the president's body

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By DENISE BERNUZZI DE SANT'ANNA*

There is no bodily duplicity in the figure of this government, there is only one organism, for whom everything is admittedly reduced to “eating people” or being eaten

Recently, a photograph of President Bolsonaro, lying on his back, with a nasogastric tube, recalled a painting by Andrea Mantegna entitled “Lamentation over the dead Christ”. This similarity between images does not only reveal the desire, real or imagined, to elevate the Brazilian “messiah” to the category of a savior and martyr Christ. It imposes, in the foreground, the president's belly, naked and, above, a smile.

For some time now, the president has been speaking crudely about his guts, his own and others'. His body suffers from a chronic uniqueism: instead of the classic imagery of the sovereign’s two bodies – one natural and human, the other divine and immortal – Bolsonaro has only one body, reduced, by himself, to his “maw”. Hence the stabbing was an attack on his deepest identity. They didn't hit him in the heart, in the head, but in the belly. The digestive tract is president and vice versa, with no room for representation. While the first lady received a makeup artist at the hospital, the president treated an intestinal obstruction, and there are newspapers that printed the photo of “guts”, with didactic explanations about their contortions and the fate of their contents.

At the time of Nicolas Sarkozy's government, in France, texts were published about his two bodies, no longer the mortal and the immortal, in the fashion of absolutist kings, but the public and the private body. But what's going on with Brazil's president doesn't seem to have much historical precedent. Because there is no bodily duplicity in the figure of this government, there is only one organism, for whom everything is admittedly reduced to “eating people” or being eaten. No wonder, therefore, the lack of distance between his behavior in private and his manners in public, between what he thinks and what he says. Well, wouldn't it have been this absence of distance or duplicity that created the expectation (for some groups that supported him) that he would be honest, without cheating? After all, how can you doubt someone who speaks with the pit of his stomach?

But one could also ask the opposite: how not to doubt those who put their belly ahead? Whoever speaks only on behalf of his belly is the one who eats every day the part that is not his right. There are not exactly mysteries, nor interiority to be unveiled in the figure of the president. It's like we already knew the worst about him. For this reason, what could really surprise is no longer related to what we know about the president or what is revealed about his government; what really remains to be seen is who we are now… we who live under a government that speaks only for its own guts.

*Denise Bernuzzi de Sant'anna is a history professor at PUC-SP. She is the author, among other books, of Bodies of passage: essay on contemporary subjectivity (Liberty Station).

 

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