Teixeira Coelho (1944-2022)



Homage to the recently deceased professor, writer, curator and cultural critic

It can be said that Teixeira Coelho's journey is made, from end to end, under the sign of the present. Actuality is both rooted in a mobile, sliding today, which through continuous displacements generates the image of what is called contemporary, and an index of action: a living presence in time, discontinuous, ambivalent, obscure. A certain idea of ​​a path is strategic for tracing the lines of force of Teixeira's: the path, says J.-L. Nancy, is “a displacement and a grouping, fleeting or prolonged, but always perfect, completed, which does not mean filled. No program, no intention, no fulfillment – ​​no interiority, no secrecy. Neither a landscape nor a face, or it is an unfolded face, or even a face according to its folds, not the mirror of a soul, but the place of a present truth”.[I]

A brief passage on some ideas of what this contemporary means, which constitutes us, may allow a quick approximation of this marker that, in my view, constitutes the fulcrum of a thought in transit that crosses the diversity of Teixeira's activities. And, in this way, one can access another marker, also significant: the critique of images "of this country”, Brazil, mediated in cultural, university, artistic, political production and incisively manifested in cultural criticism.

Since his first book, the demand for actuality appears as if framed by these markers: the present, the contemporary, “the material and theoretical conditions of current art”[ii], and in a biased way, the problematic condition of this country, significantly projected, as is said in his last novel, under the sarcastic laugh of history.

Teixeira's texts and interventions are the sensitive expression of the critical attacks that, since that first book, problematize the desire-need, the imperative, of modernity and modernization of today, in this country, according to a suggestive perspective of the art-society relationship, especially that which reiterates, especially since the 1960s, the possibilities, plus the impossibilities, of artistic experimentation effectively participating in the transformations of the political and cultural context, always articulating the broad field of modernity to the particularities of this country.

Some of Foucault's ideas, commenting on Kant's text What does Aufklarung mean? can also help us understand how the issue of the present time is so important in Teixeira Coelho's trajectory. He says: “What happens now? And what is this 'now' within which we are each other; And what defines the moment where I write?”. And he continues: “What is my topicality? What is the meaning of this present time? And what do I do when I talk about this current situation? This is, it seems to me, what this new interrogation about modernity consists of”.

Now, this new interrogation, this interrogation, in thought and art, about its own actuality, about the “current field of possible experiences”, is distinguished from the modern novelty, from the modern attitude, that is, from “a way of relating which [implies] (...) a voluntary choice that is made by some; finally, a way of thinking and feeling, a way of acting and behaving that, all at the same time, marks a pertinence and presents itself as a task.[iii]

And Agamben, in turn, when proposing an answer to the question, What is the contemporary, in a clear gloss on the Kantian question, warns that all the difficulty of the contemporary concept comes from the fixation on the present, because in it one perceives “not the lights, but the dark”. Referring to Barthes and Nietzsche, for whom “the contemporary is the untimely”, Agamben emphasizes that the relationship with the present always implies dissociation – referring to Nietzsche, who in untimely considerations “It locates its demand for 'up-to-dateness', its 'contemporaneity' in relation to the present, in a disconnection and dissociation.

Thus, says Agamben, “one who truly belongs to his time, is truly contemporary, who does not coincide perfectly with it, nor is it adequate to its pretensions and is therefore, in this sense, out of date: but, precisely because of this, precisely through this displacement and from this anachronism, he is able, more than others, to perceive and apprehend his time. (…) Contemporaneity, therefore, is a singular relationship with time itself, which adheres to it and, at the same time, distances itself from it: more precisely, this is the relationship with time that adheres to it through a dissociation and an anachronism. Those who coincide very fully with the era, who adhere perfectly to it in every respect, are not contemporary because, precisely because of this, they cannot see it, cannot keep their gaze fixed on it.[iv].(...). “Contemporary is the one who keeps his eyes fixed on his time, in order to perceive not the lights, but the dark. (...) A contemporary is precisely the one who knows how to see this obscurity, who is capable of writing by plunging his pen into the darkness of the present. But what does it mean to 'see the darkness', 'perceive the dark'”? (…) “ What is the dark that we do not see[v] . This implies, says Agamben, “a particular activity and skill”, something that constantly “challenges” us.. This dissociation alluded to by Agamben, when it comes to writing, criticism or narrative, is what allows the philosopher, the writer, the artist, “to lead life to the state of a non-personal power”, precisely because, says Deleuze, “the life is not something personal”.[vi]

Thinking about the “task” to which Foucault alludes, another reference, also by JL Nancy, contributes to an approximation of the critical work and Teixeira’s novels: “A contemporary is not always someone who lives at the same time, nor someone who talks about overtly 'current' issues. But he is someone whose voice, or taste, we recognize as coming from a hitherto unknown and immediately familiar place, which we discovered, which we expected, or which he was waiting for us, which was there, imminent. We know immediately that it is a possibility that makes the presence of the present and that it must make it”.[vii]

Nothing, therefore, of the search, very common, to reconstitute a totality – that of fragmented life, of the destructured form, of the desublimated meaning – as if there were a lost unity or yet to come, to reconstitute an organic whole, when what is at stake it is to open passages between the heterogeneous games of languages, knowledge, ethics, politics, without aspiring to a unitary end of history and a substantial subject, as in Enlightenment, as J.-L. Lyotard[viii]. This attitude is visible in critical texts, it is palpable in combat texts and, above all, in fiction.

In this, one finds the figuration of what is inscribed in theoretical, critical and cultural production - in the direction of museums, in curatorships, in books on theory and criticism of plastic arts, theater, architecture, semiology, cultural policy , in newspaper and magazine articles, in the organization and edition of books, in translations –, places that, concentrating the drifts of their interests and the sense of opportunity, kairos, mobilize the angel of history that walks everywhere where his work inscribes current signs, markers of a wandering thought, of the immeasurable of contemporary experience, incorporated by a drive attitude that is configured through a prismatic analysis entirely made of the overlapping of feelings , sensation and thought.

It is necessary to highlight one aspect inherent to his activity, in which the task we alluded to with Foucault is more sensitive: that of a combatant, in which the critical interest under the sign of the present mobilizes critical interventions, often with the spur of irony, cultural policy guidelines. Although it is present, incidentally or explicitly, in many books and articles, it is more concentrated in The Brazilian intellectual: dogmatisms & other confusions, 1978 when intellectuals returned to the scene amid many confusions motivated by the convergence of the decline of the vanguards, the mobilization for the end of the dictatorship, the divergences of political positions that stigmatized and patrolled intellectuals, whose speeches would lack the “clarity” due to what he thought he was the right position for the work ahead of rebuilding democracy in this country.

In the novels, conceptual characters and emblematic figures, current and repeated repeatedly – ​​this country, modern, contemporary, history, memory, experience – constitute a figuration of the intellectual and a position on cultural and political issues inscribed in various conceptions of art, in which the criticality, the incompleteness, the indetermination operate a necessity: to suggest the impossibility of any meaning that could give form to the present. A need that implies, in its primary sense, attention to historical frictions, not to the redeeming images of a disappointed experience; need, rather, is to experience the tension of relationships, it is to listen to impulses. in Athe fury of the mind, Niemeyer, a novel, The man who lives, Natural history of the dictatorship, Colosso, one can note the repetition of gestures and sensations that configure an apparently inconclusive thought, in fact a language that allegorizes the babbling of a thought that, while being a narrative, accounts for the impossibility of saying, of expressing, given the intolerability of the contemporary experience; of the accentuation of despair and helplessness in the face of the near impossibility of meaning, releasing, in reading, a strange sensation, as of something stopped, indecisive, of imprecision of feelings – a sensation such as that suggested by Scott Fitzgerald: his characters seem to be always as if they were “at nightfall, in a vast desert region, with an empty rifle in their hands and the targets on the ground at my feet. No problem – simple silence, cut only by the sound of my own breathing.”[ix]

One can see in the narratives an attempt to think about modern experiences projected on the horizon of an after; than in some cases became a project, a rear of the emergence of works, and which today, in our current times, have lost the critical virulence that saw such projects and works born out of necessity. And, at present, what need is there to write this? After the great works that scaled interiority, which strained the social and political relations that functioned in the image of a totality that was aspired to and that was supposed to be in a state of realization; once the tyrannies of intimacy and the pre-established, utopian relations between subjectivity and socio-political context have been put into recess, since they are desubstantialized – even if they remain irreducible references, a kind of background that snarls in the form of a conception of today’s world, of the conscience of a country like this, of the jamming of history, of the business of culture, of the mania for art and other things – what remains?

In the figuration of these states and ideas, as memory of acts or sensations, the interest is all in the ways of seeing and in the ways of enunciation –“Everything is in the how, everything is in the way, the secret is in the way, the trick is in the way", it is said in The man who lives –, in the look and its deformations, composing a literature of “objectivity”, centered on the materiality of the word. The difficulty of writing, which is the central subject of the books, is perhaps in the accentuation of the words highlighted graphically, finally in the hesitation, in the hesitation - which perhaps has a lot to do with the split between what is observed and what is felt. , between thought and deed, as always. The modern split of the self is evident.

These books secrete, spread, a process, repetitive and distressing, of the corrosion of identities, choices, decisions and objectives dissolved in the bulk of the crowd, in the apparition among so many faces: a true process of demolition, still remembering Scott Fitzgerald: we fall apart, “done in shards like an old plate”.[X] The reader is faced with a sequence of symptoms, which are repeated, indicative of the true process, like life that is constructed as language, materialization of an analytical elaboration, of writing as a cure – because the writer, says Deleuze, “is not sick, but rather a doctor, a doctor of himself and of the world”[xi] –, a process that, in writing, literature and criticism, in tracing lines of flight in which the friction of language in experience only babbles, chasing the possibility of saying the meaning of events.

It can be said that Teixeira asserts in critical texts and narratives a thought of experience, in which the overlapping of experience and thought is magnetized with affection. Thus, if, as he says, art is not to be understood, it is not knowledge, it must descend on people like a cloud, it is an enigma that wants to be deciphered but not immediately, thoughts, says Lyotard, are clouds; also made of heart and skin continuously change position depending on how one approaches them.[xii]

*Celso Favaretto is an art critic, retired professor at the Faculty of Education at USP and author, among other books, of The invention of Helio Oiticica (Edusp).

Originally published in the book Expansion of the being’s sphere of presence – reflections on the work of Teixeira Coelho, edited by Lúcia Maciel Barbos de Oliveira São Paulo, Edições Barbatana, 2016.



[I] NANCY, J.-L., “Deleuzean fold of thought”. Trans. Maria Cristina Franco Ferraz. in-ALLIEZ, Éric (org.), Gilles Deleuze: a philosophical life. São Paulo: Editora 34, 2000, p. 116.

[ii] NETTO, TC and GOLDBERGER, AM Contemporary art: conditions for social action. São Paulo: Documentos 1968 (Col. Nova Crítica 5). This publishing house, founded and directed by Teixeira Coelho and Ana Maria Goldberger, published between 1968-69 a series of important and timely books: dossiers from the journal L'ARC: Sartre today, Lévi-Strauss, Joyce and the modern novel, Return to Freud; For a new romance,by Alain Robbe-Grillet; Debate over structuralism, by H. Lefebvre and L. Goldaman; The right to the city , Position: against the technocrats e the irruption, by Henri Lefebvre; Writer's rights, by A. Solzhenitsyn; The options of the new society, by Ota Klein and Radovan Richta and others.

[iii] FOUCAULT, M. “What are the Enlightenments?”. Sayings and Writings – II. Trans. Elisa Monteiro. Rio de Janeiro: Forense Universitária, 2000, p. 251 and ss.

[iv] AGAMBEN, G. What is contemporary? and other trials. Trans. Vinicius N. Honesko. Chapecó-SC: Argos, 2009, p. 62 and 58-59.

[v] id. ib. P. 62-63.

[vi] DELEUZE, G. Dialogue- Gilles Deleuze/Claire Parnet. Trad. Eloisa Araújo Ribeiro. São Paulo: Escuta, 1998, p.63.

[vii] NANCY, JL. op. cit. P. 111.

[viii] cf. LYOTARD, J.-F. The postmodern explained to children. Trans. Teresa Coelho. Lisbon: Dom Quixote, 1987, p. 14 -15

[ix] SCOTT FITZGERALD, F. “The crack up”. A derrocada and other short stories and autobiographical texts. Trans. Alvaro Cabral. Rio de Janeiro: Brazilian Civilization, 1969, p. 47. But his characters seem to embody something even stronger, as described by Fitzgerald: “Of course, life is all a process of collapse, but the blows that add up form the dramatic side of this work, or seem to come from outside. – those that we remember and for which we blame things, those that, in moments of weakness, we confide to our friends, do not reveal their effects as soon as they hit us. There is another kind of blow that comes from within – which we only feel when it is too late to do anything, when we end up realizing that we will never again be what we were. The first kind of meltdown seems to happen quickly; the second happens almost without us noticing but is noticed suddenly”. ID ib. ,P. 37-38.

[X] cf. op. cit., p. 40.

[xi] cf. G. Deleuze, Criticism and clinic . Trans. Peter Pál Pelbart. São Paulo: Editora 34, 1997, p.13.

[xii] cf. respectively, The man who lives, p.191; pilgrimages, trans. Marina Appenzeller, São Paulo: Estação Liberdade, 2000, p. 18.

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