"DAS AVÓS", 2019, video installation by Rosana Paulino. Photo: Videobrasil.

Bonaventure Soh Bejeng Ndikung proposes that we think of a concept of de-othering as a strategy of criticism and deconstruction of the geographies and narratives that establish central powers in our societies. Your text for the 21st cataloga Contemporary Art Biennial Sesc_Videobrasil, whose curatorial team Gabriel Bogossian, Luisa Duarte, Miguel López and Solange Farkas, is entitled “De-outrization as a method” and has as its subtitle a phrase in ngemba that, in translation, means something like “keep yours that I keep mine”. The challenge of the de-othering method is that to otherize, in a way, has always been our way of being in the world. At least our self-narratives and epistemologies tend to reproduce binarisms that almost always go back to the self-other counterpoint. In the psychoanalytic view, the self begins to take shape with the differentiation of the other, given by the limits of the body, by helplessness and, finally, by learning to play with the other.

Anguish and fear at the origin of knowledge and the relationship with the “other”

Adorno and Horkheimer, in a well-known passage from the essay Dialectic of Enlightenment, describe the origin of knowledge in the cry of horror in the face of what we do not know. The knowledge derived from this tragic encounter with the “other” would be riddled with fear e terror.[1] Whether in religiosity or philosophy, since “enlightenment is the radicalization of mythical anguish”, the project of submit the other fully, since “nothing can be left out, because the simple idea of ​​'outside' is the real source of anguish.”[2] The project of enlightenment, that is, the expansion of Enlightenment reason to all corners of the Earth, resulted in a process of domination of the “other” and of nature that now culminates in the ever closer and more tangible images of the end of our time. world. The reason that was raised as a reaction to fear and articulated from the mythical anguish becomes a violent weapon to reduce the other in half, whether of knowledge or profit, since there is a perverse link between reason Enlightenment and the plundering and dominating logic of capitalism, especially in its neoliberal aspect. If reason did not want to leave “nothing out”, capital also wants to transform everything into a means to wealth: individuals are seen as robot-workers without subjectivity and rights, land is reduced to the category of a commodity. If there is something that cannot be immediately turned into profit, such as trees and native populations, they must be annihilated. The other is denied and this other is everything that opposes the empire of capital. The commodification of the world necessarily implies its own death. Neoliberal geopolitics cuts the world according to its maximum exploitation. In the political field, nation-states are articulated in globalized blocks, unfolding the logic of extractivism, manufacture and conversion into profit. This model is a continuation of the colonial system and reproduces the hierarchies that resulted from coloniality, both in the relations between national blocs and in terms of a new ontologizing racialization.

Colonizing and its crimes: genocide, ethnocide, ecocide, memoricide

Achille Mbembe rightly recalls a 19th century French colonization manual by Paul Leroy-Beaulieu. Colonization, for this author, “is the expansive force of a people, its power of reproduction, its expansion and multiplication across spaces; it is the submission of the universe or a vast part of it to its language, customs, ideas and laws.” It is worth remembering that, in 2018, a candidate for the election in Brazil said that “quilombolas are not even fit to procreate”, in a gesture that at the same time animalized Afro-descendants and denied them the right to self-reproduction and determination.

To colonize, added Alexandre Mérignhac, at the beginning of the 20th century, “is to relate to new countries, to take advantage of the resources of all the nature of these countries.”[3] Colonizing implies hierarchizing, dividing and dominating. It is a necropolitics that destroys nature and entire populations. Destroys itself physically and symbolically: genocide, ethnocide e ecocide go hand in hand in this era. But there is a fourth face of this beast of the apocalypse that cannot be forgotten. Well, here, too, it is a memoricide planned and systematically reiterated. There can be no domination without physical and symbolic violence. The case of Brazil is paradigmatic: a country with one of the worst social divisions of wealth in the world, it is also a champion in terms of state and parastatal violence, as well as in terms of erasing the histories and narratives of these violences.

It is evident that the neocolonial/neoliberal system has been doubly oiled in recent decades: first, with the end of the bloc of countries led by the Soviet Union, which allowed an almost total expansion of the neoliberal system implemented in the 1980s by Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher; and, secondly, by 11/XNUMX, with the unleashing of the annihilating war against the “other”. Never has the culture industry's narrative-producing machine secreted so many new myths and established so clearly the supposedly insurmountable differences between the Enlightenment-defending Self and the barbarian-Other. if you give Iliad to Hollywood the history of these narratives repeats itself, on the other hand the genocidal potential of these narratives has never been greater, given modern warfare and cybernetic technologies.

In Brazil, where this explanation of the neoliberal program now takes place in a tragic and pathetic way, it is not by chance that the motto of security policies is “human rights for human rights”. To the extent that politicians in power boast the ability to automatically establish, as in modern facial recognition cameras, the distinction between “good” and “evil” citizens, it is therefore a motto that would fit well in the door of Auschwitz or DOI-CODI. Achille Mbembe also recalled the words of the French colonial theorist of the late 19th century, Jules Ferry, who already exuded similar concepts: “It must be said frankly that in fact superior races have more rights than inferior races […]. The Declaration of the Rights of Man was not 'written by the Blacks of Equatorial Africa.”[4]

In other words, the search for a policy of de-othering, defended by Bonaventure as well as by other artists, curators, anthropologists, actors and critical thinkers, today, is a clear response to the fundamentalist turn that occurred with the triumph of neoliberalism, associated with a new wave of struggle for the supremacy of a thought that we can call Enlightenment, Enlightenment or simply Eurocentrism. As Ta-Nehisi Coates wrote, “Americans [and not only they, I add] believe in the reality of 'race' as a definite, undoubted feature of the natural world. […] race is the child of racism, not its mother.”[5] Or, in the words of Achille Mbembe: “The big nerve [of] the imperial project is racial difference, which is incorporated into disciplines such as Ethnology, Geography or Missionology.”[6] The narratives made in museums, in literature, in the arts, in advertising, in international exhibitions, only constantly reinforce these racial, political and economic divisions.

New ethics of responsibility and the “whole” as a game

The method of de-othering, however, is not innocent and knows that, beyond or beyond binarisms, our narratives need a ground, at least, of identity to institute language. It is about thinking of differences as becomings and not as solid monads, as the logic drawn from the fear of reason of Enlightenment does. Bonaventure’s cunning subtitle, “Keep yours and I’ll keep mine”, is not intended to indicate, it seems to me, a new identity struggle, in which we would simply turn upside down the North-South hierarchies that operate politically and economically in the world today. , keeping this metaphysical binary logic untouched. Rather, this duality must not be thought of within a watertight binarism, but from a new ethics of responsibility. In this I-world relationship, otherization does not necessarily imply objectification, objectification or domination.

Saussure thought of the linguistic system as a game of differences, but he knew that the pieces of this game are movable. Novalis, a century before this linguist, described the whole in an amusing way that can illuminate what it means to imagine an open game of differences that sustains language: “The whole consists approximately – like people playing that, without chairs, sit in a circle on each other's knees.”[7] Here we see the whole being supported by a common play or play. In the Bienal catalog we also read the precious text by Gladys Tzul Tzul, who states, based on her Mayan K'iche' experience in Guatemala and her studies in sociology: “Communal work is the primordial energy from which the concrete richness of communal life; at the same time, it enables an ethical horizon of existence and inclusion strategies that are not centered on an essential identity.”[8] Traditional cultures produce the only authentically rich communities and groups, if we think of wealth in terms of well-being, as a state that frees us from the aforementioned “mythical anguish” that unfolds in our alienated work and in our objectified relationships with the other, with nature and with our desires. Therefore, when it is said today that the “Indians are poor in rich lands” this only expresses the poverty of character and the lack of intelligence of those who said it. Indigenous people are the genuinely rich populations of this planet. The shame, projected on them, must be recognized in the hegemonic culture with its genocidal logic.

The “second technique” and the new playful action space

Thinking about Novalis' image of the game of sitting on each other's laps to indicate the whole, I remember that for Benjamin, the game was also seen as an open and non-violent category of acting in the world. The playful relationship with the world must be thought of as a non-violent relationship technique. Benjamin wrote in his well-known essay The work of art in the age of its technical reproducibility about an emancipated technique, which for him would be a “second technique”. The “first technique” had the human being at its center and had as its paroxysmal realization the human sacrifice. We can say that this technique is linked to the reason of the Enlightenment and had as its accomplishment the genocides of the 20th century and the destruction of a good part of the planet. The “second technique” tends to dispense the human being from work. It is based on playful repetition and would have its origin in the game, seen by Benjamin as the first modality of taking away from nature.

Let us also remember here the Freudian theory of the game: the fort-da (the play of disappearing) of the baby as an elaboration of separation/reality.[9] For Benjamin, too, the game is a means of empowerment. For him, the “second technique” does not aim at a Domain of nature (as occurred in the “first technique”), but rather to play with her. The game approaches, but keeps the distance. The “first technique” would be more serious, and the second, playful: the work of art would be in the middle, oscillating between them. But cinema and photography, as they are arts eminently dependent on technique, would be closer to this “second technique”, and would act precisely in the training towards emancipation. Benjamin highlights the relationship of this second technique with revolutions and utopias. In this context, he presents the fundamental concept of scope, field of action, but also, game space. I quote: “Precisely because this second technique seeks to progressively liberate human beings from forced labour, the individual sees, on the other hand, his field of action increase at once beyond all proportions.”[10] Benjamin also states that, in the face of this second technique, “the vital issues of the individual – love and death – already demand new solutions”.[11] This idea seems to be the motto for the works of art produced in our era. Today, a significant part of them explores these new spaces of play and freedom that the technique opens up to us. They are incursions into the new meaning of life – and biopolitics – in the age of technical synthesis of life. They pose questions to us humans, inhabitants of the era of crisis of borders (geographical, biological and others), of incessant mobility, of anxiety, of the end of work – that definer of our humanity for so many centuries.

It is worth remembering that Benjamin developed this dichotomy between two types of technique, although not so explicitly, and treating technique as second nature, in his last fragment of one way street, book published in 1928. In this text, called “On the way to the planetarium”, Benjamin deals with the theme, dear to him, of abandonment, which would have occurred in modernity, of the perception of elective affinities, or the world of similarities, which before united humanity, macro and microcosm. He writes about the destructive and sacrificial technique that culminated in World War I and also about a technique that would no longer be domination, which he sees in nuce in proletarian strength:

Human masses, gases, electrical forces were thrown into the open, high frequency currents crossed the landscape, new stars rose in the sky, airspace and sea depths boiled with thrusters, and sacrificial wells were dug everywhere in Mother Earth. . This great cut made to the cosmos was fulfilled for the first time on a planetary scale, that is, in the spirit of technique. But because the ruling class's greed for profit sought to rescue its will in it, technology betrayed humanity and turned the wedding bed into a sea of ​​blood. Domination of Nature, so the imperialists teach, is the meaning of all technique. […] [However] technique is not domination of Nature: it is domination of the relationship between Nature and humanity. Men as a species have certainly been at the end of their evolution for millennia; but humanity as a species is at the beginning. For her, technique is organized in a physical in which their contact with the cosmos is formed in a new and different way than in peoples and families.[12]

In other words, through new techniques, this “second technique” derived and inspired by photography and cinema, another nature is organized. Our relationship with this other nature will be playful, dialogic, and will go beyond the logics of capital, nations and families. This thinker bet on an incorporation of this technique thought of as art, and no longer as an apparatus of domination and destruction. His dream was that we could stop the current catastrophic development in the name of so-called progress, which only brings death, and build a humanity capable of realizing the utopian potential of this “second technique”: “To make the monstrous technical apparatus of our times the object of enervation” human life – this is the historical task in the service of which cinema has its true meaning.[13] In cinema and, I add, in the arts as devices for the construction of new subjectivities and the inscription of the history of violence, humanity could also test new modalities of intrahuman coexistence and with nature and, in this way, rehearse – playfully – its future.


[1] Hans Jonas also noted that the dream of civilization, that is, of the domestication of nature, was born from the fear of that same nature and from the idea of ​​its conquest as a heroic act. Today things are reversed. We are the danger to nature. The tides that destroy us (water or mud) are responses from this wounded Nature. As Hans Jonas writes: “The euphoria of the Faustian dream dissipated and we woke to the cold daylight of fear.” (Hans Jonas, Une ethics for nature, trans. S. Courtine-Denamy, Paris: Flammarion, 2017, p. 176) The answer to this fear, however, should not be panic, but rather the activation of a new ethics that includes Nature for the first time and is not limited to being only intersubjective.

[2] Theodor W. Adorno, and Max Horkheimer, Dialectic of Enlightenment. philosophical fragments, trans. G. Almeida, Rio de Janeiro: Jorge Zahar, 1985, p. 29.

[3] Achille Mbembe, Critique of Black Reason, translated by Marta Lance, Lisbon: Antígona Editores Refractários, 2a edition, 2017, p. 119.

[4] Achille Mbembe. op. quoted, p. 135.

[5] Ta-Nehisi Coates. between the world and me🇧🇷 Rio de Janeiro: Objetiva, 2015. pp. 18-19.

[6] Achille Mbembe. op. cit. P. 114.

[7] Novalis. Werke. Tagebücher und Briefe Friedrich von Hardenbergs. Hans-Joachim Mähl; Richard Samuel (orgs.). Darmstadt: Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, 1999. Vol. II. P. 152.

[8] Gladys Tzul Tzul. “An ethical form of existence: the indigenous communal as a political horizon”. in 21st Contemporary Art Biennial Sesc_Videobrasil: Imagined Communities. São Paulo: Videobrasil; Edições Sesc, 2019. (Exhibition catalogue). P. 56.

[9] sigmund freud, Jenseits des Lutprinzips, in: studienausgabe, vol. III, Frankfurt am: Fischer, 1989, pp. 213-272, p. 225 and following.

[10] Walter Benjamin. The work of art in the age of its technical reproducibility. Organization and presentation M. Seligmann-Silva; trans. Gabriel Valladão Silva, Porto Alegre: L&PM, 2013, p. 63.

[11] Ditto, ibd.

[12] Walter Benjamin. Selected Works II: One Way Street, trans. RR Torres Filho and J. Barbosa, technical review Márcio Seligmann-Silva, 6th ed. magazine, São Paulo: Brasiliense, 2012, p. 70 and following.

[13] Walter Benjamin, 2013, op. cit., p. 102.

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