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  • Formas de FomeAnti-Literature and the Politics of Representation in Haroldo de Campos’s Galáxias (1963-76)
  • Adam Joseph Shellhorse (bio)

Anti-Literature, Modern Brazilian Literature, Latin American Literature, Brazilian Concrete Poetry, Literature Debate, Subaltern, Avant-Garde, Posthegemony, Affect, Augusto de Campos

Due to the crisis of the Brazilian state in the 1960s, the idea of writing becomes opposed to the traditional image of literature. Detached from its representational function, no longer encumbered by an illusion of autonomous purity, what nonconformist, anti-literary image of writing is at stake in Haroldo de Campos’s monumental Galáxias?1 This article provides a reassessment of the legacy of de Campos’s radical image of writing in its relation to the crisis of the avant-garde and the classical political function ascribed to the Latin American literary, and aspires to chart a new vision, through an immanent reading of Galáxias, of the untimely matter of Latin American literary politics today.

The matter of the untimely in Galáxias concerns its modes of resistance to the present. Indeed, whatever critical force to be extracted from the literary question in Latin American studies today begins with a critique of what is [End Page 219] meant by “literature.” I am here referring to the inexorable link between Latin American literature and the populist, “transculturating” state, so aptly described by Angel Rama.2 The historical projection of a “modernizing,” cultural synthesis effectuated by the representational regime of the Latin American literary—between the writer who “speaks for” and hence translates into the pages of literature the “popular” subject of the interior—has been marked as suspect. The subject at issue is manifestly in the air. The signs have been duly noted. Following the Latin American debt crisis of the early 1980s, the demise of the Soviet as well as Sandinista experiments, and the general “redefinition of Latin American political and cultural space,” new modes of reflection have been called for, especially those that probe the question of cultural epistemology, or the limits, conditions, and order of reasons that structure Latin Americanist thinking (Latin American Subaltern Studies Group 1995, 135).3

The literary debate today in Latin American studies turns on a fundamental dissatisfaction with the literary’s historical culturalist orientations. Throughout the nineteenth century, from Sarmiento, Alencar, to Rodó, literature is shot through with the project of becoming a pure state, whereby the requirements of writing conform to an established order of national populism. The “other” to literature—whether indigenous, feminine or subaltern—had to be integrated, represented, and mapped as “national.” The Latin American literary regime will henceforward “aestheticize the political,” even as it assumes the authority to name what could be called the Latin Americanist “object” of cultural difference (Moreiras 2001, 13).4 Likened to a selfperpetuating hermeneutic circle, this “aesthetic-historicist paradigm” underwriting the literary dream of Latin American alternative modernities is flawed because it disavows reflection on the limits and pitfalls of nationally and regionally inflected identitarian reflection. As liberation from the political, the critique of “literature,” according to Alberto Moreiras, begins with an examination of the ways in which the literary jars the literary institution’s appropriating drive and its pretension to subsume and congeal difference as identity through a representational order. However divergent his conclusions, the same antiauthoritarian, anti-paternalist critique of the literary informs John Beverley’s landmark book, Against Literature (1993), and the recent Latin Americanism after 9/11 (2011). In both cases, stances on self-reflexivity, the materiality of discourse, [End Page 220] the limits of literature, and the subaltern emerge as urgent tasks for revamping Latin Americanist reflection under contemporary conditions.

Accordingly, “against literature” so as to rescue it, that is, against the literary regime of representation so as to restore to the literary its specific concern with the sensible, at stake in this article is a materialist conception of the literary and a rethinking of the politics of the literary as untimely intervening procedures of the sensible. Just as politics frames specific spheres of experience in the normative organization of social reality, for Jacques Rancière, it is first and foremost a partition of the sensible: politics permits what...


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