the philanthropist

Guignard, The Twins (Léa and Maura), oil on canvas, 110.00 cm x 130.00 cm, 1940.


Commentary on the book by Rodrigo Naves

The book by Rodrigo Naves, the philanthropist (Companhia das Letras), is, without any exaggeration — brilliant. I can safely say this because, as the reverse of the restrained narrator, I sin in excess. For excess, without a doubt, I don't have a tight tongue (to remember the cover as a glove by Marcelo Serpa), I sin for intemperance, which is this excess of spices, yes, but never for untruths. Great. Just open it and read it, and right from the first pages we feel its taste of novelty. Not novelty novelty but really, vital novelty, of those old, traditional, primordial, original…

There! speaking of untruths, I must soon correct myself. This is not a book, just one book. There are several, due to their difficult form, something that many good people have already noticed and mulled over. I found three, maybe the magnanimous reader will find more, 350, what do I know? and find less the stingy reader, two, one. But it's somewhere around, I'd like to believe, between one and three hundred and fifty. Since I don't appreciate controversy, I was also born with the boredom of controversy, each one of you has your own, I'll have my three. And it is about them that I intend to talk a little.

But let's go in order. The second book… First, I must apologize to the serious reader, who will certainly not appreciate this impressionist critique of mine. I confess. But what am I to do? Thanks to the author, who is an art critic, and a great one at that.

You can see that I still haven't been able to talk about the book, or the books. But it's not my fault, give it to me. This is one of the effects it causes. A tickling, an itch, a desire to say everything, everything, bit by bit, every word, without mincing words, every swear word, a compulsion to confess unrestrained and contrite, and right in me, you see, one of the guys the most circumspect men I know, and on the verge of wanting to go down on one knee like that… All his fault, he's pulling the rope with which we'll hang ourselves, half a meter of tongue sticking out, along with our indiscretions, our idiosyncrasies, our unconfessable vices. But I'm not crazy enough to commit this folly. I would have to say goodbye to everything, tradition, family, property, the State, God, country, party… No! I remain within the judicious limits of the review.

The third book comprises a lapidary portrayal, in both senses. We all know how impossible it is to summarize a life in a few lines (proust says so!), and that this book does… succinctly. The portraits of plastic artists are admirable, “Anna Döring (1898-1930) and Alberto da Veiga Guignard (1896-1962)”, “Mira Schendel (1919-1988)”, but those that passed without leaving a trace, or that life traced without leaving any steps, also not far behind, the former boxer “Rosemiro dos Santos (1944-1991)”, the girl from “Altivez”, the girl from “Vulgar”:

“I called my dick a cock. Sometimes she asked me to fuck her. Others, that it hurt her. She was cheerful in the afternoons, even in bright sunlight. She was afraid of dying early and being in need. She came from a poor family and the feeling of dependency both excited and saddened her. Simultaneously. That's why she associated pain with protection and found sex both attractive and terrifying. She was neat. Her hygienic body made even the most pudgy acts lustful. And the occasional violence seemed to restore the innocence of cleanliness. No, she didn't moan. She just made these ghastly expressions.”

Need more? Name? Tina. Or Chris. Or both. Or the one. You choose.

But the portrait of my heart, I don’t know why, is that of the Paris communist “Eugène Varlin (1839-1871)”, a worker, manual and intellectual, who devoted his very brief life to the libertarian cause:

“Around noon on the 27th, Varlin ceases to defend himself. For twenty-six hours he roams the streets of Paris. At three o'clock on the afternoon of the 28th, tired, he sat down on a bench in rue Lafayette. His appearance is the same: long hair, dark beard, only his dark eyes show fatigue. He had done nothing to disguise his identity. A passer-by recognizes him and denounces him. Varlin is led before a general, who orders his execution. Before dying a greeting: 'Viva a República!', 'Viva a Commune!'. He was incomplete thirty-two years old. ”

The conclusion is terrible and makes us wonder why Varlin, like other leaders of the Commune, gave up running, why he gave up. It is possible to assume, with a good chance of being right, and thus test our ability to be exposed to pain. Without illusion, he recognized that his life was over, preferring therefore to renounce it, even if he had it all ahead of him, in theory, than to renounce the dream he lived, and which it would take a while to rise from the ashes, as he knew, without illusion. Long live Varlin!

Another portrait that fascinates me, I don't know if because of the technique or the theme, is of the old writer on Xoxota. “Twelve years old” calls the little piece, I mean the play, a lesson in how to suck little children. It is not a question of a communist treatise, as you can see, who eats them. You take a little pigeon in a pubertal state, around this adorable age, naked, to avoid the embarrassment of undressing her, and... But let's hear the labia of the magnus magister: “Above all, you need to know how to measure your saliva. If moisture excites — as it provides better contact between the parts — its excess disgusts. And girls are demanding creatures. They require control and precision. Like certain birds, they take flight at the slightest noise, and escape the trance into which we lead them with so much difficulty. You also need to know how to manage time. They become impatient when we overdo it. They are healthy. They dispense fantasies”.

If I know my friends well, they'll say that this time they can easily guess why I appreciate so much the new art, cuninha language, let's call it that, — because I discovered the unconscious pedophile in me... Ah! friends, how we need them! But they are wrong. I do poison. It is public that I vampirize young girls from 42 to 102 years old and that I prefer “to have my tongue in tangles, hairs or trumpets” than to lick soap, even a child one.

Forgive me, I think I got too excited and I've already started talking about the second book, to which the wonderful lubricious miniature belongs, and which is full of these modest narrators, half Kafkaesque, who love to translate the greatest absurdities into impeccable logic. There is a very strange one, “Adventure”, of a dying man, shot by chance, who drags himself around the city, hiding, because he would hate to bother others with his putrefying flesh, who hates Sundays, problems he has with continuity since the high school days, who goes to visit his girlfriend Barbara's house on the other side of town, but which seems to have been abandoned for a long time, who returns by subway, going to bury herself deep in the earth with him, so as not to bother us with the smell… A perfect polis man, without a doubt, very urban… he, not the city, whose atmosphere seems charged with the same odor.

I don't know, no, but I confess that I don't like it, it smells like war to me. What I like, what I prefer, what I really love is Poetry. Oh! poetry, eternal poetry, eternally capable of drying our tears in this worthless valley... he doesn't know if it exists by distillation, or by sedimentation, or whatever! so much chemical and geological allegory to end up drummed-up and materially annihilated, like any end of the Bienal (beginning?): “I feel made of straw, dust, metals, cotton, meat, shavings — and the lack of harmony in the ensemble makes me bitter as hell.”

I don't know how many or with which authors our philanthropist is conspiring in the dead of night, but one of them is certainly our greatest poet (and one of the greatest in the West in the XNUMXth century). The poetic progress of certain phrasing, sometimes of entire pieces, evokes the great free verses of the Itabi artist. Otherwise, let’s see this sweet and delicate poem, “Cidade Grande”, restored, let’s say, to verses by the great poet Drummond:

“Who built this city
lifted her up to see her from above
not to inhabit it.
Nothing will find me. at half past nine
I put on my shoes and go down to the street.
I watch the cars go by.
Some people come back from evening courses. They are very sad
people who take night courses.
Opposite, the last employees wash the bar floor.
Three young people pass by me,
they must go to some party.
It won't rain either.
I could never remember what Dad did at night.
Once, it seems, he began to study Greek, I don't know if he learned it. I need to eat better, I've been feeling a little weak in the morning.
The building porter comes to talk to me.
I feel deeply miserable tonight.
It won't even rain. The air has no moisture.
Two girls walk arm in arm
and there are those who speak of female homosexuality.
In Trostesi Street I buy a newspaper. There is no doubt
newspapers lost much of their respectability after they ceased to be
............................................................................................................ ..            lead compounds.”

We can discuss one verse or another, all of them, no doubt, their break, their rhythm, but not the poem inscribed in the prose, and divided here into lines, for demonstration purposes. Prose poem, literally.

In this prose measure, but not measured, the desire, the restlessness, the restlessness, from time to time flare up here and there, to the point that the narrator has to join both hands and appeal to God, as in the delicious “Summer”: “Ah , Lord, the senility that is not enough. Where to find peace, if on all sides the heat puts them before the eyes? They are young, almost naive and under their T-shirts they wear two nervous doves, as if the holy spirit, duplicated, inhabited under a light cotton fabric [...] They are madeleines. They are sinners. Never regretting absolutely anything. Therefore, Lord, have mercy on those who on the sidewalks suffer unbearable trances. Give us the glory of despising them, indifference. Grant us the horizon line, Lord. Just the distant horizon line. And if it's not too much to ask, grant us intermittent, unmotivated erections and mild nocturnal startles. Amen."

Even so, there still remains the time to geometrize, to decompose, to analyze these almost uncontrollable eruptions, with their “therefores”, their “buts”, their “it’s quite true”, their chain of reasons, their crazy-logical tournaments: “( …) In the sun, even they sweat. And that's why they don't look clean. But even that, Lord, excites — that light sourness of so many sins. It is quite true that the narrow strip of belly they leave on display sanitizes them. This actually occurs with the coldest meats. However, uncompensated, the body temperature slides and with it goes my peace, wandering through endless surfaces. What saves us is that for now they feed well, and therefore are also composed of volumes. Volumes, Lord, are less tempting entities: so full, so sufficient. Surfaces, no. They need contact to fulfill themselves, and then we get lost. The hair, bring it long, straight or wavy. For that very reason—superficial. They run from the back, surface to surface: the devil! (…)”.

The rationalist turn is the trademark of the philanthropist, the first narrator of the book, reflective, thoughtful, thoughtful, thoughtful, and who covers several identities. Like us… no offense please! Because philanthropists, after all, we all are. I, for example, philanthropist many people, others, few, philanthropist less, rare, not really philanthropist, but this is the least... Because I love everyone, like the philanthropist, like myself, and I recognized myself in several of my brothers , despite the disguises, changes in skin, class, age, gender, without ever ceasing to be a philanthropist, that little being attached to the last wisp of reason, formal, logical, instrumental reason, attached to his fellow men, solidary and comically solitary, ruminating his thoughts like rumors, and releasing them like gases, our rotten and poor intellectual powers.

Like us, therefore, but in a pure, crystal state. That's why this philanthropist is special, he's a kind of madman, and Rodrigo Naves paints an extraordinary portrait in the first person, a self-portrait of sober madness in times of mad capitalism, a self-portrait not of him, but of us, of all of us, little ones selves in perpetual combat to survive minimally, with dignity, without going crazy, and going crazy irremediably, daily, meekly, lucidly. Because we are more and more in the same boat… sinking for sure, but what to do?

It hurts, it makes you angry, it makes you want to laugh to see him serenely agitated in his ethical schizophrenia, brandishing lines of conduct, programs, principles, giving advice, summoning experiences, listening to inner rumors, from the ratio? from the rectum? in search of wisdom, knowing how to live and knowing how to die, imposing tasks and more tasks, manual and intellectual, promises and more promises, from now on, always, and then the examples regurgitate, taking the whole book, from ear to ear, in short, an autistic militant in the midst of turbocapitalism with all the turbines activated. Please God, Psychiatry arrives soon at a precise diagnosis of this most terrible disease of the end of the century, a kind of PME, Manic-Eticidal Psychosis… equally fatal.

The effects of the hallucinated machine of capital, dusted off, we all feel, are devastating, on a world scale and on a personal scale. It is from this fabulous portrayal of ours, from our chimeras of an upright life, chimeras, that is, that the book derives its strength, its critical power. Your might. For how to understand a philanthropist without men? How to understand philanthropy without humanity? How to understand crippled philanthropy?

It goes without saying that the philanthropist, jealous of his humanity and our humanity, certainly writes, or at least cherishes projects of sustained work, such as Ethics and Economics, Ethics and Capital and others. Does anyone still believe in ethical capitalism, or gynecological capitalism, that is, capitalism with a human touch? If you believe it, just look at the philanthropists who produce this ideological teratology in which we live or die.

I think I overdid it yet again. But I return to my proverbial sobriety. We must salute in this precious little book the birth of a great writer. Hopefully, the same nefarious fate will not happen to him, and to us, that lost another enormous literary talent, kidnapped by the cinema and released only at the end of life, by the generous action of three women! (I'm talking about Paulo Emílio…) May Rodrigo Naves find in literature, in the moments when he is lacking, the consolation that the hard work of art critic does not offer him. For it is no wonder that it has never ceased to be “a more practical alternative”. We learned that when there's nothing to do, it's time to start writing literature.

*Airton Paschoa is a writer, author, among other books, of see ships (Nankin).

Except for occasional adjustments, published under the title “We, the philanthropists” in the magazine Ficções nº 4, second half of 1999.


Rodrigo Naves, the philanthropist. Sao Paulo, Company. of Letters, 168 pages.


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