Issue #43, 2013

Devoratio Critica, Emeticism: The Difficult Actuality Of Anthropophagy
Bogdan Ghiu

Oswald de Andrade was born (in 1890) and died (in 1954) in São Paulo. Along with Mario de Andrade (poet and critic), Menotti del Picchia (poet), Anita Malfatti and Tarsila do Amaral (painters), he established the Group of Five, one of the main groups of Brazilian modernist avant-garde in the 20s in the last century. Influenced by Dada and interested, like all periphery people, in the issue of defining a Brazilian cultural identity in response/in relation to the colonizing influence of the European culture, de Andrade traveled assiduously to Europe, especially to Paris, maintained close relations with the European avant-gardes, both of which were interested, although differently, in a polar manner, in the issue of otherness: “while European avant-gardes imagined the another by projecting him in non-European cultures, the Brazilian avant-garde tended to attribute to itself the position of the idealized other“, says Suely Rolnik. The great bet of cultural anthropophagy as a policy, which makes this movement exceed the strict documentary interest of a double distance and desuetude, of a double provincialism, that of a “historical“ and also “exotic“ avant-garde, making it reactivable in the circumstances of the falsely liberating trap of the so-called “cognitive“, “aesthetic“, “cultural“, “libidinal capitalism“ and so on, which is, in fact, only ultra-liberal, the philosopher’s stone for cultural anthropophagy is therefore the secret of the subjectification through the other: how to make yourself a subject from/as an object, from a target? Moreover: how to feed yourself from the other, from the enemy, from what kills you? How to put to work for you something that not only wants to enslave you, but also to suppress you?

The great merit, thus the great current interest in anthropophagy ethics, is its really political (i.e. Machiavellian, Schmittian, Foucaldian, etc.)activism: the fact that, instead of denouncing it and complaining about it, it accepts the battle, that it imagines resistance as battle and cunning, as meta-action or as “action on the other’s action“ (Foucault).

And the great merit of the poet Oswald de Andrade, the author of the Anthropophagic Manifesto, is the development of this model, of this scheme, suggesting an ethics by extrapolating a literal practice.

The term anthropophagy may be misleading and it may cause many more or less naive or malicious misreadings. Anthropophagy is a long and precise ritual not to be confused and reduced to cannibalism, which is only one of the process’ stages, the final collective banquet.

But what process, what scheme, what does actually the poet de Andrade universalize by extrapolating the historical reality of the Amazonian anthropophagy as a constituent process, as a genetically cultural model?

As recalled by Suely Rolnik, the founding event of the anthropophagical identity, of the resistance through anthropophagy, is not a single, but a double event, a Bifrons event: opposed to the devouring by the Caete Indians of the Bishop Sardinha, in 1556, the “Christic“ event in the history of Brazil (see the end of the Manifesto), the catch of the German adventurer Hans Staden by Tupinamba in 1555–1556 is not completed by engorgement because of the prisoner’s obvious cowardice, of his lack of courage and dignity, which obviously could not feed and empower the Indian subject through an anthropophagical “communion“, thus he refuses ingestion, consumption.

Anthropophagy is therefore not an economic operation, one of subsistence, but an ethical and political one, of subjectivation and constitution through the other: an art in the highest sense of the term, that of martial art. Anthropophagy requires discernment, it is critical. It requires approval and rejection, a yes and a no, taking or avoiding the other, it is an emetic operation, of vomiting those who, by pretending to feed us, can poison us.

The Brazilian anthropologists Manuela Carneiro da Cunha and Eduardo Viveiros de Castro (the latter, author of a very interesting book written directly in French, Métaphysiques cannibales, PUF, 2009, which suggests links between the Brazilian cult-culture anthropophagy and Deleuze–Guattari) states that, after stunning his victim, the executioner would change his name and disappear, being forced to be a nomad, but not before being written into the flesh the victim’s name, wearing on his own body the memory of the other being ritually killed and metabolized.

De Andrade’s Anthropophagic Manifesto created a genuine Anthropophagical Movement, being one of the lines of force, still poorly known in Europe, of the contemporary Brazilian culture. Modernist cultural “anthropophagy“ enjoyed repeated waves of updating-reactivation, by continuing and diversifying the original, founding movement, of extrapolation: concrete poetry (the ’50s), neoconcretism (fine arts, ’50–’60), tropicalism (music and theater, 60s and 70s).

However, beyond their proper cultural and artistic fertility, anthropophagical ideas, i.e. the “critical devouring“ (S. Rolnik) as flexibility to influences and active, selective, subjectifying hybridization, provides another basis for discussing the situation of the current global financial semio-capitalism, i.e. for attacking “neoliberal anthropophagy“.

Anthropophagy as another anthropology, an anthropology of the other as the other, another anthropology of the other. A logophagy, an alterophagy...

Oswald de Andrade’s Manifesto thus proves to be not just anthropophagical (as its title has been translated in some versions), that is, about anthropophagy, but is in itself, through virulence and aim, anthropophagic – with itself and with others, by choice. True anthropophagy involves the art of knowing how to let yourself be eaten, consumed, of surviving through/for others, carnally-symbolically, symbolically-not-“spiritually“, without forced displacements, repressions, sublimations.



For the present translation and presentation, the double volume Oswald de Andrade, Manifeste anthropophage (Franch transl. Lorena Janeiro) / Suely Rolnik, Anthropophagie zombie (French transl. Renaud Barbaras), Paris–Bruxelles, Blackjack éditions, coll. “Pile ou face“, 2011, was of a great help.