Giving body to the impossible – II

Elyeser Szturm, from the Heavens series


Commentary on the book by Vladimir Safatle

With which speech to enunciate what is not yet possible? With which thought to reflect on social, political and aesthetic emergencies? To face such questions, Vladimir Safatle opts for a unique reactivation of the dialectic, proposing an original interpretation of the philosophical tradition of Hegel, Marx and, mainly, Theodor Adorno. Written in Brazil today – one of the leading laboratories of contemporary conservative neoliberalism –, Give body to the impossible bets on a “dialectic of emergence” capable of apprehending the conditions of rupture with the existing order, of outbreak “of what could be different, and which has not yet begun” (p. 34).

Evidently, an epistemological redefinition of the dialectic – to which the first part of the book is devoted – proves to be indispensable. According to Safatle, recovering the notion of negativity becomes a central element to overcome the perspective – which the author attributes to the second generation of the Frankfurt School – that transforms the consensus of the Social-Liberal State (p. 24), as well as the pretensions to found an emancipatory praxis based on the “essentialized” identities of oppressed subjects (p. 38), in the definitive horizon of politics.

Neither simple “contrariety”, nor “material incompatibility”, negativity must be understood as a fundamental non-identity that undermines the field of meanings from which it emerged. To conceive emergence in its radicality, a thought of difference is therefore not enough. The different – ​​in political, aesthetic or even anthropological terms – must be experienced as a non-identity in order to appear as the embodiment of an impossibility in the face of the capitalist present. Therefore, if Adorno's negative dialectic can offer a reflection on the emergence of revolutionary subjects, it is because it operates a “displacement” (p. 84), more than an “amputation” (p. 81-82), of the moment of Hegelian idealism.

Liberation processes must be understood not as the conceptual absorption of heterogeneity, but as a transformation of aesthetic faculties, capable of organizing the multiple in the emancipatory experience, assuming the irreducible somatic dimension of the event. According to Safatle, Adorno resumes the Hegelian-Marxist tradition in its most radical gesture: that of situating emergence in the immanent self-denial of determinations, which take place – which reach their telos – not in the integration to a metastable generic structure (p. 88), but in the collapse of “the initially posited identities” (p. 60).

In a second moment, Safatle reconstructs the dialogue between Adorno's dialectic and other traditions with which it shares a diagnosis of the dominant technical rationality. If in German phenomenology – especially in Heidegger – there is a “recovery of such an experience of social impotence in an authoritarian key” (p. 150) due to the hypostasis of non-identity in an ontological difference between the actuality of the subject and the opening of the event ( p. 162), it is in Freudian metapsychology that the dialectic rehabilitated by Safatle can find an ally to think about “a desire for non-identity” (p. 184) immanent to the processes of subjectivation.

A dialectical interrogation of instinctual life should make it not so much a passage to the “archaic” or “pre-individual” instance that escapes all rationalization (p. 201-202), but an affective latency of rationality, a “constant dynamic of indetermination ” of conscious representations (p.199). In this sense, in Safatle, materialism and psychoanalysis converge around a policy of the symptom (pp. 187-188), that is, a praxis of activating a creative relationship with affection that in-determines the norm of socialization capitalist.

Finally, in a third and decisive moment of his book, Safatle intervenes in current debates on the geocorporality of thought, analyzing, from the Brazilian context, the conditions of a peripheral dialectic capable of reflecting its situational roots. It will not be a question of resorting to an anti-modern singularity that would be subtracted from Western reason, but of rooting itself in the symptomatology of a subjectivity traversed by the devastating contradictions of coloniality (p. 256), of feeling, at the core of critical reflection that “pulsates in the core of the dialectic a negative energy of the subordinate classes” (p. 260).

Through this, Safatle arrives at a reading of Guimarães Rosa, identifying in his narrative a dialectical remembrance of subaltern power, which is not defined as “nostalgia for irrationalism” (p. 278), but as the activation of a latency of decentering the narrative colonial and capitalist Brazil. Within this poetics of backwoods, according to Safatle, there is a field of spectrality that invokes the original ghost of Brazilian progress (p. 281), which is not the mystifying return of a lost origin – nor the “tropicalist” triumphalism of underdevelopment (p. 253). – but multiple “abyss of virtuality” (p. 284), repressed by colonial modernization. Through such an aesthetic strategy, subalternity is discovered as a process of categorical transformation, as the untimely emergence of a language that tilts existing grammars (p.290) to make the multiplicity of excluded voices resound that come to haunt the stages of Brazilian development.

Safatle's work announces an unexpected survival of dialectical thought, not as a reiteration of its reconciling function, but as a return to a peripheral enunciation that collapses the relationship between subaltern experiences and the norms that supposedly govern them. This decentered dialectic is not intended to offer a telos definitive for the emancipatory praxis, but to become a body in its transforming latency, to reinvent itself conceptually in the living of its struggles. In this unusual alliance with subalternity, the dialectic regains its power to create meaning from the traumas of our time. She announces her return, but radically subverted, incarnated in a foreign somatic “embodied in other bodies” (p. 48).

* Manuel Tangorra is a professor at the Université Catholique de Louvain (Belgium).

Translation: Daniel Pavan.



Vladimir Safatle. Giving body to the impossible: the meaning of dialectics from Theodor Adorno. Belo Horizonte, Authentic, 2019.


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