Critical sketches – III

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By FÁBIO AKCELRUD DURÃO*

23 fragments about literature and contemporary life

Outline is a synonym for rough draft, a general outline drawing to be completed later. The sketch differs from the draft when it incorporates incompleteness. If it can be seen as lazy, it can also be seen as an invitation. Attempt to translate everyday experiences into a concept. Producing a type of writing that welcomes conversation, here thought of as a privileged form of intersubjectivity, a being-together.

 

1.

When the researcher is not aware that he needs to elaborate a reading hypothesis for his object, which will guide the argument and place it within a bibliographic horizon, the text he writes often takes the form of a patchwork of index cards.

 

2.

In a conversation, a famous author confides in me: “What do you do when you have more books than friends to dedicate them to? Giving it to an acquaintance is disrespectful to the work, leaving it blank, wasting potential”. For me, the question remained whether the scarcity of affective relationships had a less specific cause – the nature of the individual, age, urban isolation, etc. – or whether there isn’t some kind of incompatibility between work and people. If this is true, the dedication space would prove to be intrinsically tense.

 

3.

It's almost like an intellectual tragedy: having to choose between books and people, not as an abstract, general and principled question, but in the concreteness and subtlety of everyday life. When preference falls predominantly on the former, something human fades away; when on the last ones, one runs the risk of becoming dumb. It's true that talking to smart people mitigates the lack of books, but there's no way the bar or the cafezinho can replace the library. Managing guilt, here structural, is a wisdom that one way or another is acquired over time – unless it becomes a revolt against this position, which, as a result of the social division of labor, is itself socially constructed.

 

4.

The professionalization of literary studies has led to the proliferation of subfields of specialization. It doesn't matter if the clipping is historical, gender, nationality, or even author, usually the approached universe pre-exists; its configuration is not usually questioned by the novice. It is outside the experiential horizon of the newcomer in the area and appears merely as work, which it is. A recent development, however, has been the transformation of certain contents into areas of investigation. Monsters, rock, superheroes, war, sci-fi, detective novel etc. they are directly linked to the extramural life of those entering academia. The other side of engagement arising from familiarity is the abolition of distance. As otherness, the different and the difficult are erased, what transcends the object in the act of questioning is overshadowed. The good scholar is the one who manages to deal with disparate things, who knows how to question the world, thereby paying homage to its richness. By identifying with an object, the enthusiastic scholar becomes a one-note researcher.

 

5.

The “do you know who you are talking to?” takes on a curious double meaning when said in a literary work. (Cf. Paul de Man and the opposition between grammar and rhetoric, etc.).

 

6.

(Idea stolen from TD) Thinking about the fetishism of merchandise, isn't it scary the sticker stuck to the products saying: “talk to us”?

 

7.

As an intense speaking experience, the class contains something erotic. It may be that in a different situation, with smaller classes and more interested students, it could approach the ideal of a conversation and its horizontality. As things are, however, the dissymmetry seems inexorable; if it were a dramatic genre, it should almost be classified as a monologue (since there are questions about the test). This is not simply regrettable, because from listening to oneself, supported by the students' attentive gaze, the possibility of elaboration arises, in its emphatic sense. There is something to be learned through mimesis of this self-excitement.

 

8.

The expansion of graduate studies in Brazil, which may have reached a limit, created a curious situation. At least in Literature, in several places there is a discrepancy between institutions and people. It's not just the case that there are many professors without doctorates in public universities (in private ones it's better not to think about it); the excess of supply in relation to qualified labor, which does not prevent extreme competition in public tenders in the richest states, has implications for the study dynamics itself. As there is a vacant place to be occupied, objects assume primacy over questions. They ensure that something is produced as a result of the work, as opposed to research with what fascinates or bothers, which brings the subject inside and displaces him.

 

9.

On the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare's death

I have an aversion to ephemeris. It saddens to see culture ordered by the arbitrariness of round numbers. The mobilization they are able to generate attests to the power of the cultural industry, which finds in them a structuring principle to hide the truth: that fashion's senseless logic prevails here. Rarely do birthday celebrations coincide with some radical advance in understanding the work of the celebrated writer. The commemorative machine – so many words and so much fuss for so little substance – projects happiness in its opposite: taking the book off the shelf. Julius Caesar, on any sunny afternoon, to calmly read and think.

 

10.

True naivety is very rare, but always productive. The other day, she was having coffee in the cafeteria with a friend; we discussed how easy it is to internalize a compartmentalizing periodization, which separates history into centuries, giving each one of them a spirit of its own, as if every hundred years all people decided, at midnight on December 31st, to think and do the things completely differently. It was then that he told me that the best criticism of this he found in a class he gave about Father Antônio Vieira, when a student asked: “but professor, when does the XNUMXth century become?”.

 

11.

Lesson strategy. I have no desire for your desire.

 

12.

How much literary theory, which claims to be scientific, still remains subject to moral values, can be seen in the fact that the expression “paradigm shift” is only used in a positive sense. It works as a guarantee of the quality of what is being announced as new; that a transformation could be negative, is under the radar. Its rhetorical effectiveness undoubtedly resides in the hybridity of registers that it brings with it: on the one hand, the popular commonplace that every change must be welcome, on the other, the prestige of the word of Greek origin.

“Paradigm” as a propaganda slogan.

 

13.

Talking with Mentors.

Fabio: As you know, the relationship between master and disciple has a healthy belligerent aspect. The apprentice, to stop being one, needs to build his signature. If he does not, he will forever remain a student, and the face of his days will forever remain turned backwards. What is often heard, that it is necessary to kill the master, is nothing more than a simplification, because denying carries within itself what it opposes. There are other, much more productive ways of overcoming it, such as praise. Praise is a pretty rich speech act; flattery represents only one of its potentialities. In its most intelligent uses, it can be compared to a jet of light, as it highlights something to the detriment of the rest, which is covered in darkness. The funeral speech given by the disciple in honor of the mentor is the first occasion on which the mentor can no longer refute. The exaltation brings into play the initial displacement, precisely because of the choice of what to exalt, which will allow the disciple to become independent.

James: Hey, Fabio, are you afraid of dying?

Fabio: I don't feel comfortable in the position of master, but I confess that I would be very happy if I could adopt the difficult exit desired by Antonio Candido.

James: Which is which?

Fabio: Give the eulogy of his disciples.

[...]

Fernando: But, Fabio, jokes aside, wouldn't there be a way of thinking about this issue of death as occurring through the work studied itself? The construction of the objectivity of the artifact, necessarily mediated by the subject, who carries everything he has learned, wouldn't that be exactly what dismisses the master and emancipates the disciple?

 

14.

It is not a question of defending value, but only of ascertaining its devaluation. In literary studies today, invoking it generates, as a conditioned reflex, the suspicion of a hidden agenda, the projection of a spurious universal based on the particular interests of dominant groups. Instead of hierarchies, orders and subordinations, the world of literature would be made of singularities, each artifact equally able to claim its habitation. This contrasts sharply with the overvaluation of value in other contexts. Rock bands and sitcoms can go so deep on the evaluative scale that they start to contribute to the individual's identity definition - in fact, the latter can even precede contact with the object, since identities originate in socialization processes . From this discrepancy between the literary and the culture industry, it is possible to identify yet another figure of the death of the former, because it is far from people's lives, as well as the failure of criticism, which for so long has insisted on not seeing such a disparity.

FU comment: “I don't know, Fabio, because I kept thinking about the following: if 'the definition of an individual's identity [...] can even precede contact with the object, since identities originate in socialization processes' , couldn't the overvaluation of value in the cultural industry be expressing, first of all, the alienation of its products with respect to people's lives? And, from the same point of view, could not the old invocation of value in literary studies be seen as an expression of the alienation of literature itself, of the fact that, deep down, it is already experienced as something alien or alien to life?

(The same, in another way) It seems to have become a universally recognized truth, that there is no differentiation between high and low literature, between the high brow and the low brow. Undoubtedly, value is something problematic, and its valuation hinders, or even prevents, the aesthetic experience. However, it is astonishing to perceive the absurd contradiction between the prohibition of valuing, in the literary sphere, and the empire of value, in all other spheres of social life. The car, the football team, the clothes, the food, everything is constantly subject to discriminatory judgments, sometimes very subtle, and which go so deep as to determine the individual's self-definition. The allergy to value ends up paying a negative homage to literature by recognizing in it a domain of discernment, against which it needs to turn.

 

15.

Often, those people who appear to have an extraordinary erudition only have an excellent ability to conduct the succession of conversation topics.

 

16.

Almost 100 years ago, thinkers like Walter Benjamin already drew attention to the decline of experience. What often seems like a simple lack of measure, a misleading exaggeration in the texts of Adorno and Horkheimer (“come on, the world is not so terrible!”) was in reality a compositional strategy that allowed the experience of the end of experience. This is what is disappearing in the second decade of the XNUMXst century.

 

17.

Recognition is a key driver in the spirit world. It is he who most often forms the basis of intellectual vanity, as well as careerism, both artistic and critical. What characterizes its functioning, and what makes it so mobilizing, in addition to a great lack in the subject, is that it escapes him. Recognition is always given by the other: you cannot call yourself a poet. The ideal, hardly given, usually an achievement, is to make recognition irrelevant in the face of the strength of the relationship with the object.

 

18.

It is silly to think that the subject is self-sufficient and that immersion in the object can be enough for him. Much of what we are comes from the way we see ourselves being seen and a place without intelligence, consequently unable to recognize it, the atrophy in where it would be present. As the life of thought is intrinsically collective, mutual recognition is the prerequisite for the emergence of objectivity.

 

19.

The life of works is not dissociated from that of their authors. In order for them to prosper, it is necessary that they die at the right time. The work of the strong thinker who dies too soon survives only as a promise, what it would have been had time allowed. The old man, on the other hand, easily spoils what he has done if he continues to talk. With the natural decay of vigor, the past becomes his enemy; fights him pathetically, in a combat in which, with no escape, the loser is some version of himself. However, even when he is silent, the great intellectual can still hover, ghostly, over his work, regulating its unfolding from a distance. Thus, it prevents his work from following the path of its immanent potentialities, which only arise through fatherless criticism. For thought to be able to live, its author must die intelligently.

LP comment: “In this sense, knowing how to die, even symbolically, is a strong element in the composition of the artifact. Having death as a compositional force in the work itself is perhaps the riskiest aesthetic/theoretical experiment that exists”.

 

20.

Poor Descartes, little did he know that the adjective derived from his name would become a curse word.

 

21.

(Stolen from AB) Raymond Williams in Reverse. The idea that the lower classes can appropriate so-called high culture artifacts, disrespecting their integrity and re-functionalizing supposedly universal contents for their specific purposes, according to their particular interests – such an idea was well-deservedly disseminated. With it, appeared the possibility of circumventing the class character of the great works, the fact that not only are they found in a universe of references far from the people, but also require a lot of free time for their absorption: in short, a rich thing . Rather than an untouchable Olympus, culture now emerged as a stage upon which political concerns were voiced, consciously or unconsciously, by groups often in search of a voice. But that idea has aged badly. With the development of the culture industry, which branched out, creating subdivisions of the most diverse orders, the bourgeoisie no longer needed “high culture” to extract symbolic capital. This can now be done, either by mastering a wide repertoire of the most disparate objects, high, low and medium (which takes a lot of time), or by tuning in to what has just come out in the US. But thinking about it, the aristocracy of culture is so far from the democratism of the present, that the vectors can be easily reversible, and the dominant classes find no difficulty in appropriating artifacts of popular culture, disrespecting their integrity in what they have as a collective, and thus re-functionalizing its community content: just add a box.

 

22.

You realize that there is something very wrong at the university when students, without realizing it, pass by calling the final work of the discipline an article.

 

23.

The formation of literary theories currently suffers from a contradiction that is difficult to escape. In order for them to survive in the supermarket of ideas, they are forced to promise a future. What is proposed as an original reflection should project a future scope of validity, the possibility of discussing disparate objects in different contexts. It is not the least of the signs of penetration of the logic of capitalism in the spirit that theories today are exhausted in their formulation. They are ready-to-wear: the anguish of influence, by Harold Bloom, distant reading and maps, by Franco Moretti, the homo saccer, by Giorgio Agamben (etc.) contain an imaginative core that breaks down when reiterated. They invite, because of how much they lend themselves, and prevent, because of their repetitiveness, application. It does not cease to be a modality of decoying goods.

* Fabio Akcelrud Durão He is a professor at the Department of Literary Theory at Unicamp. Author, among other books, of What is literary criticism? (Parable/Nankin).

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