“We Must Push Back Against Authoritarian Legalism”: An Interview with Prof. William E. Scheuerman

“It’s not old-fashioned dictatorship; it’s somehow a new form of authoritarianism. And I think we have to worry about that.”

Global Convivial Forum 

Gabriel Brito (NDD-Cebrap), Marina Slhessarenko (NDD-Cebrap),
Bianca Tavolari
(Mecila/ Cebrap/ Insper), Joaquim Toledo Jr. (Mecila)

Gabriel Brito, Bianca Tavolari, William Scheuerman and Joaquim Toledo Jr.
Image: Marina Slhessarenko

From August 3-10, Mecila hosted Professor William E. Scheuerman (James H. Rudy Professor, Political Science, Indiana University) for a Short-Term Research Visit, a new academic exchange modality inaugurated in 2022 as part of the Centre’s academic exchange program.

During his stay in Mecila’s São Paulo offices, Prof. Scheuerman attended workshops and meetings with researchers from Mecila and Cebrap’s Law and Democracy Nucleus (NDD), and delivered a Distinguished Lecture on “Politically Motivated Property Damage”.

In this interview, Prof. Scheuerman discusses his experience at Mecila and topics that are currently occupying his research interests, including the connection between civil disobedience and politically motivated property damage, the global crisis of democracy, and the emergence in the United States of a right-wing legal and political thought influenced by interwar conservative German intellectuals.

Scheuerman Convivial Forum 1

Joaquim Toledo Jr.: Can you tell us about the academic activities you’ve been involved in so far in Mecila and how the short-term visit has helped your research?

William Scheuerman: I’ve already been to Cebrap before, which is a famous institution. I’m familiar with many of the people who work here, and I’ve always learned a great deal from them. I think the research here is really important. This was the first time I encountered people from Mecila, and I had a very similar impression. I thought the group of fellows and PhD students are all doing exciting projects. During the second session, I was humbled because I realized how little I know about all the things they’re working on. The projects seem politically timely as well as scholarly significant. I’ve just been very impressed with everything I’ve seen.

Bianca Tavolari: You mentioned you had been to Cebrap before and that it seemed to have been a lifetime ago. What’s the difference between then and now? I’d like you to comment on those two moments.

WS: I was here almost five years ago. Trump had just been elected in the United States. As you know, we no longer have a President Trump, although he’s still active. Bolsonaro had not yet been elected; COVID hadn’t taken place. So yes, it seems like a very different world in some ways. Of course, those things were probably all in the making. But I don’t think you here in Brazil expected Bolsonaro to get elected at that point. And nobody expected COVID.

I’m really enjoying not just the formal discussions, presentations, questions, and so on, but also the chance to catch up with people and hear about their work. That’s at least how it works for me. During a conversation, something might just get dropped, I think about it, and it becomes something. And I think that’s something we did lose during COVID, and it’s just wonderful to have it back.

Gabriel Brito: You now have very practical worries about current social struggles and the state of democracy, especially in the work you presented during your stay. Could you comment briefly on how your work relates to the contemporary political climate?

WS: I like being here so much because I feel very much at home. The people here are also committed to serious scholarship but think that scholarship should matter in the real world. And that’s always been my view. Unfortunately, I don’t think that’s the view of everyone in the academy. Not because they’re bad people, it’s how the academy is structured. I don’t think it always encourages us to address timely political questions in a serious scholarly way.

I stumbled into the issue of civil disobedience. A colleague asked me in 2014 to do a presentation on Edward Snowden in our law school. I initially got interested in these debates about whistleblowing, and that brought me into a broader discussion about civil disobedience. I don’t want to claim to be prescient, but you could certainly see much more attention getting paid to these new protest movements, to these new forms of disobedience in the US and elsewhere.

And then, of course, Trump was elected. That was crucial. I received money to do a project in Germany, but when I got there, I decided to do something very different. I was fortunate that I was allowed to do that. I decided that working on civil disobedience was potentially very important, even if just in terms of sorting out the debate. I saw a lot of confusion there, and I thought it could be at least somehow useful for people worried about these authoritarian trends. There is a direct political link in this project.

Marina Slhessarenko: How do the debates on the crisis of democracy relate to your work on civil disobedience?

WS: There is a danger in speaking about crisis in an overly inflated way. It can also become a dangerous self-fulfilling prophecy. Trump likes to talk about crisis, which is his way of justifying executive rule. That question requires some serious scholarship and discussion. We can argue about how best to define a democratic crisis, but the evidence, it seems, is there. We have authoritarian political leaders. Political parties that previously were not authoritarian have become authoritarian.

The Republican party was the party of Lincoln and abolitionism. Then it took a conservative, yet not authoritarian, turn. But now, it has become a kind of authoritarian cult in some ways. If that is not a crisis, I don’t know what is.

At the same time, history doesn’t repeat itself. I don’t think we’re going to see some dramatic democratic collapse. We don’t see as many coups as we used to, which is a good thing, but we are seeing this democratic erosion or backsliding process, and at some point, that becomes a crisis.

There are many examples of a step backwards in terms of some model of democracy you might have. Hungary, Poland and Turkey still have elections, but they’ve been hollowed out. The press is not free for all kinds of reasons. It’s not an old-fashioned dictatorship; it’s somehow a new form of authoritarianism. So yes, I do think it makes sense to talk about crises. And I think we have to worry about that.

JT: The idea of a crisis of democracy can be like a Rorschach test: how it is seen says a lot about who is looking. You are currently writing on how far-right US think tanks are appropriating conservative views from interwar Germany to denounce the decay of the US republic. What is their version of the crisis of democracy?

WS: The hard right describes the United States as being in a specific kind of crisis. I was looking for academic literature on states of emergency, and the first thing that came up was State of Emergency (2006) by Patrick Buchanan. He is this extremely right-wing, xenophobic politician. It’s about how the United States faces an emergency and how immigration has destroyed the American identity.

You can see different versions of a manipulated type of crisis thinking. Trump talked about crises from his political perspective. The phenomena you’re referring to is very specific, and I was also surprised by it. I’m happy that few American academics and intellectuals were enthusiastic about Trump. That’s partly because the right-wing in the US has been bashing universities. That’s also become part of the political program, which is disturbing.

When I started teaching in the early 1990s, I had many conservative colleagues, often in the “hard sciences”. But that is decreasingly the case because Republicans have committed themselves to climate denialism, among other things. They’re beating up on science. Many of these people would not vote for a conservative today.

Not many people in Academia got on board with Trump, but there was a group of enthusiasts based at the Claremont Institute. It’s a long and complicated story, but in the United States, many people, particularly in political theory, were influenced by Leo Strauss, a pretty complicated thinker. Very conservative, but in an unusual way. His heroes were Plato and Aristotle. He’s not a free market conservative by any means. Maybe a cultural conservative in some sense of the term.

The Claremont Institute is a group of hard-right Straussians on the West Coast. They have been coming up with a romanticized defense of the American founding as having certain moments that connect the US republic to what they call classical natural law. They’ve decided that Trump can be the vehicle for the resurrection of that lost moment which has been under attack. Some of the documents you’ll find on official websites are taken directly from this institute.

They tell this story of the United States, where it has declined since the modern government was formed. They don’t want to roll back the last twenty or thirty years of reform; they want to roll back much more. That’s the group that gravitated towards Trump. Not surprisingly, since there weren’t too many academics he could call on, they ended up being very influential in his government and having a quite important role. The most infamous of all these figures is John Eastman. He was a lawyer who recommended to Trump that he overturn the 2020 election results.

What drove this is the idea that Trump could be the strongman who could save the virtuous core of the republic, and there are echoes of the Weimar Republic here. Conservative reactions to Weimar were about alleged moral degradation. And this is the American right’s story about the American Republic, and they’re looking for a savior. The good news is that there are also followers of Leo Strauss who push back against this.

BT: This interview takes place during an important week for Brazil’s presidential elections. Tomorrow, August 11, there will be a manifesto for democracy in front of the University of São Paulo law school. Meanwhile, some threats from the right here in Brazil have been influenced by the attack on the Capitol on January 6, 2021. How do you see the relationship between these threats to democracy, the rule of law, and renewed interest in the Weimar Republic?

WS: That’s a great question. I don’t have a good answer. I think the reason for the preoccupation with Weimar is because it culminates in National Socialism, which we universally believe was a total disaster. It was such a cataclysm that people had to come back to it.

There is a reason why in the US, and to the extent that American political science has been influential elsewhere, why Weimar is such a preoccupation for better and worse. I think there are some problems with that, which we’ll talk about later. We had so many refugees, and people also had lived through this traumatic experience, were involved in World War II, and were trying to make sense of what happened.

Regarding January 6, I find that interesting. Let’s hope anyone imitating it is as inept as Trump. He thought the Executive was his property, and the United States Attorney General was his personal lawyer. Trump didn’t get the distinction between office and person. This is another way in which he’s authoritarian. It’s almost pre-modern, before you have the modern state and we started distinguishing office from the person. Trump didn’t get the Constitution as a restraint on him.

The good news in the US was that these crucial elites in the military, in the Department of Justice, in the State Department and so on did not go along with this craziness. He had to rely on the kind of people I was talking about, who I hope will be viewed as ridiculous historical figures.

I’m hoping things look similar in Brazil and you have enough people in the military who recognize that a military dictatorship is not even a great thing for the military. They’re the ones who have to take responsibility. You may commit horrible crimes and, at some point, pay for them. I’m also hoping that the US government under President Biden plays a much more positive role than the US government in 1964 when it played a disastrous role, based on my understanding of what happened in this country.

Nobody should try to imitate it, but it could be an inspiration for people sitting in the Brazilian state to resist a president trying to overturn elections. If that’s an inspiration in some way, maybe something positive came out of that terrible day. I’m hoping something positive comes out of it.

MS: The judicial system has played a key role in the crises of democracies. It is expected to contain authoritarian advances, but also co-opting and packing courts with loyalists are two of the main authoritarian strategies. What role does the rule of law play in this crisis?

WS: I have an easy answer and then a hard answer. The easy answer is if anyone thought that the rule of law or constitutional government doesn’t matter, I don’t know where they’ve been the last couple of years. What we’ve been seeing is a frontal assault on the rule of law. Legal institutions and constitutional mechanisms are crudely instrumentalized to undermine the core of what they’re supposed to be about. That’s the ABC of the rule of law: nobody should be above the law. Trump and his followers still don’t understand that, which is terrifying.

Now the more complicated answer, and this speaks to this issue of these people who are advising Trump. One of the things I found fascinating in a kind of perverse way is that they rely on a reified notion of the US Constitution as a pristine document from the past that we shouldn’t touch. We call them originalists. They believe in an original meaning, which they somehow have access to. Constitutional originalism means there were these heroic semi-divine founders who read the classics, and God forbid we touch their masterpiece.

We must push back against these views of the rule of law and constitutional government. I would say that for Trump, the rule of law is what we would call authoritarian legalism, to the extent that you can use the law as an authoritarian mechanism to go after enemies. People in the United States think the rule of law is law and order, more police. One has to have a political battle about that and say, no, that’s not what it is.

We’re in trouble. That is just a reactionary agenda in the deepest sense of the term. We have a tradition of constitutional worship which is very problematic. On the one hand, it does lead people to respect the constitutional government. That’s a good thing, but it does lead or invite this reified understanding of the founders as these great men. That’s a profoundly anti-democratic notion of constitutional government.

Image: Crowd of Trump supporters marching on the US Capitol on 6 January 2021, ultimately leading the building being breached and several deaths by TapTheForwardAssist CC4.0


Recent works by Prof. William E. Scheuerman:

Good-Bye to Non-Violence?” (2022), Political Research Quarterly (online first), 1-13.

Politically Motivated Property Damage” (2021), The Harvard Review of Philosophy, 28, 89-106.

Civil Disobedience (2018), Polity Press.


Biblioteca Mecila-CLACSO: Explorando los nexos entre lo que nos une y lo que nos separa

Global Convivial Forum 

Antología inaugura la serie de publicaciones que consolida la cooperación entre Mecila y CLACSO y busca ofrecer al público hispanohablante una introducción cualificada a los estudios sobre convivialidad-desigualdad.

La vida en sociedad se basa, al menos aparentemente, sobre una contradicción. Nuestra supervivencia como sociedad y también como especie está estrechamente vinculada a la interdependencia tanto entre los seres humanos entre sí, como entre éstos y otros seres vivos como las plantas y los animales. Esta interdependencia, sin embargo, es negada por las formas de vida concretas de las sociedades contemporáneas, casi todas ellas estructuradas sobre profundas desigualdades sociales y en la ideología del excepcionalismo humano, es decir, la creencia de que el futuro de la humanidad independe de la supervivencia de los demás seres vivos.

Al dividir las distintas dimensiones de estas interdependencias en varios campos de debate, la literatura disponible sigue siendo insuficiente para estudiar en profundidad la aparente paradoja entre convivencia y desigualdad. Es decir, normalmente la bibliografía relevante está divida en campos que no se comunican de suerte que, por ejemplo, estudios culturales y teorías del reconocimiento investigan las diferencias humanas y sub-áreas de la sociología y de economía estudian las desigualdades sociales. La convivencia de humanos entre sí es más bien investigada en la antropología y los estudios sobre diversidad y interculturalidad, mientras las interacciones entre humanos y no humanos son objeto de los llamados estudios post-humanos o de áreas específicas como la ecología o sub-áreas de la geografía. Al fin, esta segmentación del conocimiento, en lugar de facilitar, impide investigar y aprender cómo se articulan las diferentes dimensiones de la vida social en sus entrelazamientos entre si y con las otras formas de vida sobre el planeta.

En vista a ello, el nuevo campo de estudios que definimos como convivialidad-desigualdad pretende llenar este vacío mediante la construcción de un marco teórico-analítico y del desarrollo de estudios empíricos correspondientes, en el que se puedan investigar en toda su extensión los nexos inseparables entre la diferencia, la desigualdad y la coexistencia entre los seres humanos entre sí, así como entre éstos y otros seres vivos.

El término convivialidad fue introducido en las ciencias humanas por el filósofo vienés Ivan Illich en su libro de 1973 Tools for Conviviality, publicado en español bajo el título La Convivencialidad, en 1978. En esa época, Illich dirigia el Centro Intercultural de Documentación (CIDOC) de Cuernavaca (México), un espacio ecuménico y plural en el que confluían los ideales de solidaridad global de la izquierda latinoamericana y los valores libertarios del pensamiento crítico europeo. El libro de Illich combina estas influencias transformando la convivialidad en un programa de investigación y acción para la construcción de sociedades más democráticas, igualitarias y habitables.

Desde entonces, y más claramente desde la década de 2000, los estudios sobre la convivialidad se han extendido a diversas disciplinas y campos temáticos, desde la antropología y la sociología hasta la geología y la informática, convirtiendo la convivialidad en un término polisémico y catalizador de reflexiones y estudios innovadores.

La desigualdad es también una noción relacional y multidimensional. Las desigualdades pueden ser materiales, pero también de poder, de acceso a los recursos naturales y la protección contra los riesgos derivados de la acción humana, de derechos, de posibilidades epistémicas y de posiciones y condiciones sociales. La desigualdad, como una marca omnipresente de la vida social, es un punto inevitable de partida para entender cualquier contexto social y las interacciones que ahí tienen lugar. Así pues las desigualdades son tanto estructurales como (re)producidas en las interacciones cotidianas. Entender la vida social en sus múltiples aspectos y formas requiere, por lo tanto, comprender cómo esta está constituida por la desigualdad. Entender las desigualdades, a su vez, es comprender como esas se constituen y adquieren significado en las relaciones sociales.

En el programa de investigación de Mecila, el rasgo polisémico del término convivialidad se entiende siempre en asociación con los elementos multidimensionales de la desigualdad, potenciando sus posibilidades analíticas y su fuerza explicativa. El guion en el nombre del Centro (“Convivialidad-desigualdad”) subraya el íntimo nexo entre desigualdad y convivialidad y el hecho de que se constituyen recíprocamente. Investigar la desigualdad es investigar la convivialidad, y viceversa. En español, para no complicar desnecesariamente el uso del término, optamos por traducir la palabra conviviality por convivialidad y no convivencialidad como hizo originalmente Ivan Illich.  


La articulación de estas dos nociones, desigualdad y convivialidad, constituye la base de la colaboración interdisciplinaria que se lleva a cabo en Mecila. Desarrollados en varios campos temáticos, los estudios sobre convivialidad-desigualdad en el Centro ofrecen una plataforma abierta para la innovación en la cooperación interdisciplinar en el amplio campo de las humanidades, las ciencias sociales y en diálogo con las ciencias naturales. Buscamos proporcionar un entorno intelectual y académico en el que las diferentes disciplinas puedan desarrollar sus investigaciones en colaboración con el trabajo empírico, la síntesis teórica y métodos que van más allá de los límites disciplinarios habituales. En consecuencia, Mecila es un espacio abierto a la experimentación académica que desafía el nacionalismo metodológico, el antropocentrismo y el eurocentrismo que están profundamente arraigados en nuestras disciplinas.

Para los propósitos institucionales muy abiertos de Mecila, convivialidad-desigualdad se refiere a las constelaciones constituidas por lazos de solidaridad y cooperación, pero también por las diferencias, el conflicto, la violencia y la dominación. En este sentido, el compuesto convivencia-desigualdad nombra menos el punto de partida que los hallazgos (posibles, esperados, potenciales) de la investigación que pueden surgir al mirar la realidad desde las perspectivas desarrolladas en nuestro Centro. Así, convivialidad-desigualdad corresponde a una perspectiva, una mirada dirigida tanto a las interacciones cuanto a los elementos estructurales de los patrones de convivencia existentes.

Hoy en día, dado el actual contexto de vigencia del pluralismo teórico e institucional, es más probable que esfuerzos similares solo logren éxito cuando se emprendan no por una sola institución sino dentro de una red internacional de investigadores e institutos, de la cual CLACSO es un ejemplo muy exitoso. Asimismo, es relevante contemplar nuevas formas de cooperación capaces de superar o al menos mitigar las jerarquías regionales, generacionales, étnicas, de clase y de género que marcan tan profundamente los circuitos convencionales de producción y circulación del conocimiento. El desarrollo de nuevos formatos de colaboración no solo interdisciplinar, pero también transdisciplinar, incluyendo por lo tanto la cooperación entre expertas y expertos académicos y no académicos (chamanes, activistas, artistas, líderes de comunidades, etc.), es también crucial cuando se trata de producir conocimientos sofisticados y socialmente relevantes.

En Mecila creemos que podemos ofrecer una contribución única, aunque sea modesta, al tan necesario proceso de construcción institucional de una amplia reflexión sobre América Latina desde una perspectiva transdisciplinar y transregional. Para lograr nuestros objetivos académicos e institucionales, es esencial la estrecha cooperación con instituciones internacionales con sede en América Latina, como el Consejo Latinoamericano de Ciencias Sociales (CLACSO) y la Facultad Latinoamericana de Ciencias Sociales (FLACSO), entre otras. También la cooperación con los otros cuatro Centros Merian (en Nueva Delhi, Guadalajara, Accra y Túnez) es indispensable para dar forma a nuestra perspectiva transregional.

El libro está estructurado en cuatro secciones para que las lectoras y los lectores con diferentes formaciones y distintos intereses por el tema puedan profundizar su reflexión en las diversas dimensiones abarcadas por el tema general convivialidad-desigualdad. La primera sección está dedicada a las definiciones conceptuales: ¿Qué es la convivialidad y cómo ella se articula con los debates sobre la desigualdad y la diferencia? ¿Cómo se incluyen los debates en campos afines, como la interculturalidad, la decolonialidad, el cosmopolitismo, en las discusiones sobre convivialidad y desigualdad? La segunda parte está dedicada a los debates epistemológicos, es decir, a las discusiones sobre las diferentes políticas del conocimiento y sus relaciones con la díada convivialidad-desigualdad, pensada no solamente a partir de las relaciones humanas sino también a través de las relaciones entre humanos y no humanos. La tercera parte estudia itinerarios de la convivialidad-desigualdad en América Latina, es decir, como se estructuran, en distintos niveles (de la nación hasta las ciudades), el lidiar con diferencias y desigualdades en la región. Por fin, la cuarta y ultima parte del libro busca aplicar el marco analítico convivialidad-desigualdad a casos limítrofes de coexistencia, como espacios de trabajo profundamente asimétricos y organizaciones criminales.

La expectativa del consejo directivo de Mecila es que este libro tenga una amplia difusión y discusión de suerte a promover un diálogo rico y fructífero entre investigaciones de punta en el plan internacional y las recientes investigaciones de excelente calidad desarrolladas en América Latina y aún poco conocidas y reconocidas internacionalmente.

Feria del Libro de Ciencias Sociales Latinoamericana y Caribeña, de la 9ª Conferencia Latinoamericana y Caribeña de Ciencias Sociales.

Image Credit: Joaquim Toledo


Mecila estuvo presente en la feria con su primer publicación de la serie de libros Mecila-CLACSO: “Convivivialidad y desigualdad explorando los nexos entre lo que nos une y lo que nos separa”.
Image Credit: Joaquim Toledo

Mecila (ed.) (2022): Convivialidad-Desigualdad. Explorando los nexos entre lo que nos une y lo que nos separa, Biblioteca Mecila-CLACSO, vol. 1, Buenos Aires; São Paulo: CLACSO; Mecila.

Autores: Arjun Appadurai (New York University), Sérgio Costa (FU-Berlin / Mecila), Tilmann Heil (UzK / Mecila), Fernando Baldraia (Mecila), Nilma L. Gomes (Universidade Federal de Minas Gerais), Encarnación Gutiérrez Rodríguez (Goethe-Universität Frankfurt / Mecila), Maya Manzi (Universidade Católica de Salvador / Mecila), Peter Wade (Manchester University / Mecila), Claudia Briones Universidad nacional de Ró Negro), Ramiro Segura (UNLP / Mecila), João José Reis (Universidade Federal da Bahia / Mecila), Raquel Rojas Scheffer (FU Berlin / Mecila), Gabriel Feltran (Universidade Federal de São Carlos).

Acesso abierto.



"Cachorros mortos": Biopolitics of Human-Animal Conviviality

Global Convivial Forum 

Jörg Dünne (Humboldt Universität zu Berlin / Mecila Senior Fellow 2022)      

Brazilian artist Nuno Ramos’ work exemplifies how biopolitical exclusion enables interspecific conviviality and makes unseen aspects of urban life visible.

Both Eduardo Viveiros de Castro’s anthropological studies on Amerindian perspectivism and Philippe Descola’s Non-Western ontologies claim that the ways of associating human and non-human forms of existence in “animistic” collectives differ fundamentally from those in Western “naturalism”. But are such alternative forms of collectives equally relevant for contemporary urban (and rural) forms of interspecific coexistence? And how can different possibilities of constituting collectives between humans and animals be described, even under the conditions of naturalism and its consequences?

In contrast to animism, where the association of the human and the non-human takes place on the level of interiority, naturalism according to Philippe Descola attributes to humans and animals a common bodily substrate. This can also be described as zoé, in Giorgio Agamben’s terms. “Naked” biological life, according to Agamben, is split off from social life (bios) in the modern Western model of thinking human-animal relations. Around 1800 at the latest, but perhaps earlier, biological life becomes an object of political action. This is the beginning of what Michel Foucault calls “biopolitics”.

Biopolitics is also the starting point of Gabriel Giorgi’s reflections on alternative interspecific forms of coexistence under the conditions of biopolitical regimes. In Formas comunes: animalidad, cultura, biopolítica (2014), Giorgi assumes that such alternative forms of proximity between animals and humans, which are not limited to metaphorical relations of resemblance, are present to a great extent in contemporary art and literature in Latin America. According to Giorgi, however, biopolitical regimes, contrary to what one might expect, do not necessarily contribute to reinforcing the “naturalistic” animal/human distinction but rather draw boundaries that deconstruct the nature/culture distinction from within. Thus, even within the framework of what anthropologists like Descola would call the ontology of naturalism, new alliances of humans and animals can be conceived, which, with regard to the classification of animals, lie beyond the opposition of cultural “domestication” on the one hand and supposedly natural “wildness” on the other:

[L]a oposición ontológica entre humano y animal, que fue una matriz de muchos sueños civilizatorios del humanismo, es reemplazada por la distribución y el juego biopolítico, es decir arbitrario e inestable, entre persona y no-persona, entre vidas reconocibles y legibles socialmente, y vidas opacas al orden jurídico de la comunidad (p. 30).

With Roberto Esposito, Giorgi argues in this context for an “affirmative” understanding of biopolitics, “donde se imaginan y se piensan formas de vida que eludan la complicidad o la colaboración con los regímenes de violencia que dictan esas jerarquías al interior de lo viviente” (p. 27). The question is how such spaces for alternative forms of life can be described and what function art and literature have in this context.

A possible answer to this comes from Jens Andermann in his reflections on contemporary “bio-art” in Latin America. In order to take into account the permeability of the human/animal opposition and, at the same time, the nature/culture distinction, Andermann proposes the notion of the “unspecific” (lo inespecífico), which he understands in a double sense. Just as it makes no sense in the face of modern biopolitical regimes of the living to maintain fixed boundaries between different species and to insist on the demarcation of human life from other forms of the living, so too art must renounce its autonomous differentiation of specific genres or formats, and itself become “unspecific” in a way that combines, for example, bioscientific experimentation and artistic installation. Andermann gives an example of what such a conception of art can look like in the animal labyrinths of the Argentine artist Luis Fernando Benedit, who designed exhibitions in the late 1960s and early 1970s that resembled scientific experimental arrangements with living animals.

Following Andermann, one can describe a “vector de inespecificación” that serves to question existing collectives between human and non-human life forms. However, such an aesthetics of the “unspecific”, which is closely connected to basic ideas of New Materialism regarding the “activity” of matter, possibly gives away the chance to describe historically shaped constellations of certain interspecific relations, e.g. between dogs and humans, on the one hand, and on the other hand certain literary or artistic formats and genre traditions (such as the picaresque), in which this constellation is shaped into scenes of particular conciseness. Therefore, as an alternative to following Andermann into the aesthetics of the “unspecific”, it could be equally promising to deal with the interspecific aspect of human-animal relations and with some quite specific aesthetic and especially literary forms and formats that such relations can assume.

To remain for a moment with artistic explorations of the interspecific relations, I would like to return to a scene of the relationship between people and dogs, as examined in Gabriel Giorgi’s commentary on the work of a Brazilian contemporary artist, namely, Nuno Ramos’ Monólogo para um cachorro morto. This is a performance (and later also an installation artwork in the museum) in which the artist delivers a kind of funeral speech recorded on a tape for a dog that has been run over on a busy street in São Paulo. To play the recording, he goes (not without taking the risk of being run over himself) in situ, i.e. to the street itself, where the dog’s dead body is lying.

By not speaking directly to the dog, however, and instead letting a recorded voice speak to it, Ramos introduces an interruption of the “proximity communication” between two living beings communicating with each other. At the same time, this shift of communication to a repeatable form that can be shared with others (as seen in the exhibition of this performance in the museum installation) may also present animistic features through the invention of a ritual of mourning for a non-human companion.

According to Giorgi, this unusual way of mourning for a dog in Nuno Ramos’ Monólogo mostly makes the common biopolitical treatment of the relationship between life and death visible. Here, a corpse is mourned whose life is not usually deemed worthy of grief under the prevailing biopolitical regime because it is not considered part of a social bios. Another expression of the ungrievability of naked life, where the corpse of the street dog is paradigmatic, is that it is an animal without a name or other individualising features. Usually, such living beings do not leave the sphere of gender-neutrality designed in the English language by the pronoun “it” (instead of “he”/”she” for pet dogs or other domestic animals who have a name, an individual biography, and whose sex is known); neither do they usually have the right to a funeral which also presupposes a name that can be attached to a process of memory. Thus, Ramos’ mourning for a nameless street dog renders this cachorro not only a specified but a specific living being. Therefore, these are primal scenes of interspecific conviviality that, together with other scenes like sharing food, playing together, but also guarding etc., could be considered constitutive of a common history of humans and dogs as “companion species”, in Donna Haraway’s terminology.

As Giorgi’s analysis also points out, not only after its death, but already during its lifetime, the cachorro morto in Ramos’ performance/installation quite obviously lacks a place of its own in the city: “Desde el límite del animal, su presencia espectral y fuera de lugar, sin espacio propio, se ilumina la ciudad como dispositivo de gestión de movimientos, y por lo tanto de relaciones entre cuerpos y entre modos de relación” (p. 236).

Ramos’ Cachorro morto thus encourages us to perceive the ephemeral presence of a huge number of street dogs that inhabit urban space. From the perspective of an observer who has their own more or less fixed place in the city, such an ephemeral presence is expressed, for example, in the choice of a certain designation attributed to these dogs, namely the qualification as cão vadio (Portuguese) or perro vago (Spanish), i.e. as roaming dogs without a fixed place – or, alternatively, in such places for which the French language reserves the term terrain vague, that is, a terrain without a clear shape (from the Latin vagus) or that is empty, unoccupied (vacuus). The indeterminacy of such urban non-places where the cães vadios or perros vagos stay is constituted, as with humans, by the normative expectation of a fixed residence and an accompanying registration at a particular address or with a certain owner. Those who do not meet this expectation become, again, according to Giorgi, an opaque, indeterminate form of life in the biopolitically organised urban spaces – this is also a possible meaning of vagus.

Yet, in line with Giorgi’s thesis, it is precisely these urbanist-biopolitical processes of exclusion that can also potentially lead to new interspecific processes of association; and to the constitution of collectives that affect not only dogs but also people living on the “opaque” side of urban spatial orders. Thus, there seems to be a solidarity of the “placeless”, i.e., unhoused people who live with dogs on the street, sometimes developing such fixed forms of conviviality that often seem more important than being admitted to a homeless shelter, where dogs are not allowed.

Without describing this as a positive model for conviviality in a normative sense, this example shows how de facto biopolitical exclusion processes make interspecific practices of conviviality possible. They thus produce alternative – and quite specific – collectives between humans and dogs in contemporary biopolitical regimes, which create visibility for the forms of urban life that otherwise often remain opaque.

Cover image: Nuno Ramos, Monólogo para um cachorro morto, 2008, 2010.

Note: The following reflections are the slightly revised version of an entry in my research blog Quiltro Chronicles during my fellowship at Mecila in 2022 where I am working on a project on “Street Dogs and Interspecific Convivialities in Latin America”. I would like to thank Joaquim Toledo Jr. for encouraging me to publish it in the Mecila weblog and Puo-An Wu Fu for correcting the text.


Giorgio Agamben (2003): The Open: Man and Animal, trans. Kevin Attell, Stanford: Stanford University Press.

Jens Andermann (2018): Tierras en trance: Arte y naturaleza después del paisaje, Santiago de Chile: Metales pesados.

Philippe Descola (2005): Par-delà nature et culture, Paris: Gallimard.

Gabriel Giorgi (2014): Formas comunes: animalidad, cultura, biopolítica, Buenos Aires: Eterna Cadencia.

Donna Haraway (2003): The Companion Species Manifesto: Dogs, People, and Significant Otherness, Chicago: Prickly Paradigm Press.

Thiago Köche (2020): O afeto e a rua (documentary), Porto Alegre, 15’.

Nuno Ramos (2008/2010): Monologo para um cachorro morto


Postmemory: The Holocaust and its Effects on the Lives of Brazilian Jewry

Global Convivial Forum 

Joanna M.  Moszczynska (University of Regensburg / Mecila Junior Fellow 2022)

Jewish-Brazilian post-Holocaust literature is a legitimate and integrated part of the global and transcultural efforts to work through the Holocaust.

Following the end of twenty years of military dictatorship in Brazil in 1985, a new literary phenomenon emerged, one that can be termed post-Holocaust literature. This literature consists mainly of short stories and novels by Jewish-Brazilian authors who, using a particular aesthetic involving so-called postmemory, traumatic realism, and blurred genres, work through Holocaust memory and its effects on the lives of Brazilian Jews.

My book A memória da Destruição na escrita judaico-brasileira depois de 1985: Por uma literatura pós-Holocausto emergente no Brasil (Peter Lang, 2022) provides a re-reading of texts published between 1986 and 2016, which have so far been discussed primarily as marginal and dispersed expressions of local Jewish ethnic literature. Instead, what I propose in my study can be understood as an act of theoretical-interpretive revival, reinterpreting the results of previous studies while aiming at a new systematic critical conceptualization that enables the identification of a literary corpus with common and distinguishable characteristics.

This aim is rooted in the perception of Jewish-Brazilian post-Holocaust literature as a legitimate and integrated part of the global and transcultural efforts to work through the Holocaust. Based on this, three hypotheses guide the definition, description, location, and contextualization of the subject of this study, which, after all, did not emerge in a vacuum but has a traceable historical genesis.

Based on this, I propose a second hypothesis concerning the emergent dimension of this literature. Emergence within a literary field, analogous to the cultural emergence defined by Raymond Williams refers to “new” meanings, values, practices, and relationships continuously created and received about what is dominant and generally established. Apart from being subject to the objective power relations within the literary field, emergence is viewed here as a characterization of a literary ensemble of particular substance and recognizable features.

Such a literary ensemble is defined as emergent when it irrevocably shares the conditions of the other ensembles that had emerged previously, even if it approaches them in a different way or, rather, approaches them through processes of selection and reorganization that favour change or rupture. In my book, I argue that emergent literature cannot be readily comprehended within the hegemonic view of literature or within the methodological and theoretical guidelines by which canons and national literatures are established. Finally, then, this literature has the potential to determine itself in relation to the cultural memory and historiography of the national, ethnic, regional, and global frameworks of the subject matter while forming its own cultural memory in Brazil.

While the subject of the Holocaust can be found in Brazilian literature as early as 1946, the year 1986 marks a turning point and the beginning of a new chapter of its existence. It is evident that an authorized post-Holocaust literature started to emerge at this point in Brazil, and it now extends beyond the boundaries of Jewish communal memory as it strives to participate in the transcultural and transnational memory of the Jewish extermination, the contemporary post-traumatic culture included. Authorization, or authorized memory practice, is understood here, following David Roskies and Noemi Diamant, in the context of the diversity of styles and genres, reception, as well as the degree of (un)reliability of narrative instances. It is further reflected in the shift from the languages in which the Holocaust was lived to those in which it can be relived and mourned, as well as have its discourses deconstructed and re-examined. Emergence further refers to the public memory in Brazil that both shapes and is shaped by this literature.

The third hypothesis arises in response to the primary importance of testimony in the first theories of Holocaust literature in Brazil. The term “witness through the imagination,” introduced by Norma Rosen in her 1974 essay “The Holocaust and the American Jewish Novelist”, through which the emphasis is placed on aspects of transmission and distance, has been well received by some scholars of Brazilian literature due to the reception of witness theory in Brazilian research. Witness theory has been advocated particularly by Márcio Seligmann-Silva, who applied it not only to the Holocaust but also to the experience of Latin American dictatorships.

Nevertheless, using this term could lead to the loss of the specificity of testimony and the witness figure and eventually drift into a metaphor for fictional writing. Moreover, it could suggest a tension or even mutual exclusion between witness memory and imagination, which ultimately creates analytical problems and is counterproductive in the context of the witness theory. Therefore, I propose using the term “postmemory”, which is already well-established in the study of trauma literature. The term refers here to the aesthetics and the socio-cultural context of the authors who can be said to constitute a Jewish-Brazilian generation of postmemory.

This last hypothesis further states that this literature offers a response to the demands of representation and a reading of the collectively traumatic past. Those responses are given through aesthetics that can be identified in post-Holocaust literature produced in the West, producing acts of individualized memory inscribed in cultural and transcultural Holocaust memory discourses, and reporting on contemporary post-traumatic culture. Postmodernism, Robert Eaglestone argues, should be understood as the time when people began to think about the Holocaust. Put another way, postmodern thought is the response given to the Holocaust using what Geoffrey Hartman has called the “instruments born of trauma”.

Given the evolution of the Brazilian literary field in the last thirty years, the urgency to update and advance the state of knowledge is recognized here. The cultural studies-based literary analysis is carried out within the frameworks of filiations and affiliations of texts. The reading method employed is close reading, including intertextual reading, which is maintained in contrast to the idea of the full autonomy of the text.

This approach favours tracing the text’s inscription in other discourses, resulting in a multiple cultural and sociohistorical contextualization on which the meaning of the text and its “worldliness”, to quote Edward Said, are built. Here, Michael Rothberg’s concept of multidirectional memory resonates and is applied in the analyses as a method to capture the processes of negotiation, borrowing and cross-referencing between different collective memories whose actors create a dialogue between the manifold traumatic past and the immanent aftermath of World War II. It should be emphasized that the emergence of Holocaust memory itself has been inflected by histories of slavery, colonialism, and decolonization and has even entered into a multilayered dialogue with military dictatorships, as exemplified by the case of Brazil, whose post-Holocaust literature provides a space for polymorphous working-through of the legacy of structural violence.

Jewish-Brazilian post-Holocaust literature is a literary ensemble that offers new insights into local memory practices as they are in the process of relating to its own cultural memory and creating the memory of the Holocaust in Brazil. Thus, the texts by authors: Cíntia Moscovich, Roney Cytrynowicz, Samuel Reibscheid, Giselda Leirner, Halina Grynberg, Luis S. Krausz, Michel Laub, Jacques Fux, Paulo Blank, and Rafael Cardoso, contribute to and are influenced by the development of a new public memory space in Brazil.

Cover image by brewbooks, CC licence.

A memória da Destruição na escrita judaico-brasileira depois de 1985: Por uma literatura pós-Holocausto emergente no Brasil (Peter Lang, 2022)


Moszczynska, Joanna  M.  (2022): A memória da Destruição na escrita judaico-brasileira depois de 1985. Por uma literatura pós-Holocausto emergente no Brasil (Luso-Brazilian Studies: Culture, Literature and Audiovisual Media), Berlin: Peter Lang Verlag.

David Roskies and Naomi Diamant (2012): Holocaust Literature: A History and Guide, Waltham: Brandeis University Press.

Michael Rothberg (2000): Traumatic Realism: The Demands of Holocaust Representation, Minneapolis, University of Minnesota Press.

Regina Igel (1997): Imigrantes judeus, escritores brasileiros: o componente judaico na literatura brasileira, São Paulo: Perspectiva.

Berta Waldman (2003): Entre passos e rastros: presença judaica na literatura brasileira contemporânea, São Paulo: Perspectiva.

Márcio Seligmann-Silva (2005): “Escrituras da Shoá no Brasil.” in: Noah/ Noaj, 16-17, 137- 156.


Postcolonial Resistance and Ecofeminism in the Latin American Jungle Novel

Madalina Stefan (Junior Fellow 2021-22)

Global Convivial Forum 

The narratives of the ‘novela de la selva deconstruct and subvert the colonial discourse by portraying nature as a moment of postcolonial resistance that opposes the white male master model

Colonial processes have usually been intrinsically linked to the exploitation of natural resources. and terms such as Decolonization and the Anthropocene have become keywords in the context of late postmodernity, foregrounding that ways of narrating nature are gaining increasing importance as nowadays threatening scenarios of natural disaster and social injustice overshadow our completely medialized realties.

Against this backdrop, it seems worthwhile  to reach out and see look at how nature narratives have been used in a productive manner, this is to say, as an empowering moment of postcolonial resistance that denounces the exploitation of nature and indigenous people.

In this sense the research project aims to focus on an particularly fit literary moment that is famous for its entanglement of postcoloniality and nature writing, namely the Spanish American jungle novel (novela de la selva), which turned to the rainforest and the indigenous communities and emerged between 1924 and 1953.

It is crucial to understand that since the discovery of America, the representation of the New World’s nature has played an important role in the process of colonization. and that nature discourses are at the heart of the debate on Latin American identity: from Colombus’ diaries to Humboldt’s romanticizing views, the European imaginaries of the New World were linked to nature and the exotic.

Nevertheless, with Latin American literary modernity, a change in the representation of American nature takes place. Characterized by the search for an American identity of its own, the Latin American literature of the first half of the 20th century marks a significant turning point, and, indeed, unlike colonial utopian narratives that mask the exploitation of nature and colonial violence by idealizing pristine landscapes of a lost terrestrial paradise that are in need of European male management, the narratives of the novela de la selva deconstruct and subvert the colonial discourse by portraying nature as a moment of postcolonial resistance that opposes the white male master model. Thus, these narratives present their own perspective, denounce the inequality of colonial conviviality and describe the jungle as a space of power struggle and exploitation of nature, indigenous peoples, and women.

In this sense, it has to be pointed out that besides focusing on human and non-human nature, the project aims to cover an often-overlooked perspective. Thus it is outstanding that the conviviality between colonizers, indigenous people, rubber workers, farmers, slaves, traders and explorers, on the one hand, side and flowers, trees, bushes, omnivorous ants, leeches, hippopotami etc., on the other, is not only depicted as marked by unequal power relations and colonial hierarchies but foremost as traversed by gender issues.

Given the striking female characters and the gendered representation of the rainforest, the research project proposes an ecofeminist reading that highlights how the hyper-separation between culture and nature is accompanied by the separation between male and female and how the exploitation and oppression of nature go hand in hand with the oppression of women. Since gender plays a crucial role in the novels but has not been studied in relation to colonial nature discourse so far, this approach promises new insights and perspectives in the context of Latin American Ecocriticism.



My Research Experience with Mecila

Global Convivial Forum 

Léa Tosold (SCRIPTS FU-Berlin / Former Mecila Junior Fellow, 2020-2021)

Mecila Annual Meeting (Cologne, November 2021).

The partnerships I have established at Mecila will certainly outlive the duration of the scholarship; some may even last forever. I have learned a lot both in terms of content and in terms of the practice of working collaboratively.

I am an interdisciplinary researcher and activist. My academic work is on feminist and anti-racist epistemologies, from which I aim at rethinking collective forms of existence as resistance in contexts where violence is naturalised and ongoing. In my Ph. D., I engaged in a theoretical-political discussion of the politics of difference based on the Munduruku people and the riverside populations struggle to defend their territories against the construction of mega dams in the Middle Tapajós river region in the Amazonian rainforest. As a Mecila Junior Fellow in 2020-2021, I had the opportunity to work on memory politics and its global-local connections relying on Beatriz Nascimento’s notion of quilombo.

I was part of the first cohort of fellows since the Covid-19 health crisis. Even though we had to work online and the scholarship was cut down to seven months, I found Mecila to be a vibrant, respectful, and very stimulating space for the flourishing of my research. In addition to the colloquia, I participated in the activities of the three Research Areas (RA). The meetings were enjoyable and soon became a highlight of the week, different from the usual constraints of online work we have faced throughout the pandemic.

It was the first time I had worked with a group of researchers who were at the same time genuinely interdisciplinary and highly qualified, all of whom were involved in topics related to conviviality-inequality. It provided valuable insights for my research and dealt with specific theoretical issues that are common to all of us, conferring clarity for the onto-epistemological challenges we collectively face in our academic work.

This applies not only to the general colloquia but also to the meetings and activities of the different RAs. For example, in the RA (Hi)Stories of Conviviality, we had the opportunity to discuss the underlying notions of temporality in our work and its broader theoretical implications. The RA Medialities of Conviviality, among other topics, provided the chance to discuss the relationship between form and content in academic work. We discussed in the RA Politics of Conviviality how to deal analytically with collective resistance processes while simultaneously considering the (re)production of violence and testing the application of our knowledge regarding current pressing issues such as the pandemics.

I also appreciated the collaborative process with Senior Fellow Encarnación Gutiérrez Rodríguez and Junior Fellow Juliana Streva to organise a podcast based on the common strands of our work — which is something I had only done before as an activist. Our podcast, inspired by the notion of quilombo by Beatriz Nascimento, dealt with different forms of producing knowledge. We had wonderful and inspiring support from the incredible Mecila team. I am sure we are all are very proud of the outcome!


It was the first time I worked with a group of scholars managing three languages simultaneously: English, Portuguese, and Spanish. The ability to switch and deal with different languages, in my opinion, also contributed to the creation of a welcoming atmosphere of working together that enabled us — including myself — to find other ways of mobilising and expressing in the group our best individual contributions.

The partnerships I have established during my time at Mecila will certainly outlive the duration of the scholarship; some may even last forever. I have learned a lot both in terms of content and in terms of the practice of working collaboratively.


Transformação urbana em disputa: o Plano Diretor Estratégico do Município de São Paulo

Global Convivial Forum 

Nesta conversa com a professora e pesquisadora Bianca Tavolari (Mecila/ Cebrap/ Insper) discutimos o que é o plano diretor, quais as disputas em torno de sua revisão e como o instrumento ajuda a desenhar os rumos da cidade.

Qual o papel do plano diretor?

O plano diretor é uma espécie de Constituição da cidade. Ele não só propõe como a cidade deve se organizar, mas também uma imagem de seu desenvolvimento futuro.

O plano define como a cidade vai crescer, o tamanho das edificações, como pensar os espaços públicos e seus usos, a rede de transporte público, onde estimular moradia.

Também regulamenta usos específicos. Onde teremos usos comerciais ou residenciais do espaço urbano; quais áreas específicas dentro da cidade merecem proteção ambiental e onde não é permitido construir, ou apenas construir pouco; como integrar a malha de transporte a oportunidades de emprego; onde estarão os equipamentos culturais.

plano diretor-post-BT

Como esse instrumento pode intervir nas desigualdades urbanas?

Um dos elementos do Plano Diretor Estratégico [PDE] de São Paulo de 2014 aborda justamente isso. Uma das propostas aprovadas é a ideia de eixos de estruturação urbana. Tomam-se todos os elementos consolidados e planejados de transporte público – as linhas de ônibus, de trem, de metrô, as estações – e desenham-se áreas em torno dessa estrutura.

O objetivo é adensar essas áreas, colocar o máximo possível de pessoas para morar perto dessa estrutura de transporte público. Assim aproximamos a moradia ao transporte, e consequentemente ao emprego. É uma maneira de enfrentar um dos principais problemas de cidades como São Paulo: o movimento pendular de pessoas que moram em bairros periféricos e vão trabalhar em zonas centrais, passando longo períodos no transporte público, perdendo momentos de vida. É uma forma de enfrentar uma desigualdade territorial que se expressa também em tempo de vida, na diferença entre ficar ou não três horas no trânsito para chegar ao trabalho.

Mas não é qualquer moradia que o plano prevê nessas áreas. Se construímos apartamentos de 120 metros quadrados com três vagas de garagem, não atraímos a pessoa que mora na periferia. Ela não vai poder comprar esse imóvel. Então o plano também propõe uma série de elementos construtivos para que se garanta uma mistura de unidades habitacionais nos eixos.

O contrário também é verdade, se pensarmos nos polos de criação de empregos nas periferias. Em vez de só trazer pessoas para perto do transporte público consolidado, é igualmente importante induzir, por meio de incentivos urbanísticos, a oferta de emprego em regiões residenciais já estabelecidas. Assim também evitamos deslocamentos longos e aproximamos as pessoas de oportunidades. Essa é uma ideia que também está no Plano Diretor de 2014.

A revisão do Plano Diretor envolve muitas disputas. Você pode contextualizá-las?

Costumo dizer que a política urbana é treta. É briga o tempo inteiro em torno do plano diretor e especialmente do zoneamento, que define os usos do espaço urbano em cada lugar. São instrumentos de disputa intensa que envolvem atores repetidos, pessoas que interagem também em outros contextos. São atores muito qualificados lutando por essas regras há tempos, e as disputas se expressam abertamente nesse campo de batalha.

Só em 2014 foram mais de cem audiências públicas temáticas regionais com devolutivas. O processo incluiu não apenas ouvir as pessoas, mas também contar o que foi incorporado ou não ao planejamento. E, mesmo assim, o plano daquele ano só foi aprovado depois que os movimentos de moradia organizados acamparam em frente à Câmara Municipal para garantir que ele fosse votado sem a inclusão de nenhum “submarino”, que são as emendas que emergem de última hora e mudam acordos já previstos no Plano.

Do ponto de vista da sociedade civil, tivemos no último Plano Diretor de São Paulo uma discussão muito intensa sobre mobilidade, com a participação de movimentos organizados de ciclistas, que reivindicavam a expansão das ciclofaixas. Há os movimentos de moradia, que são muito organizados e têm um conhecimento técnico preciso e rico sobre essas questões. Vários movimentos de cultura, pensando cinemas de rua, usos de espaços públicos. Há os movimentos e associações de bairro, como os que estão presentes em Zonas Exclusivamente Residenciais (ZER) e que não querem mudar as regras do entorno para incluir outros usos. Há o mercado imobiliário também, muito atuante. Mas muito depende de como é o desenho das audiências. É importante que todas as pessoas sejam ouvidas, inclusive aquelas não organizadas em movimentos.

Além disso, é difícil participar de um processo de revisão de plano diretor. É uma discussão muito técnica. Uma das propostas dos atores da sociedade civil é que a gestão democrática das cidades envolva não só o direito à participação e à palavra, mas também a tradução desses estudos técnicos, de responsabilidade do poder público. São decisões que impactam a vida de todo mundo e não podem ser blindadas por uma linguagem técnica excludente. Esta não é apenas uma demanda da sociedade civil, mas também dos órgãos do sistema de justiça, como o Ministério Público e a Defensoria Pública, que recomendam e exigem condições de participação com acesso pleno à informação.

A prefeitura de São Paulo propôs a prorrogação da revisão do Plano Diretor de São Paulo para 2022, após pressão de atores do sistema de justiça e da sociedade civil. Quais os principais conflitos à vista?

A revisão estava prevista. Isso é muito comum em planos diretores. Como é uma política que projeta para o futuro, ela tem que ser recalibrada em função de como a cidade se transformou no meio tempo. Mas agora tem o agravante de que é uma revisão proposta ainda em meio à pandemia. E a sociedade civil organizada tem trazido duas questões muito importantes.

A primeira questão é a impossibilidade de participação em uma política tão importante quanto essa se tudo ocorrer online. Há entraves à participação de pessoas menos organizadas, que não têm bom acesso à internet. Imagina uma audiência enorme com um monte de gente com as mais diferentes conexões, ou mesmo sem acesso à internet.

A segunda questão é que não é possível estimar com precisão alguns dos efeitos da pandemia na cidade. Vou dar um exemplo. A gente viu que parte dos serviços conseguiram funcionar em home-office, que foi adotado por boa parte das empresas que podem se valer do trabalho remoto. Isso impacta diretamente lugares com muitos prédios de escritório, como, por exemplo, as regiões das avenidas Faria Lima, Berrini e Paulista.

Será que essa tendência vai se confirmar, ainda que seja para uma camada muito privilegiada? Se as empresas decidem não mais ter escritórios grandes e optam por um regime híbrido de trabalho, porque entendem que funciona bem e custa menos, ficamos com um problema enorme de espaço construído. O que fazer com todo esse espaço? Precisamos pensar uma mudança de uso. Seria possível adequá-los para moradia? Isso envolve planejamento.

Ou seja, não faz sentido revisar um plano diretor pensando o futuro sem saber o impacto desse tipo de transformação. E não é por falta de dados ou habilidade, mas porque não temos como saber se essa tendência vai se confirmar ou não.

Eu escrevi um texto tratando de ilegalidades no processo de revisão do Plano Diretor, uma das quais está diretamente relacionada à sub-representação da sociedade civil no Conselho Municipal de Política Urbana (CMPU).

Então tem conflito em todos os lugares. Do ponto de vista do conselho que vai ser ouvido para falar de política urbana; do processo de aprovação; de incluir e ouvir mais pessoas; e do ponto de vista do conteúdo material dessa revisão.

Recentemente, a prefeitura propôs o adiamento após defender expressamente que o plano deveria ser revisto ainda este ano. Foi um recuo evidente. Ele pode ser explicado principalmente em razão de uma decisão judicial, em uma ação popular ajuizada por Guilherme Boulos, a Bancada Feminista do PSOL e os movimentos de moradia que questionou a contratação de uma fundação que faria estudos para a revisão, pelo valor de R$3,5 milhões, sem licitação. Este recuo gerou um xadrez importante entre sociedade civil, sistema de justiça, prefeitura e Câmara municipal. É neste impasse que estamos agora.

Além dos problemas novos trazidos pela pandemia, há também disputas antigas sobre a cidade que retornam à arena. Quais você destacaria?

Há uma disputa clássica que envolve setores empresariais, mercado imobiliário e suas associações em relação à chamada outorga onerosa do direito de construir. Parece complicado, mas a outorga é uma concessão, uma autorização. Onerosa porque ela não é gratuita, você paga.

O que isso quer dizer? Quando compramos um terreno, não podemos fazer com ele o que bem quisermos. É contraintuitivo, mas você não pode construir do jeito que quiser. Aqui em São Paulo foi estabelecido um coeficiente de aproveitamento, o chamado CA 1, segundo o qual você pode construir até uma vez o tamanho do terreno. Se o seu terreno é de mil metros quadrados, então você pode construir uma edificação de mil metros quadrados. Se você quer construir mais, você não está proibido, mas precisa pagar. Esse custo é a outorga onerosa do direito de construir.

Por que isso existe? Porque esse potencial construtivo é público, ele não vem com a sua propriedade. Imagina se todo mundo pudesse construir da maneira que quisesse, como planejaríamos a cidade? Além disso, esse espaço de construção, ainda que seja muito grande, é finito. Por isso faz sentido que o poder público precifique isso como um bem comum. E a um preço razoavelmente alto.

Esse dinheiro, que o construtor ou proprietário paga, vai para o Fundo de Desenvolvimento Urbano (FUNDURB), e com ele custeamos uma série de políticas específicas para mobilidade, habitação de interesse social etc. Ele está separado do caixa da prefeitura e tem algumas rubricas carimbadas. É um mecanismo de financiamento de políticas urbanas importantes para a cidade de São Paulo.

Uma das disputas antigas é sobre o preço da outorga. O mercado imobiliário vai dizer que tem que ser mais barato, porque o valor alto desestimula o adensamento. “Você quer que eu adense nos eixos? Eu quero construir, mas se você me cobra muito caro, eu não vou fazer”, raciocinam.

Outra coisa é como gastar os recursos que vêm do FUNDURB. O Plano Diretor de 2014 estabelecia uma cota de 30 porcento para transporte público e mobilidade ativa. Ciclovias, calçadas. Andar a pé, aliás, é o principal meio de locomoção de São Paulo. Mas uma lei em 2019 alterou esse critério, incluindo também obras de infraestrutura viária. Aí está a disputa: reforçar um modelo que sempre privilegiou os carros, ou colocar o transporte público no modelo e investir o recurso nisso?

Uma outra discussão é sobre miolos de bairro. Existe a ideia de que o adensamento e o crescimento são maiores quanto mais próximo das ruas, das grandes avenidas. Com isso, o miolo do bairro fica mais baixinho. Essa é outra demanda histórica do setor imobiliário, crescer em miolos de bairros.

Há ainda a discussão sobre as Zonas Especiais de Interesse Social (ZEIS), aquelas que devem ser destinadas para habitação de interesse social. Parte do mercado imobiliário quer tirar as ZEIS de onde elas estão, porque algumas são muito bem localizadas e impedem a expansão ou a construção de empreendimentos específicos.

O debate sobre o Plano Diretor parece uma oportunidade concreta de participação dos cidadãos no planejamento da cidade. Mas talvez muitas pessoas desconheçam o dispositivo.

A gente está muito capturado pela discussão federal. Com muitas boas razões, porque estamos diante de uma crise sem precedentes da nossa democracia, com um presidente que afronta a Constituição, todo dia um novo escândalo, um novo absurdo. Mas esquecemos a discussão municipal.

Vale a pena prestar atenção especialmente nas cidades que estão revisando os seus planos diretores, porque isso impacta concretamente o dia a dia.

As desigualdades territoriais passam pela formulação dessas legislações. Então, se queremos enfrentar essas questões e mudar a forma como as nossas cidades estão sendo pensadas, precisamos nos inteirar sobre esses processos.

Uma coisa que vemos nas audiências, seja do Plano Diretor ou de zoneamento, é que as pessoas querem falar sobre o seu bairro, a coleta do lixo, a iluminação. Às vezes essas demandas nem vão ser tratadas no plano diretor especificamente, mas você vê que é o lugar onde as pessoas vocalizam isso, pois não conseguem encontrar outros espaços. Então o plano diretor é também um espaço onde as pessoas podem ser ouvidas.

Fonte das imagens:

Leia e ouça mais sobre convivialidade e desigualdade em cidades latino-americanas:

Mecila Working Paper Series No. 11: Ramiro Segura, “Convivialidad en ciudades latinoamericanas”.

Diálogos Mecila, ep. 10: “Cidades desiguais: modos de ver”.


The Politics of Respiration: The Catholic Charismatic Movement in Brazil

Global Convivial Forum 

Ajay Gandhi in Conversation with Maria José de Abreu

Ajay Gandhi, a 2021-2022 Senior Fellow at Mecila and an anthropologist and faculty member at Leiden University, conducted this dialogue with Maria José de Abreu, assistant professor of anthropology at Columbia University. Building on her recent book, The Charismatic Gymnasium (Duke University Press, 2021), we discussed the crafting of bodies by religious actors and the politics of respiration in Brazil and elsewhere.













Maria José de Abreu: The ecumenical Charismatic movement – a new Pentecost – first appeared among university scholars in Arkansas and Pennsylvania in prayer groups. While it gained visibility and official recognition in the 1990s, it came to Brazil in 1969, brought by two American Jesuits, Father Eduardo Dougherty, and Father Haroldo Rahm.

The CCR evolves, like Liberation Theology, out of the Second Vatican Council, a reform within Catholicism. Liberation Theology will develop the tendencies of modern Catholicism toward rationalization introduced in Brazil in the late nineteenth century. Except that this modernized rational Catholicism also went for the vernacular, finding ways to articulate teachings and tendencies channelled through European thinkers’ influence and mediated via local realities and struggles. This tendency was exacerbated by the fact that around the same time as the second Vatican Council, Brazil and other places within Latin America were US-backed dictatorships. Thus, Liberation Theology’s fame as a left-wing Catholic movement emerges in this conjuncture of modern progressive Catholicism, grassroots movements, and political opposition.

At the same time, you have another group or clusters with ideological affinities who wonder, since when is religion “an option for the poor”? Since when is religion about politics? Clearly Charismatics –an economic and intellectual elite – resented the idea of a “theology for the poor”.

Charismatics in Brazil needed a theological principle that would allow them to accommodate a language of radical inclusion and that principle in the Greek pneuma: as the Greek term for breath, air, or Spirit, Charismatics claimed, is radically democratic. But here we come to the crucial point that I think is pertinent for what is happening today with the pandemic – namely, the capacity to hide the particular behind the universal. To co-opt and explore a vital structure that as substance seems to know no borders, but only to demarcate even more what separates them from others.

Thus, for example, in those early days when Charismatics came to Brazil, they did not go to a central metropolis, such as São Paulo, but to a peripheral, secondary city, Campinas. There, they disparaged Liberation Theology as exclusionary, temporal, political viz universalism. But what they were actually doing was to self-enhance the idea of marginality and the peripheral. This idea allowed them to authenticate that they were living an experience like the first Christians.

In the 1990s, this political geography changed. The dictatorship is over, and a Cold Holy War (guerra santa) between mainstream Catholics and Protestants is happening. What Charismatics do is jump into this rift and concoct a new religious-political agenda. This does not mean leaving the periphery behind, but rather taking the periphery to the centre. The periphery becomes even more important – they embrace corporate media. At the same time, the centre symbolized by the state and its “third-way” politics is hollowing out, becoming more like a donut, an infinite circle with a big hole in the middle. This is perfect for Catholic Charismatics.

Charismatics combine pneuma and mass media. They also employ a political model that goes back to an orthodoxy voiced by Carl Schmitt as the complexio oppositorum: the ability to speak to two opposite audiences at once. To the right as well as to the left, to neoliberalism and to neo-conservativism. But they also do something else: they recover an idea of charisma, which was very important to pre-modern audiences. This is anti-institutional, except that this time around neoliberalism is defined by the institution’s ability to be against itself.

AG: Your work is a diagnosis of power mechanics in contemporary Brazil. Pneuma becomes a way that conservative, reactionary forms use flexibility and freedom to co-opt the fundamental substrate of existence: breath. I wanted to ask if we might reflect on the wider politics of respiration. For example, Frantz Fanon, in A Dying Colonialism (1959), speaks of the conditions of colonial occupation in French Algeria in the 1950s. There, the “daily pulsation” of people is “disfigured”. Breath is not liberatory but “an observed, an occupied breathing. It is a combat breathing”. For Fanon, respiration, under such unjust conditions, is an artifice, a “clandestine form of existence” where natives, under the occupier’s gaze, learn to “dissemble, to resort to trickery”. Breath, Fanon suggests, is never self-evident or obvious when shaped by power. It is something constricted and contrived, the opposite of natural.

I am interested in that sense of laboured breathing, of unnatural respiration in current circumstances. Health care professionals, for example, know that socioeconomic deprivation catalyses physiological contraction. In our age of anxiety, where futures are abruptly terminated, many are short of breath, too worried, or physically exhausted to take in the full nourishment of oxygen. Yet our elites and politicians also practice what we could call “salvation as inhalation”.

For example, India experienced a catastrophic shortage of medical oxygen in early 2021, leading to thousands of deaths. As people gasped for air, Prime Minister Narendra Modi sent a tweet, instructing people to “Sit in a comfortable meditative posture… Gently close the eyes and raise the face slightly. Breathe normally”. This top-down command came in the idiom of wise yogic advice. But may we see it as akin to what you describe in Brazil: the appropriation of life’s structure?

MJA: Once again, we are talking about how the universal is recruited in order to better hide the particular. It is precisely because breath and air seem to be such equalizers, the fluid that par excellence transcends all socio-economic barriers, that it becomes a potent medium to manipulate. One would indeed think of air as the ultimate expression of what is natural and spontaneous. Yet, the very idea of being natural and spontaneous is itself the result of power, a constricting power. Michel Foucault would say that power is not only constricting, but precisely because it is constricting, it can be enabling. Foucault was preoccupied with the creative aspects of power. But we need to ask: Creative for whom?

Now, Charismatics have this very interesting capacity to flip between domains. I have heard them conflating the natural and the supernatural when it comes to pneuma more than once. This idea of a supernatural is interesting because it can mean both the superlative for natural – a natural more natural it could not be – and supernatural in the sense of spiritual and divine. That when it comes to breathing practices, a supernatural can also be a supernatural felt incredible to me. More so because this flip between supernatural and supernatural entails the use of mass media technologies. For example, the use of songs through CDs and videos also involves recording breath. It helps people relate to religion as a training (askesis), where all attempts at separating breathing bodies and recorded breathing collapses.

You mention a context in India via Modi, where people are instructed to breathe calmly in a moment of great anxiety. Charismatics did that, too. And by the way, in the late 1990s, it was common to see women on Paulista Avenue, the financial artery of São Paulo City, with a stethoscope to check your pulse and do auscultation of your heart. Neoliberalism was this moment when finance became increasingly attached to supple, healthy bodies whose efficiency was somehow connected with the mechanisms of fluidity and circulation. Breathing of all physiological activities seemed to speak the language of economics. Breath is that which is at once abstract and concrete, regulated according to a balance between inputs (inhalation/importation) and outputs (exhalation/exportation), circulation, flow and so forth.

A history of the air of Brazil has yet to be written, but one could detect this important transformation from when air was perceived as a substance well until the latter part of the nineteenth century and when air became conceived as a dimension. From substance to dimension, in other words. In the first we have a thick air, an air that is populated by spirits, odours, messages, and diseases. In the latter, you have air as measurable. The statue of Jesus at the Corcovado in Rio de Janeiro marks the moment when air becomes conceived as a dimension. It is Catholicism’s skyscraper put there by the Redentoristas who had migrated to Brazil in the late nineteenth century to reform Catholicism: to turn air from substance to dimension. This tendency changes with Catholic Charismatics. It is no longer about placing a subject within a dimension, but a subject poised for change, a subject that has incorporated a level of flexibility to adapt. No longer just prediction, but adaptability, a feature that reflects a shift from longer to shorter temporalities. In that sense, it is not surprising that so many gyms and spas mushroomed in the 1990s, in Brazil and around the world. We see an economic elite appropriating, as you say, “life’s structure” such as air, attached to a whole discourse of salvation. The discourse of breath is so effective because it echoes with “letting go” whereas in effect it is a way of capture. It is a way of saying that there is nothing you can do except staying alive and feeling that you stay alive. So do nothing. Just breathe!

AG: Reading your book, I thought of Total Recall, Paul Verhoeven’s 1990 science fiction film. In it, Arnold Schwarzenegger’s character discovers a conspiracy on a human-colonized Mars in the near future. The red planet is now overseen by a powerful corporation. The company’s control rests on mining and controlling the planet’s artificial oxygen supply. On Mars, a racialized category of infrahuman – freaks and deviants termed “mutants” – aids an insurgency against this concentrated power. The film, in exaggerated form, stages the politics of possession and segregation in our own world.

Total Recall asks who is allowed to breathe and control the basic mechanism of life. Oxygen becomes saleable, a means of leverage and authority – the corporate leader deprives the semi-human “mutants” of breath to exert coercion. In the end – it is a Hollywood film, after all! – the Schwarzenegger character ends the artificial lack of oxygen on Mars. In this way, he democratizes the means of living.

I am interested in this film in relation to your book through the prism of climate change and the pandemic. The coronavirus suggests that what we take for granted – oxygen, breath – is a contingent fact. In the context of infectious illness, medical oxygen becomes a scarce commodity that can be hoarded, privatized, and denied to others.

It would seem rather that the pandemic is continuous with – rather than disruptive of – pre-existing asymmetries in our compartmentalized world. Respirators and filtration devices, after all, are largely not available to the poor in the Global South. And we can think of the disproportionate suffocation that afflicts the disadvantaged: asthma, tuberculosis, and other respiratory diseases stifle the capacity to breathe. In a planetary atmosphere where carbon dioxide increases, those inequities – except for the super-rich like Jeff Bezos, zooming off to on Mars – will only continue.

My question for you is about the management of breath. In your book, you suggest that Brazilian Charismatics have developed a logistics, an infrastructure, for moulding subjects around breath. In this managerial mentality, they are perhaps not that different from state planners or executive administrators. In this sense, religious subjectivity, political sovereignty, and neoliberal appropriation are indebted to a technique of control and intentionality. I am interested in the limits of human designs, two centuries after the Enlightenment imparted the myth of mastering our destiny. Are we at a point, on a planetary scale, where agents like viruses delimit our breath and where the earth’s atmosphere is no longer benign? Where we hit the limits of control, of calisthenics, of trying to shape breath like bodies at a gym?

MJA: I agree with you that the pandemic is not an interruption of the asymmetric privileges, but the exposure of what was always already there. The irony of air as a substance is that it tries to suggest that there is no compartmentalizing. That is precisely the illusion that a movement like the CCR has been trying to communicate for the last four decades or so. In your question, you mention a “religious subjectivity, political sovereignty, and neoliberal appropriation [that] are indebted to a technique of control and intentionality”. But one thing that I think has come up with the turn to “air” and “breathing” among Charismatics, if we can put it like that with Covid-19 still literally in the air and on air, is precisely the suspension of intentionality for something like indeterminacy. And the irony is that we kind of like it because of how we tend to equate intentionality with the logics of modern subject or sovereign – the idea that puts humans at the centre as capable of intentionally designing human destiny, whereas indeterminacy sounds like a more poetic form of going about things. It suggests letting go of control, a praise of the uncertain that only makes sense because of narratives of progress and the violences inherent to telos. But the thing is, it is precisely certain movements on the (extreme) right who are now criticizing intentionality and adopting, even structuring, indeterminacy. This is tremendous because our project of the criticism of secular modernity is not finished. However, we also need to be attentive to these right-wing logics of appropriating left-wing discourses.

On the other hand, because of my new work on Portugal, your question also brings to mind canonical discourses that appeared in the aftermath of the Great Lisbon Earthquake in 1755. What lessons could one draw from the fact that nature could not be fully domesticated and that it could, after all, strike back? As you seem to suggest about the coronavirus, that earthquake led to great philosophical reflections on the nature of evil, speculative theodicy, and the role of humans in controlling their destiny. This very reflection on limits was at the point that “the myth of mastering our destiny” was at its peak. This gives me hope that perhaps we are never just in one camp alone but are always invited to reflect on the realities that could thwart them. Indeed, we need contrarians in order to deny them. On the other hand, there is no doubt that we are exhausting nature’s resources, and without going too much into the idea that nature has agency, it will strike back in ever fiercer ways. Perhaps we are living a moment where friend and foe are really intimate partners, and we need to reflect on where that leads us as thinkers and as breathers.

AG: Breath entails an interval, a pause. I am curious about the potential politics of this interval or pause. In the space between, at the moment of interruption, can other paths be taken? We live in a time when the dominant metaphors are “flow, stream, torrent” – the oversaturation and compulsion of digital and real life. Is it possible to find an alternative rhythm of life, a space of reflection, in the interval or pause within breath?

MJA: This again brings us back to how we are so invested in equating freedom with flow and movement. But now we have two tendencies: the logic of walled states and a new valorisation of the rural and of nature. What does this mean? That we will go back to idealised romanticism? I would not be surprised. The problem is that these spaces of escape are not cut out/off from the digital. One thus needs to ask, am I going to nature to escape the digital or to make up for the fact that I use so much digital? It is difficult to say. I think the idea of interval is curious because the interval in breathing is precisely what allows continuity. But I think you mean the pause for breath, as in the pause for reflection. Walter Benjamin describes his “pausing for breath… Tirelessly the process of thinking makes new beginnings, returning in a roundabout way to its original object. This continual pausing for breath is the mode most proper to the process of contemplation”. We shall have to see. I really don’t know. Neither do I wish to conduct a futurology of where breathing will take us. I think the reflection might start with the fact that we are posing the problem like this. That we are aware that we do not take breathing, but breathing takes us. Perhaps that is the beginning of reflection.

Ajay Gandhi: Your recent book examines a Catholic evangelical movement in Brazil, the Catholic Charismatic Renewal (CCR), which was newly influential in the 1990s, as the country was increasingly entangled in global capitalism. You argue that this heralds a form of religious self-consciousness, prizing bodily elasticity and the management of opposites (the complexio oppositorum). As part of this, Catholic evangelicals recuperate a Greek vocabulary: that of pneuma or breath. These aerobics of faith intersect with electronic media; an episteme aligns with an infrastructure. It shapes the body in an individual and political sense. What is important is the way the spirit is connected to the material. Circulation happens in unbounded space alongside the creation of tangible substances.

Can you describe how you see this, first, in terms of near history, a rupture with how religion in Brazil conceived of the national and individual? Second, in the longer span of Christianity, is this a revitalization or recuperation of ideas going back to Greece and Byzantium – or is it a new way of crafting a religious and political self?

Charismatic Gymnasium copy 2 (1)


Horizontality in the 2010s

Global Convivial Forum 

Horizontality is establishing itself in countless activities that have often prospered silently over the last fifty years in many domains where the participants are unburdened with submitting to hierarchies, vertical chains of command, or with taking on positions of authority.

Yves Cohen (EHESS/ Mecila Senior Fellow 2020-21)

A large and sustained wave of movements without leaders arose in the 2010s. Tunisia inaugurated the wave, followed closely by Egypt. These two countries started the “Arab Spring” whose blossoming would be aggressively suppressed. And yet the wave would continue in Turkey, Spain, Ukraine, Brazil, Bulgaria, Burkina Faso: a raggedy incomplete list where the old democracies are conspicuously absent – until the Yellow Vests. This French social movement appeared in 2018 and would be followed by a series of leaderless movements in 2019 in Algeria, Ecuador, Bolivia, Lebanon, Iraq, Chile, Egypt, and Haiti. Not all the mass movements of the decade openly declare themselves leaderless such as those in Hong Kong and Sudan. But even though this dimension has hardly been studied by social scientists, this desire to move ahead with no boss should be taken seriously. This is an important part of the renewal of protest movements compared to the previous century, and of contemporary social sciences. It has a major impact on the central theme of the social bond – its composition, dynamic, and history across centuries if not millennia. As suggested by Ivan Illich’s call for conviviality, there’s nothing natural, automatic, or self-evident about this bond, including subordination or hierarchy despite what recent centuries, especially the twentieth, would suggest in a number of locations around the world. Subordination and hierarchy are not always already written in the great book of the social. They are part of an historical elaboration across the globe that is irregular in the times and places they occur.

The movements of the 2010s seize on very delimited spaces to become the locus of their meetings and their force. One hears the term “democracy of the squares” to convey this use of public spaces (that recalls the medieval use of commons). The Yellow Vests invented the use of traffic roundabouts as a place of action, deliberation, and conviviality. In Belarus, people refusing the electoral fraud of Alexander Lukashenko chose to gather in courtyards of apartment buildings. Hitting on the idea of using all of these micro-territories as democratic spaces where people of diverse social origins, genders, races, religions, ages, and professions can meet directly as themselves without representatives on an equal footing in the heat of action has been a first step in solving the deep crisis of representative democracy. It is a criticism through direct action of the preceding century and of its profound reticence toward all forms of open-air free democracy. The solution being sketched out at this beginning of what promises to be a long process is not a substitution of horizontal democracy of public squares and roundabouts to replace the reigning structures in parliamentary regimes around the world. This search for a new democratic legitimacy is not seeking to destroy representative democracy. It aims to radically and democratically question the established powers in all their forms.

Besides public squares and similar venues, horizontality is establishing itself in countless activities that have often prospered silently over the last fifty years in many domains where the participants are unburdened with submitting to hierarchies, vertical chains of command, or with taking on positions of authority. Historically, it is a refusal in deeds of the imperative in force throughout the twentieth century according to which a popular movement, whether social or political, must be organized and hierarchical, preferably under the authority of a political party – in other words, according to the Bolshevik model of an avant-garde where every single collective activity, including the family, had to be conducted under the authority of a chief who would with few exceptions be masculine. The social bond was endowed with a hierarchical dimension naturalized in a thousand ways.

The social sciences have an interesting worksite to develop around identifying as exhaustively as possible the activities in all domains that have been undertaken recently with no chief, no leader, in an egalitarian, cooperative, collaborative, or autonomous manner. First, squares, roundabouts, and high-rise courtyards are places of conviviality: participants become acquainted by working together; this could be around preparing a meal, taking measures to be ready for winter, treating the wounds suffered during confrontations, organizing the group’s self-defence, or by deliberating. Action and deliberation are not the only components of the activity in these public spaces; the communal life is another which, along with action and deliberation, make these places belong along a spectrum of conviviality that amounts to a communal living together that may be familial, relate to a certain community with its proximities and its conflicts of variable intensity, cross boundaries, or envelope some other more or less temporary groupings. One cannot help but think of the quilombo of fugitive slaves in Brazil, a territory recomposed since the sixteenth century with a free lifestyle and yet open to others.

Secondly, the embers burn red hot under the ashes. Under the surface of the “public” and somewhat out of sight, a deep work on the social fabric is taking place that recognizes at every point a need or even a desire for horizontality. These activities are quite varied: communal gardens in large metropolitan cities, presses, cultural or humanitarian activities, medical and legal offices, cooperatives of production or distribution – countless are the objects for the collectives and collectivities that have emerged, taken shape, and endured in this way for several years now. Many movements and organizations in France have been organized according to such principles of horizontality such as, for example, the movement to support the undocumented migrants and the Réseau Education Sans Frontières (Education Network Without Borders), and this is true in many countries around the world.

Following the example of squatters and the ZAD (a French acronym for “zones to be defended”) which have embraced horizontality, these other collectives are also seeking to offer a vision of the future via a dynamic of struggle and specific claims. In France, for example, they are linking with other transformations of institutions, such as the “collegial associations” that have neither president nor board. A law from 1901 regulates associations by a regime of declaration and not authorization. Over time the habit developed of creating an association “bureau” with a president, vice president, and secretary. This vertically organized structure became the norm and has only been questioned very recently. Association members who came to the prefecture to declare their association but without a president or bureau were told they had to follow the law.

And yet the letter of the law includes no such obligation and requires only persons “responsible for the administration”. In addition to the growing number of collegial associations, there has been since 2014 and the experiment in Saillans in the Drôme department a flourishing multiplication of ecological municipalities which are non-hierarchical, egalitarian, and more or less directly inspired by the “libertarian municipalism” of Murray Bookchin (Legros 2020). In France, the family unit no longer has a single “chief” as head of the household following a legal reform of 1970, an effect of the renewal of the women’s movement, and “parental authority” is now “shared”. In France and elsewhere, a growing number of organizations have adopted the formula of the Movimento Passe Livre (Free Fare Movement, MPL) in Brazil that erupted in June 2013 with the most powerful demonstrations the country has ever known. The movement, founded in 2005, invented a “charter” that proclaimed it to be “horizontal, autonomous, independent and nonpartisan but not antipartisan”. Following the demonstrations, all fare increases were blocked, leaving a deep imprint on the political history of the country – until the vultures of the far-right latched onto this popular agitation to turn it toward other goals.

The anti-hierarchical enthusiasm also extends to companies. In order to save itself and preserve the essential elements, capitalism since 1968 has sought to evade the insistent challenges to the authority of chiefs at all levels. For example, in one of the co-optation manoeuvres that are inseparable from all instances of power, it initiated the “project management”, “crushing hierarchies”, and even declared “freedom”. Internationally, one may note that the Internet was created on principles of horizontality that are endlessly opposed by nation-states and multinational companies.

With or without direct connection, from person to person and step to step, these more or less enduring and widespread activities resonate with free communities over large territories such as the Chiapas or the Rojava which have taken on global visibility even without occupying an entire country. The study of this ensemble – horizontal movements, collective egalitarian activities of all kinds, occupations, and free territories of various sizes – would require a global approach whose methods would have to be established carefully.

This article takes up most closely two cases: first, the horizontal practice of the Yellow Vests based on eyewitness observations within an assembly in the Paris region, and secondly, the initial steps of a cooperative school created recently in São Paulo in the aftermath of the June 2013 demonstrations and the occupation of high schools in the state of São Paulo that followed.

One of the challenges of this work is to avoid considering horizontality as an absolute that would arrive in opposition to hierarchy, but to observe instead in a pragmatic fashion what actually happens and attempt to identify the forms, the meandering evolutions, and the meanings, and in this way take part in a reflection that would be both that of the actors and the researchers in mutual reinforcement.

Translated by C. Jon Delogu

Cover image: Patrice Calatayu, Demonstrations of the Mouvement des gilets jaunes on Place Pey Berland, Bordeaux, 2 Feb 2019.


Yves Cohen (2021): “Horizontality in the 2010s: Social Movements, Collective Activities, Social Fabric, and Conviviality”, Mecila Working Paper Series, No. 40, São Paulo: The Maria Sibylla Merian Centre Conviviality-Inequality in Latin America,


Literature supply in a transnational research network: The information infrastructure of Mecila

Global Convivial Forum 

Christoph Müller (Principal Investigator at Mecila)

Screenshot of the 1st virtual meeting in December 2020.

Screenshot of the Discovery System IberoSearch.

In a transnational research network such as Mecila, in which researchers from and in different countries and continents cooperate and conduct research within a common thematic framework, the provision of publications and information resources is of particular importance. All Principal and Associated Investigators, as well as all Fellows and research associates should have access to the necessary research literature and the relevant information sources, as independently as possible of time and place.

To ensure this, an information infrastructure has been established in Mecila, coordinated by the Ibero-Amerikanisches Institut Stiftung Preußischer Kulturbesitz (IAI, Ibero-American Institute Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation) together with the Biblioteca Daniel Cosió Villegas of the Colegio de México, the library of the Instituto de Estudos Brasileiros of the Universidade de São Paulo and the Biblioteca Professor Guillermo Obiols of the Facultad de Humanidades y Ciencias de la Educación and the Instituto de Investigaciones en Humanidades y Ciencias Sociales of the Consejo Nacional de Investigaciones Científicas y Técnicas (IdIHCS) of the Universidad Nacional de La Plata in Argentina.

Since December 2020, regular virtual meetings have been held between colleagues from the partner libraries to coordinate joint work and exchange information.

post blog 2

The IAI, which consists of a research centre, a cultural centre, and the largest European library specialised in Latin America, the Caribbean, Spain, and Portugal, provides all Mecila researchers access to all its holdings. If Mecila’s scholars have specific literature needs that go beyond the library’s holdings, the IAI acquires corresponding media with its own funds, if possible in electronic form.

With their IAI library card, all Mecila investigators can directly access all licensed or freely available electronic offers of the IAI via the Online Catalog of the IAI library or the discovery system IberoSearch, independently of time and place.

The copyright-free publications digitised by the IAI are generally available via the IAI’s Digital Collections.

Publications that are not yet copyright-free in a licensable electronic version should also be accessible to Mecila’s investigators. To this end, the partner libraries are pursuing a two-pronged solution strategy.

On the one hand, Mecila’s partner institutions will exchange publications in physical form whenever possible. For research at Mecila’s headquarters in São Paulo, the Instituto de Estudos Brasileiros will provide its library reading room where Mecila scholars can work with these materials. This will also be possible in Berlin, La Plata, and Mexico City.

On the other hand, the IAI has set up an electronic reading room for Mecila, which makes it possible, within the regulations of German copyright law, to also make publications under copyright accessible electronically to a limited extent. Publications of high relevance for the entire project are scanned with project funds to make them available as image files in the electronic reading room, which is only accessible to active Mecila investigators.

By all these analogue and digital means, Mecila scientists have the possibility to access literature and relevant information sources held in the collections of the partner libraries at all locations of the project, to advance their research.

For more information, please contact: [email protected]

Cover image: The library of the Instituto de Estudos Brasileiros in São Paulo, Brasil (IEB).


Gauchos in Hollywood: Exoticization and Globalization of Criollismo in the 1920s

Global Convivial Forum 

In what ways were a set of contents popularized by criollista literature in Argentina at the turn of the century detached from their literary origins and projected as global export materials by a series of films produced in Hollywood, the centre of world entertainment production, in the 1920s?

Nicolás Suárez (Mecila Junior Fellow 2021)

Throughout the 1920s, Hollywood produced at least fourteen Argentine-themed films, most of which included gaucho characters and were located in the Pampas. Based on these films and the images of the nation that they bring into play, it is possible to explore various strategies through which a repertoire of themes, characters, plots and landscapes promoted by criollista literature were projected globally and then reappropriated by the local culture. This was the subject of my presentation held in the Scientific Colloquium of Mecila’s Research Area Medialities of Conviviality in July 2021, which focused on interdisciplinary research on the production and circulation of knowledge, representations, and imaginaries in contexts of conviviality; that is, relations and exchanges marked by inequalities and difference.

In this framework, understanding criollismo as the group of practices and discourses that create a common feeling of belonging around the figure of the gaucho, the main questions of my research can be formulated as follows: In what ways were a set of contents popularized by criollista literature in Argentina at the turn of the century detached from their literary origins and projected as global export materials by a series of films produced in Hollywood, the centre of world entertainment production, in the 1920s? And how were these productions retransmitted back to the Argentine audience, impacting content production at a local level? Drawing on these crossings between national literature and world cinema, my work is intended as a contribution to the study of the constitutive processes of local cultural identities, and their problematization in global terms.

Rodolfo Valentino in The Four Horseman of the Apocalypse (Rex Ingram, 1921)

Within the corpus of Argentine-themed films produced in Hollywood during the 1920s, two central cases stand out. On the one hand, there is the famous scene from The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (Rex Ingram, 1921) in which Rodolfo Valentino dances tango dressed as a gaucho and thus initiates an exchange that lasted until the end of the twenties. Based on the anti-war best-seller that the Spaniard Blasco Ibáñez had written in 1916, the film was a worldwide success and established Valentino as an international star. In this sense, the gaucho emblem performs the function of exoticizing Argentine identity as an exportable commodity, and of presenting a type of Latin masculinity that, for the first time, made the female public visible as a differentiated mass phenomenon. Some productions that followed a similar formula are proof of the success of this operation, such as A Sainted Devil (Joseph Henabery, 1924), in which Valentino once again played a gaucho character, or Argentine Love (Allan Dwan, 1924) and The Temptress (Fred Niblo, 1926), both based on stories by Blasco Ibáñez that take place in the Pampas.

On the other hand, Douglas Fairbanks As The Gaucho (Frank Richard Jones, 1927) diverged from these productions, since it involved a type of virile masculinity associated with adventure films. As in Valentino’s case, the appearance of a star like Fairbanks embodying a gaucho character soon prompted new films on the subject, namely The Charge of the Gauchos (Albert Kelley, 1928), an adaptation of Bartolomé Mitre’s Historia de Belgrano (1857), and the animated short film The Gallopin’ Gaucho (Ub Iwerks, 1928), a parody of Fairbanks’ film that showed Mickey Mouse in a gaucho costume. These films are the most prominent examples of a larger corpus of Argentine-themed films produced in Hollywood in the 1920s, including titles such as The Happy Warrior (Stuart Blackton, 1925), Flame of the Argentina (Edward Dillon, 1926), Wind of the Pampas (Arthur Varney, 1927), and Soul of a Gaucho (Henry Otto, 1930).

Thus, from Valentino to Mickey, the stories with Hollywood gauchos cover the generic arc that ranges from the tragedy of the anti-war plight to the caricatured farce. However, at the end of the decade, two situations put an end to this process. From a technical point of view, the arrival of sound film raised linguistic barriers that prevented Hollywood celebrities from playing Latin characters with the same fluency that silent cinema ensured, which negatively affected the global circulation of this kind of films. From a historical perspective, the crash of 1929 and the Argentine military coup of 1930 undermined the optimistic views on the national past and made it increasingly difficult to project onto Argentina the nostalgic images of the Old West as a mythologized time; likewise, for the Argentine imaginary, it was no longer so simple to project a possible or desirable future onto American history.

From that moment on, Hollywood’s forays into themes related to criollista literature would no longer have the success and assiduity achieved in the 1920s. But the traces of this moment of globalization of criollismo would persist in Argentine literature and cinema for a long time, in the form of a presumably spurious gaucho culture that differed from one that intended to be more genuine.

Cover image: Poster from the 1927 movie The Gaucho.

A Sainted Devil

Poster for the 1924 film A Sainted devil

Argentine Love is a lost 1924 Bebe Daniels silent film romance drama directed by Allan Dwan and based on a story by Vicente Blasco Ibanez. This is a contemporary lobby card for the film.


History and Fiction Living Together in Roberto Bolaño’s Narratives

Global Convivial Forum 

Bolaño’s works associate real epistemic violence and lack of justice with brutal, implausible fictional situations.

Jorge I. Estrada (Mecila Junior 2021)

Bringing an unsettling side of conviviality to the fore is perhaps one of the most enticing features in Roberto Bolaño’s narratives. His fiction delves into historical catastrophes and social conflicts to depict individuals entangled in a chaotic world. These characters move through exceptional situations in which living together is far from having positive connotations, far from any idea of sharing the produce of progress, and far from the harmony that a humanist would ground on understanding and reason.

Quite to the contrary, these situations are macabre and reveal a dystopic way of living together. They subvert any enlightened or humanist expectations. While portraying scenes of a possible world that we might even recognise because it is closely knit together with referential hints and a realist tenor, they can only evoke estrangement and discomfort.

Bolaño’s prose turns the everyday into something gruesome. He makes us witness a nightmare without taking a metaleptic leap into the realms of dreams, the unreal or fantastic. He does not even allow the uncanny to take over reality with plot twists or sudden insights into a character’s personality and motivations. This is the fundamental ambiguity of Bolaño’s worlds: an impending apocalypse that – paradoxically – already took place and which we are only just beginning to notice.

We, the readers, become accountable for linking history, fiction, shared imaginaries, and ideologies, all of which intertwine through diverse narrative strategies. In Nocturno de Chile (2000), for instance, history is presented using a combination of historical references, metaphors, and an allegorical intention. The past comes alive, and the story reveals the surface of the exceptional circumstances of the events through unsettling interactions. The past is an unconcealed evil that confronts us at every instant with violence and destruction.

This is particularly striking in a scene that begins with an unexpected visit. Two government agents from Pinochet’s dictatorship, Hate and Fear, approach the protagonist, a literary critic and Catholic priest named Sebastián Urrutia Lacroix. In this setting, we find an immediate sense of foreboding, but there is also a crucial detail that lies beyond the names and obscure professions of these characters, a detail in the landscape, revealed just before a ‘friendly’ interrogation: the “enormes araucarias que se alzaban catedralicias” (102–103).

The metaphor “huge araucaria trees rising cathedral-like” establishes the background against which experiences unfold. The narrator’s description of the surroundings combines an essentialist claim regarding the New World’s land and its past evangelisation and colonisation. The autochthonous araucarias represent an original nature that is appropriated and becomes an expression of Christianity as if they were the rib vault of a Gothic cathedral rising towards the sky. By pitting a tree native to Chile against religion, the narrator implicitly constructs an analogy between the colonial past and the dictatorial present. Ever-renewing destruction is thus the backdrop of this story and also the setting for the agents’ request. They ask (or command) the protagonist to teach Pinochet and his staff a course on Marxism. Despite suspecting a trap for insurgents, he cannot refuse and proceeds to prepare ten lessons for the collision of two ideological standpoints – if not two worlds, like in colonial times – a collision that leads to one-sided, systematic violence and the demise of peoples.  

The text describes the course as if taught in any formal or institutional setting, with both outstanding and somnolent students. The only difference is that pronouncing any name or word can have life-or-death consequences. But nothing out of the ordinary arises until later, when a friend asks the protagonist about his experience and whether he found anything “exceptional” in Pinochet’s character. The protagonist only mentions the dictator’s preoccupation with surrounding himself with books and becoming a well-read and published intellectual.

A humanist interest in gathering sources of knowledge as well as recognizing and understanding different ideologies becomes an instrument to achieve atrocious ends. Even if we cannot speak of conviviality in this context of domination, the novel attempts to imagine those reasonable men and women who participated in rituals of destruction. They negotiated their everyday lives in the asymmetrical position that Fear and Hate created.

The violent rituals and exceptions, or rather the arbitrariness that seems to ground norms and establish order, are also identifiable outside an institutional setting. For example, in 2666 (2004), we meet a group of literary critics who find each other in international conferences and tacitly form a research group. Eventually, this intimacy goes beyond purely intellectual interests and becomes a love triangle.

The characters find themselves discussing their love affairs during a taxi ride at one point in the story. Their encounter with the Pakistani driver is blatantly stereotypical. The critics carry on their conversation without noticing that the topic vexes the driver, who quietly continues performing his duties after uttering a word in an unidentified language. After a pause, the driver admits that the labyrinth that is London has managed to disorient him. The Spanish critic declares to his peers that the driver has unknowingly cited Borges, while the British critic replies that Dickens and Stevenson had already made that comparison. Annoyed by their paternalist tone towards him, the driver explains that the comparison is obvious and exclaims that though he might not know his way around London, he knows what decency is. He insults their openness to discuss and engage in free love. Their fragile masculinity hurt, one of the critics grabs the driver out of the vehicle, and together they beat him, thus strengthening their sense of community.

The artificiality of this passage is deeply provocative. While it is not impossible, for some it might seem out of character and implausible for researchers in the humanities with a university education to revel in violence. Why would we assume it to be impossible, even for a moment? We must bear in mind the biopolitical hierarchy that acts as the backdrop for the scene. Even so, this kind of epistemic violence pales in comparison to the brutal incident and to the fact that it only made the local news as if it were nothing unusual. Perhaps this is the moralist in Bolaño. The author manages to make expectations reveal how the same inequalities and power relations can play out or be actualised differently. His works convey how some biopolitical assumptions perpetuate and encourage these situations, and they associate epistemic violence and lack of justice with a most brutal result, even if barely plausible.

Bolaño challenges any interpretative framework by inviting the reader to engage with the fabric of a plot, with the flaws and strengths channelling our expectations and allowing us to follow the story. He pleas for revisiting any event, for being wary of any stable representation, and for disarticulating any rigid connection between an event and its meaning. Monsieur Pain (1984), set in Paris before World War II, provides an intricate example of this disarticulation. The novel consists of a first-person narration surrounding a mesmerist who attempts to save the life of Peruvian poet César Vallejo by curing his mysterious case of the hiccups. The preliminary note tells us that the story is based on true events, so we can infer from the beginning that the mesmerist treats Vallejo to no avail because there is no magic cure for this real illness. Despite the hints at Poe’s mesmeric short stories, nothing that happens in the plot is fantastic, certainly not the death of an impoverished migrant and poet.

The poet’s death resulted from social circumstances and was caused by a lack of access to proper health care. And yet, Bolaño refuses to accept the necessity of the past and the tragic destiny of a poet who lives in the margins of Parisian society but will become a central figure in the foreign Latin American canon. For this reason, he deploys counterfactual claims and flirts with fantastic literature to challenge the past as a psychotic reaction to the inequalities that made Vallejo a case of living death, a chimerical body tied to the ontic and material world just by a hiccup. Vallejo’s dispossession challenges historical necessity and an inescapable societal given, questioning the symbolic underpinnings that are fatally embodied.

These incidents exemplify the various ways in which Bolaño grapples with diverse discourses and explanatory frameworks. This examination of a symbolic order is only possible through fiction, that is, by drawing attention to its artificiality and by giving piecemeal bits of referential, counterfactual, ideological, or even allegorical elements. The interfictional structuring that relies on genres such as the fantastic and a wild intertextuality invites us as readers to unhinge norms and dissect experience. We must sever the presupposed cohesion of facts, conceptual frameworks, actions, and meaning. Interfictionality opens a chasm in history, and these overlapping stories threaten to become enacted in every interaction and every asymmetrical negotiation with each other. This accretion of meanings, which a highly codified structure of artistic representation achieves, erodes the clarity of autonomous reason and proposes a relational approach to events: a virulent contamination between history, facts, and fiction.

Image: Cia. das Letras

Cover of Roberto Bolaño’s “Nocturno de Chile”, Editorial Anagrama/2015. 


Roberto Bolaño (2000): Nocturno de Chile, Barcelona: Anagrama.


Southern Theories in Circulation:
Towards a Convivial Canon

Global Convivial Forum 

Discussing the challenges of epistemological changes in LASA 2021

Between 26 and 29 May 2021, the Congress of the Latin American Studies Association (LASA) was held virtually, convening a significant part of the Latin American studies international academic community under the slogan “Global Crisis: Inequalities and the Centrality of Life”.

Mecila participated in a panel titled “Southern Theories in Circulation: Towards a Convivial Canon”. On 26 May at midnight in Berlin and sunset in Bogota, five members of Mecila met virtually to discuss different perspectives and proposals for disciplinary transformations and the construction of alternative canons and epistemologies in academic spaces between and within the South and the North.

The organisers and chairs Mariana Teixeira (Mecila/FU Berlin) and Clara Ruvituso proposed to address these challenges from the notion of a convivial canon. The notion aims to underline “the entangled inequalities that constituted the academic spaces in which we are involved, as well as to discuss the inclusion of differences in a way that mitigates rather than enhance existing asymmetries”.

Sérgio Costa’s (Mecila/FU Berlin) proposal “Convivial Sociologies: Exploring Transdisciplinary Futures” focused on the challenges of transforming sociology within the framework of theoretical and methodological advances in research on conviviality, overcoming methodological nationalism, anthropocentrism, and even logocentrism.

Addressing the challenges of epistemic transformations, Astrid Ulloa (Mecila/Universidad Nacional de Colombia) presented epistemological perspectives of indigenous women in Colombia, who produce their own conceptualizations and methodologies with strong territorial and political impacts and in asymmetrical and violent contexts.

Based on an analysis of the pioneering thought of Brazilian anthropologist Darcy Ribeiro, Clara Ruvituso proposed a historical analysis of the forms of circulation of southern theories in the Global North and the difficulties and limits of the its reception.

Barbara Göbel (Mecila/IAI), invited as discussant, examined the institutional and political challenges facing these proposals for epistemological change. In what ways do the disciplines established on historical institutionalizations react to the changes? What types of circulation and infrastructures can facilitate this opening and transformation?

The conclusion of the panel pointed out that Mecila’s own experimental and interdisciplinary space allows us to test the conceptual, political, and institutional challenges of these proposals.

Image credit (cover): LASA 2021 Program Book, Image of María de los Ángeles Balaguera. 

Clara Ruvituso (Mecila/IAI)



La constitución de la multicultura en el espacio urbano: El juguete rabioso de Roberto Arlt

Global Convivial Forum 

Los tortuosos pactos de convivialidad en la Buenos Aires de principios del siglo XX, que atañen tanto la psicología individual como las representaciones sociales, son asediados en el working paper “Los tortuosos pactos de convivialidad en ‘El juguete rabioso’ de Roberto Arlt” (Mecila Working Paper Series No. 38) a partir del significado de los recorridos por el espacio urbano en transformación y de la centralidad de la literatura como instrumento de consumo y de producción.

Gloria Chicote (Mecila/Conicet-UNLP)

Sylvia Saítta en su contundente recorrido de vida por la obra de Roberto Arlt, ubica al joven escritor en las mismas calles de Flores que transita Silvio Astier, el protagonista de El juguete rabioso (1926). El barrio de Flores se descubre como ese suburbio pueblerino y señorial de la ciudad de Buenos Aires, donde se emplazan las quintas, las mansiones de una elite social y cultural, pero que a pocas cuadras convive con el barro, los inmigrantes recién llegados, la pobreza y el malevaje.

Saítta relata la infancia de Arlt que transcurre como la de cualquier chico pobre de un barrio burgués de Buenos Aires, en cuyas calles se confunden argentinos e inmigrantes que circulan en espacios diferenciados pero que se entrecruzan en la escuela, el cine, el teatro y el circo. La presencia del barrio invade El juguete rabioso pero no tiene la carga de nostalgia propia de la literatura costumbrista, sino que es el lugar de la marca indeleble, imborrable, del que se pretende huir infructuosamente.

En el capítulo 1, se hace referencia con trazos nítidos a las formas de convivialidad en el barrio a través de la pandilla de niños / adolescentes de extracción ligeramente diferente pero complementaria porque representan las clases populares de criollos, inmigrantes, obreros, empleados, comerciantes, o desclasados que deambulan por la calle, el café, el “sórdido” almacén, y se aventuran a los suburbios, al acecho de aprender, de adquirir conocimientos múltiples y heterogéneos que los capaciten para la supervivencia, tal como los que les ofrece el mismo Silvio cuando construye el cañón:







En relación con la convivialidad que posibilita la pertenencia a esa multicultura del barrio, Julio Cortázar destaca la posibilidad de una perspectiva original que esta ubicación significó para Arlt, pero también señala el rechazo del escritor a su medio social y a la sociedad en su conjunto. Aunque a veces sus personajes sienten una envidia pseudonostálgica por los estamentos sociales superiores, tal como se traduce en la fascinación que Astier experimenta ante la familia de Enrique Irzubeta quienes, a pesar de ser pobres, proceden de una clase social más elevada de la cual heredan sus conductas:

todos holgaban con vagancia dulce con ocios que se paseaban de las novelas de Dumas al reconfortante sueño de las siestas y al amable chismorreo del atardecer (Arlt [1926] 1981: 15–16).

Pero el verdadero desafío de la convivialidad en El juguete rabioso se produce cuando el personaje fracasa en su fantasía de ladrón y debe ingresar en el mundo del trabajo, para lo cual abandona el barrio y se traslada al centro de la ciudad. Beatriz Sarlo, en su emblemático libro Una Modernidad Periférica: Buenos Aires, 1920 y 1930 (1988), definió ese tiempo y ese lugar como testigo de cambios espectaculares.








Buenos Aires ha crecido de manera espectacular en las dos primeras décadas del siglo XX. La ciudad nueva hace posible, literariamente verosímil y culturalmente aceptable al flâneur que arroja la mirada anónima del que no será reconocido por quienes son observados, la mirada que no supone comunicación con el otro. […] El circuito del paseante anónimo sólo es posible en la gran ciudad que, más que un concepto demográfico ó urbanístico, es una categoría ideológica y un mundo de valores. Arlt produce su personaje y su perspectiva en las Aguafuertes, constituyéndose él mismo en un flâneur modelo. […] Tiene la atención flotante del flâneur que pasea por el centro y los barrios, metiéndose en la pobreza nueva de la gran ciudad y en las formas más evidentes de la marginalidad y el delito (…). En su itinerario de los barrios al centro, el paseante atraviesa una ciudad cuyo trazado ya ha sido definido, pero que conserva todavía muchas parcelas sin construir, baldíos y calles sin vereda de enfrente (Sarlo 1988: 16).

A pesar de que Sarlo alude en esta cita a una descripción de la ciudad que Arlt ofrece en una de las Aguafuertes porteñas, las mismas expresiones podrían referirse al joven flâneur que recorre las calles y las páginas de El juguete rabioso.

Image credit (cover): Horacio Coppola, Vista de la calle Florida desde la esquina con Bartolomé Mitre, mirando hacia Cangallo, 1936.


Arlt, Roberto ([1926] 1981): Obra completa [2 vols.], Buenos Aires: Carlos Lohlé.

Cortázar, Julio ([1926] 1981): “Prólogo”, en: Arlt, Roberto, Obra completa [2 vols.], Buenos Aires: Carlos Lohlé, iii–xi.

Saítta, Sylvia (2000): El escritor en el bosque de ladrillos. Una biografía de Roberto Arlt, Buenos Aires: Editorial Sudamericana.

Sarlo, Beatriz (1988): Una modernidad periférica: Buenos Aires 1920 y 1930, Buenos Aires: Nueva Visión.

Horacio Coppola, Vista hacia el oeste de la Avenida Corrientes desde su intersección con Maipú, Buenos Aires, en 1936. 
Anônimo, Calle Caracas, Flores, Buenos Aires, 1906.

Admirados lo examinaron los muchachos de la vecindad, y ello les evidenció mi superioridad intelectual, que desde entonces prevaleció en las expediciones organizadas para ir a robar fruta o descubrir tesoros enterrados en los despoblados que estaban más allá del arroyo Maldonado en la Parroquia de San José de Flores (Arlt [1926] 1981: 15).

Más allá de las transformaciones estéticas o de la modernización económica, Buenos Aires conformó su modernidad como estilo cultural, destacándose como un espacio físico distinguido y como mito cultural. La ciudad se altera en el paisaje urbano y ecológico, pero también y, conjuntamente, en las experiencias de vida de sus habitantes. Ciudad y modernidad se presuponen una a otra porque la ciudad es el escenario de los cambios a partir del cual la modernidad se introduce brutalmente; es la ciudad la que los disemina y generaliza:



Global Convivial Forum 

¿‘Distancia de rescate’ en tiempos de distanciamiento social? Sobre la novela de Samantha Schweblin (2014)

Samantha Schweblin combina acontecimientos inusuales con las realidades del desastre ambiental. De esta manera su texto se convierte en una lectura oscilante entre lo fantástico y lo real.


Susanne Klengel (Mecila/FU Berlin)

I – Hilando una narración apocalíptica

En tiempos de distanciamiento social, la aclamada novela Distancia de rescate (2014) de Samantha Schweblin,[1] escritora argentina residente en Berlín, suscita un nuevo y actualizado interés por su enigmático título. Hemos aprendido lo que significa el distanciamiento social, la distancia por seguridad, pero ¿cuál es el significado de la ‘distancia de rescate’? Estos tres conceptos remiten a relaciones entre personas en situaciones de posible amenaza (contra la vida), pero la idea de ‘distancia’ es interpretada de manera diferenciada: en los dos primeros casos, la muy escasa distancia resulta riesgosa porque aumenta la posibilidad de una contaminación patógena; en la obra de Samantha Schweblin, no obstante, la cuestión clave es la propia naturaleza de la distancia al ofrecer protección ante un peligro inminente.

En la novela se despliega, con un trasfondo siniestro y realista, el escenario de una progresiva catástrofe ambiental causada por el uso excesivo de fertilizantes o pesticidas en los campos de soja argentinos. Este desastre se convierte en el silencioso desencadenante de un complicado drama familiar que se desarrolla en un pequeño centro vacacional en la zona rural. Se entrelazan o entrecruzan las vidas de dos madres con una hija y un hijo pequeña/o. Ciertos acontecimientos extraños, como una presunta trasmigración de almas entre la niña y el niño, trastornarán las relaciones entre ambas familias.

La narración se presenta como una búsqueda: David, hijo de Carla, sostiene un diálogo casi obstinado con Amanda, madre de Nina, quien se encuentra agonizando por envenenamiento en un hospital. David insiste en que Amanda le explique su extraña sensación de alienación interior. El diálogo –quizás tan sólo un sueño febril de Amanda, al que el público lector es transportado desde el comienzo de la novela– se nota forzado por la inexorable finitud del tiempo de vida de la moribunda. 

Llama la atención de que la ‘distancia de rescate’ se describa repetidamente como el ‘hilo’ que une a la madre con su hijo o hija. Este hilo se afloja o se estira, “varía con las circunstancias” (p. 37) y, a veces, “está tan corto que apenas puedo moverme”, dice Amanda (p. 57). Su extensión es el termómetro emocional de la relación familiar, al menos desde la perspectiva de la madre angustiada. Asimismo, la naturaleza incondicional de este lazo (hilo semejante al ‘cordón umbilical’) es el problema: ¿qué pasa si el hilo se rompe por alguna razón? ¿Habrá que anudarlo a cualquier precio? ¿Será esto posible?

De hecho, la ruptura se torna inminente tras el contacto con el tóxico. Pero no se corta el hilo vital de inmediato, lo que llevaría a la muerte de las y los protagonistas y con eso, a un precipitado final de la novela. Al contrario, el lento avance de la rotura es lo que pone en marcha la narración: por vías laberínticas se persiguen los cabos sueltos de varios hilos vitales para reajustarlos (y para sanar el accidente), mientras que se entrelazan los hilos narrativos para tejer la novela.

El niño David, primera víctima emblemática del desastre ambiental, es también el gran entretejedor en esta historia siniestra. Obsesivo y desesperado busca las conexiones perdidas y olvidadas, puesto que su alma se ha perdido tras el accidente con el tóxico y su milagrosa y violenta curación. De esta forma, se mencionan otros hilos de sisal al final de la novela con los que David trata de enlazar fotos antiguas y otros objetos. Paulatinamente y a lo largo de su diálogo con Amanda, se hace evidente que el hilo que la une con su hija Nina se suspenderá en breve. Surge la sospecha de que en el fondo de la narración ocurre un cambio de almas e identidades que será nefasto, puesto que la transmutación ha sido definitiva.

Samantha Schweblin combina aquellos acontecimientos inusuales con las realidades del desastre ambiental en las plantaciones de soja. De esta manera su texto se convierte en una lectura oscilante entre lo fantástico y lo real. El tóxico se filtra poco a poco en los destinos de sus protagonistas, amenazándolas/los con cortarles sus hilos vitales. Ni siquiera el hilo materno más estrecho entre Amanda y Nina puede ofrecer protección contra el desastre. Mientras tanto, la propia narración se opone al veneno mortal y sigue hilando su tejido textual. Sugiere incluso una alternativa fantástica para prolongar el cuento: las almas siguen vivas en otros cuerpos o incluso flotando en el espacio. Después de su muerte física, el alma de Amanda, ubicada en un espacio inseguro, parece ser la última instancia narrativa al final de la novela. Así, el hilo vital no se rompe, a pesar de la constante amenaza de las Moiras y del ambiente tóxico, sino que sigue tejiéndose de otra manera en una narración fantástica.

Pero esta opción de lo fantástico también es aterradora porque la otredad se vincula con un grupo de niñas y niños deformes, víctimas de influencias ambientales, escondidas/os de los ojos de las y los residentes ‘normales’, y marginalizadas/os ante los ojos del público lector. Se vincula incluso con Nina, que ya “no está bien” (p. 120), y con David, quien será finalmente sometido como un ser monstruoso (p.123-124). La narración fantástica es perturbadora porque está intrínsecamente relacionada con la intoxicación inicial, es decir, con la ruptura primordial que amenaza y disuelve la distancia de rescate natural entre madre e hija o hijo. La distopía se inscribe en los cuerpos de forma despiadada.

II – ¿Perspectivas para la convivialidad en tiempos tóxicos?

Lo inquietante de la novela de Schweblin es la figura de la identidad amenazada, cuya restauración se busca desesperadamente, jugando con dobles fantasmagóricos y con motivos como la transmutación. Para reflexionar más sobre la identidad amenazada quiero recordar un diálogo famoso entre Gilles Deleuze y Michel Foucault en el que también aparece, de cierta manera, la cuestión de la ‘distancia de rescate’ y el hilo vital. En su reseña de Différence et répétition (Deleuze 1968), Foucault describe la radicalidad del pensamiento deleuziano con la impactante reinterpretación de una imagen mítica: el ‘hilo de Ariadna’ está roto y Ariadna, amante y garante de la seguridad del retorno –o, más bien, representante del raciocinio del pensamiento occidental– se ha colgado del hilo. Teseo, mientras tanto, sigue acercándose, despreocupado y curioso, al monstruo del laberinto de Cnosos y al caos. Foucault utiliza esta imagen radical y cruel para describir el tremendo ‘teatro’ del ‘pensamiento de la diferencia’ que se está desplegando en la obra de Deleuze y al que rinde homenaje en su reseña.[2] En el caso de la novela, el caos de lo diferente es, según parece, una visión aterradora. La alteridad se presenta como un factor profundamente perturbador, puesto que las extrañas transmutaciones fueron provocadas por el tóxico en los cuerpos. ¿Podemos concluir que se trata entonces, después de todo, de una novela realista sobre crímenes ambientales? ¿Y, en este caso, el lugar que ocupan la otredad y la diferencia es ante todo amenazante?

Quiero proponer una hipótesis: recordando aquí el doble significado de la palabra en griego ‘pharmakon’, tan significativa en el pensamiento desconstructivista de Jacques Derrida ¿cómo se vería la narración si las y los protagonistas hubieran tocado un ingrediente mágico, un agua milagrosa o algo similar, en vez del tóxico? ¿Qué pasaría si las transformaciones posteriores no se vieran como deformaciones y patologías mortales, sino como milagros? ¿Qué tal si un otro mundo surgiera ante nuestros ojos con criaturas de cuento de hadas y seres fantásticos, pero sin niñas y niños con deformaciones monstruosas? Para nuestra sorpresa, la narración también funcionaría, pero determinando certeramente que se trata de una narración fantástica.

En el texto de Schweblin, sin embargo, la subyacente narrativa fantástica parece estar subordinada al régimen realista del crimen ambiental: las transmutaciones inquietantes confirman el relato de la búsqueda de identidad que termina frustrada. De esta manera se debe entender la ‘distancia de rescate’ ante los peligros de la catástrofe ambiental como un concepto destinado a sanar la ruptura y a recuperar de cierto modo la identidad de una vida intacta. La cuestión sobre en qué medida podrían desarrollarse también otras formas de ‘distanciamiento’ o de ‘diferencia’ en la novela, permanece abierta. Al final se impone la impresión de que, debido a su realismo ecológico, el libro de Samantha Schweblin está en sintonía más bien con los anhelos e instintos de preservar que con las formas de pensamiento que destacan la diferencia y la transmutación. Esto resulta, me parece, en una ambivalencia desafiante para la reflexión sobre la convivialidad no solo en tiempos tóxicos sino también en tiempos virales.

Image credit: Librería Facultad Libre


[1] Samantha Schweblin (2015): Distancia de rescate, Barcelona: Penguin Random House (2ª ed.).

[2] Michel Foucault (1969): “Ariadne s’est pendue“, en: Le Nouvel Observateur, 229.