The Cannibalist Manifesto, written by Oswald de Andrade (1890 – 1954), was published in May 1928, in the first edition of the recently founded Revista de Antropofagia, the vehicle for the Brazilian Cannibalist movement. Through its metaphoric language loaded with poetic aphorisms full of humour, the Manifesto became the theoretical kernel of this movement which aimed to rethink the question of Brazil’s cultural dependency.
Many theoretical influences may be identified in the Manifesto: the revolutionary thinking of Karl Marx (1818 – 1883), the discovery of the subconscious by psychoanalysis and the study, Totem and Taboo, by Sigmund Freud (1856 – 1939), the liberation of the primitive element in man, proposed by some Surrealist writers such as André Breton (1896 – 1966), the Manifeste Cannibale, written by Francis Picabia (1879 – 1953) in 1920, the issues surrounding the savage discussed by the philosophers, Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712 – 1778) and Michel de Montaigne (1533 – 1592) and the idea of technical barbarism of Hermann Keyserling (1880 – 1946). When cross-fertilised through the pen of Oswald de Andrade, these influences gained a new life through the amalgamation under the banner of an unprecedented concept rooted in the history of Brazilian civilisation: Anthropophagy or Cannibalism. As the pinnacle of the first phase of Modernism that was officially inaugurated by Semana de Arte Moderna [Modern Art Week], the Cannibalist stage highlighted the violent contradiction between two cultures, the primitive (Amerindian and African) and the Latin (of a European cultural heritage), which form the basis of Brazilian culture through the transformation of the savage element into an aggressive tool.
This is no longer a process of harmonious and spontaneous assimilation between two poles, which the author had previously, to a certain extent, called for in his Manifesto da Poesia Pau-Brasil [Manifesto of Brazil Wood Poetry] of 1924. Primitivism now appeared as a sign of the critical digestion of the other, the modern and the civilised: “Tupy, or not tupy that is the question. (…) I am only interested in what is not mine. Law of Man. Law of the Cannibal”.1 In this sense, the myth, which is irrational, serves both to criticise the history of Brazil and the consequences of its colonial past, and to establish a utopian horizon, in which the matriarchate of the primitive community replaces the bourgeois patriarchal system: ‘Against the social reality recorded by Freud, clothed and oppressive, the reality without complexes, without madness, prostitution and prisons, of the matriarchate of Pindorama”.2
We should nevertheless note, that Oswald did not simply propose opposition to modern industrial civilisation. Instead, he believed that some of the benefits it provided made possible primitive forms of existence. On the other hand, only Anthropophagic thinking is capable of distinguishing the positive elements of this civilisation, eliminating what was of no interest and ultimately promoting the ‘Caraíba Revolution’ and its new ‘technologised barbarian’ man: ‘The golden age announced by America. The golden age. And all the girls . Through the opposition of cultural emblems and mythical symbols, the author retold the history of Brazil in a metaphorical way: Padre Vieira, Anchieta, ++the Mother of the Gracchi++, the court of the emperor, Dom João VI, the ++morality of the Stork++ emerge side-by-side with the mythical power of Jabuti, Guaraci, Jaci and Great Serpent. In the new image that is forged, the pre-Cabralian past is paired with avant-garde utopias, since ‘we already had Communism. We already had the surrealist language’ in our golden age.
As the author observed in a later interview, Cannibalism was a ‘poignant watershed’ in Brazilian modernism, not only as the act of becoming aware that the ‘Cannibalist descent’ implies – the shift from the aesthetic object that was still predominant in the ‘Pau Brasil’ phase to discussions that related to the social and collective subject, as well as for the divergent opinions that it generated and that were the cause of subsequent disagreement among the Modernists. The unsystematic character and telegraphic style used by the author to give form to his Cannibalist ideas undoubtedly contributed to some extent to a series of misunderstandings. Having said this, the multiplicity of interpretations caused by the juxtaposition of images and concepts is in keeping with Oswald de Andrade’s aversion to the logical-linear discourse inherited from the European colonists. His artistic trajectory indicates that there is coherence in the madness of Cannibalism and sense in its nonsense.
2 Pindorama: name for Brazil in the indigenous language, Nheengatu
3 Translator’s note: ‘girls’ in English in the original.