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The Newborn Aestheticization of Brazilian Misery

In film, Mythology, Polymorphous Perversity, Primitive Traumas on January 15, 2012 at 11:08 pm

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by Diego Costa

The film is “Vidas Secas”, or “Barren Lives.” The director is Nelson Pereira dos Santos and it’s 1963. The black-and-white film stock seems to crackle along with the drought-stricken land on which the characters step. They are a family searching for water, food, maybe even work. The dog is a barely animate sliver of flesh, the children not that much different. They make their way through the arid backlands of Northeastern Brazil as if obeying some kind of ontological compass one would reach if all of the ideological and historical gunk could be physically deconstructed. A kind of desperate drive stuck on the last bit of brittle bone before whatever humanity was left melted back into the earth. This isn’t the allegorical “becoming animal” borne out of the kind of existential wretchedness in the last scene of Béla Tarr’s “Damnation” (1988), when a man in a suit in the middle of nowhere ends up getting down on all fours and barking back at a stray communist doomsday dog in some kind of recoupling. The scenes also bear none of the spent humanity-cum-figurative bestiality of the horny garbage man in a rubber cat-suit finding solace in a no-man’s-land garbage dump in Joao Pedro Rodrigues’ “O Fantasma” (2000). This is misery so de facto that representing it requires a good bit of perversity. The kind of misery that is as abundant in certain corners of the world as it is perennially projected into an elsewhere that “Africa,” “Haiti,” or “developing world,” seem increasingly unfit to single-handedly contain.

ImageAt the same time “Barren Lives” was being made a brand new city, Brasília, was being built from scratch (with a manmade lake and all) in the middle of Brazil. The parallels couldn’t be more contrasting: the frail bodies of the Northeasterners headed to some elsewhere/nowhere and the modernist edification of large phallic structures for the new Brazilian capital. The irony seems more narrative-friendly once so many of the hungry travellers end up electing Brasília as the promise-land and populating not the city itself, but the slew of unaccounted-for slum-like “satellite cities” surrounding it.Who could have known, then, that five decades later, the city spawned as artificially as the Northeasterners’ misery was thought to be “natural,” would be home to Mangai. A branch of a restaurant that already exists in the Brazilian Northeast itself, Mangai is nothing short of a spectacle normally reserved to countries whose ethos is more imbricated in artifice. Mangai is outrageous bad taste of the Americana sort, a cartoonish appropriation akin to Mall of America’s Rainforest Café in which servers introduce themselves as tour guides of the amazing “adventure” patrons are about to embark in. Located in a new development by the (manmade) lake Paranoá, alongside several extravagant restaurants and the popular food kiosks selling hot dogs and corn-on-the-cob that such things beget, one has to climb a few flights of stairs to arrive at Mangai’s entrance. There one finds a collection of hammocks, as if the thematic substitutes of comfy couches for waiting or a babysitting-like McDonald’s playground. Read the rest of this entry »

To Disguise, To Repeat, To Deploy

In Masquerade, Primitive Traumas, Transvestite Souls on November 15, 2011 at 7:22 am


by Alejandra Josiowicz


              “In the act of writing, and, why not, of reading, there was a world that came near, and there was a belonging that was at stake.”

Denilson Lopes, O homem que amava rapazes o outros ensaios. 2002.

Why study psychoanalysis and how to use it as a critical tool? What is to be queer here and now? What are the possible connections between teaching, writing, reading and our sexed selves? If the identity categories control our eroticism, what practices of reading, teaching and writing should we use? How should we defer ourselves (Butler 1996) in order not to be captivated in our own voice, writing, work?

How can we remain opaque, in an age in which all ethics –democratic, professional, commercial, technical- are associated with transparency and public disclosure? Is there a particular performance of dignity in the practice of opacity, like Eric Laurent said recently about the paradoxical figure of authority in his clinic practice (“Psychoanalysis & our time” Laurent, Eric. Barnard College, NY, 29th Sept 2011)?

In a multicultural age where emerging agents so much as developing countries seek to occupy a new real and imaginary space in a public sphere in crisis, what should be the role of experimental, critical, gender and psychoanalytic theory? Should it theorize its paradoxes, take part or critically weigh the facts and figures of a possible new beginning? What kind of gender & social performances should we allow and choose for ourselves? How much painful social and gender indefiniteness can our bodies and minds endure? How should we speak about the risky frontiers of our identity and to whom? Students? Professors? Therapists? Friends? Is there a possibility to remain silent, enabling the psychic excess of the real to act for itself?

What do we do with the genders we want to have, the genders we lost, the mimicking and rejections we constantly enact? Do we disguise them in drag? Do we repeat them endlessly searching for a secure place, for an identification? Which appearances, which glitters and surfaces, which powerful disguises will deploy not so much the stigmatization of an other but the uncertainties and negotiations of our own pleasures and desires? Which transvestites’ souls? Which masquerades? Transwritings, transimages, transquotidean, androgynies, ambiguities, identities as becoming, baroque spectacles, all gathered in a practice of writing that escapes the purely academic posture of the critic and involves itself in criticism as an act of pleasure (Lopes 2002).

If, according to Lacan, the unconscious is structured as a language -more than the Freudian reservoir of affective impulses- semiological research after Pierce and Saussure had to deal with this renovation. The lacanian concept of language – as mother tongue- is a powerful tool to block and, more importantly, unblock inhibition, symptom and depression. The semiotic, precocious pre- linguistic relations, minimum particles of language that the child shares with his mother, carry the most archaic register of the unconscious. Childish babble carries the inscription of primitive traumas, joyful as well as painful experiences (Kristeva 2011). Therefore, to recover that primitive oral body is to go beyond the banal body of the globalized media towards artistic practice as experience and radical language. That is why, according to Kristeva, psychoanalytic practice and literature constitute one and the same psychic dynamic, because they are mystical transformative experience of our subjectivity.

Works cited

-Butler, Judith, “Imitation and Gender Insubordination” in Women, Knowledge and Reality. Explorations in Feminist Philosophy. New York: Routledge, 1996.

-Kristeva, Julia, “Psicoanálisis y literatura son la misma cosa” entrevista por Mauro Libertella en Clarín, Revistaenie, 11- Noviembre-2011.

-Laurent, Eric, “Psychoanalysis & our time” in The First Paris USA Lacan Seminar in New York City. Lacan´s Legacy: Thirty Years in the Lacanian Orientation, Barnard College , NY, 29th Sept 2011.

-Lopes, Denilson, O homem que amava rapazes e outros ensaios. Rio de Janeiro: Aeroplano, 2002.

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