Exegesis or hermeneutics?

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By FLÁVIO R. KOTHE*

Not wanting to (re)know good works in South America should not make the only counterpart be wanting to impose as excellent what is average or mediocre

1.

When you don't see the limits of a thinker, you can't even understand what he produced or discern the horizon outlined by him. Those who cannot understand the limits also cannot go beyond them. The disciple, by making quibbles around dogmas that he captured in the master, is unable to revere the master, producing something that is up to him. This has nothing to do with the respect and affection that is due to teachers who deserve to be honored and well liked.

Teachers have been targets of far-right attacks, but teachers have also been targets. Reverence for a master serves to demand that disciples be revered and discriminated against, excluded, those who were not or are not considered faithful enough. The master's limitations do not become evident because he is not allowed to occupy a space there who could propose theoretical alternatives.

There would be no need to play this game, but it is a war rather than a game. Could it be that the formation that one has in a colonized and dependent country does not lead, however, to the reverence that nothing else questions and, therefore, does not render a service to the country?

The catechetical that was incorporated into the Portuguese-Brazilian colonial canon was not intended to be fiction, but absolute truth about the “universe” and “history”. Its metamorphosis into literature goes against the intention of the authors (who did not intend to make “fiction” when talking about God, as they thought that what they said was the deepest reality) and what is usually understood today by literature (from which sermonaries and rhymed catecheticals are excluded); if it weren't for the ideological bias, it would oblige it to be removed from the literary canon, which would not prevent that, after removing it, Anchieta and Vieira could be distinguished as fiction writers against their will, insofar as they propagated the fiction of the divine.

The pulpit is totalitarian. The position of the priest who preaches from above, between heaven and earth, as a messenger of God, without anyone being able to question or question his word, is totalitarian because of its architecture and the reverential fear of the public, the faithful feel that they depend on the Church to save their souls and go to heaven. This architecture was transposed to literature in the form of a canon. This is absolutely imposed, as if it were a sacred word, since it intends to be a reflection of the will of God transposed into history, according to the interpretation given to it by consecrated writers.

The church pulpit made the word of power totalitarian and contrary to dialogue, speaking from the top down, with the monopoly of speech, without admitting questions or replies: by making people believe that it was sacred, it was seen as better while doing the worst. Believing that a text is sacred leads to looking at moments from the past as having been the presence of the divine, consecrating the text that recalls this, leads to a reactionary view, of wanting to turn the wheel of history backwards. The sermon seeks the absolute truth in a supposed testimony of something past, fake oldies in the form of miracles and words of shallow wisdom.

The staging of mass and other rites is reactionary: it recalls a past moment as ideal, it does not realize that it is a fiction, it does not tolerate divergences in exegesis: it is a theater that always repeats the same play, mechanical repetition is seen as elevated. Some whispering, amidst the mass at Mass, may be tolerated, but if it persists to the point of constituting an alternative nucleus, it will soon be silenced by the admonitions of neighbors. If necessary, the subject is excluded, expelled from the “church” (which actually took place during the military dictatorship and usually happens in the university area with those who are not “from the little church”).

The Catholic Church had five centuries of domination in Brazil, associated with the State; Neo-Pentecostal churches organized trying to get power. Both stand on the back of ignorance, which endorses fake news and don't know that Bible is "literature". Brazilian political tension in the XNUMXst century reflects this religious duplicity. The way out is not to opt for one or the other, but to overcome both, by overcoming infantilism and freeing thought. The maturation of personalities requires facing internal and external dilemmas, which tends to be painful and many prefer to keep the regression.

It is within this spectrum that, for centuries, Brazilian intelligence has been formed. It is the negation of intelligence, but it determined the way of being of literature (whose intimate nature is, however, to formulate the other, the alternative). Freedom, science and art are forced to start with exclusion as they are realized as transcendence, as going beyond the established horizon. Anti-Semitism (with the expulsion of Iberian Jews) was a corollary of the version that the Jews were to blame for the death of Christ (“may his blood be on us and our children”). The main responsibility of the Roman government was withdrawn there, believing that what was told in the Gospels mirrored the facts: it is not considered to have been a convenient version for the Roman Empire when, in 345, Catholicism was adopted as the official state religion.

A Bible, as an empire of a single book (bíblia = biblos), had as its sequel the purge of the original and autonomous invention. Although it was fiction, it was not accepted as fiction: it intended to be a record of facts, a notary document. The rest was leftovers: either he was expendable or, in order to survive, he had to follow the dictates. A Bible it is a fiction that does not recognize itself as literature, an exercise in fantasy. By absolutizing his fiction as a true fact, he begins to cover up both. Fiction could become a principle of subversion and freedom, but this is unfeasible for the organic intellect, even though it is the specific space of literary art.

The dominant genre in the colonial canon has been considered “poetry”, although without poems of the first magnitude and disregarding “oral literature”, in which the narrative of “stories” should prevail. This remains until the second half of the XNUMXth century, when prose seems to constitute a dominant genre. Such “poetry” as a genre facilitates distancing from the concrete, avoiding real conflicts, reference to events, social tensions.

The historiography that elaborates the canon generates a principle of paradigmatic equivalence projected on the syntagmatic axis that has the internal fiction of cohesion and coherence, propitiating the transfer of lordly thinking as if it were total truth: whoever is involved in this structure (because it reproduces itself) is not able to perceive its dimensions. He's in a cage and he thinks he's free. As in the entire educational, editorial and media system, the reiteration of the same paradigm is imposed, which leads to belief in its value and truth.

The colonial theater was not a space for the community's moral reflection, but a tribune for the imposition of Catholic morality against the “immorality” of Indians and blacks. The devil spoke Tupi-Guarani. The prose included in the canon stopped conveying the pain of the poor: it had a lordly perspective. The blank page was a pulpit, not society's moral stage or a mirror in which the spirit reflected on its assumptions, trying to go beyond the lordly perspective. Prejudices spread. Only gradually, in moments of crisis, did some moralisms come to be examined, in an occasional, intermittent process. There was no continuity in the advance of the “national” critical conscience: what permeates the eventual speech are long silences.

In a poem like “Buscando a Cristo”, by Gregório de Matos, a situation of suffering is reflected – verbalizing the image of the crucified Christ and identifying with him –, as if repeating European catechesis was a reflection on the pain prevailing in colonial slavery. The Christian consecration of sadomasochism comes from the outside in, from the metropolis to the colony: if God could withstand torture, any Christian should as well. A reflection on the suffering of slaves or aborigines is not tolerated there. It was imperative to identify with what was indoctrinated from outside and not with what was experienced. The pain that could not be seen in social and family arrogance was transferred to religious metaphysics.

What it would be like to be and value comes from outside, it is imposed, without providing for the elaboration of the concrete experience: alienation is normal, it has little to do with elaborating one's own experience, with what moves people. One ends up being what one is not and the alienated person is taken for authentic. You don't know what you are anymore, because everything was done so you don't know. A situation of suffering is reflected on which one does not reflect, on which there is no true reflection, but one pretends that the only true reflection is the one that is enacted there in the imagery imposed from outside. A space is filled with divinities in order not to fill it, to fill it with emptiness, as if this emptiness were the epitome of value and being.

A situation of desperation is staged to make it comfort and hope. There is a reflection of misery, without identifying its real causes: there is the prostration of suffering, without showing its concrete causes or the effective way to solve it. It becomes good to suffer, for it is divine. The real is concealed, and this is convenient in order not to face authoritarianism. Every problem is attributed to transcendental causes, to the divine will, to the human condition. Life is crowned with death and, at the same time, the American land is painted as a paradise while beckoning to another paradise in the post-mortem: this is how you have happiness and salvation, without having to do anything with work, change of mentality and social relations.

It was convenient for the minority that appropriated collective labor – profits, landholdings, high posts, urban properties – to send problems to the afterlife, just as it was convenient for the Church and the State for people to go “complain to the bishop”. Turning your eyes to the Beyond served to avoid questioning the impasses of the Hereafter, to discuss how social life could be improved. The very emphasis on the social and the beyond served to overlook the precarious conditions of life on a planet increasingly dominated and destroyed by humans in the Anthropocene. Underlying was the question of finitude and the relationship between the shelves, those that are there, and what they are in their relationship with other entities.

Literature could have served as a space for speech that was not dominated by the official discourse of the State, religion, or politics. Who dominated writing and literature was, however, the oligarchy. Not only was religion alienation; As literature was based on it, it also became an instrument of alienation, present even where it did not seem to be present. “Literature” was created, ignoring the tragic core of the poetic; verses were written, without reaching great poetry. State religion leads to the inquisitorial, which smothers the poetic. The official discourse suffocates the creative text, limits its space.

The work of art ceases to be the effulgence of truth in the canon, pretending to be, however, its maximum realization. Even though it is not art, it is consecrated as such, to legitimize the oligarchy. The work, not being true, should not entertain either, as it serves, above all, to deceive. It may please, but it's not good art. Religion, which advocates having a monopoly on existential questions and rites of passage, inhibits and annuls reflection by imposing ready-made, dogmatic answers: as in the catechism, it uses questions to impose insufficient answers, whose limits must not be exposed. The question there is not a question. Like canonizing exegesis, strictly speaking nothing is questioned.

The resulting literature, imbued with this spirit, ends up having no reason to exist, but it also does not want to let the antithesis exist. The writer still needs, then, to rediscover his function, in a specificity that begins beyond the reproduction of colonialist paradigms, of deviating from earthly problems, seeking to generate misleading consolation on the metaphysical plane or, in the opposite way, pretending that he is already in earthly paradise, in the best of all possible worlds. The tendency of canonical writers is accommodation with power, which induces scriptural fear: they do not dare to pose basic questions of their time and place, of human existence.

It is not about demanding a philosophical literature, dialoguing with successful philosophical works. This has already been done. It is difficult to discern the tendency underlying Western philosophy, that is, to define being as an expression of subjectivity, and this as a manifestation of the will, and the will as the will to power. There, however, one would be tied to a lineage that would pass through Nietzsche, Heidegger, Derrida. The problem needs to be addressed from a perspective that Europeans have not been able to expose, as it affects the desire to dominate, typical of colonialism.

All three are right to suggest a paradigm underlying the philosophical tradition, from the Greeks to our days. As they come from the imperial perspective, they do not question the desire to dominate that presides over thought when saying that things are as the subject says they are. It is not enough, however, to speak of the “will to power”. Things don't even "are". To say “being” is to paralyze the permanent movement of atoms.

Hermeneutics has been seen as an explanation of textual “contents”, so that the reader perceives what he is reading. Canonizing exegesis is shaped by this intention of imposing what seems to be being said. It is well accepted, because it establishes a supposed bridge between the author's margin and the reader's margin, as if they were together on the same bed. And they are. “Communication” is finding out what the two have in common, not moving on to something new, different.

One cannot understand what is said in a text if one does not capture a good part of what was left unsaid. Only with the background of the unsaid is it possible to capture something of the configuration of what was intended to be said (and which was probably not relevant). The unsaid makes the saying of the said strange. He shows himself as deformed, irrelevant, deforming. The most important part of the text is not said by him, it is hidden between his lines. This is the space prohibited by the sacralization of the text. It begins with a holy book and is completed in a canon of deities.

The unsaid of the text tends to start with what is imposed on servile work, which obliges almost everyone to work hard for next to nothing for the benefit of a minority, which keeps for itself, for its private use, what was produced by the community. A believer does not admit that his sacred text is full of fake, that in it there is manipulation of naive people. He thinks that what is narrated happened exactly as it is told. He does not take a step back to see what is being staged from a distance. It would be profanity. In the case of canonical exegesis, it would be unpatriotic.

Intellectuals from European countries that were once metropolises are unable to think and clearly expose the fact that, in the Second War, the Americans waited for the Russians to greatly destroy the German army to then invade Europe and take the western part for themselves and, later, wait for the fall of the Soviet Union, to then, failing to fulfill agreements made, break through to the east and expand to the borders of Russia. The heroic Russian effort in World War II ended up generating a serious problem for the Russians: the threats of the Cold War, the advances of NATO after 1992 and the War in Ukraine. In the Brazilian media, geopolitics is not well examined. Not at university either. 

This seems distant in space and time from a study of the Brazilian canon in the imperial period, but the reinterpretation is based on the hic and nunc. This generates a necessary difference between the horizon of former authors and current readers. No one reads the text itself: reading is extracting the text from the written lines, taking it out of itself. The hermeneutic issue is central to law and psychoanalysis.

In psychological therapy, the analyst listens to the “patient's” speech with fluctuating attention, which leads him to frame what was said in concepts of his training theory. He seems to "understand" the patient's picture when he is able to fit the fluctuating speech into the concepts. This does not mean, however, understanding the patient's condition in the sense of taking a step forward in his interiority, but looking for the cultural common denominator of the two.

In a legal judgment, the “same fact” can be interpreted from such different perspectives that the interpretation does not seem to be of the same fact. Nietzsche used to say, in a critique of positivism, that there are no facts, only interpretations, but that this too was an interpretation. It seems that subjectivity can see whatever it wants according to its own will, but then it only sees, without discerning, its own projection, and not the fact.

There are doctrinal differences in law, each with its own arguments, but the law itself does not usually have the freedom to read the process from a very different perspective. He needs to stick to the law and jurisprudence, but he cannot deny their validity. By official duty, he needs to comply with the law and follow established jurisprudence. He assumes that justice is the application of law. He fails to see in the law the manifestation of the will of the stronger and, therefore, to examine the question as a dispute between wills. He is also unable to take the next step, which would be to see whether the will had dictated since the Greeks what philosophy considers being to be. “Being” is not deconstructed as a cover-up for the will to dominate the world.

In the hermeneutics of the arts there appears to be more freedom, but this is an illusion. Those who are familiar with university education and the interests that permeate the world of the arts are well aware that there is much that cannot be said and that much that should not end up being said and talked about. It is not just a question of space to propose what seem to be foolish guesses. The sacralization of art already creates a reverential fear that inhibits divergences and prevents the public manifestation of what is contrary to the official posture.

In literature it seems easier to be able to imagine a text that differs from the canonized one and says very different things. It would be a kind of background that would allow a better reading of the proposed text. As the canonizing exegesis carries high ideological power, it does not open space for the antithetical reading. There needs to be a deconstruction, a dismantling of the canonical text. This needs to be seen and revised as a strange text, as something that still needs to be deciphered, because what it says is not self-evident. 

Breaking with the historiographical naivety that one is seeing “the past as it really happened” means investigating the future project embedded in it. This means deciphering the teleology present in their theology, and vice versa. Projection of the future and reconstruction of the past occur, however, as a function of present domination: in practice, the issue would become political, but conservative supremacy tends to stifle public debate.

 

2.

If the Catholic approach dominates from the Letter of Caminha to the neo-baroque, it is not enough to examine the internal differentiation in its line of identity to see the limitation of its horizon. It is necessary to touch nerve points on different topics, without the return of dreams and complaints being restricted to the past tense. Every analysis is a self-analysis; every criticism, a self-criticism; every overcoming, a self-overcoming.

Jehovah would not have been just a secret writer, author of Bible (ghost writer de ghostwriters, to be dictated to scribes), but also author of “Natureza”, a book to be deciphered by scientists and poets (which contradicts the notion that nature Bible is the only book that matters and makes art and science something heretical, subversive). Jehovah needs someone who, at least as old as he is, can witness and rewrite his creation project, but who must not be God, insofar as he can only be one, and cannot be the devil, insofar as he would not be a reliable scribe: Jehovah is an invention of writing. The writer is writing. The canon, as a lay bible of nationality, has a remote pretension of, being consecrated, also being sacred.

So you need to have a remote Atheos absconditus scribendi, who purports to record the divine action and word, and even to be the secret inventor of God: the writers would be his delegates. When the writer elevates himself to the position of scribe of God, he wants to support his text, in order to raise what he says to an undoubted level. There is a fiction underlying all fiction, but it is not formulated as such. The unknown author creates the author of all creation. All reality being fiction, all fiction can pretend to be real. He who creates everything from nothing is reminiscent of Glaucon, who, in book X of a Republic, would carry a mirror across the field and recreate everything in it as a reflection. If almost nothing can contain everything, everything can hide in almost nothing.

The canon does not have the thinking and feeling of the Brazilian population, but only a portion of its elite, even if it manages to impose itself as a whole, making it identify with its discourse. What is said in the edited dictation conceals the shadows of an immense silence; what is said in the canonical saying is more silent than it is spoken. The apologetic tone of what is recited hides tragic lives that led the marginalized, dissatisfied and exiled to seek Brazilian territories, concealing the past there, as if life there had just begun; the closure of Brazilian literature as a system in itself is part of this process of repression.

The very apologetic content regarding the new earth has a character of consolation, which is not formulated; loss is not spoken of except as the loss of another. In the canonical system, silence prevails over speech, but the canon pretends that everything is reducible to its word. He pretends that he has said everything, while he is more silent than he says; it pretends that the speech that took place is all possible speech, the speech of the whole. This speech is fallacy; that word, verbiage. He has, however, the phallus of power, to rape anyone who says that the king is naked.

Of the literary production that took place during half a century after the annihilation of the so-called inconfidentes group, nothing was recorded in the canon. Although independence took place in its most conservative aspect, it was a political revolution that provided bases for literary production and evolution. Even if meager, after independence there were newspapers, colleges, publishing houses, groups of intellectuals, critics and readers: a system of literary circulation like nothing existed before, a necessary but not sufficient condition for the emergence of good works. Having a state, literature had to invent a nation. This was the task – even if full of errors and even erroneous – that set itself the romanticism of Rio de Janeiro: late and anachronistic already in the cradle. The canonizing exegesis is not capable of really questioning the answer given by him, which is discriminatory under the appearance of being integrative. This exegesis fails to read texts well, as it fails to imagine the antithetical, the negation of them, the nothingness that could be all to say. It is mere thetical judgment.

Until the middle of the XNUMXth century, Brazilian intellectuals generally had training from Coimbra or as a seminarian; It was a radical change when he started to graduate from the School of Medicine in Rio or the Faculty of Law in São Paulo, but study continued to be a privilege of the oligarchy, even though it was no longer under the racist control of the Catholic Inquisition as in the colonial period. In one way or another, the world view remained the view of a class and a caste. With the creation of newspapers, previously prohibited by Portugal, a public was created, although the books were still printed in Paris or Leipzig. When print shops began to operate, a decisive step was taken towards emancipation, although the publication of fiction and essays was only occasional and without guarantee of quality.

Independence did not represent immediate intellectual emancipation, nor was it achieved once and for all, as supposed, a hundred years later, with modernism. In a country whose culture has gone from Paris puppet to Hollywood puppet, it has not even been achieved; without political independence, the question could not even be asked. National isolation is incompatible with globalization and is done in the name of limited, restrictive values, which endorse what exists as the best of all worlds; globalization, in turn, is a new form of domination, castrating differences.

The literary series suffers positive and negative influences from the social series that underlies its production and circulation, but, even if the interests of power and the market intend to, and manage to, partially determine the result, the work of art emerges from an intimate forum, which it keeps in the expression in a way that is not reducible to external interests, even when these distort the reading or want to promote what is not worth it, and do not want what has value to appear. This does not mean that what has value always appears, and that what appears most has more value. On the contrary, as what has something new to say is always beyond the horizon of the established, the latter tries to prevent the former from appearing. There is no literary genius in the void, without social conditions that favor its development and production: most do not appear. For convenience and lack of alternatives, one can pretend that a limited and problematic work is brilliant, but one can also prevent it from developing what has value, just as one can force those who have value to accept the dictates of the one who finances it. Art emerges from the gesture of transcending such impositions.

Today the media can, for example, promote average writers and prevent their shortcomings from being published, just as it can denigrate the merit of works according to the convenience of influential groups. It is a variant of what prevailed in Europe and America until the XNUMXth century, when artists, under the patronage regime, were obliged to auratize aristocrats and religious themes. Even if the canonizing exegesis tolls its angels and saints, even if students wanting approval in schools or looking for a job repeat the dictum of the establishment, such production does not become grandiose.

Artistic average prevails in the works of the imperial canon. A typical manifestation of it are the “romantic geniuses”, who died at the age of twenty and are presented as if they had produced the same as Shakespeare or Tolstoy (whose greatness is not perceived by minds formed on the horizon of canonical averageness). This forced reversal remains as dependent on Europeanness as Eurocentrism. The attitude of not wanting to (re)cognize good works in South America should not make the only counterpart be wanting to impose what is average or mediocre as excellent.

* Flavio R. Kothe is a retired full professor of aesthetics at the University of Brasília (UnB). Author, among other books, of Benjamin and Adorno: clashes (Attica).


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