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«ABSTRACT This paper aims at revisiting main concepts of the Bakhtin Circle, especially the notion of dialogism, in order to think about the dense ...»

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A Tension in Orchestration: Dialogism and Poetry in Lavoura Arcaica

(Tillage Passé) / Uma partitura da tensão: dialogismo e poesia em

Lavoura arcaica

Bruno Curcino Mota*


This paper aims at revisiting main concepts of the Bakhtin Circle, especially the notion

of dialogism, in order to think about the dense thread of voices that confront one

another in the novel called Lavoura Arcaica (Tillage Passé) by Raduan Nassar. We

intend to question a determined and concrete image about the poetry in the Circle‘s writings, reviewed by theorists in and outside Brazil, to demonstrate how the poetic can be influenced by ideological positions, reinforcing the emotional-volitional tone that stimulates the characters‘ central voices in Lavoura Arcaica.

KEYWORDS: Lavoura Arcaica (Tillage Passé); Bakhtin; Dialogism; Poetry


Neste trabalho revisitamos conceitos centrais do Círculo de Bakhtin, sobretudo a noção de dialogismo, para pensar o tecido tenso de vozes que se confrontam no romance Lavoura arcaica, de Raduan Nassar. Pretendemos problematizar certa visão construída sobre a poesia nos escritos do Círculo, e retomada por teóricos dentro e fora do Brasil, para mostrar como o poético pode estar a serviço de posicionamentos ideológicos, reforçando o tom emocional-volitivo que anima a voz dos personagens centrais de Lavoura arcaica.

PALAVRAS-CHAVE: Lavoura arcaica; Bakhtin; Dialogismo; Poesia * Professor at Universidade Federal do Triângulo Mineiro-UFTM, Uberaba, Minas Gerais, Brazil;

brcurcino@uol.com.br 156 Bakhtiniana, São Paulo, 8 (1): 156-174, Jan./Jun. 2013.

1 In the beginning was the poetry Lavoura arcaica‘s first words seem to be an expression of a reverie; its poetic voltage isolates them as if they were a lonely cry sent to the Cosmos. A capsule shaded by lyrical tones that emulate the situation of the I. A room of intimacy, loneliness, despair. But this world that closes in, that isolates itself in a double sense – isolation of I / isolation of language - will be invaded, instigated, provoked, will have to make way for another command – to dialogize itself. The I that used to be twisted up inside himself must now turn towards the other. From that moment on, what is drawn is a continuous motion, complex, of surface curls and, why not say, from the depths of the discourse. Now the poetic tone, which seems to isolate the language within the world of the gods, to remote foundations and at times clashes with the centers of value that resonate on these themes – the disputed objects - and, more than that, the voice that refracts, which incites, provoked by the presence and responses from the other.

The tragic-biblical diction that crosses the pages of Lavoura arcaica, the undeniable poetic tone that pulses, incessantly can create in the reader a sense of uniformity of language.. Intoxicated by the metaphors, stunned by the force of the poetic symbols, the reader may be led to listening to one voice only – that of the authorcreator – in which in fact there is a significant stratification. Our task in this paper, based largely on Bakhtin‘s works and those of the Circle, is "to make an egress, out of the work we face, a highly complex network of formal and evaluative relationships rooted in history and culture, which gives an extraordinary uniqueness to it" (TEZZA, 2003, p.26-27).

If the central problem of a novel, as Bakhtin argued, is the image of language, we shall begin by determining how that image is constructed in Lavoura arcaica. If the novel is a multi-linguistic and multi-stylistic phenomenon, it is necessary to examine how the speeches stratify in the architectural features of the work. The work of Nassar is heir and debtor to the entire evolution of the novel not only Brazilian, but European. In this paper we intend to show that, by increasing the dialogism as he does in Lavoura arcaica, Nassar stands as one of the best (among the few) continuators, in the tropics, of the Dostoevskian work. As in the narratives of the Russian writer, what excels in Bakhtiniana, São Paulo, 8 (1): 156-174, Jan./Jun. 2013. 157 Lavoura arcaica is not a range of jargons, of typical talk1, but a profoundly dialogic orchestration that explicates semantic and contradictory axiological perspectives, which destroys any image of a single and centralized language. Lavoura arcaica becomes, in each of its compositional aspects, an arena in which voices struggle for hegemony in a clash where man‘s final destinies are played out. Law and desire, order and freedom, the traditions of the clan and individual autonomy are the themes that embody the threads of the discourse and achieve a dynamic aesthetic finish – they become images.

2 Images of poetry in the theories of the Circle

It remains to explain more precisely the place and role of the poetic in Lavoura arcaica. The discussion is not simple, especially because of the controversial definition given by Bakhtin to poetic language as being authoritarian and centralized. The established difference between novelistic language and poetics is embedded in the topic ―The discourse in poetry and the discourse in novels,‖ which is part of the essay Discourse in the novel, from the decade of the 1930s.

The writer Cristovão Tezza is a Brazilian scholar who has published several articles and a book dedicated to discussing the issue of prose versus poetry in the works of the Bakhtin Circle. Our essay starts from some of his premises, endorsing them and/or questioning them.

One of Tezza‘s great merits is shedding light on the turf where the prose versus poetry discussion occurs, according to the Bakhtinian theory. One cannot ignore that all of the thinker's great concepts are developments of his language conception, which is essentially dialogical. Actually, doubly dialogical: even the most


thought or a "lonely" verbalized word, is performed in a double orientation - in relation to what has 1 On the novel by Dostoevsky, to which we will seek to join the prose of Raduan Nassar and the peculiarities of the dialogic relations that when boosted are born in polyphony, says Bakhtin (1999, p.182): ―in Dostoevsky's multi-voiced novels, for example, there is significantly less language differentiation, that is, fewer language styles, territorial and social dialects, professional jargons and so forth, than in the work of many writer-monologists —Leo Tolstoy, Pisemsky, Leskov and others.[…] For what matters here is not the mere presence of specific language styles, social dialects, and so forth, a presence established by purely linguistic criteria; what matters is the dialogic angle at which these styles and dialects are juxtaposed or counterpoised in the work. Yet this dialogic angle is precisely what cannot be measured by purely linguistic criteria, because dialogic relationships, although belonging to the realm of the word, do not belong to the realm of its purely linguistic study‖.

158 Bakhtiniana, São Paulo, 8 (1): 156-174, Jan./Jun. 2013.

been said (there is no primordial, "adamical" word)2 and directed to someone, targeting a perceptual background. According to Tezza, the concept of dialogism is the development of the notion of "value center" that could be found in one of the earliest writings of the thinker, Toward a Philosophy of the Act, an essay that still holds a huge seductive power, for it reveals that in Bakhtin, every theoretical project was founded on dimension of inalienable ethic. Toward a philosophy of the act does not cease to strengthen one‘s spirit, even the pretentious youthful writers who, in a century of scientistic mythologies, sought out maximum objectivity, placed themselves as a participative thinkers; Bakhtin wanted to found a moral philosophy

–  –  –

The humanist feature, the appeal, why not say, utopianism of Bakhtin‘s thought, although having given up the project of this prima philosophia, appears in his first written propositions, that radiate and penetrate all concepts later developed. Tezza (2006, p. 199) argues that Bakhtin would have found in aesthetics, more specifically in literature (especially in novelistic prose), the "accomplishment of his philosophical project of nature".

Dostoevsky's polyphonic novel – a novel in which the ultimate questions of man are embodied in dialogue injunctions and in which there is a time qualified by the urgency of choices, a time that fecundates space, infusing it with life and meaning (historicity) – has similarities with the philosophical proposal of

–  –  –

2 ―Only the mythical Adam, who approached a virginal and as yet verbally unqualified world with the first word, could really have escaped from start to finish this dialogic inter-orientation with the alien word that occurs in the object. Concrete historical human discourse does not have this privilege: it can deviate from such inter-orientation only on a conditional basis and only to a certain degree‖ (BAKHTIN, 2008, p.279).

Bakhtiniana, São Paulo, 8 (1): 156-174, Jan./Jun. 2013. 159 In the development of Bakhtinian theory and in his increasing interest shown in relation to literature, the opposition between prose and poetry arises when the thinker deepens his/her understanding of the forms of language appropriation. According to Bakhtin, there was to be a fundamental difference between the writers (and here we include prose writers) that appropriate, who take completely for themselves the language of the work as a theirs (monologizing tendency) and those that make a productive use of others language, who take the social "heteroglossia" and make it the radiating center of aesthetic construction (dialogizing tendency). Note that this movement of assuming the language refers to its every aspect from the ideologicalsemantic dimension, tone, rhythm including lexical and syntactic choices, etc. Tezza understands these forms of language appropriation in a continuum that would go from "pure prose" to "pure poetry" in order to remember that justly due to the deeply stratified character of language manifestations these extremes3 are almost like abstractions; the aesthetic achievements are constituted in the broad gap that goes from one possibility to the other.

The poetic voice would focus more directly on the object-theme which labors aesthetically and the irradiation of the meaning would result from the dialectical character of the object-theme itself and from the treasure of language itself. In the novelistic prose, in turn, the writer makes the voice as it is projected towards the object, to penetrate and to be penetrated by the voice of other social discourses on the focused

theme; Bakhtin (2008, p.277) uses the image of a ray to account for this process:

–  –  –

3 Bakhtin (2008, p.274) explains why the stylistic of that time had a huge difficulty in realizing these aspects of dialogism in prose: ―Linguistics, stylistics and the philosophy of language – as forces in the service of the great centralizing tendencies of European verbal-ideological life – have sought first and foremost for unity in diversity. This exclusive ―orientation toward unity‖ in the present and past life of languages has concentrated the attention of philosophical and linguistic thought on the firmest, most stable, least changeable and most mono-semic aspects of discourse – on the phonetic aspects first of all – that are furthest removed from the changing socio-semantic spheres of discourse.

–  –  –

The disputed object-themes in the novelistic prose are wrapped in this ocean of voices, which, ultimately, are points of view, ideological positions loaded with emotional-volitional tones (they can be concordant or discordant), but that create tense images, both from characters and language.

Intending on unveiling aspects of the stylistics that at time (soaked to the marrow linguistically) was disregarded, Bakhtin (2008, p.280) says yet another feature of the novelistic prose, alongside the internal language of dialogicity. it would not only

in the object would it be encountered in the discourse of the others:

–  –  –

Bakhtin, however, does not want to comprehend the interlocutor figure in the mold of traditional rhetoric, in its passive receiver role. The Russian theorist argues that, in true dialogue, in every process of active understanding, the answer, the image of the other, the tone of his response affects the formation of discourse.

All this theorizing about the novelistic discourse, these intricate layers of its constitution that Bakhtin unraveled will be important in the understanding of Lavoura arcaica‘s prose complexity, but we shall elucidate the way Bakhtin distinguishes the poetic discourse from this heteroglossia and the discourse of the other, which would be the mark of novelistic prose.

2.1 The poetic discourse: authority or authoritarian?

The poetic, in its strict sense (the maximum on the poeticity scale, of speech internalization), would be deaf to ―alien utterances beyond its own boundaries‖ (BAKHTIN, 2008, p.285); the poet's voice is sufficient to itself, it needs to bet on Bakhtiniana, São Paulo, 8 (1): 156-174, Jan./Jun. 2013. 161 centralization, on the unification of all of its aspects (semantic ideological, rhythmical, intonational), if it does not want to implode. Tezza will aptly show that one of the problems of this thesis of Bakhtin is that sometimes, even the theorist himself lets an evaluative sense leak by this opposition. The concepts Bakhtin attributes to the poetics centralization, self-sufficient and authoritative – did not enjoy a good reputation in the twentieth century, marked by totalitarianism of all kinds. In the authoritarian term case, we dare say that it looks like a boutade from the thinker, and exaggerated, to say the least, as much as that of Barthes when saying that language is fascist.

How to accept that a poem, whit its marked rhythms, with the voice assumed by the bard, as Navio negreiro (The Slave Ship), could be authoritarian? Or, considering the dialogical relations from Lavoura arcaica with scenes / passages from the Scriptures, which one is the authoritarian tone of the Song of songs?

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