Nepantla: Views from South 3.3 (2002) 433-450
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The Logic of the Infrathin
Community and Difference
Le possible est un infra mince . . . . Le possible impliquant le devenir—le passage de l'un à l'autre a lieu dans l'infra mince.
—Marcel Duchamp, Notes
An Infrathin Postpedagogy
Correspondence, or the art of letter writing, that difference between two subjects, can boast of having kept alive a long process of humanization in literature thanks to which we can now speak of traditions, texts, and canons. One could even suggest that without it, without this oft deferred or lacunar correspondence, we would not even have what we call philosophy, to the point that (now inverting the terms) the Western cultural tradition of critical thought could be conceived of as nothing more than a letter whose addressee is always, strictly speaking, unknown. We never know who is on the receiving end of our texts. Nonetheless, we are educated through these texts we write and debate among ourselves, even if each of us does so in a different way; letters, after all, always reach their destination.
Recently I was given the opportunity to edit two volumes of letters by Mário de Andrade. One of these volumes contained letters that were virtually unknown. At first glance, this set of letters seemed to deserve no more than a mention in literary histories. Andrade's letters to Newton Freitas, however, yielded more than a few surprises, beyond even the unexpected discoveries of literary limits. I would like to briefly comment [End Page 433] here on just two of these surprises in terms of narrative and fictional supplements. The narrative supplement is comprised of two short stories, “La colonia” and “La bodega,” which reconstruct, in Spanish and from exile, Freitas's imprisonment on Ilha Grande, the same prison immortalized in Graciliano Ramos's Memórias do cárcere. The fictional supplement emerged in Portuguese and in exile, much like a tourist-apprentice facing the culture of the other, in the form of the more than fifty chronicles that Freitas compiled in Buenos Aires and in his mother tongue for a magazine run by exiles and symptomatically entitled Correo literario.
Beyond supplements, yet without making Freitas's letters a case of “happy writing,”1 my attention was drawn to an infrathin phenomenon. I am referring to a certain phantasmagorization or spectralization of the image. Not only of the text as image but also of the image as discourse. Or, at least, of the image we may have of Newton Freitas, the most famous of which is undoubtedly that portrait taken by the German photographer Grete Stern, one of the most active Bauhaus members, who in those years also photographed writers such as James Joyce, Bertolt Brecht, and Jorge Luis Borges. There is nothing superfluous in her portrait of Freitas. It traces, with great precision, the course of a correspondence, now one between not individual subjects but symbolic activities and collective agents.
During the same years that Stern took her photograph of Freitas, she embarked on what would be a disquieting experience, illustrating in the Argentine magazine Idílio a column titled “Psychoanalysis Will Help You.”2 The compositional logic was simple: the female readers of Idílio wrote letters spelling out their dreams, nightmares, and anxieties. Richard Rest, a social technician, interpreted these anonymous yet collective dreams. In truth “Rest” was a pseudonym for the Italian sociologist Gino Germani, later famous for his ideas on modernization in Latin America (cf. Germani 1962, 1971, 1978, 1981). From these anonymous stories Stern composed photomontages, a Dadaist technique that the Argentine press had already explored to satiric ends in Caras y caretas, and for decorative purposes in Viva cien años. But Stern's photomontages are the first and most impressive expression of certain pioneering images of thought that denounced the oppression and servitude of women in Argentine society by using the very codes of a feminine grammar of the masses, in ways not unlike the escapist dreams represented in heroine-centered films or...