Truth and love and Eichmann in Patropi

(See Part 1 here.)

I.

pravda

This is a third or fourth draft. Each prior version has been discarded, deleted even. I can find many explanations for my ongoing inability to follow up to that explanation of Brazilian politics and society as immanently ironic. The natural segue would be to develop a theory of transcendental irony to generalize the Brazilian situation rather than being mired in local details. The goal of such a theory would be to elucidate the elementary particles (disavowal, pretense, bluff, dissembling, etc.) of ironic praxis and their configuration in what we could call the background radiation of postmodernity.

Yet the problem with this strategy is that Macunaíma is at once micro and macro, constituent part and systemic outcome. Maybe this is why wiser men have argued against transcendental theorizing — not because the transcendent can’t be truthfully denied (as perhaps someone like Jordan Peterson would argue) but because this notion of “background radiation” fails as disavowal, pretense, bluff, dissembling… the immanence of ironic praxis pushes out everything else (theory, the transcendent, the possibility of neat reductive argumentation…)

Taking irony seriously fails. So does taking irony ironically. Fails at what? At reading the “glitches in the Matrix” for what they are. This is how “Truth is the only weapon mortals can use in their struggle against the gods“: wherever we’re at peace with the ongoing situation, irony (disavowal, etc.) suffices. This is also why the demands on theory posed by Bolsonaro and Trump are so different. Trump is to the existing dialectical infrastructure (i.e. to deal with multiple inconsistent truth-claims) as Deep Blue is to Kasparov. The “establishment” reels because it has been defeated (in a game! this is still within/salvageable under the principle of sufficient irony) by unknown strategies for known rules.

The problem posed by Jair Bolsonaro is much more interesting. Jair is neither an old-school partisan for whom the ideology is true and justifies the means, nor a Trumpian master ironist. Repeated to the point of brainwashing, his political banner  “and you shall know the Truth and the Truth shall save you” is (like Deleuze’s Pink Panther’s) his “becoming-world carried out in such a way that it becomes imperceptible.” 

This is not a whimsical quotation; please read it once more. Like Trump, Jair contradicts himself; but the mature Trumpian engineering of ironic disavowals followed by overlapping bluffs is replaced by something asymptotically approaching a pure Socratic position. Again, this is not banal, but incendiary: Jair Bolsonaro is a man willing to take a public stance of “I understand none of this”. 

II.

Please indulge me while I try some freestyle soteriology.

Whether he fully realizes this or not, Jair’s Truth is not transcendent, not tactical, nor even epistemic. One does not come to know the Truth like one acquires knowledge of point-set topology. Knowledge of Truth comes as knowledge of rain — not even experiential knowledge but experience itself. To know the truth is to experience ambient truth-conditions.

How is the truth supposed to “help us fight the gods”? By piercing through what we tried and failed to call the “background radiation of irony”. Thus the biblical promise echoed through Jair’s banner: the experience-itself of truth (screaming under truth and crying under truth and making love under truth) is ecstatic. Truth stands besides itself, and in situations conducive to such an ec-stasis we experience being besides it.

What’s really tricky about this business of truth-ecstasis is that it’s surprisingly hard to clearly distinguish an existential situation (walking under truth) from an epistemological outcome (having truth on your side). Zizek correctly states that “God exists and therefore everything is permitted” — an unspoken consequence being that fascism is the product of epistemic rather than moral sins. On the contrary: a deep sense of morality in disagreement with ambient conditions pushes people into bridging is-ought gaps and walking away from the truth.

This should be in everyone’s minds as we ponder the chaos and corruption of the Worker’s Party rule: these were people that served a moral project that was very specifically dissonant from ambient conditions — and yet pure enough to tolerate passing for as long as possibly. It seems accordingly that this boorish new man would lead us to an alternate moral project dictated by his standard Christian values and his right-wing military training. But the Jair era is no mirror of the past.

It’s a strange and radical experiment where no one claims to “have the truth”. And if Jair’s presidency fails to deliver on these radical promises, their apparent capillarity might have already delivered at least some of the spiritual transformation that saves us from Macunaíma.

But maybe not, of course. Who the hell knows.

The myth of Epistemon and Epiphron

(Note: this is going under some grammar and style revisions.)



“I am not an immense being”
, said Epistemon.

Eudoxia had delicately rolled off bed, hoping that the sudden release of compressive energy wouldn’t  wake him up. The sound stopped her mid-stride from where she was going, from moving on to whatever women do after sex. When she turned back, he was sitting up, feeling his throat and face for where the nasality of “immense” came from.

What she did next is what every woman like Eudoxia does to mollify a man like Epistemon. Keep connected to the warm glow of sexual intimacy, and praise him.

“That was good. That was a good time. I enjoyed–“

“I’m not saying I’m not ‘good in bed’. That’s not what-” interrupted Epistemon, stopping mid-sentence expecting to be interrupted too.  “I’m not saying I’m good either”, he continued, replying to himself and to the silence.

“I felt good. I’m still feeling good”, offered Eudoxia while it was still true, half-feeling and half-conceptualizing the incoming oxytocin peak and crash.

“So you say I didn’t do you wrong–“

“You didn’t. I wanted it. I felt good.”, she insisted, disappearing past the bathroom wall.

“Which is great because for women the emotions are so different”. This no longer sounded like insecurity, but rather like a philosophical argument; and so he waited for a possible challenge to the blanket nature of a proposition like “for all women”. Out of courtesy, of course; she knew Eudoxia to know him better. Standing up and gradually moving her, he offered a corollary: “Which is of course is the same as saying that it’s different for men.” 

Eudoxia was sitting on the closed toilet lid, legs held together by her arms, messing with her toenails. She purred, avoiding his gaze; he took it as a sign to go on with his monolog.

“For men there’s always an element of conquest and possession; even the physical act is a savage gesture”, continued Epistemon, first agitated, then softer: “Even if it follows from love.” 

Again this. “But I didn’t expect you to love me. You told me in so many–” interspersed Eudoxia before he resumed talking.

This derailed Epistemon’s line of thought.  He had to defend himself — “But I do love you. For your wisdom, and also for your physical form. There are so few–“.  Epistemon had to stop mid-sentence to think of how to return to his difficult point. He rubbed his face out of frustration. She buried her head between her knees. Enough silence passed that a garbage truck could be heard in the distance.

Finally: “You love me like you love mankind.”

“I hate mankind. I love men. Some men. In the universal sense of the word ‘Man’, which you know I refuse to abandon. And–“

“I know you see wisdom in me”, interrupted Eudoxia, determined to hold him to the thread.

“And physical beauty”. Epistemon hadn’t offered this as a compliment, but it made Eudoxia blush. Her looks were, of course, what people and men in particular (not in the “universal sense”) first knew of her — but together with  Epistemon they had analyzed and reduced her primal attractiveness to its elementary components. There was her romantic beauty, the cloudy fascination with the fineness of her; there was her reproductive fitness, measured in ratios and correlations; there was her grace, which was a performative virtue in disguise — the way she exerted those raw elements and made them whole. Epistemon’s deconstructive gaze amused her: it transformed the essential fragility of beautiful women into a gaggle of superpowers.

Yet this sudden wholesale appreciation was unexpectedly, maybe unthinkably flattering. She let her guard down and took her shot at cutting through Epistemon’s winding, self-loathing, well, speech. Rather than just do Simplicia for his Salviatti, she spoke from the heart.

“But you don’t love me in the way couples do.”

“I’ll have you know that I haven’t slept with anyone else for years.” Now, this was a low punch. Eudoxia did have a handful of lovers, powerful men — but not like him. Not like Epistemon.

“Well I have. I’m too pretty and too normal! But every time or almost every time I wished it could have been you. Why can’t we just–” Eudoxia stopped herself just short from crying. He knew about her needs. The bitterness of this postcoital philosophizing was so familiar. But she was also invested. She couldn’t just tell him to cut the crap and drive him out of her apartment.

“But I can’t. With that kind of love comes illusion. Lies. The universe lies to you. Epistemon cannot be compromised. Having haracteristiscally caught himself being grandiose, he stopped also his rhetorically grand body motions. His eyes implored it’s-not-you-it’s-me to her eyes. “I cannot be compromised. There is too much at stake.”

Eudoxia tried to rationalize — “Even if you are compromised, even if you die. The world will go on, Epistemon.  That sacrificial–”  Now this made Epistemon uncharacteristically angry and jealous, although he tried to hide it by avoiding her gaze. If there was anything true, it was that Epistemon is important. Maybe not an immense being. Maybe a bad lover.

She tried a course correction: “Epistemon, if you die I literally, literally die too. Some monstrous other may try to use my beauty for horrifically stupid purposes, but it won’t be me. It won’t have my, my–” 

Your grace”, completed Epistemon. “The performative virtue that enacts your attractiveness”.

“I can’t help it if I’m sexy”, she cooed. “Sexy is something you do, not something you are”, he replied, warmly, this time intending it as a compliment.

Eudoxia was tired. Epistemon was also tired, but Eudoxia had for long managed a heart always about to break. “So what are we fighting about?” 

Epistemon relented. “For men, sex is a conquest. I need to own you.”  

“I want you to own me. But you need to settle down.”, she argued, standing up as if to say “I want to move with this already, I’m ready”.

“If I settle down I’ll be like those others you seduce. It will never be the happy marriage of Epistemon and Eudoxia. We’ll be transformed”,  he explained, feeling pulled to the ground as if gravity came in waves.

“All couples transform”. This is the structure of our fights, she thought, — Epistemon the concept fog, Eudoxia the beacon of clarity. Clearly they had been put together for each other.

“But there’s only one Epistemon and one Eudoxia”.

Eudoxia flew into a rage at hearing this. So many years of frustration and heartache to support this tragic self-importance, so much pretend-powerlesness — like there was anything Eudoxia and Epistemon couldn’t do. She wanted to shriek; she wanted to rip her own skin out. But instead she grabbed Epistemon by the hair and bashed his head against the kitchen sink, again and again and again until she heard bones cracking.

When Eudoxia came to herself, her hands were so bloody that she couldn’t operate a touchscreen phone. She was reduced to screaming for help. And help came: Epiphron, one of Eudoxia’s occasional lovers, had heard the screams and was just arrived to see if she was ok.

Despite having felt his spine curl up a little with jealousy at seeing Eudoxia with Epistemon, Epiphron was quick to the action: he quickly instructed Eudoxia and both carried him to his car, dragging his feet. Eudoxia sat on the back with Epistemon, filled with regret and sadness.

Flashing briefly into consciousness, Epistemon whispered to Eudoxia — “Blame Epiphron”, quickly passing out again. In another brief flash, “Marry me”. Eudoxia was horrified by Epistemon’s deformed appearance, much of the right side of his skull having been bashed in. Did she finally change him? Was he proposing they lie and frame the innocent man who was saving him?

Eudoxia suddenly didn’t love Epistemon anymore. But she married him, out of a sense of fate. Thereafter everytime they had sex Epistemon announced — “I’m good”.

 

Eichmann in Patropi

(This is probably part 1 of a neverending series.)

ABGLT-bolsonaro

I.

As you might have read (particularly if informed only by the international press), Jair Bolsonaro is a deal-breaker: incompatible with Brazilian democratic principles and popular only because of, presumably, the same reasons that have been giving power to deal-breakers everywhere. But reality is impossibly specific;  Marine Le Pen is no Trump and Jair is neither.

The true reason that Jair Bolsonaro is a deal-breaker is that he’s insufficiently post-modern. And I know this sounds like a Jordan Peterson talking point, so let me defend my usage as precise and unpertesonian.

Brazil is a post-modern nation in the most literal — syntactic — possible sense. It once was a quickly modernizing nation ruled by a parliamentary monarchy about as democratic as any modern monarchy (except, of course, for slaves, which is neither here nor there). It fought a heroic nationalistic war against a napoleonic aggressor. It even had a first-grade literary culture best exemplified by Machado de Assis, hailed by people of all nations as the Black Dostoyevsky. Even the Emperor was profoundly modern; having met him in exile, Nietzsche wrote on his surprise on meeting such a cultured, enlightened king.

Then, this Meiji-revolution-in-the-tropics was abruptly interrupted by a military coup, the date of which is still celebrated as a national holiday.  One of their first acts is to ban the “animal lotto” that had been ran by the owners of the Zoo. Of course, the animal lotto is omnipresent in post-modern, post-coup Brazil, because the 1889 coup didn’t bring the end of oligarchy, it brough the end of meaning.

Interestingly, there’s not much to say about our post-modern history: the rough-and-tumble of military coups and phony elections (voto de cabresto) that follows until the 1930s is finally overcome by another military coup led by a caudillo-type figure hailing from the very border with Argentina named Getulio Vargas. Getulio eventually rules for 15 full and ininterrupted years — the first seven of which as a weak dictatorship continually challenged by regional military forces, and the last eight of which as a brutal, Gestapo-collaborating, intellectual-imprisoning dictatorship. Hilariously, Getulio Vargas briefly returns to power in the mid-50s by the popular vote and creates Petrobras, which you might have seen in the news lately.

Roughly at the same time (actually two years before, but let me have my narrative) as Getulio takes power for the first time, the quintessential post-modern Brazilian hero (one “without a character”) is introduced — the shape-shifting, race-swapping, preternaturally slothful Macunaíma. By then, the fundamentally chaotic and future-less character (or, in a literary stroke, the lack of one) of Brazilian post-modernity had become clear.

How does Getulio rationalize suppressing Brazilian fascism while inching towards an alliance with Nazi Germany? Macunaíma. How does Brazil suddenly shifts alliances towards the Americans? Well, the foremost Nazi in the Getulio government, Filinto Müller, dies in an inexplicable plane crash — but face it, also Macunaíma. Why did the single true stateman between Vargas and FHC move the capital from the historical Rio de Janeiro (planned from the get-go as the capital of a colonial empire) to the literal middle of nowhere? Macunaíma.

This is why the “Brazilian Trump” story doesn’t work: we’ve been living in Trumpish epistemological conditions since before our great-grandmas’s times.

II.

Trump is a natural international reference point. There are a few more you might have heard if you’re reading the morally agitated press (should you take into account that Glenn Greenwald is married to a politician from a small-time party under near-direct control of former president Lula? that’s up to you): the Military Dictatorship (the singular one that’s not openly celebrated) and, gasp, fascism.

We’ve established so far that Brazil has experienced long strings of military rule since the post-modern coup of 1899. We have not painted this history in the profondo rosso colors of Getulio Vargas’s torture cells smack in the middle of downtown then-capital Rio did — and I say this without any irony — because their blood doesn’t matter much.  It’s modern blood, shed by modern archetypes including communists and fascists (and whoever else gets caught in this overly-large net, such as non-Macunaímic master Graciliano Ramos), spilled in the effort to keep modernity from creeping back in. Modern blood, and therefore as distant from Brazilian reality as the blood from the late-1800s War with Paraguay.

This is also why the assassination attempt on Jair Bolsonaro’s life doesn’t seem to matter —  despite medical records attesting that he had lost enough blood to die in most alternate realities, the kind of people that gets retweets still claim not to have seen it. It doesn’t show well in the 3-second cellphone camera footage loop that people saw on TV.

So what’s with the particular instance of military rule that Brazilian culture does reject? What, some of the communists killed this time are even the same communists Getulio Vargas missed. It’s not enough to reverse this theory of modern blood and say that it’s “postmodern blood” that gets spilled. In the name of what? Germanic name notwithstanding, general Geisel’s aesthetics, policies and policy aesthetics (but not aesthetic policies — maybe this matters, maybe not) as Dilma Roussef.

The fact is that it’s really hard to say something clear about the abject character of the military rule of the 1960-1970s because Brazilian culture refuses to allow it to die. More time has passed between the end of the Regime and now than between the bombing of Dresden and the creation of an European Parliament, and they had nazis to purge. A key difference is that we didn’t purge ours; we made a pact of amnesty (on all sides — there were plenty of atrocities perpetrated by them commies to forgive) that possibly let some wounds infect, but was mostly broken unilaterally by Dilma Roussef’s party, who after a good 30 years inaugurated the so-called Comittee for the Truth.

At least some observers should have  been taken aback by this word – the Truth — but instead, mainstream culture proceeded to congratulate itself for having been right the whole time (this is a lot like if Chacrinha’s proof of Riemann’s conjecture turned out to be correct) and some fringes were quick to the defense of their heroes — quickly transmuted into modern historical figures even as they died of old age in relative poverty. Most ordinary people didn’t even pay much attention — ain’t nobody got the time for modern events.

And yet, out of the sheer sterility of the post-1988 version of post-modern Brazil and the ballooning demands of a bulging urban lower middle class, this modern re-reading of whatever happened between 1964 and 1985 took root. We need to understand the sheer novelty of clear ideas in Patropi to make some sense of Jair Messias Bolsonaro — this is like the pre-calculus for Macunaíma. I’m sorry  I can’t make it simpler.