reading and belief



The fiction reader learns to exercise his inner freedom by going through spaces of what could happen

Why do we still insist on writing and publishing in a country where culture has been repeatedly harmed by right-wing dictatorships, where it was usual to persecute intellectuals, burn books, torture, exile and kill? It is up to us to defend freedom of thought and expression. We are a minority that seeks to be enlightened and have space to expose this.

But what does it mean to be enlightened? In a short late essay, the Lutheran Immanuel Kant sought to answer: enlightened is anyone who is capable of questioning the dogmatism that was indoctrinated by the school, the family, the State, the Church, in order to learn to think for oneself, to speak for oneself, to set standards for yourself. The subject, to be autonomous, has to learn not to be subjected. What elevates it to the categorical imperative, inner freedom, can, however, betray its origin by imposing its will on the freedom of others.

To what extent is one still being manipulated by unconscious metaphysical structures, which manipulate what one feels and thinks as if the person – even as a thinker or writer – were a puppet moved by invisible strings, a mask through which an alien voice resounds? On the stage where the puppets move, it is pretended that no strings or puppeteers can be seen. The staging is believed as if it were a fact. It is possible to stage these puppets with actors dressed in black, with the background of the stage dark: it does not change the mechanics of the staging.

If it is easy to identify the staging on stage, it is less easy to read the world as theater, with a secret text underlying the staged speeches. There is something that stages the staging and seems not to be on stage: metaphysics. You cannot escape the stage in which you live. The logic of the spectacle is to believe in it as something that happens. The stage, if it is an exception to everyday life, should allow reading the staging of everyday life. Power does not want structures that act invisible behind the scenes to be deciphered, making people say and think what the virtual command wants. Power itself does what it wants what has power over it. Epic and absurd theater broke the spell of the staged, so that it reflected on what was being shown. They believed that clarifying would liberate.

Twentieth-century European philosophy made the issue of overcoming the metaphysical duplication of the world central, but did not dare to question its greatest ideologues head-on. The South American continent has been dominated by this duplication, introduced with colonization. It did not become a problem to be proposed and discussed in public. Anyone who dared was swept away.

If what has been produced in Latin America continues to fall short of awareness of this crisis and if it really is decisive turning point for the (r)evolution of thought, what has been hyped by the old parameter will end up buried by the so-called civilizing march. If, for example, a would-be poet claims that in the beginning there was the word and the word generated the verse and the universe, he is rehashing ancient Christian Pythagoreanism. He ignores Aristotle's criticism: it is not numbers that generate things, but it is things that generate numbers. It is difficult to assume the historical data of what is assumed as sacred revelation.

For Thomas Aquinas, the beautiful would be the sensible apparition of the truth, but the truth for him was the belief in Christ in his own way: the truth would be in the divine mind according to the interpretation of the Church. A skeptic might suppose that, being in God, he would be inaccessible: not even the sacred text would be a reliable ideational mapping. Solger and Hegel transferred the truth to an idea understood as a tense union of opposites, which stirred up the scholastic identity of the eternal. Heidegger, although Catholic by training, proposed to return to the Greek notion of alétheia in the sense of an uncovering that soon leads to a concealing, an unveiling that leads to a new veiling. For the Greeks, Alétheia was, however, a goddess, who only had access to those who had a chariot to climb the mountain where she resided. If a researcher proposed a research project along these lines, it would not pass in a pastor-controlled ministry.

If the work of art must be the expression, elaboration and manifestation of truths that cannot be said in a more adequate way in another way, it cannot be the mere demonstration of theses already exposed in treatises of sociology, history, philosophy. Nothing would add. It would trivialize the already known. It would be redundant.

There is a gap between the metaphysical duplication of the world and what is elaborated beyond its critique and crisis. Authors from 1900 such as Hofmannsthal, Musil and Thomas Mann are already being studied as overcoming the Platonic-Christian definition of man as constituted by body and soul: he would be body without transcendence. If the metaphysical distance is widened, not only will new works be generated, but old works will have to be re-read and re-signified. Skeptics will have to establish bridges between the rereading of old works and the proposition of new territories of thinking and feeling.

Fiction has the honest courage to say that it is fiction: it does not pretend to be real. She lies to suggest truths that otherwise could not be told. In its own way, it is truer. Do not trust the facts. All of them are interpretations. Therefore, loaded with fiction and wiring. It is not intended to be a report of facts as they would have occurred, but that does not mean immediately giving up truth as a search. Based on an entity, it searches for underlying ontological dimensions, without turning them into mere argumentative abstractions.

A dogmatic believer reads his holy book as if it were a report of things that had happened exactly as reported: it would be a copy of the real, a transposition of the factual to the verbal plane, identity between fact and word. Even the believer who seeks to decipher a symbolic dimension in the text does not abandon the conviction that it contains a divine message. By deviations, he seeks confirmation of his assumptions. In them are the limits of your reading. His hermeneutics questions details, not fundamentals.

The term believer can designate here an ancient Greek who believed in the gods, an Egyptian who believed in Horus, an orthodox Jew, a Catholic, an evangelical, a spiritualist. This affects literary reading: for example, the Roman who read the Aenida accepted as possible the amorous encounter between Aeneas and Dido, although there was a 300-year difference between them, but he was not concerned with knowing whether the work served to legitimize the Julia family in power, as originating from Iulus, the supposed son of the Trojan, legitimize the war against Carthage and the invasion of Greece. This too was not considered by classical studies for hundreds of years.

The fiction reader must know that he is entering an imaginary world, a realm of make-believe, in which he will have fun with things that could perhaps have happened, but that must not have happened as it is narrated. He learns to exercise his inner freedom by going through spaces of what could happen. If the real is concrete, fiction is not, however, just the exploration of what could be as an abstract possibility, dictated by reality as its counterpart. She is more than that.

The fiction author must know that, when entering a world of fantasy, he goes beyond imagination, which is a search in the archive of images. He doesn't just seek the return of memories, like someone searching in the repository of a mental warehouse. He lets diverse images come together, allows new ones to arise. It ends up generating a new meaning, in another totality, which imposes itself on him, but it is not just a reproduction of past images.

He writes not because he wants to, but because he needs to tame the ghosts that have taken over him. In him the work is done, using him as a mason's servant. If he wants to produce something that goes beyond himself, he cannot be an architect or a mason: he is just someone who is there to serve, so that what wants to exist through him can be done. Even though he sketches characters and plots, even though he draws the blueprint he wants to implement, he doesn't choose what to write, nor does he write to appear. Something is done in him, through him, to go beyond him. Something that survives without it.

What for some seems like a gift given by God, something entrusted to him and that he must cultivate and take care of, is a predisposition that also has its side of imposition and curse. Writing is crossing boundaries, daring to say to yourself and to paper what cannot be said elsewhere. Silence is frequent among writers, the non-response to questions asked. The question that hangs in the air may linger for decades, but it will demand an answer. The person who muttered it will not hear the answer. What is suggested must go beyond the question and beyond the immediate answer.

Irony is not the mere inversion of reality: it frees up space for the subject to make critical comments that go beyond mere reversal: they make X-rays, lay bare reality. Although dictators want to submit the imaginary and the media impose narratives that are convenient to power and conniving every day, fantasy builds new sets from the images that surface and gives them a meaning that contains a critical reflection. Most of the imaginary is not free. The media conveys intense brainwashing. It works to the extent that the public is incapable of deciphering what moves what is staged. In order not to be poisoned, one must relearn to read.

Deconstructivism proposed that truth was mere fiction. This favored an attempt to present as a fact what is nothing more than fake. One has to decipher these runes, see the text underlying the texts. What was called politicization was learning to read.

Writing verses does not generate the right to make assertions that do not withstand critical reflection. The tale assumes itself as fiction, even if it contains names and concrete data. The chronicle is closer to real events, it brings together the big and the small, allowing the future to decide on its relevance. The novel can outline historical panoramas, debate moral theses, refute literary tradition, but it does not establish itself as a long journalistic report.

If fiction invents to become truer, it does not simply lie by not taking a supposed reality as a reference, nor does it pretend that what is narrated happened. If he does not require the reader to believe what he says as if it were a factual portrait, he seeks something that is in facts, but associates them with others, seeking the conjunction of the ontic with the ontological. It induces an inverse course of the dogmatic believer. Flaubert started from a newspaper article about a lady who had committed suicide, but what does he do with Emma Bovary, starting from Don Quixote, is a profound critique of the fascination of the French middle classes with aristocracy, and it is more than that: it narrates the enchantment of a husband for a wife who betrayed him and becomes a study in the paradoxes of love. Novels are bigger than their protagonists' horizons, even when they bear their names.

That top quality works are not studied in Brazilian schools shows how the State has not been concerned with giving the people a good education. A people that does not learn to think is not prepared to exercise citizenship well, although this is vital for its survival. Art trains to feel and think.

If access to art is not yet part of the rights of Brazilian citizenship, the song of the sirens is far away, it is not heard on school boats. They seem to move their lips in the distance, pretending to sing, but they have already given up being heard because the new Odysseus have their eyes turned towards a new beloved: their Penelope is the technology, which promises comfort, pleasure and power. The young internet browser didn't read the Odyssey neither is Kafka's tale of the silence of the sirens, and therefore this is not a problem for him: it does not exist.

If the average profile of the reader is low, the density of works that are generated from this audience tends to be low. What is better has no room for being better. As there is almost no idea of ​​how great works really are, medium works are applauded as if they were genius. There is a false courtesy in the cordial man. This cannot be resolved with the ideology that the Brazilian literary canon expresses the entire people and their history. He does not descend from Portuguese literature, as the references of the writers were different.

The caricatured colonized thought is modeled on a European author or a school from the metropolis and then applies it to things of local color: it pretends to do science, art, law, governance, fashion. The European thinks; the South American applies. This model is already in Amerigo Vespucci, who said, based on European paradigms, that the “American” aborigines had no law, no king and no faith: they would therefore be a non-being in comparison with The (European) Being. The limitation of this model was not understood.

The colonized argument has been to assume that natives should imitate European models, as the moon glows when illuminated by the sun. This model has endured for five centuries. Its ridiculous expression is an astonished Indian, Paraguaçu, being taken, as the “queen of Brazil”, to the court of the French king, to marry the Lusitanian hero called Caramuru, who received a large allotment in Bahia. Here we have the project of the landowning oligarchy: Francophilia in mind; brasility in the luso-indigenous blood.

The Spanish Empire ended up defeated by the English. Portugal became dependent on England. The cycle of English dominance was complemented by the North American empire. The European powers lost their colonies and, since 1945, they have been occupied by American troops. They were left without effective sovereignty. If violence is the midwife of history, it is possible that another historical cycle is opening today. There will be a reorientation of parameters, propitiating new types of cultural production and reassessment of past products.

With more than seven billion people – an explosive number – we are together on a small and fragile planet, for which we do not and will not have alternative planets. It has been violated and destroyed by the human species, the only one capable of altering the global temperature. It is also capable, however, of preserving and rebuilding. This demands an evolution of values. Progress is not just a quantitative increase in products and people, but man's coexistence with nature and with himself. Art and science will be decisive for this change.

Technology does not think for itself. It is applied science and obeys the commands of the will. It does not question its ends, it is not aware of the destruction it causes. Man is enthusiastic about what he assumes to be immediately beneficial to him. Agroindustry is not seen as the extermination of animals and plants. Current law almost does not provide for the rights of beings other than humans.

Maybe one day what seems normal today will be seen as barbaric. There are changes underway. We cannot predict what will come, but we must strive today so that tomorrow is better than the yesterday into which we were thrown.

* Flavio R. Kothe is professor of aesthetics at the University of Brasilia. Author, among other books, of Culture semiotics essays (UnB).


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