anticipation.

It's a kind of engine at high speed, but it doesn't move, like a motionless vehicle starting off, which generates a centripetal arrangement, where the past and future are launched. The image of the whirlpool proposed by Andreas Huyssen (2000, p. 30) seems appropriate. Here we will take care of the effects of presentism when it comes to the communicative loss of the past, which then becomes reified as a possibility of consumption, as in the case of Minas Gerais. As Hartog pointed out: “Capitalism today is presentist. More than it was in industrial capitalism” (HARTOG, 2000, p. 258).

4.

Returning to the travel promotion website Minas Gerais, we see on the home page a screen scrolling through several phrases, including the following: “Here culture is free, you are free to choose your path and live liberating experiences”. We are, therefore, facing a horizon specific to neoliberalism, a scenario where there will be consumption of Minas Gerais. In late capitalism, consumers, bearers of free enterprise, are the producers themselves of what they consume.

The SECULT project, promoted by the website Minas Gerais, does not offer a mass product. On the contrary: tourists will have the opportunity to consume Minas Gerais in a free and individualized way, making their ways of accessing the past private and free. A so-called original product must be offered, capable of enabling the consumption of a genuine past, which is that supposedly found in the Minas Gerais tradition or in Minas Gerais. Tourists believe they are buying trips not only to the State of Minas, but to the past time preserved by Minas Gerais and, now, becoming an object of consumption.

Because of this, there is the commercialization of Minas Gerais, as it appears, as we have seen, as something that would represent an essence, being unique and that has not changed, that remains the same, therefore, subject to economic valuation, which would justify the investment on the part of of tourists. Who wouldn't like to experience a real immersion into the past and be in the presence of experiences that have been preserved in their entirety? Who wouldn't want to feel the past, touch it and taste it?

It is in this way that the elements of identity present in the synthesis-image of Minas Gerais, which imprint a certain idea of ​​a raw past, began to be demanded by the neoliberal economic spectrum, making that essentialized past become a commodity, that is, a commodity of a primary nature, which nevertheless serves as raw material for various economic movements, which in this case is the entire circuit that encompasses tourism, ranging from airlines to hotel chains and through gastronomy circuits, reaching the trade of handicrafts and various things, among others.

It is worth noting that Minas Gerais cuisine has a seal of authenticity. In fact, the word “authentic” was considered the word of the year for 2023 in the USA. Tourists can, in this way, trust that this past, translated into gastronomy, is truly true and unique. In those images that appear on the website's home page Minas Gerais this is evident. This past turned into a commodity generates varied forms of consumption from Minas Gerais, which represents, precisely, an authentic, raw, crystallized past time, therefore valued.

At the launch ceremony of The Year of Minas Gerais, Romeu Zema explained what was at stake: “the initiative to launch a year dedicated to Minas Gerais is a great opportunity to rescue the pride of the people of Minas Gerais and promote, in a more concrete way, the tourist and cultural actions that enable the strengthening of the Minas Gerais economy”. As can be seen, Minas Gerais, through historical tourism and current cultural consumption, becomes commercialized; product.

Remembering that Minas Gerais is a conceptual formulation, as we have seen, that would lend an idea of ​​the past based on its state of conservation and the sameness of its identity. And Romeu Zema continued his speech, further strengthening the links between Minas Gerais' essentialized, singular past and the possibility of its consumption: “Tourism and culture are part of this new path of development and we have a gigantic potential to make Minas Gerais a state even more singular than it already is.”

What makes Minas Gerais unique, its Minas Gerais nature, would be nothing other than an idea of ​​a preserved past, untouched and capable of being revived, including the possibility of being experienced and not just interpreted. This is, therefore, the presentist phenomenon of the marketing use of the past. It would be no coincidence that, as can be seen on the website Minas Gerais, the new Minas Gerais cuisine would be conceived as follows: “From roots to contemporary times”. The past is seen as merchandise and is then reified.

On site Minas Gerais, tourists can consume Minas Gerais freely. Consumption is individualized. What is preserved is the originality of Minas Gerais. There they can access several possible trails to, according to the website, “adventure and take refuge”. The track called “retro”. When entering the tab we have the title: “Back to the past: five cities in Minas Gerais to go back in time”. The subtitle says: “five scenarios vintage to get to know Minas Gerais.” We are, as you can see, facing the consumption of Minas Gerais. Let's see the semantics tracked by Walderez Ramalho being appropriate. The focus would be “cities that seem to have been frozen in time, which when visiting feels like going back to past centuries”! Let's keep four of them.

First Serra dos Alves: a place that provides “peace”, “comfort” and “takes you away from all the noise and stimuli of everyday life”. It is said that in this city tourists can “be transported to a past”, that without internet and few residents, would provide a “reconnection with oneself”. Catas Altas “seems to have stopped in time”. In Serro, tourists can enjoy “the characteristics of 18th century villages, with all the heritage well preserved”. More: “Visiting Serro is like going back to colonial times”. Tiradentes: “It’s impossible not to talk about returning to the past and conserving heritage without talking about Tiradentes”.

5.

There would be many points to address based on the developments of the project The Year of Minas Gerais: the broader relationship with the neoliberalism of the Minas Gerais government; the commercial impacts on small local productions, such as artisanal ones, and how they interfere in the knowledge plan; the economic-social profiles of tourists; the projects developed that, within the scope of the initiative, encouraged possible forms of critical deviation, among many others.

The intention of this text is more punctual, even due to the page limit: to understand the logics of the past made consumable from a neoliberal horizon. We could initially develop the argument based on a well-known phrase by Walter Benjamin: There has never been a monument of culture that was not also a monument of barbarism. A passage that is intended to provoke reflection after reading and expand my scope of analysis. What would this phrase by Walter Benjamin reveal to us based on the exposed case of neoliberal consumption in Minas Gerais?

From my perspective, we must perceive, as I stated previously, Minas Gerais being transformed into a commodity, therefore, activating fetishism. We would then have a provision that would prevent and make it impossible for subjects, in some way, to “grasp the social structure of determining the value of objects due to a regime of fascination with 'phantasmatic objectivity' (gespenstige Gegenständlichkeit) of what appears – fascination linked to the naturalization of socially determined meanings” (SAFATLE, 2008, p. 181-182).

Thus, the past becoming a commodity, and open to fetishization from a neoliberal register, as in the case of Minas Gerais, would reinforce the presentist situation in which it does not present itself as a force capable of invoking experiences and meanings, of enabling an opening of understanding of what happened, becoming an instrument of alienation of consciousness, in the direction offered by Vladimir Safatle, that is, “(…) in the domain of the false objectivity of appearance and reified relationships. Alienation that would indicate the inability to understand the totality of relationships that structurally determine meaning” (SAFATLE, 2008, p. 182).

Now, what the fetishization of Minas Gerais under presentist horizons hides, on a complementary level, are the most diverse forms of violence that occurred in the past, made natural. It would be the unreflective acceptance of the past of slavery and colonialism, for example. The past also gains an air of unity, losing its dimension of multiplicity, in which we could see different extracts of time in a cohabitation mode. Differences do not dwell within it, but the same, unique and fixed identity – essentialized. We do not see social actors and actresses, and their modes of agency, marginalized, excluded, subalternized.

In this case, they are invisible. Non-Western pasts, hybrid pasts, imbricated pasts, composite pasts are standardized. The past stops communicating with us, being just presence. Presentism is characterized by its ephemerality, which prevents the past from communicating and, thus, providing interpretations, openings of understanding, criticism. Then, establish meanings.

The modern essentialization of Minas Gerais had the ambition of launching itself into the future as a hegemonic political project. It was designed for the masses, modulating itself as a disciplining and controlling discourse. The presentist essentialization of Minas Gerais aims at its immediate consumption. It is atomized, individualized and private. Whoever turns to consuming the past in neoliberal presentism is its own producer, which offers an illusory sensation of freedom, of being able to experience the past, of taking refuge in it, of feeling its presence, but which, ultimately, it is a new form of domination – more sophisticated and subtle. As a product, turned into a commodity, the ability to see its ways of producing meaning is lost, causing those who consume it to launch themselves into self-alienation and the loss of historical consciousness – into absolute oblivion.

Minas Gerais is sold as an authentic product, but those who consume it do not know how it was produced, as I tried to highlight here. This process is carried out by the consumer himself, who is now active and no longer just passive. Just an example to try to make my speech more didactic. I remember afternoons sitting on the stairs of the churches located in Praça Minas Gerais, in the city of Mariana, and tourists having fun taking photos, with the most unusual poses, in the pillory installed there.

Obviously there are also multiple forms of present, other possible ways of establishing the dialectic between space of experience and horizon of expectation. It would not be the case to approach them for now. What interests us is, in any case, the experience of time, made majority through the expansion of late capitalism in a neoliberal, presentist projection.

François Hartog himself points to “presentisms”: “(…) there are presentisms, and not a single presentism: it is not the same for everyone. There are the winners of globalization, the most flexible, connected, mobile individuals, all these valuable terms, which also present themselves as imperatives: you need to be fast, agile, etc. But this only applies to a small portion of the population. At the other end, there are the many losers of presenteeism, those excluded from this world because of their place of residence, their level of studies, their social position and who see themselves, on the contrary, reduced to a presenteeism of survival: one day after another” (HARTOG, 2020, p. 258).

Peter Pál Pelbart's reading of Jerôme Baschet's reflection on presentism seems to us to be an important point of dialogue to intensify Hartog's arguments. This “omnipresent” would, for the authors, also be linked to the dynamics of capitalism, insofar as it articulates the “cult of speed and its repetition”. The present becomes immobilized. Remembering: in this specific way of articulating historicity, which is currently the majority. “Under the appearance of the new, it is the repetition of the same that operates” (PELBART, 2021, p. 117).

In other words, what we are addressing is the link between presentism and neoliberal capitalism. This way of elaborating historicity is, as I tried to demonstrate, largely based on economic dynamics. What we present here is how the past becomes a commodity in this regime of historicity. Fetishized, as in the case of Minas Gerais consumption, it loses the ability to situate it in terms of retrospection and prospection, that is, those very conditions that would make us see pasts that were once present, therefore, open to contingencies.

This is obliterated in the presentist modes of consumption of the past, which ultimately makes non-reified relationships with the past impossible, thus prohibiting modes of openness to critical intervention and the complexity underlying the production of meanings.

*Piero Detoni is a postdoctoral student in history at UFRRJ.

References


HARTOG, François; IEGELSKI, Francine. Time, history and historiography: interview with Francois Hartog. Time, Niterói, vol. 26, no. 1, Jan./Apr., 2020.

HUYSSEN, Andreas. Seduced by memory: architecture, monuments, media. Rio de Janeiro: Aeroplano, 2000.

HUYSSEN, Andreas. Past-present cultures: modernisms, visual arts, politics of memory. Rio de Janeiro: Contraponto, 2014.  

KOSELLECK, Reinhart. Future past. Contribution to the semantics of historical times. Rio de Janeiro: Contraponto, 2006.

PELBART, Peter Pál. Deleuze's Times. Threshold, vol. 8, no. 15, 1st semester, 2021.

RAMALHO, Walderez Simões Costa. A critique of identity essentialism: the historiography of Minas Gerais in the first half of the 20th century. History of Historiography, Ouro Preto, n. 18, August, 2015.

RICOEUR, Paul. Individual and personal identity. In: VEYNE, Paul (et. al). Individual and power. Lisbon: Editions 70, 1988.

SAFATLE, Vladimir. Cynicism and Critical Failure. Sao Paulo: Boitempo, 2008.


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