feeling of the dialectic

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Commentary on the book by Paulo Eduardo Arantes

“Arrabal, arrabal bitter / that has me clavado on the cross” (Le Pera e Gardel)

Make no mistake, dear reader: with Feeling of the Dialectic, by Paulo Arantes, we not only gained a great success in the reflection on literary historiography in Brazil. Much more than that (which is not little) is Brazilian philosophy itself, which leaves the narrow limits of its more or less “technical” seminars (since it is usually ignored that the essence of philosophical “techniques” is never, it own, technical), to delve into the “experience” and into Brazil itself.

Empiricism? Historicism? The prevailing habits of mind naturally push the reader into a prudent attitude of suspicion. Philosophers and literary theorists frown (we can imagine them, huddled in their ascetic closets) at this confusion of genres: – where is the autonomy of literary form or of “specifically” philosophical problems? It is understandable that this beautiful book, published in 1992, did not have the repercussion in the press that we had hoped for.

Therefore, to begin with, it will be necessary to explain, even if very schematically, what the expression Brazilian intellectual “experience” means or the philosophical scope of Paulo Arantes's book, inseparable from its effects for the understanding of Brazilian culture and society.

Let us therefore proceed with patience. The idea of ​​“experience” refers to the great tradition of Hegelian philosophy: it is what is at the base of the Phenomenology of Spirit. In order to sufficiently explain the scope of Paulo Arantes's text, it would be necessary to go through the hundreds of pages (published or unpublished) that he devoted to the genesis of the style of dialectics in German thought (18th and 19th centuries) and its reception in German thought. French in the 20th century (for example, the texts by Paulo Arantes, published in IDE Magazine, on the interpretation of Hegel by A. Kojeve and J. Lacan) [1]. Only the counterpoint of the analysis of German and French ideologies allows a full understanding of this essay on Brazilian ideology.

In a way, Paulo Arantes' assumption is that Hegelian philosophy built, at the turn of the 18th to the 19th century, a point of view (a kind of elevated viewpoint) that allowed him to retrospectively understand the entire movement of society and of European culture and that still makes it possible to decipher the contemporary experience, both in the countries of the center and in those of the periphery – above all because only this point of view could reveal the red thread that unites (not only in the economy) the First to the other worlds that cover it. the planet.

But, what does Brazilian literature have to do with Hegel's speculations about the dialectical character of the “experience of consciousness”? Paulo Arantes does not arbitrarily or dogmatically “Hegelianize” the history of literature in Brazil. His starting point is precisely the historiographical and critical work of Antonio Candido. A good starting point, for several reasons: in addition to being recognized as our best critic and historian, Antonio Candido maintains, without hostility, on the contrary, some reserve in relation to the tradition of dialectics (it is declared, Cum grain salis 50% Marxist in normal periods, and 90% in dark periods of repression and vulgar or obscurantist anti-Marxism).

A supporter of a “negative dialectic”, it does not matter to Paulo Arantes that Antonio Candido is reticent in the face of doctrinaire versions of dialectics. Antonio Candido's reticence facilitates Paulo Arantes' enterprise, who seeks in him an example of an implicit and living dialectic, obeying Merleau-Ponty's recommendation: practicing dialectics without talking about it, almost suggesting that dialectics can only have a clandestine life .

Which, incidentally, makes it possible to understand the title of the book, which would otherwise remain mysterious: feeling of the dialectic, almost a Lighthouse, which does not result from a ready and finished theory, but which is not based, either, on the volatility of subjectivity or on the lack of foundation of the judgment of taste; something like a Lighthouse that locates reality through the contradictions of the spirit, wrapped in the social matter in which it is debated, both in its subjective dimension (consciousness) and in its objective dimension (culture). One Lighthouse, would say Paulo Arantes, guided by the nature of the “object” that is being “sniffed”, which abandons itself, in its oscillations, to the “contradictions of the object”.

But why would Brazilian literature be a “contradictory object”? With great finesse, Paulo Arantes makes a true census of the contradictions that function as an analytical instrument in the work of Antonio Candido: analysis of localism and cosmopolitanism, of the universal and the particular in Formation of Brazilian Literature, dialectic of the spontaneous and the directed in the study of the the tenement [The speech and the city, Editora Ouro sobre Azul] etc. But it is not only, of course, the frequent use of oppositions, such as those listed above, that allows Paulo Arantes to diagnose the dialectical style of Antonio Candido's essays. It is the fact that such formal oppositions gravitate around a basic intuition or an interpretation of the originality of Brazilian culture.

All dualities refer to something like a “sense of duality that would pervade mental life in a peripheral nation” (p. 14). In fact, the idea of ​​a double Brazil is not new – it dates from the birth of the interest in the famous “Brazilian reality” and there are countless texts that insist on the ambiguity of the peripheral condition (transoceanism, “bovarism” etc…) of the Brazilian. The great advantage or originality of Antonio Candido consists in providing the key to this specific dynamism of the cultural experience in a peripheral country, giving the conceptual horizon of the formation of the Brazilian literary system.

At the beginning of the formation of this system, the logic would be that of the disparity between the imported civilization standard and the “uncultivated landscape”: contrast between two worlds linked by colonization. This would go from Arcadians to Romanticism. With Machado de Assis, the system would be complete, coinciding with the moment when Brazilian capitalism, in order to constitute itself, began to combine two orders into one: bourgeois society and traditional society. In other words, Antonio Candido's central theme would be the conceptualization of dualism, not as an expression of a vague experience, but as a symptom of a collective cultural experience.

The formation of literature and the genesis of capitalism intersect, without being able to speak of “sociologism”. It is an expanded and sophisticated notion of form that allows the passage from one dimension to the other: only at the crossroads between literary form and social form can one find the foundation of the mimetic character of the literary work (something like its “truth value”), or its ability to re-find an implicit form in the practical matrix of Living environment. In summary: on the one hand, a literary form/social form dialectic; on the other hand, the analysis of this ubiquitous form – the structural duality. Antonio Candido put this program into practice by unveiling the duality that prevailed in literary works (order/disorder, spontaneous/directed, modernism/backwardness, universalism/particularism, etc.) and moved towards finding in society that same shape.

But if Antonio Candido outlined a sociological scheme of the traits of the “Brazilian experience” in which this form was reproduced, it fell to Roberto Schwarz, according to Paulo Arantes, to provide the final social basis for this interpretative scheme. With the Dependency Theory, “we know that it is not a simple structural symmetry, but a mediation anchored in a social dynamism” (p. 44). What, to sum up, was the face of the country that the literary works depicted? “A slow predominance of one hemisphere over the other evolving under the horizon of an allegorized country, but equally dual, on the one hand bourgeois calculation, on the other sociability soaked in nature” (p. 45).

As we move from the writings of Antonio Candido to those of Roberto Schwarz, we do not just pass from the master to the disciple: Roberto's work does not just continue that of his master, he completes it. Let Paulo Arantes not be rashly accused of retrospectively reading the work of Antonio Candido. Such is the law of the dialectic: all understanding is retrospective and, to take Hegel literally, “the truth is the result”. Moreover, Antonio Candido by Paulo Arantes is the same reconstructed by Roberto Schwarz himself in his essay “Assumptions, Salvo Mistake, of Dialectic of Malandragem” (in What time is it?, Ed. Co. of Letters).

The entire second part of the book is devoted to the writings of Roberto Schwarz. A masterpiece of hermeneutics, in addition to describing Roberto Schwarz's journey since his first publications, this second part situates him in the tensions that oppose him to various critics and colleagues, or in the theoretical complicity that links him to authors such as Fernando Novaes that provides , with the theory of colonial economics, the idea that duality does not imply dualism. Let us limit ourselves to underlining a central point of the Schwarzian critique, explained by Paulo Arantes: the famous thesis of “out of place ideas”.

Only in the mature Machado did the ambivalence of the Brazilian experience pass to the level of form, the content (which predominated in Alencar) becoming prosaic and even banal themes. Hence the autobiographical character of Machado's first novels, where the story of an alleged self made man, frustrated in its pretensions by the persistence of a society where social mobility depended on the patronage of the elite.

The drama of Machado's first heroines is always the drama of co-option, expressing "Machado's desire to polish and civilize paternalism", in the idea that "only the key of favor could open careers to talent" - an attempt to reconcile "ambition and nobility of character” (p. 77). And then, immediately, the theme of ideas out of place: “the singular march of the career dependent on favor must have been the forerunner sign that our life had a center different from that of Europe” (p. 78).

Contrary to the reflective movement of “sociologism”, here, it is the analysis of literary form (for example, the “volubility” of the narrator in Machado's novels) that sheds light on social form and allows for a “theory of Brazil”. And the result of the literary analysis will be the discovery of a “dialectic without synthesis” that articulates the “two Brazils”. “If we call it a negative dialectic, as we have already done, we will be giving a name that appears in the classical repertoire, but translates the specific timbre of the second, specialized Machado, as is known in the chapter on negatives” (p. 193).

Hence all sorts of “frustrated dynamisms”. “Inconclusive dialectic”, “final point with no crisis point on the horizon” – for Paulo Arantes we were already Adorno's before Adorno. A Aufklarung in Brazil it thus showed what it really was at the time when it was properly conservatively appropriated. Suspended in the air, the Aufklarung it turns “into its opposite and starts to function as a key piece of oligarchic apologetics” (p. 83).

After all, the malevolent reader could always argue that the starting point of the essay is false – or that, at least, the work of Antonio Candido is susceptible to other readings (Davi Arriguci, for example) and that it can resist this kind of retrospective and perhaps violent annexation. We would respond to him, without any commitment to the Owl of Minerva (we are unsuspecting), recalling Merleau-Ponty. A great work is not exhausted in itself, it is also all the readings it makes possible.

On its own side, in its secret immanence, it makes room for many traditions. With this beautiful book by Paulo Arantes, the writings of Antonio Candido and Roberto Schwarz (as well as those of Paulo himself) are articulated in a line or cumulative succession, allowing us to unveil the movement towards the formation of a critical tradition in Brazil, where the word criticism reassumes all its rich semantic load (not only literary criticism, but criticism of society, culture and Reason). An event that Brazilian hearts, lost in this periphery or in this bitter outskirts of the contemporary world, can only welcome with joy.

*Bento Prado Jr. (1937-2007) was professor of philosophy at the Federal University of São Carlos. Author, among other books, of some essays (Peace and Earth).

Originally published in the newspaper FSP, May 9, 1993.


[1] Editor's note: Bento Prado Jr. refers to material later assembled by Paulo Eduardo Arantes in the book Resentment of dialectics: dialectics and intellectual experience in Hegel. São Paulo, Peace and Land, 1996.

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