Infinite fascism, in real and fiction

Image: Samia Halaby


Preface to the book Sergio Scargel

In 1995, Umberto Eco performed at Columbia University, a conference entitled “Eternal Fascism”, whose theme was the possibility of the return of fascism in historical circumstances different from those in which it emerged, in Italy in the first half of the XNUMXth century. To discuss this hypothesis, I began by describing the contradictory characteristics of Mussolini's fascism, highlighting the difficulty of associating the term with a coherent system of ideas, since fascism would not be a monolithic ideology: rather, it would be a collage of diverse political and political tendencies. philosophical, a structured confusion, which, however, from an emotional point of view, was firmly articulated to some archetypes.

Umberto Eco also recalled that, although political regimes can be overthrown and their ideologies delegitimized, behind them and their ideology there is always a way of thinking and feeling, a series of cultural habits, a nebula of obscure instincts. Considering that the term fascist adapts to everything, because it is possible to eliminate one or more aspects of a fascist regime and it will always continue to be recognized as fascist, Umberto Eco then presents a list of typical characteristics of what he called “ur- fascism or eternal fascism”: concept created to encompass fascism in its different versions, without expanding the name excessively, to the point of emptying it of meaning.

It is these ideas from the Italian semiologist that serve as the starting point for the book Infinite fascism, in reality and fiction: how literature has presented fascism in the last 100 years, whose origins lie in the master's thesis by Sergio Schargel Maia de Menezes, awarded by the Brazilian Association of Comparative Literature (Dirce Côrtes Riedel Award for best dissertation of the 2020-2021 biennium).

A researcher attuned to contemporary political theories and also a fine reader of literary fiction, Sergio Schargel puts these two fields in dialogue, comparing, without simplistic overlaps, Ur-fascism in the politics of reality and the appearances of Ur-fascisms in literature, with the greater objective of thinking about the political tensions of our time. Like Umberto Eco, Sergio Schargel was also moved, when carrying out his research, by the suspicion that fascism, or if we want, Ur-fascism, is still around us, sometimes under the most innocent guises, and that it is our duty to unmask it. it.

After all, as he himself informs us, Freedom House, an American institution, reported 2019 as the fourteenth consecutive year of global democratic recession, with the emergence of anti-democratic movements, which, at least for some social scientists, could be considered new versions of fascism, despite the complexity of the contemporary geopolitical context.

Agreeing with the thoughts of Primo Levi, for whom “each era has its own fascism”, Sergio Schargel does not share the conviction that fascism would be a historically dated movement and, therefore, would not have the opportunity to return to protagonism on the political scene. For him, fascism, as a methodology of power, would be an exploitation of resentment, requiring crises to grow: “the crisis feeds this resentment, increases it exponentially. In times of prosperity, Ur-fascism remains dormant. But, with crises, it can awaken to its full strength”, says the author.

Infinite fascism, in reality and fiction: how literature has presented fascism in the last 100 years not only leads the reader to differentiate terms in current use such as authoritarianism, populism, totalitarianism, conservatism, but also to reflect on the way in which ideologies intertwine and dormant political phenomena reinvent themselves. Hence the smooth, seamless transition to the field of rhetoric, the war of stories and fiction, as a resource to discuss a possible return of fascism today, at the same time as it contemplates the insertion of this issue in the sphere of art. .

Remembering how much politics owes to rhetoric, Sergio bridges the gap between the reflection on the methods of fascism and its representation in fiction literature, which also tried to give different guises and images to Ur-fascism. The subgenre of dystopia, or negative utopia, is responsible for a large part of these representations, as seen, for example, in the novel 1984, by George Orwell, released in 1949, but which, symptomatically, returned to the bestseller list at the beginning of the XNUMXst century: interest revived, according to Sergio Schargel, by the worldwide rise of real authoritarian governments. For the author, “in the post-truth era, in which the boundaries between fact and fiction are increasingly blurred, literature – and political literature in particular – is inflected with reality, sometimes becoming more believable than the real itself.”

Among several works of fiction covered, including a film and a TV series, two novels were chosen as central objects of analysis: It won't happen here by the American Sinclair Lewis, released in 1936 and re-released in 2017, in Brazil, and He's back, by Timur Vermes, published in 2012, in Germany, two years before the creation of the AfD, an extreme right-wing party that currently constitutes the third largest party in the German chamber. He's back, which was adapted for film by David Wnendt (Germany, 2015), takes up the omnipresent idea, including in the title itself, in It won't happen here.

Both work with the denial that fascism could be repeated, or appear in another location. The Ur-fascist messiahs, characters in the books analyzed, use, as Sergio Schargel highlights, similar speeches – which also coincide with the speeches of their real political counterparts – presenting themselves as simple democrats. Reading the two works seeks to understand what the author calls an aesthetics of destruction, highlighting, in each one, the format used to stage the fascist methodology of power.

In the context of current Brazil, in which research carried out at Unicamp, by anthropologist Adriana Dias, identified a total of at least 334 neo-Nazi cells active in the country, Infinite fascism, in reality and fiction: how literature has presented fascism in the last 100 years constitutes a very timely reflection, contributing to expanding the horizon of criticism in the field of art and politics.

Although, as we know, fascist rhetoric used metaphors, such as, for example, that of “sculptor of the Italian nation” to designate Mussolini, whose work of sculpting the masses would allow, from the point of view of his co-religionists, to elevate him to the In the field of art, the tensions between freedom of creation and the methodology of fascist power have always been irreducible.

Therefore, the book that the reader has in hand ends with a parable, bringing Pasolini and Didi-Huberman with their respective studies on anti-fascist fireflies and the role of art, especially political art, in the resistance to Ur-fascism . Sergio Schargel thus reiterates his conviction in the importance of literature as a tool for raising awareness and resisting the obscurity of Ur-fascist anti-intellectualism.

*Vera Lúcia Follain de Figueiredo is a professor of Communication at the Pontifical Catholic University of Rio de Janeiro (PUC-Rio). She is the author, among other books, of Balancing fiction: narrative, everyday life and politics (Reliquary).


Sergio Schargel. Infinite fascism, in reality and fiction: how literature has presented fascism in the last hundred years. Porto Alegre, Bestiary / Class, 2022, 198 pages. Available here.

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