critique sketches

Eduardo Berliner, Acostamento, Oil on canvas, 230,00 cm x 308,00 cm, 2009.
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By FÁBIO AKCELRUD DURÃO*

23 fragments about literature and contemporary life

to the flies

Introduction

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.

A friend tells me that he has sent an essay to a famous critic and is anxiously waiting for some response, which may never come. My first impulse is to try to alleviate their suffering, saying that there are so many components involved in any particular judgment that what really matters is the journey, the day-to-day work, the slow accumulation of knowledge, rather than some judicial hammer blow from above, with who knows what motivation. But on second thought, there is a strangely objective reason for the would-be critic's agony: the master's endorsement has something performative about it; it works as a self-convincing vehicle that can be internalized: believing yourself to be what you see yourself to be. What we are is largely a result of how we see ourselves being seen – visions, of course, that in one way or another respond to our desire.

(It was to avoid what is fierce in the eyes of the other that institutions and their laws came into being.)

 

2.

Life as a closed circle. I remember a colleague who had a special gift, so to speak visceral and cutaneous, to victimize herself. It was not feigned, or planned, or even thought of; it happened with the spontaneity of breathing: “Good morning! How are you? All good?" – “Despite everything, isn’t it, Fabio?” The coherence of the persecution was so complete that the mere existence, in its smallest manifestations, assumed a dimension of heroism. The perfection of this autopoiesis, allied to the obvious self-congratulatory narcissism, generated a general irritation, which demanded a punishment: an effect that generated its cause.

 

3.

“Now, you have to keep in mind that the concept of literature, as we conceive it, is only two hundred years old.” This appeal to history, undoubtedly correct, generally has the objective of de-esentializing literature, showing that it does not hover above time, but is the result of a set of recent transformations. This subordination to our modern age is then seen as something negative, as a blow to the heart of literature, which, with less being, would come to mean very little. However, it should be the opposite: literature should come out as much more robust and relevant because it is a phenomenon that, with an immense past, we still made; for bearing in itself – when projected in centuries gone by – our face.

In other words: the concept of literature as historical construction does not weaken its truth, as if building were a minor act; on the contrary, literature, which does not erase the strangeness of the past, ends up functioning as a mediation between what it has of other, of unintelligibility, and what belongs to us.

 

4.

Literary studies suffer from intense dispersion. It is surprising that, on the one hand, the author's death has become a strong commonplace in theory, something that is not disputed, while, on the other hand, not only all kinds of authorial investment have resurfaced in autobiography and testimony, but also the life of the theorist has been celebrated. Roland Barthes by Roland Barthes, The Future Lasts a Long Time, or the biographical notes of Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism are just the first examples that come to mind.

 

5.

This character suffered from a slight hallucination: when listening to music, she thought she was in a factory. Her ear couldn't forget the knock, nor her body abandon itself to it. They were blows on a constantly moving mat. No doubt there were many variations on the belt: on the one hand, the speed could fluctuate from the slowest, but never imperceptible, to the most frantic; but the biggest changes were in the modalities of the songs: playful, hilarious, warm euphoric, desperate, depressed, destructive - almost every kind of feeling was invoked, but always accompanied by a beat. Sometimes she imagined the mat-beaters with angelic or rotten faces, depending on the affection the hammer blows accompanied; at a certain point she began to visualize them as puppets of feeling, or workers in overalls with emotive masks. One day I tried to console her by saying that the beat had a physiological basis, the heart, and that it was present in all civilizations, that in reality it was a victory over nature, basically a taming of thunder, which had already so terrified the world. humanity. There was a lot of bad faith in that. What the character couldn't conceive of was the idea of ​​pulse, a flexible, non-percussive regularity present in the very character of notes in combination. The delay or advance of the emphasis gives it expression and reminds the human.

 

6.

It is not the least of the contradictions in the existence of literary intellectuals that what they study, the material of their work, is often more interesting than the life they lead. This split is negotiated in several ways. Many people simply manage not to look at it: they direct their desire to something else, from church to drinking, cigars or football, who knows even the book market. Other people, more courageous, refuse to flee and start blaming objects for the mediocrity of their daily lives – in the case of literature, diatribes against the “canon” fulfill this role. This explains, at least partially, the hatred that many academics have against culture. However, the most appropriate measure, the one that works as a formation of compromise between employment and pleasure, is professionalization. The development of its own vocabulary, argumentative patterns (introduction-exposure-conclusion), specific stylistic traits (indetermination of the subject, passive voice) etc. it is not just codification that advances science; all of this also functions as a shield against confronting the emptiness of privatized life.

 

7.

As in literary criticism subject and object are mixed, it is not uncommon for critics to have a feeling of ownership in relation to the authors they have studied for so many years. Thus, they become jealous of those who feel entitled to talk about them, often lightly. The funny thing is the short circuit generated by the writer's commentary on himself, which the critic will at the same time value as an object, but will despise as competition. – This is how the indistinction between style and thing, subject and object, often displayed in Letters as defining the field and existentially positive, is not, by itself, a guarantee of anything.

 

8.

The Author says: “you did not understand anything that you wanted to accomplish! I planned this text thoroughly, in a completely different way than you think.” The Critic: “you have no exact idea of ​​what you do; to tell you the truth, you can't even express what you've elaborated right. Respect the division of labor, create at will, but I am the one who evaluates.” One way to look at this clash is as a dead end, in which no one is right and nothing makes sense. Another way is to see it as a symptom of something very positive, because as an author and critic, they surrender to a showdown, as in a western, the work, precisely through the opposing positions it generates, disappears, at sunset, on the free horizon, without chains or fetters.

 

9.

One of the pathologies of our time is a clear conscience. Writers make their books happily and journalists comment on them with enthusiasm. Both go to events, where everything is radiant. Even Literature students find themselves obliged to put their feelings on paper, to express in novels and poems the depth of the “I” they believe they have. Lightness of mind helps the movement of goods. Nowhere does one feel the weight of the past, the power of those works before which much of the contemporary should remain silent. Perhaps a pedagogical platform for the coming decades will be the re-functionalization of guilt, not as an ontological curse, but as a transmission strategy: to inculcate in future critics and writers a feeling of debt, not only to what has already been done, but mainly to the concrete potentiality, what could actually be happening now, and before which the present becomes so insignificant. Guilt as the impetus and engine of study, even if it sometimes leads to silence.

 

10.

A girl contacts me on Facebook and after some conversation he proposes to exchange sex for a master's project. I quickly saw that the profile was fake, but I was intrigued that someone could value a master's project so much. “It is still a step forward”, he said to the AC, “a positive sign of the professionalization of the activity, that this kind of bargain could cross someone's mind, that a project could be an object of desire in that way.”– “Look at the projection, Fabio… Maybe it's not the academic work that has value, but the sex that is cheap ”, he noted.

 

11.

Opposites:

1. “- Sir, guests are not allowed to have breakfast in slippers.

– But I’m here with a book, look, it’s the Odysseus, by James Joyce.”

2. “One day a teacher was leaving a bookshop, where he had bought some books, and he passed a group of CRS [anti-protest paramilitary police], who immediately started hitting him with their truncheons. The chief must have realized that this was not a student, but someone more respectable, and he ordered his men to stop. One of them shouted, “But boss, he was carrying books!”[I]

 

12.

There are various kinds of blindness mixed up in the current hatred of corruption. They must urgently be systematized. Here is just an isolated reflection: there can only be criticism of corruption based on a guarantee of validity of laws, which, as everyone knows, disrespect. The difficulty for people to view tax evasion as corruption is proof of this. However, there is another aspect that must be taken into account: obedience to the law, respect for legality, is proportional to the presence of justice. If I see myself being continuously exploited, from the boss who pays me little (see my salary), to the manufacturer and trader who want to make an abusive profit (see the price of easter eggs), by service providers who save on hand work (remember the long minutes on the phone to talk to your operator), reaching the sphere of politics (check out the favoritism of politicians towards their financiers) – if I see myself being harmed in all spheres, being corrupt can become having a taste for revenge: not only getting along, but also harming others. Of course, this explains, but does not justify. Anyway, if you really want to end corruption, you're going to have to fight for a fairer society.

 

13.

The expansion of the idea of ​​science to literary studies has generated the most diverse embarrassments. We often find the complaint about the transfer of investigation and evaluation procedures, the protest against the quantification of writing and the need to speed up thinking. This all makes sense; However, there is another discrepancy, almost never noticed, which is more unusual. This is the issue of funding: it is largely unnecessary. For literary studies, the only expense that really matters is the purchase of books, for which there are no public notices or regular funds. It's slightly comical to see literature researchers doing projects for equipment acquisition – how many computers can you get? But the apex of the farce is the allocation of resources to events. Especially in the case of international destinations (or places with a beach), they are almost always excuses for intellectual tourism. The twenty minutes you have to show your work in a huge chain of presentations, like on a conveyor belt, mean next to nothing. Often the most interesting ideas come out over coffee, or over a beer with smart people.

 

14.

The Professor enjoyed immense renown. Around him he gathered many followers, who were astonished by the depth of his thought, whose depth seemed to be unreachable. Incomprehension was not seen by the readers/listeners as an absurd investment by the Master in himself, but as an insufficiency of themselves to apprehend such complex writing/speech and full of mysteries. When he got gaga, nobody noticed.

“But, Fabio, take note: a core of misunderstanding, even an empty nucleus of meaning, can lead, precisely because it is hollow, to several interesting theorizations, perhaps even more than if there were a basic thesis there.

- Undoubtedly. And there is still the issue of mimesis resulting from unbridled narcissism, as there is something attractive in excessive self-love, which tends to convince by the sheer intensity of its being. These are two arguments that rationalize subjection and the jouissance that is peculiar to it”.

 

15.

I attended a lecture in which two sentence structures stood out: “what catches my attention here is…” and “this reminds me…”. The first pulverized the entirety of the object into isolated items, subtracted from any articulation with other elements; the second did the same, associating the work's components with other texts, primarily theoretical: Derrida, Foucault, Deleuze, Lacan and Agamben, the ubiquitous. As the relationships were punctual, there was no justification that departed from the object, and without the ballast of the thing, the speaking subject hovered sovereignly over it. The result was a rigorous critical impressionism, devoid of literary scholarship, and made possible by the most current theory.

 

16.

I was watching a speech by a great Brazilian critic about poetry from the seventies. When asked what he thought of contemporary verse, he replied: "I'm going to be in debt because I don't know enough." It is worth reflecting on what is at stake in such an apparently simple replica. In the first place, the humility of recognizing oneself as not knowing something stands out, which is mixed with the rigor of not wanting to say anything, of only pronouncing on something already digested. More important than that, however, is how much this speech act opposes the marketer of Letters, that critic for whom every offered opportunity is voraciously taken, every space occupied. “I don't know that” means “who determines what interests me is me, not the reporter, the interviewer, or the public”. And this becomes even more vehement in view of the presentism of the cultural industry, whose sense of urgency, deep down, masks the need to get rid of what has been published more and more quickly. “That I don't know” is an antidote to that new adjective, which condenses much of what is bad in culture today, that of the “tuned-in” person.

 

17.

I read a small critical text in which the notion of the object's internal consistency was completely ignored in favor of an identity ideal: it would be necessary to open up literature to other voices, that of the excluded, non-white and non-men. Undoubtedly, as has often been noted, this view identifies the work as an immediate transposition of an individual's life experience into the book; it is a regressive, pre-aesthetic perspective, which ignores both the construction aspect of the text and the fact that writing transforms the author. There is, however, another possible objection, arising from the consistent application of the logic at play. Why only talk about non-whites and non-men? What about, for example, the religious aspect? The opposition between rural and urban? The Rio-Sao Paulo axis and the rest of the country? The cultural norm and the different dialects? Or the question of the different income levels of the authors and their political parties? With all this in mind, the writer's identity distinction appears as reductive, perhaps even politically malicious. And yet the way out is not difficult to imagine: it is enough to hand over the editorial committees of journals and publishers to competent statistics officials at the IBGE.

 

18.

Mission Impossible:

Complete the sentences to say something relevant:

“Today’s young people are ______________”.

“The western reason is ______________”.

Observation from an intelligent colleague: “Ultimately, Fabio, the problem already resides in the predicative structure. The linking verb forces the subject and complement together; the point is not simply to criticize the “being” that unites – without it it would be impossible to think –, but to forget what it ends up suppressing.” It wasn't quite what he wanted to say (he was more thinking about the extent to which certain concepts contain unusable content), but the amendment perhaps came out better than the sonnet.

 

19.

Like any other branch of capitalism, the culture industry is a no-brainer. Although it is dominated by a very restricted group of businessmen, they do not have absolute control over the fashions they create, to which they ultimately submit – not that this is of any importance, since the fundamental thing is that there is profit, regardless of the content conveyed . It is easy to forget the system character of the cultural industry and postulate a master mind malevolence behind what is really just working. With that, intention is placed where there was only plan, character where there was number, morals where money reigns. And yet this conceptual slip, of supposing the inorganic to be human, sometimes becomes beneficial, as it not only gives more concreteness, makes more visible, what is structure, but also avoids a perverse democratism: “we are all slaves of the same logic of capital” slides smoothly into “we are all equally slaves to the same logic”, “we all share the same predicament”.

 

20.

I once saw a DVD with several episodes of South Park, a cartoon for adults, which were prefaced with a short conversation between the authors. In each of them they invariably said: “this is our favorite”. The joke has a profound reason, as it shows how, in a world governed by the circulation of goods, every occasion is unique, a singular opportunity for sale. This, once accomplished, leaves no traces, does not create a past; on the contrary, it generates an emptiness that allows the construction of a new need (here the proximity of capitalism to addiction is evident). But also for literary criticism the comic reiteration of predilection has implications. What it shows is that every essay or article very easily hides its origin in a pre-textual situation: the context that gave rise to it almost always remains invisible. It makes all the difference in the world whether you write something out of personal concern or simply respond to an outside demand. The sold-out critic, the one who is a spokesman for the culture market, also always says “this is my favorite work”.

 

21.

The older I get, the better I played the piano as a teenager. Perhaps in twenty years he has been a great concert performer.

 

22.

It has become common, over the past twenty years, to place the date of submission and acceptance at the bottom of the first page of articles published in academic journals. There is something farcical about it, because, as any editor of a national periodical knows, without invitations, a quality issue cannot be closed. Dates are usually invented, chosen according to what suits the publication best. It might be worth replacing them with another timestamp. With the generalization of theory applications, analyzes age with the same speed as the conceptual framework that is their condition of existence. It would therefore be useful for the reader to include an expiration date on the articles, and in a dual way; for example: “The narrative of testimony in subaltern post-modernity” – valid, in Brazil, until 2030; in the US, expired twenty years ago.

(This would have the merit of at least clarifying the planned obsolescence of theories.)

 

23.

He was talking to a nutritionist on the bus, and when he told her the process of composing a scientific article, he had a brilliant idea. “Why don't you put your list of ingredients at the end of the texts, as is done in any industrialized food?” The bibliography, in a sense, does this, but the listing is flawed because it only includes occurrences, not their concentration. More enlightening would be something like: “On the Suspension of the Narrative Order: the State of Exception of Dom Casmurro”: 40% Agamben, 25% Walter Benjamin, 15% errors, 10% Carl Schmidt; 10% Machado de Assis”.

* 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).

 

Note


[I] Nicholas Daum, Des revolutionnaires dans un village parisien. Paris: Londreys, 1988, p. 211, quoted by Kristin Ross, May 68 and its afterlives. Chicago: Chicago UP, 2002, p. 30.

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