Two extraordinary books about the natural world, very different and yet related, arrive in the hands of Brazilians. Almost three centuries separate the Enlightenment projects that gave rise to them, but their meeting in this dark 2021 gives off a spark that should be fanned.
The first is “Natural History” by Georges-Louis Leclerc, Count of Buffon (1707-1788). Extracts from the 36 volumes published from 1749 onwards were gathered in the 758 pages of this exquisite Unesp edition, organized and translated by Isabel Coelho Fragelli, Pedro Paulo Pimenta and Ana Carolina Soliva Soria.
The full title is “Natural History, General and Particular, with Description of the King’s Office”. It began as a catalog of Luís 15’s collection and became an encyclopedia of the knowledge accumulated about nature until then.
It is read as a declaration of love for the naturalist’s methodical work: “It takes a kind of strength, typical of genius, and a certain courage of spirit to contemplate, without being overwhelmed by amazement, the innumerable multitude of Nature’s productions, and be able to understand and compare them”.
“It can be said that the love for the study of Nature presupposes in the spirit two qualities that seem opposite: the great visions of an ardent genius, who embraces everything at a glance, and the meticulous attention of a laborious instinct, which is holds in a single point.”
The ideal period for honing such passion comes with youth. “Young people (…) must be guided and counseled; one should even encourage them with whatever is most instigating in science, making them notice the most unique things without, however, explaining them in detail”, prescribes the Count.
“At this age, mystery excites curiosity, while in adulthood it only inspires disgust.”
This disgust forms the essential part of Jair Bolsonaro’s rotten and funereal personality. Otherwise, how to understand his devastating contempt for education, science, nature?
The president deplores indigenous peoples, but he could learn about wisdom and autonomy from Davi Kopenawa’s relatives. I should start by flipping through the second extraordinary book in this column: “Puu Naki Thëã Oni – The Yanomami Knowledge of Bees”.
It is the new volume in the Saberes da Floresta series, by Hutukara Associação Yanomami and Instituto Socioambiental. In this case, the bringing together of the knowledge of elders and shamans with the methodical research of young indigenous naturalists on the life of 32 species of these insects —so useful and threatened elsewhere— in the region of Toototobi (RR).
Young men and women with their feet in the 21st century, not in the 1964-style timeframe in which Bolsonaro fades away. Threatened with genocide by the harassment of miners considered heroes by the president, they build a post-naturalism that combines the ardent genius of shamanic knowledge with the passionate method of Buffon.
A few more words to erase for a moment the infamous government that shames us. Let’s stay with the pages dedicated to the dog by Buffon, so moving in capturing a dignity that surpasses that of certain humans:
“… your affection is more faithful and more constant than his; he is devoid of ambition, interest, thirst for revenge, and is not afraid except to be displeased; it is made of zeal, ardor and obedience; more sensitive to the memory of rewards than to punishments, it doesn’t get down with abuse, put up with them, forget about them, or, if you remember them, it’s to become more faithful”.
The more I know about Bolsonaro, the more I like Tita, Coca, Lola, Pumba and Rufus.
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