Narcissus cancelled?

Image: Marcio Costa


Effective studies of positions, ideas, movements and iconographies, despite being and being part of disputes, do not lend themselves to judicial accusations and summary cancellations.

Made a “novelty” item in the midst of a diverse and disparate collection of goods at our disposal, yet another “controversy” took shape in the interstices of the cultural industry: Caetano Veloso would have left liberalism aside and become an inveterate Stalinist.

The sentence, although simplified, would bring up two ideas. In the first place, that, despite the myriad of languages ​​and political positions available (socialisms, civic humanism, republicanism, neo-Roman theory, etc.), – some of which are older and which, in my opinion, provide more complex and realistic ideas to respect for freedom, political relations, among other things – abandoning liberalism would be analogous to biting the forbidden fruit and leaving Eden. Second, that any output or criticism of liberalism should end up in a kind of praise for authoritarianism, arbitrariness and even totalitarianism. In addition to being anachronistic (would Machiavelli and Rousseau be prototypes of gangsters and totalitarian leaders?; Would Quentin Skinner be a PolPot worshipper?), the position is false in the dilemma in question[1].

Before dealing with the subject itself, perhaps it is important to clarify that the use of the figure of Narcissus in the book of tropical truth, of which “Narciso on vacation” is a chapter, is more complex than it appears – considering that the work should be called Boleros and Civilization, named after Herbert Marcuse and his book Eros and Civilization, on what, roughly, Narcissus and Orpheus would be two figurations contrary to the dominating impetus of technical and capitalist civilization. However, as Roberto Schwarz well remembers, the chapter in question will be structured on Proustian exercises of remembrance and on the (re)elaboration of the physical, mnemonic and libidinal violence caused by the arbitrary arrest perpetrated by the military regime to Veloso at the time. Thus, there Narciso would represent the temporary death of Veloso's libido and ability to bring artistic beauty to the world. In this way, the content of the chapter is a little different than a simple narcissistic rapture and is harder than a simple slack, as is brought out in its title.

Going to the subject, we can see that very little has been said about the new book (narcissus on vacation) released by Companhia das Letras, which contains an interesting wealth of documents “excavated” by historian Lucas Pedretti, and about the homonymous documentary. Nothing beyond, of course, a few buzzwords of personal use: “beautiful”, “touching”, “I didn't like it” and “I didn't expect this format”. So what stirred, like the wind in the vines, the contenders of the situation was precisely the interview that the singer had given to Pedro Bial, more precisely an excerpt in which he assesses his relationship with liberalism and socialist experiences.

Well, if agitators are sparing in their references and readings, as in the Christian miracle of multiplication, they are prodigal in the proliferation of commentaries composed of a handful of characters. Anyway, Veloso, between minutes 19 and 25 of the interview, in which he basically says: that he never praised any Socialist State and that there would have been a relative change of position. Today, two years after recording the documentary, he has a position of “respect, at least”, for what was done in the experiments in question. But does this respect stem from what was done in the Stalinist repression that put a good part of the Bolsheviks themselves in the ditch? In fact, he will say that this change was galvanized by a less “liberaloid” position, rooted in Domenico Losurdo's books on a counter-history of liberalism; Losurdo, who, in turn, was introduced by professor and communist activist from Pernambuco, Jones Manoel. Veloso also argued that this is not a reaction to the current authoritarian moment in Brazil, but rather an intellectual and formative development, since which he stopped, in his terms, equating communism and Nazism, the extreme left and the extreme right. . Finally, the singer confides to presenter Pedro Bial: it may even be that, later, after that moment, he will again admire even more elements that he liked in liberalism, but, for that, he would have to go through that experience of change. It is worth remembering, in this context, that, a little earlier, Veloso had said that he had read and liked the latest book by Tabata Amaral. Fernando Barros e Silva, in a book about Chico Buarque, had already pointed out the chameleonic character of Veloso and this is not a mere detail in the midst of the “anthropophagic syncretism” invented (in part) by tropicalism – since the differences with the Oswaldian estate are not few – in which novelty, left and right, in society and politics is taken as an absolute value.

In an interview with the newspaper EL Country[2], made by Joana Oliveira, Veloso is even more precise and sinuous in his answer to the question about his relationship with the left and how he would see a way out for the country:

“The film was made two years ago. In the meantime, I saw Jones Manoel speak on Youtube, read an introduction by him to the book African Revolution and there I found arguments that stirred my almost certainties on the subject. In fact, Jones was answering questions I had been asking for decades about why Marxists in the academic world said nothing about the admittedly oppressive experiences in countries that achieved socialism. We read that Marighella wept when she learned of Stalin's famous evils, but nothing is known about how the decision for communism was rebuilt within him. Well, I liked Ruy Fausto [philosopher] because he criticized the experiences of real socialism. Not that he was the only one. Many Trotskyists had already done so to some extent. At least in the revulsion of Stalin. But neither Ruy nor they managed to justify their adherence to something that had always turned out so badly. In the counterculture, we had the courage to reject all of that without becoming conservative or reactionary. But the account did not close. In the book, I tell how we oscillated between an ultra-left and liberalism. This ultra-left had something of anarchism about it. But that wasn't enough. The liberal creed seemed more dignified to me. We were not entering a saving religion that does not dare to say its name: liberal democracy is in practice in the developed West. But I'm mulatto and from an underdeveloped country. My inspiration is not satisfied with the scheme that has as its leader the great exceptional country that made the revolution before the French and remains faithful to it, if it remains silent in front of Saudi Arabia and execrates Iran and Venezuela. So the unity of profound purposes that socialist daring represents, as it appeared in the speeches and texts of Jones Manoel and explained in detail in the books of Losurdo [Domenico Losurdo, Italian philosopher], is composed of a radical vision about colonial history and the enslavement of black Africans—a story that coincides with the development of liberalism. Seeing that changed my mind.”

That is: Veloso's position would be a revision – perhaps temporary – of his position in relation to liberalism, given that its development would be strongly linked to slavery and colonialism. This is the point most emphasized by the singer. The other issue, linked only in part to the first, is that he would have developed a respect (“at least”) in relation to the socialist countries and their history – which was, according to Veloso himself, permeated by oppression. Regarding the first point, almost nothing was said and almost nothing was substantively faced – let us think, in this context, of Schwarz’s texts about the uncivil and barbaric figures and practices supported by liberalism, as a second degree ideology, in the capitalist periphery, seriously poorly debated and not even close to being well answered by authors of a liberal nature.

As for the second point, a consideration and exposition of a trick. One can question, if it is in the interest of the interlocutor, how Caetano would have respect for socialist developments – and this would be a possible debate and one that is done (between socialists and non-socialists). However, criticisms of Veloso brought something else with them: any view of liberalism and socialism that does not pass through a specifically liberal categorical, linguistic and political vanishing point framework is not valid. In this way, even texts and positions that are strongly critical of socialism, but that do not go through a certain Arendtianism, somewhat vulgarized, and do not have an attachment of praise to an idealization of liberalism and to the status quo of capitalist relations should be dismissed as authoritarian delusions. In this vein, anyone who would point out simple differences between fascism and communism, without praising the latter – not least because basic intellection and research procedures are, beyond (look at you!) comparison, the specification of differences between objects, ideas and experiences – and the violence engendered and justified by current production relations would be nothing more than a Soviet apologist.

In this sense, a simple exercise in logic would fit here – but which currently requires a herculean mental effort:

Losurdo is a critic of liberalism – not the best, far from it. There are varied criticisms of liberalism, of different shades (republican(s), anarchist(s), socialist(s) etc). Losurdo's criticism is one of several authors, with different languages ​​and points of view, who criticize liberalism. Losurdo and his critique are not the only form of critique of liberalism. Therefore, if Losurdo has a somewhat laudatory view of Stalinism, it does not follow that all critics of liberalism are laudatory of Stalinism.

Bearing in mind part of this, commentators such as Pablo Ortellado[3], would have pointed out Veloso's narcissistic adherence to Stalinism. The most epidermal problem there is that analysts are imputing their beliefs, visions and constructing positions that, in fact, were not expressed. The most profound is a non-explicit ban on the debate not about whether socialist experiences are good or not, but an even simpler and even more serious issue: that there are varied traditions of thought and constellations of ideas beyond liberalism and that there is no nothing wrong with that. Promising freedom on earth, analysts and commentators say that the “open sesame” to access the treasures of civility is, in fact, found in a single imposed doctrine or, in fact, in a doctrinal vision on a volubly variable set of authors and purportedly liberal experiences. The free sample of the liberal mythology forged by its mainstream it can be seen, for example, in the transformation of the history of ideas into a contest to choose, invariably, bad guys and good guys: the latter would be friends of freedom, open societies and Bentham; the former would be supporters of progress and incubators of totalitarianism. Or, in more caricatured examples, in an attempt to disentangle the decisive participation (and sympathy) of cadres of liberalism (economic, in the division of some) renewed in dictatorships such as those of Pinochet.

Be that as it may, it is also interesting to note that socialists also reacted triumphantly or somewhat mystifyingly to what Veloso had said. We see clipped editions of the video of the interview circulating, which have a commemorative visuality with Caetano's supposed socialist split against liberalism. If there was a departure from liberalism, the chameleon character (socially referenced) of the singer cannot fail to be taken into account, not even what he himself said about the dyad socialism and liberalism and not what they wanted him to say.

In addition to biased receptions and attempts to summarily cancel the singer for what he did not say, there is what Veloso said, says, thought and produced. Two examples of this.

It is possible, based on historical material and studies, for example, to think that this idea of ​​a rapprochement between counterculture and liberalism, in fact, is a rationalization a posteriori made by Veloso – who, when writing tropical truth, was decisively close to liberalism. His passages in the 1997 book are well known, when he says that he recognizes in “tropicalism a reverence for free competitiveness and a distrust of the centralized State”, moreover, in the new preface for the 2017 edition, Veloso praises Eduardo Giannetti’s liberalism, as I would try to think of it from the perspective of Brazilian conditions. In addition, contextually speaking, the Brazilian counterculture policy at the time is one of a kind of rebellion that was different, for example, from Marxism-Leninism and other communist sectors, but that had identification with sectors organized in guerrillas and had strong distrust of the market and the traditional way of life engendered by liberal sociability[4]. Of course, thinking with Schwarz (in his text “Culture and politics, 1967-1969”), we could see that in its vanguardism, tropicalism pursued the new at any cost, be it contrary to the status quo Brazilian market, be it related to marketing solutions. However, the movement should be seen in the key of a constitutive political and aesthetic ambiguity and not a full connection to liberalism. Furthermore, more specifically, it is quite difficult to think of Oiticica, Veloso, Glauber Rocha and so many other tropicalistas thinking in the same or similar way as Roberto Campos, expatriate udenistas and even José Guilherme Merquior.

Another question to think about. There are not few who resume interviews and segments of tropical truth to indicate Veloso's liberalism, pure and simple. However, essays collected in another work of his authorship are rarely resumed: the world is not boring. In this one, we just read texts like “Don't look black? Brazil between two myths: Orpheus and racial democracy” and “Differently from North Americans”, to see another version of all this. There it is possible to notice the outcrop of a thought, according to Veloso himself liked to say, syncretic organized from a sebastianism (ideated from the influences of Agostinho da Silva), according to which Brazil, from its civilizational originality based on miscegenation (of decisively freyrian influence) and from characteristics that would make Brazil a western close to Rome and Greece (such as valuing the idea and not the practical), it could provide new exits and paths for the world, or rather, paths for the West to re-westernize itself and overcome the Nordic stage of the world and its barbaric accentuation of technique . However, as he makes clear, none of this would be incompatible with the global capitalist order, it would only highlight Brazil's specificity in the concert of nations. That is, we could see here that, in a kind of postcolonial exercise of identity affirmation of Brazil, at the same time, Veloso would not shy away from accommodating a more specific form of participation of Brazil in capitalism, in addition to structuring his thought in terms which are very similar to the conservative arielism that bet on Latin spirituality against the materialist and barbarian Protestant Saxons.

Would that be it: an unreasonable ideal? Nonsense, socially referenced, organized by the Brascubian and cynical blurring of contradictions, as would Schwarz's studies suggest? Libertarian and anthropophagous effort of otherness?

More than a quick (and necessary) response, perhaps it is more important to point out that effective studies of positions, ideas, movements and iconographies, despite being and being part of disputes, do not lend themselves to judicial accusations and summary cancellations (such as the that we saw), and that their filth of contradictions and specificities make them more interesting and relevant.

* Rafael Marino is a doctoral candidate in Political Science at the University of São Paulo.



[1] Let us not forget that this rhetoric of threat, as Alberto Hirschman used to say, was also used by Veloso himself. The most illustrious example is when, responding to Schwarz's essay, he said that the USP left said nothing about North Korea's lack of freedom. And he goes even further: he sees even in Adorno, in his analyzes of the authoritarian personality, a contempt for the freedom that existed in the United States, but which was not present in the fascist and communist states – according to Veloso. To see:



[4] In addition to classic studies on the subject, such as those by Heloísa Buarque de Hollanda, Marcos Golçalves and Marcelo Ridenti, Veloso himself stated this several times, as in the interview cited in note number two.

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