TALKS TUPI OR NOT TUPI On the seductions of cannibalism and parricide
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On the seductions of cannibalism and parricide

A reflection on the transmission of key concepts from the two modern Brazilian vanguards

Here we present a piece of the trajectory of a concept-image, cannibalism, which has been fantasized about since ancient Greece, and has been markedly prolific since the invasion of the Americas by Europeans in the 16th century. The excerpt in question extends temporally from the seventeenth-century reports on the practice of cannibalism among South American indigenous people, passing through the formulation of the idea of "anthropophagy" as an intercultural technology by Oswald de Andrade (1890-1954), in the context of the Brazilian modernist movement in the 1920s, and for its rehabilitation by the literary concrete vanguard of São Paulo in the 1950s and 1960s, until its more systematic internationalization within the scope of Translation Studies since the end of the 1990s. What we intend here is not to relate these facts and this transmission process, which has already been done in several publications, but rather to reflect on the notions of identity and alterity implied (and intricate) in the key moments of this path and a discussion of its historicization as a post-colonialist current of thinking about literary translation.

At no time will the anthropological merit of the ritualistic practice of cannibalism by certain Amerindian ethnic groups, which were practically exterminated in the first centuries of colonization, be discussed here. This merit will not be discussed not only because the record of these practices comes from the colonizers and not from their practitioners, but above all because the creators and transmitters of the concept-image of anthropophagy had no ethnological interest in understanding these original rituals. That is, what we want to emphasize here is precisely the distance that separates the transmission and transformation – by decoupage and metaphorical and metonymic delimitation – of this concept-image of any historical reality of cannibalism and of any function originating from this practice by the Tupinambá ethnic group, among others.

What is interesting about the rapid proliferation of reports about cannibal Amerindian cultures in 17th-century Europe is that the eyewitness testimony of travelers about a practice that had already populated the European mythical imagination in earlier times ended up becoming a demarcation beacon between civilization (European) and barbarism (savage, new worldism), something that in itself already legitimized the invasion of the newly discovered territory, the enslavement of its inhabitants and the appropriation of the continent and all the goods found there. In relation to the New World, the watertight opposition between civilization and barbarism was assimilated as an antagonism between "us" and "them," so that the identity of one was based on the total alterity of the second. The exceptions to this discourse — such as the reports by Jean de Léry (Histoire mémorable du siège de Sancerre, 1574, and Histoire d'un voyage fait en la terre du Brésil, 1578), assimilated by Michel de Montaigne in his essay on the cannibals ("Des Cannibales," 1595) and inspiring William Shakespeare in the creation of the character of Caliban in The Tempest (written between 1610 and 1611) — confirm the rule: the vehemence with which Léry and Montaigne, referring to the religious wars that plagued Europe since 1517, turn against the unilateral imputation of barbarism to extra-Western peoples and against the civilizing exclusivity self-attributed to Europeans, indicate that the preponderant and hegemonic discourse was precisely what they were fighting.

In fact, it is difficult to find a greater antagonism than that between the attitudes of the cannibal Amerindians and the colonizing Europeans towards the "other." While the colonizers recognized themselves, as holders of civilization, in exclusive opposition to the other, the Tupinambá aimed to incorporate, embody the qualities of the other fought and worthily defeated in war. On the one hand, an identity founded on the exclusion of what was human (that is, what was proper) in the other; on the other hand, an identity that was strengthened with the incorporation and, therefore, inclusion of the other. On the one hand, the use of the other with the focus on itself; of the other, the use of oneself hungry for the other.

(Here a parenthesis is in order. It is interesting to note that these two contrasting postures in relation to each other also constitute a dichotomy that permeates modern thought on translation. Friedrich Schleiermacher — synthesizing a debate from the turn of the 18th to the 19th centuries — refers to the possibilities of, on the one hand, focusing on what is proper, bringing the foreign author closer to the translation reader, or focusing on what is alien, bringing the translation reader to the foreign author. Almost two centuries later, Schleiermacher's formulation is retaken by Lawrence Venuti, in the United States, through the opposition between a "domesticating" attitude or a "foreignizing" posture to be assumed by the translator, who would choose between reducing what is alien to himself or extending the self to embrace the other. Under the influence of German thinkers from the turn of the 18th to the 19th century, Antoine Berman came to defend, in his theory of translation, a translation practice that does justice to alterity and an ethics that values the irreducible specificity of the other. This would be achieved by translating to the letter, that is, by considering the corporeality of any text in the translation process.)

Fig.1. Coloured copper engraving by Theodor de Bry: Americae, Book 3, Frankfurt am Main 1592, Kunstbibliothek, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin. © public domain

A little more than four centuries after the wide spread of disturbing reports and images of cannibalism witnessed by Europeans in certain parts of the New World, the initiators of the modernist movement in Brazil rescue the prolific image of cannibalism as a metaphor for a paramount way of assimilating the culture of the colonizers. Accompanying the European vanguards in the rehabilitation of the "primitive" as a value of modern expression, the Brazilian modernists found themselves in a dilemma. Perhaps the Manifeste Cannibale Dada, written by Francis Picabia in 1920, with its evocation of the power of death and its nihilistic slogans, as well as the magazine Cannibale, launched by him that same year, even served as an inspiration to the artists who would scandalize the public in São Paulo at the 1922 Modern Art Week. However, Brazilian Anthropophagy, launched as a movement based on Tarsila do Amaral's paintings made between 1928 and 1930 and Oswald de Andrade's "Cannibalist Manifesto," published in 1928, could not look at the "primitive" in the same way as European artists. After all, even though they were descendants of the colonizers and trained as artists in France and in a Francophile culture like the Brazilian culture of their time, they were on soil previously inhabited exclusively by the so-called "primitive" peoples. In other words, the rescue of the primitive did not mean the search for the distant, but rather a dive (albeit only symbolic) into one's own ancestry. The intellectual and artistic elite of São Paulo in the 1920s, largely made up of descendants of the first colonizers or of European immigrants who arrived in the Americas at the end of the 19th century, accompanied Europe in the modern search for the "primitive," rediscovering in its own history, however, and not in distant lands, the sovereignty of the indigenous people who did not allow themselves to be subjugated and the rich and subtle resistance of enslaved Africans. This defense of a mixed culture, which makes Brazilian modernism one of the few to demonstrate a nationalist character and not an internationalist one, as is the tendency of avant-garde movements, constitutes the basis for rescuing the "other" "primitive" in itself. Although following the European accounts of Amerindian cannibalism, without an immediate relationship, therefore, with the original cultures, Anthropophagy simulates the ancestral rite, as it appropriates the so-called "primitive" alien, seeking in this other an expanded identity. This operation of inauthentic identification is only possible through an ironic displacement. After all, Anthropophagy cannibalized indigenous America more than the allegedly cannibalized Europe, since the latter was not only much closer (and proper) to it, but also provided it with the discourse (of 17th-century travelers), the reference (of the vanguards of the early 20th century) and the (colonizing) action against which it would react bellicosely (avantgarde, a military term) as an "evil savage." (In this context, it is worth remembering that the flag of the Brazilian Expeditionary Force, FEB, which participated in the Second World War alongside the allies in the Italian Campaign, from 1944, featured a smoking snake...) The usurping (inauthentic) identification with America (prior to Américo Vespúcio), that is, the rich mother that is spoken about ("Matriarchy of Pindorama"), is the counterpoint to the disidentification (or the devouring) of the colonizing father to which it is spoken ( "No Napoleon. No Caesar."). While the Amerindian origin is reduced to the object of the Manifesto's discourse, the European colonizer is the interlocutor subject, target and addressee of the “Cannibalist Manifesto,” written from the fictitious point of view of the one who would not have allowed himself to be colonized. This ironic displacement (because diametrically inverted) is not, however, a gratuitous persiflage; it represents a positive transformation of the place of who is not (neither one thing nor another, neither colonizer nor colonized) for whom the place of whom becomes something in between. And this is the true vocation of the cannibal as a translator.

(Here it’s worth another parenthesis. It is known that the thought of Vilém Flusser would hardly exist as such if he had not spent 31 years of his life in Brazil. After having lost his family in the Holocaust, his Prague of his origin in exile and consequently the possibility of becoming a European intellectual, he found himself in the Brazilian cultural environment, where his diasporic displacement possibly harmonized with the non-place of the intellectual in a Europeanized and increasingly Americanized country like Brazil after the Second World War, where more than half of the population was illiterate. (In 1940, the Census indicated a rate of 56.8% illiterate people.) Without actually having been accepted by the academic environment of his time, something Oswald de Andrade also experienced, Flusser created his work from a displacement that was very similar to the place of the translator, the place of someone who is in between. As Rainer Guldin demonstrates in his book Philosophieren zwischen den Sprachen — Vilém Flussers Werk, Flusser's thought is inseparable from the place of the groundless (bodenlos) that converts the "between" into its own space.

"When I start translating, it's as if the real ground under my feet is going to dissolve. My being here is problematic. The I that I am, the I that has thoughts, threatens to disintegrate as those thoughts formalize and symbolize. It is a kind of progressive and disciplined alienation.." 1

"[...] the possibility of translation is one of the few possibilities, perhaps the only practicable one, for the intellect to overcome the horizons of language. During this process, it temporarily annihilates itself. It evaporates when leaving the territory of the original language, to condense again when reaching the language of the translation."2

The idea of oscillation, suspension, and the voluntary leap over the abyss, the disposition to open oneself to nothingness, finally, the image of a leap that erases the origin (Ur/Sprung) constitute the core of Flusser's reflections on translation. Closed parenthesis.)

Even without referring to the issue of translation, something that would be done by the subsequent avant-garde, Oswald's Anthropophagy opens a precedent in the reflection on literary transmission, suggesting a de-hierarchization of relations between dominant and dominated cultures. To this end, it makes a metaphorical use of the image of the Amerindian ritualistic cannibal practice propagated by the narratives of the colonizers, turning it against the colonizers themselves. The metaphorical appropriation of cannibalism present in the Cannibal Manifesto, even accompanied by blunt language gestures ("Tupi or not tupi, that is the question."), generates a speech devoid of body. After all, what this anthropophagic act would consist of — in literary terms — is still open. The texts published in the Revista de Antropofagia, published between May 1928 and August 1929, do not give exact clues about the corporeality of this appropriation. So much so that, especially after the rescue of Anthropophagy by the concrete literary vanguard, in the 1950s/1960s, the concept began to circulate widely as an anti-colonialist rhetorical gesture, as an alibi for the adaptive or interpretative appropriation of other artistic works and as a legitimation of the aesthetics of mélange, of the de-hierarchizing and dehistoricizing mixture of elements and references that originally had no relation to each other. The random propagation of the concept reveals, however, one constant. This is what perhaps most distinguishes the anthropophagic thought of Oswald de Andrade within Brazilian modernism, that is, the conception of a non-essentialist cultural identity, capable of reversing and disidentifying with any origin, be it native or colonizing. It is not by chance that the most forceful and striking form of expression in Oswaldian poetry is parody. It is in parody that the subject of the discourse is placed between an alien, quoted, pre-existing speech and the inaugural speech act of now, which assigns an entirely new function to the quoted. The forcefulness of Oswaldian irony and parody was what the hegemonic critics of the four decades that followed the Modern Art Week (Semana de Arte Moderna) could not — or refused to — understand, dismissing his literary production as anecdotal. The rehabilitation of Oswald de Andrade as an exponent of Brazilian literary modernism would only occur with the subsequent literary avant-garde movement, concretism, in the 1950s and 1960s. And it is in this context that Anthropophagy ends up being co-opted for reflection on literary translation.

The affirmation of a de-hierarchical relationship with European literature is perhaps the most immediate link between Oswald de Andrade and the concretist avant-garde. When Grupo Noigandres — created by Augusto de Campos, Décio Pignatari and Haroldo de Campos in 1952, the year the first issue of the homonymous magazine was launched — incorporated Oswald de Andrade into its canon of inventive and innovative authors, including Stéphane Mallarmé, Ezra Pound, James Joyce, e. e. cummings, to name the most relevant — it is not a statement of influence, quite the contrary. The aesthetic program of Concrete Poetry, outlined in various texts and manifestos from the mid-1950s to the mid-1960s, rescues for the present a lineage of authors who could be considered its precursors. The initiative to create a new canon, including rediscovering authors or certain segments of works that had been erased by the preceding literary historiography, is driven by the (Poundian) impulse to re-read the past from the perspective of the artistic manifestations of the present, in this case, Concrete Poetry, co-invented by the Noigandres Group. As for the rescue of Oswald de Andrade, the (metonymic) cut of his work converges directly with the concretist aesthetic program. In his essays on the author of the "Cannibal Manifesto," Haroldo de Campos identifies in his poetic work several procedures of modern poetry postulated by Ezra Pound — such as the condensation of language, ideogrammatic composition, and parody — in addition to others directly related to Concrete Poetry, such as visuality, quick cuts, and radical reduction to a minimum. But, of all the discursive gestures of the Cannibal Manifesto, what most coincided with the interests of the new avant-garde was the affirmation of a literature for export, not merely derivative of European literature. If it was difficult to find this, in fact, in the modernism of the 1920s, Concrete Poetry — co-invented by Brazilians, from which the concretist movement became international — was perhaps the first example of concurrence and non-succession to European literary movements. The de-hierarchization postulated and carried out by the concretes was based on the (Poundian) view that there were elective affinities between poetics of invention of all times and linguistic spaces, without the need for compartmentalization or segregation. Convinced that the language of poetry is a universal language, regardless of the language in which it is expressed, Brazilian concretists made translation a fundamental part of their aesthetic program. By postulating and practicing an inventive translation committed to the complexity of resources and poetic effects of the original, dedicated to creating a text in another language with the same degree of aesthetic elaboration, the poets of the Noigandres group equated translation creation to poetic creation, in addition to recreating all the authors of its canon and countless other classics, modern and contemporary, throughout their lifetimes.

Even before writing any text about their translational concept, the poets of the Noigandres Group began to publish in joint books, from 1960 onwards, their translations of Cantos by Ezra Pound, poetry by Mallarmé, fragments of Finnegans Wake by James Joyce, and modern Russian poets, and later to dedicate themselves individually to texts from all times, from biblical writings to contemporary poetry. What initially moved the young avant-garde poets was to claim a new way of making and translating poetry, a poetic-translational practice that would do justice to the materiality and concreteness of language. Although Brazilian literature already had excellent poetry translators, the awareness of the inseparability of form and content was not stressed in most translations produced at the time. Hence their insistence on affirming the novelty of their way of translating, something that appears in the terms coined to define their work: translation-art, transcreation, other translation. Although it may seem (and has been erroneously propagated) that the poets of the Noigandres Group, when postulating a new translation program, have made adaptive translations, Nachdichtungen, what actually happens is the opposite. This misunderstanding was and continues to be generated by the fact that the discourse they produced on translation, initially combative and inflamed, ended up being disseminated far more than their own translation works. The notion of poetic translation of the concretist avant-garde was constructed jointly by the three writers of the Group, but ended up being further theorized by Haroldo de Campos. While the Group's aesthetic program of poetic translation, focused on the critical awareness of form, had already been practiced since the 1950s, it was only years later that it began to be theorized, above all by Haroldo de Campos. The translation works commented and published by them for decades revolutionized the practice of poetic translation in Brazil, enthusing generations of readers, poets, and translators ever since. Parallel to this, Haroldo de Campos, with his cosmopolitan spirit, his international performance, and his great interest in dialoguing with interlocutors outside Brazil, continuously produced — from the early 1960s to the end of the 1990s — a critical-theoretical reflection on poetic translation that sought to associate the inventions of the Brazilian concrete avant-garde with the main contemporary theoretical and philosophical discourses. To this end, he became involved with the thinking of numerous authors, such as Charles S. Peirce, Max Bense, Roman Jakobson, Walter Benjamin, Paul Valéry, Jacques Derrida, and Henri Meschonnic, among others. Throughout his reflections, generated mainly in the academic context in which he worked, he continued to affirm the same practice of translation, while updating his theoretical discourse, having performed true argumentative juggling to adapt the structuralist horizon of the beginning of his work to the post-structuralist context that increasingly dominated the international theoretical discourse. As the academic world appropriated his theories over the last three decades, Haroldo's discourse on translation overlapped the translation practice he was referring to, to the point of almost erasing it. This is where the erroneous image, which still exists, arises, that "transcreation" would be the creation of a text "unfaithful" to the original. The too-direct association of the theory of transcreation with Anthropophagy further aggravated the scenario, generating the image that the Brazilian concretist avant-garde would practice a free and adaptive translation.

Fig. 3. Text by Oswald de Andrade, drawing by Tarsila do Amaral, printed in: Revista de Antropofagia, Ano 1, No. 1, Maio de 1928, Faksimile-Edition, São Paulo 1975. © public domain

In fact, the association of the art of translation with an anthropophagic act à la Oswald de Andrade is due to the poets of Noigandres. In the book Verso, Reverso e Controverso (1978), with translations of Provençal troubadour poetry and English metaphysical poets, among others, Augusto de Campos is the first to state that his “way of loving these poets is to translate them. Or devour them, according to Oswald de Andrade's Anthropophagic Law: I am only interested in what is not mine." Three years later, Haroldo de Campos publishes his translation of fragments from Goethe's Faust II, a book in which he formulates, for the first time, the so-called theory of transcreation; in this context, he compares the art of translation with the primeval act of murdering the father (referring to Freud's Totem and Taboo, a text central to the Cannibal Manifesto); after all, the objective of the translation should be — as Haroldo hyperbolically states — to surpass the original and, finally, replace it. It is in that same book that he associates translation with the etymological sense of "parody" (parallel song), postulating an isomorphic similarity between original and translation, something that would allow the latter to replace the former. And, in a later essay, he refers to "anthropophagic reason" and takes a more explicitly anti-colonialist stance. Although the poets of the Noigandres Group dedicated themselves over a long period to the work of Oswald de Andrade, it is necessary to say that the association of translation-art or transcreation with Anthropophagy is due more to a voluntary act of the Concretists in joining the Oswaldian lineage, partly a posteriori, than an authentic influence. Oswaldian Anthropophagy was certainly not a central reference during the formulation of the Concretists' translation program; only later did it become part of a contextualizing metadiscourse of the historical contribution of Concrete Poetry.

The too immediate identification of Anthropophagy with transcreation became international after the publication of the article "Liberating Calibans: readings of Antropofagia and Haroldo de Campos' poetics of transcription," by Else Ribeiro Pires Vieira, in the collection Post-Colonial Translation: Theory and Practice, organized by Susan Bassnett and Harish Trivedi and published in 1999. Regardless of Vieira’s merit in making known, in depth, Brazilian thinking on literary translation in the context of Translation Studies, this article ended up creating an overly direct link between Antropofagia and transcreation (since then widely disseminated in international publications, including the influential and competent Contemporary Translation Theories, by Edwin Gentzler, in its second expanded edition, 2001), at the risk of erasing, in this immediacy, the historical singularities of the two Brazilian vanguards of the 20th century. In any case, it is important to bear in mind that Oswald's Antropofagia does not refer at any time to literary translation and that the conception of a practice of poetic translation consistent with the materiality of the literary text is not defined, in any way, by a programmatically deforming appropriation of the original, but quite the contrary.

Finally, we must reflect on the seductive power of the image of cannibalism, which — regardless of the anthropological anchoring of its use — began to transit and evoke ancient associations. By adopting this metaphor, stripped of any original ritualistic corporality, as a simple image dissociated from its origin and transmitter or generator of its own associative fields, Oswald de Andrade created a discourse of cultural sovereignty that would point to directions hardly foreseen by him. Upon being rescued by the concretist avant-garde, Oswald's work would be divided into sections, and this section would become — metonymically — the whole. But perhaps it was another equally seductive archaic image that sealed a blood pact between Anthropophagy and transcreation: parricide. In the theoretical reflection that accompanies his translation of fragments from Goethe's second Faust, Haroldo states that "creative translation, possessed of demonism, is neither pious nor memorial: it attempts, at the limit, the erasure of the origin: the obliteration of the original. This parricidal forgetfulness I will call 'transluciferation,'" one of the most recurring citations of the theory of transcreation. This image also runs the risk of dissociating itself from the body, from the matter of the poetic translations carried out by Augusto and Haroldo de Campos, always frighteningly close to the letter of the original. Parricide actually consists in the sovereignty of the translation over the original, which would be under threat of becoming obsolete in the presence of such an authentic double. Not by distancing itself from the original would the translation acquire its sovereignty, but precisely the opposite: the more identical to the original, the more irreducibly autonomous in its otherness it would become.

After some time passed from the transmission of this game of metaphorical and metonymic displacements that marks the course of the concepts of Anthropophagy and of translation-art or transcreation, what began to be outlined was the attempt to return to the corporeality of a supposed origin. Investigations into the poetics of translation that are based on anthropological studies, especially those of Eduardo Viveiros de Castro, try to recover this missing link. On the other hand, there is the question of how to make known what transcreation is, the tradition of poetic translation adopted by the Brazilian concrete avant-garde. If we could go back to the body of this tradition, to the translations themselves, many misunderstandings would be avoided. Translate a translation? Yes, for example: Haroldo de Campos retranslated, that is, he translated into Portuguese the translation of Sophocles by Hölderlin, from Greek into German. In the essay that accompanies his translation of excerpts from Hölderlin's Antígone, Haroldo disagrees with Walter Benjamin's rejection of the idea of retranslation, and insists on the aesthetic autonomy of translation, that is, on the fact that a successful translation becomes a new original. In this sense, it would be worth considering an anthology of Grupo Noigandres translations into other languages. After all, the notion of identity that underlies translation-art is that of equal coexistence between original and translation, the same one that led Brazilian concretism to compete for a pioneering position in the international avant-garde movements of the 20th century.



© Gabriela Pelosi

Simone Homem de Mello lives in São Paulo. She is a writer (of poetry and libretti) and a literary translator with a focus on modern and contemporary German poetry and the work of Peter Handke. She is also the director of the Centre for Literary Translation Studies in the Museum Casa Guilherme de Almeida in São Paulo. In addition, de Mello is a researcher at the Haroldo de Campos Centre in the Museum Casa das Rosas.

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