On Intervention

Flavia Ocaranza

Rosa presents itself as “a political, theoretical, and cultural-artistic magazine… an órgão de intervenção in the fight for democracy and social justice.” I'm not sure how to translate the italicized phrase. An organ can be a periodical, which is to say a form of publication. It also fits within an anatomical rhetoric of publication, as seen in the masthead or, in Portuguese, corpo editorial [literally, editorial body], or how books have ears [orelhas, analogous to front and back flaps] and a spine [lombada, as in lumba]). While intervenção isn’t hard to translate into English, the word intervention doesn’t really work as a modifier, only as something modified. The latter is also found in Portuguese: the intervention of a state might be called a state intervention [intervenção do Estado]. An intervention, like those which Rosa seeks to realize, can be political, theoretical, or cultural-artistic [uma intervencão política, teórica ou artística-cultural]. But órgão de intervenção: an organ of intervention? An intervention organ?

I remember an email from February, in which an editor describes one submission as “not really an intervention text [texto de intervenção] and not really an academic article,” but “a text halfway between the two.” The relationship between the academic and the interventive is fascinating (the peer-reviewed journal Critical Times: Interventions in Global Critical Theory presents an alternative framework), but I want to focus on the notion of the intervention text, which ostensibly populates much of the pages of a given intervention publication. Does intervenção as a modifier index something like a genre? Is the implication that only certain texts or media intervene? What makes for a textual intervention? What makes an intervention in the first place?

The philosopher Gabriel Rockhill writes that “there is no such thing as an intervention in itself, which could be captured by an ideal exemplar, since any intervention is necessarily related to and intertwined within a given conjecture… .It needs to gain leverage inter a particular field of forces, to get a grip on them, to latch on.”1 In this sense, perhaps intervention entails not only a thinking with, but more specifically a thinking through.

Etymologically, intervenção (as well as intervention) suggests an act of coming between: the vir of the infinitive intervir means “to come,” and the suffix -cão recalls ação, or “action.” According to Rodrigo Nunes, “politics is about the power to act… a matter of sufficient force: of having enough power to produce the effects that we wish to produce at whatever scale on which we expect to intervene.”2 Further, Nunes writes that “political action demands the intervention of organized collective subjects.”3 For Rosa to be a political magazine, following this logic, it must also be an intervention organ, a collective (or, perhaps, a body) whose organization facilitates its capacity to act.

Related to this notion of organization is that of mediation, especially when looking at a mediatic form, such as a magazine. The publication of journals and belief in their interventive capacity of journals is not novel. For example, between 1930 and 1931, Walter Benjamin and Bertolt Brecht were planning a publication called Krise und Kritik [Crisis and Criticism]. Such a journal, according to the Memorandum, “is political. By that is meant that its critical activity is consciously anchored in the critical situation of present society — that of class struggle.” However, rather than being “an organ of the proletariat,” it “will fill the gap of a journal in which the bourgeois intelligentsia can do justice to itself through insights and challenges that… permit it an active, interventionist (eingreifend) role, with tangible consequences, as opposed to its usual ineffective arbitrariness.”4 The capacity for intervention, in this understanding, is predicated on the possibility of its efficacy, which is not to say it need be “successful” but, above all, concerted. If a journal constitutes an intervention, it does so insofar as it is a functional medium, one able propagate a critical consciousness among a specific readership: “What is valuable, i.e. interventionist, is when a number of people create ‘committed’ (interessierte) arguments.”5

The preface to A Socialisme ou Barbarie Anthology underscores a different sort of intervention with respect to publication: “In addition to the selection of texts, our intervention has been limited to rather brief introductory notes… and to summaries of portions of articles that had be cut.”6 A given publication (a magazine, journal, anthology, etc.) is a medium both intervened and interventive. To intervene in a text is to affect the possibility and specificity of its interventions. The fact that so many collected works in Brazil are titled Intervencões — including books by Luiz Costa Lima (2002), Carlos Nelson Coutinho (2006), and Renato Mezan (2011), as well as variations like Antônio Ciandido’s Textos de intervenção (2002) — calls attention to not only each author’s interventions, but also how the selection of texts, as well as their publication as a book-object, might constitute an intervention in itself. The form of the intervention — the medium of its publication, how it circulates, etc. — is critical with respect to its capacity to intervene.

Surprisingly, Rosa's introductory text does not refer to its ambitions in terms of intervention. But, in his text of the same name, Ruy Fausto introduces his ideas “on the role of the middle classes and critical press in political struggle” in relation to their appearance in “discussions we've had regarding Brazil's current political situation and possible forms of intervention.”7 The magazine and its constituent media — the main online publication (including dossiers and hors-séries), printed Portuguese and English-language cadernos, the podcast Prosa, roundtable Rodas de Rosa — are among these possible forms. But what are their conditions of possibility, and what do they make possible?