- Reviewed by
Marilena Chauí, Spinoza, power, resistance, Brazil, culture, political philosophy, neoliberalism, authoritarism, foundational myth, Mercia Santana Flannery
Selections of the work authored by the renowned Brazilian philosopher Marilena Chauí are the material found in this volume. The book is part of a Palgrave Macmillan series that proposes to divulge the work of scholars from different parts of the word, assembled by interest, relevance, and the degree to which they are representative of the overall academic production of the scholars in question. Marilena Chauí is one of Brazil's most highly regarded Brazilian thinkers of modern times and the selection presented in this volume is both historically relevant and representative of the author's work. Under the theme "Between Conformity and Resistance: Essays on Politics, Culture and the State," the organizers combined a number of Chauí's texts, not organized chronologically, but by how they relate to the overarching theme. The volume is also timely—given Brazil's prominence in the continent—and a good title not only for those interested in critical theory and political philosophy, but also for Brazilianists, or those more generally interested in Brazil's development over the past decades.
Chauí keenly observes Brazil and the consequences of the development of a country that emerges now, after decades of a military dictatorship that helped to shape its culture, artistic production and even religious practices. Religion, authoritarianism, popular culture, and education are a few of the areas examined by Chauí, as she methodically weaves in Spinoza and other philosophers' thoughts, didactically explaining their ideas and applying them to the Brazilian case. The volume presents ten chapters, which are comprised of several writings from Chauí's books and articles previously published in Portuguese. Maite Conde's translation does justice to Chauí's work, and an approving nod goes to its careful decision to leave some expressions in Portuguese.
In the first chapter, "The Engaged Intellectual: A Figure Facing Extinction?", [End Page 380] Chauí discusses (or questions?) the relationship between political engagement and autonomy. Commenting on the interference of political and economic spheres in the work of modern intellectuals—even in indirectly eliminating the status quo that propelled the intellectuals of other generations to oppose the society in which they acted—Chauí decries the "silence of the intellectual" as a "symptom of something that is more profound," namely, "the absence of a way of thinking that is capable of exposing and interpreting contemporary contradictions" (26). A crucial question proposed by Chauí is how rational autonomy can prevail after the interference (which she metaphorically refers to as the "devouring") and involvement of the technological industry in arts and culture.
The second chapter, "On the Present and on Politics," discusses the notion that we live through a time of "oblivion in politics" (39). Chauí goes on to show how the organization of modern societies and the changes afforded by a culture that is gradually losing the notion of public space is contributing to the modern perceptions of politics. She attributes the current lack of interest for "things political" to: 1) the decline of public space; 2) the end of the sphere of public opinion; 3) the end of public spaces and public debates of government and its programs; 4) the ideology of competence; and 5) the role of mass media. Starting with a citation from the goddess Athena to the Greeks announcing the birth of politics, Chauí discusses how the establishment of politics foresaw its ability to remain apart from other spheres of life, such as "the personal sphere of the economy and personal will, warfare, and the sphere of the sacred or of knowledge" or "the mystical body of the leader as a father" (41). As we read Chauí's ideas, we cannot help but notice a certain nostalgia for another time, when politics was dissociated from the cult of the politician and when intellectuals were engaged in criticism of society, even if (or perhaps because) they struggled to survive in it. Chauí does not withhold any words against neoliberalism...