IN THE SPOTLIGHT: Bruna Della Torre
What were your first thoughts when you saw the call for applications for the fellowship?
A good friend of mine, who researches at CUNY/New York, received the call for papers in a list of her department and forwarded it to me with the sole phrase: “I saw this and immediately thought of you.” She is a friend from college and has spent the last few decades listening to my “adornian” prognostications of how the world was ending (or being “ended” by capitalism). When I saw the “call for papers,” I thought she was right. First, I was struck by the topicality of the Center proposal and, even more, by the significance for critical theory of a project which addresses the crisis in which we are living from a transdisciplinary approach.
At that time, my country was going through one of the greatest crises of its history. The rise of right-wing radicalism, contained since the end of the dictatorship in the 80s, produced a severe political and social crisis in which we are still entangled. The project of CAPAS seemed to be the perfect environment to investigate these phenomena. At that point, nowhere seemed more apocalyptic than Brazil: four thousand people dying of Covid daily, forests burning, unemployment growing every day, political institutions in discredit, society dismantling, capital running with no reins, and so on. Of course, this has now changed a little with the current threat of nuclear war… I came to Europe to find another apocalypse happening here, but this is still happening in my own home.
What does the apocalypse and/or post-apocalypse mean for you?
My generation is living through some tough times. We have seen the September eleven attacks and the war on the middle east; we have lived with and through the 2008 economic crisis, the COVID-19 pandemic, the continuing environmental crisis, and now the rebirth or the acceleration of atomic war. Not to mention precarity, anxiety, and depression as social conditions. In the so-called global South, this is even worse. The contradictions in the center of capitalism, hidden or tamed, appear in their most robust features in countries like Brazil, which has been living with a social reproduction crisis, unemployment, mass incarceration, indigenous genocide, and labor precarization for many years now. So, the idea of living in the end times seems to be a realist perspective for someone experiencing this epoch and trying to be a critical intellectual in times like these.
Personally, I took an interest in the Frankfurt School very early in my career, especially in Adorno’s work. I came into contact with it through literature. In my masters, I researched Brazilian modern art, and Adorno’s readings of literature, especially modernist literature, are very oriented by this perspective. How to write poetry and novels after Auschwitz? How to discuss art, philosophy, society after the apocalypse? How to live after the world ended and how to keep going because we must not lose hope? It is funny because in my experiences in the United States and Germany, whenever I said I researched the work of Adorno, I heard this was very odd: old, overcome, Eurocentric. And even though some of it is true, it seems to me that a work produced under the circumstances of Nazism, of exile, and a position that was trying to understand how the war and holocaust are connected to capitalism has a lot to do with my reality because the situation of “emergency” that is the basis of this work is still there (even though I am sure it is still present in Europe too for those who can see it). So, apocalypse, especially in its secular sense, in my view, has to do with a critical recognition of the destructive and self-destructive features of capitalism and the political urge and responsibility to respond to it. It seems to me that there is a dialectics between apocalypse and post-apocalypse. Something that was maybe better narrated by Beckett: I can’t go on; I will go on. That is, there is a dialectics between a world that has ended so many times for so many people and a world that must go on with this heavy weight of history on its back.
What is your fellowship trying to achieve?
I am currently working on Brazilian right-wing propaganda inspired by the Frankfurt School and other critical theories of authoritarianism, such as feminists, queer and anti-racist scholarship. It is well known that the internet and, especially, social media had a significant impact on recent politics. So, I aim to understand the relation between aesthetics and politics in right-wing propaganda and address the topicality of the concept of (digital) “culture industry” nowadays. I also intend to address the problem of the impact of this “digital culture industry” in countries of the periphery of capitalism with fragile democracies. To do so, I am investigating this propaganda on Facebook, Instagram, Telegram, Gettr, and Twitter. I follow some far-right groups in Brazil, the president, his sons, and relevant “influencers”. It is a very unpleasant endeavor.
How does the fellowship project build on or connect to your previous career or biography?
In my previous work with literature and critical theory, I combine Frankfurt School Scholarship (and its developments in the works of Fredric Jameson, Susan-Buck-Morss, and so on) with Brazilian criticism. I draw a lot from the discussions of Roberto Schwarz and Antonio Candido, two Brazilian literary critics who wrote about the peripherical condition and, more importantly, about the nexus between north and south, center and periphery. This research attempts to combine these perspectives with a more empirical approach.
What do you hope to take with you from the project and its results?
Firstly, I would like to contribute both scientifically and politically to the understanding of right-wing propaganda and culture industry nowadays to build a strategy to neutralize or avoid it and create a “fire brigade,” as Horkheimer said. On a personal note, I would like to connect my research with the current situation of my country and the world, again threatened by all sorts of fascism, in its oldest and newest versions. When it comes to my career, I hope to develop my research and deepen my knowledge on apocalypse scholarship.
What are the aspects you are most looking forward to with respect to input from other disciplines, other perspectives, and the exchange with the fellows and people at CAPAS?
I hope to get to know other perspectives, profit from new bibliographies, and learn from my colleague’s work. I also hope to take advantage of the liberty of CAPAS transdisciplinary project grants us, which is exceptional in the current context of academic specialization.
To get some practical advice: What would be the three things you would definitely need in a post-apocalyptic world?
Considering we already live in a post-apocalyptic era, which is insufferable, I choose books, music, and wine. These things keep me going on an individual level. But since we are not Robison Crusoe, more critical than ‘what’, I guess, is the ‘who’. In this kind of world, we need to reunite all those who are preparing for the world not to end – the ones that are holding the fortress – this is, in my perspective, the only way to achieve the redemption apocalypse promises.
What are some of your favourite pop culture references to the/an (post-)apocalypse — whether its films, books, a YouTube channel, or music — what can you recommend?
- Elza Soares. A mulher do fim do mundo.
- Bacurau by Kleber Mendonça Filho (Brazilian)
- New order by Michel Franco (Mexican)
Both were very polemical but are worth discussing.
- O apocalipse dos trabalhadores [The Apocalypse of the Workers]. Valter Hugo Mãe