see ships

Jackson Pollock, Figures in a Landscape, c. 1937


Comments on Airton Paschoa's second edition book (magazine and digital)

“Pião” and “Ponto final”, the latter practically subsequent to the first text, are like the cover of see ships, on which they form a double allegory: vivacity and stillness, centrifugal tendency and self-absorbed convergence. Made of the same material and designating alternating states, these allegories intertwine like pieces of a hinge. The top is the final point that emerged from its round and heavy withdrawal, even if only to revolve around itself, as if new narcissistic expectations were reviving it. The final point is the point of apathy, certainly the state after that, the physiognomic result of a laborious collection of energy that was once dispersed to other places, like a top that, in its revolutions, looked in all directions: “Once upon a time there was a type that concentrated so much, but so much, that it ended in a point. And so heavy, but so heavy was it that nothing, no one could remove it”.

In my opinion, the expression is all the more successful in the book the more it tends to the ataraxic period. The representation of the interest awakened by other objects, even if one's own self is among them, now more depressingly anxious than depressively melancholic, does not always have the same quality as that which we see in the first case. But even that deserves our care and, in fact, it seems mysteriously to articulate with the successful part of the book - part that is worth many books.

The series dedicated to the brother could be linked to the area of ​​the work in which the character or point character is decided, which imprints its mode and rhythm on the prose. But the brother and the narrator are also like two complementary allegories: one, volatile, is suspended in the air; another, grave, heavy, crawls. The beautiful “Golpe de ar” is sadly light, because the brother, who at other times howls, dreams, wants to be an artist, who finally doesn’t have his feet on the ground and can’t resist whatever comes to him, now “gave of levitate”, to the perplexity of the crippled narrator, who awaits instructions: there, in that other medium where you are, there in the air, isn't there also a need? You don't need a blouse? Doesn't fear also exist there? It seems that there is like here; the brother asks for the scarf, with the indefinable physiognomy of the dead who appear to us in dreams and disappear, and with them the pleasant place they are, as soon as we ask him if it's good there. The daydreaming brother levitates; the brother “unable to resist […] a good bed” (“Ecce momo”) crawls like a clam (see “Snail” and “The Bucket”). They do not fail, each one, to realize their essence. In the case of the quietist ego, the body hardens and calcifications form. Or placentas. Reduced movement can be caused by old people or babies.

We wake up up to our necks dreaming for days. An unknown person, a poorly told story, an interviewed life... We barely move, the body buried in the covers, but it's too late. The sun is rising and drying the remains of the placenta. We sink into the day and its cowardices. Soon it will all be forgotten. (“Carpe noctem”)

The bed gives birth to someone willing to start over, to a promise gestated in the dead of night; in the bed he buries himself, dreams are dulled. “We sink in the day” can be “we sink in bed”, according to a movement common even to a worm (“Once in a while he points to a worm and then withdraws in disappointment”, from “Parada”); it may sink in the same day, but a day when time is not worth much.

The insistence with which such images run, not exactly new in themselves, and the linguistic constellation that produces them give them freshness, a freshness that is a two-way corridor, as it assimilates and dismisses the agenda. In key authors of twentieth-century literature, such as Thomas Mann and Kafka, not to mention Proust, horizontal life (quite simply, life in bed) appears frequently. It may indicate that civilizing energies are in recess. The supreme happiness that Hans Castorp, from the magic mountain, sits with a perfectly anatomical lounge chair is not very different from the satisfaction that, in see ships, one can have with the restoration of an armchair. This is the case of “Gregal Reform” (a very decayed substitutive form, a little paronomastic and imaginary compensation for the desire that enthusiasm was produced earlier by the land reform). In both cases the accommodation to the disease and to the physiological life, which boils down to eating and sleeping (as in “Ecce momo“), is easier than propriety would admit. But in the German author, the prose, the narrator and certain characters do not fail to show and sometimes frankly combat what appear to be antisocial, morbid tendencies to this relief of the body and its functions. Although Reason can appear as a figure that is also corroded and caricatured, like Settembrini, it contributes to uplift, and a lot, the narrative focus, the culmination of bourgeois humanism, although in crisis.

On the other hand, in Airton's texts the transgression carried out is no longer, at that point in the story, so strong as to literally transform him (picturally) into an insect. In The Process, The Castle, To metamorphose, by Kafka, now we see the most important news, a verdict, reach the bed; sometimes people with no intimacy with each other make work contracts or exceptional revelations while sitting on the bed. A bed can be shared by guests who don't know each other. Finally, one can no longer get out of it, and the dangerous time for that is precisely the time when the alarm clock goes off. As dangerous as the one in the fairy tale where you turn into a pumpkin. Gregor Samsa perhaps decided not to fulfill the commandment and pay to see, that is, not to get up early. Ignoring the prohibition would be equivalent to realizing the content of a possible disciplinary formula, heard since childhood. Let's imagine one: if you don't get out of bed now, you'll turn into a disgusting animal. In Airton's book, one does not manage to produce an image that incorporates such a degree of repugnance — perhaps because character formation here has not been so much under the spell of such threatening sentences, perhaps because in Brazil there has not been a general ethics of the generalized work, which prevailed, for the guarantee of its perpetuation, of coercions of that order; perhaps because many workers in globalized capitalism and above all in the so-called service sector, which includes those of an intellectual nature, normally work their own hours, which can be fulfilled within the limits of their own domestic space. They may not even need to get out of bed, with a laptop over the covers. And, if they get out of bed late, they can compensate for this in some way, since the flexibility of their routine is what is the rule, and it is expected that the sense of duty is very internalized.

The fact is that the suggestive power of the threatening sentence is no longer so great. And, as we said, maybe it never happened in Brazil, except in very specific contexts[1]. In the amusing samba “Cocoricó”, sung by Clementina de Jesus, the following dialogue takes place: “Get up, dear, it's only ten to six to go/ […] oh dear, let me sleep, I feel tired today/ the clock of the wall maybe I’m wrong […]”. The universally agreed way of measuring time is called into question — which is certainly a convention, but it is as if we had not always taken it very seriously. This illusion, of a civilizing nature, did not stick perfectly. It turns and moves if it discredits a little the strategies that seek to give shape to time, to make it visible. But, besides, isn't that what the ideologues of flexibilization of work shifts, the HR philosophers, do today, for whom the feeling of duration is also a distension of the spirit? Like the black man questioned by Clementina, they argue: the clock can be wrong, the important thing is what I feel deep inside. The important thing is what you feel you worked on. And you can go to bed whenever you want. Our metaphysical rogue already knew that, he was already drilling the clock's shell — which doesn't mean he didn't work hard. But he did it like certain workers today. These, indifferent to the clock, flexible, do not see the time, do not see exactly how hard they work. His routine is blurred, without landmarks to clarify it; bed blankets can mix with office paraphernalia. Or in the office there might be a little mattress to work on all night.

In the long series of see ships in which the person is slumped, with a somewhat slack posture, we do not know precisely whether it is a retiree (whether due to time or disability), an unemployed person, an outsourced worker. The figure of an unproductive, sick writer can sometimes gain more contour (because he stopped doing things, or stopped because he got sick), as in “Self-help”. In any case, if there is something that sometimes unites all the categories mentioned in the real world (unemployed, flexible, pensioner), it is a kind of psychic depression, perhaps due to social fragmentation, the lack of concrete spaces for the practice of relationships intersubjective, the loss of security (in whatever Brazilian proportion it may be, as it appears in “Elegia”) — and, most likely also, due to the political stagnation in current democracies, specifically the Brazilian stagnation, which Airton seems to address a few times , allusively. The life in the book that actually takes shape is much more a private life, and so it is natural that images of death emerge to deal with an experience of non-appearance.[2].

This depression is an internal state of the book and is indicted, calling attention to itself, through several titles, which are like different aspects of it: dependency, ambulance, self-help, blind, aleijadinho, carpe noctem, hull, snail, piped gas, ecce momo, western divan, parade (island too, somehow). In all of them, the person is more or less stretched out or crouched down, hardly standing up, hardly moving. People are terrified by the sirens of the city (São Paulo, certainly), seen through the crack of the window, and sometimes disturbed by a strange endogenous noise: it's labyrinthitis. It acquires, in the present context, something foreboding; it is with some nausea that the narrator informs us of her (“Ambulance”). Bad experience with the outside world turned into pathology, a morbid difficulty locating oneself in space, even the most protected one. The sirens spring from the ear itself. If it's not the labyrinthitis, it's another malaise, only apparently endogenous: “I'm not trapped, but the weight on my head makes the cell impassable” (“The snail”). if taken does not mean here “chained”, “goaded”, then the case is one of logical contradiction or schizophrenia: I'm not imprisoned, but the cell. This is a matter of course — prisoner or not, are you always in a cell? What gives the quality of a prisoner is the impassability of the room, which is a cell, or cell, in which one is confined by their own will and which is perhaps an extension of the person. Not deliberate is the impossibility of walking in it. But in fact, the antisocial habit produced the condition, as in the case of labyrinthitis: the constant sheltering from the world has become a difficulty in even being with the body, on which the head has taken on the weight of a house, to which it is tied. until the end of its days, as the snail is said to be its own home.

These operations could lead us to think of an expressionist configuration: the self that stood out from the world and that intended to reach its pure humanity, without date and name (outside of individualism), becomes shy due to the same separation. Abstraction takes away depth; and the world also appears thinner, like a puddle of water, weakened by determinations[3]. However, as much as the result of such abstraction is the loss of humanity in man (or perhaps because of this), a certain metaphysical tremor passes through expressionism in general. That pathos has no place in the self-irony, sometimes leisurely, sometimes more vivacious, of the narrator of see ships — which, however, does not fail to note that reality, and the reality of a city like São Paulo, can deform human beings very easily and also transform them, like expressionism, into metonymies, or, more than that , in synecdoches: in strange parts that vibrate and scream, and barely resemble the human (like the woman in “The Scream”). But whoever is caught by this stridency is also out of balance, and that is what makes him run to his nuclear shelter.

The subject here does not have a truly adult stature: he is either disappearing prematurely or has a fragile appearance in the world, like a baby, who is enveloped by the sheets like a dirty afterbirth. The narrator's self-image as a kind of beggar is also not unusual, as in the excellent passage:

[…] Difficult for them, who spy on me with pity. And for me too, a little. Not the hateful look that suddenly hits me from the couch. I jump, as if kicked by an idea, and bolt. I stay on the bench, falling asleep in the sunshine, and forget about counting ants. One after the other, funny, I don't know why, I cry, or I sleep, I don't remember. I only come back when the cold or hunger drive me back inside (“Self help").

House beggar, something makes him feel, as we read in the title of another part of the book, a little crippled, or somewhat soiled, or even half dead. Just wait for the lime shovel to finish it off:

I never remember how I fell asleep, whether on my back or on my stomach, whether I fell on myself on the floor or on the ceiling, arms crossed or open. The eye always burns, I remember, like this or like that. That's why I learned to open and close it from the inside. The eye of a dead fish makes it possible to monitor the banishment of nails, hair, beard, the vibration of organs, deaf, from the mute to the dirtiest [...]. You can, however, go up and down without peace of mind with a lime shovel that nobody cares about, they only know how to slide inside the slab… (“Crippled").

With the perception of someone mutilated, or depressed, or a little baby, or someone who is more out there than here, in fact, the clearest image of this world is not produced, as Rodrigo Naves already pointed out in the ear of the book, remembering, however, that this world is very difficult to represent, regardless of the narrator's ataraxia. As for the Outros, other than this self that powerfully warns us of its progressive immobilization, do not differ much (as in “Self-Help”) from the humans whose only leg we see in Tom and Jerry cartoons. And the public space, in turn, is something one seeks protection against: “It sickens the sea of ​​buildings, cars, faces. […] Somewhere you kill, you die, you try to live. Somewhere catches fire. But it's not here, let's rest ('Persiana')”.

This withdrawal from the world, favored by a “flexible” time, is linked to the lyrical tendency here. And, in fact, the greater the concentration on oneself, the more the person disinvests the external objects of his interest, the more language is thinned out of the rhetoric to which he becomes prey in many moments. The impulse out of self-encapsulation (“life is movement”, says in “Self-Help”), or the impulse towards some movement in general, even if it is for protest, criticism, expression of hate, sometimes does not have equal success. In this case, the fury of puns, rhymes, linked metaphors, paronomasies, alliterations, ingenuity, accompanied by a curious acceleration in the pace of the prose, as if it felt encouraged, enchanted by the possibilities of which it had become self-aware. I have the impression that, in such a context, the very lively of the tempo, which does not fail to manifest an impulse for life, well stylized in “Poema do Caso Perdido” (erotic love appears as one of the few perspectives of humanization[4]), sometimes indicates that the linguistic signifier has taken the cart before the horse and gets a little out of breath. In “Cotton candy”, “Birthday”, “Eldorado”, “Warmwear campaign”, “Sad Venise“, “Credibilidade”, “Bourgeois Elegy”, “Odyssey”, the phrase bounces happily over the rubble of the utterance. The problem is not the contrast itself (in art, the problem is not the medium itself), but the fact that this contrast does not collaborate here to give expression to the feeling one has about things. Even more homogeneously good texts, such as “Metereologia” (the spelling is the same), can sometimes be harmed by a pun (in this case, I atone / I spy, which depends more on the eye than on the ears), who is given the task, unnecessary in fact, of an anticlimactic finish, within which one encounters, nevertheless, a discreet, but not imperceptible, golden key . The pun's cunning comes to undo the lyrical circumspection, and it's not in exchange for something else. A somewhat inverse process occurs in “Ecce momo”, which is all organized by chained metaphors: in the confession addressed to God, which already pulls the style up (and the title, which is half Latin and a joke in itself) , he says that his promises went down the drain, but he didn't, because he started to turn white and unleavened (or discouraged) like a puffy wafer (fermented, since it's not unleavened) and this one doesn't go down the drain; the blood of that host, which is not quite the body of Christ, was taken from diabetes. Having no blood to moisten this flesh, it now crumbles, parched. But the last sentence, to the taste of marginal poetry or literature beat, surprisingly downgraded compared to the previous utterance, which was no longer absent, however, a mocking self-irony, although not destroying the solemnity, gives a cold water bath in the subtlety and art of ingenuity with which the narrator has been portraying himself: “and I don't know if You can face another passion”. The break in style is startling, the metaphors cease, but the effect is ultimately good. He makes everything sound like the versatile speech of a drunk in a bar, dexterous in passing through several linguistic forms and registers, a skill that receives a final lick of nightcap.

There are also cases where the literality of an idiomatic expression is taken advantage of, or a current fad in the jargon of politics or NGOs, such as “Digital inclusion”, which turns out to be a prostate exam. In a social situation, it would be funny, as it highlights the silliness of these grammatical fantasies - what is intended as digital inclusion it is not finger inclusion or inclusion to be done digitally, but the democratization of access to digital technology. However, such a construction would in fact be a little large, and a certain abbreviation of mediations, such as metonymy, is justified, it speeds up communication. The problem is that the very synthetic construction seems to be compatible with the fact that the designated action intends to assert itself as a panacea and leave its modest, albeit fair, range of action. The expression has to support an overly complex statement, which would require more prepositions and nouns than it has at its disposal. What was conventionally called a digital inclusion policy then became a substitute for social inclusion, despite the fact that it initially set out to take care of something very specific.

As much as it indicates all of this, this joke by Airton shows how ruthless written fixation is, as it gives us the mechanisms to go back, repeat, pause. Even in social life it is not common to have an ingenious saying preceded by the expression pardon the pun. It is because, although it may be far from the greater formality of the written text, the pun has a facilitating effect and, sometimes, little objective. It is a resource with which one can jump in time and space and disregard relationships, bringing distant things closer together, even in terms of category. Bringing together phonetically similar words in order to unravel the secret of what one of them indicates at a certain moment requires presence of mind and mastery of a wide lexicon. There is something of genius in this operation, but, like the danger that surrounds too quick perceptions, one can fall into conformism. Formal conformism even: if the text is born and lives at the expense of a correspondence, it can also die from it, without absorbing another sap.

There are times when the appropriation of a jargon to other domains of life is successful, as in “Flexibilização”. In this case, she is the demands of a middle-aged or older guy in relation to the girl he is looking for in an advertisement. But it is also (and here is the humour) the relaxation of more traditionally virile virtues, such as chivalry. So he doesn't care, somewhat cynically and like Bentinho in the penultimate chapter of Dom Casmurro, of the girl taking the bus, being hot shoe asks etc. Perhaps the best result obtained in this case is due to the way in which the pun fits like a glove, which is the ad. And, like this one, the texts of see ships are short-lived, different, for example, from crooked tales, the author's first book. The brevity of space is no obstacle to achieving this barter reasoning, which actually only asks for a little human warmth and poetry: in an era where almost everything is relaxes, including grammar, which is also not given the luxury of processing the new slowly until it can name it with more vernacular and less barbaric expedients, contracts and relationships that for a certain time enjoyed solidity become equally malleable. So does this advertiser: as he accepts everything (even meal tickets and transport vouchers, we might add), it is also licit for him to accept everything: you, who look for me, know that I will not necessarily be a gentleman, etc. I want a little coziness, wherever it comes from, although I'm not going to make my love preceded by the usual formalities, which are no longer the norm. I'm too tired (or broke, or messed up) for this.

If there's an elocution eager to get straight to the point, it's the publicist. Its capacity for synthesis, in which art in the XNUMXth century often sought to instruct itself in order to strip itself of rhetoric, is a pure and simple destitution of formality. Airton's irony is also here to the point and corrodes much more than it seems at first sight.

When it comes to analyzing social relations at the university, for example, the case becomes complicated again. The reason why “Literatura e Sociedade” (a text that is also problematic in a certain way) does better than “Butantã City” is probably due to its more subjective tendency, in the fact that, after all, the narrator does not cross the threshold between himself and the social group who observes and finally closes his difficulty in doing so. In the other text, more objectivity is sought — to describe a process, however, more difficult to show in its entirety in a flash literary. Certainly, the totality of a process can occur, in everyday life, in a quick glance, depending on the observer's imagination, memory and culture. And in this phenomenon resided, for Henry James, a strong argument to oppose the need for the extensive empirical research that Zola saw as indispensable for the artist to know, and then formalize, a certain social object with which he was unfamiliar. The problem that I observe here is not related to the form of perception, fragmentary or not, which gave rise to the literary process, but to the mode of representation according to the object. This is not about normative aesthetics — the point is to compare the text's research impetus with the effective enlightenment of the reader. And, in the case of “Butantã City”, this is very small. Unless you enter the allusive game that the text proposes. This is the only way here to establish connections, to see beyond economic brushstrokes. Resorting to allusion as the main means of capturing the whole of a structure yields little in this specific case because it reaches the subject in view like a camera that focuses less on the target and more on the person who hits it and runs away. It is the person running that we see here, it is the same narrator who has been occupying us, surprised, however, in the desire to leave the scene and leave it with the world (a small world that is) that afflicts him. Although he uses the imperfect tense and displays an objectifying gesture, he tells us as little about this world as someone who wants to reveal an evil that was done to him, but he does it generically, with abstractions — old-fashioned, because his imposing vibration is an energy that tends to end. soon if it is not stored in certain batteries - such as vanity, perfidy, envy. However, the dimension of how much the insufficiently said asks for passage and disturbs those who would spill the beans is suggested by the pauses, a possible slip, excessive gesticulation, nervous laughter, etc. Be that as it may, this was the kind of metabolism of what was choking that the observer or personally affected deemed it more appropriate, or more moral, to undertake. There are some residues here and there, the listener's curiosity was piqued, but perhaps it was better that way — to interdict. But this — in life. Nevertheless, there are qualitative differences between everyday life and art, or this art at least.

Similarly, they are something like those symptomatic traits that the allusion brings to light in the text in question, and not the secret itself. The focus, despite the narrator, is not on the university, but on him. And that's a shame for us now because the interest for her was already piqued. When one speaks of “vanity bonfires”, we know more or less what it is about. Those inside the university and specifically USP, called by name, add more concreteness to the cliché; but those outside have their ideas too. The result is that one remains as it already was, and the expression shoots itself in the foot, unintentionally placed in relief. In the end, we're a family — those who know exactly what they're talking about know a little more, and that's all. But university life, which is also social, deserves to be literarily researched like any other. Public conscience should so judge. As Qualquer another, this life can provide general laws and instruct us about ourselves, inside or outside the academy. So we ask: what exactly is meant by bonfire of vanities with wild? What fundamental concrete phenomena does this cliché end up dissolving? Because he dissolves them, but vibrates, a little too much for a cliché. It's just that a new spirit animates him, without finding expression.

*Priscila Figueiredo is a professor of Brazilian literature at USP. Author, among other books, of Matthew (poems) (well i saw you).

Originally published in the magazine New Cebrap Studies No. 82, Nov/2008.


Airton Paschoa. see ships. São Paulo, e-galaxia, 2021 (2nd edition, magazine)


[1] Of which, for example, archaic farming, by Raduan Nassar. The father's severe regime and his domestication of time is linked to a specific, endogamous, rural context of Lebanese immigrants.

[2] In Hannah Arendt's formulation: "Since our perception of reality depends entirely on appearance and therefore on the existence of a public sphere in which things can emerge from the darkness of sheltered existence, even the half-light that illuminates our lives private and intimate derives, ultimately, from the much more intense light of the public sphere” (the human condition. Trans. Roberto Raposo. Rio de Janeiro: Forense Universitária, 1997, p. 61).

[3] This dialectic of expressionism is exposed by Peter Szondi in Modern drama theory.

[4] It is sometimes borrowed, to give shape to a very contemporary impression, the stylization of the desire for dissolute rhythm, more present in Brazilian modernist poetry in the 1930s than in the 1920s, however much the latter boasted carnivalesque images. This desire could be to go on a mule, go to Pasárgada, give in to mad love, etc. With this observation, I have in mind, in part, the essay by Mário de Andrade, in Aspects of Brazilian Literature, on the poetry of the 1930s.

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