Mecila

#23

Global Convivial Forum 

“É aquilo que eu vejo, aquilo que eu sinto”: convivialidad en la obra de J. Borges ​

Camila de Oro (Investigadora doctoral de Mecila)
Juan Recchia (Investigador doctoral de Mecila)

Estou muito alegre com essa exposição sobre meu trabalho na xilogravura.

Eu ainda quero viver bastante.

O que me inspira é a vida, é a continuação, é o movimento.

(J. Borges)

Del 6 de abril al 7 de agosto se presentó en el Serviço Social da Indústria (SESI) de la Federação das Indústrias do Estado de São Paulo (FIESP) de la Av. Paulista de San Pablo una muestra dedicada al mestre da xilogravura: J. Borges y sus grabados. Probablemente uno de los artistas de xilogravuras y tapas de cordel más conocidos dentro y fuera de Brasil. Los diseños de J. Borges han sido altamente difundidos acompañando innumerables obras literarias, en un arco que va desde la literatura de cordel nordestina hasta libros de autores latinoamericanos de gran tirada como Eduardo Galeano.

Cantando Cordel 2016

Cantando cordel, J. Borges, 2016.

La exposición que estuvo recorriendo también otros espacios culturales (SESC-Serviço Social do Comércio) y salas de exposición a nivel nacional está planteada como una celebración de su obra, sin un orden cronológico ni histórico específico. El criterio curatorial propone un acercamiento festivo y sensorial a su trabajo. La exposición está compuesta por: copias y grabados, en su mayoría, realizados entre el 2016 y el 2022; una pequeña muestra de literatura de cordel regionalista nordestina, con tapas y diseños del autor, y una serie de matrices en madera, sobre todo de sus obras más recientes, que abordan el grabado con paletas de colores innovadoras frente a sus clásicos monocromáticos. Acompañan la muestra una serie de materiales paratextuales, audios, fotografías y videos en los que, en primera persona, escuchamos y vemos al autor hablar sobre su propia obra. Entre estos se encuentra el gran boneco con el cual fue homenajeado en el carnaval de Olinda del 2020 por Galo da Madrugada, el mayor bloco de rua del mundo.

Entre las fotografías que lo presentan hay una gigantografía muy particular en la que se ve a J. Borges caminando por una feira de rua o feira livre con su bastón, una camisa colorada y su chapéu característico. El cordelista está fuera de foco y avanza entre los puestos de venta para confundirse con el espacio que recorre, casi como si su figura, en un andar liviano y dinámico, condensara una definición misma del arte del cordel. Tal como nos canta la canción Chão de Estrelas del compositor popular Nelson Gonçalves, citado en los estudios del crítico Mark Curran:

A literatura popular brasileira vem inspirando os nossos bardos na rica produção literária que, como “roupas comuns dependuradas, na corda qual bandeiras desfraldadas, [parecendo] um estranho festival”, enfeitam as feiras de nossas cidades interioranas (Curran 1998: 49).

J. Borges nos dice abiertamente a feira para mim é uma festa y camina despreocupado, con su camisa desabrochada por entre medio de los puestos de compra y venta. En ese andar común entre la feira se mezclan y conviven autor, obra, mercancía, público, arte, fiesta y oficio. Esa colocación tan cotidiana nos lleva a pensar desde dónde la obra se vincula con dos mundos, al parecer inseparables: el mundo del trabajo y el mundo del ocio.

Entre estos dos mundos podemos dividir la mayoría de las obras expuestas en el SESI Av. Paulista. Aquellas que tematizan la ociosidad y las fiestas, como, por ejemplo, Vendendo bolas, dançando e bebendo (2016), No meu tempo de criança (2016), Na minha adolescência (2016); mientras que asociadas al mundo del trabajo encontramos, por ejemplo, las obras Serviços do campo (2016), Viagens a trabalho e negócios (2016), Plantio e corte de cana (2016), Plantio de algodão (2016), A vida na mata (2016). Estos dos agrupamientos responden a la temática dada por sus títulos y en cada obra las escenas parecen jugar en contra de la dicotomía otium/necotium que reina en el contexto de la exhibición: la Av. Paulista, uno de los centros más efervescentes del capitalismo financiero mundial. En ese cruce entre el contexto de exposición y la labor artesanal de J. Borges se desarrolla la curaduría de la muestra, realizada por Ângelo Filizola. La misma pone en escena particularidades que definen la relación entre trabajo y arte. Al decir del propio J. Borges en una cita de la exposición:

Veem meu trabalho como obra de arte, mas para isso acontecer eu tive que enfrentar muitos anos de luta com otimismo e esperança de vencer as dificuldades que me apareciam ao longo dessa trajetória.

Trabajo, entonces, se entiende en la obra de J. Borges como un oficio más de todas las labores que componen el espacio de la feira de rua y que coincide con la manera en que J. Borges se acercó al cordelismo durante su juventud: como un oficio, una fuente de ingreso económico. J. Borges está paseando a la vez que está trabajando y también, por qué no, vendiendo sus trabajos en esas feiras. Tal es como nos lo muestran las representaciones de les trabajadores en cada una de sus obras.

6.- Encuentro con J Borges en Bezerros (noviembre 2013)

Juan Recchia y J. Borges, 2013.

Detalles de las manos de los trabajadores en las gravuras de J. Borges

Cuerpos heterogéneos que, en sus claroscuros, en la diversidad de sus ropas, en sus gestos figuran toda una escenificación del mundo popular, y, sobre todo, de sus relaciones sociales. Las presentaciones de todas estas escenas van más allá de una simple descripción o “fotografía” estática; en estas obras se revive una narratividad muy potente. Movimientos y dinámicas que las posiciones de los cuerpos y de los objetos parecieran estar siempre desarrollando, o, de alguna manera, actualizando frente a nosotres. La propuesta de la curaduría, donde se deja al público tocar las matrices, escuchar la voz del autor y revivir sus obras sensorialmente, nos permite reformular una dimensión convivial: ¿Podemos pensar la obra de J. Borges no solo como una representación regionalista y descriptiva de los elementos “característicos” del nordeste o del sertão? ¿Qué ocurre si en plena metrópolis leemos la exposición desde una dimensión sensorial dentro de un mundo convivial, que se activa cuando estamos frente, escuchamos o tocamos las manos talladas de eses trabajadores?

 

En la feira como en un aleph, en el encuentro de estos mundos ajenos y propios, se habilita la convivialidad. En este espacio, como en la obra de J. Borges, convivimos autores y públicos. En palabras de otro Borges:

Se precisaron todas esas cosas para que nuestras manos se encontraran (Borges 1977: 24).

+

Borges, Jorge Luis (1977): “Las causas”, en Historia de la noche, Buenos Aires: Emecé.

Botrel, Jean- François (2006): “Entre material e inmaterial: el patrimonio de cordel” en: Simposio sobre patrimonio inmaterial. La voz y la memoria. Palabras y mensajes en la tradición hispánica, Urueña: Fundación Joaquín Díaz, 122-131. 

Blog con materiales de J. Borges producido por el Memorial de J.Borges & Museu da Xilogravura. 

Cavalcanti Proenca, Iván (1977): A ideología de cordel, Ed. Brasilia/Rio.

Chicote, Gloria (comp.) (2012): “Introducción” en Romancero. Buenos Aires: Colihue.

Curran, Mark (1998): História do Brasil em Cordel. São Paulo: Editora da Universidade de São Paulo.

Documental producido por el Centro Cultural do Banco do Brasil de Brasília para la exposición A arte de J. Borges: do cordel á xilogravura (2004). 

Entrevista de divulgación Memorial J. Borges um dos Artistas mais famosos do mundo na Arte da Xilogravura. Canal: Mulher Versátil com Walkiria Diniz. 

Ferreira, Clodo (2006): J.Borges por J.Borges: gravura e cordel do Brasil. Brasilia: Editora da UNB

Portal de Literatura de Cordel del Instituto de Estudos Brasileiros de la USP.

#22

La Constitución y los dilemas de la convivialidad en un Chile desigual

Global Convivial Forum 

Daniela Vicherat Mattar (Leiden University College / Senior Fellow Mecila)

El borrador propuesto para una nueva Constitución implicaba un cambio en los regímenes de convivialidad del país, cambiar los términos en los cuales dicha convivialidad se fundamenta.

“Nosotras y nosotros, el pueblo de Chile, conformado por diversas naciones nos otorgamos libremente esta Constitución, acordada por un proceso participativo, paritario y democrático.”

(Epílogo de la propuesta para una nueva Constitución)

Y, sin embargo, no pasó. A través de uno de los plebiscitos más votados en la historia de Chile, más de 13 millones de personas rechazaron la propuesta para una nueva Constitución el septiembre pasado. En las semanas que han seguido a este evento electoral, en Chile y fuera de Chile, mucha gente se pregunta qué pasó: Cómo es posible que un país que votó abrumadoramente en octubre de 2020 por cambiar la Constitución a través de una asamblea constituyente (78 % del electorado aproximadamente), que eligió como representantes de esta asamblea en su mayoría a gente independiente en mayo de 2021, terminó rechazando el texto propuesto por dicha asamblea con un masivo 62 % del electorado en septiembre de 2022. ¿Qué cambió en este lapso de casi dos años, en que el país ha seguido un proceso de cuestionamiento constitucional que ha sido, por otra parte, impecable y legítimo en términos electorales?

Lo que no se discute tan abiertamente es que la comparación de estos dos momentos electorales –representados en la figura anterior– no es completamente correcta en términos metodológicos. Una gran diferencia marcó ambos momentos: el tipo de voto. En el caso del plebiscito de entrada (octubre de 2020), en el que se definía si era precisa una nueva Constitución y a través de qué mecanismo elaborarla, el voto fue voluntario. En dicha ocasión, de acuerdo con los datos del SERVEL, participaron poco más de 7,5 millones de personas, aproximadamente la mitad del padrón electoral. En cambio, dos años después, en el plebiscito de salida (septiembre de 2022) el voto fue obligatorio, y lo ejercieron más de 13 millones de personas, o sea, más del 87 % del padrón electoral. Cerca de 5 millones de personas que no se habían manifestado electoralmente con anterioridad lo hicieron en el plebiscito de salida, y definieron contundentemente el resultado de la elección.[1]

El problema metodológico de comparar ambos momentos electorales es también un problema político y de legitimidad. Es evidente que en una democracia liberal como la chilena la decisión sobre el texto constitucional concierne a quienes conforman esta particular comunidad política. Sin embargo, los contornos de dicha comunidad se definieron de manera diferente en ambos momentos electorales. El hecho de votar de manera optativa en el plebiscito de entrada y de manera obligatoria en el plebiscito de salida establece términos distintos para lo que uno podría definir como una configuración de la convivialidad política a través del proceso electoral. Es decir, si entendemos una configuración de convivialidad como la forma en que se define una cierta unidad de convivencia, en este caso electoral, es claro que el plebiscito de entrada lo hace en términos de participación voluntaria, de quienes presumiblemente se sienten interpelados en el proceso, en donde el acento se pone en el derecho a votar. Sin embargo, en el plebiscito de salida lo que se enfatiza es el deber de votar, una de las responsabilidades aparejada al ejercicio de ciudanía entre quienes habitan la comunidad política llamada Chile.[2] Dado el resultado electoral, aparentemente estos millones de nuevos votantes estuvieron, en su mayoría, disconformes con el proceso constituyente en general y con su resultado particular: la propuesta para una nueva carta fundamental. La ciudadanía es eso, una danza constante y ambivalente entre derechos y deberes; sin embargo, décadas de neoliberalismo económico y de luchas políticas identitarias han exacerbado la demanda y el reconocimiento de los primeros por sobre los últimos, especialmente en términos individuales. En este sentido, no es extraño que la propuesta constitucional fuera rechazada al percibirse como una amenaza para el ejercicio de las libertades y derechos individuales en el país.[3]

¿Qué hubiese pasado en Chile si en el plebiscito de entrada el voto hubiese sido obligatorio? Dados los resultados del pasado septiembre, no es tan evidente que el resultado hubiese manifestado el deseo compartido de la mayoría por redactar una nueva Constitución. De hecho, estudios de opinión en estos momentos plantean como dos opciones casi igualmente válidas la idea de reformar la actual Constitución y la de redactar una nueva. La pregunta que aún está abierta en este sentido, y lo que es aún problemático, tanto para una política de izquierda como una de derecha, es cómo legitimar la Constitución (actual o nueva) en términos de su poder para definir los contornos de la sociedad que los habitantes de Chile quieren habitar. Es un problema de legitimidad social y política porque ni las mayorías electorales (con sus resultados aparentemente opuestos en 2020 y 2022) ni las manifestaciones populares de descontento social (masivas en 2019, pero permanentes y cada vez más violentas desde hace más de una década) son en sí mismas propuestas normativas sobre las que articular la democracia como forma legítima de convivencia social.[4] Hoy no es claro que haya un consenso sobre qué tipo de orden normativo es necesario, deseado y legitimado para organizar la vida en común.

¿Qué rol juega la desigualdad en todo esto? Una de las mayores ironías de los resultados de la última elección es que el rechazo ganó de manera transversal, no solo, como era evidente, en sectores privilegiados, sino también de manera contundente entre grupos marcados por la marginalidad y la vulnerabilidad socioeconómica, cultural, y ecológica entroncadas en el país. Es decir, la inscripción rayada en varios muros durante las revueltas de octubre de 2019 no pasó de ser más que un deseo, quizás incluso, neoliberal.

El borrador propuesto para una nueva Constitución implicaba un cambio en los regímenes de convivialidad del país, cambiar los términos en los cuales dicha convivialidad se fundamenta. Hasta ahora, la Constitución actual, establecida en 1980 bajo la dictadura de Pinochet, aunque reformada en varias ocasiones durante los gobiernos democráticos, defiende el principio del Estado como un órgano subsidiario de la sociedad, es decir, un Estado que está al servicio de garantizar la libertad de las personas y sus elecciones, y que, al contrario que el Estado social de derecho, no prioriza formas de solidaridad y derechos colectivos como articuladores del orden social (Si bien hay quienes argumentan que subsidiaridad y derechos sociales no son incompatibles).

Instalación de la Conveción Constitucional de Chile en su primera sesión, presidida por Elisa Loncón, efectuada en el edificio del Ex-Congreso nacional de Chile ubicado en Santiago. Cristina Dorador, CC BY 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=107321183.

 

Dado el resultado del plebiscito de salida, en el que millones que antes se habían abstenido del proceso participaron con su voto, es posible suponer que las casi cinco décadas que han pasado desde el golpe militar, caracterizadas entre otros aspectos por el arraigamiento de una lógica neoliberal como estilo de vida, hayan generado una especie de atrofia social para imaginar que es posible una sociedad donde lo común (representado, por ejemplo, en la figura del Estado social de derecho, la plurinacionalidad o el derecho inalienable al agua) no opaque o medre el desarrollo, las capacidades, la posibilidad de elección o la acción individuales. Es precisamente en esta tensión entre lo individual y lo colectivo donde es necesario negociar cotidianamente la convivialidad. Es también en esa tensión donde se transforma aquello definido como diferente (lo otro, o lo normativamente no-normal) en desigualdad de manera estructural (en términos de desigualdades de género, étnicos, socioeconómicos, corporales, neuronales, etc.).

En este sentido, si bien está claro que hay malestar social, no está claro que este sea un malestar ni con el acuerdo normativo vigente, que presume al individuo como único artífice de su vida, ni que dé pie para generar acuerdos normativos colectivos que transformen el modelo actual.[5] El énfasis en lo colectivo es fundamental, porque es lo que permitiría romper la lógica individualista que sustenta la ideología neoliberal. En otras palabras, para transformar las desiguales estructurales que existen en el país, no es preciso solo establecer formas redistributivas de poder y de recursos, sino también promover una lógica distinta de convivialidad, en la que la solidaridad y el cuidado reemplacen el valor dominante en términos de acceso y reconocimiento individual. El rechazo no ha sido solo un rechazo al borrador de una nueva Constitución. El problema que revela este resultado electoral es también de convivialidad, y de una aparente desconexión entre las necesidades materiales derivadas de las múltiples carencias y desigualdades que se viven en el país (y cómo resolverlas), y de la definición de las normas básicas que legitiman la democracia (y cómo elaborarlas de una manera que trascienda el sistema electoral).[6] Quizás la cuestión más fundamental que está en juego hoy es el tipo de democracia que los habitantes de Chile quieren labrar, y, sobre todo, quiénes se sienten llamados y con deseos de hacerlo.[7] Esta cuestión puede resumirse en una pregunta sobre los principios que articulan la convivialidad en el país: ¿Es posible imaginar otras formas de constituir un orden social y de derechos, en el que la solidaridad y el cuidado sean los principios articuladores y legitimadores de la democracia, y en el que, a su vez, sean esos mismos principios en los que se asiente una concepción de los derechos individuales, y no al revés? La pregunta, no solo en Chile, sigue abierta.

[1] Cabe la pena destacar que, de acuerdo con el SERVEL, la elección del plebiscito de entrada congregó a la mayor cantidad de votantes voluntarios hasta entonces en la historia del país. Es decir, las preguntas sobre la necesidad de cambiar la Constitución, y a través de qué mecanismo hacerlo, concitaron la participación política voluntaria más alta hasta entonces.

[2] La distinción entre el derecho y el deber de votar es interesante pues demarca los términos en que la participación genera ciudadanía, de manera más o menos individualista. En un contexto democrático liberal, el voto voluntario es la epitome de la participación en términos de libertad de elección, mientras que el voto obligatorio combina la participación individual con una obligación colectiva para el mantenimiento de la comunidad política. Por tanto, cómo se ejerce el voto revela la tensión entre derechos individuales y colectivos en la conformación de la comunidad política, y cómo, incluso para el funcionamiento de la democracia electoral, no todos los derechos son individuales. Agradezco los comentarios de Samuel Barbosa que me han ayudado a enfatizar y elaborar mejor este aspecto.

[3] De hecho, al momento de escribir este blog, políticos de derecha han propuesto al gobierno del presidente Borić un numero de cortapisas para la elaboración de la nueva propuesta, enfatizando la necesidad de garantías para la protección de derechos individuales principalmente entendidos en términos de propiedad privada y capacidad de elección de servicios (salud, educación, pensiones), aunque no sobre la capacidad de las mujeres de decidir sobre su propio cuerpo. Ver Juan Manuel Ojeda, “Los ocho principales nudos que entrampan las negociaciones para sellar el acuerdo para redactar una nueva Constitución” (2022).

[4] De hecho, no solo en Chile, la democracia liberal lleva décadas dando señales de inestabilidad y una incapacidad aparentemente estructural para dar cuenta de los desafíos sociales, ecológicos y normativos de las sociedades contemporáneas. Ver Jan Aart Scholte,After Liberal Global Democracy: New Methodology for New Praxis(2019).

[5] El diario El País publicó una nota sobre Petorca, una localidad de sequía crónica, donde también ganó el rechazo pese a que el texto propuesto garantizaba el derecho al agua.

[6] En este sentido, es una constatación empírica de la tensión entre democracia procedimental minimalista y formas de entender la democracia de manera más sustantivamente.

[7] Lo que está claro es que la gran derrota en el plebiscito de salida es de representación y de deliberación democrática, no de participación política.

#19

"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.

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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

#14

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)

#11

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.