Bernardo Carvalho

As a writer, from a very early age I felt compelled to embrace deviation rather than to belong. For me, a civilized society should presuppose and incorporate this ‘otherness’, the exception, that which is strange to us. What is more, it should value contradiction.

So it is with literature. If there is a role for literature in society, it is certainly to contradict rather than to confirm. Deviation is a form of resistance, of flouting the rules; it is the road less travelled, the alternative, the possibility of an unplanned exit; it is incorporating that element of chance and the discordant outside.

Increasingly, however, societies have banished deviation, seeing it as dysfunctional, an obstacle to belonging and identification. It is a regressive movement. Deviation is frowned upon as a disruptive element, associated with an antidemocratic state, reduced as much to moral corruption as to individualism and intellectual elitism, in the name of building nations or groups which are more or less homogeneous, more or less cohesive, more or less functional, and for whom identity (religious, racial or whatever) is an obsession, a free-for-all that confirms and justifies the most delusional and violent fantasies, as if they were natural.

This normative movement can emerge as much from the left as from the right, but it is always a paradox and a vicious circle. As a war strategy, it converts the defence of equality into the defence of equals.

Every society strives for cohesion, but the more it clings to identity and homogeneity, the more it crumbles and becomes barbaric. The same goes for groups. When identity takes on the face and place of resistance, it is a sign that we have reached a paroxysm. And a sign that recognition has supplanted estrangement as a social, intellectual and artistic value.

A society that fights deviation and exception has no place for otherness, however much it pays lip service to it. It is a minefield for critical reflection, for the sciences and for the arts. And without them, it is difficult to conceive of a civilization worth belonging to.

Bernardo Carvalho – Writer


Photo credit: Francesco Gattoni