Olavo de Carvalho

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Olavo de Carvalho was born in Campinas in the state of São Paulo, on April 29, 1947. He has been honored by the critics as one of the most original and daring Brazilian thinkers. Men with as different intellectual orientations as Jorge Amado, Arnaldo Jabor, Ciro Gomes, Roberto Campos, J.O. de Meira Penna, Bruno Tolentino, Herberto Sales, Josué Montello and ex-president of the Republic José Sarney have all already expressed their admiration for him and his work.

The keynote of his work is the defense of human inferiority against the tyranny of collective authority, above all when this tyranny relies on a “scientific” ideology. To Olavo de Carvalho there is an unbreakable link between the objectivity of knowledge and the autonomy of individual conscience. This link is lost from sight when the criteria of validity of knowledge is reduced to an impersonal and uniform form only for the use of the academic class. Believing that the most solid abode of the individual conscience against alienation and enthingation is found in the old spiritual traditions – Taoism, Judaism, Christianity, Islamism - Olavo de Carvalho attempts to give a new interpretation to the symbols and rites of these traditions, making out of them the matrices of a new philosophical and scientific strategy for the resolution of the problems of modern culture. An example of this strategy is his essay “Os Gêneros Literários: Seus Fundamentos Metafísicos” (“The Literary Genres: Their Metaphysical Fundaments”), in which he makes use of the symbolism of the verbal tenses of the holy languages (Arabic, Hebrew, Sanskrit and Greek) to revisit the fundaments of the distinctions among the literary genres. Another example is his reinterpretation of the logical workings of Aristotle, in which he discovers, in Poetics, Rethoric, Dialetic and Logic, common principles that imply a unified science of the discourse in which answers can be found to many highly important questions of interdisciplinarity (Uma Filosofia Aristotélica da Cultura – Introdução à Teoria dos Quatro Discursos /\ An Aristotelic Philosophy of Culture – Introduction to the Theory of the Four Discourses). In the same line is his essay Símbolos e Mitos no Filme “O Silêncio dos Inocentes” /\ Symbols and Myths in the Movie “Silence of the Lambs” (“a fascinating analysis and – dare I say – definitive”, as Prof. José Carlos Mouteiro of the Cinema College of the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro states in the preface) which applies to such a modern discipline as movie criticism the criteria of the old symbolic hermeneutics. The works he has published so far culminate in O Jardim das Aflições (1995) /\ The Garden of Afflictions, in which such primordial symbols as the Biblical Leviathan and the Behemoth, the cross, the khien and the khouen of Chinese tradition, etc, work as structural frameworks to a philosophy of history, which, starting from a seemingly lesser event and using it to show the links between the small and the large, widen in concentric spins until reaching the entire horizon of Western culture. The subtlety of the construction makes The Garden of Afflictions also a work of art.

The difficulty in translating Olavo de Carvalho’s texts is great. The depth of the themes, the relentless logic of the examples and the amplitude of the cultural references are allied to one of the most singular styles, which introduces in the erudite essay writing the use of popular language – including a variety of word puns from the daily life of Brazilians, filled with great humor but practically untranslatable as well as sudden changes of tone where expressions of the sermo vulgaris, interwoven to rigorous and technical philosophical language, acquire unexpected meanings of astonishing deepness.

The work of Olavo de Carvalho has yet a polemical branch, in which, with striking eloquence and a fearsome sense of humor he exposes the false academic prestige and the fallacies of the current intellectual discourse. His book O Imbecil Coletivo: Atualidades Inculturais Brasileiras /\ The Collective Imbecile: Incultural Facts in Brazil gathered for him a great deal of unfriendliness in the educated circles, but also a multitude of loyal readers who bought out the first edition of his book in three weeks and the second edition in four days.

In contrast to the image of a rancorous grump that his opponents tried to transpose over his real identity, Olavo de Carvalho is recognized, among those who enjoy his company, as a man of balanced temperament and calm even in the most difficult situations. And as a generous soul, he is able to take to the last consequences, even to his own harm, the gift of loving, helping and forgiving.

Published Works

  • Símbolos e Mitos no Filme “O Silêncio dos Inocentes”.

(Symbols and Myths in the Movie “Silence of the Lambs”) – Rio, IAL & Stella Caymmi, 1993.

  • Os Gêneros Literários: Seus Fundamentos Metafísicos.

(Literary Genres: Their Metaphysical Fundaments) – Rio, IAL & Stella Caymmi, 1993.

  • O Caráter como Forma Pura da Personalidade.

(Character as the Pure Form of Personality) – Rio, Astroscientia Editora, 1993.

  • A Nova Era e a Revolução Cultural: Fritjof Capra & Antonio Gramsci.

(New Age and Cultural Revolution: Fritjof Capra & Antonio Gramsci) – Rio, IAL & Stella Caymmi, 1994 (1st ed., February; 2nd ed., Revised and Expanded, August).

  • Uma Filosofia Aristotélica da Cultura.

(An Aristotelic Philosophy of Culture) – Rio, IAL & Stella Caymmi, 1994.

  • O Jardim das Aflições. De Epicuro à Ressurreição de César – Ensaio sobre o Materialismo e a Religião Civil.

(The Garden of Afflictions. From Epicure to the Ressurrection of Caesar – Essay about Materialism and Civil Religion) – Rio, Diadorim, 1995.

  • O Imbecil Coletivo: Atualidades Inculturais Brasileiras.

(The Collective Imbecile: Incultural Facts in Brazil) – Rio, Faculdade da Cidade Editora e Academia Brasileira de Filosofia, 1996 (1st ed., August; 2nd ed., October; 3rd ed., April 1997; 4th ed., May 1997; 5th ed., December 1997).

  • Aristóteles em Nova Perspectiva. Introdução à Teoria dos Quatro Discursos (reedição aumentada de Uma Filosofia Aristotélica da Cultura).

(Aristotle in New Perspective. Introduction to the Theory of the Four Discourses, an expanded republication of An Aristotelic Philosophy of Culture) – Rio, Topbooks, 1996.

  • O Futuro do Pensamento Brasileiro. Estudos sobre o Nosso Lugar no Mundo.

(The Future of Brazilian Thinking. Studies about Our Place in the World) – Rio, Faculdade da Cidade Editora, 1997 (2nd ed., 1998).

  • Como Vencer um Debate sem Precisar Ter Razão. Comentários à “Dialética Erística” de Arthur Schopenhauer..

(How to Win a Debate without Needing to Be Right: Comments to the “Eristic Dialetics” by Arthur Schopenhauer) – Rio, Topbooks, 1997.

  • A Longa Marcha da Vaca para o Brejo: O Imbecil Coletivo II.

(The Long March of the Cow to the Swamp: The Collective Imbecile II)1 – Rio, Topbooks, 1998.

  • O Jardim das Aflições – 2ª ed., revista.

(The Garden of Afflictions – 2nd ed., revised) – São Paulo, É Realizações, 2000.

=Notes

In Brazilian Portuguese the colourful expression “The cow is going/will go/went to the swamp” means that things are going/will go or went terribly wrong. As in: “Mom knows who you were with last night...” “Oh, god! Now the cow will go to the swamp!”

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