time for mourning

Image_Elyeser Szturm

By Pablo Pamplona*

“She came into my house! The disease entered my house!”, shouts a man to nothing.

That man lost his brother. “He was forty years old! No disease at all! I buried him.” His despair is justified, because he saw death. He shouts in a hoarse voice and gestures like an eccentric because he has known the truth—and the truth has freed him from the conventions of civility. This man is one of those little prophets who come, leave their message and then disappear. Prophets are not prophets only by their message, but also by their presence and spirit; and also in this one, your body, your expression, is a small sample of how collective mourning can be expressed in the near future.

Very soon.

But who, today, cares about prophets? In the video, no one seems to be affected. They cross their arms, shrug their shoulders, stay in line while watching the show. After all, what else could be done? Who knows how long they've been waiting for that lottery shop to open. Return home now, after waiting, to return tomorrow and fulfill the obligations? The lottery house can open at any moment, then they pay the bills and maybe play in the Mega Sena and maybe go back to their homes.

Who has time for one more prophet?
Nobody cares.
Speaks too loudly.
It gives you a headache.
It interferes with traffic.
It hurts the economy.
Better to drown your voice with the mechanical sound of horns.

But, in addition to being a prophet, this is a man who saw the disease enter his house to kill his brother. And with that, there is a feeling that there is never, not even in the empty time of waiting in line at the lottery, that there is not enough time to waste with the mourning of others; and this sensation also does not generate surprise.

Maybe because it's so everyday? As in the experience of Kafka's characters, “we wander from threshold to threshold, from corridor to corridor, from waiting room to waiting room, without ever reaching the desired destination, which runs the risk of being forgotten” — that is, if we have the lucky to aim for a destination.

In this text¹, Jeanne Marie Gagnebin comments on a Kafka story about the hunter Gracchus, a dead man who “can no longer cross the last threshold: the one that the sacred boats must cross to reach the Kingdom of the Dead”. Gracchus was condemned to eternity as an undead. In the short story, between one navigation and another, he stops in a city. He is received by the mayor, who does not prolong the conversations and immediately asks him: “Extraordinary, extraordinary. And are you considering staying with us in Riva?” Gracchus is received courteously, but his presence is uncomfortable and he knows it. Comments Gagnebin:

“His living-dead state configures a confrontation between life and death: a biased clash, without any tragicity, without grandeur, that does not move or touch anyone, that only gets in the way the current administrative order.

Like the sick, the dying, the crazy, the old, the bereaved or, in short, anyone who, without following the labels of the proper functioning of modern capitalist society, cares.

The man in this video, the prophet, the mourner, gets in the way. His words only echo on social networks, an appropriate space reserved for the dissemination, deposit and accumulation of narratives. If someone records and sends your speech to the whatsapp of each person in line, how many would not feel impelled to forward the audio to their contacts? But seeing him like this, with his body, as this being-present that occupies the street and lurking — your presence demands something in return, demands a proactive posture.

Roosevelt Cassola² notes in a 1991 text:

“Our dead die alone in hospitals, surrounded by devices and tubes and far from their families. These, in turn, 'hope' for death to occur quickly and try to resume their normal activities soon, as if nothing had happened. Friends and acquaintances are embarrassed, they don't know what to do or say, and going to a wake or a condolence visit becomes an unpleasant obligation. Talking about death or the dead seems to be impolite, and hypomanic reactions are common, sometimes not knowing if we are mourning a loved one or attending a festival of jokes. All of this has to do with the denial of death, with the near impossibility, at least in our Western culture, of thinking about it as part of life. The Americans have reached the sophistication of having companies that make the dead 'disappear' with the minimum of inconvenience for the survivors, dramatizing the fact in a grossly artificial way, but which allows the relatives to reinforce their denial, with the impression of having fulfilled the your 'duty'. I wouldn't be surprised if franchises of these companies appear here, in a short time, maybe next to a McDonald's...
It is this same denial that makes us indifferent to torture, death squads and the real slaughter provoked by the living conditions of our populations in the Third World. I am referring not only to physical death, but also to the death of human dignity, in which millions of people barely survive, in miserable conditions that have more to do with death than with life.”

The same impotence to listen and speak with the Other — who is suffering — manifests itself in the inability to listen and speak that true democratic exercise demands. Listening and speaking support not only affective relationships, but also political relationships.

This same lack of a proactive posture, this same denialism, this same immobilization in the face of the “encumbrance”, characterizes the voluntary servitude, the inaction and the apathy of the people in the face of the absurdities produced by tyranny.

None of this should be normal.

*Pablo Pamplona is a doctoral candidate in Social Psychology at USP.


¹ “Threshold: between life and death”. In Jeanne-Marie Gagnebin Threshold, aura, recall: Essays on Walter Benjamin. Publisher 34, 2014.

² “How we deal with dying” In: On death: Brazilian studies. Papyrus, 1991.

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