Essays and lectures by Gerd Bornheim

Image: Robert Rauschenberg


Presentation by the organizers of the posthumous book by the philosopher and art critic

This book is a compilation of essays and lectures that comprises the last phase of Gerd Bornheim's production. It is a significant sampling of texts, mostly from the years 1998 to 2002, which weave fundamental questions of philosophy of art, aesthetics and related areas. Such texts were organized and assembled by members of the research group Crítica e Experiência Estética, which has been working at the Arts Center of the Federal University of Espírito Santo (UFES) since 2015 and has been carrying out documentary organization work on the life and work of Gerd Bornheim.

The motivating idea of ​​the book was to expand the debates on the reinterpretation of our cultural, philosophical and artistic heritages, bringing together texts for the study of the notions of “criticism” and “aesthetic experience”, which in Bornheim's work are taken in a dialectical perspective. This aspect is outlined in his essays and positions since the book Dialectics theory and praxis (1983a [1977]) and his thoughtful forays into the works of Hegel and Marx. The itinerary gains a very special emphasis with the author's entry into the interpretations of the theatrical scene, which was for him one of the most fertile spaces for sociopolitical reflections and actions. It is worth noting that it has been more than four decades in dialogue with current cultural and theatrical practices (taken here in a broad sense of connection between artistic-cultural expressions and practices).

Gerd Alberto Bornheim was born in Serra Gaúcha, in the city of Caxias do Sul, on November 19, 1929. This exponential Brazilian thinker stood out for his studies on modern and contemporary philosophy and for the density and clarity of his critical analysis, expressed in essays , courses, interviews and conferences. Notable for his cultural questionings about the Brazilian reality, he was immersed in the plurality of the topics addressed. Still young, he studied in Europe, which was one of the determining factors for his intellectual elaborations.

He followed with interest all the novelties that appeared in the artistic and cultural scene and it was in this way that he began to develop his own critical spirit, through deep analysis of theses and philosophical conceptions that he admired and analyzed to exhaustion in its multiple concepts and points of view. Since then he has become a traveler interested in all the intricacies of cultural spheres. He transited through Brazilian and foreign cities (such as Porto Alegre, Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo, London, Frankfurt and Paris). In Paris he attended courses given by Gaston Bachelard, Jean Hyppolite, Jean Wahl and Merleau-Ponty, among others. And on this trajectory of travel he discovers himself a writer.

In Brazil, in 1969, with the intensification of his teaching and opinion-forming activities, he was impeached by the civil-military dictatorship. At that time, he was professor of philosophy at the Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul (UFRGS). Accused of being subversive for expressing his positions critical of the government, he was barred from teaching at universities. At the same time, he published the result of his Habilitation thesis, Introduction to philosophizing: philosophical thinking in existential bases (1969). In the immersion of this path flâneur, Gerd Bornheim travels towards the discovery of his own personality.

And describing the vicissitudes that plagued him at the university, he reflects: “The worst thing is to purge yourself, or be forced to do so, from intellectual life. So far I have not been driven to such an extreme, as I continue to work a lot, at home. However, my situation is such that I can hardly keep up in this way for more than a month. I hope that by March something positive will emerge, which will not force me to abandon my work” (BORNHEIM, 1970).

The years of exile in Europe marked the emergence of his bibliographic production, not only based on philosophical themes, but also with attention to literature, artistic languages, and in a unique way to Brecht and the theater. In this vein, he dedicated his life to teaching and producing work that permeates philosophy, the arts and politics. She passed away on September 5, 2002 in Rio de Janeiro, the place chosen – with an emerging feeling – as her home for the last decades of her life.

There he wrote numerous essays, was a university professor initially at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ) and later at the State University of Rio de Janeiro (Uerj) until the end of his career. The city of Rio de Janeiro was also a resting place for his academic activities and the numerous trips he made to conferences and lectures in Brazil and abroad. In these lectures, which he delivered with an impeccable and seductive oratory, his deep, melodious and consistent voice demonstrated the pleasure and desire to dialogue with large audiences. He left us a legacy of thought propositions, which contribute to a better understanding of aesthetic-political-cultural themes. Some of these valuable incursions can be accessed in this edition.

A few more words about the selection of texts in this collection. We opted for a layout that would reveal the overlapping of each of these writings, without explicitly indicating subdivisions of chapters by specific themes. However, the reader will perceive at least six perspectives of the author's interpretations: (1) the problematization of artistic criticism; (2) the theatrical aesthetics between the scene and the text; (3) literary instantiations that spring from political concerns with the progress of democracy and culture; (4) the aesthetic experience and the learning of the look in the writings about visual arts; (5) music as an aesthetic paradigm; 6) the problem of communication and the new landscapes of contemporary arts.


Artistic criticism and the aesthetic experience between the scene and the text

The first two texts, “The dimensions of criticism” (essay on criticism published in 2000) and “The question of criticism” (transcription of a 2001 conference, published in 2002) are examples of a dialectical apprehension of issues in the philosophy of art. Both the essays and the orality that mark these two chapters reveal an aesthetic perception that spreads through the following chapters. Gerd Bornheim, in a vivacious resumption of Brecht and Marx, dialogues with his friend Ruggero Jacobbi to think about the exercise of criticism. He considers important the essayistic side of interpretation of the (con)text or production of the work (the play, the painting, the film) and the consequent concern with the unfolding of events, shows or artistic happenings in general. The requirement is to follow the progress of the work through a stimulating dialogue. This exercise of thinking about criticism can also be seen in other publications by the author, such as “Genesis and metamorphosis of criticism” and “Da criticism”, in Art philosophy pages (1998), and “Necessary Criticism”, in philosophy topics (2015)

According to him, in the essay that opens this volume: “The fundamental presupposition of criticism lies in a certain way at the heart of Western culture itself: it is nothing less than the invention of the critical spirit inherent in our world, as a result of the emergence of philosophy and the scientific spirit in general – that of rationally scrutinizing real processes and human commitments. In the particular case that will concern us, we want to know what kind of need presided over the very surge of art criticism: where did it come from, what did it come from – and that to the point of establishing itself as a kind of literary genre to postulate the requirements of an entire department of our libraries” (BORNHEIM, 2000b, p. 34).

One then perceives the performative gesture that reveals at the same time the theatrical and the literary, both constituent elements of the plan of his writing. We dare to see in these texts the interweaving of a game similar to the preliminary work that goes through the staging of theatrical shows and that, by the very nature of synthesis of artistic practices, brings examples of plastic arts, music, literature, cinema, etc. It is through his natural way of philosophizing that he invites us, in this space of expression, to experience the importance of language in the course of changes occurring in the field of arts, as well as the existing crises in the context of aesthetic reflection in the contemporary world.

If in the first two chapters the author starts to think about criticism, in the two chapters that follow, “Brechtian aesthetics between the scene and the text” and “Brecht and the four aesthetics”, what is present is a whole dialectical application of this mode of interpretation. Brecht, working on the threshold between text and scene, between theory and practice, experiences and problematizes in his work and in his discussions with work teams, at least four aesthetic tendencies: imitation, subject, object and language. For Gerd Bornheim (2007, p. 59), Brecht was a “theatre problematizer, not a theorist – Brecht was not a theorist. On an essentially practical level, he was problematizing”. Thus, one of Brechtian problematizations is based on separation and distancing, signs of his vigorous performance in theater, poetry and the arts in general.

For Bornheim (2001b, p. 30), Brecht's separation is an action “fundamental to reinstall man in reality, alienated as he was by the Italian stage, passive, sitting in the dark, disconnected from the world”. He exemplifies the fact by saying: “I go into a cinema and see a drama or a comedy, the film ends, I laugh a lot, I cry a lot, I leave the cinema and say: “So, tomorrow I have to work”. I mean, I'm back to reality. Art served to distance me from reality. Brecht wants a kind of pleasurable, elegant, almost liturgical art that immerses man, returns man to a reality that he forgets not only when he's at the movies, but when he works, when he's walking down the street. That's all” (BORNHEIM, 2001b, p. 30).

In the wake of this “walking with the commented work of art”, typical of Gerd Bornheim’s interpretations, the reader will find, in this edition, two texts that spread out in dialogue with the previous chapters: “The conception of time – the foreshadowings” and “ Beckett and the Meanings of the Gerund”, both transcribed from the author's original typescripts. Different conceptions of the intuitions of time and space appear on the scene.

In the first text, for example, the author recalls Mircea Eliade, who perceives these notions from the profane and the sacred: “There would be the level of a profane time and space, in which the usual life of individuals in a given society would develop. , and at this level another dimension of space and time would be opposed, now linked to all the things that encode the sacred world [...]”.

This is how the author paints a whole history that goes back to the ancient Greeks and interprets the impact of these achievements on current events. On the other hand, in “Beckett and the meanings of the gerund” and also in “The meaning of tragedy” he has in mind a reality contrasted by these intuitions. For him, according to the first text, “time and space are notions that move in the course of Beckettian dramaturgy in an especially incisive way. In Waiting for Godot, the inaugural piece, there is a particularly privileged moment when you see the two beggar-clowns installed on a curb. One of them takes off his old, holey shoe and starts to shake it, as if there was something in it to prevent, perhaps, future walks. Your partner observes this strange bustle, and asks puzzled: "do you think we have a meaning?" The shoemaker stops, responds to the look, takes a short break and gives a resounding laugh. It is also curious that the same question appears in yet another piece by the author. And the situation, it should be noted, has everything to do with those notions of time and space”.

According to him, Beckett throws us into another perception of things: “the big problem is exactly there: space and time lose their meaning or become fragmented or become a highly problematic reality” (BORNHEIM, 2002c, p. 28). O corpus beckettiano is, therefore, a disruptive and radical experience with language, which for Bornheim is an open field of experimentation. The interesting thing is that the texts present in this volume are connected.

In “The Sense of Tragedy”, Bornheim talks about a possible theatrical dialogue that could have existed between Brecht and Beckett, two experiences that changed the way of looking at contemporary theater. In the same text there are comments on the times of the Homeric epic and the interactions of the Greek tragedy that are directly linked to the essay “The conception of time – the foreshadowings”, but also to the experience of writing and the scene that is configured in the Brazilian dramaturgy. Nelson Rodriguez. The profane and the sacred, guilt, sin and utopia are associated by the philosopher with Nelson's language game in the preface to the book The lie, organized by Caco Coelho (result of research Nelson Rodrigues' chest).

The essay on Nelson Rodrigues, which shows the nuances of a contemporary Brazilian tragedy,[I] was the last text written by Gerd Bornheim before his death in 2002. In this edition, the essay bundles, together with “About the story of a life: the book” and “Democracy and culture”, Bornheim's concerns with reality social and political current times. These dimensions are joined by a literary perception that makes them resistant: “the descendants of Machado de Assis”, as Bornheim (2000a, p. 44) said about the book.


Literary instances and political and cultural concerns

The essay “Democracy and culture” is a landmark of this compilation, as it shows that the links between criticism, aesthetic experiences and interpretations of the philosophy of art are based on a fundamental political verve. And it is not by chance that it is placed here, because, as Guimarães Rosa said, the real appears in the middle of the journey. With the ideas of democracy, culture and citizenship, to which the previous essays are directly linked, all the actuality of the scene begins to be placed.

According to Gerd Bornheim (2001d, p. 24): “There are two, I repeat, the new characters who reinvent everything: the individual and the collective element”. And, to give an example of this, he speaks of the adventures of Schiller’s dramaturgy: “In a first play, The bad guys, the poet presents a group of young men, heirs of Rousseau, who rebel against the order of the established city, and try to organize themselves, unsuccessfully, outside of it – the company’s failure does not matter: it is about the invention of a new race that still today populates our streets, the hippies of all species. In another text by the same poet, fiesko, we witness the struggle of self-extermination of tradition: there are two dukes who annihilate each other in the pursuit of power; in between, the audience manages to hear the people's enraged cries of protest, but without seeing them: the people are just beginning to be born, situated still behind the scenes of the scene. Schiller was even embarrassed by the violence he himself predicted; a few months after the staging of The bad guys, the playwright writes a preface to the text to contradict himself, condemns the rage of young people and declares them dangerous to the prevailing order. Too late: young people were already installed in the living scene, and involved themselves in the adventures of a completely new policy, starting with the harbingers of the French Revolution” (BORNHEIM, 2001d, p. 24).

We could not have failed to mention this passage here, because, in addition to its visible relevance, it links the aesthetic experiences and the exercise of the gaze proposed by Gerd Bornheim in the five texts that follow, whose theme revolves around the visual arts : “Bez Batti”, “Vasco Prado”, “The painting that is painting”, “Green that I want you green”, “The coherence of an itinerary”. It should be noted that these writings are enhanced by the author's interest in understanding the meaning of the images, the imaginary and the reality of things. This exercise of seeing reality through the images and paintings of painters such as Cézanne and Van Gogh, proposed by Rodin to the young Rilke, is also one of Bornheim's poetic attacks. Following rilkian work, he combines experience and artistic perception to access reality. This connection will be vital for your experience with the language and for your awareness of your time.


Visual arts and learning to look

Gerd Bornheim was an admirer of the arts in their entirety and devoted himself to studying and writing about the various artistic languages, whose functioning he sought to understand. In this way, he produced important questions about the works of plastic artists, such as Bez Batti, Carlos Scliar, Vasco Prado, Glenio Bianchetti, José Carlos Moura, Marta Gamond, some of which are gathered in this edition. He spoke about the subject and object dichotomy, the subjectivity impregnated in painting, the plasticity of sculpture, the representative ruptures in aesthetics and with moral values, thus reflecting on the countless elements that involve a work of art. More than writing about art, Gerd Bornheim's essays contain a whole poetic verve. His texts are not restricted to catalog formats or publications with an academic content; there was something else, something more sensitive, something more alive, that only experiments and poetic perceptions could achieve in writing and philosophy.

From the simplicity of form in Vasco Prado to a “kind of diabolical angels” (BORNHEIM, 1994, p. 93) in the heads sculpted by Bez Batti, Bornheim felt the silence of sculpture. And he found: “Sculpture loves silence” (1994, p. 93). In the action of the hands giving life and form to the raw material consists the act of sculpting, the act of creating. There is silence in the relationship between artist and material, just as there is silence in sculpture, “but there is an even stronger silence, coming from many distances, confluences of a man; there is the sufficiency of hands that know everything, synthesis of the earth and the human” (BORNHEIM, 1984, p. 77), and there is silence as a natural expression of life, which touches art by extension, as something inherent to the human being . In this vein, sculpture is the possibility of existence for an artist like Bez Batti.

For our author, “nothing is quieter than sculpture” (1984, p. 77). A silence that is condensed in the almost primitive forms or in the “idea that got stuck in the head or paralyzed in the hands” (1994, p. 93) of Bez Batti, his friend and interlocutor. In the counterpart of the silence, the sound of a river is also born, which brings with it pebbles carved by the waters that rush towards Bez Batti. Basalt is for Batti a childhood passion that intensified in the moments he spent on the Taquari River, contemplating a sea of ​​pebbles.

It was then that he began to sculpt heads, souvenirs of tribal totems or African masks, referring us to the origins of civilizations, and achieving with them “their greatest expressiveness, their means of rewriting the fable of the world” (1984, p. 77) . Sculptor Bez Batti seeks the work of art in nature, even if the stone proves to be resistant to the imposition of form. He knows that “the struggle with raw material can be arduous” (1984, p. 77), and perhaps that is why he invested in the contrast between polished stone and rough stone as a sign of his works and struggles. Silence in Bez Batti appears in solitude or in his relationship with nature, his refuge, his personal studio and where he finds matter, thus building his place with sculpture.


Music, communication and new landscapes of contemporary arts

After the texts on the aesthetic experience in the plastic arts, it is music's turn to be present as an aesthetic paradigm. In the conference “Nietzsche and Wagner: the meaning of a rupture”, Bornheim situates two perspectives that are important for him to understand the contemporary arts: the Wagnerian totality and the Brechtian separation. The music between hearing and speech, as in the writing about Enio Squeff, composes a panorama of sounds and fundamental reverberations on the theme of communication and language. It is precisely communication, recurrent in other passages of this book, which will be taken up again in the original typescript “Arte e Comunicação” and in the conference “Communication as a Problem”. In “The aesthetics of health” there is also a crucial theme for Bornheim's questions, the body. Body, otherness, subject, object, technology and politics require thinking about the new landscapes of contemporary arts.

*Gaspar Paz Professor at the Department of Theory of Art and Music at UFES. author of Interpretations of artistic languages ​​in Gerd Bornheim (edufes).

*Thays Alves Costa is a doctoral candidate in history at the Federal University of Espírito Santo (UFES).

*Erika Mariano Master in Theory, Criticism and History of Art by UFES.


Gerd Bornheim. Essays and conferences on theatre, literature, plastic arts, music and art criticism. Organization: Gaspar Paz, Thays Alves Costa and Erika Mariano. Victory, Edufes, 2022.


[I] It is always good to remember the reference essay written by Bornheim on tragedy, “Brief observations on the meaning and evolution of the Tragic”, in Sense and Mask (1992)

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