by Mariana Kalil*
Reviewed by Matheus Lucas Hebling
Tales Ab’Saber is one of Brazil’s few living scholars capable of thoroughly grasping the country’s perceptible world thus crafting a plausible reality. Still to be translated to languages other than Portuguese, Ab’Saber’s latest book O Soldado Antropofágico: Escravidão e Não-Pensamento no Brasil, loosely translatable to The Anthropophagic Soldier: Slavery and the Absence of a Collective Self-Awareness in Brazil, reflects upon the story of a German soldier’s experience in the streets of nineteenth-century Brazil. Through this story, and standing on the shoulders of other demiurges, such as Roberto Schwarz, Sergio Buarque de Hollanda, and others, the author has gifted us intellectual tools to ponder over the Brazilian psychopolitical condition.
The book is particularly timely given, that in 2022, while going through a fascist wave, Brazil celebrates two hundred years of its Independence and a hundred years of its first modernist movement. The German soldier, a European foreigner, is presented with conflicting psychopolitical facets of the country. His viewpoint offers an opportunity for the reader to simultaneously digest the European civilized expectations, besides a local reality which is in itself both archaic in its attachment to slavery yet full of different ways of living that flourish in loopholes typical of a tropical archaism.
At a glance, a millennial might rush to disparage Tales Ab’Saber’s engagement with the history of slavery given his white, relatively privileged place of speech. However, after reading the book, it is easy to understand why Ab’Saber decided to engage in such a journey. In the best tradition of an essay, he provides us with a much-needed atemporal explanation of Brazil’s psychopolitical self. Utterly grounded in data and literature, Ab’Saber’s analysis is a product of his intellectual background as a psychoanalyst who is a Philosophy Professor with a formal education in visual arts.
Through the story of the German soldier’s interaction with a racially packed sexual and mercantilistic environment in Brazil’s streets, Ab’Saber is capable of describing the absence of a collective self-awareness in the country. On the one hand, this lack of collective thinking marks the unique lightness surrounding the complexity of the interaction between the German soldier and a seductive female slave, a relatively guilt-free experience then only collectively possible in non-civilized places or non-European societies. On the other hand, this non-thought tendency fully explains the latent reactionary psychopolitical Zeitgeist that every odd-thirty years haunt Brazilian attempts at democracy.
Reaching out to Gilberto Freyre, Celso Furtado, Florestan Fernandes, Caio Prado Junior, and other founding fathers, Ab’Saber and his highly psychoanalytical ability underscore Brazil’s denial to reflect upon its violent history clinging to a cordial dynamic that, despite carrying truth, does not begin to sufficiently approach what the Brazilian society is capable of inflicting upon itself. The centrality conservatives nowadays offer to the idea that the country’s military dictatorship was not that harsh toward dissidents, particularly if compared to others such as the Chilean illustrates the place of denial Ab’Saber explores in his book. Among a certain Brazilian mindset, the alleged softness of the Brazilian military dictatorship would epitomize the Brazilian psychopolitical condition as much as would the loopholes in Brazilian slavery.
Ab’Saber sheds light on this denial without, however, leaving by the wayside said loopholes of a tropical archaism that embed certain types of existence successful in projecting a reality also shaping Brazil. The author argues that by skipping self-awareness altogether, Brazilians exercise a daily farce in an attempt to disguise a history of racial and class oppression through mythic ideas of peaceful coexistence and tolerance derived from a very true, yet not entirely revealing cheerfulness and camaraderie, thus tending to repeat the shortcomings of a ubiquitous past. This psychopolitical loop would explain for instance the conservative anger toward political parties and figures who engage and advocate for distributive policies. The premise underpinning distributive policies speaks for the recognition of a persistent oppressive structure, a reality Brazilians often choose to overlook given the relative truthfulness of the oppressed ability to get by with a smile on their faces and samba on their feet. The conservatives’ argument that affirmative actions fragment the country being a strategy to balkanize Brazil is a direct product of this lack of collective self-awareness in the country. It is an elaborate farce that is highly effective in maintaining privilege and inequality.
By refusing to reflect upon its perversion, the Brazilian society would, from time to time or around every thirty years, slip into a primitive behavior, one that tries to disguise its oppressive dynamics through the image of black cheerfulness, a sentiment Gilberto Gil dubbs warrior happiness and that is indeed also constitutive of the people, but, even though, cannot in any society serve as an excuse to preclude the pursuit of equality, fraternity, and liberty.
This slip into which the Brazilian society falls every thirty years indeed tends to forsake such basic conquests as those of Enlightenment which are barely material in the Global South in general, and in Brazil in particular. The backwardness the Brazilian elites so despise in the country of their own making is, in Ab’Saber’s book, the country’s psychopolitical condition, and as such both a product of these elites’ deeds and their shortsighted perspective of the country’s reality. These embarrassed elites who overlook and/or refuse the thriving reality in which they inhabit are a product of those who expected the German soldier’s values prevailed in the country despite their own ancestors’ still very current resistance to the losses they would entail. This thriving reality, in turn, comprises oppression as much as the everyday resistance that is truthful in its cheerfulness and its violent reaction. Anthropophagically, Brazil would be a product of this tension so vibrant in Ab’Saber’s book through the interactions the German soldier establishes in the streets of a rising nation in the nineteenth century.
In a nutshell, Tales Ab’Saber is highly effective in conveying the Brazilian psychopolitical condition. By discussing the structural tensions among the self-perceptions of a country that refuses to collectively elaborate on a significant part of its founding features, Ab’Saber consistently provides factual and argumentative tools for the reader to reflect upon the Brazilian society not only in the nineteenth century but thenceforth. Any Brazilians would be lucky to join Ab’Saber in his endeavor. I can only hope the book is soon translated into other languages, so we can all stand on his shoulders.
Mariana Kalil, PhD, is Geopolitics Professor at the Escola Superior de Guerra, where she is Chair of the Post-Grad Program in International Security and Defense. She is PhD and MSc in International Relations at the University of Brasília, Brazil. Former Vice Chair/Program Chair, Latin America Rep and Communications Director at the International Studies Association’s (ISA) Global South Caucus, she is a member of the Global IR and Brazil Research Group (Bras Center) and co-chair of the Security and Defense in the Americas (SeDe Americas) Research Group. Her research interests are in Global IR, Brazilian Politics and Society, Foreign Policy, Security and Defense, the Armed Forces and Democracy.
Mariana Kalil (2022) "The Brazilian Psychopolitical Condition in Tales Ab’Saber’s Anthropophagic Soldier". Brazilian Research and Studies Blog. ISSN 2701-4924. ISSN 2701-4924nameVol. 3 Num. 1. available at: https://bras-center.com/the-brazilian-psychopolitical-condition-in-tales-absabers-anthropophagic-soldier/, accessed on: March 27, 2023.