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  • Modern and Postcolonial?Oswald de Andrade's Antropofagia and the Politics of Labeling
  • Antonio Luciano de Andrade Tosta

Oswald de Andrade's anthropophagical cultural project has been the subject of much intellectual debate since May 1st, 1928, when his Manifesto Antropófago was published in the first issue of the Revista de Antropofagia in São Paulo. The manifesto outlined the ideas that were the focus of the Semana de Arte Moderna in São Paulo in 1922, when several Brazilian intellectuals demanded a revaluation and reshaping of Brazilian national identity based on the metaphor derived from the cannibalistic act. As Andrade was one of the leading figures of Brazilian modernismo, it is not surprising that his work has been discussed primarily within the context of that movement.

Andrade's Manifesto Antropófago, which was very much in line with the avant-garde European manifestos of the time, was a powerful intellectual declaration that stated, among other things, that Brazil was still culturally colonized and that it was time to do away with such a mentality of dependence. In this context, his text invokes the image of the primitive cannibal and uses it as a symbol of resistance against the colonizing Portuguese culture. He writes against the nineteenth century romantics who idealized the figure of the good savage, creating the image of an innovative, revolutionary savage. The overt and, at times, humorous condemnation of colonization, the critical emphasis on Brazilian intellectual dependence, the debunking of official historical discourse, and ultimately the proposition to value the margins and repel the centers, are some of the elements that allow us to read the Antropofagia project, as revealed in Andrade's Manifesto Antropófago, as well as in his earlier Manifesto da Poesia Pau-Brasil (1924) and in [End Page 217] his poetry, not only through the lenses of modernismo, but also as an example of what is now considered post-colonial thought. Indeed, a great deal of Andrade's work can be interpreted from a postcolonial perspective. In other words, Andrade's concept of Antropofagia can be understood on the basis of its ideological positioning towards a historical and cultural colonization, rather than merely in the context of the ideas of the time period in which it was articulated as a cultural discourse.

The notion of cultural cannibalism itself, if interpreted as the appropriation of dominant and hegemonic cultures by subordinated or marginal groups, reveals a post-colonial impetus, in that it proposes re-readings of power relations that give emphasis to the agency implicated in cultural change. Additionally, cultural cannibalism has an empowering connotation beyond the concepts of borrowing, acquisition, and assimilation. The image of violence, which it embodies - and, in the case of Andrade's work, simultaneously subverts because it exposes the colonizer's brutality - makes it an act of possession (or re-possession), which inverts fallacious views of civilization and savagery, cultural superiority and inferiority, and originality and imitation, thus empowering the peripheral post-colonial culture.

The importance of the idea of cannibalism in the colonial Americas is well-known. It was a mark of difference outlined within a judgmental system of values that favored the European cultural framework and ignored and disrespected the native peoples' traditions. Anthropophagy was synonymous with savagery, violence, and paganism. Including it in the discussion of colonization at the time automatically evokes notions of right and wrong, and/or civilization and backwardness. These critical constructions came from the perspective of the explorers, due to their positions of power and ideological motivations. Cannibalism prevented the Europeans from identifying with the Amerindians, as the mention of its existence intensified the former group's level of perception of the latter's alterity. The natives were seen not only as exotic, but as dangerous and inhumane as well. Since cannibalism was often attached to notions of monstrosity - whether cannibals or not - the natives were repeatedly portrayed as cruel, godless savages, who posed a threat to the explorers. After all, "Cultural practices like cannibalism [were and still] are [largely] considered to be deformations of human nature, contra naturam, or monstrous; they will be condemned, controlled, corrected, or eliminated [End Page 218] by any means necessary" (Palencia-Roth 1996...


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