At one with the momentum

William Turner, Vignette Study of a Ship in a Storm, c.1826–36


Introduction of the author and excerpt from the newly released book

Introductory note

This book is just a block. There are still two more blocks. So there are three blocks. What unites them is their quest to think about the relationship between aesthetic experience and social emancipation. I wanted the tendency to count backwards, acquired from childhood, that the author of this book was driven to try to start from the beginning. The parts of the whole were thus divided chronologically. Here, it is a question of a process of constitution of aesthetic autonomy that goes from what would be its beginning (or one of them) until the XNUMXth century.

A book about romanticism, then. On romanticism and its desire for the sublime and expression freed from the shackles of convention. But as the author recognizes that he was never able to follow to the end the rules that he himself invented, there are several moments in which the discussions concerned advance the temporal limits and reach what is called, for some obscure reason, “today”. .

The second part will be about modernism, or rather, about the modernist capacity to build spaces, to build peoples, with all the mixture of redemption and violence that this can mean. There will be two privileged cases to be analyzed, two countries that, for different reasons, used modernism to carry out the project of aesthetic construction of a people: Brazil and the Soviet Union of the first years of its Revolution. The meaning of this association, of this opposition, will be defended in the next section.

The third block will be about aesthetic production in a kind of “extended contemporaneity” (because, after all, one does not live totally in the present, or rather, because the “present” is a kind of ineffective illusion) and about some of its strategies production of emancipation models. The author cannot help believing that such models are there where not everyone believes them to be. Because trying to colonize even the forms of our emancipation is an old strategy for preserving the material processes of life reproduction, in this case, a mutilated life.

Steam in a snowstorm, William Turner, 1842.

It is said of William Turner that, faced with a storm at sea, he would have asked to be tied to the mast of the boat in order to paint the imbalance of its interior. The boat, by all indications, was called Ariel. A century later, Ariel was back, but this time as the title of a poem by Sylvia Plath. In it, one reads at the end: “And now I / Wheat foam, a shimmer of seas / The child's cry / Runs down the wall / And I / I am the arrow / Dew that flies / Suicidal, at one with the impulse / Inside the eye / Red, the cauldron of the morning”.

It would be possible to say a lot about this point of collapse in which the shimmering of seas meets the cry that runs down the walls. But perhaps it was time to stop, at least for a moment. To stop before that arrow, suicidal for wanting to be at one with the impulse. At one with the momentum. This, well, as everyone knows, this was a whole aesthetic program.


give the shadow

“The poem asserts itself on the edge of itself” (Paul Celan).

This book prefers to end with a jump, which is not unusual considering the content it deals with. It is a leap towards the poem. More specifically, to a contemporary figure of the poem that holds and puts into operation much of the horizon of questions that unfolded in this reflection on the aesthetic experience as a model of social emancipation. Even more specifically, a leap towards the poetics of Paul Celan. In a way, the book ends with an outline of a production horizon that goes beyond the limit that ended up being imposed on this volume, namely, the XNUMXth century.

As announced in the introductory note, this is only the first block of a book composed of two more blocks. The other two should deal with modernism and contemporary production. But this consented dismemberment also calls for leaps forward and backward. Because it is a question of insisting on operating with dynamics of continuity and discontinuity within artistic production. In this case, the leap forward is an inquiry into the possibilities of the poem. An inquiry through Paul Celan.


on threshold

From threshold to threshold is the title of one of Paul Celan's books. A title that expresses awareness of the social place that poetry could occupy from then on (it was 1955). Walking from threshold to threshold, going towards the threshold, because there is nowhere else that language could really dwell but the edge. There are several poems in which the awareness of this movement between thresholds emerges. One of them is “You can also speak”:

“It speaks –\ But it does not separate the no from the yes. It also gives meaning to his saying: give it shade.\ Give it enough shade, give it so much,\ how much you know how to spread it around you between noon and midnight and noon.\ Look around turn:\ see, how it comes to life around In death! Alive!\ Whoever speaks shadows speaks the truth”.

Meaning only emerges on this threshold that does not separate the no from the yes, which belies the transparency of language, like a shadow. In another poem, Celan will say: “Talking with dead ends / about the opposite / about their / expatriate / meaning”. If you have to talk with dead ends, talk about what is in opposition (in “across from” is heard the “against” which indicates what is against), it is because there is a meaning, there is a word without a homeland, without a flag, which becomes possible only when the exits are exhausted.

For there is a sense that it is the shadow that makes midday and midnight fall, which is in both hours, which brings to the point of exhaustion the divisions that guide us in the organization of time, between day and night. , between life and death. That is, far from appearing as a foundation that would allow us to operate divisions, the meaning is more like an abyss from which we often bring poems without verse, words without connectors, words still in a raw state of condensation.

This shadow is the form of enunciation of the truth (which implies an acceptance of the relationship between poetry and truth), an enunciation of which the poem does not despair, but walks to the threshold to enunciate it. An enunciation that, in order to sustain itself, needs to preserve only rhythm and repetition, and nothing else. That rhythm of slow evocation and dry prayer that will always mark Celan's poetry, so evident when we hear his own speech, his own way of reciting. This rhythm of insistent repetition, as if it were necessary to continue, even without clarity, as if trusting the pulsation of the word that is closest to breathing.

It is no coincidence that the title of another of Celan's books will be Atemwende, which can be translated by breathing change. As if it were a matter of looking for that point at which the enunciation of the poem requires and produces a change in breath that is nothing other than the possibility of finally hearing the breath that sustains the speech, its rhythm, its non-stopping in any way, even if at the expense of transforming breathlessness into renewed breathing.


From refusal of integration to redeemed inhumanity

This literary experience with its unstoppable confrontation with thresholds was immediately associated with the catastrophe of the Holocaust, to which Celan gave his most brutal poetic form in “Escape from death”.. Catastrophe that marked his life, he who had his parents killed in extermination camps, while he was sent to a forced labor camp. And it would not be the case to deny the awareness, in his poems, of the violence of destruction that permeates every second of life. It couldn't be any different for someone who enters the world of poetry stating: "Death is the teacher of Germany".

But the catastrophe would not be complete without the systematic social effort for its oblivion. Taking this into account, it is more correct to say that Celan's poetry bears the marks not only of the Holocaust, but also of the vigorous rejection of the promises of "integration", "partnership", "cooperation" that cradled the reconstruction of Germany. and its post-war “miracle” produced by the so-called social market economy. Economy that bore the marks of continuity between murder, erasure and integration. Economy that was the continuation of oblivion by other means.

These poems were mostly written between the 1950s and 1960s. The German miracle, with its songs of growth and reconciliation, is their backdrop. For the forces that had been brought into full mobilization in the war are called upon again, but now to rebuild the country, to erase the ruins, just as Maria Braun's wedding, by Rainer Werner Fassbinder, in which, from a certain point onwards, the sound of jackhammers and grinding machines can be heard from all sides. The last chapter of violence is now written to the sound of a jackhammer and emery board.

The social horizon of these poems is total mobilization, total war, total reconstruction. In all cases, the same totality without rest and waste, without shadow and meaning. The same totality that, for an early reader of the anarchists Kropotkin and Landauer, amounted to the perpetuation of death. For this totality is not only the horizon of fascism, it is also the name of our real catastrophe. A catastrophe that is among us, that inhabits our language as its allegedly crystalline “communication”, without remains and shadows, as our historical and anthropological figure of “man” with his “development” and the functional use of his strengths and powers. It is against this that we must say, as in lint-sols [Fadensonnen]:

“Over the grayblack wasteland
A tall tree thought clings to light and sound: there are still songs and singing beyond men.”

The thought that finds the certainty that, beyond men, beyond the current humanity of man, there is music and singing is a thought that emerges on the vacant lot, on those spaces that refuse to inhabit all, because they bear the marks of where everything is abandoned. Spaces in which nothing is built, which remain vacant, unoccupied between one construction and another. It is from them that come, however, the colors that are confused [gordoschwarzen], it is by placing yourself in these places that you can hear light and see sound, as if here there were no longer any possible distinction between waves of all kinds (transverse, longitudinal).

Spaces in which syntactic positions have become disorganized, allowing a noun to be coupled with an adjective to adjectivate a second noun [baumhoher Gedanke]. Mainly, a space in which things can show themselves in their continuous evolution (“It is time for the stone to take comfort in blooming/ for a heart to beat in the restlessness/ It is time for time to come into being/ It is time”). It is time for the stone to become flourishing, to become what is not even possible in itself. A language that speaks of these passages is the only one capable of pushing their thresholds.

From now on, it will only be from these spaces that poetry will come, it will be from these spaces that the search for songs that were not made to be sung by those who carry the current human figure will come. Therefore, this poetry must have a singular redeemed inhumanity. They are inhuman songs, it is true, but with a redeemed inhumanity. They speak of what “man” insists on ignoring and forgetting. For she sings, as in the poem “Where there is ice”:

Where there is ice, there is coldness for two.
"For two: so I let you approach.\ A halo like fire was around you\ You come from the rose."

There is no reason to try to save the human, to preserve its sheltered places. On the contrary, we must obstinately seek the inhumanity of places where there is ice, so that it can be transfigured into a “coldness for two”, which is not, as we might expect, a distance that is shared between two, but a possible encounter. in which a real rapprochement finally breaks out. In Celan's universe, you walk upside down. For: "he who walks upside down has the sky as an abyss". In Celan, as in Mallarmé, the poet to whom he owes so much and which he translated, heaven is not only the place where the stars shine, but also where the firmament merges with the sea, with its bottom of invisible currents, of paths never totally clear.


From refusal of integration to redeemed inhumanity

As can be seen, it would not be correct to see in this poetry the infinite declension of an elegy, of the moral elevation of the irreconcilable, as has been said several times. Whoever declines the ontology of inadequacy in the face of these words wrenched from silence by forceps leaves his creative power. For that would be going against Celan's own words, for whom poetry carried an obscurity that was, in fact, the only possible condition for “an encounter, from a distance or strangeness”.

In an exchange of signs, obscurity is a condition of an encounter that only occurs when “all tropes and metaphors want to be taken ad absurdum”. And, in fact, all of his poetry is traversed by processes in which lovers dig into each other until they find a ring that is born on their fingers, rings that are the fingers themselves (“You dig and I dig, and I dig towards you/ And the ring awakens us from the finger”). Processes in which names that fail end up touching what is named in a last grimace, at the moment when everything seems to be exhausted (“In the blue/ she says a promising shadow, word tree/ and the name of your love/ adds its syllables”). Return here the shadow that allows the name of your love to add its syllables.

This allows us to better understand this description that Celan provides of poetics: “But at the same time they are also, in so many other ways, ways in which language becomes sonorous, they are encounters, encounters of a voice with a perceptible You, paths of creatures , sketches of existence perhaps, an anticipation for oneself, in search of oneself [...]. A kind of homecoming”.[I]

The poetics of a language that, by becoming sound and significant power, does not fall into mere “formalism” (as some insist on making us believe), but rather expresses the experience of an encounter that seems to tell us something about a “kind of return” the House".

As Alain Badiou well noticed, perhaps no poem has made this as clear as “Anabasis”, the title of a play by Xenophon about a troop of mercenary Greeks hired to fight in Persia who, after losing their general, seek to return home:

Up and back in the bright futureheart impassable-true written narrow between walls
Syllables moles, cormar, far in the unnavigated
Trellises of buoys-sadness, with the
bouncing beautiful for seconds respiratory reflexes: Luminous sounds of bells (dum, dum, un, unde sspirat cor), provoked, revoked, ours.
visible, audible,
Tendword that Breaks Free:

The poem, which, in the end, enunciates what is said with that impossible word, “together”, can only begin with a writing that will seek the narrow space between walls, which will become sonorous (since the poem will describe, in onomatopoeia, the sounds of bells, he will remember the end of a Mozart motet, Exsultate, jubilate, it will become music), which will assume the conjunction between “true” and “impassable”. Because he looks for what is always thrown out of history, what is impassable. Only then can the joining that liberates, that liberates the future, take place. For let us remember the beginning of this poem so beautifully analyzed by Derrida and whose title is, symptomatically, “In one”:

“February thirteenth. In the heart's mouth\ Awaken the Schibboleth.\ With you, Peuple de Paris.\ Not pass".

February 1962, 1930 was the day of massive demonstrations in Paris as a result of the murder of eight demonstrators, days before, by the police of Maurice Papon. Five hundred thousand people went to mourn the dead protesting against the Algerian War and the French colonial state. Celan begins with a date to end the stanza in another time, in another language, namely, that cry of the Spanish republicans and anarchists of the XNUMXs against Franco's fascism.

Among them, the Hebrew word that defines the passage and sharing of enemies and that “people de Paris” that echoes the Commune of 1871. Overlap languages, overlapping times, overlapping struggles in a Benjaminian contraction of history that reminds us that the only possible origin is the destiny that is created through the explosion of time, space and of languages ​​in one continuous passage. So begins this poem that tells us what it's like to be "in one". Because the poetry that insists on the shadows that bring meanings is the same that knows that real encounters are the projection, outside the representable, of a destiny in which the dates echo the never forgotten attempts of what did not yet exist.



As mentioned at the outset, most contemporary books on aesthetics prefer to fall into two groups. In one, we have books that believe it is possible to talk about art without delving into the analysis of works of art. In the other group, we have structural analyzes of works, but arranged in a field of such self-sufficiency that the works seem to be able to be the object of ontological reflections, far from any consideration of social contexts.

In fact, this question of method led the author of this book to try to establish a certain bipolar writing. It started from the understanding that the aesthetic form is a privileged sector of the history of reason. For this reason, this book starts from the assumption that the musical form is produced from decisions on the protocols of identity and difference between elements (consonance and dissonance), on the problems of sharing between what is rational and what is irrational ( sound and noise), about what is necessary and what is contingent (development and event).

It is also produced from decisions on the relationship between reason and nature (music as a mimesis of natural laws or as an autonomous plane of what is affirmed against any illusion of naturalness) and on the regimes of intuition in space and time. It is this range of devices that allows us to state that musical form is born from a decision about the valid criteria of rationality. It gives us something like an image of thought. Therefore, Schönberg might say: “a mind well trained in musical logic can function logically under any circumstances”.[ii]

Such considerations are not only valid for music, but also for any and all aesthetic forms. Establishing constructive protocols of organization, unity, relationship and synthesis, the work of art provides an image with a strong critical content in relation to the order that prevails in social life, as well as in relation to the way of thinking about space, identity, the time.

When the work of art criticizes the naturalized notion of harmony, when it makes room for a multiplicity of voices in conflict and without hierarchy, when it lets in what hitherto appeared irrational and barbaric, it necessarily does more than simply change the patterns of aesthetic fruition. It modifies social sensitivity to processes that can have strong political consequences.

But, for such production to be effectively understood in its immanent potential, it is necessary to explain the field of works that induces it. Therefore, this book is crossed by the bipolarity of those who see themselves between reflection on the creation process internal to the works and the aesthetic-political configuration of its horizon. The next two volumes will follow this trend.

However, one might wonder: Why was it the case, in this block, to tell the “same story” once again, with the same characters, this story of the development of autonomous form within the hegemonic musical tradition? The question is relevant, and it would then be the case to say that the same characters are not the same characters.

For perhaps this story, in fact, has never been told. What was told was the story of the constitution of our forms of self-legislation, of the alleged strength of our rising autonomy. What was told was how we supposedly would have become modern. But that wasn't what was happening. What happened was the emergence of a social praxis, namely, a certain aesthetic experience, which preserved demands for emancipation that social life was not able to fulfill, or was able to realize only in moments of revolutionary insurrection.

Moments that, even brief, never fade. Works of art, despite the intention and political horizon of their authors, are a system of scars of promises not yet fulfilled. They keep the promises that social life tries to make us forget or believe that we cannot feel and think about them.

But, even so, perhaps one would like to continue the questioning, remembering that, in any case, what one sees are the same classical references and their paradigmatic positions within a certain tradition that has risen to something that, confusingly, is called “our culture". Faced with this, it would then be a case of continuing to insist and remembering that there are several ways of decomposing worlds, and one of them, perhaps one of the most necessary, is to show that the story we have always been told in fact never existed that way, that it hid another story. A way of showing how our family figures keep what is most strange and destabilizing about us.

Again, one could raise a “but” and insist that this story could have been told from other horizons, with other characters. In which perhaps the best answer would be that yes, it could be done. Told from multiple perspectives, in a kind of combat perspectivism. But this does not eliminate the fact of the subversion of established categories, the erosion of such categories by an internal reversal is one of the most necessary movements of critical thinking.

Everyone fights with the weapons they have. Several simultaneous stories do not oblige us to deny that they all have real content. It's just a matter of changing levels, and the incompatibilities disappear.

Even after all that, one could, finally, flex the questioning in a more personal tone in order to ask why, in this case, I particularly wanted this story. Why this one in particular? In that case, I would only be obliged to use the first person singular and say that I needed to settle accounts with what has made me collapse since I began to exist.

*Vladimir Safari He is a professor of philosophy at USP. Author, among other books, of Ways of transforming worlds: Lacan, politics and emancipation (Authentic).


Vladimir Safatle. At one with the momentum. Belo Horizonte, Autêntica, 2022, 240 pages.

The launch in São Paulo will take place on December 07th at Sesc Pinheiros, at 20 pm, with the participation of Arrigo Barnabé and José Miguel Wisnick.


[I] CELAN. The meridian. In: Crystal, P. 179.

[ii] SCHÖENBERG. Style and Idea, P. 86.

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