Leon Kossovitch



Profile of the philosopher recently awarded the title of Professor Emeritus at FFLCH-USP

It is with immense pleasure that I participate in this ceremony of granting the title of Professor Emeritus to Leon Kossovitch, an award that greatly honors us. I intend to express my gratitude to the professors, students and employees of the Faculty of Philosophy, Letters, and Human Sciences, and in particular of the Department of Philosophy, who had the privilege of living with Professor Leon Kossovitch since his entry, in 1970, when, still in After graduation, under the guidance of professor Marilena Chauí, he was invited by professor Gilda de Mello e Souza to teach in the philosophy course.

Leon Kossovitch characterized this period at the beginning of his teaching by referring to the “two coups of 1968” (“not ceasing to predict, on that occasion, that coups reappear cyclically” in the country): the first, in October, “against the ” in Maria Antonia, coming from Mackenzie of the CCC, who took the philosophy course to the barracks of Cidade Universitária, where it would be resumed in early 1969; the second, the AI-5, issued in December, which led to the compulsory retirement of several USP professors, putting even the continuity of the Philosophy Department's activities at risk.

If the activities were not closed, it is because the position prevailed according to which it would be necessary to resist “political-intellectual barbarism” not only with the maintenance of classes, but also with the production of articles, dissertations and theses. It was vital at that moment – ​​recalls Leon Kossovitch – “the collaboration of professors from other areas of the faculty, such as that of Professor José Cavalcante de Souza, whose ticket returned, due to his status as a holder, the autonomy lost with the cancellations, and that of Maria Sylvia de Souza. Carvalho Franco, as well as that of foreign professors such as Hugh Lacey and Jean Galard”.

Certainly, the interaction he maintained with Professor José Cavalcante de Souza, with his jealous and expert work in Greek language and literature, materialized, in part, in his translations of pre-Socratic philosophers and The banquet of Plato, were of extreme importance to him. This period also resulted in other lasting friendships, including those with Professor Gilda de Mello e Souza and Professor Antonio Candido. Leon Kossovitch's dedication to teaching was only interrupted by his trip to France, in 1972, to carry out his doctorate with Jean-Toussaint Desanti, in which he was already enrolled, but it was the courses given by Jean-Pierre Vernant, Roland Barthes, Michel Foucault and Gilles Deleuze, as well as the friendship woven there with Jean-François Lyotard and Jacques Rancière that touched him the most.

Back in Brazil, in 1974, Leon Kossovitch resumed his classes at the Department of Philosophy teaching, due to the shortage of professors at that dark time, several disciplines, including Ancient Philosophy (Plotinus), Modern Philosophy (Descartes, Leibniz, Rousseau) and Contemporary Philosophy (Nietzsche). It would be from 1978 onwards that he would take over the discipline of Aesthetics offering his first courses on the so-called “Italian Renaissance”. Its undergraduate courses since then and postgraduate courses since 1983, which attracted, in addition to philosophy students, students from other USP courses, were mainly dedicated − covering a vast field generally discovered by the disciplines of Aesthetics and Philosophy of Art − studies of the doctrines and poetic-rhetorical precepts of Greco-Latin Antiquity and the Renaissance.

In his classes, of great erudition, the arts, poetic theory, archeology, language studies, New History in new approaches, among other areas of investigation are apprehended in a philosophical perspective. In them, with unusual ease, interpenetrating practices, Leon Kossovitch examined Egyptian art, Persian art, Greco-Latin culture, the Year of the Thousand, the Renaissance in his courses, always considering them from the perspective of circulation between cultures, and, in recent programs, focused on the study of “artists and their discourses”, he focused on Van Gogh, Gauguin, Cézanne, Munch, and Puvis de Chavanne.

I took his subject in the year I entered the philosophy course, in 1983. His classes were always living reflections, embodied, a bundle of affections and ideas, made up of productive doubts, in such a way that the students, at a certain point, felt completely concerned. We knew participants in something singular that erupted there: a living thought, in status born, based on rigorous readings of texts that never failed, however, to highlight their figures and modes of enunciation. Only a few years later, in the discipline of Professor Celso Favaretto, our teacher in common, would I find in the term “event”, so dear to French philosophers, the most opportune expression to name what happened in their classes. Because each of Leon's classes is an “event” in the strong sense, a singular eventuality, because something happens in it; “something” as the displacement of the meaning of a term; the perception that an argumentative configuration that we took as new was already found, reiterated, in tradition; the apprehension of conflicts between the topic of the studied text and the commonplaces of the discourse; or even, the perception of the power of details, until then ignored, of a certain painting (one of the legacies, perhaps, of Professor Gilda de Mello e Souza's classes).

The welcoming character of his classes coexists with a thought that never settles down or subsides, as has already been said. It seems to me that what most surprises those who attend their discipline for the first time in undergraduate or postgraduate studies, whether they are students of Philosophy, Languages, Architecture, or Communications and Arts at USP, who often seek it out, whether they are students from other universities, or even trained artists and architects, is his sharp criticism. In these classes, without making concessions to the historiography of art and architecture, Leon Kossovitch criticized Francastel and Panofsky [while acknowledging their contributions] because these authors, when studying the arts from the ancient to the XNUMXth century, would not have historically articulated literature and the arts.

He thus vehemently displayed what was concealed by these authors, that painters wanted to paint as poetry was done, thus operating in the key of rhetoric. It showed, in other words, that the tradition of rhetoric, of the doctrine of the arts, prevailed until the emergence of aesthetics as a philosophical discourse; and that it was only from then on that efforts were made to discern poetry and painting (as well as to determine the specificity of each of the arts) within a Fine Arts system. The field of aesthetics then emerged in these classes, for us, as the end of poetics.

I still remember his refutation of the taxonomic and teleological nature of art historiographies – which he had delivered to me with devotion until then – based on the ideas of a succession of well-demarcated styles, sometimes opposed to each other, which discarded everything that they were not subsumed, thus making a tabula rasa “of historical differences”. We suddenly found ourselves thus deprived of familiar notions such as that of artistic style (Gothic; Byzantine) with its dichotomies (Renaissance and Baroque; Academic Art and Modern Art) which now revealed themselves, to our astonished eyes, to be empty and anachronistic abstractions. “Baroque Man did not know himself to be baroque”, said Leon Kossovitch, in fine irony against anachrony.

From this destruction, which took us off our feet, it swept away many other notions of art historiography, especially those of the XNUMXth century, such as the notions of “new”; of "disruption" or "influence". About this last term, a veritable idiocy of art criticism, Leon Kossovitch warned of its implications and implications by showing that it presupposes the existence of causal connections within a teleological time (as occurs, exemplarily, in the North American criticism of Clement Greenberg ). In such a way that we verified with surprise that to say that “Cézanne influenced Picasso” does not correspond to the following statement: “Picasso appropriated (or referred to) Cézanne”.

Forty years later, I see the importance of this lesson according to which discourses are always constructed, depriving reading of its innocence. This conception of historicity that guides his courses is therefore political, because it reveals “the implicit conformism” in the idea of ​​anachronism, even though, as Leon says, “there is no past without a present reader”.

A disposition analogous to that of teaching is the one we find in its guidance activity. After completing the master's thesis on the artist Lygia Clark with Profa. Otília Arantes, who later retired, approached Leon in 1992, hoping to have him as a supervisor for a project on art after the vanguards, in the context of the heated debate on the so-called post-modernity. Even though it was not a subject of his predilection – far from it!, in fact – I was able to count on it thanks to his profound generosity, with his guidance.

I was then able to verify that what was said about his work as a guidance counselor was not a runner's legend. For some years in night sessions we discussed line by line, as philosophy students say, the text I wrote and rewrote. Initially, the supervisor, using a method analogous to the maieutic, helps the advisee's thinking to meet his research object. From then on, a fruitful dialogue is established, based on everything that the text in preparation raises, paying attention to its mode of enunciation in order to avoid the commonplace and the peremptory statement.

If Leon is a supporter of this continuous intellectual exercise, which is not devoid of tension, it does not mean that he abdicates at any moment of rigor or precision. It also does not mean that in the discussion about the text in preparation, once the nonsense is discarded, by common agreement, his position prevails, since his intention is to help to make more acute what the advisee intends to enunciate. It was like this, when writing my thesis, because we knew that he disagreed, without this clouding the interlocution, with many judgments that I made about artists, critics, or about the contemporary scene in art, which are there. This coexistence results for the advisee not only in completing an academic work, dissertation or thesis, but another way of reading the texts and seeing the images.

If Leon Kossovitch's writing is authorial if not extremely personal, as Rafael do Valle has already said – “it is because it is radically impersonal in the sense that it does not admit a Subject enunciating himself to refer referents”, but an author/actor who experiences “ possibilities and limits of the discursive operations of the authors it dramatizes”. In other words, Leon Kossovitch, in reconstituting the discourses of the authors he examines, always brings to the fore the discursive regimes with which these authors operate. If his writing is considered difficult, if not hermetic, it is because it honors the reader by demanding from him not only a very attentive reading, but also a trip to the sources dynamized in his texts, aiming to supply his own reading needs.

Leon Kossovitch defended his master's thesis: The disjunction: Forces and signs in Nietzsche – under the guidance of Prof. Marilena Chauí – written in just 40 days, as they say! – to meet the need that the Department had, at that moment of institutional instability, to have qualified professors. This writing in such a short time resulted in a lasting book entitled Signs and powers in Nietzsche, initially published in 1979, with a re-edition in 2004. This book was published at a time when there was not yet a consolidated line of research into the studies of Nietzsche's work in Brazil, certainly indebted to Gilles Deleuze, without this overshadowing its uniqueness, examines, with its own lucidity and brilliance, the force that determines the nature of signs (happy, sad, communication signs, or gifts) in Nietzsche's philosophical writing.

In 1981, Leon Kossovitch defended, again under the guidance of Marilena Chauí, his doctoral thesis Condillac: lucid and translucent that would only be published in 2011. In this thesis, he shows that the notions operating in Condillac did not break with the rhetorical tradition, even though he was attributed a “positivist model of clarity”. In this book, Rhetoric is invested with a critical role insofar as it surprises philosophy as a discourse. Leon Kossovitch evidences, roughly, Condillac's dialogue with Rhetoric, especially in L'art d'écrire, “dramatizing” [in Prof. João Adolfo Hansen] his rhetorical plot of ideas and the logical direction of thought”. It was thus from the defense of his thesis, which in my view constituted a turning point in his trajectory, that his research focused on the study of the doctrines and poetic-rhetorical precepts of Greco-Latin Antiquity and the so-called Renaissance.

Leon Kossovitch also wrote luminous essays in periodicals and dense prefaces, never protocols. I highlight the extreme relevance of the article “Plastic and discourse”, in the magazine Speech, No. 7, of 1976, revised that by its mere existence, in those years, it was already an act of resistance to the military dictatorship due to the political dimension of the theory. In this article, which is still read with great benefit today, Leon Kossovitch criticizes Panofsky's iconology, for continuing to take plastic as a mere illustration of the text, as a language whose meaning it would be necessary to reveal, and not to take “plastic as plastic”. , so that in Panofsky, still, “seeing is crushed by reading”.

Hence Leon’s affinity, at first, with Pierre Francastel, who affirms the existence of a plastic (or figurative) thought that does not pass through the text, since, in it, “plastic emerges as plastic in cultural processes”, emancipating itself from iconology panofskyana. It would be, however, in Lyotard's notion of the figural that Leon would find the best enunciation for what was understood by "plastic" (something disconnected from discourse and intolerant of the opposition between figurative and abstract): or, even, an energetic one (disconnected from of the symbolic), as a process of desire with its metamorphoses or transformations, without finalisms, which cannot be apprehended by structuralist theories of extraction that postulate systematicity and symmetry, and not the asymmetrical, the contradiction and the unpredictable. It is this notion of plastic as energetic, which nineteen years later, will activate Leon Kossovitch's discursive machine in his book on the art of Hélio Cabral.

Leon Kossovitch also wrote extremely accurate books and prefaces on art in Brazil, in particular on the technique (and language) of printmaking. Always accustomed to mastering the making, to the metiê in the studio, he has been following, over the decades, the production of some engravers, with whom he maintains a lively dialogue, resulting in unique texts. There are essays on woodcuts by Louise Weiss; the polytypies by Sergio Moraes, the calcogravures by Rubens Matuck and Zizi Baptista; the lithographs of Helio Cabral; the metal engravings by Feres Khoury and Ermelindo Nardin, among others.

His lasting dialogue with Marcello Grassmann resulted in two exceptional books, one in co-organization with Mayra Laudanna, Marcello Grassmann 1942-1955, which was a finalist for the Jabuti Award in 2014, and another, entitled Book of Affections, co-authored by Denis Molino and Ana Godoy, published in 2019. For the latter book, Leon wrote the essay “Marcello, amigo”. His description of his friend could well be transposed to its author: “Grassmann is an encourager who shares, with others, knowledge and affection that never cease to flow”. In this essay, Leon, evading the critical fortune that insists on typifying Grassmann as an expressionist, shows in a very fine commentary on the Leonardo-esque lines and stains of his “Apparitions” (the Grassmannian Bestiary) that, in him (Grassmann) the “expressive will” linked to the “Schopenhauerian will”, it does not allow itself to be imprisoned by the so-called “Expesionism” which, schematized in this way, still in the beginning of the XNUMXth century, “acceded to the status of a” timeless style.

Leon Kossovitch also published, in 1995, a precious book on the work of the artist Hélio Cabral (his drawings, paintings, engravings, objects and multimedia), in which, also in this case averse to the facilitations of art criticism, he did not resort to the specification from the gestural in Hélio Cabral, to the passage from the figurative to the abstract, nor to terms so common in the visual arts as informalism, lyrical abstraction, abstract expressionism, actio-painting or neo-expressionism (in vogue in those 1990s). Apart from that, it constituted a field of operators detached from Hélio Cabral's painting (visuality/ visionary; vision/ visage; connected energy/ free energy; grid/ association; procedure/ process); and with these operators showed that Hélio Cabral’s “material and gestural base” was changing from 1971 to 1994, with comings and goings, as the free energy transposing the limits of the figure (or of visibility) favored the irruption of the figural and the visionary in his painting.

He also wrote, always with a sensitive eye for what is vivacious and deviant, about an exhibition of young Brazilian artists, which was not covered by the official media – held in 2005 at the “Labor” factory, an old weaving deactivated in the Mooca neighborhood, in São Paulo, taking as a starting point the convergence between Jacques Rancière’s notions of “sharing of the sensitive” and “egalitarianism”, and the absence of hierarchies both between artists and between languages ​​(painting, installation, etc.) in this show.

The interaction with the artists Carlos Matuck, Waldemar Zaidler, and Kenji Ota also resulted in the book NOX Sao Paulo, Graffiti, from 2013, for which Leon Kossovitch wrote a vigorous essay, absolutely original, without similar in the national bibliography, and, even in the foreign one, if we consider the books on Street Art. In examining the methods of inscription (superficial or excavated) Leon Kossovitch resorted to precious documents, including the manuscript by Restif de la Bretonne, from 1776, found in the Bastille archives, and which was only published in 1889, with notes and Paul Cottin's comments on the book month registration, in which Restif recounts his wanderings through Paris on August 25, 1776, the day he recorded that date on the city's limestone.

One can also add, with regard to sources, among other possible ones, his comments on the writings of Pliny the Younger, on the inscriptions on columns and walls of temples and chapels; to the text in which Avelino classifies Graffiti, without hierarchizing them, into educated or uneducated; to the text in which Champleury refers to the different inscriptions of Pompeii, such as those of the poet, the lover, the drunkard, the libertine, the “painter who traces the first lines of his painting with charcoal”, or even “the child who, leaving school, stops idly in front of a wall and draws a naive sketch”.

If I dwell a little on his comments on texts on inscriptions in the Ancients and in the XNUMXs, it is not just to emphasize their relevance, but it is also to emphasize that Leon Kossovitch highlights, here too, the erasure to which these texts were subjected from the eight hundred; as the critical fortune of recent decades on the graffiti which does not refer to them.

The ingenious devices of Leon Kossovitch's essays on Brazilian art – bearing in mind that this is not an art critique that, in a laudatory key, aims solely at publicizing the artist's work – only find a simile, in my opinion. judgment, in the art criticism of Jean-François Lyotard and in the only book on painting by Gilles Deleuze, Francis Bacon: Logic of Sensation, 1981. In Leon Kossovitch's essays, as well as in Lyotard's art criticism, there is a relationship between artistic experimentation and experimentation in thought, that is, a correlation between the procedures employed in painting by the artist, and the unique way of enunciating the thought by the author.

Distancing himself, therefore, from the usual way of operating in art criticism, Lyotard aimed, in these texts, not only to comment on the works of certain artists, but also to unfold his own thoughts on art in the comments on these same works. His reflection on the artists' paintings allowed him, in other terms, to specify issues already mentioned in previous essays, but whose developments or scope, only in his art criticism, from the 1980s and 1990s, could fully come to light.

It can also be assumed that it was in his art criticism that Lyotard fully fulfilled the task of constructing “a philosophy text that came close to an artist’s text” – an objective already stated by the author in the preface of Discourses, Figure, 1972. (A book dear to Leon Kossovitcha at least since the aforementioned essay “O Plástico e o Discurso” in the magazine Speech no. 7, from 1976).

This procedure of Lyotard's art criticism does not seem to me to be out of line with that presented by Leon himself in his article “Gilles Deleuze, Francis Bacon”, in USP magazine no. 57, from 2003, in which he portrays text and image as juxtaposed or contiguous, Deleuze's philosophy and Bacon's painting, explaining that they "run parallel", on several levels, including the absence of the attribute of organization, both in the body without organs, or with disorganized organs, in Deleuze, and in the nervous wave intensities that Bacon paints.

If I am mistaken in these parallels, in search of a family atmosphere, I am certainly right when I say that Leon Kossovitch's essays on art, like all the others, are ingenious, because they are woven in a fine warp, rarely seen to see, and thought-provoking to read. I hope that the books and essays I have chosen have shown the breadth of your interest, which also includes photography, in the book Hiléia: the Amazonian photography of Antonio Saggese, and the literature in the prefaces to The o: The fiction of literature in Grande Sertão: Veredas, by 2000, and Satire and the Engenho: Gregório de Matos and Bahia in the XNUMXth century, from 1989, both by João Adolfo Hansen.

It remains to make explicit an aspect that I suppose is already, in some way, indicated in what I have said so far. Leon considers class and politics as “practices that do not imply the superiority of one over the other”, nor do they imply “a third party that overcomes or “contains” them. They are “heterogeneous fields”, and “one projects itself over the other”, “one supports the projection of the other” and this “simultaneously with their respective repercussions”, as he says in Class ArtOf 2019.

Each of these fields, according to Leon Kossovitch, faces obstructions, which are greater in politics (such as disinformation in traditional media and in the digital network, I suppose) and smaller in the classroom, which, however, is also obstructed, both by bureaucracy , and by those who paralyze the thought. In his classes, however, what happens, as I tried to show, is the removal of these obstructions, in such a way that, in them, “the government belongs to all”, associated in research and dialogue with repercussions on intelligence and affection. .

With regard to bureaucracy, I can assure you that Leon Kossovitch condemns the ideology that operates in the sense of “managing” university life, as if it had its own, inexorable logic, independent of the will of its professors. He refutes the stimulus to blind, quantifiable productivism and competitiveness among professors who always [obstinately] aim at their hierarchization; that is, Leon Kossovitch is averse to the “ideology of competent discourse” – in the terms of Professor Marilena Chauí – which conceives as a model the “managed university” according to the rationality of “market laws” or the “demands and demands of business organizations , that is, of capital”, thus threatening what would be proper to a public university: “critical education and freedom in research”.

In this direction, I have always taken Leon Kossovitch's scandalous perception in the process of unveiling an image, conducting a class, guiding research, or writing his texts, as a form of reaction to the world governed by electronic media and information technology, by “sensation of simultaneity and immediacy”, of voracity and haste, typical of financial capitalism that calls into question any long-term vision, in favor of the accelerated circulation of capital on a global scale. His ethical posture, of the most absolute coherence, in thought and in life is a gesture of radical rejection of the watchwords of neoliberal society: “Success, adequacy, narcissism, competitiveness, performance, achievement, optimization, performance”.

Finally: Leon: I know that these considerations of mine do not do justice to the greatness of your merits, but I hope that they have at least managed to express the deepest admiration and gratitude of our Faculty, and of the Department of Philosophy in particular, for having him as professor emeritus and friend. Thank you, Leon.

*Ricardo Fabbrini He is a professor at the Department of Philosophy at USP. Author, among other books, of Art after the vanguards (Unicamp).

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