Access to world literature

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By FLÁVIO R. KOTHE*

Regimes and parties pass, but the Brazilian canon continues to be used in Brazil to avoid teaching world classics at school

In Brazilian literature from the second half of the XNUMXth century, there is no work equivalent to the novel. The demons, by Dostoevsky. It is a work about Russian literary life at the time, but it detects broader relationships between social power, artistic production and creativity. Allows multiple readings. About 50 years ago, I visited the cell in which the young Russian author was imprisoned, sentenced to death for belonging to the Petrashevski Circle, which had utopian socialist sympathies.

The walls of the Peter and Paul Fortress in Petrograd were wide and damp. From the dark cell, you could see the Neva River through a crack and, to the left, the Battleship Potemkin moored. Luckily for world literature, the sentence was commuted, at the time of execution, to four years of exile in Siberia and more punishment.

This re-launches the question proposed by Antonio Candido, who in his maturity recognized that every young person should have the right, at school, to read authors like Dostoevsky. This corrected his established thesis that we should study the Brazilian canon because it expresses us. More than once the master heard from a student, in this case me, that the canon does not correctly express different ethnicities, such as blacks, Indians, mulattoes or immigrants, and that great world authors also “express” us, saying even more than we know. . Those who do not belong to the “excluded” cannot experience what they suffer.

Regimes and parties pass, but the Brazilian canon continues to be used in Brazil to avoid teaching world classics at school. Having access to them should be a right for all young people, to generate openness and mental aeration. More than a right, it is a political necessity. The great world works have already read their readers before being read by them. They will survive the apartheid imposed by the State. Governments want subjects, servants, but republican democracy requires a people capable of thinking for themselves, capable of deciphering politics and seeing what is best for everyone.

It is not because someone “is against” that they will produce better literature than a “conformist”, but the latter, when trying to fit into the spectrum of an oligarchy, avoids seeing contradictions of the whole and becomes trapped in a twisted way of seeing. Making ideology does not make art. He lacks the fierce instinct of the great creator. Playing the “happy game” does not give vigor to the writing. By imposing at school that every canonical author is a great writer, something is passed on that a more accurate and free reading of the texts does not support. You can't teach yourself to see what's best. The canon does not value the writer, as it excludes anyone who does not belong to the established framework.

Literature seems to be the poorest of the arts, therefore the smallest, the most despicable. However, it allows for greater freedom. As so-called sacred texts are also literature, in practice it is the most important art, it guides others and collective life. It allows us to rethink and express what a political speech cannot. That a text becomes canonical, imposed as mandatory reading, is a decision of power. A system – such as a Church or a State – does not usually promote anything that does not have a minimum of quality conditions. He defines it, however, as what is in his taste, suited to his interests.

Quality is not, however, just the impression that something makes on someone, but the structure that characterizes something, the state it is in, its way of being. It's not just subjective taste. What pleases power is what is in the profile of the image it has of itself, something very different from what it actually is. This difference between image and reality is the space in which writing lives.

The opportunistic scribe seeks to incense the idealized image, which is not just narcissistic but rather the legitimization of privileges, the auratization of those who have power. It is not resentment against the Tsarist social structure that made Dostoevsky's genius, but it gave him impulses to do what conformist authors would not do.

In opportunistic accommodation and denialism, serious problems are not resolved. They are objective. Good works on them do not solve them either, but they allow them to be seen with greater clarity. To believe in the power of an epic scene, it is necessary to adhere to warrior values, capable of changing history. Homer does not praise the Achaians just for being victorious, nor does he degrade the Trojans for having lost: on the contrary, he discovers more “human” relationships between the losers, while showing Achilles' regret for having opted for fame, instead of a better life. long (his own, not those he killed).

The most serious current problem with reading may not be functional electronic illiteracy nor factual illiteracy and the lack of reading for the majority of the population. The most important text in Western society is still the Bible, but there is no Literature course in the country that discusses it in earnest, while priests, pastors and indoctrinators are occupying more and more television channels, temples and pulpits, microphones and singing audiences to dictate paths to salvation. There is no confrontation, there is no freedom of contestation. A broadcast antenna is like a pulpit: dictated from top to bottom, no questions asked.

What predominates socially is adherence to denialist fictions, there is dogmatic reading that does not recognize the fiction of the text you are reading and does not see in literature a space to say what other forms of discourse cannot. History preserves long distortions of values, mistakes celebrated as successes, while what represents other visions is set aside, eliminated. It is not enough to invert the current structure. It is not a journey through the new. We don't have an audience ready for this new one.

Politicians' speeches are not a space to debate and refute fundamentals. These are second-degree speeches. Before them are thinkers who rearticulate assumptions and, even before that, original poets (not mere makers of verse). Philosophizing is not teaching clichés, commenting on biographies and bibliographies. More fundamental is great poetry. To capture its grandeur you need to be at its height, perhaps on top of another mountain.

Thinking requires seeing things outside of what they are supposed to be. When a thing is converted into an object of knowledge, one begins to believe that the thing is this mental object, but it serves to cover up what the thing is, and leaves it unaffected even though it claims to have resolved everything. The fact that human beings are dominated by the desire for domination that characterizes them results in the devastation that they leave as a trace of their history.

Anyone who thinks can think wrong. You have to “think wrong”, in the wandering of a search for paths without signposts. Those who think within the parameters of what are established don't think: they just make variations around what is already known and said. Pretend to think, not think. Those who think “right” assume that those who think differently think wrongly.

“Understanding” what someone else says is translating it into the concepts of those who assume they are understanding. He assumes that he is, because he has reduced otherness to his egoity (in an ego that is incapable of knowing its limits), because he assumes that he is only saying the delimitations and limits of the “object” of his identification. It covers the “thing” with its identity object. It is a projection that is not perceived as such.

Anyone who thinks is off the rails of consolidated understanding. The fiction writer generates characters and situations that allow him to think and suggest what other forms of discourse cannot. It escapes the framed, the “existing”. He lies to tell truths that could not otherwise be told. He creates other worlds to see the world better.

What is the difference between a minor work and a major work? It's not a matter of size, of number of pages. It's a difference in quality. A poem or short story can be worth more than an animated novel. In the smaller work, loose ends show sparks not implemented in channeled energy. In the larger work there is what was left undone in the smaller one. The smallest falls short of its latent possibilities, but the reader is trained at school not to notice this. A litany of failures can be presented as rapturous elevation.

A trivial narrative is not capable of making a movement of effective negation, which allows antitheses to be formulated and, thus, open spaces for overcoming the status quo. It presupposes that a certain cliché represents good and another represents evil, and that in the end good wins and the good are rewarded. What is meant by good and evil is only reaffirmed: exactly what Raskolnikov questions from the beginning. It is a religious structure that is not read as such. Everything settles down, with marriage appearing to be a general solution. Whoever adheres to the trivial narrative also adheres to the lie implanted in it. Those who lie to themselves in small things soon lie to others in big causes.

The trivial narrative exorcises the tragic and the epic clash that changes the course of history. She stays superficial, playing the happy game. Don't go past them. Art realizes what Nietzsche called “great politics,” moral principles that become social practices and require radical reassessments in crisis situations. Russian literature was able to do this, emerging as a great literary continent in the second half of the XNUMXth century, something that Brazilian literature may not have been able to do because it did not have authors who took such bold steps.

The great work does not surrender to the limits of ideologies. It is not mere “communication”, a making common what was once common. Concepts cannot resolve with “analysis” this difference in greater art, which is present in it and can be experienced by anyone with openness and sensitivity. It justifies its existence, it can only be suggested in its language. It is a meaning that transcends the meaning of words.

There is in it a saying that is only suggested, a saying without saying, something that protects the work, so that it transcends its here and now. It takes an effort to capture what is there as a soft chant and is not reducible to concepts, even though some may be a key to capturing this extra. The great work has shadows, shadowed parts, it rests on something that cannot be seen, but that supports it, leaves it standing. The visible part rests on the invisible and, at the same time, suggests sides that are not directly visible, but exist within it. The smaller work doesn't have that. Through concepts it is possible to show what was not done in it.

Art cannot be resolved through the sciences of understanding, as the beautiful and the sublime are beyond what can be grasped by concepts. It is necessary to experience the work, to capture its internal drives and tensions, to feel its transconceptual scope. We only begin to understand the work when we capture something of what we cannot understand. If it cannot express this, it cannot be realized as art. Hermeneutics should lead us to questions rather than answers.

Exegesis does not rethink texts, it just repeats habitual ways of understanding. Try to explain what you believe you see in them. As a result, he cannot see what they are, he just repeats consolidated banalities. Don't rethink the fundamentals. He thinks that “understanding” is highlighting the common denominator between author and reader: the lesser author is easier, more “adequate”.

When we form an object of knowledge from a thing, we pretend that the thing é This is our object: from the perspective of the thing, our “object” left it intangible and untouched. We have the desire that the more signs we use, the closer we get to things, when in fact we move further away from them. In a way, the thing is the unconscious of our object of knowledge, which then becomes an object of concealment.

When we talk about hermeneutics, it is supposed to be a way of explaining and making explicit what would be contained in a text: the “underlying content”. What is done in this, however, is the translation of their lack of knowledge into our way of understanding. Then you cannot see what was “contained”: prevented from being accessed: manipulated so that it could not be seen. We do not understand the “original”, as it becomes the projection of our reconstruction, the translation of us into the other as if it were something else. We translated the version we made for ourselves as the original.

The “analysis” should start from a non-text, from something that the text is not, but that is presented to us to be explained in another language. Analysis needs to deny itself as a mere application of a priori schemes to arrive at itself. The proposed text can only be understood from the unposted text. Understanding the text only emerges when we understand what was not said, what was only “presented” as an absence: hidden. What is absent, what has not been said, can, however, more clearly outline the profile of what is proposed and imposed on us. The understanding of being arises from the conception of non-being. One can only think of being through non-being, but also non-being only through being.

* Flavio R. Kothe is a retired full professor of aesthetics at the University of Brasília (UnB). Author, among other books, of Benjamin and Adorno: clashes (Attica). [https://amzn.to/3rv4JAs]


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