Covering rationalizations

Image: Dom J


A list of female writers bothers a lot of people

What is truly at stake when we discuss the composition of the list of mandatory literature authors for the Fuvest entrance exam over the next three years? This was the question that arose when we read the intriguing document entitled “The Fuvest list”, posted on the website the earth is round, signed by a significant group of intellectuals. This group took a stand in defense of the plurality and diversity of criteria for the selection of literature books in entrance exams from 2026 to 2028. However, the text reveals more about its signatories than about the content it appears to defend.

We have the feeling that the issues presented, such as the supposed threat to the dignity of the area of ​​literature, which could be “transformed into secondary knowledge”, or be captured by a utilitarian logic that devalues ​​“artistic language”, are, in fact, cover-up rationalizations. Far from being a single criterion, Fuvest's exclusive choice of female authors seems to be a reaction to so many previous lists, predominantly composed of men, especially white ones, even though it included the great work of Machado de Assis. So why, suddenly, did plurality become a priority criterion to the detriment of other criteria?

In our interpretation, there is a subtle layer underlying the arguments presented by intellectuals, which reveals more than their explicit words enunciate. In fact, this discussion seems to expose, through the apparently defense of what is today unquestionable, namely, plurality (after all, who wouldn't defend it?), the intimate relationship between academic merit and the social privileges that define it. The discussion is not about inclusion, but about who determines what should be included.

In the social sciences, we inherited knowledge about the often subtle relationship between discretion and arbitrariness in cultural matters. The lesson is clear: the selection of meanings that objectively define the culture of a group or class as a symbolic system is arbitrary. This is because the structure and functions of this culture cannot be deduced from any universal, physical, biological or spiritual principle, and are not connected by any internal relationship to the “nature of things” or to a supposed “human nature”. Given this observation, it is up to those who observe human phenomena to understand how some arbitrary aspects present themselves as “universal principles”, disguising themselves as “merit” and “legitimacy”.

The discussion surrounding the establishment of the literary canon is, in essence, a deeply political issue. The choice of which works will be highlighted as canonical is permeated by criteria that reflect the power embedded in the selection of what is considered “universal” or “merit”. What remains hidden in the intellectuals' charter is the very criteria that defined the mostly white and male canon, excluding other identities and bodies.

In a country marked by inequality, choices that seem neutral and academic are, in fact, influenced by a system that associates merit with privilege. By electing certain works as canonical, philosophers and intellectuals end up legitimizing not only the works themselves, but also the very system of choice that supports them.

This dissimulation is crucial: it hides the exact metric that justifies why other bodies and identities have been historically excluded from that corpus canonical. The apparent neutrality in defending merit camouflages, in reality, a political regime that perpetuates exclusion and legitimizes the maintenance of a biased cultural canon.

*Erico Andrade is a psychoanalyst and professor of philosophy at the Federal University of Pernambuco (UFPE).

*João Paulo Lima Silva and Filho, psychoanalyst, has a doctorate in sociology from UFPE.

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