dry bush on fire

Edward Ruscha, Red Rooster, 1996
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By JOHN PACE*

Commentary on the film directed by Adirley Queirós and Joana Pimenta

The Man and the Road

If we want to attribute some meaning to the journey made so far by the films of Adirley Queirós, thinking above all about his feature films, we can perhaps formulate it as follows: Is the city one? (2011) to the most recent co-realization with Joana Pimenta, a progressive integration of the documentary element to the fictional element is being designed, or, in other words, a gradual dissolution of the document in fiction, which starts to predominate. In that first film, both tracks were already present, but sort of placed side by side, the accounts of the evictions and relocations that gave rise to Ceilândia juxtaposed with Dildu's improvised campaign for the National Correria Party.

Then in White goes out, black stays (2014), a first step was taken in the unification of the two moments, insofar as collecting the testimonies of Marquim and Sartana was the mission of Dimas Cravalanças, whose journey through time served as a narrative context for the collection of evidence and the investigation of the occurred; even so, if, on the other hand, the use of genre cinema and the conventions of science fiction gave more weight and generality to fantasy, the raw appearance of the materials of the process maintained something of that initial duality.

And with Brasilia once upon a time (2017) that the trend towards greater unification becomes clear: separate reports disappear and the recording of the characters' daily lives does not mean a break in the sci-fi atmosphere; it is within it, and only there that the documentary element exists.

At first, in dry bush on fire the discretion of the most crass aspects of genre films, or even a certain attenuation of make-believe seems to contradict the direction that Adirley's production had been taking. However, here, too, the story and the reconstitution of the past only exist as part of fictional situations; and also here there is a strong and “cinematic” component of adventure and action. The sequences that show us Léa's prison records, with the images of the paperwork and the reading of its contents, and which would indicate a return to documentary without the support of the imagination, are actually more evidence in favor of our point.

As the filmmakers themselves said during a launch debate in São Paulo, if we pay close attention, these records are very similar to storyboards, obey a montage themselves, suggest with their little arrows and captions an order for those photographs, incidentally inconclusive and unclear[I]. If we add to this the fact that dry bush on fire, as is customary for Adirley Queirós, was recorded without a prior script and amid hot discussions and decision-making, we will see a curious inversion complete: the film seems to want to get rid of preventions, protections and ready-made formulas, while reality itself aspires to the ready-made cinematic image.

The same thing for the long stretch of Bolsonarist celebration after the captain's electoral victory, one of the very rare sequence shots of dry grass, in which the camera, supported by a fixed point, moves continuously to the right, giving an impression of a panorama. As a testament to that inversion, people modify their behavior and stage the party in front of the film crew, and this when they are not filming themselves with their own cell phones.

What is being documented, therefore, is not the so-called naked and raw reality, but rather the process of fictionalization inherent to reality, that is, the personal and collective act of creating one's own history and identity - in short, of an imaginary. Just remember the recreation of the Invasion Eradication Campaign jingle in Is the city one? or of Marquim musically recreating his youth in the basement of his house, similar to a bunker, in white leaves. It is Adirley's declared and deliberate task to confer or restore a representation, a self-image for that territory, a purpose that we could call, in a very sui generis sense and without prejudice, identity.[ii]: it is a question of giving shape to a community, telling its history, including this imaginary in the “multiplicity of new actors that are validated by the simple fact of existing in reciprocal difference between themselves”[iii].

But, again, it is not the final product or the aseptic and advertising image of the periphery that interests him, but the process of formulating a new image, its contradictions and ambiguities, and evidently its political possibilities. If I'm not mistaken, the recording of this imagination in action is what the director understands and proposes as an ethnography of fiction.

It is good to reinforce how present the past is in productions that are more or less guided by this conception. The identity or the imaginary of a territory and the community that lives in it is not formed without the reconstitution of its origin and its formation, or even, to use a more frequent and worn word, of its ancestry – and a reconstitution laden with affection . To use Adirley's definitions, a film matters as and is above all historical memory. Take, for example, the longer dialogues of dry bush on fire, those between Léa and Chitara. When they went looking for actresses for the feature, the co-directors wanted specific trajectories of a generation of women, daughters of single mothers who raised the Rising Sun[iv], to hear what they had to say.

In their encounters, those two characters reminisce about their common father, different mothers, conflicts with the family, crime, love, children, etc., and listen to Odair José; Léa likes to remember the various women she had in lockup and dreams of buying a whorehouse, starting with Zuleide's, which was her father's favorite. When introduced in other features, the genre convention reinforces this trip to the past. “Take me, my longing”, says the old song that the intergalactic traveler WA plays on his junk ship in Brasilia once upon a time: thinking about it, the return of the agents of the future in time is a way to stylize the proposal of this cinema, which in this way also enters as a theme.

Resuming what we had been saying at the beginning, the tendency to dilute the document in the imagination was accompanied by another, to slow down the movement of the camera and the narrative. Each new film by Adirley Queirós is longer than the previous one, the sequences become longer, and fixed shots predominate. In the debate about dry grass in São Paulo, someone in the audience saw this feature as proof of formal rigor. The director Joana Pimenta replied that, on the contrary, as in this case there was no script as a guide and the spontaneity of the process was sought, the camera could not leave beforehand after something in the scene.

The fixed plan, instead of being a preference among many possibilities, is actually, always in the words of the director, the way found to relate to everyday urgencies[v] that they could enter the field, to deal with the spontaneous and the unforeseen; therefore, where there was supposed to be a technical option, there is actually a living relationship with the material filmed. Something of that urgent feeling usually appears in Adirley's speeches. He usually says that he always makes a film as if it were his last, as if to say fuck it, with an almost nihilistic gesture: “to touch terror”[vi]. However, due to an apparent paradox, this same attitude does not translate into greater agility in the action and the cut, but in a slow pace, extended in paused shots, which to some seemed to be an unnecessary delay. Whether it is a valid objection or not, it seems more important to retain this strange and contradictory convergence of urgency and immobility, of action film and fixed shot, of adventure and circularity, which we will find again later.

The actresses themselves always seem to be waiting, attentive, and smoke one cigarette after another, as the confined do. Also in other characters of Adirley this waiting filled by a vigilant attention is recurrent: be it Marquim, be it Cravalanças, be it Sartana or Chitara, they are always around with radio and listening devices, with cameras, as if they were going to receive an important transmission from someone , or tried to intercept the enemy; as if they were finally waiting for a sign.

Smoking and exchanging ideas on top of the roof of their oil lot, Léa and her sister see a luminous point moving slowly across the broad night horizon of Ceilândia, suspect it to be a drone, a helicopter, finally suppose it to be a flying saucer, imagine an abduction, and Chitara says that, in the hood, tense and at the same time sore, it's to be suspicious of everything that is light. Sign of what, then? The enemy or an intergalactic force from another time? Threat or help, and even who knows about salvation, including religious? The fact is that this immobile and attentive state of someone who observes the world in search of the annunciations of something unforeseen corresponds rigorously to that relationship entertained by the camera with the people and spaces it registers.

Again according to the director: “If you put a camera on the street [in a periphery] and leave the camera open there, you predict the future, I think. Any camera on the street in Quebrada is a prediction of the future. Because everything comes first: unemployment comes first, pain comes first, incarceration comes first, the accused of being alienated comes first, everything. So, you put a camera on the street and quickly you see something that is happening that we haven't seen yet”.[vii]

Apparently, contrary to what the progressive conscience always believed, it is not the great centers of political and economic power that will radiate their ways of life and their features to the peripheries, but these are the ones that prophesy about their missteps. While on Brasilia once upon a time, his combat companions ask him what the future is like and where he comes from, the WA agent replies: “it's like this here, just like that”.

Gambiarra and rush

This same short circuit between poverty and the ultramodern, both brought together in precariousness and becoming almost indistinguishable through its mediation, through its imprint on the landscape as a whole and the objects that compose it, appears variously in the cinema of Adirley Queirós. Cravalanças is an outsourced agent of the Brazilian State, complains about the delay in payments and the deplorable working conditions[viii]; WA was arrested in his place of origin for illegally occupying and negotiating a lot, having his sentence commuted to unpaid historical reparation services (just as inmates are obliged to serve in the construction of the new Sol Nascente prison, in dry grass).

The examples do not end with science fiction characters, in which that conjunction is even more obvious. There is a curious characteristic of the characters in Ceilândia today, which is their intimacy with technology and complicated technical processes, ranging from making a pump to assembling machinery for oil extraction and refining. Different from the old image of watertight and mute poverty, disseminated by the newsreels of the last century and, to a certain extent, preserved in the new cinema, this new image shows it not alien to the latest innovations in the world, but very much on par with them, it is noisy and dominates advanced apparatus; moreover, its imagery is transnational (for example, hip hop).

In place of the old deprivation, therefore, a scene covered with machines, instruments, computers, cell phones, motorcycles, spaceships and so on[ix] – but all looking a bit broken, rusty, or else improvised from the scrap that accumulates in the open. This intimacy, as we call it, between characters and technology gained its most evident figure in Marquim and Sartana, in the fact that in their own bodies the organic and the inorganic become a single thing; the second of them even turned the acquired knowledge about prostheses into a job. Is at dry grass, there are long plans that dwell on the storage and distribution processes carried out by Gasoline companies. Also contributing to the scrapped-technical atmosphere, in all the films, are the continuous and uncomfortable metallic sounds, like those of a wheelchair lift or an oil derrick.

Whether within the narrative or at the level of production itself, objects are often diverted from their original purpose.[X]: Marquim's records and recordings are remixed to generate a weapon of mass destruction, the ships of the sci-fi travelers were assembled, in white leaves, from a container, and what appears to be a children's buffet toy, in Brasilia once upon a time. The fact that the devices often appear readjusted for new functions says a lot about what is the essence of technical skill in Adirley's films.

In her world, she is not about making things work as they should, obediently following the instruction manual, annulling her own subjectivity in a mechanical conformation to a pre-established set of procedures; we are already a long way from that somewhat clownish representation of the clumsy worker swallowed by the gears of big industry, like Chaplin's[xi].

There, it was about showing the inadequacy, the gap between the habits of the body and the demands of the machine; here, there is a complementarity between both. Made impromptu and with available materials, the apparatuses of the digitized periphery keep the intention of those who assembled them in this re-signification, retain their memory, and the technique does not dispense with and even presupposes individual creativity and skill. In the new stage, the absorption without rest of the worker's body by the heartless automatism of the machinery seems to have been replaced by the opening to its autonomy, to the circumvention of prescriptions, to the inscription of subjectivity in the functioning of the world, including as an impetus for invention – without prejudice to the precariousness and eventual subordination of that same autonomy.

On the other hand, as already mentioned, the devices that make up this abundance and are recycled in the day-to-day life of the ravines are falling apart and seem to be about to break, or else they have already broken and received repairs the way they did. If the relationship with the means of production and reproduction of life has changed, these means have also changed and, above all, deteriorated. This degradation of the inorganic element – ​​analogous and mixed with the desertification and atrophy of the organic element in this suburban setting, where the natural landscape, divided into lots, seems to have been reduced to waste, smoke and clouds of dust – is nevertheless the starting point of inventiveness. , a stimulus for her, giving the impression that here “functioning begins precisely where something is broken”[xii] or at least already obsolete.

Even though it gave it different meanings, the critics rightly underlined and insisted on this point, perhaps what most strikes the eye in this filmography: the presence of technological waste reused in an almost artisanal way, of second-hand equipment intelligently re-signified by the new technified poverty[xiii]; in short and more abstractly, an “operation that positive aspects of inferiority, attributing them redeeming advantages”[xiv], analogous to the one that, in turn, was at the base of the elaboration and valorization of the peripheral identity that has been taking place in Brazil since the 1990s. if you can call it “gambiarra”, it is closely linked to the project that guides these films, that is, to their attempt to give images to a territory, a generation or a street.

To give an idea of ​​the generality of this procedure, it is important to emphasize that it is found as much in the actions of the characters and narrative situations as in the production model; or still, following the jargon, it has an intra- and extra-diegetic existence. Adirley's first features, as is known, were produced with money from very low-budget public notices aimed at documentaries, so that in them, too, the scarcity of resources and the slight transgression of the rules came together and transmuted into creative force and artistic originality.[xv].

The possibility of this conversion of a disadvantage into an advantage is largely due to the fact that the films reflect on the lack of their conditions, extending it to the conventions of science fiction, a genre addicted to special effects and mega-exploits.budgets; conversely, what can be laughable in a time-container capsule ends up making the pyrotechnics of superproductions ridiculous, as if the gambiarra exposed its false bottom, or rather, its true foundation. Thus, if we wanted to expand the scope of this reflection step by step, it would initially address the public notice market, then work with culture in general, and finally the so-called precarious work that, once globalized, became work , point[xvi].

Speaking of work, both in production and in the product, the rush[xvii] runs through these features and is resumed with variations in all of them[xviii]. It appears in the name of Dildu's party in Is the city one?, in addition to clearly defining the mishaps of your campaign; more subtly, without a word being said, is in his brother-in-law Zé Bigode's perpetual motion machine, always driving his car after lots to negotiate, and in his own comings and goings on the bus from home to work, from Plano to Ceilândia, sometimes sleeping, sometimes daydreaming.

We spent a good part of White goes out, black stays to accompany Marquim's displacements in slow planes, as if to suggest his difficulty. They thus become a metaphor for a painful daily commute, taken to the last and dystopian consequences in the requirement for passports to enter the capital. Sartana lives next to a busy highway and the train tracks, where he sometimes goes, he doesn't quite know why, whether to reflect or look for signs of Cravalanças, remaining there, stopped. Scenes of people handcuffed, in uniform and guarded by well-equipped guards inside the subway cars and platforms recur throughout Brasilia once upon a time.

Finally, in dry bush on fire, a sequence divided into two parts begins with a party on the bus, at night, with the women dancing, drinking, smoking and kissing, and after an abrupt cut ends with all dressed as prisoners, by day, under police escort, sitting and silent, and curiously forced to get off, not in a prison, but in a bus station… Again that: movement or paralysis, which of the two sets the tone here? But, with these images in mind, what is the difference between the two anyway? By the force of things, the same paradox of the relationship between camera and matter appears, that of a paralysis in movement or a stopped movement.

There was a time when that temporary and improvised adjustment that is gambiarra, in terms of spontaneity and slight disdain for the norm, was assimilated to the national way of being, and this in turn was understood as the great advantage of civilization Brazilian society and its possible contribution to the world. At that time and for a society that saw itself as backward or underdeveloped, its originality and its opportunity were provided by the permanent confrontation between archaism and modernization: precisely this difference and the reciprocal verification of the two poles was the open chance before us, ripping off the jacket bourgeoisie of progress to the European one and vaccinating the misery inherited from the colony against yellow fever.

The expectation for the historic turning point presupposed the difference and the uncertainty of the times that insisted on cohabiting. Well, in another era, the current one, in which the abundance of digital recording and storage mechanisms aligns more with a certain kind of homemade and amateur cinema than with the great production of the old monopolies of the cultural industry; in a filmography in which the future is unrecognizably equal to the present, and in which the poor, despite remaining in the same place, fight back with their pride, dominate and hack computer programs, blow up congress, extract oil, produce gasoline, know well the available means of production and reproduction — where did that unevenness go?

In place of the old juxtapositions, oppositions, contradictions and dualisms of all kinds, the relationship between advance and backwardness, modern and precarious, inside and outside seems to be defined in another key, in a kind of meshing of terms that were once clearly discernible, but that now seem to have found a strange fit[xx] and even almost melted into a murky mixture. We will return later to this true contemporary blur, in which the contours of old social categories that may have passed their expiration date are blurring and mixing.

Fire in Babilonia

Despite the relative clarity of the dry bush on fire, when leaving the session we have the feeling that something in the ordering of the story was not well understood. Is it being narrated by Léa, who in the three scenes after the title summarizes what the film will show? She speaks, at this point, as if everything had already happened before and during her time in prison, which she has just got out of; the deeds of the protagonists are left behind, and we become aware of them as she reconnects with her friends.

Right after the dialogue between the flying saucer and Chitara, however, the oil machinery suddenly starts working by itself, in a ghostly way. We are then returned to the everyday life of the lot, to the routine of hoses, barrels and endless noise, as well as the armed guard of the territory. Did we go back in time, did the dialogued memories become scenes? And Léa's detention towards the end, will it be another one or the same one she left at the beginning? The facts are known, but in what order are they?

As the filmmakers assured, the ambiguity was deliberate and much debated throughout the montage. They also report an anecdote from the recordings that helps to understand the problem: as always, scenes need to be filmed many times, which at first could be a complication for non-professional actresses; Léa, however, repeated them over and over without alterations, with identical intonation and gestures. When they commented to her about it, she replied that she had learned to master this technique in jail, where the constant comings and goings of the inmates forced her to tell the same story several times to different people, always looking for the same effects.

There would be a time of repetition that is transmitted from the prison to the street, the two forming a single circuit through which people, goods and stories travel.[xx]; it is this looping temporality — always starting to narrate and returning to the same point, origin and end simultaneously — that the shuffling of the plot seems to imitate or, what amounts to the same thing, adopt as its narrative logic. The idea, by the way, was that the feature would end with Léa's actual imprisonment, closing a circle.

If so, we would have a film of about two hours; dry grass it's two and a half hours. At this point another construction principle enters, in fact an agreement signed between production and actresses before filming started: they and their characters should win in the end, defeat their enemies and become legends.[xxx]. For this reason, after the arrest of their companion, the other Gasolineiras join the motoboys, who in turn are their clients and accomplices at the same time, to shoot and set fire to the armored vehicle of the Brazilian security forces, not without first dismantling it and sell your parts. The confrontation is more insinuated than presented, and the most important thing is to show the victory and the somewhat pyromaniac image that best represents it: the burning of the car used by the opponent in his own wandering; without being able to walk around, he is worthless.

It gives food for thought, if we remember the centrality of displacements and logistics that we discussed above; the frequent noise of motorcycles and the fact that the smuggled goods are fuel reinforce its importance. In any case, an ending favorable to the protagonists had been arranged, and so it was; with that, however, an edge was added that undoes the perfection of that circle. In other words, the time of repetition had its course interrupted by another, the time of adventure, linked to the mythology of action movies and their rules, to explosions and, in a way, to the uprising of the hood.

What consequences can be drawn from this interruption, or rather, from this overlapping of different temporalities, one insisting on following its course, the other setting fire to everything in sight? Note that we are far from any kind of happy end, of that relieved return of the good son to the house after the storm that turned everything upside down (although the last sequence represents Léa’s return, in which perhaps the film suggests one more turn in the circle and the imposition of the time of repetition over that of adventure… ).

Less than reconciliation, what sets the tone here is the retaliation, gesture and assiduous subject in recent Brazilian cinema[xxiii] and in this Celandic filmography. The fantasy of setting fire to and blowing up the Plano Piloto, which appears in animation in the close-ups of The city… and in Sartana's drawings that close white leaves, no doubt has to do with it, especially in this last film. If she just wanted to report the history of abuse and oppression experienced by residents of the periphery, Adirley could have comfortably remained in the documentary record; but he also wanted to pay back, he and his characters wanted to take advantage of the freedoms opened up by cinema to record revenge, in a “kind of revanchist catharsis”[xxiii].

By the way, it is impossible to review these scenes today without remembering the images from a moment ago, of the seizure of the three powers by the Bolsonarist insurgency; effectively, they converge in hatred for the iconography of power and in contempt for a culture that, without prejudice to critical gaps, was linked to him and his project of national integration and development. This proximity, which obviously does not equal anyone, deserves reflection.

But back to “revanchist catharsis” and its implications. Is the option for her a simple imaginary compensation? In a way yes, judging by the inconsistency of this triumph; perhaps because of this awareness, and also because of the slowdown of the camera and narrative pace, the staging of the counter-offensive has been less cathartic, more paused and more restrained in the two most recent features. However, perhaps we can think that, even fantasized or ephemeral, revenge is a real part of the process, and is present – ​​not only as a narrated situation but as a political objective of culture – in that transformation of stigma into pride that we saw earlier as a basic procedure in the Adirley's cinema and the construction of peripheral identity in recent decades[xxv].

This was, in its own way, a way of fighting back against the humiliation suffered and of revaluing their own survival practices. Literary criticism has already faced a similar phenomenon in its field, in the short stories of Allan da Rosa, where a mismatch between the precariousness of the subject and the exuberance of the style was identified, and where the latter seeks to give dignity to the former; the disjunction, in this case, corresponds to real behaviors, which it formalizes. “Elevation as an aesthetic aspiration; relegation as a structural social condition”[xxiv], and culture as a possible path to liberation, even if artistic sublimation does not go beyond the initial situation. In fact, despite the heightened stylization, the story could end badly: what good was intelligence in adversity then?

also dry grass gives its own formulation to this retaliation full of fuss but of uncertain effectiveness[xxv] that has been surrounding the production of the peripheries. Maybe it has something to do with what Léa and her partners call "putting it up" an expression they sometimes use for the oil scheme itself, their work, the recognition and power they gain from it; sometimes for the subversion of the impositions of the police-prison State, in Andreia's campaign for district deputy; now for the conflict with the security forces at the end of the film and Léa's threat to blow everything up by shooting at a barrel of fuel. Survival, revolt and war are all encompassed in the imprecise semantics of putting it to fuck.

On the other hand, it is important to note that with this counterattack not only will the opponent be eliminated, but the one who takes revenge can also end up going with him. That's what it sounds like when Chitara says, sitting on the sofa-mattress in the middle of the battle, that for her son and her family she would do anything, including blowing up everything; or when, on the motorcycle of the Partido do Povo Preso, Andreia promises to end the curfew at Sol Nascente and keep her other promises, even if she has to fuck herself to do so; or finally, as already mentioned, when Léa threatens to shoot the barrel.

The explosion channels revolt, but it can result in sheer total annihilation, an acceleration of destruction already underway, or nothing at all. The “impossibility of constituting a political subject in a 'territory of precariousness'” has already been well described in white leaves, associated with a “cultural scenario of disillusionment regarding the promise of social justice offered by the restorative State or by market opportunities, which, however, does not find conditions to extricate itself from the very mechanisms against which it rebels”[xxviii]. In dry bush on fire, I believe that the observation remains valid and deepens, perhaps due to the change of political winds.

Let's see, for example, the film's relationship with Bolsonarism. The direct mention of the most recent facts is nothing new in Adirley Queirós, who has already used parliamentary speeches and scenes of rallies and demonstrations in the middle or in parallel to the intercho. It is the relationship with this material that seems changed. The conflict between protagonists and security forces takes place after the election won by the radical right, announced by lightning, thunder and fireworks; the characters would resist this offensive coming from outside.

However, the imaginary of the Gasoline companies seems more in line with that of Bolsonarism than this opposition would suggest; it seems, therefore, to be taking a position that is somewhat artificial, motivated perhaps by the fear of being misunderstood. The same goes for the scene in which the militarized agents give the Bolsonarist salute inside the van. Different from previous films, in which the monuments of Brasilia's postcard were very present and assumed the role of villain, in dry grass the enemy became much more inaccurate and difficult to spot.

The weapons, which the characters master and for which they have a certain affection, the evangelical cult, the territorialism, the permanent preparation for war and even the semi-suicidal disposition to the last consequences — all this points to an unexpected affinity between the symbology of the legends of Ceilândia and that of the conservative revolution. We can think that, in both cases, it is the very definition between revolt and order that collapses, and one pole starts to resound confusedly in the other; where does conformism end, where does insubordination begin? Far be it from me to equate the two universes, even further to say that it is a Bolsonarist film (which it is not and insists on not being); even so, there is this parasitic relationship between the two – but who parasites whom? – between transgression and norm.

The fact that the revolt allowed itself to leak into the language of the order and vice versa is perhaps a sign of a defeat and a profound misunderstanding on the part of those who should mobilize it, but it can and very probably should be an indication, above all, of the setbacks and ravines over which the political struggle stumbles in a time of accentuation of the destructive forces proper to capitalist accumulation.[xxviii]

Another point where we find an ambiguity of this kind is in the characters' relationship with crime. Léa and Chitara speak with veneration and pride of their father, who brought food to the children, wanted to bring them together, and who, in addition to being a womanizer, was one of the biggest bandits in Ceilândia, Lasqueira. At the same time that there is this relationship of memory and affection, there is also a certain feeling of fatality: crime pulls you, says Chitara, it drags you along, and even an improvement in life, like the one Léa had when she became an actress, it is not enough to tear someone out of its influence. It gives a lot but it has its consequences, and, despite the enormous inequality of forces between criminals and repression, nobody is exactly innocent in this dynamic.

To explain this link with the world of illegalities, the words of a Latin American sociologist and scholar of contemporary transformations on the continent are useful, who has been talking about a new “social organicity of organized crime”, in a process in which it broadens and deepens its “rootedness in the region in communities, popular neighborhoods, territories, youths, society in general”. Here, too, rebellion is translated into terms we are not used to: “organized crime is increasingly becoming a channeling factor for discontent and popular malaise, and is also able to capture something of the counter-hegemonic impulses, of upheaval, of antagonism against power”; he manages, finally, to “shape these possible insurgencies”[xxix].

Thus, after a gradual sequence of subjection of a territory and a community to the control and interests of an armed group, which starts to incorporate the local people to its enterprise and to create ties with and between them – after the consolidation of this domain and as its last stage comes the conversion of part of the population into war machines, that is, its subjective, cultural, territorial, economic and political incorporation into its “logic of organized violence”. And, to resume what we said just before, it should be noted that the symbiosis between order and transgression is of the very nature of crime: illegal activity, it is perhaps where discipline, authority and hierarchy are felt more strongly; outside the law, its own codes are nevertheless strictly observed and enforced.[xxx]

These considerations are even more interesting for our film as they are inserted in the description of a larger process, the imbrication between organized crime and extractivism. Gasolineiras activity is also of this type, a popular, informal and illegal sub-species, so to speak a gatonet engineering applied to the exploitation of fossil fuels. In one of the last scenes of the film, at night, we see a billboard on fire, on which the busts of the actresses are graffitied and, above them, the words “The oil belongs to us”.

With the decline of the worm-eaten national referent (us, ours), the myriad of these territories – and their respective identities – come into dispute with each other. The mockery with the Getulista campaign is obvious, but it is worth asking what the meaning of this “de nosis” is: does it correspond to the periphery? or a fraction of it, controlled by a group? Retaliation and revenge codes, by the way, are part of the universe of factions, which adds a new nuance to what we were talking about retaliation.

It is at this point that the recurrence and importance of that notion of territory could be clarified, and in its practical meaning, that is, as a delimited space among so many others, in competition with them, to be economically exploited and whose benefits are partly reversed in maintaining sovereignty[xxxii]. Something of that might have appeared since Zé Bigode's lottery fury in Is the city one?, in its kind of sleazy form of real estate speculation based on the informal occupation of land.

The bang-bang climate that results from the articulation between extractivism and territorial control calls for the use of a third concept, that of the border, in an attempt to find words to explain the functioning of the world of dry bush on fire. It has already been used when trying to describe White goes out, black stays as a borderlands science fiction, in which urban and temporal borders would be crossed[xxxi]; in the most recent feature, the rap that closes it and gives the soundtrack of Léa's return takes the name of another genre dear to the cinema of Adirley Queirós, and which has in its frontier of the American expansion its natural habitat[xxxii]: Western DF.

As a location, these intervals in space, surroundings where one moves from one point to another, this “hinterland”[xxxv] provides the landscape through which, alone, the characters walk. But the logic of the frontier is not limited to photography and what it captures: in a way, in these scenarios, the criteria and oppositions that configure or at least would configure the norm and normality become labile, volatile. Everything happens as if the liminal character of space were transferred to the social categories, one endlessly intermingling with the other in a continuous traffic, as if the map that delimited them was being formed and the limits that define them were not yet, or no longer, plus, whatever, sharp enough. The border is the space of ambiguities[xxxiv]; as we have seen, they are not lacking in our films.

Hybrid cinema?

Throughout the text, several times we come across pairs of opposing concepts that nevertheless seemed to intertwine and maintain a relationship not of antagonism, but of interpenetration and shuffling, as if forming an amalgam in which the opposition at the beginning becomes fluid and inaccurate. Not that the terms are no longer recognizable, but in trying to designate and describe a given scene or character with one of them, we are imperceptibly drawn to the other; like slime, the images and situations slip out of our hands and our analytical instruments. In part, we can attribute this fact to the declared intention, in these films, of not being “hostage of sociology”[xxxiv], that is, the various schemes and commonplaces of the human sciences and academic jargon, whose overflow into everyday vocabulary has been remarkable.

Hence the enormous distance in relation to the clichés that populated the “films about social issues” in the last ten or fifteen years, all taken from the faded repertoire of the so-called interpretations of Brazil and updated according to the good political taste of the moment: the friendly maid, treated as if she were part of the family when it suits her, the mistress who oscillates between condescension and savagery, heredity as a source of power, the immobility of class relations, patrimonialism, etc. Without going into the merits of whether or not these schemes are in force, it is a fact that some of the worst moments of good films owe the drop in performance to this attachment to a sociological prescription that is easily accepted by a more or less well-educated audience. Adirley's films do not suffer from this banality, which neither aim to please audiences in Rio/São Paulo nor hide what the ready-made image would try to suppress in order to format the material according to its program.

This openness to what he and Joana Pimenta call the contradictions of their characters and their environment is what provides those confusing mixtures of opposite terms, or rather, this hybridity[xxxviii]. Let's quickly go over some of them. First, the distinction between fantasy and documentary has been messed up and rearranged by the idea of ​​the ethnography of fiction; then, we saw that the way of capturing the urgency of what was happening in front of the camera was translated into the immobility of the fixed shot, which in turn had repercussions on the behavior of the characters in their wait and search for signs.

This same conjunction of paralysis and movement, in turn, reappeared in the notion of running, as an ever-continued displacement and, although without stopping, stopped; closely linked to the work, this wandering disposition was close to what we understand as the basic procedure of this filmography, the gambiarra, valid both for intra-narrative situations and for the production model. Here, too, the balls are switched: technical processes and technological devices are amateurishly re-operated, incorporated into memory and dominated by residents of the peripheries, who have a long trajectory in terms of imagination in the face of precariousness; thus, the very articulation between advancement and backwardness undergoes a readjustment in which both backwardness approaches advancement and, and perhaps above all, advancement approaches backwardness.

We then comment more closely on the structure of dry bush on fire and its overlapping of the times of repetition and adventure, circularity and action; we discuss the consequences of this and the political possibilities of retaliation and revenge. In them, we found yet another understanding between opposites, now between revolt and order: the incendiary impulse, with no way out in sight, can also result in paralysis, while the clamor for the hard-handed policy, assuming the war of total competition, also touches terror in its own way. Finally, we saw that this mixture, which was paradoxical in principle, is linked to the free transit between the legal and the illegal, the licit and the illicit, which we formulated regarding the characters' relationship with the world of crime and its nature.

We could go on listing other ambiguities formed from the dismantling of old antagonisms, suggesting an “apocalyptic promiscuity”[xxxviii], or perhaps already post-apocalyptic at this point. In the same sense, despite advertisements and major film magazines having divulged dry grass as a feminine and “deeply matriarchal” film, its characters, values ​​and imagery are strongly masculine. Guns, hot women, whorehouse, action movie, paternal myth: less than the affirmation of the feminine, what seems to be here is more a confusion of what the old compartmentalization ordered to separate and oppose, in this case, the two sexes.

But perhaps the best evidence of this is in Léa's own figure. The camera is fascinated by her and lingers affectionately on her face in long close-ups. It is worth paying attention, not least because on several occasions Adirley says that her interest is in the “peripheral body”, its language, its marks and memories. Her silhouette is straight, her voice is husky, her clothes are loose and masculine, as are her mannerisms; her hair, however, is very long, perhaps because of her evangelical influence, and she is always smoothing it back and putting it back, especially when she is on watch, balancing a cigarette in one hand and a gun in the other. There is a bit of everything, therefore, in this true Diadorim da Quebrada[xxxix], in which, as in the gangsters of classic cinema, sentimentality and violence, sweetness and belligerence, devotion to family and fucking are neighbors.

We are in a situation, as has been said, in which the contours and hierarchizations of before fall to the ground and the word is in dissolution. Maybe that's why two authors inscribed one of Adirley Queirós' feature films in what they formulated as "an aesthetic of indetermination"[xl] in which, by analogy with its historical time, “relationships are diffuse”[xi] and the demarcations collapsed. The type of production we are dealing with here is certainly an extreme example of these uncertainties, but not a solitary one.

It is worth repeating a good comment about a very different film, but in this respect very similar. Its about Neon Ox (2016), by Gabriel Mascaro; because here as there “all the oppositions seem insufficient – ​​those of class, gender, geography, rural and urban, and even species (between animals and people). A background dispersion takes over the film. Barely enunciated, their dilemmas disappear in front of the viewer. (…) Fleeing from categorizations, but without ceasing to enunciate them, Neon Ox (...) accessed in more depth the recent features of the country, with its workforce returning to the informal market, its countryside invaded by urban scraps, its Indians in jeans, its diffuse, eternal and indifferent violence, its nature full of garbage. Brazil, Land of Contrasts (title of the famous book by Roger Bastide) seems to be dying here. The Brazilian oppositions can no longer dissonance, nor harmonize; they do not shock, nor do they overcome shock. They overlap loosely, in a wandering without a guide or belonging”.[xliii]

No dissonance or harmony; without shock, nor overcoming the shock: with this loss of friction, it is as if the engine of the social process had died and we remained in a drift, the wandering, whose point of arrival is still unknown, but it does not seem to be a good thing. Or not? Will what palpitates under the dullness of indefinition and sometimes rises to the surface, will it have the strength to break through it, or will it be so umbilically linked to the present state of affairs that it can only reinforce it? And even if this one is outdated, will what comes next be better?

In my opinion, one of the most interesting answers (not the only one) to this very urgent set of questions has been given by Adirley, and it consists precisely in running away from answers, or at least from those that arrive ready-made, in dropping a camera in the street, in let people speak and record the marks and mutilations accumulated over time, the impulses currently boiling, the explosive force they can have for good and for evil. At a time like ours, when adherence or not to obsolete symbols and a moralistic label is sometimes a political criterion, such openness is rare, and if on the one hand it is certain that it does not bring us a breath of fresh air, on the other another gives off a disturbing smell of burning, whose origin and consequences are yet to be discovered.

John Pace is a doctoral student in Literary Theory and Comparative Literature at USP.

Reference


dry bush on fire
Brazil, 2023, 153 minutes.
Directed by: Adirley Queirós and Joana Pimenta.
Cast: Joana Darc Furtado, Léa Alves Da Silva, Andreia Vieira, Débora Alencar, Gleide Firmino, Mara Alves.

Notes


[I] Many of the directors' observations cited throughout the text can be found on video. I highlight the three most important discussions for what follows: debate on the launch of dry bush on fire at IMS in São Paulo, with Marcia Vaz (https://youtu.be/Du7p2Qw0j6M>); launch debate dry bush on fire at the IMS in Rio de Janeiro, with Kleber Mendonça Filho (https://youtu.be/KGFePc21_L0>); debate with Adirley Queirós, Joana Pimenta and Cristina Amaral about dry bush on fire at the opening of forumdoc.bh.2022 (https://youtu.be/QI4xnXXQhqc>). — I would also like to take this opportunity to thank you for the many interesting suggestions made by fellow members of the group Formas Culturais e Sociais Contemporâneas, especially for those that came to correct the author's myopia and were incorporated later on. For this reason and for the many years of debate, this contribution that does not fit in footnotes gives this text, pardon the cliché, a collective character.

[ii] “I've always lived in Ceilândia: I've always lived here, my relationships are from here, my memory comes from the city. I rarely went out: I didn't go around the Plano Piloto. The first time, if I'm not mistaken, was when I was 14, 16 years old. My brother sold chocolate at the bus station and I took the bus to go with him. The first contact I had with Plano was that bustle at the bus station… But I only went to Brasília when I started studying. So, this territory has always been very present, but I only started to tie this experience in my head when I saw Ceilândia from the outside. For me, the 'sing' in the movie's title [Rap, the song of Ceilândia, his first short] was not the music: 'singing' was the territory of Ceilândia. It was a kind of pun: 'sing' because the guys are musicians, but also in the sense of 'alley', 'quebrada'. That's when I start to see and formalize the thing. I think the city's history is very strong and the films have a lot of this imagery... Jamaica and the rap guys say this: that they only started to articulate politically around Ceilândia, to have a speech in that sense, after the film , because they also realized that this imagery is very strong. So, the issue of territory is in fact deliberate: I do it with thought, because for me it is identity. And the thing about talking about Ceilândia at the university also came from that situation at the FAC [Faculty of Communication]: when I say that I created a 'Ceilândia character' it's because that was also a way of opposing myself to the guys: they talked about New York and I was talking about Ceilândia. The territory is very strong in this sense: as a construction that is born from my experience. Because it is an imaginary that I dominate”. Interview by Adirley Queirós with Maurício Campos Mena, Claudio Reis and Raquel Imanishi. Negative, Brasília, v.1, n.1, 2013, p. 29.

[iii] Danielle Maciel and Taiguara B. de Oliveira, “Culture and revenge in the social war: comments on White goes out, black stays, by Adirley Queirós”. Magazine of the Institute of Brazilian Studies, Sao Paulo, no. 68, Dec. 2017, pg. 22.

[iv] rental of dry grass, it is, according to the most recent statistics, the largest favela in Brazil in terms of number of households. Anna Reis and Luísa Doyle, “Sol Nascente, in DF, becomes the largest favela in Brazil, according to the 2022 Census preview”, g1, 17 Mar. 2023. Before part of Ceilândia, it became an administrative zone in 2019, and its continuous expansion reveals a new dynamic of Brazilian urbanization: now not only the large centers, but also the peripheries closest to them expel their poor, generating these peripheries of increasingly distant peripheries (cf. Isadora Guerreiro's speech in the seminar The outskirts of São Paulo: from “unequal and combined development” to “really existing deconstruction”, minute 1:58:25, available at: ). We will come back to this later, when we move on to the border logic that governs these spaces.

[v] launch debate dry bush on fire at IMS in São Paulo, with Marcia Vaz (available at:https://youtu.be/Du7p2Qw0j6M>).

[vi] Interview by Adirley Queirós with Maurício Campos Mena, Claudio Reis and Raquel Imanishi. Negative, Brasília, v.1, n.1, 2013, p. 24.

[vii] Debate with Adirley Queirós, Joana Pimenta and Cristina Amaral about dry bush on fire at the opening of forumdoc.bh.2022, available at: .

[viii] “The precarious worker in Brazil-from-beyond seems to recognize, from his own experience, that where the future of this present ended up does not mean a becoming but a continuity”. Ana Paula Pacheco, “Alphaville-satellite: science fiction and class warfare in film White goes out, black stays”. In: Accumulated balance and the size of the damage; studies on modern Brazilian literature. Org. Homero Vizeu Araújo, Mariana Figueiró Klafke and Tiago Lopes Schiffner. Porto Alegre: Editora Zouk, 2022, pg. 291.

[ix] Cf. Gabriel Feltran, “Humiliated and Exalted”. magazine blog four five one, 4 Dec. 2019.

[X] Alfredo Suppia, “Access Denied: circuit bending, borderlands science fiction e lo-fi sci-fi in White goes out, black stays". Famecos – media, culture and technology. Porto Alegre, vol. 24, no. 1, Jan.-Apr. 2017, pp. 1-3.

[xi] Anderson Goncalves,clutter saws, a contemporary form”. In: Marxism and symbolic production: periphery and peripheries. São Paulo: Nankin, 2013, pp. 202-3.

[xii] Sohn-Rethel, “The ideal of gambiarra: on Neapolitan technique” [Über neapolitanische Technik in das Ideal des Kaputten] Trans. Thiago Lion. Minus sign, year 11, n. 14, v. 2, 2020, pg. 374. — In this small article, published in a German newspaper in 1926, and which deals with the uses and modifications that the Neapolitans made with the newly arrived objects of industrial society, something emerges from the old expectations of transformation linked to the deviations suffered by progress in tail end of its global expansion (in this case, in the European semi-periphery). Against the primacy of the “intact thing”, a precarious but unfetishizing relationship emerged, in which “[t]he technique begins, in reality, much more where man puts his veto against the sealed and hostile automatism of machines and puts himself in their place. world. Thus he, however, proves himself capable of overcoming the law of technique by the edges. For he is himself the guide of the machines, not so much because he learned their proper technical handling, but because he discovered it through his own body. He thereby breaks the inhuman magic of the intact functioning of machines, (…) he no longer allows himself to be captured by the technical pretense of his material instruments, for with incorruptible vision he saw the deception through this showing of mere appearance, and a little piece A piece of wood or cloth will do just as well. But he must naturally at all times preserve with violence the objects embodied in his victorious collision. (...) A proper property must simply also be mistreated, otherwise you have none of it. It must be to the last stump used and savored, or as it were, destroyed and devoured. (…) Mechanisms cannot build here the continuum civilization for which they arise: Naples turns its face backwards” (p. 376).

[xiii] Cf. the already mentioned articles by Alfredo Suppia and Ana Paula Pacheco.

[xiv] Danielle Maciel and Taiguara B. de Oliveira, on. cit., pg. 21.

[xv] dry bush on fire, on the other hand, was produced with notices aimed at fiction and higher-budget films; the production model, however, was maintained.

[xvi] Cf. Alencastro's comment on mission impossible 2, “The servitude of Tom Cruise”,  Newspaper, But!, 13.08.2000, p.7, as well as the commentary by Paulo Arantes: “[the] well-trained eye of the Brazilian historian Luiz Felipe de Alencastro for the anomalies of the national labor market had no difficulty in recognizing in the last product of the American cinematographic rubbish (…) an involuntary stylization of this ultra-flexible work at hand, in the figure of the 'good guy' mobilized by the Empire's telematic network in any corner to save humanity, or guarantee the extraordinary profits of his firm. And as it is an eye schooled by the secular intertwining of compulsory work and so-called free work, above all, he recognized, under the veneer of high-tech of the isolated individual ready to be employed in any circumstances, nothing less than a kind of Brazilian maid, duly globalized. For there is nothing more like the servitude of this disposable labor force of the latest generation than the emblematic destiny of the poor colonial creature, 'housed in the back room of the house or apartment and ready, every day, every hour, to respond to the requests and abuses of the boss, madam and the family's children '. We therefore remain at the forefront”. Paulo Arantes, “The Brazilian fracture of the world: visions of the Brazilian laboratory of globalization”. In: zero left. São Paulo: Conrad, 2004, pg. 77.

[xvii] Ou wandering, a term used in a question in Adirley Queirós' interview given to Maurício Campos Mena, Claudio Reis and Raquel Imanishi. Negative, Brasília, v.1, n.1, 2013, p. 24.

[xviii] On the permanent mobilization for work, its expansion throughout the space of cities and the engaged self-management of all those who collaborate for the functioning of the urban machine, see, from a group of militants in the fog, “Masterclass of the end of the world: social conflicts in Brazil in a pandemic”. In: Fire: work and revolt at the end of the Brazilian line. São Paulo: Contrabando Editorial, 2022.

[xx] It is more or less along these lines, if I'm not mistaken, that the following comment can be read about a film by Tonacci, in fact frequently cited by Adirley Queirós as an example and reference and whose editor, Cristina Amaral, is not by chance the same as dry bush on fire: “[w]he tropicalist image, for example, of some 'Indians in a miserable open field, filmed in humorous technicolor', exposed the absurdity of the juxtaposition between backward material and advanced technique, thereby figuring a 'national destiny' and its underdevelopment , the images of clutter saws, whose 'documentary materiality' does not persist as such, actually make up another order, that of a complete adjustment or update between material and technique” Anderson Gonçalves, “clutter saws, a contemporary form”. In: Marxism and symbolic production: periphery and peripheries. São Paulo: Nankin, 2013, pg. 200.

[xx] Cf. Fabio Mallart, Ended lines: circulations and confinements in the underground of São Paulo. Doctoral thesis presented to the Department of Sociology at FFLCH-USP, 2019.

[xxx] Another word often used by Adirley. Cinema as a space of freedom is what provides this chance to become a legend, to be recognized by its community, to become song lyrics and enter a mythology. In a similar direction, the directors of dry grass they say that the possibility of going against the grain of the main avenue of Sol Nascente was what most attracted the motoboys to the filming.

[xxiii] See Ivone Daré Rabello, “The sound around: no future, only revenge?”. New CEBRAP studies, no. 101, March 2015, pp. 157-173.

[xxiii] Quotation and observations are by Danielle Maciel and Taiguara B. de Oliveira, on. cit., pg. 16.

[xxv] Tiarajú P. D'andrea, The formation of peripheral subjects: culture and politics in the periphery of São Paulo. Thesis (Doctorate in Sociology). Department of Sociology, Faculty of Philosophy, Letters and Human Sciences, University of São Paulo, São Paulo, 2013, apoud Danielle Maciel and Taiguara B. de Oliveira, on. cit., pg. 21.

[xxiv] Leandro Nascimento, Peripheral matter: studies on literary form in Mother's prayer (2016) by Allan da Rosa. Master's dissertation presented to the Department of Literary Theory and Comparative Literature at FFLCH-USP, 2022, pg. 27, whose arguments we have been paraphrasing.

[xxv] about the pump white leaves: “the sound mass is amorphous, although with a lot of power to damage”. Danielle Maciel and Taiguara B. de Oliveira, on. cit., pg. 23.

[xxviii] Danielle Maciel and Taiguara B. de Oliveira, on. cit., pg. 14.

[xxviii] Following a well-known definition by João Bernardo, Labyrinths of fascism: at the crossroads of order and revolt. 3rd revised edition, 2018; by the same author, see also “A barbarie”, Word of mouth, 7 Jul. 2020. See also, from a group of militants in the fog, “Look how things turned”. In: Fire: work and revolt at the end of the Brazilian line. São Paulo: Contrabando Editorial, 2022, pg. 22.

[xxix]  Emiliano Teran Mantovani, “Organized crime, illicit economies and geographies of criminality: other keys to think about extractivism of the XNUMXst century in Latin America”. In: Territorial conflicts and disputed territorialities. Org. Pabel López and Milson Betancourt. Buenos Aires: Clacso, 2021, pp. 435-6. Cf. also Raúl Zibechi's commentary on the text, in an interview with the periodical The Journey, translated and republished on the website of Editora Elefante ( ).

[xxx] “[It is] necessary to understand that mafias also produce adherence and acceptance. The thousands of T-shirts and flags that place Bolsonaro as the 'Godfather' in Coppola's film show, with something of a child's fantasy, a positively projected aura that, in the figure of the mobster, links morality and brutality, order and lawlessness, protection and threat. ”. Felipe Catalani, “The fascist decision and the myth of regression: Brazil in the light of the world and vice versa”, Boitempo's blog, July 23 2019.

[xxxii] It could be a militia taking over a neighborhood on the outskirts of the city or an influencer disputing with another the dominance of their virtual fanbase: the gradual indistinction between hyper-modern and primitive, as we can see, is general.

[xxxi] Alfredo Suppia, “Access Denied: circuit bending, borderlands science fiction e lo-fi sci-fi in White goes out, black stays". Famecos – media, culture and technology. Porto Alegre, vol. 24, no. 1, Jan.-Apr. 2017, pp. 8-16.

[xxxii] See the lecture by Paulo Arantes entitled “O mundo-fronteira”, in 2004, at Espaço Cultural CPFL ( ).

[xxxv] To use a very suggestive and well-described concept from an American geographer. Philip Neel, Hinterland: America's new landscape of class and conflict. London: Reaktion Books, 2018.

[xxxiv] Observation made by Anderson Gonçalves.

[xxxiv] launch debate dry bush on fire at IMS in São Paulo, with Marcia Vaz (available at:https://youtu.be/Du7p2Qw0j6M>).

[xxxviii] “A new fad in military academies around the world, the jargon of 'hybrid warfare' describes the shuffling between military combat operations – overt or covert, conducted by third-party forces – and engagement of civilian crowds on social media and in the streets, for example of what happened over the last decade in Syria or Ukraine. It is curious that another combination of algorithmic crowd management and direct coercion exercised by subcontracted operators describes the work regime of the application delivery people. Between software and taskmasters, did we discover a 'hybrid' work management? The contours that the administration of increasingly ungovernable territories and populations has been assuming here are no less 'hybrid': it is difficult to distinguish the insurgents from the forces of order, and governing is confused with demolishing”. A group of militants in the fog, “Masterclass of the end of the world: social conflicts in Brazil in a pandemic”. In: Fire: work and revolt at the end of the Brazilian line. São Paulo: Contrabando Editorial, 2022, pp. 67-8.

[xxxviii] Roberto Schwarz, “A novel by Chico Buarque”. In: Brazilian sequences. São Paulo: Companhia das Letras, 1999, pg. 180.

[xxxix] Not by chance, this will probably be his role in Adirley's next film, an adaptation of Rosa's novel called Great Sertão: Quebradas.

[xl] Danielle Maciel and Taiguara B. de Oliveira, on. cit., pg. 29.

[xi] Francisco de Oliveira, “Politics in an era of indetermination: opacity and enchantment”. In: The age of indeterminacy. Org. Francisco de Oliveira and Cibele Rizek. São Paulo: Boitempo, 2007, apoud Danielle Maciel and Taiguara B. de Oliveira, on. cit., pg. 29.

[xliii] Nuno Ramos,neon ox”. In: fooquedeu (a diary). São Paulo: However, 2022, page 79.


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