For the right to dissent

Image: João Nitsche


Before listening to an argument, it seems necessary to qualify or disqualify the person issuing it.

Some writings illuminate the object they deal with, others highlight the subject who writes them. The articles that intended to respond to the essay by Iumna Maria Simon, “Citizenship with a broken foot”, published in the magazine belong to the second category. Theory and debate nº. 26 []. There is no argument in them that demonstrates the excellence of the poem “Por um Brasil-Cidadão”, the object of the controversy. The authors, on the other hand, exposed themselves so much that any comment would be idle and redundant.

However, it is worth discussing some problems: those articles represent symptoms, that is, they point to something outside of them, which it will be necessary to understand.

One of these problems, the most serious, is that of totalitarianism, which has deep roots in our culture. It does not just date from the most recent dictatorial period. It is the totalitarian culture that manifests itself in everyday life: on the street, in taverns, in public offices, in all or almost all spheres of our relationship life. It is translated by the famous “do you know who you are talking to?”

Before listening to an argument, it seems necessary to qualify or disqualify the speaker. More than that: it is indispensable to preemptively crush those who are going to speak to us, showing off our qualities, real or presumed, our economic or political, academic or religious power. Will we not be able to discuss considering only the dignity of the person, a universally shared dignity?

Our democratic conscience would win. I remember a beautiful part of Memories of Prison, by Graciliano Ramos. He narrates a meeting of the collective, at the Pavilhão dos Primários, in which a proposal from him was received with the comment of the dockworker Desidério: “Besteira”. Offensive frankness produced an effect: reflection.

“Outside, he would easily recognize me on a step above him; sitting on the narrow bed, scribbling pencil on a piece of paper, whispering rules, I reduced myself, stripped myself of advantages, accidental and external. It was of no use to me the mounds of knowledge caught in books, perhaps even that made it impossible for me to notice something close, visible and palpable”.

An additional refinement of the perversity of authoritarian behavior consists of role reversal: accusing the oppressed of exercising oppression. Paulo Honório, the owner of São Bernardo, gathers his disputing employees and shouts at them “a long sermon to demonstrate that I was the one working for them”.

The parallel that is attempted to be established between left-wing intellectuals in Brazil and the all-powerful secretary of the CPSU Central Committee, Stalin's cultural adviser, and assistant in the negotiation of the German-Soviet pact, Andreï Alexandrovitch Zhdanov, is one of these perversities. The disproportion and purposelessness are obvious. The left, in Brazil, never had political power; economic or otherwise. Deops, Oban, Cenimar, SNI, DOI-Codi are not left-wing acronyms. Any analogy would be out of place, if it were in good faith. It is, however, a deliberate confusion with the purpose of exploiting the fragility of our half-cultured milieu.

One can argue: in power, they would act like Zhdanov. Diógenes Arruda, leader of the PCB, tried to guide the cultural production of the militants. He found resistance, however, among the aligned intellectuals themselves, as was the case with Graciliano Ramos. This one, about Zhdanov, was brief: “It's a horse”. There were those who submitted and literature did not win. In the coup of the election of the board of ABDE, in 1949, the militant writers were more united. In short, attack is preventive defence: before evil grows, cut off its head.

Undoubtedly, these Stalinist mockery must be remembered without any complacency. However, I would like to understand why the Department of Press and Propaganda (DIP) remains unjustly forgotten, which “guided” cultural activity in Brazil during the Estado Novo (1937-45); nobody makes a point of remembering the censorship of the press, music, cinematographic production, of the military dictatorship. It is silent about the monopoly of information, which Rede Globo has benefited from, in recent and very recent years.

I recommend reading the entirety of a little work by Mr. Raul Machado, Parnassian poet and, at the time, judge of the Superior Court of Justice, The communist snare in letters and arts in Brazil, distributed to school teachers. (At night, November 11, 1940; then leaflet, Rio de Janeiro, Military Press, 1941). Here is an excerpt: “Those who were caught in trials are, without a doubt, very few compared to those who continue to act surreptitiously in freedom. Consider what happens with this campaign of proletarianization of literature and art, in which subversive propaganda barely hides from the wits of those who are well aware of the communists' technique of disguising and deceiving. (…) It is urgent, therefore, that we react, also in an organized manner, against this malevolent onslaught, through rigorous official inspection of books and publications of all kinds, preventing the sale and circulation of works that are manifestly suspicious.”

The left, in fact, has been bothering them when they tried to remember, during dictatorships, the ethical responsibility of the intellectual, that is, of the opinion maker, including teachers, journalists, artists, poets, etc.

These constitute a complex and disunited fauna. Each group acts in a specific scope, but in the modern world, media, or the media, as you prefer, there are no exclusive domains: the word, oral or written, is conveyed in multiple ways. The only thing that escapes them is the control of dissemination, subordinated to the interests of the owners of the respective bodies: company or State.

Regardless of ideological divergences, disagreements between the various categories are frequent. The quarrel between literature and journalism produced, for example, these observations by the Russian writer IV Kireyevski, in 1845: “In our time, true literature is replaced by journalistic literature (…) feelings join the interests of the groups, the form is adapted to the needs of the moment. The novel became statistics of manners, poetry, verse of circumstance (stihi na sloutchaï).”

From the other side of the barricade, wrote Lima Barreto, in 1916: “My correspondent accuses me of using journalism processes in my novels, especially in the first one. I could answer that, in general, the so-called processes of journalism came from the novel; but even if, in mine, the opposite happens, I don't see any harm in them, as long as they contribute in the slightest to communicate what I observe; as long as they can contribute to reducing the reasons for lack of intelligence among the men around me.”

The controversy is not new: literature versus journalism; journalism versus university, and so on. It doesn't seem to me that any of these categories, as a whole, have a monopoly on correct thinking and good writing. Nor the coprolalia or the coprography. What can be said, as a whole, is that there are unequal constraints. I am with Otto Maria Carpeaux, when he stated, in 1941, in the Correio da Manhã: “The lackey secretary is the normal position of the literati, at a time when they do not yet know the bourgeoisie. Max Scheler sees, in this impotence, a law of the existence of the spirit that only its master changes. But there are dependencies and dependencies; finally, the whims of a great lord are less dangerous and, above all, less lasting than the impersonal power of money.”

The left usually manifests a clearer awareness of this conditioning, which affects everyone, and this is not pleasing. Rubem Braga, in 1937, even spoke of “intellectual henchman”, to refer to the venal literate. The words of Mário de Andrade (who was not even a man of the left) in “Elegia de Abril” (1942), against “a choreographic intellectuality, inspired by “economic imperatives” (I remember the series “ The survivors”, by Henfil, in the Quibbler ...).

His conference at the Itamaraty, also in 1942, “The modernist movement”, ends like this: “Make or refuse to make art, sciences, crafts. But don't just stop there, life's spies, camouflaged as life technicians, watching the crowd pass by. March with the multitudes. Spies have never needed that “freedom” for which so much is shouted. (…) Is freedom nonsense?… Is law nonsense?… Human life is something more than sciences, arts and professions. And it is in this life that freedom has a meaning, and the rights of men. Freedom is not a prize, it is a sanction. Which is to come.”

“Ideological patrol”? At the time, the expression, a variant of perversity and deliberate confusion that I referred to earlier, did not yet exist. The strength available to the left in Brazil has never been more than a moral force. Physical force was and remains on the other side: in fact, violence is a monopoly of the State, partially made more flexible today by partnerships with private security companies, security of property and capital, naturally. There is no evidence that this state monopoly is included in the privatization plan.

Intellectual seriousness presupposes the guarantee of the right to dissent, to critical thinking: unanimity is usually flattery or fear. The sum of one and two can make good arithmetic and bad poetry. It is no longer accepted to answer a poem, a chronicle, an essay, with the establishment of a Military Police Inquiry. Nor is the order to shut up, implicit in the arrogance of the opponent's disqualification, accepted. We try to repeat, in this magazine, the same procedure of September 1994 in the “Cultura” section of the Estadão: the controversy over the translation of a poem, fought between Bruno Tolentino and Augusto de Campos, overflowed the dispute of ideas when the owner of the newspaper was asked to punish the person responsible for the section (issues of September 03 and 17, 1994). I do not know, in this regard, whether it has already been clarified to Mr. Bruno Tolentino that the Workers' Party had nothing to do with the matter. Dissent is only a crime for totalitarianism. Is it no longer forbidden to forbid?

Rubem Braga tells that, as a child, he was dismissed from classes on the occasion of the death of Rui Barbosa. On the streets, he heard conflicting opinions: that he was the most intelligent man in Brazil, a great patriot, and that he was worthless because he had voted for the State of Siege and was a delivery man, lawyer for the Light; later, about the Public Force returning from São Paulo from the fight against Isidoro, he heard that they were heroes, and that they were cowards, besides having stolen many cars. I make my comment: “Balls! I would have preferred that Rui Barbosa had been a great man for the whole world and that our Public Force had waged a fine war against Isidoro; but in the streets of Cachoeiro there was never a lack of a spirit of contradiction, some man of the people with loose words to poison our civic joy and teach us distrust. Even when unjust, this swine spirit still seems useful to me today, and I fear any regime that suppresses it, or tries to suppress it”.

*Zenir Campos Reis (1944-2019) was a literary critic and professor of Brazilian Literature at FFLCH-USP. Author, among other books, of Augusto dos Anjos: poetry and prose (Rile up).

Originally published in the magazine Theory & Debate, No. 28, Mar/Apr/May, 1995.

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