The fire and the blade

Derek Boshier, Plan I, 1971


Reflections on the work of Rubens Rodrigues Torres Filho.

for Tuxo

An enigma permeated with language. Perhaps this characterizes the “feeling of the world” that emanates from the work of Rubens Rodrigues Torres Filho, who left us in December 2023. He was a poet, translator, teacher and philosopher or, as he preferred to say, a historian of philosophy. Although he was averse to fanfare, he left fingerprints everywhere. When examining them, it is difficult not to give in to the temptation of seeking a certain unity based on certain recurring motifs. Between poetry and philosophy, through translation and essay writing, bridges connect an unusual and varied production, built on the balance between rigor and imagination.

Poetry and reflection

A minimal text sets the tone for us to get into the subject. It is in Torres Filho's first book, published in 1963, the same year he entered the philosophy course at USP. It's a book of poems, but with a philosophical title: Gaze investigation. The epigraph is a poetic mini-manifesto. He says: “Poetry, an effort of language, will first be 'logical'”. This is followed by the lyrical claim: “Poetry must be excavation and torture”.

Two demands that are at first glance antagonistic, configuring an antinomy that, when examined more closely, is not new. Mário de Andrade had framed it under the tension between technique (“intellectual order”) and spontaneity (“subconscious order”) and, especially in his first writings, warned that bringing poetry closer to “logic” could kill the subjective element, essential for mixing.

On the other hand, and as Drummond would warn later on, outside of that “effort of language”, which Torres Filho reports, the sentimental matter remains anodyne: “what you think and feel, that is not yet poetry” (Drummond, “Search for poetry"). The epigraph written by Torres Filho in 1963 traces a path: the poetic material, made of contradictions, outbursts, feelings and perplexity, must be organized to the point of expressing, at the level of language, how opposites that are not always friends communicate.

Once opened, the season of contraries would not take long to reveal its results. From the initial phase, see the pair “internal” x “external”, in the separate poem, “migração” (1962):

I see myself again, transfigured,
rediscovered by those who invent me
for your conviviality.
How clearly your intentions touch me,
my name springs from their mouths like a flower.
I will live in them with transparency,
entire rebirth of your speech
to inhabit the memory.
In them I speak, I move my head,
I call. All without me,
all away, with great peace and condescension.

Although the poet registers alienation permeating relationships to the core, this arouses less indignation or militancy than self-irony. What might surprise you: it was the 1960s. The counterpoint helps. Entering the São Paulo scene at the same time, Roberto Piva named his debut book,Paranoia (also from 1963) of “beat-surreal”, a peculiar combination of Bréton, Rimbaud and Ginsberg. From this mixture, a poetic voice emerged redolent of widely circulated eroticism, including graphics: long verses follow one another, alternating verbal tenses and images (suddenly, Mário de Andrade sticks it to the poet's ear, wandering with him through the city center) , the text becoming cities carrier of indivisible, nuclear, sexual energy.

Eliane Robert de Moraes, in a luminous essay on Piva's poetry, comments that, in it, the escape from the ordinary is a homoerotic plunge into nocturnal adventure, which represents the counter-discourse “to all types of repressive apparatus, be it capital, the Catholic Church, of the guardians of good customs or any other instance of subjection of the libido”. This is also what the poet says, in the Afterword of squares (1964): “Against the inhibition of conscience of Official Brazilian Poetry in the service of the death instinct (repression), my poetry has always consisted of a true sexual act, that is, an aggression whose purpose is the most intimate of unions”.

Torres Filho's conduct is different. The title of the poem, migrate, consists of moving from one (o)position to another, in a back-and-forth movement during which the variation between opposing experiences makes the poet witness their division into two. Rather than rejecting her, he becomes aware of his alienation: “all away, with great peace / and condescension.” The syncope between “interior” and “exterior” does not transform things; but the “I”, available to others in this exteriority that does “everything without me”, turns on itself and undertakes its self-demarcation.

Thanks to the course of thought in word (speech), the meaning of the initial opposition is actualized. Recognizing that it is objectified by other people's expectations, the “I”, despite appearing inappropriate, remains (to an always variable extent, which Torres Filho will never tire of recalculating throughout his trajectory) intact. Just like an eye that sees itself, the poet begins to reflect, discovering very early on the vocation that will be reiterated in another epigraph, of The circumflex flight (1981):

What is vestige, invests and instigates
or, if it's about looking, investigate.
Each other: the eye looks at each other,
If you withdraw into yourself, you peel yourself away.

The subject is close, the approach changes. If, in the case of “migration”, consciousness was born from the duplication of oneself in the “inside” and “outside”, in the 1981 epigraph, on the other hand, the “eye that looks at itself”, corresponding to the “I” already constituted, It hesitates between withdrawing and peeling off its leaves. In one case, reflection is self-awareness; in another, hesitation in the face of choice. A similar question reappears in “poema sem nome”, from 1989: “Dear river of things, / which of the two: flow, bloom?”. The question, internal to the poem, questions it: why, after all, describe yourself and fall into life? But what would this leap out of language be like, seeing as the subject himself merges into it? “If I fall / it’s without leaving my place”.

It remains to work on the inside, to formalize the Heraclitean river to establish, on the back of its antinomies and without rejecting them, an original bed, made of glimpses, memories, projections. This is what we see, for example, in “another mirage”, from 1993:

It was summer, and the moon was there
(because it was night) it was moonlit
The blades of coconut palms
(because it was a beach) and a clearing opened
for the eyes (of both) in the clear night.
What we said (you
remember?) was
by a thread. It was nothing. He was forming
a very light network of connections
and elisions. In the mirror of that moment
once again (as it was,
As I said, summer
and beach and there was a moon)
another mirage of happiness.

As in “poem without a name”, the world is exposed to decisive moments, even when prosaic (to the point of almost disappearing: “do you remember?”). The album of these photographs is a work of poetry, whose choices are redoubled by the absence of a discourse capable of remembering or understanding everything. The suspenseful atmosphere of Torres Filho's poetic workshop warned him against the idea of ​​an integral truth, be it desire, reason or history. The “true in itself” dissolves before the prerogatives of the metaphor, which demands passage. This poetry is better understood, which balances on the trade of opposites and rejects the idea of ​​resolving them in a well-executed progression. Hesitates, problematizes; the impossibility of a “future dialectical synthesis”1 makes her content with opening windows and welcoming perspectives that are like particles seen in an almost permanent fog, with more or less mild days.

Epidermal writing that involves variations, as these two poems from 1987 attest:

Happy beginning
At that very moment
Our lips came together
By themselves
and she was already murmuring to me between kisses: – I’m sorry
that we will love each other (in the figurative sense) right now.
The ending of “Capítulo” evokes another atmosphere, from Itabira:
“Urgency to untangle this multitude of meanings and connections that present and deny themselves in multiple, entangled ways. The perplexities continue to be valid, obtuse. Mirror of maddened convexities, the face of days is disposed towards malice. Futile, fleeting, the gaze slides across the surfaces. Walking, hands in his pockets, he makes an out-of-tune whistle, then falls silent, thin.”

The imminent invasion of the senses (perceptual and mental) sets the trigger for both poems. But, contrary to the certainty of the lovers, in “Chapter” the perplexities remain, sovereign. As we can see, the urge to unravel the multivoicedness can lead to a kiss or a void. Opening up to these variations requires incorporating, on a formal level, different ways of poetizing: from the pun neighboring Leminski (“poema semipronto”, 1985) to verses that mimic Camões (“Quatro sonetos”, 1981), interposed, incorporated dictions coexist by those who immerse themselves in what they read or feel, in order to translate themselves and thus reinvent themselves.

This is what we read in “one prose is one prose and one” (1985): “writing invents writing and places us in the lines that follow the track inside – from outside to dense – from inside to wild”. The point was noted by Arthur Nestrovski, who, evaluating the set, says that the poems “wear the most varied clothes, from sonnet to aphorism, from anecdote to meditation, from regular verse to free line and 'porous prose', or 'breathed', where the poetic effect is reserved for 'surprise images' and 'phonic baroqueism'”.2

A versatility that has to do with reflective retreat, allowing the poet, by sharpening himself, to become a writer of his own variation. The center of this poetry, then, tends to be hollow – the void that reverberates different chords, from the murmur of “between kisses” to the gaze that sneaks around and finds nothing, puts its “hands in its pocket” and rehearses an out-of-tune whistle, followed by a thin silence. If the machine of the world were to reopen to the poet at this moment, all he would have to do was – like his precursor, the “pupils spent in the continuous and painful inspection / of the desert” – to lower his eyes and continue on his way, “slowly, with your hands thinking. ”

Philosophy and poetry

At the time Torres Filho entered the philosophy course, the world machine had just made its landing in Maria Antônia, but upside down: it was “Uspian Marxism”. In his memoirs, Fernando H. Cardoso recalls what one of his protagonists was thinking (and who would be Torres Filho's first doctoral advisor, until his revocation in 1969): “Giannotti argued that in Capital something like a logical, dialectical unfolding would be present, based on things, on the objective structures of work, on objective relationships between people”. Faced with such an immense revelation, what value should we give to poetry: alienation, embellishment?

In this anti-poetic sense, “logic” goes hand in hand with ontology. The opposite of what Torres Filho insinuated from the epigraph of Gaze investigation, when, privileging the expressive bias of language, he took it as a requirement to formalize subjective experiences in order to reflect them in their variation to communicate them to the reader. In the ear of Poros (1989), Benedito Nunes draws attention to the fact that, for Torres Filho (as, before him, Novalis), “the original life of language” is metaphor. Understand: passage or change of perspective,3 not “overcoming” (repeal) of one discursive record by another, in theory superior and closer to the truth.

No vocation for Concept mountaineering, therefore, because there is no need to climb the speculative Everest to reach the heights. Is this what it attests with maximum rigor and surprising lightness – bossa-novistically? – the trapeze artist (with this image Fernando Paixão emphasizes our author's poetics): he jumps between poles connected only by the bridge he makes and remakes over the abysses of language.

Almost a “transcendental circus”, which converts the subject’s entertainment with his representations (the “blue canvas of the sky” that another poet tells us about) into free reflection – the ore that, in the mining of his years of philosophical formation , Torres Filho discovered in JG Fichte. Regarding the latter, he will say the following: “the radicality of the reflection of Wissenschaftslehre [that is, of those who practice philosophy in the Fichtean sense] it is precisely in the agility that allows them to move between points of view” (The spirit and the letter, 1975, p. eleven).

To better understand what this is about (because, I believe, this is where Torres Filho's intellectual attitude lies), the contrast with Hegel is useful. Let us examine a footnote on page 193 of Hegel: the order of time, by Paulo Arantes. The book, which presented the Brazilian version of the thesis defended by Arantes in 1973, in Paris X, was translated into Portuguese by Torres Filho. In 1981, the date of publication, both were professors at the USP department and specialists in German thought — but on different teams.

It is known how much Fichte was criticized by Hegel. Fichte, says the latter, would not have managed to get around the dualism between “subject” and “object”. Trapped by the antinomies of consciousness, he would have neglected history and remained in an incomplete reflection – so that, in the absence of mediation to resolve the antinomy between opposites, he would have been content to “make them alternate instead of identifying them in the same process" (Hegel: the order of time, 1981, p. eleven).

To which Torres Filho retorts (inventing a new genre of comment, the “intrusive footer”): “In his analyses, Hegel does not take into account that this middle term (das Dritte) runs from end to end, like a red thread (the expression is from Fichte), the Doctrine-of-Science of 1794, serving as a guiding thread (Presenters) for reflection, until it explains its radical axis: productive imagination.

Two models of dialectics are then confronted. Hegel's (followed by Marx) makes the “meaning” (= work) the ground wire that inscribes the “universal” or “reason” in reality. Fichte's, which moves between points of view without reifying them or objectifying itself. Here we are faced with that subjective reluctance that exposed Fichte to the “abstract” objection: after all, what good would such freedom of movement be, if it were exercised in the pure intellect, separated from the world?

However, as Torres Filho shows, Fichte's intention in circumscribing autonomous thinking, free from all points of view, is not to confine himself within himself. It is true that the doctrine-of-science refuses to be “material knowledge (knowing something)” (The spirit and the letter, 1975, p. 68); it is, rather, “a-thematic science par excellence”, “a strictly non-figurative philosophy” (op.cit., p. 250). But this does not prohibit those who assume it from talking about the world.

On the contrary. Speaking about it properly involves relativizing dogmas and letting go of the unreflective positivity that permeates the natural use of signs. Making words empty (“letting words be words”, as the title of one of the chapters of the book about Fichte says) proves to be a prerequisite for recovering the expressive scope of speech – and, thus, presenting (scenically) the “suprasensible” in the “sensitive”. With this addition against misunderstandings: “it is in the letter, and not beyond it, that the spirit has a body and reality” (Illustrated Philosophy Essays, 1987, p. eleven).

The “supersensitive”, therefore, does not exist on its own, but requires the sensitive display made possible by pure reflection (when, for a moment, the eye finds itself looking). Contrary to what happens with Hegel, the middle term of this operation, for Fichte, is productive imagination. A faculty that is both spiritual and sensitive, it does not reconnect thought to the thing, as dogmatic ontology did, but freely translates it into an image. Its parameter is intersubjectivity, its proof of nine is to make the invention communicable.

Something of this method appears early on in Torres Filho's poetry, when the neutralization of the usual meaning of signs gives occasion to reinvent them, as occurs in “O dia é mais”, from 1961:

Today I won't think
The day is stronger than the night.
I dream of the meekest pumpkins.
Here is always this now.
No. I won't think.
You want me badly, you love me well,
ill-wish me etc.
I'll just leave it.
Dimension. Dimension.
I'll just burn.
The night is stronger than the day.
It is not?
Eat the most useful moonshine.
The day… how do you say?

Transformed into a condition of the poem, “not thinking” expands the range of experience (the “meekest pumpkins”, the “most useful moons”). But this suspensive bias is not always joy. On the contrary. Returning to the contentiousness that lives beneath everything, several of Torres Filho's poems barely support the impasse.

Unlike “Áporo”, by Drummond (“the labyrinth / (oh reason, mystery) / is soon undone”), here the knot insists (as in this untitled poem from 1962): “Flower / or labyrinth / of mystery with no exit / where to spin without end?” And so on: the “flowers asking to be born” (“Largo-Allegro-Largo”, from 1965), and from pure pain “where one asks for / another slowness of flowering” (“love”, from 1965–1967), to the song that, “refractory to every rhythm / except ours, the internal / who had made himself an expert / in persisting without remedy” (“redondilha”, from 1981), the pain that barely fades is remedied by the irony of the more mature poems: “work: our communication / to the exterior” (“3 expoemas”, by 1981).

In these moments, poetry redefines itself as productive irresolution: it “has the firmness of a throw / and gala despair. / Its mark is the thread moving forward / neither yes nor no, just travel” (“arte poética (sic)”, 1981).

Philosophy = history of philosophy?

It seems licit to discern, in this aporetic permanence – which, gaining an upward bias with the progressive dominance of irony, is far from the melancholic attitude that Hegel objected to the romantics –, the germ of the same reflection that animates Fichte's doctrine-of-science. As Torres Filho wrote, the transcendental is like a kind of “dawn, morning limbo where there are meanings before there is a world”.4 These are the words momentarily removed from the mundane chatter, noisy to the point of forgetting the world.

So, did Torres Filho already grope Fichte before coming into contact with his texts? To believe this is to ignore how the historian of philosophy proceeds. Far from being reduced to the passivity of the scribes, his work proves that the evidence of the text emerges only in the vision of whoever reads it, the interpreter. Therefore, this Fichte who refined Torres Filho's suspensive rigor, maturing its expressive counterpart, is not Fichte “in himself”. Because this is unknowable to us. The spirit does not exist outside the letter that translates it. More accurate, then, would be to declare the opposite: it was Fichte who became “Rodriguean”, when Torres Filho appropriated him to illuminate issues that were his and his time.

Revealing appropriation of the table between poet, philosopher, translator, essayist and historian of philosophy, united under the certainty that the fire only gains visibility through the reactivation of language (“novolume”). This, it is worth remembering, was the novelty of the Enlightenment. Outside of its caricature as an abstract belief in progress or emancipation, the spotter reappears as someone who lives in the setback of the present – ​​as happened with Torres Filho, who opened with the strokes of a shining blade the gap through which our way of reading, imagining and acting is rediscovered. “Between dentals and fricatives goes the tongue / creating names for what is dear” (“ao foot da literal descalça”, 1985).

With the end of ontology, we only need to ask for words in courtship – even when we only understand each other “by a thread”. Minimum knowledge will then suffice, the “lightest network of connections / and elisions”. Between enlightenment and illuminations, the sky that touches the imagination with its mouth will make us rediscover that “in the lap of the stars / a smiling paradox hesitates” (“reticule”, 1993).

*Vinícius de Figueiredo He is a professor at the Department of Philosophy at UFPR. Author, among other books The passion for equality: a genealogy of the moral individual in France (Reliquary).

Originally published in number 1 of volume 9 of Pink Magazine.


[1] Viviana Bosi, “Rubens Rodrigues Torres Filho: verso e reverse”, Third Margem Magazine, v. 8, no. 11, 2004, p. 100.

[2] Arthur Nestrovski, “Previously Anonymous Landscapes”, Folha de S. Paul, December 7, 1997.

[3] "Poros they are tiny places of passage from the lived to the said and from the said to the unspeakable” (B. Nunes).

[4] Rubens Rodrigues Torres Filho, “A virtus dormitiva de Kant”, Speech, v. 5, no. 5, 1974, p. 45.

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