The fire between past and future1

Nathalia Colli

1 Reference to Hannah Arendt’s book Between Past and Future


Five hundred and forty-nine thousand people killed by the coronavirus in Brazil, the dollar rate continues to rise, millions of unemployed and millions of homeless have can be counted. Central headline “Statue of Borba Gato is set on fire in the south of São Paulo, two were arrested”. This is a screenshot of a newspaper page2 from July 24, 2021. Nobody was hurt. Except the two prisoners. The blacks.

2 Jornal da Cultura the night of July 24, 2021
3 Carlos Drummond de Andrade. Museum of Inconfidence  
4 Luiz Ruffato, Provisional Hell
5 These are some of the many reviews found about the Borba Gato monument on the Google site Local guide


Every history is remorse,3
as it was in the beginning, as it will be in the end (so states another Mineiro)4. Every re-elaborated past only becomes political in its very act of presentification, otherwise it is part of the ship of oblivion that we call history. Remembering is not a heroic act when it is quantitative. Borba Gato, the subject, does not exist; Borba Gato is a monument that is well-rated by residents of the neighborhood in the South Zone of São Paulo, a reference point to reach the bakery, a point where the bus stops, where the subway station devoured the asphalt.5

6 Walter Benjamin. Passages II


A cultural document is always a document of barbarism,6 the inverse, however, is never possible, one cannot say of this sentence that it doesn't matter, vice versa. A document of barbarism will in no way be a monument of culture; culture is called civility, progress, its antithesis cannot return to the original without first rising up as a counterpoint: barbarism will never be culture — cry the agents of civilization. Borba Gato is a landmark in the construction of the national imagination, we cannot define the exact rupture between the figure of the hillbilly Mazzaropi and the pioneers who were impoverished by the very process they founded. Borba Gato's sculpture in Santo Amaro was erected by the modernist hands of Júlio Guerra, the artist also responsible for Black Mother, a monumental work in Largo do Paissandu; a place, today, already devastated by the inevitable consequence of the Brazilian civilizing program, but a sculpture cannot be raised from that. Although present, the collapse is always to come.


May 25, 2020, one month after the worldwide Covid 19 alert, George Floyd is brutally murdered by a white police officer in Minneapolis, USA. Suffocated by a white police officer in front of cellphone cameras and witnesses who quickly spread the image on the networks of a surrendered black man, being assistedly killed by a smiling white police officer. Being assistedly murdered by a white policeman, shared on networks, a black man suffocating, begging on a global network, assistedly murdered, he can still whisper "I can't breathe." This is not an image. This is a past that resurfaces head-on in the present with the political force to set a country on fire. From here, thousands of statues with westernized aesthetic potential, or not, are torn down, and supermarkets are looted, networks interrupted, police cars set on fire. The bunker is revisited by the president of the republic of the united states of america not because of the viral collapse, nor by a nuclear alarm: the bunker is Adolphe Thiers' horse on the run. The oppressed install a temporary emergency space and reclaim their re-elaboration of history.


The provisional of the oppressed can only turn into a larger incendiary process when it understands that permanence is expected of it. But the permanence of the provisional is not a fortuitous moment in history, nor a moment that can be predicted: the provisional, when political, does not admit to the normality of the economic structure, does not ask for space, does not demand any share, like the lion.7 The provisional devours the permanence of normality and for that it needs to remain within the limit of incalculable tension between remaining and collapsing.
7 The Lion’s share is a classic allusion to the fables of La Fontaine.


Ukraine, September 28, 2014. The largest statue of former Soviet leader Vladimir Lenin is torn down in Kharkiv. Since late 2013, Ukraine's pro-Western government has regulated the removal of monuments of the former communist leader as part of a process of "decommunization" of the country. The newspapers read “Statues of the ex-Soviet leader are removed, but the government admits that it still doesn't know what to put in its place”. In doubt, Ukraine opted for the construction of Christian monuments and the image of Darth Vader. The whole truth of this signaling to the West is not known as Ukraine’s options for its new monuments have yet to be verified, what is known is that the so-called decommunization was initiated by popular protests from those who feel the Soviet past as a wound. The reason doesn't matter, Lenin is also the name given to the Chernobyl nuclear power plant.8 In Ukraine, Lenin is the name of the unilateral progress of modernization. The modern collapse also reaps Lenin's head. Although Putin is not a communist adjective. How present does the image of the past need to be to set a country on fire?

8 The sequence of images described in this excerpt are part of the book Looking for Lenin by Swiss photographer Niels Ackermann

9 Franz Kafka. He Has Two Antagonists


The history of progress or the progress of history is not two-sided. Its spatialization is rectilinear, where the uncertain forces between past and future clamor in the head of the present.9 The timeline is now a tornado, a growing cyclone where all times merge in the emptying of any sign. In order for the past to become present, it must appear as an imagetic community, it must be transformed into a collective recognition, without which the flames of a fire cannot reach the cyclonic distance of the future.


Narrating a people as tradition and continuity. Its discontinuation, its narrative blockage is historical and labyrinthine. There is no Pandora that protects its dangers and treasures in a box, there is no Ariadne that restores its thread. The thread is broken. The memory of a people can only be genuinely accessed in an involuntary way: every revolt is mystery and matter. A monument is a 3D image. Like any reproducible image, it shatters our imagination of the past, makes us incapable of fabulating with the image of the future. We are tied to it, destined for its false unity. A war photograph does not humanize us,10 it normalizes mass death. A monument that deteriorates on the outskirts of São Paulo tells us less about Borba Gato, the subject; it says more about the space and time of that image dissociated from its original content. In the modernizing, why not, modernist narrative, the colony was metamorphosed into a republic. And this truth is not a solution. The metamorphosis between dictatorship and democracy follows this same rhythm.

10 Susan Sontag. Regarding the Pain of Others.


The nuclear power to set the world on fire has no messenger or image of its potential: the irreversible destruction of humanity cannot be imagined. Fire and smoke transform into an image of war, the Amazon doesn't allow us to lie, neither do the global protests of the last decade. A new thread is armed, now like a tug of war in a children's game: on one side the arsonists of the world as it is today, on the other the arsonists against the world, enjoying their explosive pyrotechnic potential, smiling into the abyss. The meeting point that served for these opponents as a division of forces was not hope or divergent programs, but their ability to sniff out nihilism against order. A peculiar kind of barbarian nihilism. It is not the negation of negation11 that sets fire to the hearts of peoples, it is the immanent negativity to that which exists that now imposes itself as politics. Not denial. The negative. On the one hand, those who enjoy the end, on the other hand, the end that imposes itself as a last resort.

11 Karl Marx. Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts.

12 The idea of nihilism employed here can be better observed in “The Divided God”, a text by the Chuang Collective, although Chuang’s text does not even remotely exhaust what a new ideal of nihilism can suggest to us.


The image of the last judgment is a flame where the fire prevents the victor from being recognized, the one standing behind it. The last judgment between those who want to stop the end and those who want to accelerate the end. The automaton of history follows on course, which now aesthetically mimics a Korean rocket heading into the abyss. The last judgment of men is in dispute over their means of destruction. If we can still witness this image, if photographs are taken and lessons are also learned, we will know which of the nihilists emerged victorious.12

Author’s Note: All the texts listed here are not responsible for the author's reveries. They were just the basis for the prose that came unstuck from the floor as an imagetic laboratory and nothing more. Therefore, they are not responsible for the insufficient elaboration presented here.

Ackermann, Niels. Looking for Lenin. London: Fuel Publishing, 2017.

Andrade, C. D. Claro Enigma. São Paulo: Companhia das Letras, 2012. [Clear Enigma]

Arendt, H. Entre o passado e o futuro. São Paulo: Perspectiva, 2014. [Between Past and Future]

Benjamin, Walter. Arte e política. Magia e técnica. São Paulo: Brasiliense, 2009. [Art and Politics. Magic and Technology]

______________. Passagens II. Belo Horizonte: Ed. UFMG, 2019. [Passages II]

Chuang. O deus dividido [The Divided God]

Kafka, Franz. Aforismos. Trans. Otto Maria Carpeux. São Paulo: Revista Bula, 2013. [Aphorisms] Originally published in 1943, in the extinct Revista do Brasil.

Marx, K. Manuscritos econômicos-filosóficos. São Paulo: Abril Cultural, 1973. [Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts]

Sontag, S. Diante da dor dos outros. São Paulo: Companhia das Letras, 2015. [Regarding the Pain of Others]
Ruffato, Luiz. Inferno provisório. São Paulo: Companhia das Letras, 2016. [Provisional Hell]

Translated by Claudia B. Nogueira

August 2022