Anthropophagy


 

 

The following is excerpted from New
Directions in Digital Poetry
, available from Continuum.

 

Pero Afonso de Sardinha arrived on the
shores of Brazil from Portugal in the mid-sixteenth century to be Bishop of
Bahia. Natives in the Aimorés tribe (pagans) ritualistically ate him. This
historical event, a spontaneous response to colonial oppression, has been a
source of identification for Brazilian artists and has been used as a
foundation for the cultivation of heterogeneous expressive forms. Use of this
transgressive context has expanded, and has significance and application in
today's media environment. Anthropophagy (or cannibalism), the name assigned to
this unusual and iconoclastic creative philosophy, was initially announced in
Oswald de Andrade's "Anthropophagy Manifesto" (1928), which proclaims: "I am
only interested in that which is not my own" (65).[i]
External texts and idioms become grist for the anthropophagist's mill, a trait
reflected in de Andrade's short poems "Biblioteca Nacional" (partially composed
of juxtaposed document titles, e.g., "Brazilian Code of Civil Law/How to Win
the Lottery/Public Speaking for Everyone/The Pole in Flames) and
"Advertisement" (which adopts the language of advertising copy, e.g., "All
women-deal with Mr. Fagundes/sole distributor/in the United States of Brazil")
(Bishop 11, 13). In another historical example of anthropophagy in poetry, Raul
Bopp's Cobra Norato, the brutal
hierarchy of the elements in a rain forest is established in a serial poem involving
continuous encounters between the elements (e.g., a snake, trees, a river, and
birds). Bopp favors process rather than destination and engages, emulates, and
reprocesses natural, conversational sounds, stitching the language of the
creatures of the forest into the poem (e.g., "Tiúg… Tiúg Tiúg…/Twi. Twi-twi" (16). More importantly, Bopp borrows
the story of Cobra Norato from native
mythology, and re-inscribes it in "very colloquial and popular language." It is
primarily anthropophagic in terms of its "ethos
and thinking structures" (Salgado n. pag.).

Numerous poets and
artists in Brazil were subsequently motivated by anthropophagy.[ii] Today,
useful connections can be made between anthropophagy and digital poetry that
divulge significant artistic opportunities in a genre known for its synthesis
of fragments. A relationship between concrete poetry and digital poetry is
often discussed.[iii] Augusto de
Campos explains in a 2005 interview, "Oswald made a distinction between
anthropophagy and pure cannibalism-by hunger or by greed-from ritual
anthropophagy. Ritual anthropophagy is a branch of anthropophagy in which the
cannibal eats his enemy not for greed or for anger but to inherit the qualities
of his enemy. The metaphorical, and also in certain aspects philosophical, idea
of cultural anthropophagy Oswald promoted was the idea of cannibalizing the
high culture from Europe, with the results that one could acquire, or could
have from this devouration, and could then construct something really new out
of this development" (Interview 2005).[iv]
Transformative expression appropriates given data then warps or reconfigures it
to new ends. Such a method certainly corresponds, or perhaps responds, to
Dadaist techniques of appropriation, and also corresponds to the type of
cannibalism seen in examples of digital poetry. An anthropophagic text, in
which the author or authors engage with multiple languages or idioms, devours
other texts, icons, and is free to remix discrepant methods and philosophical
approaches. Discovery and re-discovery of meaning is reached through the
cannibalization of texts, which may then establish alternative perspectives on
cultural or personal subjects taken up by authors in textual composition,
re-composition, and composting. Through anthropophagy, artists are free to
reshape external influences. This open acknowledgment of plurality is what
makes the concept still relevant today, as an active principle for the creation
of "difference."

Digital poetry is
primarily anthropophagic because it mints a literary concept via the absorption
of forms of expression and production that are foreign to digital technology
and the primary concerns of the Web. Digital poems have inherited the qualities
of computer media: poets courageously embrace formidable machines, built for
the progression of science and business, and these explorations have been
fruitful. Assimilation of texts and language unrelated to computer operations
and has endowed digital poetry with an autonomy. The anthropophagy of early
computer poems generated by algorithmic equation reify modernism's inscription
of tentative, nonlinear arrangements of text; use of randomized elements, as in
Dada, is sometimes employed. Instead of computing equations and processing
data, the computer and WWW are entrusted with creative responsibilities, giving
the machines, programs, and servers a role in the negotiation between author,
reader, and language. This dynamic invites the author to reconsider what an
author is and does, enables poets to recycle composed texts within new
contexts, and to alter the visual materiality of texts in inventive ways.

Mechanically consuming a
text to project a new text is aesthetically anthropophagic, suggesting a type
of shifting, combined realization. External material is consumed, digested, and
restated as a new entity. Historically, this process of absorbing what is of
interest in foreign matter has been a technique used to combat and transcend
colonialism. Beyond that objective, it has pertinent cultural relevance by
promoting the value of diversity and discrepancy on multiple registers. Digital
works in the anthropophagic continuum reflect a range of orientations,
including analog information, to make intriguing, vibrant expression.
Anthropophagic possibility, permitting a blend of individual expression and
structure along with the incorporation of outside elements, contains obvious
opportunity for artists, and many poetic interpretations of the anthropophagic
analogy (and other sorts of artistic engagement with the concept), have arisen,
such as Bill Seaman's notion of "interauthorship" within his scheme of
"recombinant poetics."

Like concrete poets,
digital poets on the WWW approach anthropophagy in distinct and profound ways:
(1) through transcreation, in which
"original" writings are processed and re-languaged; (2) through direct
incorporation of external elements (including multiple languages, images, and
symbols) in the generation of original expression; and (3), in the mechanical
presentation of the work (and inventing new technological/navigational
structures, appropriation of coding language). Each of these areas holds the
potential to advance the poem into a realm of heterogeneity. While some of
these traits are undoubtedly present in analog poetry, digital multimedia works
are best able to represent anthropophagic mechanics which, as Charles Bernstein
writes, give us "a way to deal with that which is external…by eating that which
is outside, ingesting it so that it becomes a part of you, it ceases to be
external. By digesting, you absorb" (De Campos n. pag ). An evolving,
transitory art, instigated across a century of possibility, emerges with
intent, aesthetic polemic, and political depth. In a world of just
globalization, artists absorb, through consumption, to become another. To
transform, one must be transformed. Incorporating anthropophagic conditions
into progressive creative schemes is not compulsory. Doing so, however, opens
up new promise for the synthesis of discrepant cultures and expressive
histories.

In the abstract
and in practice, creative cannibalism in digital poetry considers the
alphabet's content as well as and words and phrases made by letters as
potential fuel. Communication of any sort relies on perpetual permutation and
assurance of the finite components of language. Recycling or scrambling words
can be a critique of the appropriated language, as in (but not only in) dada.
As DJ Spooky (Paul D. Miller) writes, "The mix breaks free of the old
associations. New contexts from the old. The script gets flipped. The languages
evolve and learn to speak in new forms, new thoughts" (25). The cannibalism
model is ripe with possibilities for considering digital poetic practice, and
works discussed in my case studies take the concept to new aesthetic and
technological levels.[v]
Text-generating computer programs and other calculated methods have been used
to process and automatically permute databases of words into poems for a
half-century, and in recent years the potential content and media enabling
cannibalistic approaches to creativity has expanded wildly with the growth and
capabilities of the WWW.

 


[i]
Other associated essays from the same period are collected in the volume The Anthropophagic Utopia. See
http://www.agencetopo.qc.ca/carnages/manifeste.html for an online translation
by Adriano Pedrosa and Veronica Cordeiro. For more background on anthropophagy
see João Cezar de Castro Rocha's essay "Brazil as Exposition"
(http://www.lehman.cuny.edu/ciberletras/v08/rocha.html).

[ii] A discussion about the manifestations of
anthropophagic poems in Brazil would address works by de Campos, Décio
Pignatari, and other concrete poets, as well as other historical figures in
Brazil (e.g., Flavio de Carvalho) and younger artists who practice with intent
today. Here I would like to thank both Lucio Agra and Marcus Salgado for
bringing relevant works by historical and contemporary artists to my attention,
and for our ongoing dialogs, which have substantively contributed to my
discussion of this topic.

[iii] References to concrete poetry are far
from uncommon in dialogues regarding the influence of literature on new media
productions: concrete poetry has been cited as an influence on computer poems
since the first two books on the subject appeared in the 1970s, Richard W.
Bailey's anthology Computer Poems (1973)
and Carole Spearin McCauley's monograph Computers
& Creativity
(1974). Bailey writes that in graphical computer poems,
"concrete poetry is reflected with a computer mirror" (n. pag.). McCauley
acknowledged in Computers and Creativity that
computerized graphical poetry "resembles, or perhaps grew from…‘concrete
poetry'" (115). More recent books on the subject, such as Loss Pequeño
Glazier's Digital Poetics (2002) and
Brian Kim Stefans's Fashionable Noise (2003),
as well as essays by Friedrich Block and Roberto Simanowski, discuss the
relevance of concrete poetry to the development of digital poems.

[iv] In an email exchange regarding the
ritualistic elements in concrete poetry, de Campos writes, "We viewed
Anthropophagy as an anthropologic metaphor, nurtured in Freud, Nietzsche,
Lévy-Burhl and Bachoffen (from whom he took the theory of ancient Matriarchy,
that would have preceded Patriarchal society, associated with authoritarian
monarchies and private propriety)…. The brainstorming in which we three, Decio,
Haroldo, were engaged, in a Poundian way ("paideuma," "the age demanded"),
trying "to gather from the air a live tradition," reading in several languages
as only barbarians do to arrive at the selective choice
MALLARMÉ-JOYCE-POUND=CUMMINGS was surely linked to the Oswaldian cultural
ANTHROPOPHAGY" (Email 2006).

[v] While it is more pertinent
to focus on works featured in my case studies, works of my own have also
developed so as to cannibalize a limited set of letters to produce anagrammatic
poems around given theme. A description of exactly how the context of
cannibalism functions within my own practice, as presented at a 2009
performance in Bergen, Norway: Both visual components co-opted cannibalistic
network devices. For projected poems (which were also spoken at the outset), I
compile then edit phrases made with the Internet Anagram Server to create lines
of customized expression. From the 1,181 results lines I received from three
query phrases ("Norway delicately," "Bergen light," and "Bergen lightly"), 41
lines are chosen to create a text file (Bergen light II) that becomes the basis
for the animated poem. Through this I am able to offer a slow, strange,
personal, calculated speculation (now public statement) with words, their
sounds, and interactions. The accompanying soundtrack is original, but has a
relevant back story: I recorded the text (words) and remixed it twice, into
separate tracks; both tracks, at different speeds, stretched the words to a
point where they are beyond grammatical recognition. On a third audio track I
dubbed a one-take composition on a "canjo," a one-string guitar that uses for
its body a Coca-Cola can, in harmony with the distorted text. For the final
mix, I removed the first two audio tracks altogether and add rhythmic effects
to the sound. As observed in the efforts made by others, myriad approaches are
used in these compositions. The avant-machinimatic companion in the montage is
created with Jim Andrews' dbCinema,
which uses results from Web image searches to render a poem according to
parameters set by the viewer. Working with a series of "brush" tools invented
by Andrews, I created five new brushes (Bergen, delicate-poetry, espenaarseth,
Bergen_history, and lightly), each given unique and common attributes. These
brushes are arranged on a playlist, which also included a brush titled
cannibalism previously devised by Andrews and I for E-Poetry. Each brush
configures verbal and visual information in a circular pattern. Some of the
relations in the brushes are straightforward, others not. Bergen matches the
name of the city with results of an image search on the city; Bergen_history
matches the word "history" with images of "Bergen history"; cannibalism
displays an animation of the word and images culled from a search of the word.
To add poetic intent, however, delicate, matches the word "poetry" with the
image results for "delicate"; lightly matches "lightly" with images tagged with
the word "dreaming"; and espenaaresth matches the word "cybertext" with images
of Espen. Two of the poems spoken during the performance were made as a result
of my participation in the Flarf collective, a group that commonly uses results
of Google search queries to fashion poetry. Beyond particular use of network
technology and editing processes, Flarf is often, if not overwhelmingly, also
based on discussions, exchanges, and utterances that occur on the group's
enormously active online discussion forum. These particular poems directly
responded to posts I'd read by others. "Scared" was a response to a Ben
Friedlander gripe about the overuse of scare quotes, and "Psychographic" was
the last of a series poems referencing Michael Jackson appearing on our forum
during the weeks after his death. While the last few lines of the reading came
from a Facebook comment box exchange between Tisselli, Adam Saponara, and I,
the bulk of the text I read during the performance was drawn from a manuscript
titled "You are, Therefore I am" which are excerpts from a serial narrative I
published on twitter (see ). Each line of the
work originates from a sentence made with Charles O. Hartman's program PyProse (see
http://cherry.conncoll.edu/cohar/Programs.htm). For this project, I decided to
test (with successful results, it seems) Hartman's idea (stated in Virtual
Muse
) that his generator "could be treated as a first draft writer."
The program is open source-I have made a few adjustments to the code, and every
morning I use it (sort of as a brain-gym type kick start) to produce some lines
which are then fashioned via close editing-often to conform to the platform's
constraint-into twitter posts. In addition to other benefits, using the program
brings words I never use but like as well as strange modes of logic to me out
of the blue that I-in turn, in a very disciplined way-force myself to respond
to and shape into meaningful expression. This work is generated, then filtered
through my mind and sensibilities.