thinking about the periphery

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By FLÁVIO R. KOTHE*

The discourse of history exists so that the groans of the vanquished cannot be heard

When studying the canon of a national art, one seeks, through the rereading of certain symptomatic, neuralgic points, to indicate the structure, stripping away the illusion of totality and showing the strategic ideological movement perpetrated by the consecration of a text. Although the hypothetical survey of texts forgotten and suppressed by the official discourse could be an alternative way to get to the fundamental reverse of the facts, it is also possible, by rereading symptomatic texts of the canon, to understand the forces that move this story. Proposing another canon can only be done if there is power to do so. Without power, it is better to remain silent about the alter and seek to transcend the current limited horizon.

Listing forgotten texts is a documentary impossibility, as not even the dead escape the victors' gesture of selecting, manipulating and interpreting the facts according to the conveniences of their self-legitimation. The historical selection process is cruel and restrictive: it causes the dead to be thrown under the pyramid of time, without protecting them within it. Their bones rarely surface; the rare scrolls housed within the temple are just the outcrop of the top of a iceberg intended to decorate the landscape and accompany the ruling elite, permanently enshrining its policy. Unconfessed cynicism is the truth of this legitimizing auratization.

The discourse of history exists so that the groans of the vanquished cannot be heard. If any moan is heard in literary history, it is to announce revenge and the imminent victory, already coming, from whoever presents himself as a vigilante rescuing accumulated debts. There is an unconfessed hypocrisy in all the sublime enshrined in the canon.

The “truth” of the canon of national art can be read in the internal logic of its system, even if its historiography does not perceive it because it is incapable of questioning its assumptions. As it were, it “proves” itself through the logic of its coherence, it “demonstrates” itself by showing itself. The truth is not in the internal logic of the method, because there you only have the coherence of a system, a “correction”: it is the “object” appearing, as long as the “object” is not reduced to a projection of the subject, which says who discovers it while constituting it. Not only are these works of fiction, but just as the concept of a work is a fiction, the very system that establishes them as canonical is a fiction, even though it has been transformed into reality in schools across the country.

What can be done today is the outline of a new path, prolegomena of a perspective that, although it seems unilateral and sacrilegious, is a necessary shake-up to stop the canonized, foreshadowing the emergence of a literature that reflects the encounter and disagreement of cultures in the country. Every text contains within itself another text, which denies it, but does not exist without it. It is your internalized alternative. This shadow, which accompanies him at the back and is not seen by those who march in front, is the secret truth of the system, even tending to be the reverse of its manifest discourse.

It is like the latent content of a dream or a failed act, a second speech emerging through the flaw, a wisp of light in the midst of darkness (darkness that presents itself, however, as certainty and light). This other text is present in the text, but it can only be reached through interpretation. It is an anti-system of the system, which the dominant of the text and its interpretation does not want to be noticed, as it denies it and suggests ways of overcoming it. Every system generates its antisystem, even if it doesn't want to.

It is not a question of inventing an arbitrary text that the writer should – according to the hermeneutic – have written, but did not write because of the chains imposed by the system. This other text, this alternative text is inscribed in the manifest text, and it is, more than its other side, an open possibility that he did not dare to explore: it is the horizon of his questioning, from where his path appears as a limitation and wandering. History inscribes this other text in the text itself, without the author knowing that he has done so. It is as if the author of this other text was not an author, but the evolution of social contradictions.

It is about making productive the contradiction between manifest content and latent content of the text, as if they were two texts disguised as one. The new text, generated from listening to the latent text – whether in the form of criticism or in the form of a new literary text – can become more than the explanation of the repressed: it can be heard in its freedom, as a new text. another being.

That other is, however, present. It is a tendency of identity not to accept the other as another in itself, as an alternative constitutive of itself. Its identity is, however, only identity as difference. Not giving space to difference as difference within itself, identity, intending to be totality, tends to become totalizing, without itself facing itself as totalitarian. Can become damnation Age, viewing it as "demonic". Faced with the force of the inevitable, there tends to be submission to the dominant will. The latter does not recognize herself as a bully, nor does the victim think she is a victim.

The “schools” that are formed in the academic environment worship figures whose limitations are not perceived and repress the space for those who can constitute valid alternatives. In the name of virtue, intellectual crimes are committed. There is a cynicism that permeates the system and prevents it from progressing. The good is the enemy of the best, as the latter could show that he is average, incapable of going beyond his limited horizons.

Every gesture that seeks to unveil power and unveil repression tends to appear “arrogant, defiant, unpatriotic, sacrilegious”, that is, it projects exactly the traits of what it intends to overcome: this is how it is treated in the name of the national and the popular, of hallowed names and undoubted principles, to be condemned, to be denied support and voice. He continues, therefore, where he has always been: at rock bottom. Those who accuse are right, although their “reason”, their “morals”, their “art” are also rejected.

Pascal thought that the truth can help those who hear it, but not those who tell it. It is no longer possible, today, to fill one's mouth with the word “truth”, as if there were only one path, one light, “just” what is imposed by iron and fire. An alternative text needs to be articulated in oblivion and shadow, on the verge of its impossibility, in the almost certainty of being stillborn, marginal. He is, however, exactly the opposite of what he seems: he does not challenge anything, he knows that he will not be a “discourse” and he can see his contribution lost in advance: he no longer wants to save anything, except his own desire to think. That doesn't stop him from elaborating an alternative.

The difference is that the possibility and even the need for a dialogue is established, which is not, in fact, recognized by the dominant of the system, as it wants to continue talking to itself, in the name of the whole, as if it were the totality. Brazil, as a country that is still partially backward, has difficulties in articulating something that is recognized as a science at the international level – and this not only because of a certain arrogance or lack of goodwill on the part of industrialized countries to recognize the quality of production from the periphery or because of their tendency to of only accepting what is in line with their own expectations, but also because of a frequent lack of density in studies coming from intellectually poor backgrounds.

For this reason, not only does the effort need to be doubled and redoubled, but it is also necessary to realize that, in “democratic” countries, such as Germany and the United States, many intellectuals were also persecuted and defamed who proposed the revision of assumptions considered intangible by the reactionary right.

The dominant's lack of availability to listen to the other in his otherness prevents this difference from becoming part of the contradiction inherent in identity. This determined negation means exclusion; it tends to bring about a self-weakening of the system for fear of weakening the overly restrictive dominant. The illusion of the alternative proposal, however, would be that it wants to postulate itself as redemption, as a partnership, as an alternative: by postulating a seat at the table, it places itself as equal to what it denies; thus denying itself. Illusion would also be to propose itself as the owner of the truth, within a set of rules dictated by those who question it (for example, restricting its horizon of knowledge to the works of the canon). By questioning the truth of the canon and the truth of the canonized interpretation, it must not only propose another truth, but question the current concept of truth itself.

The colonial mentality thinks that only by imitating models from the metropolis can art or science be made; the rupture would occur when the point of departure and first arrival began to take place within Brazilian society. This posture, even if it seems to be the redemption of history, can be, in turn, a narrow mentality, prisoner of what it imagines to be the ideal of nationality, incapable of producing something that, going beyond the exotic, can constitute art or science capable of transcending the internal horizon of what has already been produced in the country. Although they seem antithetical, they are complementary postures, an impoverishment and an abdication before broader horizons.

Even if there is exploitation and dispossession, it is unsustainable to blame the rich countries for all the misery on the continent. Indian nudity was a sign of poverty and backwardness before any “colonialist” presence, but it has been romantically sublimated. Columbus already recorded the misery of the Indians, which has been camouflaged under the ideology of the natural, the ecological, the equality of cultures, etc. This poverty, not only material, becomes an inheritance that, with the reinforcement of slavery, reproduces and multiplies, as if it were a tragic destiny, making society as a whole irredeemable. It is not enough to claim that all cultures are valid, some cannot be measured by others, it is necessary, for example, to value the ecological character of indigenous tribalism.

The tradition of Brazilian economic and scientific backwardness, the non-favoring of differentiated thinking of minorities, the systematic strangulation of critical thinking, the material and mental poverty of the country and other factors cause there to be a jamming, a lack of updating of the literary canon and of his interpretation: modifying the former is part of overcoming the former. It is not about adopting some fashionable theory, preferably from Paris, to apply it to Brazilian authors.

It could be about establishing an internal dialogue, since all conceptual production in Portuguese tends to be ignored in the scientific world. It would be an illusion, however, to expect that the current discourse is willing to applaud divergent speech, even if it is caused by the unilaterality of what is established and instituted. Only criticism allows the advancement of science, but alone, as a questioning of institutionalized opinion, it is not enough; You need to say what you came for if you want to reach a new level of positivity.

The Brazilian tradition is authoritarian, racist and oligarchic. Enlightened mentality is not its historical dominant. Changing the schema of the canon demands a broader change. It is worth asking whether among “cultured” people there is a better character profile or if they just have more equipment to amplify and disguise evil and selfishness. It is assumed that more educated people are freer, but that does not mean that they are open to living with what surpasses them.

The thesis of the need to replace the mongrel complex, the inferiority of the underdeveloped, with an alleged superiority – with the assumption that Latin American thought is superior to European because, in addition to having the European heritage, it would also have the contribution of native cultures and the autochthonous development of cultural miscegenation – cannot be sustained in practice, as there has rarely been an integral inheritance of the best European culture and, on the other hand, native cultures have not managed to constitute an effective antithesis. Added to the legacy of slavery, they bar progress. The narrower the mind, the more dogmatic it tends to be.

The greater the suffocation, the less it appears publicly. Anyone who tries to go to the fundamentals is execrated. The military dictatorship pursued the brightest minds, but it had internal support in the universities. Brazilian students are generally not capable of arguing or thinking for themselves. Mediocrity attracts mediocrity in direct proportion to the masses and is allied against talent. There are patriotisms that celebrate the average and become harmful to what they claim to defend.

Assuming that the Portuguese were more tolerant of indigenous cultures than Spanish, French or English colonialism not only conceals massacres and barbarism: it is part of the metamorphosis of history into a “fairy tale” inherent in the perspective of the victors, in which cruelty ( of others) appears to be better overcome, to be won by the “best” (“best” because winners). Criminals appear as heroes, while heroes are forgotten or criminalized.

Although during the colonial period Portugal was backward in relation to England and France, it represented the horizon of “progress” for Brazil, not so much, however, because of its administrative action, but because the colony became a refuge for persecuted Portuguese. , discriminated against and dissatisfied, just as it also became the refuge of other peoples after independence.

The history of Brazil is not so much in episodes of colonial administration as in migration and social evolution constituted on the margins of official policy. Brazilian writers did not restrict their reference horizon to Portuguese literature: on the contrary, the more concerned they were with Brazilianness, the more they sought other sources. Brazilian literature does not descend from Portuguese, although only Portuguese-speaking literature is recognized as part of it. This irritates the Portuguese colonial spirit.

Although a romantic view of the Indian still prevails in Europe today, tribal cultures had to decide between their traditions and absorb industrial products. The modern arose from the experience of the great metropolis resulting from industrialization: São Paulo modernism auratized anthropophagy, to combat industrialization. If, in the era of prisoner execution, slavery looked like humanistic progress, it was barbarism itself. Such structures are part of the collective and philosophical unconscious, they continue to exist in new forms.

Progress piles up ruins and corpses, claiming they are the price to be paid. The Mexican pretension (Leopoldo Zea, Octavio Paz) of a superior synthesis of the native culture with the European one starts from the naive belief in a dialectical overcoming, but that by itself does not guarantee something superior. It is better to leave aside pretensions of superiority (which exalt the status quo) to recognize objective limitations to be overcome. The gesture of rewriting the past is constitutive of power in such a way that, in the end, the status quo as the best possible society, or at least the way to it.

A certain inclination towards the self-sufficiency of “centres of excellence” in industrialized countries – with the consequent reduction of the intellectual production of less developed countries to oblivion or, at most, to the occasional exotic, without being considered partners in an egalitarian international dialogue contains, however, a fallacy, as he wants to make his partial view the only scientific dimension of reality, and, from his perspective, the only one that leads to knowledge.

Without taking into account what is on the other side and what may have been thought from the perspective of the other, including this “Third World mestizo”, it is not possible to indict the totality. Although this is an epistemological fiction, including a misleading category, one does not arrive at science without seeking a maximum of the determinations of the object. Absolute truth is a utopia. The totalitarian imposes partial and narrow views as if they were absolute: fallacies of synecdoche.

Even though the category of totality is not considered essential for the concept of truth, it has already become evident, for “provincials”, the limitation of Eurocentric thought (which does not cover the whole of Europe nor is it reduced to it) when assuming that history and the culture of a region is that of all humanity, as if its laws were the only ones that mattered. The arrogance of intellectuals from the metropolises, when considering their horizon as absolute, will only last as long as the “periphery” remains a periphery, a place of echo, not a source of science and cutting-edge art.

Re-discussing this, without nativist self-sufficiency or metropolitan arrogance, with a deficient international dialogue, plus the learning of difference, of “contradiction”, of tolerance of diversity, could create space for the formulation of a thought that, if not bordering on “totality”, , “achieves” concealed truths. These, gestures of a small and ugly dwarf, hidden under the machinery of the canon, seek, within the moves of an endless game, to indict the walls of the mental prison, with bars that allow one to see beyond its limited space.

* 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).


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