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In 2003, after 5 years of trying to reconcile the contradictions that are always at play as an ex-patriot in Rio de Janeiro, I decided to embrace them. I returned to New York, ready to try a new life, a kind of ex-patriot in my own country. Edward Said fantasizes a bit about this in Representations of the Intellectual, lifting the position of the public intellectual to the Romanticized state of the exile. I was always a skeptic of this position, favoring Rousseau’s concept that knowledge is just pain (though it is common knowledge that he did like to get spanked on the ass by strangers, so perhaps his relationship to pain differs from a more traditional notion, or we could say knowledge is a pain in the ass–get it?!). But perhaps Said’s position, of the intellectual as exile, even in his or her own nation-state, has some truth-value if we consider the condition of the practicing thinker in the United States of America right now.
First, short of Chomsky (here debating Foucault), we are left with a scant few so-called public intellectuals from which to choose. Some of my colleagues and friends have decided to look to popular forms of representation, from Hip-Hop’s heroes to some hopeful hopelessness in the form of television, like John Stewart or Stephen Colbert. Foreign intellectuals, such as Habermas, with his explicitly eurocentric viewpoint (a positionality for which he receives endless criticism from everyone from Judith Butler to Peter Sloterdijk), has, nonetheless, occupied a critical force in legal and ethical studies for many years. Still, for a national product, we are talking about US intellectuals here, from its own respective borders, so I guess he’s out. Who do we have now? Oprah? Keith Olberman? Obama? Hmm….Perhaps we have a real problem of leadership in the intellectual community. Or perhaps the stage has changed or been removed. Does anyone care about exiled intellectuals in the US?
Brazil has a a unique tradition of exiling intellectuals, if only to then be able to appreciate them. Caetano Veloso, of course, never fails to remind us of his brief imprisonment and forced exile to England (where he produced one of his greatest records, A little more blue. I have always looked to Brazil as the “country of the future”, as it has been popularly known. Perhaps we should start doing this, or have we already?
The intellectual as exile, from Benjamin to Veloso to Mandela to perhaps even Herman Hesse and so many countless others, seems to be a condition of the State that is as inescapable as the prison walls of Guantanamo. But Brasil seems to have a particular twist to its intellectuals as exiles. As many of my friends have told me, and as I have seen as well, the Brasilian is not appreciated by Brasil until it is first appreciated by Brazil.
We can see this both in music (from Bossa Nova to Gilberto Gil, who also had a stint in London, to Jorge Ben and Chico Science and NaÃ§Ã£o Zumbi, to Sepultura etc.) as well as the visual arts. The incredibly prolific Helio Oticica got his first real New York show for many years posthumously at the New Museum–yet it was a show about Helio Oticica’s time in New York. Perhaps his best show to date, aside from Whitechapel in 1969, was from Rotterdam’s Witte de Withe Center and the Walker Art Museum in Minneapolis. This catalogue continues to be one of the best publications available on the artist. Does Brasil need Brazil?
This question has arisen time and time again, and we are given a glimpse into some of this contradiction in the very thorough documentary on Carmen Miranda “Bannanas is My Business“. Miranda’s story, first loved as national heroine, then hated for “selling out,” as it were, the Brasilian image, seems really difficult for many to grasp from abroad. But her work came at a time when nationalism within Brasil was wedded to the strong state apparatus and a concentrated export economy of national cultural production.
Since 1994, when Fernando Enrique Cardoso “opened his legs” by dollarizing the economy and stimulating foreign ‘investment’, Brasil has moved quickly to establish itself as a very real player within the international game of consumer economies.
Many of its stifiling import taxes on technology and foreign goods have been reduced, and a newfound relationship with the “exterior,” as it is known, began.
But, perhaps predictably, the relics of the past fetishizations of the North continue to haunt as a specter. 389 years of colonization are hard to shake off (Brasil was the last country in the western hemisphere to end slavery, as well a late-comer to national revolution). As an example, for City of Gods to carry its critical social and cinematographic relevance, its success in international festivals and markets was essential. Is it power that is sought, from or for foreign investment and money? Is it the media justification? Or is it that for so long, Brasil has required the seal of approval from abroad, that it continues to validate itself first through the its imaginary eyes of others?
I guess I have two hopes. From my position right now, I can try do something so that one day Brazil will value Brasil. But some people feel that first Brasil has to value Brasil. Of course, I have to wonder, where do the borders lie?
Chapa Coco by Xis–