the cynic

Image: Stela Grespan


Comment on the article by Demétrio Magnoli published in the newspaper Folha de S. Paulo on August 22, 2020

Cynicism as a characteristic of Brazilian society gained literary and social form in the novels of Machado de Assis and in the literary criticism of Roberto Schwarz. The attribute aestheticized in Machado's work perfectly managed to describe the national peripheral elite, and those who surrounded it in the daily life of our public life. The cynical personality and/or behavior is what still defines our so-called economic, political and social elite, and those who still persist in bordering their interests. Demétrio Magnoli is one of those who surround it.

If we were in another society, even one with a peripheral background like ours, their impudence would be embarrassing – but, unfortunately, we are in Brazil. Your 22/08/2020 article in Folha de São Paulo(The Upside of Cancellation), addressing the text by Rosane Borges also published in Folha de São Paulo (Lilia Schwarcz's review of 'Black is King': look for the error) on 16/08/2020, in which he makes lucid and thoughtful (even constructive) criticism of Lilia Schwarcz's article on Beyoncé, is a piece carved out of the typical cynicism of those around the country's ruling elites. Here a certain analytical moment is suggestive. Or as they say, one thing is one thing, another thing is another thing.

If a good part of what we can name without much sociological and political precision as a black movement read Lilia Schwarcz's article as a mistaken intervention because, in the former's argument, she is a privileged white woman without understanding the meaning of the film Black is king; a group of black men and women diverged from this pattern of criticism leveled at her. Wilson Gomes, in a text published in the same Folha de São Paulo of 16/08/2020 and whoever writes these lines are in this group. With different positions, they expressed dissonant voices – Gomestratou from the epistemic market and the interests it mobilizes (via social networks and cultural circuits). My understanding was in the sense of sustaining, from Frantz Fanon and Deivison M. Faustino, the mistrust about the naive and deleterious search for the historically denied to the detriment of the present. (There is no historical-cultural bag to put all black men and women.)

Still in this aspect, the interventions of Maria Rita Kehl and Leonardo Avritzer in the “dispute, with texts published here in the pages of the the earth is roundon 10/08/2020 and 12/08/2020,were with the objective of presenting to the discussion about the debate-lily the cautionary understanding of the leftist perspective regarding the way in which Schwarcz's criticism of Beyoncé's film was received. A debate in the field of the left, or if you prefer, in the progressive field. Even Wilson Gomes' caustic article is within these political horizons, as well as the reverse majority of (black) criticism of Lilia Schwarcz's criticism.

We are at a moment in the country's political history when we urgently need to define who we are fighting and against what and against whom we are fighting. It is imperative that we know who will be fighting our battles; which are and will be arduous given the 2016 coup d'état of Dilma Rousseff (who did have problems and made mistakes, obviously from the perspective of the left and subordinates, such as naming Joaquim Levy minister of finance and giving a “true hobby horse” in economic policy in the happy expression of André Singer), the 2018 elections and the project of destruction of the fragile and ambiguous State built in 1988 that has the grotesque figure of Paulo Guedes as its architect. These recent events have thrown the left, in a “rationally elaborated plan” into the alcove, in view of the articulated siege of the Lava Jato – Sérgio Moro, the media, the economic elite and right-wing movements, into the political abyss. Climbing this one is costing us a lot. Indeed, delineating who is who will be paramount in the coming periods of political dispute: both for the left, the progressives and the black movement in a broad sense.

Demetrio Magnoli will definitely not fight our fights. His loyalties were long established – even his cynicism trying to demonstrate otherwise. Your article (The Upside of Cancellation) makes an effort, but obviously cannot – at least for airy readers who are not easily charmed by the tricks of the journalist’s poor quality rhetorical verve – disqualify Rosane Borges’ intervention in the Folha de São Paulo/Illustrious from 16/0/2020. (I do not agree with significant points in Borges' text, but that is beside the point here.) However, if Magnoli had the slightest commitment to the debate of ideas, public, serious, even fraternal and democratic, he would feel shy if he reread the lines he he wrote. Rosane Borges' critical article is available for those who want to read it and draw their own intellectual and political conclusions.

Things understood correctly, some criticisms and comments made to the anthropologist and historian, without a doubt, were regrettable and regrettable as a theoretical and political debate. This is not the case with Borges' essay: written with the refinement and sophistication of the best in cultural criticism (Benedict Anderson, Bell Hooks and Fredric Jameson). I insist, the reader can check for himself by reading the text.

But Demétrio Magnoli, with all his stylistics, did not see it that way. In a single text he managed to articulate “purges of Marxist parties”, “place of speech”, “Sérgio Camargo” and, of course, the password of Brazilian conservatism “totalitarian state apparatus”: all of this to try to criticize Rosane Borges. This is the level of the scribes of the Brazilian hooded right. He, Magnoli, intended to gather those expressions and the warning sign of his followers to say that Borges' serious text on issues of culture, race/racism and the most appropriate ways to intervene in this type of public debate about these problems is “ flowing” and “bloated”. That's right; it's not a joke. But this is the article by a columnist and political commentator who spends his nights delivering thoughtful analysis on the show. Globo News in Agenda(whoever goes there has good journalists like Mônica Waldvogel, Flávia Oliveira and Guga Chacra) and its splendorous diversity of opinions. Still not satisfied with cultivating his readers with that massive erudition like a manioc flour biscuit that would make Tremenbó jealous, he seems to be somewhere in God knows where, except in the Brazil of Bolsonaro, of Paulo Guedes, of the PSDB military police, of paramilitary bands that murder black women on command, says that we live in a society where the “principle of civilized dissent”, the “democratic exchange of views” and “plural debate in the press” prevail. And exercising these humanist-liberal values ​​of coexistence, he defends that those who use social networks should live only in this space (of “cancellation”) as it suits them and leave those values ​​and institutions to the true democrats.

Here we could mobilize the splendid interventions (texts, interviews, books, comments) by Demétrio Magnoli at the height of the debate on affirmative action, demonstrating his commitment to the values ​​he defends. However, this is past. We can keep the Magnoli of the articles Impeachment now (Folha de São Paulo, 12/03/2016)(in which we find the following formulation, “we have an independent judiciary. The police and armed forces are loyal to their constitutional functions, not to a party”) andgang formation (Folha de São Paulo, 26/06/2016) in which, with an air of censorship, he admonishes a group of historians for legitimately defending the thesis of the 2016 coup; or with Magnoli of unique phrases and formulations typical of an “anti-cancellation” democrat such as these: “Brazilian university professors come out of the woodwork to celebrate terror”at the time when he reflected to understand the motivations of the attacks on the magazine Charlie Hebdoin France in 2015 (Raqqa, here, Folha de São Paulo, 12/01/2015), and yet “the iron logic of property vandalism leads to a scorched earth program. The fuse of purifying bonfires will spare nothing, except the new statues carved by the vandals of good, which will be torn down by their future followers. The perpetual present – ​​that is the dangerous ambition of this sect of iconoclasts” (Folha de São Paulo, 26/06/2020), here most likely his hand tingled and made him pick up the pen and condemn young people for defending the demolition of statues such as Cecil Rhodes and Borba Gato, central figures in the organization of oppression (of races and peoples) that cruelly extirpated human lives for centuries.

Thus, Rosane Borges and Maria Rita Kehl, Djamila Ribeiro and Leonardo Avritzer, Lilia Schwarcz and Wilson Gomes, although with different points of view of approaching the problems, are part of the same political and intellectual field of the left and progressive. Demétrio Magnoli, for now, enjoys the good company of Merval Pereira, José Nêumanne Pinto, Gustavo Franco, Hélio Beltrão, Fernando Schuler, Leandro Narloch, Samuel Pessoa, Rodrigo Constantino and Guilherme Fiuza – and if anyone is missing someone who is interested can check out the pages of theMillenium Institute[I].

*Ronaldo Tadeu de Souza is a postdoctoral researcher at the Department of Political Science at USP.


[I] Even having serious researchers who provide services to our social sciences, such as political scientists Marcus Melo, Carlos Pereira and Bolívar Lamounier, the Millenium Institute is an think tanks conservative that was and is being fundamental in the recent reorganization of the Brazilian right, representing very well defined interests since 2006 when it was created (of course, beyond the cynicism of some of its members, there is no problem in the existence of the institute). This is to say the least. Over the Millenium Institute see Camila Rocha. “ThinkTanks Ultraliberals and the New Brazilian Right”. In:  Le Monde Diplomatique Brazil, nº124, 2017 and “Who They Are and What They Want”. In: Brazilian Magazine of Culture-CULT, no. 234, 2018.

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