But what is man?

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By FLÁVIO R. KOTHE*

Literature would be a space to rethink what man and his history are

1.

A magazine or website reflects what is a priority for its collaborators, mediates virtual dialogue between authors and readers, but ends up forming a legacy so that in the future they can rethink what was proposed and what was silenced. It is as if everyone together wanted to grasp reality through concepts. Hegel said that the concept must make an effort (Anstrengung des Begriffs) to capture the real, trying to make both coincide (which ends up being unfeasible, but he thought that what is in the mind can be the same as what is outside of it).

We are bombarded day and night by transnational sign companies, which try to convert us to their perspective, carrying out a repeated brainwashing process such as catechesis classes and sermons from priests and pastors. Viewers think they are just having fun or watching the news, but in fact they are suffering reinforcements in the structures that have already been set up in their minds, without making an effort to discern the vectors that make them see the world in a certain way and not from another. During the day, the majority are lost in the rush among determined entities, in order to survive, and at night they are sent to the cult of a metaphysical tradition that does not want to be surpassed.

Where is the difference between what seems like mere gratuitous provocation and what is exceeding the limit of “convenience”? The expression “the Earth is round” contradicts the thesis that the Earth is flat. As long as the antithesis continues to assert itself as a denial of the thesis, it will, however, be trapped by the limitations of what it seeks to deny. Is it worth arguing with mentally ill people? It would be a weakness. Denial must open space to overcome the game between A and non-A, go beyond this negative dialectic, to reach horizons that the mere thesis A cannot discern nor wants to be questioned.

As the antithesis only arises through the suspicion that what is stated in the thesis is not supported, it would be its most intrinsic vocation to want to take a step forward, that is, to open up to the space that inaugurates the overcoming of the counterpart between thesis and antithesis . There is a libertarian vocation in her, which she herself may deny. There is hope in it that better days will come. The negation of negation is not in itself superiority.

With the intention of surpassing Hegel, the clever Theodor Adorno thought that the supreme philosophy of philosophy would be the negation of negation: he criticized industrial capitalism and the socialist option. If he criticized the low taste of the industrialization of culture (which is not a “culture industry”), he nevertheless affirmed an aristocracy of artistic taste, which was Eurocentric (and didn’t know it was) and elitist (and pretended not to be). This “negative dialectic” ends up being the denial of dialectics, as it reiterates antinomies and fails to see phenomena in which, for example, good taste can be cultivated in public space or it is necessary to develop policies that alleviate current ills.

Fiction appears to invent another world, avoiding the literal reproduction of what seems real. What is, however, “real”? There is no reality without interpretation of facts. Real is what is effective, what affects us, but which exists outside of us or our consciousness, not just a subjective projection. Words can serve to silence the most relevant. On the other hand, we can sometimes talk better about reality by deviating from it. It seems that we have opted for an “indirect language”, but there is no direct language that says how things are. So indirectness is not “indirect” either. It can, however, lead directly to the nodal point.

2.

Fiction takes as its starting point not to say things as they appear to be, to say underlying structures that one does not want to appear. It's a way of lying to be more truthful. It allows you to say what you don't usually want to say.

The review is problematic, as it tends, in an academic journal, to be a compliment to colleagues and friends, the propaganda of a clique that considers itself superior, without delving into the issues proposed in the book under analysis. If you have to say bad things about a book, it is best to remain silent. On the other hand, it is a genre that would need to be maintained, as we are experiencing a lack of independent criticism in the mainstream press, which only focuses on works from large publishers, because they own the space. On the other hand, it would be important to maintain a space to comment on works that, published by smaller publishers, do not receive due attention.

Literary translation seems to no longer be practiced as much as it was decades ago. The military dictatorship exiled languages ​​such as French, Latin and Greek, which used to provide literary models that called for finding an equivalent in Portuguese. There no longer seems to be the same concern about what is produced in Left Bank. The dominance of the languages ​​of the colonial metropolises was replaced by English as the general language in countries under the control of the Yankee empire.

We watch Hollywood movies, but we don't watch Bollywood movies from India or movies from Africa, even though each one produces more than California. There is control over distribution, which is generally not perceived, as we cannot see what does not appear. The worst blind person is not the one who doesn't want to see, but who doesn't want others to see.

Whether we like it or not, we suffer digital warfare. The news that appears in the mainstream Brazilian media is marked by the profile of Yankee interest. Few have access to what Russian, Chinese or Arab sources would say about the same facts supposedly reported. Brazilian universities are not concerned with these languages, even though history is already turning towards new paths.

Words can be used to not say what matters most, silence hides what you don't want to say, without making it seem like you aren't saying it. Thus, saying that words serve to not say what things are is a prayer that denies itself. They lie as much as their silences, because they tend to be silences, something that is deliberately not said.

It's not just about the “intention” that the author interjects into what he says and doesn't say, to take the reader where he wants him to go. Pascal said that sometimes it is appropriate to call Paris Paris, other times the capital of the kingdom. Both denominations are correct, but one may be more appropriate than the other. Each one leaves aside, however, other ways of naming.

3.

There are many Brazilian authors who wonder why, if they are authors of good texts, they are not published by major publishers? They can't even access them. Big publishers don't need to explain, nor do they want to. They may not even have professional readers, who can look for good texts among the originals they receive. They can even organize literary or academic writing courses, so that paying students can harbor the illusion of being published.

Someone can, before turning 40, be published by several large publishers and, after 40, by none. It's as if, instead of progressing, it has become stupid. At the time of the dictatorship, the explanation could be simple: after publishing several books in the same year with large publishers, the author could have been included on a mysterious list of people unwanted by the government and had to leave the country. It was bad because it was too good. Also entire collections of books – like The Thinkers, The Economists, Social Scientists, Italian Socialism – could have been considered undesirable by senior leaders of the dictatorship and editors ended up having to invent pretexts to close the collections, without this ever being clearly stated. Nothing being told or debated, it is as if nothing had happened.

When preparing a text for publication, the author dresses it with selected words, as if they were the Sunday clothes of someone who goes to mass and appears before their community. The problem is that the strength of a good literary text lies in the authenticity of revealing what drives and showing the author's pulse. It's as if its construction were a strip tease from the soul.

Words are weapons – of defense and attack –, but also tools that dig, excavate, plant and produce, but the literary word is one with what it says: it is not something external, separate, as weapons and tools are, yet let the author work on it like the sculptor with the stone. It is the nod to something that is beyond the subject and the dictionary, the search for the precarious space of the nod of a transcendence: it is an enigma and its cipher.

If an architect makes a mark on paper, he exercises his will to power, which will direct the work of the master builder and all his assistants, but at the same time he is subject to the commands of what needs to be done. If he does something wrong, or less foresighted, the error will remain and reproduce itself. The successes also unfold, the truth of the work is not so much in the project as in what was executed.

4.

Fiction cannot be resolved with the practical effects found in architecture. It is an interrogation not only about events and facts, but a search that goes beyond mere conceptualization. No matter how much concepts try and are forced to capture what refuses to be spoken, literature uses inventions to explore the most hidden parts of the human mind.

The Brazilian canon is an exaltation of the country, its history, its elites. It is not a radical search for the truth of man or country. It prefers a partial exaltation of a “superior portion”, not a deep reflection on what the human being is, as has been done by great works of universal literature, those that teach us to think more deeply and are avoided by the teaching system of the world. country like, they say, the devil avoids the cross. Brazilian literature is broader than the canon: it could be deeper, but it isn't. The suprastructure is built according to the infrastructure. Exactly in this gap, however, it should develop and rethink itself.

If literature would be a space to rethink what man and his history is, what, however, is man? The definitions he gave of himself serve to hide who he is. There is a scene game. The stories that man tells and teaches serve to hide the naked and raw view of the underlying facts. Man, being demonic, gives himself a divine origin…

The human being is not “human”, in the sense of compassionate, kind. Hunger in the millions, murders everywhere, killings, destructions and massacres make the “human” a mirrorless hypocrisy. He is also not the rational animal he claims to be: he uses reason to give better outlet to the brutality that is inherent to him, he uses it as a cunning trick to take on other people by pretending to be a saint. He is not a “Christian,” nor are his churches, even though they claim to be.

Whether or not you agree with such “provocations”, literature is a space in which they can be debated. This is not clear to those who say that the writer's good training comes only with Machado, Andrades, Lispector, that is, only with “classics of Brazilianness”. Where are Homer, Euripides, Cervantes, Shakespeare, Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, Kafka? In exile in which they were placed by the canon imposed in the country's schools. When you listen to speeches from “the country's literati”, you quickly realize how many letters they lack.

A country only becomes strong when it lives the truth. The silence that surrounds her here hurts and hurts. What truths does silence keep us away from, if the mainstream media lies and the entertainment of sign multinationals deceives? Will we be guardians of doors that don't open?

On the path of the illusion that accommodates, we will not be up to the tasks that await us. Fiction needs to invent and reinvent itself to investigate and expose what is crucial. This is his cross, where the lines of temporal succession intersect with the one that connects the finite with the infinite.

* Flavio R. Kothe is a retired full professor of aesthetics at the University of Brasília (UnB). Author, among other books, of Benjamin and Adorno: clashes (Attica). [https://amzn.to/3rv4JAs]


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