A Visual Mallarmé in the Tropics
by Biagio D’Angelo
University of Brasilia/CNPq Brazil’s National Council of Scientific and Technological Development
In the beginning, there was chaos. And this chaos, a shapeless and confusing mass, represents the universe’s nature, diffused germs of detached things, just the way Ovid poetically described in his Metamorphoses introduction. The chaos is the beginning of Ovidian’s reflection on the origin of the cosmos (men, animals, objects), a chaosmos in which the writing takes it turn as a creative element, developing new thoughts and cognitive dynamics. Almandrade’s poetic language (visual and textual – an authentic poetry synthesis) is located – at the same time – in a chaotic and cosmic place.
Almandrade is one of the poets-artists that emerged in the 70’s, a generation that took to the last straw the discursive strategies of conceptual art, postal art and the Neo-Concrete’s experiences. We could say that his participation was realized in a distant and isolated Bahia, apart from the São Paulo-Rio de Janeiro axis, they were the center of the national culture in those years.
It was determinant for Almandrade’s artistic research the approximation to the Neo-Concrete’s movement. The movement became more suggestive and curious from the moment that he joined it if we consider that the Neo-Concretes had never really had an outstanding performance outside the carioca’s artistic scene. The Neo-Concretes from São Paulo criticized him, with effect, because they believed that the movement’s performance could not be minimalized to symbolic consequences and sentimental effects. Otherwise, Almandrade recovers the logic of the “emotional” and goes on, even being on a distant capital from all the artistic fuzz.
The neoconcretist artists, such as Hélio Oiticica and Lygia Pape, with whom Almandrade was directly connected, sustained the idea that to do art didn’t mean to be in the front of a senseless algid objectuality.
For them, the artist object is not mere geometry but, in fact, it is sensible, expressive and subjective. The artistic object can be touched, manipulated, such as to become, from the moment it was touched and manipulated, incorporated by the observer. Then, being able to see the artist as a new authentic creator (and not only a mere producer of serial artistic objects) makes it possible to eliminate that technocratic impression present in the concrete art, mostly seen as a cerebral activity.
For Almandrade, the artist must stand and produce as an engaged and compromised figure. Thus, being the real “contemporary” artist, he or she must always be at the vanguard, almost like a prophet, from the tough moments that Brazil faced in the lack of freedom until nowadays, facing the political and cultural reality of the country.Therefore, Almandrade is heir to the Concrete Poesy tradition that became the Poem/Process, from which he took the visual to a total radicalization, releasing the words from the poem, until he got a non-verbal plasticity. Then, there was only left signs as “image-words”, occidentalized ideograms, giving highlight to the blank space of the paper.
With Almandrade we are ahead of a strange cognitive dynamic, because the ambiguity in which he presents visual texts and tensions, the silence in the speech and the language that an image carries within itself, they manifest the impossibility of complete knowledge. What is the language? What is an image? What is the writing? The totality that comes from the inquirer writing within the depths of Nothing, from the Alphabet of Nothing, anchors and bonds itself in the “threshold” production of Everything.
In Almandrade the observer finally lives an experience and a feeling that reveal themselves as disturbers of the Unspeakable. Can I speak without seeing? Can I see without speaking? The expressive language boundaries in Almandrade threshold the moment of death. Not that we speak of gory death, nor of disgrace or existence.
Everything is about boundaries in Almandrade’s production. Its seems that we are in a holy and, yet, unholy religion, where the spoken and the non-spoken intersect until they reach the apex of the textual-visual articulations. The artist’s language performance of the visuality (which I would not like to call it as a painting, because it is not) is seductive. It denounces, though the bias of the words, of the images, of the onomatopoeic sounds of the letters, the intimate transformation of rational thoughts of the subject in other dimensions of the human logos: what is behind of the sound, or the letter, or of the image? Is there any purity behind, within or outside that I don’t perceive or rescue?
Indeed, there is something “childish” in the aesthetic proposal of the Brazilian artist. I’ll hereon use the adjective “childish” not in its sweetened meaning, but in a much more structural one. With effect, it takes the observer to a childish logic of a “heart of an impenetrable darkness”, as Joseph Conrad says in his famous novel, the Heart of Darkness. Almandrade speaks in another language, almost as a larval dialect – a dialect of the stone and of the thing, a dialect of the word and the image. To see his visual poetry makes the demand of recovering an original language, a language of the origin, of the beginning, of the inauguration of everything – the language of Beres’hit’, as Haroldo de Campos would say – (re)born, making it possible that a language return to its simplicity of recognition and reality to learn again the essence of the dynamic flow of the things.
There is a very intense visual poem from the baiano artist in which it seems to appear from an inexplicable horizon the word “language”. It is a very singular book-poem, perhaps from the 70’s (the author himself mysteriously “swallowed” the date), named “Linguagem” (Language), that precisely remembers the materialization of the Verb. Hereon, I would like to evoke the magical words from Haroldo de Campos: “Mallarmé – sempre Mallarmé! – foi ainda o pioneiro e continua o mestre”1 (Mallarmé – always Mallarmé! – was yet the pioneer and still is the master). With effect, the famously quoted and parodied (from Marcel Broodthaers, in primis) “Un coup de dés jamais n’abolira le hasard” (1897), the poem-composition, circular poem, constellation-poem, the poem about a poem, can be considered as a corelative objective of the masterpiece of Almandrade, The Book that should have a “new physics” 2, being its own “book-boundaries from its own occidental idea of book” 3.
Mallarmé’s poem “arises from the struggle against the chance, the disorder, the entropy of the physical processes” 4. Mallarmé prophetically leads to a “non-linearity”, to a fragmented sinuosity, because, as said by Jacques Lacan, every human experience “goes against this linearity”5. As Mallarmé, or better, as Mallarmé read by Haroldo de Campos would say, Almandrade withdraws the image its future mobility.
Paul Valéry called Mallarmé’s poem “un spectacle idéographique”6 (an ideographic show). Almandrade’s production is another ideographic show. Even the “Mané Garrincha” piece, which does not seize to be affectionately ludic, is an ideography. But not in a visionary sense. On the contrary, there is a way to “think the game”, to think the day-to-day, which is behind all the familiar and playful gestures. It is not a mere coincidence that an installation made in 1979 was called “Think the game”. We could think of it as a metaphor of soccer, to which is a metaphor of Brazil. That would be a small thing for one of the greatest Brazilian name in the visual poetry. Thinking the game is to think in Johan Huizinga’s “Homo Ludens”. The game is a natural element, culture’s consubstantial. I play, therefore I am. But how do I become “am”? All of Almandrade’s visual poetry consists in this dramatic questioning.
The word spawns geometric. It imbricates, outlines itself as a pure drawing. It looks like calligraphy. But we are in the occidental side of the world. In these latitudes, geometry is much more worth than calligraphy, a pure line, much more than an ideogram. So, aware of this search for purity, Almandrade intuits that line, color, word, sound (if there is), must be reconducted as a poem to, at last, transform themselves into poem. They are objects still in gestation. Only in a second moment they will be shapeshifted to a visual and harmonic composition. Yes, because there is still a recondite harmony inside and beyond the separated and fragmentated traces that some piece of art present.
Almandrade’s work is like a palimpsest where word and image resume conscience of where they originate from, but they do not know where to go. Destiny of inanimate objects. Destiny of poetry (not only the visual ones). Mallarmé said that “poetry is done with words and not with ideas” 7. But in poetry (as Jean-Paul Sartre would add) the word is a thing, an object, a palpable side of the signs (Jakobson would say), “flor é a palavra flor” (flower is the word flower), as João Cabral de Melo Neto8 wrote in his “Antiode”.
In the visual production of Almandrade, everything (sign, color, line, geometry) is organized as a “idea-thing”.
How does the process of “idea-thing” goes? To make it clear, considering our criteria, we will use quotes from others, taken from the single Brazilian concrete experience. In a brief lyric that Haroldo de Campos dedicated to Benedito Nunes, the poet from the Galaxies observes that, to avoid the danger of an eventual deprivation of other cultures (being them Orientals or Latin-Americans), it is necessary an exemplary exercise of literary criticism. Quoting Heidegger, to Haroldo “to make poetry and to think are mutually needed” (or, using Heidegger’s words, Dichten und denken brauchen einander). Therefore, the poetry and thought, the criticism and the local, itself or of third parties, always open themselves to the synchronic and universal. Dialoguing with “poet-thinkers, like Heráclito and Al Ghazali, and with poet-thinkers like Dante, Goethe, Leopardi, the poetry of the thought, in its creation or in its anew process of translation, complements itself through the contemplation of poetry, historic and critically considered” (Nunes, 2003, p. 82). This poetic example of Haroldo compensate the aesthetics of the materialized exterior and synchronizes it with fraternity, kharis, being the recognition of the Other, indispensable for the definition of the I.
AISTHESIS, KHARIS : I K I
for benedito nunes
if heidegger looked
at the ideogram
whilst his disciple listened
(just as pound looked at ming sollua
Like the cubist eye of gaudier-brzeska
After listening to fenollosa)
he would have seen a cherry cherrytree koto ba
das ding dingt
in an unnameable place
of the word
i k i
Almandrade’s artistic masterpiece, in an oscillation between poetry and thought, the criticism to the local and of the other, opens himself as synchronic and universal. Because the idea-thing is synchronic and universal, therefore, that line refers to that idea, that “das ding dingt”. The idea-thing detects when culture is in decomposition, when the movements from the symbolic imaginary of poetry and art is impoverished by the noise of its own misery of the world.
The idea-thing could be expressed by the word “structure”. However, we are far from a “structuralist” meaning, which reduces the element to a functional factor to itself. Almandrade’s trace structure is a part that dialogues with the component know as “Everything” that it assumes. It is a phenomenon without which would not be possible to leave from chaos. Augusto de Campos proposes the prismatic of the idea in poetry and in visual arts, admitting that this was firstly theorized by Mallarmé:
Mallarmé is the inventor of the process of the poetic organization which means that the word art appears to us as comparable, aesthetically, to the musical value of the “series”, discovered by Schoenberg, purified by Webern, and, through the filtration of this, legated to the young electronic composers, to preside the sonorous universes of a Boulez or a Stockhausen9.
I remember a delicate and potent poetry of Mallarmé entitled “Brise marine”, from 1865, which begins with something that we could denominate as a “intellectual deception” or a “poetic realism”: “La chair est triste, hélas! Et j’ai lu tous les livres”10. However, nothing, as the poet says, will prevent that the heart submerge in the sea. It is possible to answer to the Boredom whilst listening the “song that comes from the sea”.
In this attempt to overcome from the stagnated and devitalized shapes, Almandrade proposes an intimate art in its immaculate interior, a castle where purification occurs as a miraculous act. The space transforms itself as an agent that structures the meaning and transforms the poetry in something visual, due to this new idea of self-support. Thus, the graphic representation is a spiritual necessity, a requirement to harvest from what the Orientals had intuited from their own culture; that is, that the union between image and text, the free verses and the geographic space in the page that suggest the rupture with the centralization of the reading in its single axis, amplifying meaningful possibilities to the visual piece.
It is probable that, by signifying Almandrade as “A Visual Mallermé in the Tropics”, the person who is writing might fall in a trap as suspected by Christian Metz and that we quote in epigraph, thus, it is our problem to effectively start naming, classifying, giving space to cultural taxonomies. But a taxonomy is a natural defence to the universal appeal, to the central recognition, to the game which is to put lines and words in match, colour and senses, geometry and sounds.
Some decades ago, Haroldo de Campos proposed a “interlanguage” game, which would take the Latin-American production out of the peripheral axis. The process, programmed by the author of Galaxies, mobilized itself to a search of a nexus in translation – as an operation of knowledge of the alterity – and a multilingual creation – in a sense of universalizing the national art (naturally, the Brazilian art, in this case). Haroldo de Campos stated: “writing, today, in Latin America, as in Europe, will mean, increasingly, the act of rewriting and re-mastigating” (2004, p. 255). We could replace the verb “write” to “make art”, today, etc. Without wanting to point an auto-referential process, nationalist or ideological, the masterpiece of Almandrade answers and corresponds to this “tropical” drawing, without nostalgic feeling or motives from the past. It is, otherwise, to give voice to one of the “polytonal” and “polyphonic” fragments of a planetary civilization. Is it utopian? Almandrade is a dreamer who wants to win the chaos.
I believe that, in Brazil, with Oswald de Andrade’s Anthropophagy, in the 20’s (…) we had an acute sense of the necessity of thinking the national as a dialogic relation with the universal. The Oswald’s Anthropophagy is a thought of a critical devouring of the legacy of a universal culture (…) according to the brim view of the “bad savage”, devourer of white people, anthropophagic. It does not evolve to a submission (a catechesis), but to a transculturalization, or better, to a “transvalorization”: a critical view of history as a negative function (as said by Nietsche), either capable of appropriation as of expropriation, the non-hierarchy of deconstruction11.
It is in this perspective that Haroldo declares a necessity of a utopia as a programmatic model of the artistic vanguards. The term vanguard must not be read as a synonym to rupture or anti-tradition, but as an aspiration or tension to reorganize, perhaps idealistically, a national thought within the anthropophagic standpoint. Almandrade, as well, anthropophagites the artist experience overseas.In a poetic world of the artist, Text and Book, Art and Shape, mutually speak within themselves and produce senses. Indeed, they blend themselves, due to the cultural proliferation of the geographic tropics. Place and poetry become the pillars, imaginary tropics, where “everything is significative because all the language can reverse itself”12.Almandrade’s masterpiece rejects the simplification of the naivety of its reading that does not overcome the national limits and that promotes, on the contrary, an alterity recognition of culture as a proof of the critic’s fertility and the intellectual prosperity.
1 Haroldo de Campos. A arte no horizonte do provável. São Paulo: Perspectiva, 1977, p. 17.
2 Haroldo de Campos cita Mallarmé, do ensaio “Le livre, instrument spirituel” (1895): “Le livre, expansion totale de la lettre, doit d’elle tirer, directement une mobilité”, ibidem, p. 18.
3 Ibidem, p. 19.
4 Ibidem, p. 152.
5 Lacan, apud Campos, ibidem, p. 152.
6 Ibidem, p. 68.
7 Ibidem, p. 141.
8 All the authors are mentioned in the book of Haroldo de Campos: idem.
9 Augusto de Campos, Décio Pignatari e Haroldo de Campos. Mallarmé. São Paulo: Perspectiva, 1991, p. 177.
10 Ibidem, p. 44. The translation proposed by the Campos’ brothers is “The meat is sad, yes, and I’ve read all the books”, in: Idem, p. 46.
11 Campos, Haroldo de. Metalinguagem e outras metas. São Paulo: Perspectiva, 2004, p. 234-235.
12 Claude Lévi-Strauss, apud Paz, Octavio. Signos em rotação. São Paulo: Perspectiva, 1996, p. 296