One thousand, one dystopia

Image: Paulo Monteiro (Jornal de Resenhas)
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By CLEBER VINICIUS DO AMARAL FELIPE*

Preface to the newly released novel by Jean-Pierre Chauvin.

MIL it is not a self-explanatory title: it does not provide readers with parameters for a prior understanding of the plot, nor does it even anticipate the place/environment or name the protagonist(s). Perhaps some character remakes the twentieth part of the twenty thousand leagues under the sea. Or, who knows, the book reconstitutes Scheherazade's narratives, minus one. No, the plot does not take place at the bottom of the sea, nor is it set in the Sassanid dynasty, when the Persian king Shariar, victim of adultery, was deceived with stories for a thousand and one nights. The number, in fact, works as a metonym, as a limit established by a dystopian society that does not neglect demographic control, restricted to the amount of one thousand people.

Jean Pierre Chauvin invented an island located in the Indian Ocean, at the height of the Equator. In 2100, fifty years after its founding, the City-State of Cosmoland had a population of 983. As befits dystopian constructions, the arrangement of the sixty-four quadrants distributed throughout the urban space, as well as the position of the streets, bars-grocery stores, residential complexes, departments, not to mention the chambers and deposits located underground, respect a symmetrical order, precise, devoid of accidents or slopes that could harm the harmony of the forms and the maintenance of order. It is in this scenario that we come across the adventures of Ulisses, a character around which the fiction, divided into nine chapters, is organized.

With illustrations by Morgana Chauvin, which function as overlapping and complementary narratives, the chapters begin with fragments that reveal the authorities emulated throughout the plot: Orwell, Saramago, Huxley, Verissimo, Chico Buarque, Gonçalo Tavares, José J. Veiga, Camus, Ray Bradbury, Michael Young. Images, epigraphs and Chauvin's prose overlap, forming cells that harmonize, alternating descriptive and narrative topics, sometimes describing the daily life of the inhabitants of Cosmolândia, with their tasks and routines, sometimes portraying the characteristics of the buildings, the position of the quadrants, the distribution of spaces.

Precise geography reminds, for example, the composition of classic utopias and dystopias, but also the circles/quadrants of Hell that Dante Alighieri built in his Divine Comedy. By the way, Dante also formulated his version of Ulysses, imprisoned in the circle reserved for perfidious advisors. According to the Florentine poet, the hero decided to go beyond the columns of Hercules and access the dark sea, a superb attitude that caused his shipwreck and condemnation. Chauvin's Ulysses is also a transgressor, with the difference that his tormentor does not have the aura of the divine.

The omniscient narrator reaches out and portrays the actions, thoughts and dilemmas of the population, filling a highly oppressive daily life with amenities that hide, in their wake, the rigors of the discipline: “Discounting a few clouds, Cosmolândia dawned blue on Negative Day. This apparent contradiction in terms (“blue sky/negative day”) would lead most inhabitants to repeat common phrases. If we were positioned closer to the residential cells of Cosmolândia, we would hear both the more realistic manifestations about the atmospheric phenomenon: “Ah, the day is blue, even though we are at home…”, and the optimistic ones: “What a beautiful day to organize life domestic!". It would also be possible to witness a proud citizen: “How can a day like this be denied? Dia Negativo is just a matter of nomenclature”.

In the work, realistic, optimistic and vainglorious people express different opinions, but none of them questions Dia Negativo. The repetition of clichés and jokes, in turn, reinforces the discipline of thought, which should stop at appearances in order not to reach more “profound” themes. These expedients are common to totalitarian regimes, the subject of great dystopias published throughout the XNUMXth century, such as Admirable new world (1932), by Huxley, 1984 (1949), by Orwell, and Fahrenheit 451 (1953), by Ray Bradbury.

Unlike novels like The time of the ruminants (1966) and Shadows of Bearded Kings (1972), by José J. Veiga, Chauvin's book does not stop at the situation that preceded the creation of Cosmolândia. In the present of the enunciation, all city dwellers were convinced that they lived in the best of all possible worlds. The Magnificent Third Supreme summarizes well the motto that should be reproduced by all: “[...] life is good in Cosmolândia, isn't it? Citizens who so wish acquire useful knowledge at the Learning Department, where they receive instructions to be helpful to one of the eight existing Departments. At the age of eighteen, after completing his research, he leaves his parents' house (if they are still alive or have not been removed from Cosmolândia) and goes to live in any corner of the territory, almost always a few hundred meters from the Department, where he acts as an Officiant. , Tax, Peacemaker, Artist, Senior Researcher, Messenger etc.”.

As you can see, there is no more impeccable world. The book Cândido, by Voltaire, would probably not be available in the Department of Arts library. It is likely that literature, in general, would have been abolished, as it tends to reveal to the reader the artificiality of his world. It is also possible that the chronicles and television broadcasts reinforced the government's demands, reprising the mottos of the education received. By the way, this is a maxim of dystopias: not admitting opinions that may contradict the status quo, confronting hierarchies or serving as an obstacle to progress. Energy pills and morning tonics kept the population docile, as well as the “Soma”, distributed among the characters of Admirable new world. All to enforce the motto, always repeated as a form of consolation and a mechanism of self-discipline: “Limit and Order!”. To ensure control, instruments that offer perspectives other than the convenient ones are eradicated: “The native-dwellers did not know of aircraft, motor or sailing vessels, nor submarines – means of transport and research that could lead them to dream with coordinates located beyond and beyond the city-state. Among the objects they handled on a daily basis, they knew about glasses, but ignored the existence of telescopes: it was feared that they would allow them to expand their range of vision and provide questions about the ocean, the sky, other lands and planets”.

The seas are, par excellence, inconstant places, without measure or form: not by chance, they are the material of primeval chaos in diverse cosmogonies. In the course of the oceans, it is possible to arrive at the same coordinate by different paths. All of this would be unthinkable in a society that strives for control and seeks to anticipate behavior and alienate thought. Air and submarine transport also provide doses of immensity, with sublime views that confront and therefore stimulate the imagination. The same could be said about the telescope, which reaches distances that the naked eye cannot reach, or about the microscope, which scrutinizes elements that the eye ignores.

To avoid questions, dystopias encourage routine to harden the imagination: they revere the accuracy of distances and the imperative of schedules; resort to the presence of cameras and facial recognition devices; enforce a “curfew”; they distribute offices and duties with rigor; they apply fines, public punishments, imprisonment and banishment as a way of combating “subversives”; they value hierarchy; they offer ready answers to anticipate dangerous inquiries; reward the conniving; eliminate dissent.

These guidelines were instilled in Ulisses, but also in his friends Dido, Virgílio, Beatrice Júlio. Peacemakers, like Cato and Fleury, best embodied the prerogatives of the Law; the Pythian Priestess offered dogma to legitimize unhappiness; the offenders (Artur, Vânia, Maria, José, Bernadete, Otávio, Fernanda, Jair, Vitória…), severely punished, star in ceremonies that endorse the policy of “bread and circuses”; but there were also people like Zélia, a lady “ very zealous of morals and good customs”. I leave it up to the reader to investigate the careful choice of names, many of them coming from mythological and historical characters from Greco-Roman antiquity.

It is common for the dystopian genre to work with contrasts to highlight the differences: if the Priestess of Cosmoland adores a golden image of the Divine, the penates of the faithful are reduced to an “image in wood and gilded brass”; Ulisses formulated questions that bothered the authorities, while two of Dido's colleagues used to ramble on about mild issues, such as the most efficient way to staple pages: “metaphysics of office equipment”, says the author.

Finally, it should be mentioned that Jean Pierre Chauvin's fiction is a reflection on the limit. This is evident in the metaphor that a Peacemaker used to portray the colossal buildings of the city-state: “The Buildings of Cosmoland are Northwinds”. Peacemaker Fleury, nineteen years old, was returning to the cell where he lived. Somewhere (“where, really?”), he had heard that phrase. Would he have been in the class of Senior Researcher Luísa, a reader of Camões – when he was about to finish his studies?”

Adamastor, personification of the Cape of Storms, later renamed as Cape of Good Hope, is a character d'The Lusiads which represents the limit, the nec plus ultra which Vasco da Gama overcame in the name of the Portuguese Crown and for the benefit of Santa Fé. Now, the old utopias, projected on islands located in oceans to be mapped, multiplied with the great navigations. It was at that juncture that overcoming limits became an unavoidable virtue.

Not by chance, the same Ulysses condemned by Dante was considered, for a long time, the founding hero of Lisbon, precisely because he showed himself daring in unknown lands. If utopias were imagined as a consequence of centrifugal initiatives, supported by the imperative of expansionist impetus, dystopias seek to regain limits by stimulating centripetal forces, containment, self-control. Based on the premise that the sacrifice of freedoms is the only access to the “common good”, they numb the population with drugs and advertisements. Diligence, deference, which bestow petty subjects with distinctions and medals, are precisely the virtues that ensured Gama the fame of a hero.

It is possible to imagine a thousand reasons to read Jean Pierre's book. It's not about captatio benevolentiae. If the reader does not believe it, let him read it and check it out, as the purpose of the preface is to deal with travel arrangements. The real itinerary is about to begin.

Order, limit and cohesion!

*Cleber Vinicius do Amaral Felipe He is a professor at the Institute of History at the Federal University of Uberlândia (INHIS-UFU).

Reference

Jean-Pierre Chauvin. One thousand, one dystopia. São Paulo, Luva Editora, 2021.

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