Da / Forma: A Diptych

Flavia Ocaranza

In translating Conservative Revolution and Neoliberalism1, certain words feel like forking paths. Política: when is it politics and when is it policy? In translating liberdade, what are the contours between liberty and freedom? When Ruy speaks of the ruptura da liturgia, I follow the da in different directions: sometimes of, sometimes from. If I take the first path, then I get breaking of the liturgy or the liturgy’s breaking: a possessive form, something holding or trying to hold on to its own rupture. I imagine a rupture as a breaking away. To lay claim that outward movement, would that be an attempt to contain an explosion, or a sort of tug-of-war? What is the relationship between something, a fragment of something, and the fragmentation of something? If I said “something, its fragment, and its fragmentation” instead, how would that change the question?

With the second path, there is a break from the liturgy, a separate thing splitting off, a deviation. “The style of language and attitude introduced by certain populisms”, according to Ruy, “introduce a break [from/of] what is sometimes called the ‘liturgy’, or, in the case of those in power, the ‘liturgy of power’”. In my most recent draft, I have from, since Ruy poses this break as the first of two aspects “under the rubric of populism”, with the second being “the break with [ruptura com] certain fundamental demands of discourse… with respect to the truth” (14). Break with, the literal translation, seems unambiguous here. But it’s strange to think that breaking with — like there’s a degree of mutuality or collaboration — feels more resonant with breaking from in everyday speech (and this is another troublesome word: discurso, which is currently discourse in the above quotation, can also be speech).

There are two clues in the text’s second part. First, Ruy speaks of his “impression that, in relation to the eradication of the liturgy [liquidação da liturgia], new technology plays a more determining role” (27). The liturgy itself, then, is in some way coming apart. The second clue is the mention of “specifically populist aspects of illiberalism: first the break with the liturgy” (34), which suggests a movement away from, rather than of or belonging to, the liturgy. Of course, these movements need not be mutually exclusive. Maybe one break prompts another. Maybe they are coterminous. Maybe it depends on the instance, on the invocation.

Flavia Ocaranza

Maybe it depends on the form, which is what I intended for this essay to be about. Form [forma] is one of the most frequently used words in the essay, and, appropriately, it appears in many different forms. It is used analogously to aspects (aspectos), traits (traços), characteristics (características) and, to a less extent, qualities (qualidades). It is used as part of certain qualifying statements, such as “no, not at all” (“não, de forma alguma”) or “in any case” (“de qualquer forma”). And it is used to refer to the iteration or type of something, such as an “authoritarian form” (“forma autoritária”) or “current forms of extremist right-wing governments” (“formas atuais dos governos extremistas de direita”). Consider the following paragraph:

Finally, authoritarianism certainly exists in illiberalism and fascism, but in different forms. I would say (contrary to Mounk) that the two are anti-democratic, but in different forms. In a radical form, fascism eradicates democratic forms, the rule of law. Illiberalism eradicates them in a subtle form. It lets democracy exist — or, rather, one of its components, such as elections and the majority principle, which exist more or less free, but not in a purely fictitious form. The difference is important.

Flavia Ocaranza

[Finalmente, o autoritarismo existe certamente no iliberalismo e no fascismo, mas sob formas diferentes. Diria (contra Mounk) que os dois são antidemocráticos, mas sob formas diferentes. O fascismo liquida de forma radical as formas democráticas, o Estado de Direito. O iliberalismo a liquida de forma sutil. Ele deixa subsistir a democracia – ou, antes, um dos componentes dela, as eleições e o princípio majoritário, os quais subsistem, mais ou menos livres, mas não em forma puramente fictícia. A diferença é importante.]


For illustrative purposes, I have translated all instances of forma using the word form. The first instance of forms is used ontologically: authoritarianism exists in different forms, such that there is a multiplicity of authoritarianisms existing in illiberalism and fascism. Then, illiberalism and fascism are anti-democratic in different forms. Is this the same sense of form used in the previous sentence, or is this, alternatively or additionally, about different manners of being anti-democratic? For “in a radical form”, I currently have “radically” in my working draft, but I think the radicality of fascism as a form — which is both historically specific and multiple, as Ruy notes regarding Italian fascism and Nazi-fascism — can also be considered part of its capacity to eradicate other forms, such as democratic ones. (Illiberalism, however, is certainly not subtle, given Ruy’s description of, among other things, the brazen language used by those he deems illiberals.) These democratic forms then taper towards a singular rule of law, again suggesting a form made of forms.

Flavia Ocaranza

The last sentence is arguably the most complex. The shift from “democratic forms” to “democracy” fills me with questions. What would be a democratic form beyond democracy? Is the form of a given democracy necessarily a democratic form? Continuing, illiberalism lets at least democracy exist — or, rather, one of its components, which is seemingly one of a set and also two specific components or sub-components: elections and the majority principle. The difference between their existence, between existing more or less free and not in a purely fictitious form, is described as important. Unsurprisingly, it is also not just one difference. Is it that elections and the majority principle exist as more or less free things or that they exist more or less freely? Is this last use of form referring to a purely fictitious manner of existence or a purely fictitious iteration what is allowed to exist? With what sense of form is this existence made conditional? Are these differences all that different? In what forms?

Each focus and line of inquiry is asking after similar questions. Conservative Revolution and Neoliberalism is, in large part, about nomenclature, which is predicated on differentiation. Ruy writes, “More precisely [De forma mais precisa], how can ‘illiberalisms’ be distinguished from ‘fascisms’? How does one distinguish between the neoconservative galaxy’s two constellations? This is perhaps the most interesting part of the research, because if one tends to point out differences, one generally stays at a descriptive level.” By “taking up those elements I considered as distinct to the new authoritarianism in its relations to neoliberalism”, Ruy asks what he seems to find especially compelling: “To what extent is this ‘already’ found in fascisms?” (34).

Flavia Ocaranza

A lot of the essay is spent about pointing out differences (especially terminological ones), but, especially in the second part, the intent behind this exercise becomes clearer: it is, at least in part, about historicizing the emergence of “conservative revolution”, a “shared galaxy” to which both contemporary illiberalisms and twentieth-century fascisms belong, as a response to “the emancipatory movement that began with the French Revolution” (37). In another sense, it argues that movements cannot be named, let alone understood, without attending to their movements, historically and dialectically. This focus on orientations and forms, their various specificities and ambiguities, also emerges at the level of language. Translation demands a critical attention to this: how making a choice can comprise making many, how what is “already” there variously emerges.