Future of the past, past of the future

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By FLÁVIO R. KOTHE*

The dogma serves not to think, it pretends to have an explanation, even if it doesn't hold up.

History has been passing through a turning point that is not yet known what will happen, but it will affect everyone, especially the descendants of the current generations. Either the American domination of the planet continues, which seemed consolidated with the end of the Soviet Union and so affected Brazilian existence, or different poles of influence are consolidated, with the strong presence of the BRICS. The country itself defines its destiny in the October elections. No victory will be absolute, contradictions will continue.

What is at stake is a dispute between the consolidation of citizenship rights or the dismantling of the State apparatus, between the expansion of democratization processes or the return to the authoritarian tradition, between social equality and the privilege of the oligarchy. This seems a far cry from the ivory tower in which the literati would like to seek refuge. In general, those who write today need a profession that supports the author. To be a writer you have to be a reader: one more to be supported.

With the exception of those who write as professionals in other areas – journalism, law, medicine –, literati are not having conditions in Brazil to live on what they lined up. They can even write well, it doesn't matter. In general, they are served by small publishing houses, which work as graphics. The author needs to promote two or three releases, to sell a few dozen copies: hence the work stagnates, being what remains distributed to family, acquaintances, friends.

It is possible for the would-be author to publish virtual works in a place like Amazon and charge up to 70% of the sale price, but there is no one to publish or comment on the work. If the author has to promote himself, he will work hard to achieve little: he may end up with a reputation for being vain, pedantic, narcissistic. If you ask friends, maybe you'll get a review here and there, which will be marked by the character of being an action between friends. It is also possible to pay for short videos, which will generally be forgotten on YouTube.

The most reliable literary criticism ended up in Brazil some 35 years ago. The spaces that existed in newspapers were taken by a few large publishers or disappeared. They are no longer reliable. There are almost no meetings in bookshops anymore, the awards seem to be less reliable than they should be, part of the publicity.

The big Brazilian publishers seem to have been bought by foreign groups. They publish a few imported books, with proven sales abroad, in many copies, which are piled up in bookstores as determined by outsiders. The public is being trained to like what other peoples liked, on the average of poor taste. There is an implicit hostility to great works. It's easier to like what doesn't require effort or questioning. The dogma serves to not think ahead: it pretends to have an explanation, even if it does not hold.

Consolidating citizenship and democracy means that people must learn, not only with others but within themselves, to live with differences, to work out contradictions. You have to learn to say: I don't know. And add: I will try to find the reason for being. Reason demands character, in order to affectively sustain the clash of contradictions.

The great works of literature, philosophy, sociological and political theory help to develop the ability to think, to evaluate alternatives to collective needs. It is more comfortable not to go through them and exalt the taste of not having good taste, preferring average and mediocre works. As the Brazilian generations did not make the long pilgrimage to the pinnacles of great works, they themselves do not realize how lacking in information and training they are. It's not about displaying quotes. For Hegel, erudition is lost in details, without grasping the fundamentals.

There is a lack of circulation of great works in schools, libraries, media. They also do not circulate sufficiently in the minds, because the freedom that exists in them is not wanted to be exercised. If the great editor is missing, the writers have lost a strategic interlocutor.

We have a lot of work being done at smaller publishers. Niches have been occupied by small publishers, who strive to publish good texts, but suffer from a lack of financial resources, personnel, distribution, access to the media. Newspapers no longer pay literary critics to comment on newly released works. To the lives have been an alternative to draw attention to some launches. Whoever manages to write a column in a major newspaper needs to adapt to the dominant profile, but earns something like a pass to publish books.

It is not exactly within the competence of the author to deal with the dissemination, distribution, sale, promotion of works. That is the editor's job. What is up to the authors is to write texts that only they can, as something unique, striking, irreplaceable. The problem is that to do something like that, you have to live up to the best production in the world. The great works cultivate the idea of ​​freedom, but this is exactly what the scattered repression in the system does not want.

An author's name can become his trademark, something the reader can look for because it's what he wants. The unique character of the work seems incompatible with the character of the commodity, but this character can be multiplied by mechanical means, such as book publishing. The merchandise is produced in series, whether buying one copy or another. If they are all equal to each other, they all want to be together, but different from other series. Advertising tries to flaunt the difference, as if it were a promise of paradise.

Perhaps the era of “finished works” is over. What is most needed are “nods” that induce thought processes, sketches of thoughts, fleeting records. The reader is a constitutive part of the work: each one will be able to read only the work that his mind can formalize. The public is trained to receive the same, but under discontinuous surface changes. He's so trained in it that he doesn't want the hard bone of a denser, more difficult text.

Systematic access to the world's great works of literature, art, theory and philosophy has not yet become a real and effective right of Brazilian citizenship. Young people are excluded from them and get used to it as if it were normal. He doesn't miss it because he never had intimate contact with them. The average cultural profile turns out to be low, even among professionals with a so-called higher education degree.

In the United States, patrons concentrated resources on some large Universities, whose tuition fees the Brazilian middle and poor classes could not afford. The academic titles obtained in them are prestigious, guarantee good jobs, because they also contain the guarantees that the training given has, on the one hand, more information and, on the other, that it was given to guarantee that it reproduces and guarantees the status quo. Scholarships given to minorities at these big universities do not guarantee the principle of equal access. It is not a democratic system: it is plutocratic. It is not good that such a system is imposed here.

In Brazil, quality higher education is more in public universities. In them is also the research, with all the defects and problems they may have. There was a decision by the State half a century ago: to open postgraduate courses throughout the country, to give graduates from different areas the chance to do specializations and develop research. This process must be continued as a State policy and must not be interrupted by governments. The survival of the country goes through this.

As everyone judges according to what he can understand, his judgment is a projection of unconscious assumptions. Since the spectrum of training and information is quite low, anything above average will be rejected or ignored. Thus, the level of what is best produced abroad will not be kept up. It's no use wanting to replace what is ignored by a resounding cry on placid shores.

It's no use for scientists to claim that they don't have good laboratories and can't do cutting-edge research: others will do it, in better places. Large agricultural producers want the most efficient and modern machines as they need them to compete globally. No one will buy out of pity so they can one day have better machines. Either they can produce more at lower costs or they won't be able to compete.

The same goes for theoretical or artistic production. There's no point in pleading poverty on campus. The metropolises do not, in general, want to buy products from dependent peripheries: they want to export their products wherever they can. Hence the existence of large media conglomerates and, in part, the lack of editorial partners for writers. It is necessary to rediscover ways to dialogue with large, medium and small publishers. Each sector has its task.

We have to be cautious. If until today access to great works of art, philosophy, literature has not been part of Brazilian citizenship, we must fight for the new generations to have this right. This already existed in Porto Alegre, at UFRGS, in the 1960s, in the Dramatic Art and Faculty of Philosophy courses, but the decisive professors were purged by AI-5 in 1969. In return, the university awarded the doctor's degree Honorary Costa e Silva and Medici.

It's easy to fall into medianity regression, repeat slogans, dismiss new facts, disconnect arguments. Difficult is the path through the great works: you cannot read just one. It is necessary to study them, to have masters to guide. Today the country has specialized professionals who do not have a consistent humanist culture. Several parties passed in the presidency, none changed the structure of the qualitative profile of teaching. It is as if the restrictive posture had been perpetuated or, worse, it was the emergence of the collective unconscious, of which the canonized is a symptom. This is bad for professionals, bad for the country. We will only go higher if we go deeper, deeper, without sinking.

* 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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