Image: Claudio Mubarac / Jornal de Resenhas


Commentary on Roberto Schwarz's most recent book

The book whatever – collection of interviews, portraits and documents by Roberto Schwarz – seems, at the same time, to present and represent the way in which the dialectic affirms its relevance precisely through the demystifying force that it can release.

Let's try to explain what we mean by the demystifying force of the dialectic through an example. Fredric Jameson, in an essay called “Persistences of Dialectics: Three Sites”, directs our attention to three places of pertinence of dialectics, namely, Hegel and his contribution to questions of “reflexivity, or thought itself”; Marx and the “problems of causality and historical narrative and explanation” he raises; and, finally, Brecht and his “emphasis on contradiction as such” [1].

Inspired by this lead, I would say that Schwarz's book, as well as the materials and experiences he dedicates himself to, form a constellation of interventions that can safely be framed as a locus of persistence of dialectics, precisely in view of the fact that they would pose questions unavoidable.

Let us try, from now on, to demonstrate such a statement by starting by focusing on this book, but taking into account one of the lessons it brings right in the prologue: it is not today that we do not know who is reading us, so we must always be careful not to teach too much.

Having carried out these first brushstrokes to establish the contours of the upholstery and the more general sense of the collection, we can now move towards a better finished image of the list of materials that make up the technical configuration of whatever.

A low-level flight over the launch allows us to contemplate the following coordinates of the book's layout: a prologue (a perceptive document, although often tragicomic, about the essay “Culture and politics, 1964-1969”); a first part containing twenty-one interviews and a written for a debate already published; a second part where we find eleven texts and four homages, or portraits; and, finally, an unpublished text, which could perfectly be seen as an epistolary epilogue, where he narrates the events regarding the tribulations during the process of defending his doctorate on the novels prior to the Posthumous Memories of Brás Cubas (1881), by Machado de Assis, and Lady (1875), by José de Alencar.

In this sense, it is possible to speculate whether the expression – “whatever it may be” – would suggest an attitude, simultaneously, reflective and one of moving away from the assumptions of a given situation. After examining and criticizing the positions at stake, it would indicate a movement towards a change in the very terms in which the problematic under debate would have been consolidated, among other reasons because it signals the prior knowledge of at least two possible candidates for the role of effectiveness: “bearing in mind scenarios a, b or c, I think that, in any case, …”. That is, the formulation of the book's title presupposes prior considerations without being constrained by their limits, and this suggests a certain fluidity of reflection.

This title probably has to do with the allusion to the perenniality of the thought that is thought, because, from a semantic and stylistic point of view, it neither denies nor endorses, but seeks to advance without ignoring opposing positions of a given discussion. Perhaps more than that: from the title itself, this work indicates an acceptance and overcoming of the stabilization of the best that had already been thought about a given subject, which has been the object of interest of the dialectical critic. That is, it may be that the formulation “be that as it may” already points to a call to something more or less equivalent to what was sought in a certain “criticism of dualist reason” [2], given that it is little more than what the indication of a complex work of mediation.

In short, the easiest way to think about this title, and consequently the volume as a whole, is through a very particular unit of opposites that has an extraordinary power of clairvoyance not only because it surpasses the approximate knowledge of formal logic or positive thinking, but fundamentally because it respects and incorporates the rebelliousness of reality.

Changing the subject a bit. It is worth mentioning beforehand that, due to the fact that whatever present two completely unpublished documents, I will dedicate myself only to them. I think this is a good start on the path of collective reading of this book on such varied subjects. Furthermore, there are spatial issues, as editorial common sense, implicit or explicit, always dictates that a review should have a maximum of five pages.

Let us, therefore, direct our concentration to the first document that opens this volume – and to which I referred above. It is a type of bibliographic file, in the form of a delusional police report, carried out by the business-military dictatorship through one of its state terrorism apparatuses called DOPS (Department of Political and Social Order), which classifies the essay “ Culture and politics, 1964-1969” (1970) as a “technique to stir up student circles through theater, cinema, literature, radio and TV” (2019, p. 11). It is quite curious how the military intelligence agent was able to perceive the productivity of dialectical criticism, because, although the essay undeniably presents a very enthusiastic and critical point of view about the political culture of the period, as well as its impasses, it was read like a stirring piece.

In fact, the productivity of the negative – an indelible mark of dialectical criticism – can also be found in its attention to the procedurality and incompleteness of events, which certainly can at least be read as a summons to the continuity of the very act of thinking. The representative of the Brazilian Holy Inquisition of that period seems to have astutely and intuitively understood the force of this invitation in the midst of a regime, not only though certainly, based on the censorship of thought. In other words, the censorship was perceptive in identifying the concrete power of the reflection that rejects false turns and suggests paths not yet traveled; it goes without saying that this type of meditation is an objective precondition of practical action truly opposed to established power:

The present essay seems to us to be highly intellectual (…) whose translation into English is already in the specialized archives of the CIA (…) It is an open exposition, which seems cynical (but which does not say everything), of the different plans developed by the left and its subgroups , in an attempt to demoralize existing institutions, traditional values ​​of society: family, religion, sex, money, personality, etc., etc. It is a pirate philosophy (…) The present text, which does not need major corrections to become perfect, should be made available to highly intellectual elements of our Superior School of War, for due studies, conclusions and counter planning. -action (not police, nor police-military). Penetration into the undisguised thoughts contained in the text could be taken advantage of by anyone with a real interest in using the revelations (…) for the benefit of a constructive order, despite their efforts to the contrary. (Ibid., p. 12-13)

From this angle, Schwarz's materialist critique would carry out a kind of de-solidification and liquefying procedure in the process in such a way that it became highly subversive precisely because it opened some floodgates and anticipated certain latent tendencies. The productive refusal of paths already trodden usually has this result in the short or long term, since, in the worst case scenario, it becomes a message in a bottle for other generations. It is as if the agent had wielded the necessary perspicacity to capture the creative force of the negative; Ultimately, Schwarz's critique would metamorphose into one of the conditions for the possibility of a social conscience that would be able to confront the regime of capital.

Perhaps this was a component of the reflection that led the author to call this prologue a whatever of “backstage”, above all because a document of this category does not fail to give rise to conjectures from the most fanciful to the most lucid regarding the relations of production, distribution and reception of the writer's work: it, to a certain extent, restores the unity between production and distribution , precisely because it represents the practical relations that unite production and distribution in a mutual determination. That is, the climate of crisis of capitalist sociability and political tension are present in the process of its critical production and in the circuit of its distribution, which also includes its reception by the engineering of state administration of populations.

Although so many other things could be said about this document – ​​such as, for example, the striking similarities with the contemporary extreme right discourse and speculations regarding the effective nature of these counter-action and counter-information policies recommended by the intellectual in the service of preservation of a dictatorial regime –, something cannot be neglected: the insertion of this document, within the assembly of this book, effect a practical preservation of the memory of a stage of the persecution of thought, since it gives us back a moment, so to speak. , an analogue of the countless control and surveillance schemes that domination systems use on a daily basis and especially in moments when it becomes intolerable; or, to use more Adornian terms, we are facing an illustrative moment of technical rationality as the rationality of domination itself.

Let us finally move on to the last document of whatever. Let's look a little closer at the transcript of a letter from young Schwarz to a teacher, which we're calling the epilogue. By the way, another reason that could justify limiting this review to the two unpublished documents is explicitly found on the unsigned flap of the book: the report and the letter would frame Tupiniquim and Gallic obscurantism. Let us remember that this letter from Schwarz – whose addressee is not revealed, but it is assumed to be Professor Antonio Candido – tells the stories involving his doctoral defense and an anti-Marxist professor within the framework of the Institute of Portuguese Studies of the University of Paris in 1976 .

Thus, if the prologue (“Backstage”) and the epilogue (“Peripecias de um PhD”) were juxtaposed, it would not be surprising if they expressed a framing of the circumstances under which Schwarz's critical work was articulated and was received. This selection and exposition of passages from our author's trajectory still has the advantage of not allowing us to understand the self-reflexivity process of his production as naive or completely alien to Brechtian meditations on the organization of glory and scandal [3].

Among other reasons why Schwarz seems to have organized his last publication around the attitude of intervention and from the point of view of the legitimacy and advantage of the conflict: the defense of the thesis had everything to be protocol, but, due to its constitution, it was fought precisely because it placed itself on the frontier of knowledge and disturbed the knowledge enshrined in the French chair. By preparing the ground to draw materialist consequences from what until then appeared to be a mere formal problem, Schwarz, as has happened to so many, including Marx and Benjamin, had a confrontation that was certainly taken advantage of in some way. However, as we noticed when reading the letter, the episode could have been many things, but certainly heroic is not one of its characteristics, since the buffoonery of the professors admitting without much shame that they had not even finished reading their analysis of the adaptation of the novel XNUMXth-century European experience in Brazil is, at the very least, revealing about the degree of pettiness that the intellectual debate can reach.

Perhaps this selection and organization indicates something even more fundamental, namely, the imperative of not bowing down to consensus and the bureaucratization of knowledge. Well, one sixty eight already stated that censorship, especially in the times we live in, has never been so perfect, given that it does not operate only through prohibition, but, above all, through arguments of authority, the saturation of the banal, the personalization of criticism, the mystique of flattery, the celebration of appearances and the despotism of what circulates with great ease. Schwarz's own reflection in the heat of the moment leaves no doubt about this:

He was an impulsive, authoritarian and closed-minded citizen, who, faced with the first difficulty in understanding, found the height and got angry at the thesis. Cantel, on the other hand, who out of tiredness, laziness or another reason had adopted the other's judgment without reading it, had now read it and was mad at his compadre (...) Instead of the opposition I had expected, between the right-wing intellectual and the intimidated little professor, there was the opposition between the bully asshole and the relapsed bureaucrat. (…) I also took the opportunity to explain that, given my way of exposing, the meaning of the sentences was not entirely contained within each one of them, and that it was necessary to follow the general movement of reasoning (…) Continues Teyssier: my masters taught me they taught that the nobility of thought lies in simplicity and clarity (...) The animal sweated goodwill and concern for the humblest, and looked like an angel from heaven. (...) I told him that the difficulty of the exposition was related to the difficulty of the subject, and that that was my way of exposing (Ibid., p. 435-437).

As we can see, the French case can potentially be even more serious and dangerous than the Brazilian one, since it is a naturalized and ingrained attitude that is externalized; a kind of “heart of darkness” right in the center of an institution that was supposed to radiate light to society as a whole. Apparently, such disapproval of critical reflection, which carries with it the necessary difficulty for its understanding from its formal elaboration, is less ideological than a veiled disdain for the movement inherent in the order of things; this is the most difficult conservatism to be fought, since it emerges from crystallization and dogmatism, from the right to the left of the political spectrum, which does not accept not knowing the results in advance or which rejects them regardless of their degree of forcefulness.

More: although those who wish to curb or neutralize the dialectical reflective process and the demanding artistic work hide behind the authoritarian argument disguised as democratic (you must write in such a way that everyone can understand it), in fact what is placed in The issue is the imprisonment of ideas in their most familiar and, consequently, most harmless forms, because they are redundant and emptied of their power of clairvoyance and contestation of appearances. The power of the dialectic, in short, would go exactly through its ability to bring out the unexpected and that is something unforgivable for those committed to the current state of the world. Of course, this is not the same as saying that every formally more complex production becomes dispassionate or that every more self-evident force of expression is necessarily reassuring, but, instead, this anecdote recalls the sociopolitical content of the forms, because, as it is possible to see here and in Schwarz's work as a whole, the stylistic constraint is never merely stylistic.

In any case, we hope to have managed to add at least one brick to the unveiling of the innumerable dimensions that a cultural critique of a materialist and dialectical bias can contain. Despite having concentrated on the most general elements and on only two writings in this collection, I believe it was enough to help stoke voters' curiosity about this experience of persistence of the dialectic in Brazil.

*Lindberg Campos is a doctoral candidate in letters at FFLCH-USP.



Robert Schwarz. Anyway – interviews, portraits and documents. São Paulo, Editora 34, 448 pages.


[1] JAMESON, Fredric. Persistencies of the dialectic: Three sites. In: Valences of the dialectic. London and New York: Verso, 2009, p. 279-290.

[2] OLIVEIRA, Francisco de. Criticism of dualist reason / The platypus. Sao Paulo: Boitempo.

[3] PASTA, José Antonio. Brecht's work. 2nd edition. São Paulo: Two Cities Bookstore / Publisher 34, p. 47-107.



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