TALKS TUPI OR NOT TUPI Anthropophagic Translation or Towards a Poetics of Assimilation
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Anthropophagic Translation or Towards a Poetics of Assimilation

Their words, too, fit to eat.
Rosmarie Waldrop

In 1928, Oswald de Andrade published his Anthropophagic Manifesto. It was 374 years since Bishop Sardinha from Portugal had been taken prisoner by indigenous people on the northeast coast of Brazil before being boiled, roasted, and eaten, and it was century since Brazil’s independence from Portugal. Now, the metaphorical consumption of European art and literature – and their subsequent transformation into something authentically "Brazilian" – was being celebrated as a radical form of resistance against continued European cultural hegemony. As the Anthropophagic Manifesto stated: "Our independence has yet to be proclaimed".1 Cultural independence was at stake, an identity entirely divorced from essentialism, nationalism, and xenophobia. It was about incorporating rather than excluding the Other. As per the cannibalistic motto, "I am only interested in what is not mine."

Central to the anthropophagic movement was the rebellious, insubordinate cannibal who defied the Romantic ideal of the submissive "noble savage". The "ignoble savage" of Brazilian modernism inverted the dynamic between the colonised and the colonisers: they ate back. The modern cannibals of the 1920s clearly took great pleasure in not only assimilating European cultures seasoned with their own traditions, but also the concept of the barbaric cannibal as defined by centuries of colonial discourse. Anthropophagy is therefore an act of cannibalism in itself. It performatively does as it says: It is what it eats.

Theodore de Bry. A Broth is Made From the Intestines: cannibalism by Indians in the New World (Amazonia) (1578)

The topos of cannibalism was the antithesis of civilisation and invoked as justification for the colonial exploitation of the so-called New World. It later served as an impetus for enlightenment and was fundamental to brasilidade, Brazilian national identity: "Only anthropophagy unites us. Socially. Economically. Philosophically."

Oswald de Andrade advocated "[t]he necessity of an anthropophagic vaccine." In other words, he called for an antidote to – or immunisation against – western thought. He regarded the latter as nothing more than "canned consciousness", a dark and narrow consciousness that excludes everything that it cannot comprehend. The Brazilian poet, critic, and translator Haroldo de Campos argued that the opposite of canned consciousness was "anthropophagic reason"2, a transgressive, visceral form of reason. "The spirit refuses to conceive spirit without body" as the Anthropophagic Manifesto put it. Anthropophagic reason attempts to assimilate everything that the reason of the Enlightenment denied and made taboo: corporeality, mysticism, mania, sexuality, bliss, the feminine, delirium, folly, nonsense, Mr Galli Mathias3, who is gobbled up in the manifesto, and finally death itself.

Cannibalistic reason means identifying with all that is excluded and discarded, with all that is meaningless. It incorporates taboo rather than keeping it separate. The Anthropophagic Manifesto rails against the great narratives of conquerors and demagogues, against history as told by the victors. It derides the "stork fable" of the Europeans, their sublimations, the Law of the Father and its system of taboos which, according to Freud, are the basis for all cultures.4 The manifesto turned against the catechisms and grammar of the Portuguese, and the transparent A – Z world of the Europeans, their cultural dominance, their literary canon: "Against Goethe".

Anthropophagy attacks the logic of accumulation, the serious work of reason. Perhaps that is why these modern cannibals insisted on the difficult to translate "alegria"5, meaning exuberance, joy, and bliss. "Joy is the real proof" appears twice in Oswald de Andrade’s short manifesto. The new anthropophagic value system was based on joy. It was a Nietzschean joy in nonsense, an antidote to despair, a glitch in the fatal gears of order and progress: "Before the Portuguese discovered Brazil, Brazil had discovered happiness."

Adriana Varejão. ‹De tapete› em carne viva (1999)

Anthropophagy was, therefore, about so much more than devouring the enemy. It was a critique of reason. It conjured another way of life and envisaged a utopia "[a]gainst the oppressive, clothed social reality”. The Anthropophagic Manifesto invoked the “matriarchy of Pindorama", the indigenous name for Brazil. Whereas patriarchal society regulates every appetite and is based on the subjugation and enslavement of the Other, this matriarchy was founded on bliss, Dionysian sensuality, and assimilation rather than exclusion.

Lenora de Barros. Poemas (1979)

The anthropophagic movement died a sudden death just two years after its birth due to personal entanglements and the military junta of 1930. But cultural cannibalism started to enjoy a resurgence in the mid-1960s across all levels of cultural production in Brazil, where it found expression in bossa nova, cinema novo, the Tropicália movement, the visual arts, theatre, and concrete poetry. Against the backdrop of an increasingly repressive military dictatorship, the anthropophagic metaphor became a medium of resistance: the idea of a sensual matriarchal society and playful cultural appropriation deployed against xenophobia, political repression, and censorship. Primarily thanks to the brothers Augusto and Haroldo de Campos, as well as Décio Pignatari, the third person in this band of concrete poets and translators, the metaphor of assimilation also became relevant to poetry. Anthropophagy became a poetological model for cultural appropriation, a paradigm for language, art, literature, and translation. As Haroldo de Campos wrote:

Oswald's "Anthropophagy" […] is a theory proposing the critical devouring of universal cultural heritage, formulated not from the submissive and reconciled perspective of the "noble savage" […], but from the disabused point of view of the "bad savage," devourer of whites, the cannibal. This last view does not involve submission (conversion), but, rather, transculturation, or, even better "transvalorization" […] capable of appropriation and of expropriation, of dehierarchization, of deconstruction. Any past which is an "other" for us deserves to be negated. We could even say, it deserves to be eaten, devoured.6

The cannibalistic rhetoric of assimilation served as a starting point for rethinking one’s own past – and ultimately for rethinking translation as a medium through which the European canon could be reappropriated. Devouring the Other was a potent metaphor that helped to break down the traditional hierarchical relationship between the original and its translation and to promote reading and translating as means of (self-)criticism, transformation, and creativity.

Haroldo de Campos, Décio Pignatari, Augusto de Campos (1971). Photo by Ivan Cardoso.

"Tupi or not tupi, that is the question" – with a touch of irony, Oswald de Andrade transplanted this epitome of European weltschmerz to the Brazilian tropics in his Anthropophagic Manifesto. The phrase could be considered a form of translation that would decades later be labelled as "anthropophagic translation", a form of translation liberated from the shackles of perceived inadequacy and melancholy, rising over the original in triumph. Oswald de Andrade did not even obey the most fundamental law of translation: to switch from one language to another. Like Pierre Menard,7 he also translated within the same language, from English to English. Shakespeare, the representative of the European canon par excellence, was transformed into something authentically Brazilian: the indigenous Tupi who in turn epitomised cannibalism.

Ritualistic cannibalism is in fact the ideal image through which the process of translation can be understood. The path taken by the cannibal, the truest poet and translator of all, maps the same landscape: leaving themselves behind, the cannibal goes through the Other while at the same time allowing for the Other to go through them before finally, bearing all the difference inscribed in themselves by the Other, they become Other.

"Transcreation" was a neologism coined by Haroldo de Campos and influenced by anthropophagy to underscore that translation means creative transformation.8 He followed the principle of Rudolf Pannwitz quoted by Walter Benjamin when he described the task of the translator as being to allow their own language "to be put powerfully in movement by the foreign language".9 The Campos brothers’ transcreation therefore exemplified transformation and elasticity within one’s own language.

A poem by Konstantinos Kavafis is titled "Waiting for the Barbarians". Haroldo de Campos translated it in such a way that the voice of the Brazilian poet Carlos Drummond de Andrade can be heard clearly. The title of Haroldo de Campos’ transcreation of Goethe – Deus e o Diabo no Fausto de Goethe ("God and the Devil in Goethe’s Faust") – was a clear reference to Glauber Rocha’s famous film Deus e o Diabo na Terra do Sol ("God and the Devil in the Land of the Sun"; known as Black God, White Devil in English). When Augusto de Campos translated John Donne, he did so while incorporating several lines of a ubiquitous samba piece. Dance steps were even integrated into translations of Horace into Brazilian Portuguese.

Anthropophagic translation means embedding one’s own literary tradition into the translation, and swallowing, digesting, and transforming one’s own past: John Donne bowed to the rhythm of the samba, Goethe to the devil. A new network of intertextual references emerges, another landscape emerges: Brazil must be discovered anew.

Tomie Ohtake / Haroldo de Campos. Akari - Álbum Yú-Gen (1998)

Anthropophagy as a metaphor for the process of translation may help to overcome melancholy associations and the imperative of invisibility in favour of a joyous, confident translation characterised by exciting transformation, secure in the knowledge that the specific time and place of the translating subject cannot be spirited away.

The anthropophagic translator is not subservient to a supposedly static original. They do not suffer from an inferiority complex, nor are they nostalgic. They are the fallen angel Lucifer, raising themselves over the original in triumph. Lucifer’s motto is non serviam. In the epilogue of his translation of Goethe’s Faust overwritten with "mephisto-faustian transluciferation", Haroldo de Campos wrote:

"Creative translation is possessed by the devil. It respects neither piety nor remembrance. It aims to erase the source, obliterate the original. I call this Oedipal refusal to remember transluciferation".10

Gustave Doré. Lucifer (1861). Illustration zu Dantes Commedia.

At this point Haroldo de Campos appears to fall short of his own vision if he wishes for anthropophagy to be decisively understood as "deconstruction". But summoning the devil, erasing the source, obliterating the original, cannibalising the text of the Other, all to assume the throne of the author – this is nothing less than destruction and patricide. Power relations are merely inverted rather than deconstructed.

The metaphor of cannibalism seems to contradict itself because it repeats the violence that it initially rejects. The phrase "anthropophagic translation" became a thread running throughout Brazilian translation studies. It could withstand neither theory nor practice. And yet it would be too easy to dismiss the trope of anthropophagy as translation of the Other for being a contradiction in terms.

Maria Martins. O Impossível (1945)

Haroldo de Campos knew of its irreducibility even where he appeared to defend violence towards the Other. He knew that translation inevitably involves the usurpation of a foreign text, that this moment of violence cannot be disentangled from language. All speech pushes the concrete object towards abstraction and must sacrifice the unique and particular in favour of the more general. Haroldo de Campos never denied the other side of translation. Behind the playful carnival there is struggle, loss, trepidation, and silence. His own translations were testament to this. They were, as Márcio Seligmann-Silva writes, defined by a "double violence, a double loss: violence towards the source text and source language, violence towards one’s own language".11

Anthropophagy must ultimately be understood as the experience of a radical, reciprocal transformation. Anthropophagy not only feeds off the text of the Other, but also one’s own cultural and literary tradition. The familiar is combined with the foreign to the point that it is no longer recognisable. Anthropophagic translation is not only defined by violence towards the Other, but also by violence towards oneself. In a paradoxical gesture, cannibalism affirms and denies the Other while simultaneously affirming and denying itself. In this vein, Lucifer is not synonymous with Satan: he is the biblical bearer of light, the morning star who fell from heaven.

Translation as assimilation is, as Augusto de Campos emphasises, also an act of love: "I show love by translating it. Or by devouring it according to Oswald de Andrade’s anthropophagic law".12

After all, you kill the enemy whom you admire but you only devour what you love. It is therefore possible to consider cannibalism as a metaphor beyond fascistic identity politics, a sense of ownership that must be defended, or a violently triumphalist appropriation of the Other. Instead, anthropophagy must be affirmed in its fundamentally contradictory configuration, in the way that it simultaneously constitutes the death of the object and its rebirth in a new form, in its simultaneous existence as both love and hate, its affirmation and denial of both the Other and oneself.

Deciphering translation as an anthropophagic ritual no longer means reading it as a one-way endeavour, but rather as a reciprocal devouring of oneself and the Other; it is no longer easy to differentiate between the consumer and the consumed. To speak the Other, to eat the Other is to experience the fact that you cannot devour the Other without being devoured yourself.

Devouring the Other therefore always means devouring yourself. Alterity is always entwined with the dissolution of one’s own self. Ritualistic cannibalism does not just transform the Other: it also transforms the cannibal. As Haroldo de Campos wrote: "Alterity is, above all, a necessary exercise in self-criticism".13

Anthropophagy means translating this alterity, a (be)coming towards the Other. Translation requires the self to consume itself within and through the Other. The answer to the question "to be or not to be" – "Tupi or not Tupi" – is to become the Other, to see oneself in the Other as Another, Tupi transformed.



©Jan Dreer / Internationales Forschungszentrum Kulturwissenschaften, Wien

Melanie Strasser

studied Philosophy and Translation Studies in Vienna and translates literary and academic texts from Portuguese. Her book Cultural Cannibalism: Translations of Anthropophagy (2023) was recently published in German. It analyses the manifold relationships between the topos of assimilation and the poetics of translation. She is currently junior fellow at Mecila, Maria Sibylla Merian Centre Conviviality-Inequality in Latin America in São Paulo where she researches translation and hospitality.

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