On the art of not seeing bodies in public space

Image: Cátia Matos


Final considerations on the discussion with Vladimir Safatle

I conclude my contribution to the discussion about the fire episode at the Borba Gato statue, in São Paulo, which led to a controversy with Vladimir Safatle – fought on the website the earth is round –, responding to a fundamental question in his rejoinder: the problem of violence in the public space.[1]

I resume my argument. I based myself on Hannah Arendt, on her critique of violence and on her discussions about public space, to argue that there is a real danger that the forms of violence for the destruction of the old contaminate the new. I also mobilized, for my argument, Judith Butler and her idea of ​​bodies in public space, addressed in her book Allied bodies and political struggle (Buenos Aires, Paidós, 2015). My argument is that the forms of action of social movements and political actors in the public space should privilege the construction of new forms of the political and that there is a negative relationship between the exercise of violence and the political forms that are formed after its use.

I also established a positive dynamic between the idea of ​​public space in Arendt and in Butler, through the occupation of public space. Butler states “For Arendt, political action takes place because the body is present. I appear in front of others and they appear in front of me, which means that some space allows our appearance”. There is no politics without bodies and what Butler adds to Arendt is the expansion of the plurality of bodies that will allow the reappropriation and “reconfiguration of material spaces” (see chapter 2 bodies in alliance and street politics).

In this vein, I used some interpretations of Walter Benjamin's text on violence that Safatle considered light social democrat. There are, in fact, other interpretations that the Sorelian from USP might like better. It is worth remembering that Carl Schmitt himself sent a letter praising the text, perhaps because it had the same interpretation as Safatle (see Jaques Derrida. the force of law, P. 71). We know where this path leads.

I contrasted Safatle's analysis with the repeated demonstrations held in Chile around the statue of General Baquerano during 2019. Using the statue's occupations and the placement of the Mapuche flag on its top, I identified the policy with the institution form of relationship between re-signification of public space and law. I connected these demonstrations with the election of a Mapuche indigenous woman to the presidency of the Constituent Assembly in Chile, which was linked to this resignification movement. Not without a certain amount of jubilation, Safatle answered me showing that the statue of General Baquerano was set on fire on March 05th of this year, a fact that I was unaware of, and that, according to him, was decisive for its removal by the Chilean government. In other words, the almost two years after the first acts of occupation of the statue, the flags and bodies that re-signified it were of no use.

There is only one problem with Safatle's argument: even though the statue was set on fire, it is difficult to establish any logical connection between that fact and the election of the indigenous woman to the presidency of the Constituent Assembly. Or maybe what's new for Safatle is just the monument without a statue and that satisfies him. It is not clear in Safatle's argument what new political relationship can be instituted with this argument. In fact, it seems that he abandoned this argument in his first article without being able to explain to the reader how collective action, bodies in the public space and the institution of a new right are connected.

I end my participation in this controversy by placing the two photos below for the reader, the one of the statue with the bodies that occupied it in a public square and placed the Mapuche flag on top of it and the one of the statue on fire. I ask the reader to decide where politics is: whether it is in the bodies that protest and use symbols that point to the future, or in the understanding that fire is the continuation of politics by other means.

*Leonardo Avritzer He is a professor at the Department of Political Science at UFMG. Author, among other books, of Impasses of democracy in Brazil (Brazilian Civilization).


[1] Here is the list of articles, in chronological order:

Vladimir Safatle, “The Liberation of the Past”: https://aterraeredonda.com.br/a-liberacao-do-passado/]

Leonardo Avritzer, “Bastille and Borba Gato”: https://aterraeredonda.com.br/bastilha-e-borba-gato/

Vladimir Safatle, “Please make a disclaimer next time”: https://aterraeredonda.com.br/por-favor-da-proxima-vez-facam-uma-nota-de-repudio/

Leonardo Avritzer, “Between the fire on the statue and drop a note: the resignification of public space”: https://aterraeredonda.com.br/entre-o-fogo-na-estatua-e-soltar-uma-nota-a-ressignificacao-do-espaco-publico/

Vladimir Safatle, “On the art of not seeing the fire”. https://aterraeredonda.com.br/da-arte-de-nao-enxergar-o-fogo/?doing_wp_cron=1628180853.4686450958251953125000





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