The power of metaphors

Image: Pavel Danilyuk


The displacement of meaning in metaphors reinforces conscience and with artistic transfiguration it denounces betrayals

The short story “Bola de Sebo” (Boule de Suif) written by Guy de Maupassant takes place during the Franco-Prussian or Franco-German War, in the period between July 19, 1870 and May 10, 1871. On the eve of the victory of the Germans, “who made the ground resonate under their hard step ”, lights the red sign of the Paris Commune (March 18 to May 28, 1871). The two months and ten days of the utopia of Communards they rescued “direct democracy” from ostracism, used by Marx to illustrate the concept of “dictatorship of the proletariat” – which confuses more than it clarifies.

In the report, dated 1880, after French troops retreat, a community is besieged by “those victorious men, 'rightful' owners of the city, goods and lives”, with “their unknown and guttural voice”. Suddenly, conventional laws were at the mercy of discretion and “unconscious and atrocious brutality.” The new social order changed hierarchies, as expected. “Now it was up to the vanquished to show kindness to the victors.”

Some try to flee the invasion in a stagecoach, to stay at a distance from the enemy. In vain. On the way, the group makes a stopover. Everyone gets off, including the “prostitute” admired by democrats who abjure the foreign army of occupation. The “precocious chubby girl” is nicknamed “Bola de Sebo”. At the time, linguistic violence contained in fatphobia, homophobia and racism was tolerated; was archived by the egalitarian and civilizing dynamics against treatments of obvious discrimination.

In the hostel, controlled by Germans, the refugees are introduced to the officer who superbly shows them who gives orders. On the cold night when the snow falls, they have dinner, drinks and are informed that the officer wants to speak to Miss Elisabeth Rousset, in her accommodation. The discomfort sets in. Bola de Sebo refuses the invitation, and is warned that “it could cause considerable difficulties for all his companions”. Begrudgingly, she declares herself. “It is because of you that I respond to this request, you can believe it”, she says. “For which we all thank you,” she hears. After a few minutes she returns to the inn's lounge. “Oh! What a scoundrel!” Instigated, she does not narrate the infamy that happened and which outraged her so much. She receives general solidarity, and feels that she is not alone in defending her dignity with pride.

In the morning, they discover that the coachman has been ordered not to harness the horses. In the afternoon, “the Prussian officer asks Ms. Rousset if he hasn’t changed his mind yet.” He responds dryly: “I will never consent.” This time, the collective's reaction is one of boredom and tiredness. “She could save face by telling the officer that she was only doing it out of compassion for the travelers. For her, it was of little importance. The end justifies the means.” They laugh. They then devise strategies for the courtesan to go to the oppressor's room. Harassment gains followers in the trenches. She agrees. When she returned, “they seemed not to see her, not to know her”.

It is a literary metaphor about the formidable event that was the Paris Commune. “The unknown savior, the hero who would reveal himself when everything seemed lost, perhaps another Napoleon I”, elucidates the short story writer about France's proximity to defeat. The sacrifice, with the massacre of the insurgents to end the adventure, throws the matter into the deep well of silence. The idyll with the Communards it's short; lasting is the fear of being happy, conformity, cowardice.

Geni and the Zeppelin

Chico Buarque may have been inspired by the French writer to compose “Geni e o Zepelin”, which is part of the musical piece Malandro's Opera (1978), directed by Luis Antônio Martinez Correa. The lyrics refer to the Zeppelin that hovers in the sky while the commander threatens: “When I saw this city / So much horror and iniquity / I decided to explode everything / But I can avoid the drama / If that beautiful lady / Tonight serves me // That lady was Geni / She can do it for anyone.” Authorities implore, “Go with him, go Geni.” She gives in. At dawn, the Zeppelin leaves. And the municipality returns to its routine. “Throw stones at Geni / She’s made to catch / She’s good at spitting / Damn Geni”. It was worthless.

The song can be interpreted as an allusion to the guerrillas hailed for their courage to confront the dictatorship, to save democracy. Imprisoned, tortured, killed or exiled, the brave receive in exchange the indifference of official society that squanders their detachment, their idealism and acts of redemption; at the same time that it rewards the ignoble torturers. The Amnesty Law (1979) does not enact fair reparation, as it guarantees forgiveness for the unforgivable crimes of State agents, covered up by the civil-military leadership. It was the price of a transition, by the way.

The metaphorical Geni refers to the frustration of the popular-republican project, and extends to the fate of the Participatory Budget (OP), in Porto Alegre, created during the administration of Olívio Dutra (1989-1992). With the support of multilateral bodies and social movements for co-participation in the care of the treasury, the capital of Rio Grande do Sul hosts the initial editions of the World Social Forum (WSF, 2001, 2002, 2003), and challenges neoliberal dogmas nationally and internationally. The defeat of the Workers' Party (PT) to the right disempowers the experience and turns it into a harmless pastiche, an item of mere decoration. Market ideology has tamed the drive for change.

The metaphor also helps to situate the lawfare of deconstructing the reputation of the PT governments and President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva. The street mobilizations at the beginning did not have a defined political agenda, as only happens with the extreme right, which improvises whatever it can. O plim-plim hypnotic focused on the fight against corruption and PTism. Soon a pincer articulation with the Judiciary and the United States was formed: the Lava Jato operation (April 2014). About the scams between 2016-2019, see the excellent documentary titled The plot, directed by Carlinhos Andrade and Otávio Antunes, in six chapters, in Amazon Prime Video (2022)

However, the allegory does not fit the failed coup of January 8th. O putschism is not guided by respect for the sovereignty of the people, the cornerstone of the Republic. It does not aim at a democratic revolution, nor at raising people's quality of life, and even less at establishing a decent standard of transparency in the management of public resources. On the contrary, it only seeks to expand the looting of the degraded nation and deindustrialization to regress to the agro-export model. It's a total step backwards.

Scammers posit a negative conception of freedom – being free from state regulation of the economy, the environment and social relations. Instead of fighting for positive freedom – being free to build gender and racial equality in a society with social justice. Your world revolves around militias and CACs, fake news and post-truth, money laundering and Union jewelry. His ideal is the State of exception, with the anything-goes Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) and the venal judge. His hatred and resentment do not fit into representations, but into the police car that leads to the prison.

The role of art

For Herbert Marcuse, “capitalism is capable of absorbing criticism”, which explains the devouring of the Paris Commune; the elision of those fallen by the country in the years of lead; the erasure of social participation in redemocratization; and exploits of the statesman who left the Presidency with 87% approval in 2010. Faced with sociopolitical anthropophagy, the democratic rule of law behaves in a fickle manner. As in Verdi's opera: “La donna is mobile / Which sound in the wind".

State coercion serves as a gravedigger of memory, in combination with consensus to create the hegemonic version of the facts. There is an organic link between the media and the means of production. The view that the media enters after the factual configuration is naive, it is a sneaky alibi. In the 2013 and 2015 events, the Globo more than a witness, he was the protagonist of the show.

If reality is multidimensional and language is one-dimensional, literature and music have the role of filling the gaps in the apprehension of reality with art. The kaleidoscopic look, beyond the manifest, reveals the latent meanings often hidden in the historical-political scene. The displacement of meaning in metaphors reinforces consciousness and with artistic transfiguration denounces betrayals.

* Luiz Marques is a professor of political science at UFRGS. He was Rio Grande do Sul's state secretary of culture in the Olívio Dutra government.

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