Learning to Stargaze with Ruy Fausto

Flavia Ocaranza

“Conservative Revolution and Neoliberalism” [“Revolução conservadora e neoliberalismo”] is a two-part essay first envisioned by Ruy Fausto in the middle of 2019. He drafted the first version that December and was working on it as late as April 2020, shortly before his passing on May 1.

The essay was published online in Rosa’s second volume—Ruy had planned to publish it in the first—and subsequently in print, marking the first of a series of Cadernos. The word caderno, in this context, translates to something like a special issue. Cadernos Rosa are described as “print editions of texts and dossiers from the magazine”.1 Published in conjunction with Editora Hedra, a São Paulo-based press also invested in promoting critical and interventive texts, these cadernos include long-form interviews and various thematic issues dedicated to specific thinkers, such as Augusto de Campos and Frantz Fanon, and themes, such as labor precarity and, most recently, the bicentennial of Brazil’s independence.

More commonly, however, a caderno often refers to a notebook, something typically private whose contents are scattered, fragemntary, or otherwise “incomplete”. In his introduction to “Conservative Revolution and Neoliberalism”, Arthur Hussne, a close friend of Ruy’s who edited the essay, writes that “the texts in this Caderno were already very far along”. Working with the April 2020 version, he writes,

we revised the text, checked references and citations, and made sources explicit when they were unclear or had not been provided. We also verified the translations, and only did so where indicated. It is important to emphasize that the present text is almost identical to the one we found. In our edition, there are no substantial changes altering his thesis, formatting, or even style.2

The goal, then, was to complete the final rounds of proofreading and editing and publish this as Ruy had planned. With the exception of two endnotes that Arthur provides in the first half, the text ostensibly reads like the April 2020 version. In one of these endnotes, marking a place where “there was no clear indication of this reference”, as Arthur writes, “there was an asterisk next to the sentence, as in other places, showing that this information was based in some reference and that Ruy wanted to make it explicit”.3 When I first read this, I imagined a star pencilled in a notebook and incompletely erased: a faint trace of process.

Ruy’s first draft was around eighty pages, as opposed to the forty-seven of the Caderno. These forty-seven published pages, the “original” from which I’m translating, are an edition of a late-stage draft, an iteration of an iteration of an iteration. My translation of the first part of “Conservatism and Neoliberal Revolution” is another iteration, but one that, it is important to emphasize, is not at all identical to the Caderno and the text from April 2020. There are substantial changes. Some of them I need to reconsider.

Across iterations and even projects, certain aspects of Ruy’s writing are consistent. Paragraphs tend to be very long, containing the trajectory of each idea’s development. They are dense with a distinct visual texture: words and phrases, many of which are italicized and in quotation marks, are often repeated in close proximity to each other, surrounded by spurts of text between parentheses and em-dashes and the occasional cluster of superscripts. This busyness, however, is highly methodical, a product of a style that has often been called rigorous, meticulous, or precise. When a word is repeated, it is because he wants its specificity. When there is a qualifier — “in general” and “generally” appear a lot, as do “to an extent” and “more or less” — it is because he wants to clarify the scope of his claims. When information is in parentheticals or an endnote, it is because the recognition of its movement, different from how the text unfurls, is just as important as its inclusion.

I noticed these in the essay, but, after having spoken with Arthur about Ruy’s writing, I’m noticing them differently. Some edits I thought were benign now feel more dubious. I’ve broken at least one of the earlier paragraphs into three. I’ve searched out synonyms and reorganized certain clauses. All translation involves editing, and I edited as I usually do: for clarity and flow, to amplify the author’s voice on its own terms, or at least what I think they are. Before this, I have only translated the works of authors whose voices I have heard, in conversation or, ideally, reading out loud. I like to talk through the texts, what resonates, what snags the ear and fumbles our speech. We share an excitement about revisiting and reimagining what has already been published, giving it a new life, so to speak. But it is different to translate the work of someone dead. It is still collaborative, but differently mediated.

Arthur paraphrases something Ruy told him: dialectics has a syntax that complicates semantics. A dialectical writing proposes the very movement of language, but also demands an attention to its limits.

Dialectics is only mentioned once in “Conservative Revolution and Neoliberalism”, in the second half that I have not yet translated, with the exception of the following paragraph:

I believe that we should start from the idea that the French Revolution bequeaths three banners: liberty, equality, and property. Liberty has a dual destiny: in part it has been expanded, implying rights unforeseen in the revolutionary ideology (of sexual minorities, for example). On the other hand, liberty is ∗∗∗∗∗∗∗ [se interverteu, likely in conversation with the German Umschlag] into non-liberty when it became liberty for the dominant economic forces. The desinty of equality was the passage from formal equality before the law to the demand of social equality. A demand that, of course, was prevented by conservative forces as much as possible. Thus, the bid of the emancipation’s enemies was the blocking of liberty as formal liberty. Finally, property, which, in a limited form, can be considered an authentic right, underwent a hybris, having become the invasive property of capital, especially of large capital (more than interversion, there is sort of hybris, but one could also speak of interversion. En passant, I use dialectical categories here to think about of this passage. ∗∗∗∗∗∗∗ It is the lack of these dialectical elements that more or less dooms attempts to think about this process. ∗∗∗∗∗∗∗ See, for example, Mounk, but almost all authors a little bit). My general supposition, both Marxist and Tocquevillian, is that of a growing emancipatory movement, in a sense, but simultaneously of the reality of powerful forces blocking emancipation (in the form of regression or conservative revolution).4 (41–42)

The asterisks are my own inclusion, marking what I need to think about more explicitly as I going forward, as I turn back. A majority what I’ve done will likely stay the same, meaning the translation will still be drastically different from the “originals”. The word Umschlag, for instance, does not resolve easily in English or Portuguese: in the former, I have seen “transformation”, “turnover”, “turning around”, “recoil”, “reversal”, and “reversion”. I don’t know the specificity of this movement, of interversão by way of Umschlag, of this text I am still processing. But I know that, without these dialectical elements, I will not be able to think about this process, Ruy’s and Arthur’s and my own.