Marilena Chaui, 80 years old



Considerations on the meaning of the philosopher's intellectual and political life.

As soon as colleagues from the Department of Philosophy at the University of Brasilia communicated to me the honorable invitation to take part in this ceremony granting Marilena Chaui the title of doctor Honorary by UnB in Brasilia, I was overcome with joy by the task of expressing the esteem and admiration that we all have for Marilena Chaui, her books, her teaching, her person. However, it must be admitted that, as the days went by, the joy, little by little, gave way to the reticence that sprouted with each attempt to fill in the paper. Doubts crept in relentlessly. Where to start? What words to choose? From a multifaceted and enormous work, what aspect should it take to understand and, above all, to express the meaning of this event, since a public figure like Marilena is not honored for free? I beg you benevolence with the speaker. The task entrusted to me is particularly thorny.

The works that Marilena dedicated to the ideological phenomenon, its essence and its criticism, produced decisive and highly original contributions, such as the concepts of ideology of competence and counter-discourse, which were associated with the analysis of the constitution and reproduction of the Brazilian “authoritarian society”, especially with regard to their ideological representations. Marilena managed like few others to shed light on our social life marked by the use of violence and exclusion, curiously counterbalanced, in terms of the imaginary, by the myth of our cordiality.

Over the decades, Marilena carried out, in contrast to our authoritarian ills (occasionally rejuvenated, never extirpated) a vigorous meditation on the character of democracy, reaching the crucial understanding that this, democracy, rather than a mere form of government, is a social formation. A democratic society is one that, dealing with the inevitable conflicts arising from its historical constitution, creates and institutes rights.

This reflection on democracy, Marilena has always accompanied by militant participation, taking a firm stand in the various spheres of social life in which she has acted: in the mainstream press, in the Workers' Party, in the Teotônio Vilela Commission on Human Rights, who deserves particular mention for having led her, along with colleagues and friends, but without the guidance of a beneficent Virgílio, to descend into the infernal circles of our society; experience whose impressions are still preserved in texts of great strength that symbolize his indignation, such as the one in which he narrates the conditions of women interned in the psychiatric hospital of Juquery and concludes with words that could be prophylactic to the followers of the fashion of demeaning basic rights : “Heavens of mercy! How can human beings do this to their fellow human beings? Or allow it to be done? How far does our cruelty and cowardice go to accept such infamy? By what right do we use our reason to exclude from the world those we consider unreasonable? Who gave us the right to so much violence?

Marilena's texts on the female condition, the political potentialities of feminism, the problems involved in the prohibition of abortion, and in a more general way, the issues related to the experience of sexuality, regardless of gender, although coming from contexts that are no longer exactly ours hold, both on the theoretical and political levels, perspectives that have much to contribute to current debates.

His studies dedicated to the theme of popular culture taught us to perceive the entire political dimension, that is, of power, present there, and allow us to understand how the conformation (and therefore the reproduction of authoritarianism) sometimes goes hand in hand with resistance (and therefore the yearning for change that is born of the tragic awareness that the world could be different from what it is). These are studies that find a natural and brilliant extension in the theoretical and practical work concerning cultural policy, developed from the Secretariat of Culture of the city of São Paulo and capable of elaborating a concept of paramount importance such as “cultural citizenship”.

Over decades of teaching, Marilena, a “philosophy teacher” (this is how she more than once declared she liked to be called) exercised a committed teaching practice that, considering her own work, its possibilities and vicissitudes, shaped a heartfelt meditation on public and democratic education, which is still relevant and has everything to inspire us.

Finally, how can we forget the notable works on the history of philosophy, which innovated in everything the philosopher worked on? Numerous themes and authors; Merleau-Ponty, Voltaire, La Boétie and, in the first place, Bento de Espinosa. Texts that formed and continue to form generations of students and professors and won, for Marilena, recognition from Brazilian and foreign academia.

My colleagues and friends, dearest Marilena, I have outlined this very brief tour solely in the hope that you will understand the anguish that came over me when I realized that no face of this true mass of aptitude for the simultaneous multiple allowed me to climb it to the top; indeed, the choice of a point always threatened to keep in an unfair obscurity others that integrate, in law and in fact, the same thinking life. It was there, however, at the moment when, to speak everyday language, I was about to throw in the towel, that I realized my mistake; Immediately, I made the firm decision not to talk too much about any of this, in order to be able to talk a little about all of this.

Among the various things I read, reread, reread, in order to prepare for today, at a certain point it occurred to me to turn over a few pages which, as far as my judgment goes, constitute one of the most beautiful tributes that can be paid to a master. This is Merleau-Ponty's essay entitled “The Philosopher and His Shadow”. It was one of revelation and relief. My complete incapacity and the resulting despair in the face of Marilena's massive work perhaps expressed a positive aspect. It is precisely because the work of thought cannot be reduced to an inventory. “Anyone who believes in this”, Merleau-Ponty warns us, “is wrong about the work and about thinking”.

No profile, not even the simultaneous gathering of the greatest number of profiles, much less the pretentiously complete reproduction of all the topics, would ever allow us to contemplate the geometric nature of the work. The desire for full apprehension and perfect coincidence, in addition to the vanity of bad readers, is a madness that, if carried out, would culminate in something close to that cartographic monster imagined by Borges: a “Map of the Empire that lines the immensity of the Empire itself” . None of that. It's just the sense that allows us to understand the work, insofar as it makes us experience precisely its essential inexhaustibility.

Far be it from me to suggest that, in Marilena's work, there are no priorities, inspiring motifs, polemical intentions given by time (perhaps to the chagrin of Nietzscheans and Deleuzians, Marilena is definitely not an extemporaneous philosopher); I just say that, in my opinion and as I hope everyone here agrees, we are facing the happy result of the work of thought and a thinking life, that is, we are facing a work of thought.

I am convinced that we are not gathering today to honor an inventory of titles and themes, nor the many years of teaching by Marilena Chaui. Make no mistake. We came to recognize and give prestige to what, constituted by everything I mentioned a moment ago, is greater than each of its parts; the thinking that is expressed in the ability to work and in dignity; the thinking that manifests itself in its entirety and in depth when it gives shape to a thinking, generous and combative way of life; in this case, the life capable of bringing together the highest desires for happiness and freedom in a firm commitment sealed by thought.

This, it seems to me, is the scope of this ceremony. In an institution conceived by Darcy Ribeiro and Anísio Teixeira as a public, innovative and democratic university; academic invention that should play a fundamental role, not in building the country, since it already existed, but in building a decent country, as it did not exist and still does not exist. This is what we celebrate: the presence of Marilena Chaui. Not only the physics, the high-sounding voice and the agile gestures that enchant us, but also the presence of the work of thought. In the rigorous sense that it has taught us so many times: because we learn to think in the wake of others, our attempts can only begin when the discourse of others names what is the object of our interrogations. What we honor is, above all, Marilena's work of thought; the presence of thought, teaching, example. Let's all be sure that, in the frequency of his work, we still have a lot to learn; discover words that will be of great value to name the objects of our questions and inspire the confrontations and attempts that time charges us.

That's why, before I finish, I'll allow myself a little indiscretion. A few months ago, talking to Marilena about the misfortunes of the country, she told me more or less the following: “you know, what saddens me, makes me melancholic, is that it seems that everything I did and fought for was in vain”. I wouldn't know how to reproduce the words exactly; the ones that stuck in my memory were these and it is from them that I question: was it all in vain, really, Marilena? I take the liberty of replying with a very resounding NO; less because I intend to yell at him than because I believe that the denial is shared by everyone here, on the occasion that the University of Brasília, at the request of the Department of Philosophy and with the approval of its directors, honors him with a doctorate degree Honorary.

If you allow me to continue with my boldness, Marilena, I would suggest that you distance yourself from vacillations, even if they are understandable in the light of daily abominations, embracing for yourself what is profound in these verses by Fernando Pessoa: “of the daring work, the part made is mine / what is to be done is with God alone”.

Don't worry. Among Spinoza's readers and admirers, there is no risk of reading under this "to do" neither an appeal to divine providence nor the indolence of a solipsistic wisdom that thought it had the right to say: I've done my part, stay with us. god-will. On the contrary, what is to be done will be understood as an invitation to the continuity of the work. A true work of thought is not a repertoire of theses that we acquire and parrot around; it is, if effectively a work of thought, an invitation to think, to think without resignation and knowing, from the conscience of what to do, to take on new tasks.

This is your work, a work of thought, the one in which we can feel and experience the vigor of our best part, which is the intellect capable of expressing fortitude in the face of fortune, beneficial power that confronts the evil that - you never give us. allowed us to forget – comes neither from the gods nor from us, but from the fabric we spun in our relationships and which each time assumes the most diverse forms, and may even display military rank, as it did yesterday and today. No, Marilena, it will not have been in vain. A former student, a current colleague, an eternal friend and admirer, begs you to understand that nothing was in vain. There is no vicissitude that can erase the example and work of the work that affirms the dignity of thought and invites us to continue it.

And so it is because Marilena Chaui's work of thought, your work, Marilena, beyond all its ramifications and dates, is mainly the one in which and through which the wise woman addresses us as capable of wisdom. Capable of that wisdom that you hold and whose possession you demonstrate to us at every moment, without ever airing exclusivity. Wisdom is a common good. Not because everyone is endowed with it, as would be the case with Cartesian common sense, but because it can be shared; well communicable that everyone can have without stain to anyone. It is something that we all aspire to and that, we are convinced, you have agreed to; and without forgetting for a single moment that, as Spinoza teaches, wisdom (and consequently freedom and happiness) is only reached at its highest level when achieved together with others, with the greatest possible number of other people.

In the dark moment when the repressed desire for exclusivism returns with violence and gives rise to all sorts of pettiness, prejudices and hatred; when self-styled “good citizens” imagine that carrying a gun and enjoying the right to destroy others is a condition for happiness; In these times, Marilena, your lesson is a balm: the certainty that either happiness and freedom are common and sharable goods, or they are definitely not true goods.

This is what I think constitutes the object and above all the meaning of our meeting today. Let us celebrate Marilena Chaui: author of a robust and admirable work, as well as a happy and free woman, a sage in the precise Spinoza sense.

Dearest Marilena, even knowing that “everything that is magnificent is as difficult as it is rare”, I hope that we, colleagues, students, friends, live up to the invitation that you extend to us through your work of thought and your person. For now, I can only, on my behalf and on behalf of all those who entrusted me with this difficult and dignified task, very affectionately greet and thank you. Marlene, thank you very much.

PS This text was read at the ceremony granting Marilena Chaui the title of honorary doctor by the University of Brasilia, on September 24, 2018. Making it public at the time when the philosopher turns 80 is my way of honoring her , reiterating the words of then.

* Homer Santiago He is a professor in the Department of Philosophy at USP.


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