the floor of the mind

Wassily Kandinsky, Composition 2.


Commentary on the recently published book by Luiz Costa Lima

Luiz Costa Lima is an author who needs no introduction. Belonging to a generation of literary critics that includes names like Alfredo Bosi, Davi Arrigucci Junior, Haroldo de Campos, José Guilherme Merquior, Roberto Schwarz and Silviano Santiago, Costa Lima stands out for his tireless theoretical work. The author's most recent venture has just been published by Unesp:The ground of the mind – the question for fiction.

In the first decade of the XNUMXst century, Costa Lima was renowned for at least three unavoidable books for anyone interested in literary theory: the reunion of titles The control of the imaginary, Society and fictional discourse, and The pretender and the censor, published in the 1980s in control trilogy (2007); Mimesis: challenge to thought (2003); History. Fiction. Literature (2006). The immediately subsequent set of books, formed by The control of the imaginary and the affirmation of the novel (2009); Fiction and the Poem (2012) and Cracks: theorizing in a peripheral country (2013) clearly represents the expansion of the field of incidence of mimesis and questioning the limits of representation-effect that had been drawn at the end of the XNUMXth century and the first decade of the XNUMXst.

In 2016, The language axes, exclusively dedicated to the thought of Hans Blumenberg, marks the point of a new inflection in LCL's reflection, opening a new range of questions that appear in the set formed by Melancholia (2017); mimesis and surroundings(2017); the insistent unfinished (2018); Limit (2019). Going through themes and analyzing fictional texts that are quite different from each other, Costa Lima maintains the trait that constitutes a kind of signature in the work: a rigorous theoretical treatment of fiction that sustains and coexists with the demand for a specific understanding of the mimesis, your idée cool. The reference to Paul Valéry's book could perhaps be constituted as a pertinent allusion to a reflection that is continually reformulated, without ever finding the form of a finished treatise or theory, but which has a finely tuned and constant guiding thread like the tick-tock of a clock that gives no truce.

the floor of the mind consolidates the elaboration of a paradigm for the theory of literature and literary studies. The central element of this paradigm is the mimesis and its prominence directs theorizing towards the foundations of fictionality. It could not be otherwise, for the mimesis it is a process that materializes in the form of fiction, even if it is not limited to it. Fictionality, in turn, constitutes a type of phenomenon that shuffles the discursive fields on which it is built.

Tribute to Foucault's reflections, Costa Lima thinks of discursive formations, fictional and non-fictional, as forms of interference and composition of realities. No discourse is a communicative adaptation of a reality. The diversity of discursive forms – scientific, historical, sociological, anthropological, fictional, and that hardly formalized in everyday discourse – assumes that the relationship with the world, permeated by language, assumes different configuration modalities at the same time that it obstructs the possibility of affirming a real scope to which fiction would oppose.

Fiction is not the opposite of reality: fiction acts as an agent of putting into perspective the truths offered by different discourses that, following specific aporias, construct the partial truths that constitute human experience. And this is the power of perspective that, paradoxically, elevates the fictional phenomenon and hinders its theorization: as a privileged place to make us see the fragility of the truths offered by discursive formations, fiction becomes the radical experimentation of contingency. That is, the fictional discourse pronounces its content as if it were true, but it is not guided by the truth and does not submit to the truth. This potency that challenges the truth, without becoming, for that reason, a falsehood, makes fiction a difficult, elusive, provocative, overwhelming concept.

Fiction is this singular discursive form and so fascinating that most of those who dedicate themselves to theorizing it end up building reflections that are entangled with the fascination that it awakens due to the negative aspect of their experience. In this way, the fictional is thematized as a revealing-veiling that leads either to an irreducible and ineffable silence or reflects a certain social reality. This relationship unfolds historically as the construction of the topos of art as a veil or mantle that covers and, for that very reason, is the truth. Liberated, in Modernity, from the rules of proportion and the set, art was not, however, freed from the “stings of truth” and this path places the aesthetic-fictional dimension under the weight of the ethical-religious dimension. The effort to reconcile images and narrative sequences with an extrinsic principle of truth is at the basis of what Costa Lima calls control of the imaginary: a mechanism of social consent through which the circulation of an artifact that differs from the “truth” is accepted as long as it is domesticated. the fictional, justifying it from that principle.

The paradigmatic pathway elaborated by Costa Lima takes another path. And the recently released book is dedicated to exposing and arguing the necessary delimitations and epistemological principles for the theoretical treatment of fiction according to this paradigm. Therefore, the floor of the mind is a book that presents the fundamentals of a theoretical discussion about the fictional. Therefore, a basic point is the primacy of the individual subject. The decisive role that the western tradition assigns to the subject constituted by the affirmation of the self (self) has a direct implication on the way fiction is theorized. And this implication is negative, in the sense that the theme of fiction has become so embedded in the repercussions and social expressions of the self that fiction, in its specificity, remains in need of theorization. Diluting the primacy of the individual subject and reversing the hegemony of the substantialist conception of the subject that sustains it is one of the principles of the paradigm proposed by LCL.

It is not fortuitous that the opening of the book is dedicated to the problematic around the principle of modern subjectivity. The dynamics of the constitution of subjectivity, from its “awakening” with Descartes to the confrontation inherent in Nietzsche's philosophy, is permeated by the presentation and discussion of a recent research mobilized by A. De Libera. In his project of an archeology of the subject, De Libera questions the place given to the I think Cartesian by Heidegger. Not agreeing with the Frenchman, Costa Lima takes advantage of the debate he promotes to reaffirm the path established in Mimesis: challenge to thought in which he bets on a fractured conception of the subject against the hegemonic understanding that sees him as self-centered.

The next chapter continues the inquiry into subjectivity. But, it deviates from the approach of the metakinetic route of conformation of the concept to delve into an author and his work: Georg Simmel. For Costa Lima, in the XNUMXth century, Simmel's thought is among those that best elaborated and strengthened the hegemonic position that postulates a subject unified in himself and that, starting from this self-centeredness, is projected in the thought that constitutes it. Furthermore, throughout the argument, Costa Lima demonstrates how Simmel, in his quest to reconcile objectivity and subjectivity, establishing a beforehand specific to the writing of history, it leaves aside the thematization of the fictional. And, most importantly: the success of your venture depends on this theoretical absence.

The rectification of Kantian transcendentalism carried out by Simmel assumes the presence of an absolute self that assumes its status as the uncontested owner of its freedom and truth, at the same time that it results from alterity itself being a beforehand that specifies and gives unity to the personality. Certainly, personality is not a universal value, but it is qualitative and irreducible uniqueness. Simmel's thought, following a balancing trend, leads the plasticity of an I that goes beyond itself to the affirmation of a metaphysical plane, or in the words of LCL: “His self-centered subject led to a secularized religious dimension” (p. 165 ). Arriving at it is only possible by ignoring that, while in everyday practice, the self is guided by a “spontaneous disposition” to converge the plurality of its roles into a uniqueness that integrates it into its own social reality; in the realm of the fictional, this harmonization breaks down. In this sense, Costa Lima does not present a monograph on Simmel, but uses the debate with the German author's thought to demonstrate the incompatibility between the affirmation of the individual subject and a theory of fiction.

Fiction is not the only dimension of the anthropological experience that opens wide and shakes the substantialist conception of the subject and the primacy of the self (self). Recognizing this allows LCL to advance towards the foundations of its theoretical approach to the fictional. The pursued index for this can be termed as dream world. In opposition to the social scene of “waking life” in which the plastic plurality of consciousness is submerged through a screening that has social norms as a criterion, the oneiric dimension also offers conditions for understanding the variation of selves that is hidden, consciously and/or unconsciously, in each US. The chapter dedicated to Freud and American socio-psychological theory (Mead, Bateson, Goffmann) clarifies the decisive relationship between the psychic dimension and a theory of the fictional.

Sigmund Freud has been a fundamental interlocutor of Luiz Costa Lima since the beginning of his work as a literary theorist. This interlocution is not only due to admiration because Freudian psychoanalysis is, in addition to a therapy, a thought that explores the contradiction that governs psychic life without intending to reduce it to any dialectic. Freud's thought is a vital component in the effort to rethink mimesis undertaken by the author 40 years ago. This happens because in psychoanalytic theories, mimesis plays a central role and does not derive from imitation (which marks western thinking about art). As a result of “the difference that exists between the impact of Freudian reflection on the theoretical elaboration of the fiction and the area of ​​literary studies called literature and psychoanalysis, which is not guided by any special interest in the mimesis.

Throughout his argument in the floor of the mind, LCL demonstrates how a theory of fiction emerges in parallel analogous to the Freudian discovery and analyzes how much Freud is an indispensable investigator for an important part of the fictional territory. This is due to the fact that the dynamics that govern the psychic resistance that acts in the dream, for example, remain in the non-dream environment. That is: the range of psychic dynamics does not stop at one or another area of ​​human action, but is present in everything the human mind touches.

Starting from this general observation, the author arrives at a fundamental point: “The umbilical trait, which every dream contains, is equivalent, from the point of view of the general perspective in which we have been engaged, to say: all fictional activity is the result of an unknown nucleus. and its activation is the result of a highly complex activity of the mind, as well as of such realizations being synchronic to a chain of experiences – the lived experience combines with the imaginary, one and the other suffer the interference of the control mechanisms – on censorship; what is experienced is disconnected from its linearity and, through visual images, is combined with other instants, resulting in a content whose appearance is confused with chaos. Both in the dream and in restricted fiction, the analytical or critical intervention notes its chaoticity, without converting it into something swallowable by consciousness” (p. 203-204).

We perceive the harmony between the necessary dilution of the primacy of the individual subject and the emphasis given by Costa Lima to the Freudian discovery as an exploration of psychic material when the Brazilian author emphasizes that the theoretical perspective opened by Freud is constituted in disagreement with symbolism and decipherment: the products of psychic activity are not codified as a function of an instance of inner constitution that obeys a hidden and pre-existing law (self). So, in the same way that “the dream is a geological conglomeration in which each fragment of stone requires an isolated analysis whose detachment coincides with its removal”, “the work on the fictional will not be of the order of revealing something hidden, but a movement just like what exists between map and territory” (p. 204).

Through this theoretical connection between exploring the fictional and exploring the psychic, the establishment of two poles of fictionality is affirmed: the oneiric and the unrestricted and conscious literary (which provokes the aesthetic experience). Between these two points lies what is strictly fictional. Costa Lima builds an arc that leads from the dreamlike to the literary and crosses the fictional. The anthropological disposition of the psychic material present from one end of this arc to the other will be thematized, not without some irony, with the contribution of the sociological developments of Freudian theory. The irony is in the fact that LCL requests the theoretical contribution of this sociology to get rid of the sociological approach of the fictional. The examination and treatment of the fictional are enriched with the analysis of social roles, frames (frame) and games (play) since they contribute to the understanding of the clause of the as if. Through these studies, says Costa Lima, the path opened to fiction by the dimension of the unconscious was not restricted to the scientific-philosophical scope.

It seems to be a characteristic that accompanies the disregard for theorizing the fact that it is a theoretical inquiry confused with the scope of philosophy, as if theoretical reflection were a kind of philosophical practice free style. This happens with the theory of history and with the theory of literature, areas in which Costa Lima acts and strongly influences.

The fourth chapter of the book takes up the characteristics of peripheral intellectual history that lead to the rejection of theory for the affirmation of art and literature as a product of society, therefore, object par excellence of a historicist sociology that seeks to extract from artistic and literary artifacts a content true about that society. This understanding, hegemonic in university circles, acts as an index of obstruction to the understanding of the fictional, this phenomenon that tears apart the truth. through appearance and form, without succumbing to the unheard of non-existing existences or subordinating oneself to socio-historical reconstitution factors of a certain environment.

Fiction is not to be confused with what is hidden, since it is ingrained in modes of representation: fiction is what presents itself, through a web of collective semantization, formed by different socio-cultural codes, reordered, reconfigured, placed in another perspective. Or, in the words of Costa Lima himself: “in fiction, meaning is only grammatically established. Faced with the inexistence of its effective reference, the reader allows himself to carry it out. Its subjective conditioning undermines the usual demand for truth: it provokes the embarrassment that accompanies reflection on the fictional” (p. 248).

The book ends up fulfilling the declared purpose of touching the bones of the fictional, returning to Coleridge's fertile formulation that infers to fiction the effect of “suspension of disbelief” to arrive at W. Iser's inescapable contribution to a theory of the fictional. Iser's literary anthropology project proves to be essential for the way it addresses the indisposition that the fictional represents in relation to the principle of reality, converting the clause of the as if – elaborated by H. Vaihinger within a project that locates the fictional between dogma and the instruments of calculation –, in a scheme to understand the whole process of the fictional, allowing to reach the way in which fiction transgresses and expands the real. Marking the divergence with Iser, regarding the mimesis, which the German author gives a performative character, LCL manages to make clear how he started from Iser's propositions to affirm the metaphorical basis of the fictional and establish the difference between what he calls internal and external fiction.

The last chapter brings the reflection that intertwines the most recent results of Costa Lima's investigation about the fictional with the concept of control of the imaginary, coined in the 1980s. and creative capacity from Descartes to the Romantics, LCL opens the perspective of control to contribute to more recent discussions about the autonomy of fiction: since fiction is an autonomous discursive modality, the critic must confront language as a principle of construction and not as a simple agency of content. In this sense, autonomy is not directed at the service of an institution or a set of specific values, but acts on behalf of the critical exploration of dissonances.

Indeed, it is following this posture that, even in a decidedly theoretical book, Costa Lima can state: “Understanding the democratic regime as the form of government that spread after the French Revolution, it should be added that, as an index On the negative side, in a democratic regime, the legitimation of large estates, trusts, monopolies implies giving legal cover to social arbitrariness. In economically advanced countries, the "legality" thus achieved led, in a recent decade, to the paradoxical result of the most disadvantaged masses allying themselves with the most conservative groups in the election of candidates who, rising up against elementary principles of the law of peoples and international agreements international, give the impression of favoring the most disadvantaged natives. Such an alliance is quite recent for us to venture to predict what will happen. In capitalist peripheral countries, taking what happens in Brazil as a model, the poor masses, subject to the daily violence of drug dealers and police, join the middle and rich classes in the election of bestialized people who, in favor of State repression and in name of combating street violence, promote the cynical legality of the status quo. It is also too early to know where this is all going” (p. 106).

The critique of the political context also incorporates the current state of social communication technologies that do nothing to eradicate hostility towards the fictional. Phenomena like fake news, post-truth and deep fakes they become more harmful insofar as the misunderstanding of the function of language beyond being a vehicle of communication remains. However, as Costa Lima states, if it is still too early to know where we are going, this indetermination is the possibility that the floor of the mind may represent a very important contribution to the theory of literature and literary studies, in addition to being another decisive piece in the construction of the intellectual legacy of this Brazilian thinker.

*Aline Magalhães Pinto Professor of Theory of Literature and Comparative Literature at UFMG.


Luiz Costa Lima. The ground of the mind: the question for fiction. São Paulo, Unesp, 2021, 328 pages.


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