Title: The Peasant Angel
Author: Rui Nunes
Publisher: Relógio d’Água
What is it that makes someone deliberately make it difficult to understand what he means? When reading The Angel Peasant, and even if this is not the subject of the book, this is the question that dominates reading.
Of course, the question could be undermined by a clear and true objection: the defect may not be in the book, but in those who read it – Rui Nunes may be being crystalline, although our dull brain does not achieve what he explains. It is a common case: in an essay in response to a critic who compared her hermetism with that of Kant, Hannah Arendt also said that she could add little: if the critic thought Kant was opaque, she, who thought him very clear, could not help. It can really be the case that Rui Nunes deals with complex subjects and that the complexity of the evidence does not come from her but from the subject; it can also be the case that the subject is not even complex, but our head does not reach for more. We will not, for now, exclude this hypothesis, of not having a frame to understand the subject or the style; however, even if in the specific case there may not be a purposeful complication, the question may remain: what can lead someone to purposefully make life difficult for their readers?
The question, which looks like an accusation, can be sincere. There are, in fact, a number of legitimate reasons for this, which have been explained by copious theorists of contemporary art. Umberto Eco explains in his Obra Aberta that between those who reveal and those who listen there are a number of aspects that are lost in the transmission, and that the contemporary alternative is to leave open possibilities for meaning; Ortega y Gasset sees in contemporary art the negation of bourgeois linearity, in which the work of art seeks to produce discomfort and draw attention to the countless lazy assumptions from our point of view. Foucault studied the oppression of rationality and the way that meaning is more an arbitrary prison than a necessity of the spirit. In fact, to deny the sense, the linearity, the narrative, could be a way to broaden the spirit.
All these ideas, in fact, seem legitimate and sufficient to understand a project in Rui Nunes' work. To the question we started by asking, we could then answer with an enviable postmodern library, which in fact has beautiful examples in the novel.
The Open Work idea is an excellent tool to read Kafka, in which there is always a fundamental cause that is hidden. K., in the process, is accused of what? And in the Castle, what is preventing you from moving forward. Or, in the den, what is the real danger? There is an open element that any reader of Kafka knows is uncomfortable. The double senses, the idea that the reader is permanently in doubt, in a slippery place, are really literary interesting characteristics, which are present in O Anjo Camponês. The characters are not introduced to us, we do not know how to connect the narrative thread, nor do we perceive the connection between scenes or to whom to attribute thoughts; all of this is open, it defies the natural order and can, as Ortega intended, lead us to think about our own mechanisms of understanding.
This is all very well and we are sensitive to the idea. The stories that fill the core of books and the brains of readers of our time also seem useless. The feeling that most of contemporary literature gives us is that they are entertaining us with stories of enormous artificiality, with a language that screams fiction, in the worst sense, everywhere, and that never reaches even a sliver of truth. We realize, therefore, that Rui Nunes wants to escape this, that the conventions of dialogues and descriptive paragraphs seem to him to be scholarly and that he is already full of “fiction” in the playful and monotonous sense that the common novel gives us.
We also realized that Rui Nunes, sensitive to all this, does not simply try to deceive conscience, as it seems to be fashionable in the most sophisticated fiction. Gonçalo M. Tavares, for example, does (and does it well, say!) In the Kingdom something like this: it gathers a series of characters in attitudes that seem incomprehensible and disconnected from each other, in the end to reveal which way they are related. It is, therefore, a kind of police of the sense, in which one of the engines to continue reading is, not to follow the story, but to understand what the story is. We realized that Rui Nunes, although playing with the same feeling because the reader always seeks the meaning for what he is reading, wants to suppress the happy ending. After all, the discovery of meaning could spoil the message. After all, this is a story like the others, the reader would say. It is also understandable.
Now, if Rui Nunes wants to protest against the tyranny of meaning or narrative, then in fact he cannot simply postpone it and then make the child happy. If Rui Nunes purposely wants to hinder the understanding of the crumb to facilitate the notion of limits and vices from our point of view, he did what he should do.
However, it seems to us that the fundamental idea, however well implemented, is wrong. As much as we are sensitive to everything that we have already enumerated and that we do not better judge the alternative of light and naive fiction, it seems neither useful nor interesting to use fiction to denounce the mechanisms that create it.
When T. S. Eliot published Terra Devastada, Chesterton wrote, in a kind of criticism without mentioning the book, a beautiful essay in defense of the rhyme. Eliot complained to his friends that Chesterton had hastily read it, because otherwise he would have realized that they were much closer than Chesterton thought.
History has consecrated the Wasteland and Chesterton's essay can do nothing against Eliot; however, it seems useful to do the same exercise regarding this book by Rui Nunes. It is no longer the rhyme, but it is the sense or the romance that Rui Nunes abandons, and that is what, despite the respectable crowd that condemns him, I find it useful to defend.
First, it seems to us that only sense or rationality is capable of destroying itself. That is, a work can be opened up to a certain point, but it needs beacons. It is Eco himself who says it: a dictionary can have an unpredictable order according to the Romanesque assumptions, but it does not become a work of art. It is possible to leave a doubt and fiction to feed that doubt; but when doubt encompasses the whole, the work of art becomes just a crutch. The truth is that Rui Nunes' text only gives us the idea that what is fundamental is the denunciation of traditional ideas of meaning and romance because we have already read it elsewhere. The work itself is insufficient; it serves as an example for Foucault and Gasset, but the real strength is in those who used the sense of words to belittle it; those who, in all sense, explained the lack of it, not those who showed it.
It may also happen that the book shares an interesting and anti-decadent idea that is not to be rejected. Bourget explained that literary decay consisted of literature in which each sentence was worthwhile in itself; in this sense, Rui Nunes' book is not even worth it in itself; it is worth being inserted in a whole tradition of denouncing the narrative and our interpretation mechanisms.
What is strange about fiction of this kind, however, is that what could be an interesting idea – the idea that a work is not alone, that it is part of a body that is not even exclusive to the individual who writes it – is subverted in the concrete. This is because the transformation of the principal, not in what is written, but in what the way in which it is written shows, makes the content of the book almost irrelevant. The various passages thus become islands, gaining the decadent meaning that, in general, they reject. Each passage is read as an independent text, with vague relations with the other passages in the same book, but in such a way that the book could almost be composed of these or other completely different words. This type of writing is done in such a way that the whole book seems almost unnecessary for understanding the fundamentals of the book. The idea that what we are reading does not serve to understand what we are reading, but rather to understand a greater sense, which is that of our comprehensive limitation, makes thoughts interesting – and there are many, Rui Nunes has a philosophical mind – irrelevant.
Finally, it does not seem to us that the discovery of our thinking mechanisms forces the idea that they are arbitrary or bad. The idea that, because we discover that our brain requires a novel structure in reading, we discover a prison is only of interest if what is out there is better. Rui Nunes, like contemporary art, discovered the walls of thought. However, it is a somewhat hasty assumption to shout for liberation. After all, a prison does have walls, but so does a house. Before thinking about breaking the walls, it was a good idea to look outside to see if there really is an advantage in going out. What Rui Nunes gives us is useful for those who are comfortably seated at home, believing that yours is everyone that exists; but what he writes, too, is no longer the anguish of being imprisoned, as in Kafka. Rui Nunes decided to let go of the narratives, the novel, the sense and the natural order of thought. The point is that, after the euphoria of liberation, it is difficult to be happy with what is left. And that, in fact, Rui Nunes has not yet given us. The novel is not …