Friday, May 20, 2011

Knut Hamsun: Hunger

It was during the time I wandered about and starved in Christiania:
Christiania, this singular city, from which no man departs without
carrying away the traces of his sojourn there.

       *       *       *       *       *

I was lying awake in my attic and I heard a clock below strike six. It
was already broad daylight, and people had begun to go up and down the
stairs. By the door where the wall of the room was papered with old
numbers of the _Morgenbladet_, I could distinguish clearly a notice
from the Director of Lighthouses, and a little to the left of that an
inflated advertisement of Fabian Olsens' new-baked bread.

The instant I opened my eyes I began, from sheer force of habit, to
think if I had anything to rejoice over that day. I had been somewhat
hard-up lately, and one after the other of my belongings had been taken
to my "Uncle." I had grown nervous and irritable. A few times I had
kept my bed for the day with vertigo. Now and then, when luck had
favoured me, I had managed to get five shillings for a feuilleton from
some newspaper or other.

It grew lighter and lighter, and I took to reading the advertisements
near the door. I could even make out the grinning lean letters of
"winding-sheets to be had at Miss Andersen's" on the right of it. That
occupied me for a long while. I heard the clock below strike eight as I
got up and put on my clothes.

I opened the window and looked out. From where I was standing I had a
view of a clothes, line and an open field. Farther away lay the ruins
of a burnt-out smithy, which some labourers were busy clearing away. I
leant with my elbows resting on the window-frame and gazed into open
space. It promised to be a clear day--autumn, that tender, cool time of
the year, when all things change their colour, and die, had come to us.
The ever-increasing noise in the streets lured me out. The bare room,
the floor of which rocked up and down with every step I took across it,
seemed like a gasping, sinister coffin. There was no proper fastening
to the door, either, and no stove. I used to lie on my socks at night
to dry them a little by the morning. The only thing I had to divert
myself with was a little red rocking-chair, in which I used to sit in
the evenings and doze and muse on all manner of things. When it blew
hard, and the door below stood open, all kinds of eerie sounds moaned
up through the floor and from out the walls, and the _Morgenbladet_
near the door was rent in strips a span long.

I stood up and searched through a bundle in the corner by the bed for a
bite for breakfast, but finding nothing, went back to the window.

God knows, thought I, if looking for employment will ever again avail
me aught. The frequent repulses, half-promises, and curt noes, the
cherished, deluded hopes, and fresh endeavours that always resulted in
nothing had done my courage to death. As a last resource, I had applied
for a place as debt collector, but I was too late, and, besides, I
could not have found the fifty shillings demanded as security. There
was always something or another in my way. I had even offered to enlist
in the Fire Brigade. There we stood and waited in the vestibule, some
half-hundred men, thrusting our chests out to give an idea of strength
and bravery, whilst an inspector walked up and down and scanned the
applicants, felt their arms, and put one question or another to them.
Me, he passed by, merely shaking his head, saying I was rejected on
account of my sight. I applied again without my glasses, stood there
with knitted brows, and made my eyes as sharp as needles, but the man
passed me by again with a smile; he had recognized me. And, worse than
all, I could no longer apply for a situation in the garb of a
respectable man.

How regularly and steadily things had gone downhill with me for a long
time, till, in the end, I was so curiously bared of every conceivable
thing. I had not even a comb left, not even a book to read, when things
grew all too sad with me. All through the summer, up in the churchyards
or parks, where I used to sit and write my articles for the newspapers,
I had thought out column after column on the most miscellaneous
subjects. Strange ideas, quaint fancies, conceits of my restless brain;
in despair I had often chosen the most remote themes, that cost me long
hours of intense effort, and never were accepted. When one piece was
finished I set to work at another. I was not often discouraged by the
editors' "no." I used to tell myself constantly that some day I was
bound to succeed; and really occasionally when I was in luck's way, and
made a hit with something, I could get five shillings for an
afternoon's work.

Once again I raised myself from the window, went over to the
washing-stand, and sprinkled some water on the shiny knees of my
trousers to dull them a little and make them look a trifle newer.
Having done this, I pocketed paper and pencil as usual and went out. I
stole very quietly down the stairs in order not to attract my
landlady's attention (a few days had elapsed since my rent had fallen
due, and I had no longer anything wherewith to raise it).

It was nine o'clock. The roll of vehicles and hum of voices filled the
air, a mighty morning-choir mingled with the footsteps of the
pedestrians, and the crack of the hack-drivers' whips. The clamorous
traffic everywhere exhilarated me at once, and I began to feel more and
more contented. Nothing was farther from my intention than to merely
take a morning walk in the open air. What had the air to do with my
lungs? I was strong as a giant; could stop a dray with my shoulders. A
sweet, unwonted mood, a feeling of lightsome happy-go-luckiness took
possession of me. I fell to observing the people I met and who passed
me, to reading the placards on the wall, noted even the impression of a
glance thrown at me from a passing tram-car, let each bagatelle, each
trifling incident that crossed or vanished from my path impress me.

If one only had just a little to eat on such a lightsome day! The sense
of the glad morning overwhelmed me; my satisfaction became
ill-regulated, and for no definite reason I began to hum joyfully.

Knut Hamsun, Hunger, 1890

Saturday, May 14, 2011

About happiness

M. – I can see how happy you feel today!
W. – Really? How can you see that much?
M. – Your smile. Your radiating face. And your eyes are shinning.
W. – And all that makes you assume that I am happy?
M. – All that put together, yes.
W. – Well, I don’t know what to say. Maybe it’s a mask that I decided to wear today or at this moment…
M. – No. There is a physical radiance in your face, in your behavior, it means that you are feeling great, that you are happy. You cannot fake happiness. 
W. – You are so clever. But maybe it’s just that: a physical radiance. I slept very well last night, the weather is splendid, my body is in tune with Mother Nature.
M. – And you feel good too, it’s not just your body that loves it.
W. – Hmm… Maybe you are right.
M. – You disagree?
W. – No. I mean, what can I say? I am not happier today than I was yesterday. Yet you didn’t make any remark about my well being yesterday, did you?
M. – Maybe not. I don’t remember. Maybe I wasn’t very talkative yesterday.
W. – Can you really have a correct idea of someone’s mood just by looking at her physical appearance and behavior? Is it clear enough to let other people know how we feel, what we think? Come on.
M. – That’s a good question. Most of the time it's how it works, it’s true. We look at someone’s behavior or physical appearance and we interpret it. Since we can’t go inside another person’s mind to learn what they think or how they feel, interpreting their behavior, reading them from outside is the only way we have of getting some information about them.
W. – I understand. But it’s risky, isn’t it? To live that way can even become dangerous. We may come to misleading conclusions. We may totally miss the point. The relationship between behavior, physical appearance and their meaning is a fragile one. I can easily imitate others and myself. I may feel one thing and want you to understand that I feel something that I don’t feel at all. Isn’t life about playing games all the time? You should be careful. 
M. – Maybe you are right. I mean, what you say makes a lot of sense. Yet I am convinced that today you are feeling very well, that you had a great day and are a happy girl.
W. – Well, again I don’t know what to say. I don’t think I can talk much about it right now, anyway. Maybe tomorrow I will explain to you something that will contradict your belief in the way behavior and happiness can relate. 
M. – Do it now. Tell me. What’s going on? Prove to me that your face, your eyes and your smile are lying. I am curious. I refuse to believe it.
W. – Hmmm...  Ok, here it is. I just met a man I loved many years ago and again it all ended in an outrageous discussion.  He will never accept the responsibility for his behavior. He keeps saying that I ruined our relationship and is mad at me because, he says, I destroyed forever his belief in love.
M. – And you disagree…
W. – Well, that’s exactly what I think he did: he ruined our relationship with his unfunded suspicions. First, he never believed that I loved him. Second, the truth is that he never loved me.
M. – Oh, I’m sorry to hear you say that.
W. – Don’t be. I am fine. I am done with him and all his unfair criticism. He can go to hell.
M. – You didn’t seem affected by what happened anyway. You looked astonishingly well when I first saw you today. It’s only now that you talk about it that you seem a bit disturbed.
W. – Oh, never mind. I am fine, I told you. Didn’t you tell me that I looked happy?  So, maybe I was happy and I was not aware of how well I was feeling.
M. – You are funny. You women are very funny indeed.
W. – Am I? Don’t tease me. I am not funny. I am happy.  You said it, didn’t you?
M. – I am sorry. Now I have to say that you are not happy at all.
W. – No, I am not happy. Can you feel happy when everything you did to make a relationship work failed? What is love about, anyway? Maybe you can tell me. I am so ignorant.
M. – You surprise me. I don’t know what to say. It seems that my understanding of human behavior can indeed be totally misleading.
W. – Maybe not, after all, who knows? Do I still look great?
M. – Sure. Not as much as before, but you still look wonderful.  
W. – I am tired. I better go home. See you tomorrow. Will you come tomorrow?

M. – Ok, folks. Cut. Prepare for next scene, please.
W. – Was it good enough this time?

Friday, May 13, 2011

Post Scriptum

A gente publica um livro e ninguém o percebeu. Nem nós, que o escrevemos. Anos mais tarde as coisas esclarecem-se. Retrato Breve de J. B. (escrito em 1966/1ª edição publicada pela Paisagem em 1975, 2ª edição publicada pela FENDA em 2006) resumia na última página o problema: “Eu deveria por exemplo ter começado por precisar de maneira clara sobre os termos: dizer digo disse direi, etc. “ E os aparentes jogos de palavras ou brincadeiras com palavras ao longo da narrativa eram sintoma e indício do mesmo problema: as palavras, com o sentido que com elas recebemos daqueles que nos precederam, só com alguma sabedoria do leitor acabam por significar o que aquele que escreveu queria e esperava que elas significassem.

O problema era a escrita, era como dizer sem mal-entendidos ou com uma ambiguidade sempre controlada o que se queria dizer. Mas começa-se a escrever e que acontece? As frases, uma vez escritas, revelam bruscamente ter sentidos que não tínhamos previsto ou que não queremos. A linguagem é um instrumento impreciso de expressão e comunicação de sentidos. No que queremos que a linguagem diga sobre a realidade intromete-se a história passada das palavras, o que outras pessoas lhes fizeram dizer, o que nós sabemos delas. Muitas vezes as palavras e as frases, olhadas com os olhos inesperadamente novos daquele que as escreveu, provocam estranheza: não têm o sentido que pensávamos que elas tinham, a lógica que as justifica é apenas aparente. Há expressões que adoptámos sem pensar e sem sabermos como se banalizaram ou “institucionalizaram” e que uma vez que as escrevemos parece não terem sentido ou terem sentidos que contestam, complicam ou desmentem o seu uso corrente. Em vez de dizerem inocentemente o que nós pretendíamos e pensámos que elas iam dizer, as palavras começam a dizer outra coisa. E escrever transforma-se num exercício perigoso, frustrante. Ou numa brincadeira, tudo depende da nossa capacidade de nos satisfazermos ou não com o sentido comum das palavras e das frases, com o seu sentido mais aceite ou o mais aparente, com o sentido institucionalizado, aquele que parece evidente ou simples de entender.

Escrever deve ser isso, então: questionar o sentido aparente e mais evidente das palavras e das frases em que se pretende dizer ou comentar a realidade. Tentar, apesar das traições da linguagem, apesar das dúvidas, apesar da insatisfação, apesar da ambiguidade que ressurge a cada passo da frase acabada de escrever, prosseguir e criar, no meio das dificuldades que vão surgindo, uma história. É como caminhar numa vereda muito estreita à beira de um precipício. Por isso os escritores geniais são raros. E mesmo na obra de grandes escritores há falhas e indecisões.

Mas os problemas não acabaram, há mais. As cenas, os episódios, as personagens, não são, uma vez imaginadas e postas no papel, o que nós queríamos. As convenções irrompem de todos os lados, a coerência alcançada através da submissão à lógica mais corrente traz consigo a insignificância ou a banalidade. Como resolver o problema quando se é um jovem escritor à procura da obra e do sentido do mundo? E adopta-se uma estratégia curiosa (eu adoptei): em vez de continuar a navegar nas águas perigosas do senso comum em que a banalidade ou o mal-entendido espreitam a cada passo, começa-se a ter prazer em destruir as expectativas do leitor através da desmontagem irónica, senão sarcástica, da lógica dos comportamentos, da lógica que deveria conferir um sentido estável e coerente aos acontecimentos e à personalidade daqueles que neles estão envolvidos (como sujeitos activos ou passivos). E o que poderia ser uma novela ou um romance transforma-se na paródia da novela ou do romance. E o pobre aspirante a escritor vai circulando, perplexo, no universo que criou e que pode parecer, de repente, um universo totalmente louco ou pelo menos um tanto ou quanto louco ou excêntrico.

O mal-entendido está criado. Ninguém, ou quase ninguém, percebeu o livro (o Fernando Venâncio imagino que sim, claro... e uma estudante francesa, Isabelle Fauquet, aluna de João Carlos Pereira na Universidade de Lyon, percebeu-o em pormenor melhor do que ninguém, com uma minúcia e paciência pouco comuns). Nós mesmos só percebemos pouco a pouco, mais tarde, a dimensão do problema e a gravidade do que estava a acontecer enquanto escrevíamos. Não, a linguagem não é um brinquedo inofensivo. A literatura, a pureza da expressão ou a expressão exacta do que queremos dizer não estão facilmente ao nosso alcance.

Tango Goes Symphony

Monday, May 09, 2011

Privilégios e intolerância

Agência FAPESP – Por mais de um século após a Independência do Brasil, os imigrantes portugueses viveram uma condição singular no país. Por um lado, eram institucionalmente beneficiados, já que a legislação brasileira sempre lhes concedeu privilégios políticos, diplomáticos e jurídicos. Por outro lado, foram vítimas de perseguições violentas motivadas por um forte sentimento antilusitano.
Essas são algumas das conclusões do livro Laços de Sangue – Privilégios e Intolerância à Imigração Portuguesa no Brasil (1822-1945), de José Sacchetta Ramos Mendes, professor do Instituto de Humanidades, Artes e Ciências (IHAC) da Universidade Federal da Bahia (UFBA), que será lançado no dia 10 de maio.
A obra é resultado da pesquisa de doutorado concluída por Mendes em 2007, com Bolsa da FAPESP de Doutorado Direto. O estudo foi realizado no Laboratório de Estudos sobre Etnicidade, Racismo e Discriminação (LEER) da Faculdade de Filosofia, Letras e Ciências Humanas (FFLCH) da Universidade de São Paulo (USP), sob orientação da professora Maria Luiza Tucci Carneiro.
No ano seguinte, o doutorado de Mendes foi eleito o melhor trabalho acadêmico de 2007 pela Associação das Universidades de Língua Portuguesa (AULP) e pela Comunidade dos Países de Língua Portuguesa (CPLP), recebendo o Prêmio Fernão Mendes Pinto.
Formado na Faculdade de Direito (FD) da USP, Mendes foi jornalista por 12 anos, atuando no jornal Folha de S. Paulo e na revista Veja, antes de seu doutorado em História Social, concluído em 2007. De 2009 a 2010, fez um pós-doutorado, com Bolsa da FAPESP, no Departamento de Filosofia e Teoria do Direito da Faculdade de Direito da USP.

Sunday, May 08, 2011


Musset: It was time to go

"Octave, are you sure of yourself?"

"Yes, my friend, I am resolved. I shall suffer much, a long time, perhaps forever; but we will cure ourselves, you with time, I with God."

"Octave, Octave," repeated the woman, "are you sure you are not deceiving yourself?"

"I do not believe we can forget each other; but I believe that we can forgive, and that is what I desire even at the price of separation."

"Why could we not meet again? Why not some day--you are so young!"

Then she added, with a smile:

"We could see each other without danger."

"No, my friend, for you must know that I could never see you again without loving you. May he to whom I bequeath you be worthy of you! Smith is brave, good, and honest, but however much you may love him, you see very well that you still love me, for if I should decide to remain, or to take you away with me, you would consent."

"It is true," replied the woman.

"True! true!" repeated the young man, looking into her eyes with all his soul. "Is it true that if I wished it you would go with me?"

Then he continued, softly:

"That is the reason why I must never see you again. There are certain loves in life that overturn the head, the senses, the mind, the heart; there is among them all but one that does not disturb, that penetrates, and that dies only with the being in which it has taken root."

"But you will write to me?"

"Yes, at first, for what I have to suffer is so keen that the absence of the habitual object of my love would kill me. When I was unknown to you, I gradually approached closer and closer to you, until--but let us not go into the past.Little by little my letters will become less frequent until they cease altogether. I shall thus descend the hill that I have been climbing for the past year. When one stands before a fresh grave, over which are engraved two cherished names, one experiences a mysterious sense of grief, which causes tears to trickle down one's cheeks; it is thus that I wish to remember having once lived."

At these words the woman threw herself on the couch and burst into tears. The young man wept with her, but he did not move and seemed anxious to appear unconscious of her emotion. When her tears ceased to flow, he approached her, took her hand in his and kissed it.

"Believe me," said he, "to be loved by you, whatever the name of the place I occupy in your heart, will give me strength and courage. Rest assured, Brigitte, no one will ever understand you better than I; another will love you more worthily, no one will love you more truly. Another will be considerate of those feelings that I offend, he will surround you with his love; you will have a better lover, you will not have a better brother. Give me your hand and let the world laugh at a sentence that it does not understand: Let us be friends, and part forever. Before we became such intimate friends there was something within that told us we were destined to mingle our lives. Let our souls never know that we have parted upon earth; let not the paltry chance of a moment undo our eternal happiness!"

He held the woman's hand; she arose, tears streaming from her eyes, and, stepping up to the mirror with a strange smile on her face, she cut from her head a long tress of hair; then she looked at herself thus disfigured and deprived of a part of her beautiful crown, and gave it to her lover.

The clock struck again; it was time to go; when they passed out they seemed as joyful as when they entered.

"What a beautiful sun!" said the young man.

"And a beautiful day," said Brigitte, "the memory of which shall never fade."

They hastened away and disappeared in the crowd.

Some time later a carriage passed over a little hill behind Fontainebleau. The young man was the only occupant; he looked for the last time upon his native town as it disappeared in the distance, and thanked God that, of the three beings who had suffered through his fault, there remained but one of them still unhappy.