This text-dialogue is based on a conversation we [1] held with educator Fátima Freire [2]. At that moment, our background was composed by the questions proposed by the group What is to be Done? [3] and by our common ground developed in the Politics of the Impossible [4], a project that has been carried out in the last year and a half in the city of Campinas (São Paulo State, Brazil) with different groups, both organized in neighbourhood communities and those without ties with a stable ground.Fatima’s greatest contribution to our work has been the ceaseless listening devoted to each one of us and to the wider group involved in the project. What we have learned in our meetings is, above all, how to deal with the very deep dimensions of our own knowledges and non-knowledges, reflected at each instant in the knowledges and non-knowledges of the other.

These moments have become the referential microcosms for the conflicts that we live in the micropolitics of the everyday. Here, the transformational character of each meeting is made evident: the flexible and attentive body of an educator who is always pointing at, from the oppositions that emerge within the group, which stances, attitudes and values collaborate in the breaking or activating dialogue and collective creation. On the subject, Fatima once told us:

As with dealing with our prejudices, the first step is to admit that we hold them. This something that is normally difficult to accept. From then on, one has to find out if one really wishes not let them go. We do not live eternally with the same values… however, we do hold values with which and for which we will die.

We have increasingly felt that this flexible and political subjectivity that she teaches us to be, in the exercise of becoming at each instant, takes up our body, as smoke that densifies, defining sharper outlines, until it gains names, masses, other bodies, or it generates new conflicts, confrontations, ideas and symbols.

What is to be Done?

Fátima Freire: we can start off from your experience, so we as to be able to think this very experience in relation to self-organisation and to self-education.

Contra Filé (Joana): The first relationship that I draw is that our artwork emerges from the doubts and the reflections sparked by our own experience, from the politicising questions that we make, which generate politicising answers. These answers are created not only in our bodies, but also in the collective body, in the sense that we have been developing, for a few years now, a work strategy that we call “The Public Assembly  of Gazes”, which is a dynamics of encounter to which we invite different people to share their views on reality data. The set of everyday life experiences – invisible to official discourses – brought in by each participant, becomes the starting point for symbolic collective creation.

Fátima Freire: You produce “political literacy triggers”. Instruments for the triggering of a politicisation process, of political awareness. Because what is at stake is becoming more aware. And becoming aware is, in itself, a political act.

Contra Filé (Jerusa): Because when you become aware, you automatically link up with the surroundings. Fátima Freire: And what does “linking up” demands from the individual?

Contra Filé (Cibele): Positioning.

Fátima Freire: I climb off the fence and take up a position. I have to take up a position at each moment. Becoming aware is a political act because, from the moment that you understand and apprehend the inter-relations that are configured within a given situation, you can’t remain still any longer; you have to take up a position. You either take up a position in the sense of “being more of a person” and also letting the others be so; or you take up a position, in your behaviour, in your actions, in your engagement, in order to be “less of a person”. That is, every and any act of politicization is related to humanisation or dehumanisation. I see no other way.

Contra Filé (Joana): When we work with different groups, with whom we carry out the assemblies, it is evident that we all tend to reproduce certain “lifestyles” with which we identify. And that these “lifestyles” correspond to the values that we often do not wish to reproduce. There, as one mirrors the other, we can become aware of that. The process of becoming aware of our place in the world arises, then, from the possibility of critically symbolising and commenting on this very process.
Fátima Freire: What you are saying without knowing you are saying – and Paulo Freire brings this up beautifully, I think in the Pedagogy of the Oppressed [5]- is the leap from a naïve awareness into a critical one. When I just reproduce, I am convinced I am not reproducing, yet I have no clarity of that which I am reproducing, and I naively imagine that I am producing that which is mine, which most times it is not the case. So, becoming aware is the reason why it is important to develop the kind of work we do; it is precisely to collaborate in the person’s realisation that the discourse he or she brings up is an ideological discourse absorbed from someone else.

Contra Filé (Jerusa): Here creativity comes in, because this leap takes place when the person gives form to his or her subjectivity and thus effects him or herself as world building.

Fátima Freire: What you bring up is very interesting, but we have to be careful with the notion of “creativity”. There is always a creation process, whether alienated or not.

Contra Filé (Cibele): I recall a passage from the book What is to be Done – Theory and Practice in Popular Education [6], a dialogue between Paulo Freire and Adriano Nogueira, where they speak of this care of not attributing naivety or alienation to the other. Adriano states: “(…) I am speaking about this popular ‘naivety’. I place things between quotation marks and I discuss with you. This ‘naivety’ in certain popular attitudes seems to me to be related to life’s needs. (…) These ‘naive’ actions do take place… They correspond to popular needs that I, intellectual educator, do not understand and criticise. I see a danger there. (…) It is the danger of cultural misunderstanding. I will misunderstand the resistance strategies that are possible in popular groups”.

Contra Filé (Joana): He brings an antropological sigth in this “cultural misunderstanding”. When you do not hold the tools to see where the other’s resistance lies. And transposing this to our experience, we have realised that both naivety and resistance must not be thought of as circumscribed to a class condition. Because we are all naive as we live the official discourse as “the reality”; equally, all can have the potential of resisting by building discourses and practices initiated from one’s own experience. I think that it is in this sense that we understand self-education: to be in the constant building of ourselves, of our own humanity.

Fátima Freire: This is where you start to seek methodological instruments for your what-to-be-done initiated from real urgencies [7], from real needs and that you really instrumentalise, that you can really produce. One has only to think about what you, as the group Contra Filé, have needed to do. I mean, what did you need to do from the moment that you have realised the inadequacy of this discourse that speaks of a reality that is not “the reality”? You had to spark a kind of process so as to allow a kind of learning that, in the first place, should generate the awareness that discourse is not single. And, from there on, you must create the conditions for action, because it is not possible to act in a disorganised way. So, one needs to structure the collective, survey the individual urgencies, see what is really an urgency and which can be collectively consented. Finally, to find strategies to operate the collective urgencies coming out.

Contra Filé (Joana): And I keep thinking that what we learn in this process as a whole, and, therefore, what we can teach, is to transform the residue that  emerges in the assemblies as urgency, in symbols that will later circulate in the collectivity, symbols that can be thought about by the people and become new thoughts and actions.

Contra Filé (Cibele): So, “what is to be done?” is the methodological focus we must keep in mind all the time, it is the question we carry over to each situation and each group, because it is from there that what needs to be done emerges. It is the very survey of each group’s urgencies, including ourselves as part of these groups; it is a big listening, the attention, the ever considering the diverse experiences in the process of building and in exchange.

Contra Filé (Joana): And it is the certainty regarding the oppositions contained within the group relationship that renders essential to ask one another, at every moment, “what is to be done?”. Because there is no other way of building a collective thinking if not in the opposition with the collectivity itself. It is precisely the continuity, the persistence of a group character, which is going to build a kind of “in relation” subjectivity, which is a kind of subjectivity based on conflict and dialogue. It is this subjectivity that we try to proliferate within ourselves and as a stance in the world.

Fátima Freire: You mean, it is starting from the building of this subjectivity, both individually and collectively, that you propitiate working environments and spaces where this subjectivity can be built.

Contra Filé (Jerusa): And as a group, our main battle is to develop strategies and tools that will allow the creation of these environments such as, for instance, what we call “metaphorical situation”, which is a fundamental strategy in our practice, because it is a way of creating a common  parameters for dialogue, a converging point between the people who compose the group, cast from metaphors that present issues about the people with whom we intend to dialogue with; metaphors that develop as collective action.

Contra Filé (Joana): It is the simulation of a kind of experience of collectivity that could come to exist as reality. When people live in this simulation through metaphor, they realise the image of a kind of possible meeting, as a glimpse of what could be; but because they live the metaphor as experience – because the dialogue actually occurs – it also instrumentalises their bodies for the development of analogous actions in other moments of their lives.

Fátima Freire: I mean, when a political subjectivity finds these propitious environments for its exercise, it will carry this in the body as a constitutive element of any inscription it may carry out.

Contra Filé (Jerusa): So, what are the characteristics and conditions that the exchange environment must feature so that this political subjectivity is inscribed both in the individual and the collective levels?

Fátima Freire: I think it must be an environment in which desire fits in… So education is a living action, not an applicative action.

Contra Filé (Jerusa): We have to act in the way we believe that these actions must be, if what really matters to us is to live, in the actuality of the meeting, the “experience of the possible”.

Fátima Freire: And if we speak about the experience of the possible, it is important precisely because it allows the creation of environments in which the people can be themselves. In order to do that, some aspect of the impossible must be turned into shared possibles, while other aspects have to remain as “impossibles”. For if all is named, systematised, one runs the risk of transforming the person into an object, of making a thing out of him or her, of drawing out from them the capacity of de-territorialising oneself, and not remaining in fixed position, of inventing new action and desire fields. And it is that which gives organicity to the act of educating for transformation.

Contra Filé (Cibele): Again quoting from the book “What is to be Done – Theory and Practice in Popular Education”, Paulo Freire responds to Adriano Nogueira: “(…) Before being a good policy, the organised action is a collectivised dream. Before an enterprise is a programme and a strategy, it is a dream. I would almost say… a dose of anarchy precedes and accompanies the revolutionary organisation. You have spoken well, regarding utopias: they allow the certainty that there is a very wide gap between yesterday and tomorrow. Our challenge is to organise the utopian procedure without suffocating the utopian capacity. The history of our city is understood not only as it should be, but it is a also history understood as possibilities within the unfinished world. I have stated, regarding this, that the reason for life is becoming. It is not given, and it is not finished. (…) I am proposing that the work and organisation should shorten the distance between the dream and the concreteness of the dream. The dreamer meets up with another dreamer and they together shorten the distance between the dream and the dreamed life. This is what we have invented Popular Education for, each day “.[8]

1 Created in the city of São Paulo in the year of 2000, Contra Filé is composed by Cibele Lucena, Jerusa Messina, Joana Zatz e Peetssa, a geographer, a fine artist, an anthropologist and a photographer.

2 Educator Fátima Freire Dowbor, born in the Brazilian city of Recife, started her carreer teaching Psychology and Philosophy at the Kwame Nkrumah National Lyceum, in Guiné Bissau, Western Africa (1976-1980). Fatima worked as an aide to the Minister of Culture, of Guiné Bissau, Mário de Andrade (1980- 1981). She has worked aqs an educator in several countries. Still a teenager, she followed her parents into exile: educators Elza Freire and Paulo Freire.

3 What is to be done? How can we become more? How can we learn from the transformation currently underway? How important is the constitution or formation of political subjectivity under new conditions important to your aesthetic practice? How do you structure your dialogue, confrontation, or intervention with existing political, educational, and artistic institutions? Which role does self-education or “self-constitution” play of working beyond institutional or disciplinary strictures, beyond state and capital? How does this reflect back onto your aesthetic praxis? What are the political and aesthetic implications? Which new social forms arise?

Politics of the Impossible is a project constituted by artists-teachers hailing from diverse fields of knowledge: education, fine arts, social sciences, geography, architecture, dance, psychology, circus and history. Participants in the project in 2006: Beatriz Carvalho, Chico Linares, Cibele Lucena, Daniel Lima, Daniela Biancardi, Eduardo Consoni, Gavin Adams, Jerusa Messina, Joana Zatz, Luciana Costa, Rodrigo Araújo, Suiá Ferlauto, Thaís Rocha e Fátima Freire.

5 Freire, Paulo. Pedagogia do Oprimido, 1970.

6 Freire, Paulo e Nogueira, Adriano. Que Fazer – Teoria e Pratica em educação popular [What is to be done – theory and practice in popular education]. Vozes, Petrópolis, 2002. p. 41 – 42.

7 Cf. Suely Rolnik: that which demands passage, which is already lived as real, but does not find representation in reality.

8 Freire, Paulo e Nogueira, Adriano. Que Fazer – Teoria e Pratica em educação popular [What is to be done – theory and practice in popular education ]. Ed. Vozes, Petrópolis, 2002. p. 43 – 44.