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Anti-Empire: Decolonial Interventions in Lusophone Literatures$

Daniel F. Silva

Print publication date: 2018

Print ISBN-13: 9781786941008

Published to Liverpool Scholarship Online: May 2019

DOI: 10.3828/liverpool/9781786941008.001.0001

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Decolonizing Consumption and Postcoloniality: A Theory of Allegory in Oswald de Andrade’s Antropofagia

Decolonizing Consumption and Postcoloniality: A Theory of Allegory in Oswald de Andrade’s Antropofagia

(p.33) Chapter One Decolonizing Consumption and Postcoloniality: A Theory of Allegory in Oswald de Andrade’s Antropofagia
Anti-Empire: Decolonial Interventions in Lusophone Literatures

Daniel F. Silva

Liverpool University Press

Abstract and Keywords

This chapter provides an exploration of the decolonial possibilities in works by the Brazilian Modernist movement of the early twentieth century – Antropofagia [Anthropophagy] – namely key works by its most acclaimed writers, Mário de Andrade and Oswald de Andrade. The first chapter, ‘Decolonizing Consumption and Postcoloniality: a Theory of Allegory in Oswald de Andrade’s Antropofagia,’ interrogates what I argue to be a central aspect of the works and political project of the movement – the deployment of a particular mode of allegory, one of consumption. I explore this allegory of consumption beyond canonical readings of the movement’s cannibal metaphor in relation to Oswald de Andrade’s collection of poetry, Pau Brasil [Brazilwood], in addition to his seminal manifesto, ‘Manifesto Antropófago’ [‘Antropophagic Manifesto’] (1928).

Keywords:   Antropofagia, Brazilian Modernism, Oswald de Andrade, Pau Brasil, Postcolonial Theory

Situating Antropofagia in Empire

Several decades before Fredric Jameson’s essay ‘Third World Literature in the Era of Multinational Capitalism’ set off a memorable and no less theoretically and culturally important debate on postcolonial literatures, the Modernist avant-garde movement in Brazil known as Antropofagia was already reflecting on the radical significational possibilities of the narrative form that was so central to the Jameson debate: allegory. In the early and mid-1920s, two of the movement’s founders and greatest contributors, São Paulo natives Oswald de Andrade and Mário de Andrade (no relation), labored toward a new language of Brazilian nationhood that would both challenge and reassess the Eurocentric tendencies of Rio de Janeiro’s cultural elites. The movement’s official unveiling occurred during the week of modern arts in São Paulo in February of 1922 commemorating the centennial of Brazil’s independence by showcasing contemporary art forms.

Carlos A. Jáuregui’s succinct assessment of Antropofagia argues that it ‘was not an academic movement, a theory of identity formation through consumption, or a social emancipation program’ (22). Partially agreeing with Jáuregui’s take, the movement was far too heterogeneous, particularly on the scale of radical politics, for one to comfortably label the work spawned by its participants as a cohesive entity. Even considering these discrepancies between contributors, the movement as a whole shared different pitfalls and shortcomings that trouble retrospective readings of the movement as an emancipatory and politically engaged set of counter-discourses. Attempting to retrieve intent from the work of cultural producers is, of course, a tricky and potentially problematic endeavor. On the other hand, and despite the intent of the producer, one can nonetheless extract insights and meanings from the work toward broader goals, all differing in their politics. In the case of Antropofagia, this has notably been done in the realm of academia, (p.34) particularly by scholars of critical theory, and by the political state, namely the nationalist populism of Getúlio Vargas’s Estado Novo [New State] regime (1937–45).

Despite its profound and undeniable problematics, which will be covered across this chapter and the next, much can be extracted from some anthropophagic works toward the goal of grasping the reproduction of Empire and contemplating modes of delinking its signifying chains. To be clear, Antropofagia was undoubtedly a precarious and imperfect bourgeois project with undeniable political shortcomings. Nonetheless, from some works, notably those of Oswald and Mário de Andrade, one can extrapolate particular contributions to decolonial thought and the study of Empire, part of an archive of intellectual history in Latin America that reaches the formation of decolonial studies. More than a shift in national articulation, portions of the anthropophagic project proposed a new scene of writing ambivalently divergent from, and critical of, the white bourgeois gaze that informed fin-de-siècle Rio de Janeiro’s Tropical Belle Époque. This scene of writing was embodied in the very name of the movement – the cannibal metaphor of consuming the European other, including its scene of writing, and rewriting its signifiers into a re-historicized Brazil. More specifically, this new gaze articulates itself from the problematics of Brazil’s colonial and early postcolonial history – appropriating rather than repressing the histories, violence suffered, and even agencies of native Amerindians, Afro-Brazilian slaves, and the industrial workers of Antropofagia’s period. To deploy such a robust significational project, anthropophagists such as Mário and Oswald de Andrade turned to allegory throughout their work. Sidestepping Jameson’s controversial generalization, this chapter aims to theorize the allegorical form within the postcolonial context as used in the fiction and thought of Antropofagia.

The movement’s postcolonial concerns, interrogated below, did not discursively target merely Brazil’s colonial period. Colonial discourse, and larger coloniality, is questioned throughout Oswald and Mário de Andrade’s work through a sort of Bhabhan ‘time-lag’, ‘a moment for revisions’ (275) informing nationhood and structuring postcolonial society. Through this perspective we can further elaborate Bhabha’s oft-cited concept as one suggesting that through the temporal break or Derridean postponement of the signified emerge not only ‘new and hybrid agencies and articulations’ (275), but also reinscriptions and reformulations of power. In this moment of significational collision – the anthropophagic moment – the renegotiation of colonial power into the nation via the maintenance of a colonial elite is contested ‘at the level of the sign’ (275) of nation.

(p.35) Antropofagia, as not only a project of cultural production but also a mode of cultural thought regarding global and local power dynamics, emerged in response to particular tendencies in Brazilian literature and art often couched in and reproducing such dynamics. Drawing on Bhabha’s words above, we can think of the nation, in cultural production, political rhetoric, and social discourses, as the sign through which local tensions (such as class warfare and racial marginalization) are narrativized into global, often Eurocentric, frameworks of social organization. Antônio Cândido comes to a similar conclusion regarding the emergence of a Brazilian literature, duly structuring his Formacão da Literatura Brasileira [‘Formation of Brazilian Literature’] as a study of this formation, ‘como síntese de tendências universalistas e particularistas’ [‘as the synthesis of universalist and particularist tendencies’] (23). As Cândido suggests throughout his multivolume work, this synthesis is far from swift, often occulting various forms of violence and marginalizing voices while bestowing historical and social primacy upon others. This relationship between the universal and particular, or the historical reordering of the latter via the former, would come to inform Brazilian cultural and political elites’ claims to modernity, carried out through European universalist notions of national progress.

Oswald de Andrade’s ‘Manifesto Antropófago’ and Pau Brasil and Mário de Andrade’s Macunaíma yield historical readings that regard the particular and the universal as dialectical forces constituting power in Brazil and the nation’s place within Empire. In these works to be studied in this chapter and the next, there is a consistent questioning, contestation, and playing with colonial forms of historicization from both within and without the postcolony. Oswald de Andrade’s ‘Manifesto Antropófago,’ summarizing the goals of the movement, and even more so his collection Pau Brasil, offer nuanced examples of this.

Herein lies the anthropophagic logic of the cannibal metaphor for the contestation of coloniality: the consumption of dominant historicization and reformulation of that which historicizing subjects had hitherto consumed. This speaks to Antropofagia’s twist on primitivism; one that consciously evokes native Amerindian imagery as a Eurocentrically derived text while subsequently shying away from celebrating and speaking for colonially marginalized identities such as those of Amerindians. Similarly, Oswald and Mario also tackle Eurocentric imperial notions of progress, economic structure, alterity, and political power. In this sense, their anthropophagic works dialogue well with the famous essay of Brazilian theorist Roberto Schwarz, ‘As idéias fora do lugar’ [‘Ideas Out of Place’].

Often used as a framework by other scholars through which to question the deployment of European/universalist aesthetics to the postcolony, the (p.36) titular phrase is, for Schwarz, far more politically inflected. For Schwarz, the fundamental ‘out-of-place ideas’ speak to the contours and philosophical underpinnings of the post-independence Brazilian state, namely the paradoxical espousal of Enlightenment political values pertaining to human rights while maintaining the institution of slavery and class structures based on various forms of dependence. Schwarz argues, in other words, that the profile of the postcolony, shaped by the political formation of the First Empire at the moment of independence, offered a narrative that could never correspond to reality nor to the lived experiences of exploitation under such a reality.

Schwarz’s arguments therefore take those of Antônio Cândido even further: the postcolony, as a political entity and collection of subjectivities, is itself profoundly shaped by the application of universalist ideas to particular realities, the first often occulting and/or silencing the latter. In this regard, Schwarz calls our attention to a crucial example of coloniality at work in the advent of the postcolony. Through the framework of universal (read Western) values, national scenes of writing occupied by colonial political and cultural elites re-historicize social relations by attempting to place the present within a narrative of modern Western nationhood. As Schwarz would agree, this was merely the first problematic example of placing (or erasing) the particularities of exploitation into the modernity of the universal.

Through a tentative genealogy of the application of universalist ideas, Schwarz persistently ties such applications to the reproduction of power and privilege, which are central to the theorization of Empire throughout the present volume. For Schwarz, the dialectic of favor and dependence is arguably the moving force in this materialism of power and privilege; a dialectic by which the limited practice of social mobility is contingent upon sparse and selective favors emanating from positions of power to subaltern subjects. The extortive logic of this exchange tends naturally to imply a return of favors. Schwarz’s view of social relations has often been read within Lusophone scholarly circles as pertaining to merely Brazilian realities, but Schwarz posits this dialectic as central to global realities of domination and subalternity, wrapped, of course, in discourses of universality. With regard to Europe, for instance, Schwarz postulates that ‘o universalismo visara o privilégio feudal’ [‘universalism is guided by feudal privilege’] (17). Schwarz’s focus in ‘As idéias fora do lugar’ is, nonetheless, on theorizing social relations of the Brazilian postcolony, regarding which he argues:

adotávamos sofregamente os [princípios] que a burguesia européia tinha elaborado contra arbítrio e escravidão; enquanto na prática, (p.37) geralmente dos próprios debatedores, sustentado pelo latifúndio, o favor reafirmava sem descanso os sentimentos e as noções em que implica. O mesmo se passa no plano das instituições, por exemplo com burocracia e justiça, que embora regidas pelo clientelismo, proclamavam as formas e teorias do estado burguês moderno. (17–18)

[we anxiously adopted the principles that the European bourgeoisie had elaborated against will and slavery; meanwhile, in practice, favors consistently reaffirmed the sentiments and notions within which large plantation owners were implicated. The same occurs at the institutional level, for example, with bureaucracy and justice which, although ruled by clientelism, looked to the forms and theories of the modern bourgeois state.]

The notion of ‘ideas out of place’ thus names the central contradictory logic of Brazilian modernity, referring specifically to the intermingling of post-Enlightenment universalist values with national institutions and everyday societal practices of dependence.

Antropofagia thus comes on the heels of numerous decades of this intermingling at the heart of the postcolony. To varying degrees, the movement sought to displace universalist ideas, articulated from Eurocentric scenes of writing, as failed modes of narrating and understanding the particular exigencies of the postcolony. In the articulation of Antropofagia’s mission, namely the questioning of European cultural forms, there is an implied call for the questioning or remolding of the universal via the nuances of the particular, including an opening for the existence of alternative sites of signification within the particular. The intensity of such a project varied depending on the member of Antropofagia.

Consumption of the Primitive

Anthropophagic thought also approaches Empire in a global framework, namely regarding the trends of global dependency and the movement of industrial capital in the Antropofagistas’ enunciatory present. Moreover, they articulate the problematics of postcoloniality within a globalized financial and cultural economy via diverse subject positions within the global periphery. In this regard, Oswald and Mário de Andrade circumvent the homogenization of difference into a generalizing binary – Jameson’s primary pitfall which Aijaz Ahmad notably condemns: ‘the enormous cultural heterogeneity of social formations within the so-called Third World is submerged within a singular identity of “experience” [of colonialism]’ (p.38) (104). K. David Jackson notably traces ‘the origins of antropofagia [as] inseparable from contemporary European fascination with the primitive’ (90). As a postcolonial nation on the periphery of global capital, as nation/ cultural sign, Brazil continued to be ensnared in the international field of Eurocentric imperial meaning. An object of European contemplation as tourist destination, Brazil continued to be signified from Europe – the universal site of imperial articulation and narrativization.

Brazilian cultural historian Alfredo Bosi points out a fundamental distinction that undergirds the work of Mário de Andrade, arguably the most nuanced participant in the Antropofagia movement; namely between the ‘primitivo histórico e o “primitivo” como pesquisa do homem que não pode deixar de ser, apesar de tudo, um homem integrado em uma dada cultura e em uma determinada civilização’ [‘historical primitive and the “primitive” as a site of research for the man who cannot cease to be integrated within a given culture and a particular civilization’] (400; emphasis original). Bosi’s italicization of the ‘historical primitive’ arguably refers to the existence of a native subject uninscribed and unknowable to outside gazes and epistemes, in contrast to the primitive as object of imperial knowledge. This distinction echoes that which is later traced by Hélène Cixous and Catherine Clément between absolute Other and Other as an imperial text (71). In this regard, Mário de Andrade calibrates Antropofagia as a series of layers of consumption.

The scenes of writing sought by the movement, especially in Mário de Andrade’s work, must then gauge, or consume, both the primitive and the postcolony as imperial texts, rather than inscribing fantasies of precolonial life through which to envision nationhood. For Kimberle López, this implies ‘the turning of the imperial gaze toward his own people’ (25). López also reminds us that ‘it was the European Romantics’ original valorization of the exotic that made Americans look at their own history in this fashion and, although they are American, the authors of these Romantic texts were still describing an ethnic Other’ (26). Unlike Brazilian Romantics such as José Alencar, both Mário and Oswald de Andrade, I shall argue below, read primitivism more critically, calling for a consumption of their underlying imperial gaze and its primitivist texts through which they may be destabilized and reformulated. Such an undertaking is central to their larger project of constructing an open-ended site of consumption and meaning-production that reorders imperial historicities.

In examining this aspect of Antropofagia, it is crucial to consider some of the repercussions of European primitivist writings on Brazil, the tradition of which is long and laden with notable historical figures. While a thorough (p.39) study of these is beyond the scope of the present project, such writings bring varying degrees of nuance to the history of European primitivism. This fascination with primitiveness pertained not only to Brazil’s indigenous population, but also to its cities, particularly Rio de Janeiro, as un-European imitations of the culturally universal metropolis. European notions of primitiveness were not always, therefore, tied to one particular racialized compartment of the ‘developing’ nation. Rather, these notions constituted the epistemological optic through which imperial Europe was to understand the nation and the global South. The primitive, as a frame of otherness, served to signify the different geographies contained within postcolonial space. The narrativization of the global from the cultural place of Europe, specifically its bourgeois cosmopolitan and consumerist strata, presents (post)colonial space as more complex than a simple homogeneity that subsumes all otherness in opposition to European bourgeois whiteness. As Walter Mignolo argues regarding the cultural dynamics of cosmopolitanism, its ‘point of origination […] is the West, although its routes of dispersion encountered partisans beyond the Western history of ideas and political debates’ (Darker Side 252).

The signification of Brazil from Europe produces its own form of hybridity in which the primitive is a floating signifier latched onto the different socioeconomic, racial, and cultural compartments of the nation. The primitive, and its associated cultural and racial lexicon (backwards, non-European, un-modern), came to signify even that which is typically opposed to primitiveness – such as industrialization, urban development, and other trends with temporal, supposedly, European/Western origins. From the European scene of writing in the twentieth century, difference becomes the frame through which to understand particular modes of sameness. In other words, primitiveness as a surplus of meaning essentially conveyed a deficit of sameness, thus rendering the tropical city undergoing rapid modernization insufficiently modern.

The cannibal metaphor arguably stems from, and is thus posited in reaction to, the European consumption of the (post)colonial other in the form of epistemological products ranging from the creative and fictional to the ethnographic. Kimberle López’s understanding of the latter as ‘inherently parasitic […] feed[ing] off the Other, depending on the cultural “inferiority” of this Other and reinforcing its exoticism through writing’ could also apply to literary works in Europe. Fin-de-siècle European bourgeois cosmopolitan experiences, as portrayed in many a European novel of the period, emerge through the overlapping processes of European colonialism, global flows of capital, and the power dynamics they reproduce. The European bourgeois subject, who frequently traveled to and wrote on Brazil, is thus the (p.40) condensation of European colonial power over not only its own continental territory but the web of global markets and othered bodies that constitute the signifying field of Empire.

Edward Said’s analysis in Orientalism of Gustav Flaubert’s novelistic deployment of otherness adds yet another layer of Western agency to the act of writing, in this case, the Orient: ‘Like every other Orientalism, then, Flaubert’s is revivalist: he must bring the Orient to life, he must deliver it to himself and to his readers’ (185). Flaubert’s consumption of non-European otherness – its usage in the novelistic medium – always allows a space for the consolidation of the European bourgeois ego (both individual and collective). The writer/consumer is thus also a producer – the facilitator of broader consumption through the piece of literature that is mechanically reproduced, commoditized, and circulated.

Consumption therefore implies a multilayered performance of bourgeois identity in the world of globalized capital. The reproduction and consolidation of the Western/European subject (in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, in the case of Flaubert and his contemporaries to whom the anthropophagists were exposed) is rendered by more than the mere existence of identitarian opposition (Westernness versus otherness). It is also reproduced, as Said suggests, through the repeated and palimpsestic writing and imagining of otherness. The symbolic existence of Western imperial power, the plane of meaning upon which it is couched and experienced, is thus reproduced through the mechanisms of consumption – the repeated placement of signifiers of sameness and otherness (itself a form of consumption) – into consumable artifacts such as literature. In other words, the relationship between writing otherness and reading it, enabled by Western print industries, is crucial to the reproduction of Empire in the nineteenth and early twentieth century.

It was as a performance of consumption through which many European travelers, mainly French and English, took in Brazil during their visits. Like a Persian rug or orientalist statue, Brazilian space was to be consumed, to become a part of European bourgeois culture and knowledge, and thus signified accordingly. It is no wonder that so many travelers were, themselves, producers of meaning – artists, philosophers, diplomats, or simply writers of memoirs or travel accounts that would later be published. An important aspect of European bourgeois life is thus the creation or reproduction of knowledge, more precisely, certain imperial forms of it. As Walter Mignolo puts it, regarding the relationship between racism and epistemology, or the international division of knowledge production, ‘the First World has knowledge; the Third World has culture’ (Darker Side 118). (Post)colonial geographies are thus seen as semantically blank spaces rendered as loci (p.41) of otherness through centuries of imperial power; always objects to be signified and represented, seldom agents doing the signifying.

French painter François-Auguste Biard (1799–1882), as an example of the many European travelers to narrate/render Brazil in the nineteenth century, was known as an artistically vocal abolitionist some of whose most canonical works depicted the horrors of the African slave trade. Nevertheless, other commentary of his pertaining to Africans and Afro-descendants ‘almost always associated,’ writes Ana Lucia Araujo, ‘slaves with degeneracy, explicit sexuality, and consequent disease’ (79). Araujo mentions in her book on Biard’s two-year stay in Brazil and the works he produced there that ‘he was not interested in the urban scene. He managed to organize an excursion to the forests of the province of Espírito Santo. However, since this experience did not fulfill his ambitious expectations to meet and paint Brazilian Natives, he embarked on a long expedition in the Amazonia’ (xv). Biard’s true search, in other words, was for a phantasmatic ‘pure’ otherness, understood as precolonial otherness – that which remains untouched by European civilization, despite already being an object of European knowledge. Biard’s works on Amazon life thus add another layer of meaning to the existing body of knowledge on the Amerindian other. The artistic product serves as a helpful metaphor of European imperial consumption. Biard visually consumes the other and places its image on the canvas so that it may be consumed in the European metropolis, specifically its bourgeois spaces – a site of global interpretation and inscription.

Upon returning to Paris after more than ten years, Adèle Toussaint-Samson, another French traveler in nineteenth-century Brazil, expressed how she felt ‘saudade (homesick), as the Brazilians say, for South America’ (101). She is, of course, referring to a particular version of Brazil and South America as it is contained within imperial knowledge. Her nostalgic longing for Brazil is directed more specifically toward ‘those immense horizons, which elevate the soul and the thoughts, my sea-baths in the moonlight on the phosphorescent beach, my horseback rides through the mountains, that beautiful bay on which the windows of my house looked out’ (100). Brazilian space, seemingly imbued with nature’s beauty and vastness, offers the opposite of ‘our Parisian life, so narrow, so luxuriant in appearance, and so scrimped in its reality’ (100). The consumption of Brazil’s ample natural space implies an enjoyment of it that is restricted to domestic and foreign elites: ‘I recalled to myself those long miles travelled over in Brazil, where nature alone takes care to bear the costs, where the unhappy one could pluck at his leisure a banana, an orange, and the palmetto without being disturbed by whomsoever it might be’ (Toussaint-Samson 100).

(p.42) This exotic terrain and its exotic signifiers are, of course, a surplus, never a substitute, to the already-consumed metropolitan city life that is nonetheless the imperial subjective place from which the consumption of the other takes place: ‘One thing consoled me upon my return for the littleness of material existence. “Here I am, returned to the country of thought and progress,” said I’ (Toussaint-Samson 101). The metropolis is never decentered as the spatial-cultural-economic core of bourgeois cosmopolitan identity and imperial signification. To displace this core would foreclose the signification and consumption of the peripheral postcolonial nation as the exotic commodity.

Rearranging Consumption

Antropofagia emerged in the wake of over three centuries of Portuguese colonialism, and another of continued colonial power in which the postcolony remains entrapped in transnational industrial capital and an imperial web of intercultural meanings in which other European powers partook, as in the examples of Biard and Toussaint-Samson. Evando Nascimento traces the two modes of appropriating European cultural forms hypothetically confronted by Oswald de Andrade. The first option would have been ‘de maneira servil, ou seja, sem reinvenção do legado, uma mera repetição sem diferença […] a irreflexão quanto da impossibilidade de pensar ou realizar algo diferente do que o europeu já tenha feito’ [‘in a servile fashion, that is, without reinvention of the legacy, a mere repetition without difference (…) the failure to consider the impossibility of thinking or achieving something different from that which the European had already done’] (344). This would seem to be the path taken by many artists and intellectuals in Tropical Belle Époque Rio de Janeiro; that is, the use of cultural and aesthetic practices with little reflection on the transatlantic or global/colonial power dynamics to be found at their core. The second option – that chosen by Oswald de Andrade and the Antropofagistas – was that which ‘visaria, no gesto mesmo de tomar a cultura europeia para enxertá-la em território nacional, digeri-la, fazendo uma seleção, e impondo um cruzamento com elementos autóctones’ [‘would aim, through the very gesture of taking European culture to insert it into the national territory, to digest it, selecting pieces of it, and crossing it with autochthonous elements’] (345).

The movement thus takes up consumption not merely as the reappropriation of a colonial trope of primitive otherness – now it is directed against European cultural forms and global flows of capital. After all, ‘the cannibal text had originated in Europe; since Montaigne and Staden, cannibal tales have been a prime source for the Western imagination’ (Jackson 92–93). (p.43) The primitive construction of the Amerindian within European colonial discourse – idealized and admired for his ties to nature by renowned European cultural figures such as Montaigne and Chateaubriand – is reformulated by the Antropofagia movement into the horrific European image of the Amerindian, the cannibal that threatens European presence. The image of the cannibal, itself a colonial stereotype/fantasy, is explored by the Antropofagistas fundamentally as an ontological site of transgression vis-à-vis imperialism, cultural and economic. Jackson observes that:

Brazilian avant-garde artists reinvent primitive society from a New World perspective. They explore cannibalism as a metaphor, broadened to include other ritual practices, in a theory of national autonomy and development opposed to Europe […] substituting periphery for center, they propose indigenous society as a mythical locus for renewing Western social philosophy, ethnography, and art. (90–91)

The cannibal trope is, at its core, deployed to decenter the ontological site of consumption, theorizing how the postcolony situates itself, culturally, within contemporary global power and capital. This implies an opposition not only to Europe and the global North’s consumption of the postcolony, but also to the Eurocentric forms of culture and social organization in the postcolony’s main cities. Jackson thus posits Antropofagia as ‘an avenue to postcolonial intellectual autonomy’ (91). He goes on to assert that the movement ‘exploit[s] primitivism conceptually by constructing a wild cultural and philosophical theory, in which primitivism reconstructs national identity’ (91).

Jackson is one of many critics who have approached Antropofagia in terms of a cultural project of reformulating national identity. We can, however, read Antropofagia (through the anthropophagic works of Mário and Oswald de Andrade) differently – as a project tied to decolonial writing against Empire and as a project that stops just short of national identity, by narrating a place from which national identity and a reformulation of the nation-sign can emerge. To this end, both writers labor toward a model for the postcolony to also consume, that is, to ingest, meaning – be it cultural, economic, or ethnographic – and reformulate it, thus signifying it anew, enunciating knowledge from the site once consumed. In other words, Mario and Oswald de Andrade’s conception of the anthropophagic being is more of a scene of writing than a mapping of national identity. Oswald de Andrade (like many other contributors to Antropofagia), alludes often to the search and/or construction of ‘o Brasil-brasileiro’ [‘the Brazilian Brazil’]. While he arguably establishes this national reformulation as the ultimate goal, one can also read his work as focusing more on the process of reaching it – (p.44) through the metaphor of consumption – than on establishing the cultural parameters and characteristics of this revised nation-sign.

Focusing on consumption, Antropofagia is concerned with more than ‘etiologies: the origins of a genuine national culture’ (Madureira 22). As Luís Madureira points out in his exploration of the movement, ‘these original sources can be retrieved only in simulacral form, only as protean, unreliable traces from which the authenticity of the original Brazilians (a profoundly inauthentic expression) must be purged of the distortions imposed by Renaissance [Europe]’ (22). The anthropophagist interest in consumption and its significational ramifications, though, suggests that some members of the movement were invested less in articulating a national culture than in theorizing an ontological place from which such a culture or cultures may emerge. Madureira thus recognizes ‘the possibility that antropofagia anticipates what Paulo Freire has called a “postmodern” alternative to the west’s narrative of emancipation: the repudiation of a “modernist” politics’ (23).

At the core of my exploration of allegory in Mário and Oswald de Andrade’s work is the argument that in laboring toward a new ontological location from which to produce culture, Antropofagia was not a search for an authentic pre-European Brazilianness. Rather, Antropofagia’s deployment of the primitive is a strategic recycling of Western imperial signifiers, a form of ‘writing back to a variety of metropolitan pundits,’ as Albert Braz frames Mário de Andrade’s dialogue with primitivism (17). In other words, anthropophagic primitiveness does not evoke what came before colonialism, itself an intangible, but instead builds over the products of Western hegemony as it continues to reproduce itself. Oswaldo Costa, another contributor to the modernist movement, perhaps captures this mission most succinctly in the first issue of Revista de Antropofagia: ‘O Brasil occidentalisado é, portanto, um caso de pseudomorphose historica […]. Só a antropophagia consegue resolve-lo. Como? Comendo-o’ [‘Westernized Brazil is, therefore, a case of historical pseudo-morphosis (…). Only anthropophagy can resolve it. How? By eating it’] (6). The project of Antropofagia regarding History, the narrative of Western power, is thus to consume it, from its imposed margins – the otherness which Empire engendered – in order to move beyond said otherness, becoming subject rather than object of meaning and cultural production. This means, in the poetic words of Oswald de Andrade, to cease being the place ‘donde a nunca exportação da poesia’ [‘of no poetic export’] (Pau Brasil 101).

The objective is not necessarily to wipe out or erase in order to begin anew, as tends to be the case with modernist projects, and as many literary and cultural critics have read Antropofagia, but to set in motion a reconfiguration of the Western signifying chain through which notions of Brazilianness can (p.45) be de-Occidentalized, or decolonized. The reconfiguration would emerge via a thinking through of how to consume that signifying chain – from within it, not so much from outside of it, or before it. This therefore counters the ‘modernist assumption of the death of the past as the basis of historical understanding’ (Spiegel 149). The very choice of the cannibal as the image of the movement and its fundamental political project suggests the impossibility of killing imperial narrativization and what it has left throughout several centuries, while indicating an anthropophagic cognizance of that impossibility. The digestion of the imperial entity, to be sure, always implies a continuity, for better or worse, rather than an effective elimination.

The voice behind the colonial image of the Tupi cannibal other has been silenced out of History, and the only access to pre-European life on the piece of land called ‘Brazil’ is through European historicization. A decolonial historical understanding does not, in the case of Antropofagia, mean a precolonial historical understanding. Jackson almost suggests as much when he recognizes that much of the anthropophagists’ ‘work also derives from unsung antecedents in their national historiography. These include works on ethnography, Tupi-Portuguese grammars, early religious drama, sermons, travel accounts, writing about the Amazon, and epic poems on Indianist themes’ (94). In analyzing Antropofagia’s cultural discourse, it is important to thoroughly unpack the movement’s deployment of primitivism through the use of colonial knowledge. The sources which Jackson mentions are all products of a Western logocentric will to knowledge that utilizes colonial taxonomies of human life pertaining to skin color, language, worship, and spatial praxis.

Antropofagia was not so much a search for a precolonial voice within these colonially produced texts, but rather a laboring toward a decolonial voice that can emerge from rereading such texts – consuming the otherness that was already colonially consumed in the production of Western knowledge. Antonio Luciano Tosta crucially underscores the ‘revolutionary aspect’ of Oswald de Andrade’s project and reads it as more than a return to ‘indigenous roots, but also [a project] to follow – and supersede – the Europeans’ (220). The movement calls for a decolonial act in its enunciatory present from which consuming, through reinterpreting and deconstructing the Western field of meaning, will foment postcolonial knowledge. In aiming to conceive of a decolonial site of enunciation from the signifiers of the imperial narrative of the West, Antropofagia essentially initiates this reconfiguration. Articulating a modernist postcolonial scene of writing would be the fundamental delinking and reordering of the imperial narrative and its signifiers from which the West can be reread – that is consumed and rearticulated. As a modernist discourse, it promises newness, but without (p.46) explicitly delineating the cultural parameters of the future – what the nation-sign is to be. Herein lie the postmodernist traits of Antropofagia: the opening of a possibility for resignification without containing it within a specified model of national identity. This understanding goes against the grain of more established readings of Oswald de Andrade’s work, and of the anthropophagic movement as a whole. Haroldo de Campus, for instance, considers Oswald de Andrade’s Pau Brasil to be a poetic project searching for Brazilian collective roots (7–10).

Evidence of this non-specific decolonial scene of writing can also be found in the reluctance – which varied among different participants in the movement – to situate national resignification in one particular subject position that has emerged from within the imperial field of meaning. Oswald de Andrade’s Antropofagia does not take a colonial trope of otherness into a national allegory that subsumes the multiple subject positions emerging from centuries of imperial power and narrativization. In other words, the ‘Brazilian Brazil’ is not a nation-sign to be articulated from one privileged site of identity over others. In many ways, Antropofagia gestures toward a narrative about an unspecific yet historically formed scene of national writing. It is, however, one that acquires a not-fully-problematized multiculturalist narrative, especially in the works of Oswald de Andrade. For instance, Heloísa Toller Gomes underscores Oswald de Andrade’s avoidance of Afro-Brazilian topics, an apparent shift from his ‘Manifesto da Poesia Pau-Brasil’ [‘Manifesto of Brazilwood Poetry’] of 1925 to his ‘Manifesto Antropófago’ of 1928: ‘na proposta e na elaboração da antropofagia – ou seja, no Manifesto de 1928 e nas duas edições de 1928 da Revista de Antropofagia – percebe-se uma retração no tratamento da temática afro-brasileira’ [in the proposal as in the elaboration of antropophagy – that is, in the 1928 Manifesto and in the two 1928 numbers of Revista da Antropofagia – one can perceive a withdrawal in his treatment of Afro-Brazilian themes’] (406).

This would suggest that within this anthropophagic multiculturalism, at least in Oswald de Andrade’s conception of it, blackness occupies a liminal if not nonexistent role in the construction of nationhood. Toller Gomes notes that Oswald de Andrade would later address the place of blackness in this Brazilian-Brazil in an essay written in the early 1940s, but even then, focusing mainly on Afro-Brazilian cultural forms, much is left unexplored (i.e. the impact of slavery and urban renewal on such forms). In his collection of poems on the colonization of Brazil – ‘Poemas da Colonização’ – in Brazilwood Poetry (analyzed below), Oswald de Andrade provides a nuanced exploration of these historical phenomena and the construction of black otherness in the imperial field of meaning. One can perhaps then read his more focused turn toward Amerindian imagery not necessarily as a foreclosure of blackness (p.47) from the enunciation of a soon-to-be resignified Brazil, but as an initiation of the articulation of a decolonial site of historical consumption beginning with the emergence of Brazil as a sign within Empire.

Here we can perhaps see a desire on the part of Oswald de Andrade to establish a starting point for Antropofagia’s narrative of consumption. What this vision of colonial discourse, and its historical trajectory, subsequently leaves out is an acknowledgement of the transcontinental contours of the colonial discursive formation of the Amerindian other. Its imperial articulation as a conglomeration of signifiers pertaining to race, sexuality, and religion cannot be neatly separated from other imperial constructions of difference that circulated throughout Europe and the early modern colonial world. Nonetheless, this possible temporal point of departure does not seek a starting point located outside of or temporally prior to Tupi insertion into Empire.

Toller Gomes goes on to argue that the cultural and philosophical treatment of Afro-Brazilianness within the movement ultimately led to the rift between Oswald and Mário de Andrade. Where the latter called for a greater centrality of blackness within the national imaginary while also offering a critique of imperial racial discourses underpinning Afro-Brazilian experiences, the former seemed to privilege an Amerindian centrality. Kimberle López reminds us that prior to the publication of Macunaíma, Mário de Andrade publicly lamented ‘that his forthcoming work w[ould] be associated with the Anthropophagist movement’ (28), but that his novel is nonetheless ‘widely recognized as a vital practical enactment of what Oswald de Andrade put forth in theoretical terms in his manifesto’ (28). While it may be difficult to separate Macunaíma from Antropofagia in light of Mário de Andrade’s theoretical divergences from Oswald, both nevertheless offer important, competing, and overlapping blueprints for rethinking the postcolony’s relationship to Empire. Both ultimately propose, as Tosta argues, ‘re-readings of power relations that give emphasis to the agency implicated in cultural change’ (218).

Allegory against Totality: The Case of Oswald de Andrade

For the Antropofagia movement, an engaged cultural critique of postcoloniality is closely tied to a similar critique of local and global History. Moreover, these fragments, such as signs of race, are central to the articulation of postcoloniality in the Anthropophagic oeuvre, since they convey the trans-temporal nature of colonial discourse vis-à-vis Latin American nationhood. At the core of Oswald de Andrade’s Pau Brasil, the praxis of reusing and recycling imperial signs, critically consuming them to delink (p.48) their coloniality, leads to an allegorical writing that ‘involves doubling or reduplicating extratextual material […] the allegorical sign refers always to a previous or anterior sign’ (Slemon 158), the ultimate goal being

to proceed beyond a ‘determinist view of history’ by revising, reappropriating, or reinterrupting history as a concept, and in doing so to articulate new ‘codes of recognition’ within which those acts of resistance, those unrealised intentions, and those re-orderings of consciousness that ‘history’ has rendered silent or invisible can be recognised as shaping forces in a culture’s tradition.

(Slemon 159)

Allegory therefore functions in both Pau Brasil and Macunaíma in the way Walter Benjamin would famously theorize with regard to German Trauerspiels in his The Origin of German Tragic Drama (published the same year as Mário de Andrade’s novel); that is, as an ‘art of the fragment’ corresponding ‘to a perception of the world in ruins’ (Tambling 110). As Rosenberg observes, ‘the ruins of symbolic unity are everywhere’ (88) in Macunaíma. The symbolic unity would, therefore, pertain to the imperial sign under which the postcolony has been narrativized. Both Benjamin and Oswald de Andrade articulate an allegorical model that constantly contests the notions of completeness, through which imperial power has been expressed. Much like Benjamin’s reading of Trauerspiels, Oswald de Andrade favors historical ruins, approaching imperial signs (like those of race) as such, in opposition to a unified chain of symbols like those comprising many imperial myths.

In his in-depth exploration of Macunaíma’s allegoric core, Fernando Rosenberg points out the novel’s ‘allegoric fabric that also eschews symbolic closure’ (84). This permanence of open-endedness and unfixity also permeates the poetry and manifestos of Oswald de Andrade, compromising any possibility of a coherent signifying chain in terms of both the plot and the postcolony. What interests me is not merely how symbolic closure is forgone and renounced, but how such an allegorical function against the symbol contributes to the emergence of a decolonial scene of writing.

Allegory for both Benjamin and Antropofagia can radically unsettle this peaceful unity and consistency of the symbol, its supposedly ‘essential, unchanging existence’ (Tambling 116). Benjamin notably argues that:

Whereas in the symbol destruction is idealized and the transfigured face of nature is fleetingly revealed in the light of redemption, in allegory the observer is confronted with the facies hippocratica of history as a petrified primordial landscape. Everything about history that from the very beginning has been untimely, sorrowful, unsuccessful, is expressed in a face – or rather in a death’s head.

(Origin 166)

(p.49) It should come as no surprise that Benjamin theorizes new significational possibilities against the fixed, if not eerily articulated, terms of imperial narrativization – ‘death’s head’ and ‘history as a petrified primordial landscape.’ More than unsettling historical narrativization, allegory can potentially, and frighteningly, undo present meanings and, in the process, compromise certain individual subjectivities that exist therein, as the horrors of historical signification (such as racial violence) are revealed. Jeremy Tambling is thus correct in suggesting that allegory potentially ‘disrupts the rule of ideology’ (116); particularly by incorporating the narrative subtext/unconscious where memory of such traumas persist.

For this reason, in developing a sustained theoretical exploration of allegory, Benjamin brings forth a new notion of the Romantic symbol in which it ‘relinquishes its oppositional stance to allegory and becomes merely its false mirror-image, an ignis fatuus’ (Cowan 112). Bainard Cowan notably points out that Benjamin’s distinction between allegory and symbol dovetails with his theses on history. The imperial sign of otherness vis-à-vis allegory produces an image of unity ‘that is free from all real conflicts, to be fixated by the “beauty” of this image – actually a kind of Medusa – and fails to recognize one’s own face, the face of history, with all its marks of suffering and incompleteness’ (112). Similarly, Antropofagia begs us to read History through these precise marks. To read History anthropophagically, or allegorically, is to concentrate on the fragments that are fragilely glued together by a significational gaze that is itself fragmentary but constructed through the violence of domination over lands, bodies, and meaning. Through such a reading, as we shall see in the case of Oswald de Andrade’s work, ‘the false appearance ceases to exist. For the eidos [idea] disappears, the simile ceases to exist, and the cosmos it contained shrivels up. The dry rebuses which remain conceal an insight which is still available to the confused investigator’ (Benjamin, Origin 176). History, therefore, in the anthropophagic context, can be read now as a double: a sort of dialectic between the Western desire for totality and the false image of that totality.

This is the very premise behind the cannibal allegory in which subaltern subjectivities and their own significational gazes can disrupt Western narrativization by consuming Western/imperial cultural signs and historicity, digesting them, and formulating new historical meaning. The fundamental allegory operating is therefore the enunciation of a new point of historical articulation and knowledge production erected from the ruins left by Empire. As an allegory, it is also a product of fragments. From the ruins of History, Antropofagia, at least for Mário and Oswald de Andrade, gestures toward a new postcolonial/decolonial significational gaze that (p.50) reassesses Western narrativization and the nation’s place within that field of meaning.

In the movement’s manifesto, Oswald de Andrade lays out the edification of this gaze through a pastiche of fragments of Western imperialism and colonial history of the Americas. The manifesto reads like a long series of short acute utterances that intertwine signifiers of imperial discovery, colonial society, and global capitalism. Aquino and Lotti underscore the poetic nature of Oswald de Andrade’s manifestos, including his earlier ‘Manifesto da Poesia Pau-Brasil’:

O poeta prossegue estruturando seu manifesto por meio de frases nominais, próprio de um poeta […]. Trata-se do uso das figuras de estilo que são próprias da linguagem poética, mas são aqui utilizadas estrategicamente como elementos persuasivos do discurso. A escolha lexical remete a imagens […] ritmo e sonoridade que afloram, por exemplo, do paralelismo e da estrutura em versos. (132)

[The poet structures his manifesto through nominal sentences, in the vein of a poet (…). The manifesto deploys stylistic devices germane to poetic language, but which are strategically used here as persuasive discourse. The lexical choices invoke images (…) rhythm, and sonority that emerge through the parallelism and stanza-like structure.]

These statements packaged in short paragraphs, or textual blocks, themselves forming fragments, are framed as a voyage through History, mutually substituting time and space, as in classical forms of allegory like that of Dante. The radical aspect of the cannibal allegory resides in the manifesto’s enunciatory voice, in which the implied narrator takes up the project of consuming the pieces of imperial narrativization:

Filiação. O contato com o Brasil Caraíba. Ori Villegaignon print terre. Montaigne. O homem natural. Rousseau. Da Revolução Francesa ao Romantismo, à Revolução Bolchevista, à Revolução Surrealista e ao bárbaro tecnizado de Keyserling. Caminhamos […]. (3)

[Filiation. Contact with Carib Brazil. Ori Villegaignon print terre. Montaigne. Natural man. Rousseau. From the French Revolution to Romanticism, to the Bolshevik Revolution, to the Surrealist revolution and the technological barbarian of Keyserling. Let’s continue on (…).]

The paragraph/stanza notably begins with an allusion to the political, economic, and ontological plight of postcoloniality. From there, this subordination is further articulated in terms of the ontological sites from (p.51) which colonial space and time were signified. Villegaignon, Montaigne, and Rousseau, of course, all traveled to and/or wrote about the colonial New World. What follows are political and cultural shifts in Europe, in the geographically located hegemonic site of New World signification that also affected how postcolonial elites shaped nationhood. As Beth Joan Vinkler extrapolates from the manifesto, the work ‘advocates the overthrow of the existing social power structure – for Oswald the “modus vivendi capitalista” – in favor of a radically different, and decidedly more liberated social order’ (105).

The shift in social order is couched against the formation of contemporary power and its field of meaning, of which the manifesto offers a partial yet complex genealogy. The paragraph’s first word informs the relationship between the manifesto’s allegoric enunciatory voice and History. It also underscores the movement’s modernist project, or at least Oswald de Andrade’s vision of it, encapsulating Bhabha’s perceived implications of alternate modernities: ‘each repetition of the sign of modernity is different, specific to its historical and cultural conditions of enunciation’ (247). In this regard, the manifesto sets up a transition from Western modernity and its inscribers-turned-signs (Montaigne, Rousseau, etc.) to a new ontological site that can efface the former – what Enrique Dussel refers to as History’s and modernity’s ‘archetypal foundational I’ (8).

The allegorical voice of the manifesto – allegorical because it arises from the reduplication of politically spawned signs – explicitly demands a break from this ‘I’ and its narrativization: ‘Contra as histórias do homem que começam no Cabo Finisterra. O mundo não datado. Não rubricado. Sem Napoleão. Sem César’ [‘Against the histories of man that begin at Cape Finisterre. The undated world. Non-rubricated. Without Napolean. Without Caesar’]. The short-lived movement’s mission is, therefore, more radical than a reformulation of Western meaning (as expressed through its cannibal metaphor), implying less an erasure of its signs than their critical disentanglement from the ontological sites from which they were written. This would be a splitting of the sign from its imperial scene of writing.

The enunciation of this scene of writing, produced allegorically, becomes the decolonial mechanism through which postcolonial experiences can be inscribed. The allegorical voice is always tied to experience; or rather, as Cowan extrapolates from Benjamin, ‘allegory is experience par excellence: it discloses the truth of the world far more than the fleeting glimpses of wholeness attained in the Romantic symbol’ (112). For Oswald, allegory is not only the means by which postcoloniality is conveyed, it is integral to the mission of decoloniality – to take a sign and delink it from the order of power from which it emerged and which it also serves. Is this not the (p.52) point of the movement’s cannibal trope based on the Tupi’s consumption of Bishop Sardinha’s body, delinking flesh from bone, Sardinha as scene of writing from the imperial signs he produced?

In a letter to Raimundo Moraes included in the critical edition of Macunaíma, Mário de Andrade gives us further clues as to how the anthropophagic gaze of postcolonial experience and signification manifests itself; offering his own consumption as writer as a possible blueprint. He thus responds to accusations of plagiarism regarding Macunaíma:

Copiei, sim, meu querido defensor. O que me espanta e acho sublime de bondade é os maldizentes se esquecerem de tudo quanto sabem, restringindo a minha cópia a Koch-Grünberg, quando copiei todos. E até o sr., na cena Boiúna. Confesso que copiei às vezes textualmente. Quer saber mesmo? Não só copiei os etnógrafos e os textos ameríndios, mas ainda, na Carta pra Icamiabas, pus frases inteiras de Rui Barbosa, de Mário Barreto, dos cronistas portugueses coloniais, devastei a tão preciosa quão solene língua dos colaboradores da Revista da Língua Portuguesa […]. Enfim, sou obrigado a confessar uma vez por todas: eu copiei o Brasil, ao menos aquela parte em que me interessava satirizar o Brasil por meio dele mesmo. Mas nem a ideia de satirizar é minha pois já vem desde Gregório de Matos, puxa vida! Só me resta pois o acaso dos Cabrais, que por terem em provável acaso descoberto em provável primeiro lugar o Brasil, o Brasil pertence a Portugal. Meu nome está na capa de Macunaíma, e ninguém o poderá tirar. (424)

[I copied my beloved defender, yes. What surprises me, and that I find sublimely kind is the critics forgetting everything they know, restricting my plagiarism to Koch-Grünberg, when I copied everyone. Even the man in the Boiúna scene. I confess that I copied sometimes textually. Do you really want to know? I not only copied the ethnographers and Amerindian texts, but also, in the Letter to Icamiabas, I placed whole sentences from Rui Barbosa, Mário Barreto, Portuguese colonial chroniclers; I devastated the precious and solemn language of the collaborators of the Journal of Portuguese Language […]. Finally, I am forced to confess once and for all: I copied Brazil, at least that part I was interested in, for the sake of satirizing Brazil by way of itself. But not even the idea of satirizing is mine because it has been around since Gregório de Matos, darn it! All I am left with is the chance of the Cabrals, whose discovery of Brazil supposedly by chance and supposedly first, meant that Brazil belongs to Portugal. My name is on the cover of Macunaíma, and no one can remove it.]

(p.53) Mário de Andrade’s novelistic project therefore embodies the creative proposal outlined by Oswald in Antropofagia’s manifesto – a new narrative gaze that incorporates, but does not speak for, previously silenced epistemes while resignifying nation. His most telling statement in the letter above is ‘I copied Brazil’ – an example of consumption as reading/interpreting and rewriting. In this regard, the Brazil copied is starkly different from the sign hitherto articulated. The question of copying has been a contentious topic within the scholarship on Antropofagia and Brazilian modernism. Benedito Nunes, positing figures such as Koch-Grünberg as European cannibals (in response to Heitor Martins’s essay ‘European Cannibals and Brazilian Anthropophagists’), argues that simply equating Antropofagia’s appropriation of European ethnographers and cultural producers (including Cubists and Dadaists) with the facile act of copying denies ‘até a total liquidação de sua originalidade, o conteúdo específico das formulações antropofagísticas de Oswald de Andrade’ [‘all originality to Oswald de Andrade’s specific anthropophagic formulations’] (319). In this regard, Nunes continues, ‘discordamos da interpretação segundo a qual a antropofagia de 1922 se reduz às matrizes do canibalismo europeu’ [‘we disagree with the interpretation reducing the Antropofagia of 1922 to the matrices of European cannibalism’] (319; emphasis original).

Fernando Rosenberg interestingly theorizes the method of copying through an analogy of emptying the sign, exemplified by Macunaíma’s lack of character, thus always already questioning his agency. Moreover, as Rosenberg notes, this speaks to ‘the compositional process of the novel, which by borrowing profusely from various sources, as Brazilian folk singers do, radically revised the hierarchy of original (full) and copy (empty)’ (87). Rosenberg quickly reminds us, though, that ‘this empty signifier supports a discourse of conciliation, incorporation that would have enormous weight in Latin American understandings of its modernity’ (87).

The act of copying also places the superimposed fragments in dialogue with one another. This speaks to one of the specificities of the allegorical function in Oswald’s manifesto and Mário’s novel – History is not unity but contradiction – even at the level of the narrative voice in which opposing epistemologies compose the novel’s signifying chain. Furthermore, rather than proposing a synthesis, Mário de Andrade’s meshing in Macunaíma and Oswald de Andrade’s throughout his poetry, call for a constant renegotiation of nation – what Tom Nairn refers to as the ‘modern Janus’ (see Faces of Nationalism). The unfixity of the sign, along with its implied perpetual postponement of meaning is, according to Bhabha, what makes the sign culturally productive. The ‘sense that allegorical modes illustrate a resistance (p.54) to communication and meaning’ (Tambling 154–55) opens the spectrum of possibilities from which meaning can emerge, since meaning is constantly challenged and in flux.

As noted earlier, the discourse of Antropofagia destabilizes not only the sign of the nation within History but, perhaps more crucially, the historicizing gaze which Dussel refers to as the ‘archetypal foundational “I”’ (8). In what can be considered a deconstructionist stance (avant la lettre), the anthropophagists assert the lack within the enunciatory subject of History, as a linguistic being that can only reside in the field of meaning it reproduces and through which it emerged. This is a gulf not so much between word and object, but between what exists in and through writing and what remains outside of meaning – the Lacanian distinction between the symbolic order and the Real. The Western right to signify or even Westernness itself, in other words, only exists in Western narrativization as the symbolic, while in the Real, there is no corresponding Western racial and cultural superiority; there is no West, for that matter. The use of allegory implies a consciousness that, in the words of Paul de Man, ‘signifies precisely the non-being of what it represents’ (35). The ideological construction of reality is, therefore, predicated on allegory, since ideology – in its representation of the relationship between real (physical, positive) entities – exists firstly at the level of the signifier. By perpetually destabilizing the site of articulation as a sign, the postcolony is also unfixed, freed from any attempted seizing of reality as a discursive totality.

Pau Brasil: Consuming Empire from the Periphery

Brazilian cultural critics and scholars have long examined the impact of Oswald de Andrade and Antropofagia on the evolution of linguistic practice in twentieth-century Brazil. Paulo Prado and João Ribeiro, contemporaries of the anthropophagists, discussed the celebration of colloquial Portuguese in the prose and poetry of the latter. Haroldo de Campos reads the structure of linguistic production in their work in a different light, underscoring instead the brevity, fragmentation, and arguable incompleteness in the prose and poetry of Oswald de Andrade, referring to it as ‘uma estética redutora’ [‘a reductive aesthetics’] (16). This brevity as poetic form, one can argue, corresponds to an avoidance of the phantasmatic totality of the sign while charting genealogies of Empire, thus ensuring that the larger signs of Empire and History are not conveyed as narrative totalities, but as disjoined series of apertures and moments.

Much like Mário de Andrade’s novel, Oswald de Andrade’s poetic discourse also embodies temporally and spatially disjoined voices and meaning. As in (p.55) his manifestos, Oswald deploys images that are not merely erratic, but that have also contributed to the narrativization of Brazil, especially colonial historicization. His Pau Brasil collection can be read as a poetic rewrite of Brazilian Western historicization, of which the ‘Manifesto Antropófago’ reads like a synthesis. More crucially though, in the desire to revisit and to challenge, the imagistic force of the poetry recreates more than historicized signs, but also the temporally disjoined mise-en-scène in which national colonial meaning emerges in the past.

Jorge Schwartz reads the development of Pau Brasil as structured by the trope of travel: ‘encontramos nele uma espécie de percurso histórico que se inicia no descobrimento, passa pelo Brasil colonial, pelo barroco de Minas Gerais, pela província cosmopolita e chega até o Carnaval’ [‘we find a type of historical journey beginning with the discovery, passing through colonial Brazil, the baroque of Minas Gerais, the cosmopolitan province, all the way to Carnaval’] (57). As we shall consider through passages from Pau Brasil, each poem presents, briefly and in a disfigured bricolage, delinked moments of Empire. By minimalistically presenting imperial narrativization with disconnected temporalities, Oswald de Andrade presents an alternative signifying chain regarding the capitalist/imperial periphery, from this very location. The postcolony/location from which the poem is written is thus the product of the very imperial signifying chain for which Oswald creates an alternative disjoined version. The disconcerted alternative is not presented as a fixed alternative. The openings in the signifying chain, emerging through the aesthetic delinking, open possibilities for further anti-imperial readings through which eventual radical relinkings may take place. This anti-imperial dialectic of reading and relinking must also comprehend the complex relationship between enunciator and disjoined signifying chain operating in the collection. If the enunciator is the historical product of the phantasmatic totalized signifying chain of imperial History, then the apertures presented in the delinked alternative must imply the eventual erasure of the enunciator. Another enunciator – born through, and producing, the relinking – is then allowed to emerge and supplant Oswald de Andrade’s poetic voice.

The first chapter of the collection, titled ‘História do Brasil,’ is composed of plagiarized, yet poeticized, fragments of notable travel and missionary writings on Brazil. Schwartz places this act of plagiarism within the political and aesthetic goals of Modernismo: ‘o poeta se apropria de documentos históricos de inícios do séc. XVI e XVII, faz um recorte poético e os reconstrói dentro da nova dimensão moderna do poema de vanguarda’ [‘the poet appropriates historical documents of the early sixteenth and seventeen centuries, poetically cuts and reconstructs them within the modernist (p.56) dimensions of the vanguard’] (57). The collection begins with Pero Vaz de Caminha’s letter of ‘discovery’ to the Portuguese crown:

  • os selvagens
  • Mostraram-lhes uma gallinha
  • Quasi haviam medo della
  • E não queriam pôr a mão
  • E depois a tomaram como espantados. (107)
  • [the savages
  • They were shown a chicken
  • They were nearly frightened by it
  • And they refused to touch it
  • They then took it as if startled.]

Other notable chroniclers whose writing informs this chapter of the collection include Pero de Magalhães Gândavo, Claude d’Abbeville, Friar Vicente do Salvador, Fernão Dias Paes, and Friar Manoel Calado. More than repeating these voices, Oswald de Andrade repeats the scenes in which writing takes place. He does so through the overt technique of titling, in which the original text he copies is broken up into pieces. Therefore, what stands out is the moment of historical inscription in addition to the agent of its writing. The first of these is ‘a descoberta’ [‘the discovery’], followed by ‘os selvagens’ above. The latter is to be read as the moment of encounter in which, through colonial signification, time is rendered in terms of the othered body.

Each section of ‘História do Brasil’ bears the name of a chronicler or traveler of the early colonial period, presenting fragmented and disrupted versions of their respective historicizing acts, thus de-totalizing them and infusing them with openings for reinterpretation. These are all texts that have given imperial meaning to time, space, bodies, and objects – and through these have created the historical sign, Brazil, and guided its placement in Empire’s field of meaning.

While ‘História do Brasil’ represents a sort of decolonial editing, the subsequent chapters are comprised mainly of a more direct poetic voice. The next chapter, almost predictably titled ‘Poemas da Colonização’ [‘Poems of Colonization’], begins with the poem ‘A transação’ [‘The transaction’], which charts the colonial transition from sugar-based economy to a mining economy to one dominated by coffee plantations, all undergirded by slave labor:

  • a transação
  • O fazendeiro criara filhos
  • Escravos escravas
  • (p.57) Nos terreiros de pitangas e jabuticabas
  • Mas um dia trocou
  • […]
  • Por terras imaginárias
  • Onde nasceria a lavoura verde do café. (123)
  • [the transaction
  • The plantation owner raised children
  • Male slaves female slaves
  • On the terraces of Surinam cherries and jabuticabas
  • But one day exchanged
  • (…)
  • for imaginary lands
  • where green farms of coffee would be born.]

The first two lines establish the patriarchal economic dialectic – the patriarch raising slaves and children, the latter then doing the same. This is arguably the primordial and central transaction undergirding the macroeconomic shifts coming further on in the poem. Slave bodies are thus the transacted commodity (in the form of labor) permitting further historical economic transactions, circulating from patriarch to his children and from black families to the white-dominated economic structure and surplus value. In this sense, we can also read the second line as syntactically mirroring the first – ‘slaves raised slaves’ – for patriarchal appropriation. Throughout the poem, the plantation owner/slave master is always the subject of exchange, including during the geographic and economic shift across sugar, mining, and coffee. Subsequently, the concentration of power remains the same and simply reformulates itself through the extraction and production of different commodities.

The next line demarcates the spaces involved in the shift from one crop/ resource to another: from the Surinam cherries native to the northeast coast of Brazil where the sugar economy was based, to the jabuticabas of Minas Gerais, site of the extraction of silver, gold, and diamonds. Finally, we arrive at coffee, the commodity that would dominate the Brazilian economic structure and whose largest landowners would wield political power well into the twentieth century. Notably, this transition also traversed Brazilian independence and cemented the economic structure of the nation. The poem and its placement in the collection, opening the chapter on colonization, posits independence – the advent of the Brazilian empire – as a continuity of colonialism with a similar economic structure, rather than as a historical break or the birth of a new narrative.

(p.58) The majority of the remaining poems of the ‘Colonização’ chapter articulate, in fragmentary fashion, the quotidian acts of violence against slave bodies that were central to the colonial production of the nation. Each poem speaks of a different case, setting, or interaction. They can be read as sequential episodes or as disordered vignettes of violence, exploitation, surplus value, and the reproduction of otherness over black bodies. For instance, the second, third, and fourth poems proceed as follows:

  • fazenda antiga
  • O Narciso marcineiro
  • Que sabia fazer moinhos e mesas
  • E mais o Casimiro da cozinha
  • Que aprendera no Rio
  • E o Ambrósio que atacou Seu Juca de faca
  • E suicidou-se
  • As dezenove pretinhas grávidas.
  • negro fugido
  • O Jerónimo estava numa outra fazenda
  • Socando pilão na cozinha
  • Entraram
  • Grudaram nele
  • O pilão tombou
  • Ele tropeçou
  • E caiu
  • Montaram nele.
  • o recruta
  • O noivo da moça
  • Foi para a guerra
  • E prometeu se morresse
  • Vir escutar ela tocar piano
  • Mas ficou para sempre no Paraguai. (123–24)
  • [old plantation
  • Narciso the carpenter
  • who knew how to make mills and tables
  • Plus Casimiro in the kitchen
  • who learned in Rio
  • And Ambrósio who attacked Mr. Juca with a knife
  • and killed himself
  • The nineteen pregnant black girls.
  • (p.59) runaway black man
  • Jerónimo was at another plantation
  • Working the pestle in the kitchen
  • They entered
  • They grabbed him
  • The pestle fell
  • He tripped
  • And fell
  • They jumped on him.
  • the recruit
  • the girl’s fiancé
  • went to the war
  • and promised that if he died
  • he would return to hear her play the piano
  • But he remained in Paraguay forever.]

We can read the events related in ‘Negro fugido’ and ‘O recruta’ as having some, perhaps contextual, relation to those of ‘fazenda antiga’, their action having potentially also occurred in the titular old plantation. Nonetheless, placed within Pau Brasil and within Oswald de Andrade’s oeuvre, the events serve metonymical purposes, standing in for experiences and violent acts lived by many more individuals in bondage.

Aside from including some of Oswald de Andrade’s more explicit poems regarding the violence of history, the collection also temporally dovetails with the publication of Gilberto Freyre’s problematic arguments in Casa Grande e Senzala [The Masters and the Slaves] (1933), romanticizing Brazilian slavery and the relations between masters and slaves. Oswald de Andrade’s take on slavery is quite distinct, however. His poems convey an image of slavery as an inescapable social base, superstructure, and culture that produce an unsustainable existence for the bodies and subjectivities over whom it exercises its power. Not even Ambrósio – who kills Seu Juca, presumably his master or overseer, seemingly overturning their relationship and destroying its power dynamics – can elude the death sentence of slavery. Existing in Empire, encompassing slavery while being reproduced by it, is articulated as inhospitable, with no effective means of victory and overcoming, for the subjects it most brutally exploits. This of course carries significant repercussions for the viability of subaltern, slave, and slave-descendent lives in the nation, one imperially engendered through slavery.

At the end of ‘fazenda antiga’ we are left with a remainder in the form of ‘nineteen pregnant black girls,’ which seemingly stands for the (p.60) sexual reproduction of slave labor and the field of meanings undergirding its exploitation. The flow of the poem seemingly points to a connection between Seu Juca (and perhaps even his death) and the girls, arguably tying the former to the pregnancies of the latter; the elliptical unsaid presence being the specter of sexual violence at the core of this relationship. The poem’s order of actions would thus offer a reflection on the construction of hegemonic white masculinity and, therefore, its articulation as standard gender performance, in the shape of the master. Such a construction is carried out against the masculinity of the enslaved man, relegating black gender performance as ‘failed’ vis-à-vis the white gender binary. This clash of masculinities also establishes a heterosexist norm in which black female bodies serve as capital for the performance of masculinity. Establishing this norm effectively overlaps with barring black bodies from performing it. This cementing of racialized gender identity also implies the lawful or cultural sanctioning of white male bodies to carry out its excesses. Slavery’s culture of white enablement and dominant division of gender roles, positing black female bodies as violable by white masculinity while also being affective property of black men, renders the rape of slave women also an exercise of power over black men within the white heterosexist framework of family structures.

Oswald de Andrade thus seems aware, at some level, of the ways in which black women are multiply ensnared within slavery – as labor toward surplus value, reproductive labor for the existence of a surplus labor force, and capital for the interracial construction and production of dominant masculinity. The poem therefore offers some early insight into the performance and establishment of white heterosexist masculine agency, and its presence at the violent core of Brazil’s imperial formation.

The following poem, ‘Negro fugido,’ begins by conveying the ubiquity and continuity of such violence – the reference to ‘another plantation’ where the runaway slave is found also underscores such widespread practices. ‘O recruta,’ meanwhile, seems to point to what was then a well-kept secret among national elites: the sending of male slaves to the Paraguayan War. Although the cultural practices mentioned in the poem point to privileges associated with slavocratic whiteness (i.e. the bride-to-be playing the piano), Oswald de Andrade’s placement of the poem asks the reader to identify the experience it relates as a continuity of other experiences of slavery charted in the accompanying poems. Furthermore, the title seems less related to the life of a master’s offspring than to the life of a male slave, the former usually being symbolic volunteers in the military. The recruitment of slaves and black freedmen into the Brazilian armed forces for the empire’s mission in the Paraguayan War illustrates the postcolony’s use of slaves as instruments (p.61) of war and, in the case of this particular war, the empire’s performance of national power on the continental stage (Skidmore 88).

The recruitment of slaves as military labor further indicates the discardability of African descendants for the imperially guided postcolony. For the nations involved, the conflict, as has been argued among historians over the last century, represented a eugenic opportunity of preserving the white population while compromising their respective communities of African descent. This has been especially debated regarding Argentina (Geler 214). ‘O recruta’ suggests that similar discourses of whitening may have surrounded the drafting of Afro-Brazilians into the war, thus signaling a beginning of the eugenics era in Brazil, especially as early eugenic thought was already circulating in Europe and the Americas.

Eugenic thought and public policies were cemented as part of a modernizing endeavor in the final years of the Brazilian empire into the first half of the twentieth century – that is, modernizing (read whitening) the population in accord with imperial standards of progress and civilization. Oswald de Andrade also includes, of course, this period of Brazil’s relation to Empire. In a later section of Pau Brasil, titled ‘RP1,’ named for the São Paulo state train line, ‘Rápido Paulista’ [São Paulo Express], Oswald narrates a diverse and discrepant array of national geographies marked by intersecting historical phenomena such as industrialization, post-abolition, mass immigration to Brazil, and urban development occurring under the aegis of social and political elites during the first republic. These shifts marking the landscapes through which Oswald’s poetic gaze circulates in this section were indelibly guided by fin-de-siècle discourses of modernization – in terms of economic sectors (agrarian to industrial), political structure (monarchy to republic), urban infrastructure and architecture (colonial to modern European), and demographic policies (whitening the national population). In this sense, the tenets of eugenic discourses of human progress overlapped with other modernizing initiatives of the time, if not informing them.

Part of the ‘RP1’ section, the poem ‘Guararapes,’ presumably named after the municipality in western São Paulo state, outlines the growing ethnic diversity of the time. The evoked official space, however, is arguably a synecdoche for the growing immigration into Brazil, while also laying bare the dominant narratives of racial difference and whitening that guided how such diversity was understood:

  • guararapes
  • Japoneses
  • Turcos
  • Miguéis
  • (p.62) Os hotéis parecem roupas alugadas
  • Negros como num compêndio de história pátria
  • Mas que sujeito loiro. (142)
  • [guararapes
  • Japonese
  • Turks
  • Miguels
  • The hotels resemble rented clothes
  • Black people as in the history books of the national past
  • But what a blonde subject.]

The binary constituted by the final two lines reveals the goals behind integrating the identities of the first three lines into the nation-sign.1 The binary also implies a eugenic dialectic of population shift through which the nation arrives at the ‘blonde-haired’ absolute subject of imperial history, thus leading to the postcolony’s shift from object of Empire to subject. As the penultimate line indicates, under this process of racial modernization, blackness is gradually erased and relegated to a distant past portrayed only in history books.

Within the proceeding sections of Pau Brasil, intermingled with poems relating travels through parts of Europe2 are accounts of urban modernization, city life and the division of labor, and the national economic shift from agrarian production to massive industrialization, including the new ways in which conditions of subalternity are created. The rich content of these historical reflections consistently pinpoints the Eurocentrism and imperial discourses that inform not only the aforementioned national changes, but the aspects of everyday life they have brought about – from shopping and eating to working and spatial movement.

In charting this imperial formation, and reformulation, of what became Brazil, Pau Brasil uncovers the connected sequences of violence – from the quotidian to the trans-temporal and institutional – as the historicizing acts and material foundation of the reproduction of imperial power in Brazil. These different forms of violence not only maintain the exploitative structure of labor, but also prop up the field of meaning in which they (p.63) occur, repeatedly creating and placing subaltern bodies into subaltern signifiers as violable beings. In this sense, in his genealogy of (post)colony, Oswald de Andrade elaborated a history of Brazil within Empire, notably in contrast with that of Gilberto Freyre, that also includes the multidimensional, ubiquitous, and quotidian violent forms of imperial signification.

For later genealogies of Brazilian formation, such as those of Freyre, the creation and success of a revised history, particularly one that ensures continuity in the imbalanced distribution of power, is based on fomenting historical misrecognition among national subjects; namely via erasures of the violent modes of reproducing power. Oswald de Andrade thus offers an exploration of Brazilian formation centered on the machinations of power and the meanings it simultaneously engendered, from the earliest moments of imperial historicization of the territory that would become Brazil and the extraction of its first imperially circulated primary resource – Brazilwood. On another note, Oswald de Andrade’s Pau Brasil project offers evidence that he did in fact incorporate Afro-Brazilian history and experiences into his vision of a potentially decolonial Brazil, or in his potentially decolonial revision of Brazilian history.

The decolonial potential of Pau Brasil lies in its historicization of not only the ways in which Brazil was formed as imperial sign and space, but how it was historicized – how the signifying chain of Brazil, itself part of a larger signifying chain of Empire, was elaborated across centuries. The anthropophagic poetic voice of the collection consumes the chain that was created but, more importantly, lays bare the processes by which it was articulated, making connections (via fragmented pieces of official historicization intersecting with gaps) between writing and epistemic violence (as in the first section, ‘História do Brasil’), physical violence over the body (in ‘Poemas da Colonização), and contemporary forms of imperial disenfranchisement including industrial exploitation and urban displacement.

In consuming and historicizing the imperial genealogy of Brazil with its violent modes of signification, Pau Brasil offers different meanings to Antropofagia’s cannibal metaphor. Many scholars of the movement have explored the relationship between the metaphor and the consumption of the father/paternal signifier in Freud’s Totem and Taboo, of which Oswald de Andrade was evidently a reader. As Maria Cândida Ferreira de Almeida points out, such a reading underscores a redistribution and reordering of goods, bodies, and meanings: ‘um alto canibalismo produtivo, já que a morte do pai leva à distribuição das mulheres entre os filhos, e portanto, a sua reprodução’ [‘a productive cannibalism, since the father’s death brings the distribution of women amongst his children, and therefore, his very (p.64) reproduction’] (79). Taking this reading even further, Vinkler underscores the manifesto’s rethinking of the patriarchal Oedipal triangle through the union between anthropophagic mother and child – ‘filhos do sol, mãe dos viventes’ [children of the sun, mother of the living’] (105; Andrade, ‘Manifesto Antropófago’ 3).

Patriarchy in the manifesto is, moreover, an intersectional edifice contributing to the productions of whiteness and capitalist exploitation in which white heteronormative masculinity’s universality is couched. In ‘Manifesto Antropófago,’ I would argue, the father explicitly represents a master signifier in the realm of Empire – simultaneously the crystallization of power, the site of normativity, the regulating gaze of intersubjective life, and the epistemological location of historicization.

Enrique Dussel notably synthesizes these Western imperial facets under the aforementioned term ‘archetypal foundational “I”’ (8). He also traces the emergence of this entity through which imperial European thought presents itself, as well as its philosophical reformulations through Descartes’s ego cogito and Kant’s ich denke. Within Empire, the archetypal foundational ‘I’ is thus a site of both knowledge and desire, establishing itself as archetype while reproducing the imperial field of meaning in which it resides through the dialectical repetition of otherness. As such, it both voices and represents the imperial standard and the universal articulated through the intersecting categories of personhood – whiteness, bourgeois, masculinity, heteronormativity, and ableism.

In this sense, the cannibal metaphor, in consuming the signifying chain of Empire, also consumes the greatest composite of this history – the figure of Man and the foundation/imago of European humanism, in its gender binary rigidity, racialization, heteronormativity, ableism, and bourgeois existence. There is, in other words, a consumption of a person in Oswald de Andrade’s cannibal metaphor. Instead of the Bishop Sardinha, though, it is the ego cogito of imperial rationalism that is consumed. The result of this consumption and digestion, though, is open-ended. Oswald does not give us a clear picture of what emerges from the devouring and the critical interpretation of the cogito’s emergence.

It is on this particular point that my reading of Oswald de Andrade’s anthropophagic work diverges from that of Silviano Santiago, who reads his invention of Antropofagia as ‘a creative attempt to incorporate his production into a universal movement’ (Space 61). Reading Pau Brasil in the context of Empire points toward an arguably more destructive, deconstructionist, and open-ended political project vis-à-vis universality. Instead of inserting Pau Brasil into a universalist movement, or even articulating a nascent universalist movement, the cannibal consumption of an imperial (p.65) signifying chain and its archetypal scene of knowing, desiring, and writing suggests a strategic avoidance of universalisms and their totalizing discourses. This would leave the next phase of consumption – reformulation – open to further possibilities, that is, different forms of queering and altering historicizing gazes. After all, the goal of erasing the father/Empire’s master signifier – the voice, gaze, and embodiment of Empire’s Law – is to give impulse to a post-Oedipal subject’s signifying process. In this regard, Oswald de Andrade’s Antropofagia is less about enunciating a direction in peripheral cultural production and thought than opening, against Empire’s field of meaning, the possibility of new cultural discourses and subjectivity.

Consumption, Repetition, and Allegory

Oswald de Andrade’s Pau Brasil collection, particularly its anthropophagic poetic voice, enacts in many ways the cannibal praxis later outlined in his ‘Manifesto Antropófago.’ The collection effectively puts into action the allegory of historical consumption through a repertoire of narrative devices including fragmentation, synecdoche, ellipsis, and historical repetition. Oswald de Andrade’s poetics of repeating both signs and their moments of articulation adds yet another layer to the deployment of allegory within the problematics of postcoloniality. Schwartz pinpoints the aesthetic strategy of this repetition, centuries after the original moments of imperial articulation, in some cases. Temporal distance, he argues, ‘cria o efeito paródico e de estranhamento. Este novo olhar sobre o Brasil […] recria o impacto colonizador frente aos indígenas, a flora e a fauna brasileiras’ [‘creates a parodic effect as well as one of estrangement. This new gaze over Brazil recreates (…) the colonizer’s impact over indigenous peoples, the flora, and the fauna of Brazil’] (57).

Repetition, Paul de Man would later argue, is crucial to the function of allegory:

this relationship between signs necessarily contains a constitutive temporal element; it remains necessary, if there is to be allegory, that the allegorical sign refer to another sign that precedes it. The meaning constituted by the allegorical sign can then consist only in the repetition […] of a previous sign with which it can never coincide, since it is of the essence of this previous sign to be pure anteriority. (207)

For de Man, this repetition of signs within allegory creates a temporal and, subsequently, semantic disjuncture between them – the temporal gap in enunciation disfigures the previous meaning of the sign. The deeper (p.66) repercussion of this is that notions of origin are radically compromised by the allegorical translation of the sign across time. Allegory, for de Man, ‘designates primarily a distance in relation to its own origin’ (207). Furthermore, the loss of origin, or access to it, complicates identity and selfhood, since ‘it prevents the self from an illusory identification with the non-self, which is now fully, though painfully, non-self’ (207). In reiterating colonial and postcolonial History in this fashion, Oswald de Andrade’s poetics function as both narrative and metanarrative, simultaneously; the latter always questioning the former, producing the former as an ideological reality of perpetually emergent possibilities of inscription. History is now related in a fashion that compromises its site of articulation, as ‘a radical series of discontinuous interruptions’ (Spivak 208). The same can be said of the blank spaces between Oswald’s poetically re-narrated fragments, standing for the place of the reader’s interpretational agency. After all, the anthropophagic reader is supposed to connect (or not) the fragments and the titles, filling in the gaps of the narrative left for the productivity of new emergent gazes.

At the collective level of postcoloniality, Oswald de Andrade’s use of allegory turns this temporal void between repetitions and away from origin into a productive space of decolonial historical articulation for the postcolony. The postcolony emerges from the ruins of Western imperial narrativization as a space of displaced origins, permitting the affirmation of subject positions away from modernity’s Western ‘archetypal foundational I.’ The void produced by repetition becomes a site from which subaltern knowledges can write. In this light, Oswald de Andrade does not seek to recover or uncover a precolonial identity, Amerindian or otherwise, as some criticism has argued. Rather, the goal is to leave all identity unstable, whether it takes the form of a national consciousness or the fantasized sign of otherness. Identity, as it were, implies a unified and constant place in the signifying field, a false image from which further signification occurs. In this regard, one can argue that the postcolonial objective of Antropofagia, as Mário and Oswald seem to envision it, calls for a heightened awareness of the tyranny of fixed identity vis-à-vis the signification of intersubjective reality. In other words, the fantasy of a fixed identity always tends to imply a related fantasy of fixed meanings in the symbolic realm of intersubjectivity.

Through the repetitive exercise of allegory, anthropophagic thought arrives at the significationally disruptive nature which Bhabha attributes to his theoretical reconceptualization of hybridity, ‘interven[ing] in the exercise of authority not merely to indicate the impossibility of its identity but to represent the unpredictability of its presence’ (163). By articulating History, parodizing and parading its false totality, Oswald de Andrade evokes a (p.67) new ontological space that disfigures Dussel’s ‘archetypal foundational I’ from which the ‘coloniality of power’ is proclaimed and carried out in the postcolonial present. The second part of Bhabha’s point is far more sobering, pointing toward the conservative possibilities of significational postponement: ‘the sign of the productivity of colonial power, its shifting forces and fixities’ (160). In postponing, repeating, and doubling, authority’s presence potentially becomes further unpredictable since it also potentiates new possibilities for imperial inscription.

Oswald de Andrade’s opening line in ‘Manifesto Antropófago’ – ‘Só a Antropofagia nos une’ [‘It is only Anthropophagy that unites us’] – has been appropriated by opposite ends of the cultural power spectrum to articulate a hybrid Western or European global narrative, occulting violent interracial encounters and relationships while, more crucially, sublating difference into a more complex totality of imperial narrativization. Toward the middle of the manifesto, Andrade declares: ‘Contra as sublimações antagônicas. Trazidas nas caravelas’ [‘Against antagonistic sublimations. Brought on the caravels’] (3). He seems all too aware that the imperial power of writing cannot be fully halted, due to the material conditions of economic, political, and cultural domination, but seems to suggest that it can, nonetheless, be repeatedly challenged. In this regard, Antropofagia calls for decoloniality to carry out a sustained significational battle to consistently interrupt Western historicization through critical evaluations of Western meaning. Postcoloniality, therefore, is as much a politics of reading as of writing and rewriting. Both, in fact, are parts of the same radical politics of allegory – to constantly interpret is to constantly reconfigure meaning. The movement’s fundamental and titular allegory (to consume and recreate) thus underscores the agency in interpretation. Instead of copying an image or signifier, postcolonial subalternity is called upon to take a critical distance in reading the signifier, creating an aperture in signification at the moment of postponement, and repeating it into a shifted figure. Allegory, then, is not only a potentially dissident act of writing, but also, and perhaps primarily, of reading/consuming.

In this regard, the agency of devouring or consumption (of meaning) becomes Oswald de Andrade’s own tweaking of dialectical materialism. After citing various passages from Marx, Engels, and Lenin, he declares: ‘Nada existe fora da Devoração. O ser é a Devoração pura e eterna’ [‘Nothing exists outside of Devouring. Being is pure and eternal Devouring’] (Estética 286). This becomes a philosophy of decolonial subjectivity in that the subject becomes potentially radical through interpreting meaning and remolding it. The moment of repetition seems to suggest that ‘the way to counteract Western history and Western historicism is not simply to (p.68) produce alternative or counter-histories but to contest and inflect the more far-reaching implications of the system of which they form a part’ (Young, White Mythologies 215).


Allegory, as an aesthetic form, inevitably implies a political stance in its deployment within the quotidian of coloniality in the postcolonial nation – a sign informed by imperial signification. The mode of aesthetic articulation explored in the texts above seeks to displace not only this brand of meaning but its historically constituted gaze through the archeological recovery and repetition of fragments of such a historical narrative and its narrativization. As we have discussed, the act of repetition, by removing the signifier from one context to another, destabilizes both the fantasized fixity of the signifier and the fantasized totality from which it was extracted. This includes the implied signifying gaze of Western History, in favor of an anthropophagic one that also begs to be repeated and allegorized in future moments of enunciation, thus establishing a historicizing mode that occludes any fixity of the signifying voice of national postcoloniality. Therefore, the sign of the nation can be perpetually resignified without a historically specified scene of writing in control of its reality. In other words, Oswald de Andrade’s anthropophagic work does not simply rethink Brazilianness vis-à-vis Empire; it aims, rather, to open a historical fissure in Empire’s signifying chain through which this rethinking may continue through the concomitant emergence of new scenes of writing; or, as Bhabha puts it, ‘to reconstitute the discourse of cultural difference demands not simply a change of cultural contents and symbols […]. It requires a radical revision of the social temporality in which emergent histories may be written, the rearticulation of the “sign” in which cultural identities may be inscribed’ (246).

The following chapter will further explore how the anthropophagic voice and decolonial mechanism operates in Macunaíma, taking the famous chapter ‘Carta prás Icamiabas’ [‘Letter to the Icamiabas’] as the embodiment of the Antropofagia project as well as the rule by which Mário de Andrade measured the movement’s limitations. Through this particular chapter, I argue, Andrade performs an experiment in elaborating a tentative decolonial scene of writing, fraught with both limitations and new political possibilities.


(1) Although a first name, ‘Miguel’ is arguably deployed here as a reference to Portuguese and Spanish immigrants after independence as São Paulo’s coffee industry expanded.

(2) Brazilian literary critic Jorge Schwartz points out the importance of travel in Oswald de Andrade’s poetry and how his exilic experiences impacted his work (55–57).