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28.06.2021

To Have Faith Is to Have Courage, To Have Courage Is to Have Faith

Gathered by their belief in transmutation as disobedience, the artist Castiel Vitorino Brasileiro and the interdisciplinary performer and pastor Ventura Profana converse about the faith that allows recognizing routes of escape.


CASTIEL VITORINO BRASILEIRO (CVB): Ventura, my friend, I know that our meeting is yet another that reaffirms a common history in Brazil: the dialogue between Christianity and Macumba. I also know that our transmutation body repositions this conversation in the history that came before us and will come after, generating healing and suffering for us as well as for our readers. We transform our flesh, we transfigure our spirit. Resurrection does not interest me; it is the celebration of our deaths that has brought me here. And I am here, deeply grateful for our commitment to faith, which unites us with that which we have in common: courage.
I once heard an aunt of mine who had become a Jehovah’s Witness say, “To have faith is to have courage, and to have courage is to have faith.” In general, our existences, our poetics, can be reduced to, translated into, modern propositions related to the ideas of “Black art” or “Travesti[1] art.” However, our poetics go beyond the limits of these words and these modern mythologies; we know gender and race are only distractions. I believe that we can begin this conversation by talking about fear and courage.

Ventura, I’m not sure which biblical moment interests you most at this time of your life. The New Testament tells us: “Faith is the assurance of what is hoped for and the evidence of what is not seen” (Hebrews 11:1).[2] At the beginning of this century in Brazil, the singer Jamily ignited a national evangelization project with his song “Conquistando o Imposible” [“Conquering the Impossible”], also the name of the album. The album and song affirmed the power of faith in God to help us overcome any impossibility. It was an enormous hit in Brazil. Sixteen years later you and PODESERDESLIGADO released the album Traquejos Pentecostais para Matar o Senhor [Pentecostal Paths to Kill Our Lord], on which you are listed as a songwriter. In the song “EU NÃO VUO MORRER” [“I WILL NOT DIE”], you write, “The old ladies will have dreams / The young women will have visions.”

In light of these testaments, could you tell us about a dream that seems impossible for humanity to accomplish, but whose accomplishment your faith has revealed a path to?
VENTURA PROFANA (VP): I sincerely hope that humanity comes to an end, for it has cost us dearly. However, what I dream for the world, in general, is what I dream for the world in me: the possibility of bathing in and filling and sating ourselves with the deep and dark waters of the river of life. I speak of water because it is through the health of water that I measure things. I was born on the shores of the Catu River, where my grandmothers washed clothing in exchange for money, where my grandfather Alenário fished piaba and painho, and where I learned to swim like a fish. I was never able to bathe in the river of their lives because their waters were already drying up in my childhood.

I grew up on the mangrove banks of the Guanabara, which gave me a point of reference (especially after having swum in the precious and endangered mangroves of Alcântara, Maranhão) for thinking about the wounds human ambition has caused with its cursed ability to desecrate the sacred sources of life. It is heartbreaking to witness the massive and accelerating destruction of natural springs. I observed this destruction with my own eyes almost six years ago when a dam ruptured in Mariana as a result of the criminal negligence of the Samarco/Vale company; the breach released 60 million cubic meters of iron ore tailings, contaminating all the land and water of the Doce River basin. The same situation occurred four years later, this time in Brumadinho, when another serious mining-related crime destroyed the Paraopeba basin with terrifying alacrity. The news of the discovery of plastic in the deepest trenches of the world’s oceans has led me to reflect on the magnitude of our calamities. I feel it is here that the impossible presents itself:

How can we put the brakes on the enemy’s impetus to loot, destroy, and murder? What paths can we take to fully detach ourselves from this hidden and cursed time we live in?

With eyes of faith, I am able to detect the escape routes that almost always appear camouflaged in front of me. Innumerable signs reveal themselves to us: what pace to walk at, what shoes to wear for the journey, whether to crouch, crawl, jump, or swim. I dream of the time when the face of the abyss will be covered again in darkness. However, our spirit will not move over the face of the water, but within its intimacy. May our physical, spiritual, emotional, and affective thirst be sated, day after day, until the government of evil men comes to an end.

CVB: In Corinthians 2 of the New Testament, the Bible tells us, “Not that of ourselves we are qualified to take credit for anything coming from us; rather, our qualifications come from God” (2 Cor. 3:5). This passage is interesting because it contextualizes Christian evangelism as a colonial practice foundational to modernity. It allows us to see that the development of modern (linear) thought and Reason were undergirded by a certain Christian religiosity. That is, Christianity and linear thought are equally operative in the racial violence that is colonization.
I understand your poetics betrayed the vocabulary that constitutes you to the extent that you transform into a pastor who believes and defends the transmutation of flesh as a means or aspect of salvation. So what can you tell us about the spiritual and poetic work of building congregations in which the exercise of thinking and imagining is not begotten out of your desire or that of any other leader, but rather grows out of, accepts, produces, and feeds off of contradiction? Because to bring people together, even in a communion of faith, is in fact to create spaces of contradiction. How can we distance ourselves from the desire to eradicate contradiction, as pastors so often do when they evangelize?

VP: As you argue, and the passage from Corinthians 2 suggests, Paul’s cursed writing has been violently recorded with spiritual ink on the flesh tablets of our hearts. As we can read in the Acts of the Apostles 26:5, Saul, who at that point still had not changed his name, was born a Pharisee (Phil. 3:5), educated in Moses’s laws, and trained to become a rabbi (doctor, teacher, judge) charged with the task of rooting out and capturing those who believed and proselytized Jesus’s teachings, profanities, and blasphemies some thirty years after his murder. Saul’s job was essentially to eliminate the practice and exercise of critique and disobedience against the Judeo-Roman (separatist, racist, and patriarchal) norms then prevailing in the “center of the world”—The Great Jerusalem—that Jesus had incited along the path of life in mystery (Mt. 23:13-15; 23-28).

The intelligence strategy Saul adopted was essentially one of infiltration: he himself “converted” to Jesus’s teachings, becoming the very target of his campaign (the proverbial wolf in sheep’s clothing) in order to administer and implement his plan from the inside out, a necropolitical liturgical plan of domination and sovereignty that came to be defended and crusaded for by the Apostolic Roman Catholic order. In fact, he was responsible for writing about 2o percent of the Bible’s texts, almost half of the New Testament. Taking control over Jesus’s image, legacy, and icon status, he elaborated on Jesus’s memory to produce a servile theology based on submission and sacrifice, reinforced by the genocidal mission “to save = to whiten”: “Come now, let us set things right, says the Lord: Though your sins be like scarlet, they may become white as snow; Though they be red like crimson, they may become white as wool. If you are willing, and obey, you shall eat the good things of the land; But if you refuse and resist, you shall be eaten by the sword: for the mouth of the Lord has spoken!” (Isa. 1:18-22).

It is Saul who imprisons Jesus in the figure of the Lord, as the “lamb of God,” the sacrificial lamb, erecting a shield of sanctification to protect and hide the barbarity that whiteness advances, decorating it with the qualities of the lamb and the lion, endowing it with free and exclusive access to contradiction that exempts the heirs-elect of all responsibility and shifts the blame to the shoulders of others. He eradicates the possibility of contradiction for anybody else, characterizing it as diabolical when it is not used in his service. In this way, the enslaved are convinced that the same Lord who has condemned them to the worst fate does it out of love. And that in return for this love, they must offer the Lord eternal gratitude, sincere devotion, and faithful servitude.

Was it in the name of entrenching the linear Cartesian hegemony in eternity and protecting the sacred privilege of hypocrisy that an anti-contradiction regime arose? In other words, could it be that a system with a vested interest in the eradication of contradiction, but unable to extinguish it, incorporated it instead, seizing control of its management and its technology while attacking and demoralizing the watering holes and fertile ground of contradiction in defamatory and disapproving tones? This strategy demoralizes by producing and spreading a false sense of deficiency on an industrial scale, debilitating the self-esteem and autonomy of its subjects. For these tricks have been set to music, monumentalized in painting and sculpture, and taken to the stage in order to establish them as truths in earth-time and to reduce the likelihood that any kind of uprising against the stratification and total ransacking of the sources of life should emerge. It is in this way, said system gets rid of the judgments erected by the imbalance to unleash and overcome direct police action, which determines who can have contradictions, where, and when.
Thus, thinking about Paul the Apostle’s contributions to the sacred scripture is to go straight to the backbone of the foundational and structuring pact of coloniality: nurtured, subjugated, and fattened in the Christian era and crystalized in the customizable format of the all-consuming capitalist system that devours everything that it sees, hears, and feels.

Taking this into account, I believe that the enemy’s interest is focused on the eradication of any possibility for disobedient organization. In this case, to disobey is to assemble and propose ways of thinking and imagining that emerge from, embrace, produce, and feed off of contradiction. In a place of time (which I argue continues to be the time of Jesus), congregations that disobey are persecuted with the edge of the sword. However, the mandinga demon who never dies renders the enemy concept of false resurrection completely useless. In the realm of the supernatural, these dodges and deflections have earned the nickname “miracle,” but they are actually capoeira. It is through malandragem (mischief) that we are able to widen the breaches that allow us to breathe. Coming together, we bring with us memories of how to live the impossible, reintroducing into our midst that which is incomprehensible to the colonizer. The memory comes to us with the sound of the fiery and swift wind that fills the whole house and which bursts into tongues of flames when it touches us. Despite having crossed an ocean of death, everyone who arrived here was filled with the spirit of life and spoke in many different languages.

The colonizer, stunned and perplexed, asked himself, “What does this mean?” and he called us crazy and drunk (Acts 2:13).

The Pentecost (Acts 2) is a tale of disorientation and disobedience. Coming together allows us to forget the language of the Israelites and remember the maternal tongues of our Mothers. One cannot intercept the crossroads. It is the spiritual rebirth of the crossroads that fulfills the prophecy that tells us that the old women will dream and the young women will have visions. It is in this place that the sun becomes darkness.

When I imagine congregations, I think of ephemeral spaces of liberty like those that you, friend, have created through your knowledge of Macumba wisdom. I believe that work, as a poetic and spiritual challenge, consists of creating camouflage that can guarantee us comfort, security, and plenitude in our inevitable negotiations with those who wish to see our annihilation, but above all with those who we wish to be healed and restored. The serum of the caranguejeira[3] will not cure a rattlesnake’s bite; that’s why I believe that healing comes from and will come from the Evangelist. In this case, the evangelist of the end, or, better said, through evangelical disorientation.
CVB: Since we met in person, we have planned trips together that have never materialized. Yes, there is a pleasure in imagining us together, you and I and us with others living in other geographical situations that are not those in which we usually find ourselves. From a distance, we follow the trips that each one takes separately from the others. I would like you to tell me about your adventures. What do these adventures teach you about loving?

VP: When your hands watered me, returning the clay that constitutes my body to a malleable state, a warehouse in Jakarta exploded, six ships on the coast sank, 39 museums in Europe were broken into. I forgot how to speak that morning. I dreamed that we eloped, swinging out over the lake. The ceremony was in a cathedral with the highest of altars. I was wearing clothes, but the feeling I had was of being naked, promiscuous, of striking the entire Baptist congregation silent. It was like the last sip of a ginger-watermelon juice, fucking cold and sweet. I came down to find you. To me, you are like a star that will never be born again. That’s why I know you are a damn old lady. When I was in São Caetano, I dreamed about the color orange and the Calle de Naymare in Cachoeira, where I’m writing you now. I dreamed that it was summer in my thighs and that I wouldn’t have to leave Bahía again. My lips trembled as I prayed for the taste of love that Margarida’s life awakens in me. I believe that I would be capable of provoking a clash between Saturn and Uranus for my father. For him, I would confuse the planetary orbits of at least eight galaxies that I haven’t even seen. I like his tradition that lives in me. I like learning to kiss his kiss. When I pushed off, tracing my anus over the sacred wooden objects of the church where I married you, I almost knocked over the cross, but I put it back in place, cursing it. The swing was made of a truck tire. Mama saw me naked; my whole body was covered with lips and I had a hard cock and wore pink Louboutin heels. Red in color, my hair fell in cascades like sandcastles. I’m learning to build fortresses. I woke up so as not to forget that I wasn’t dying and that the day that I leave this carcass that I am learning to love—this beautiful girl who you married and to whom you are writing—I will see the Japan of yesteryear, laughing at me stuck in the earth.

Spontaneous in equilibrium, a sadomasochist, a saxophonist. Last September I spoke of the urgency of seeing an analyst… If I made lists, I would be more organized. Ever since I met you, my poems’ cheeks flush and their asses perk up when they pass through your eyes, rubbing sentences on your macumbeira retina.

What is the tantric formula of the instant?

Touch, the tibia, three fingers with short-cut fingernails, hold the femur. Uniformity, hunger, and faith come together in the strangeness of the infernal nation. I won’t sleep until I sink the empires erected in the earth of my heart. When we are together, we empty all the cages we see and become hummingbirds flying in the skies of war, shot through with affliction, in the loneliness of São Paulo. Once, I wished to have a red head, but because of you it was yellow. But we don’t remember that because we believe we have just met for the first time now.
It is summer in the silent columns of intuition. You can hear endless chants of renewal coming from the psychiatrists, doodles intoned from the throat, burning lungs, and sublime warnings of the end of the age of light. We celebrate affectionately without overdoing it. This time, I will try on dresses that allow me to disappear. Predicting fearful nights of lunar whispering directed to the depths of my lament, I welded the golden padlock and placed it over the keloids adorning the scars that dance along the path inside me. We will not be captured. I am composing lullabies so that nightmares will treat me with more grace; the songs inadvertently confess the beauty that I acquired on the job. This week I cried across the entirety of Paraguaçu within four walls filled with the friendly sorrows that I forgot to embroider on the tail of the last probe the Chinese buttoned in solitude, a new name for the planet silence, a new defect in the saudade hemisphere. Whoever gives orders in my mind is not Jehovah; it was Oxum who showed me this, Oxum who loves me.

CVB: I also believe that all the vital changes we are making require us to make some sacrifices—offer something of ourselves so that the movement of our lives will continue. Our conversations about negotiation are recurring, and we know that in these negotiations some things must be surrendered in order for others to be gained. But there is something that we are learning together and that is precisely the impossibility of losing certain things. Sacrifices are not negotiations because we don’t lose, rather we feed, we share that which feeds us and feeds the lives that make our lives possible. How are you feeding yourself?

VP: In the old kitchen the color of cunning, where they put the broth to boil. It is at the edge of the lip that one experiences. On the table, the macaxeiras, also known as yuca, are multiplying. The beans that I’m cooking have learned the way to the aroma of those that my grandmother cooked. We harvested chiles in the last decades of autumn that existed because in the depth of my intuition I heard the laugh that they let escape into the air now that it is burning. A glass of agua de umbu, mangaba, and acerola will cure any bad mood. I have spent the last two weeks cutting garlic, pressing sugar cane, and cursing. I understood in the charm of secrets how to keep my toes together until the end of days, unlike my father and his father, from whom diabetes plucked several fingers. Two years of taking Perlutal resulted in circulatory problems so I had to interrupt that cycle in my life, but I miss it very much. They kill us through food. They often kill us, Everlane once said to me. One eats with the mouth, one eats with the gaze, one even needs to feed hearing. One feeds the body, the spirit. Breakfast is my favorite. I like tapioca with queso fresco, honey, and shaved coconut. I’ve been making fewer cocadas lately due to my sugar level, but it was through learning how to make them that I began to appreciate how precious culinary practice is.

CVB: Friend, I would like to finish this moment listening to you speak about the end and the departure. I feel that the image of the Resurrection sometimes helps me to understand and lovingly embrace the trajectory and the new steps that you announced at the end of 2020. Your poetics has presented us with new challenges and has impelled you to create new forms of communicating because now there are other Histories that demand to be told. In this sense, what can you tell us about the inevitability of the end, the rupture of an alliance, the creation of a New History, or life after death?

VP: It was our courage to kill that brought us here. It was necessary to kill in order to establish an intimate relationship with death, to do sambar bamba on the paths of life. I am trying to nourish this mortal friendship so that I may treat my loves with affection in the time of the crossing. Every night I whisper songs to death so that it will learn them and sing them when it takes us to live on the other side. It is before death that I am a witness of the glory of revival. No doubt, transubstantiation is essential and inevitable. The waters of the springs cease to be springs when they become river water, but they never cease to be waters. They flow, converge, snake, and become other waters when they flow out of the mouth of the river. Some become oceans, others rise up to the clouds and continue their journey by air, and some flows back to the fountain. What is it about the snake that is not willing, out of fear, to shed its skins?

Notes

  1. T.N. Travesti is a word used in Latin America to describe someone who is assigned the male sex at birth but develops a gender identity according to different expressions of femininity. Originally a pejorative term, it has been since reclaimed by activists. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Travesti_(gender_identity)

  2. All English Bible quotes have been taken from the website of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. https://bible.usccb.org/bible.

  3. Commonly known as tarantulas.

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