February 20, 2013

Mário de Andrade

Mário de Andrade [Brazil]

Born in São Paulo, Brazil on October 9, 1945, Mário Raul de Morais Andrade, was the child of a mixed marriage. As a child, we was a piano prodigy, and studied at the Music and Drama Conservatory of São Paulo, with aims to become a professional pianist. Fluent in French, at the same time Andrade read Rimbaud and the major Symbolists, as well as studying history and art.

      The sudden death of his 14-year-old brother, Renato, during a soccer game, strongly effected the young student, who soon after left his Conservatory studies to stay at the family farm in Araraquara. When he returned to his piano playing he was often afflicted with a trembling of the hands, and, although he earned a degree in piano, eventually abandoned playing, studying singing and music theory with the hope of becoming a professor of music.

     At the same time, Andrade began writing, publish his first book of poetry, Há uma Gota de Sangue em Cada Poems (There Is a Drop of Blood in Each Poem) under the pseudonym of Mário Sobral, work strongly indebted to his French readings.

     His book, published in 1917, was not widely read, which determined the young poet to expand the scope of his writing. Leaving the city, Andrade took long trips into the interior countryside of Brazil, documenting the people, culture, and music of the Brazilian hinterlands. For years, Andrade published magazine and newspaper essays on Brazil’s indigenous population accompanied with his own photographs. Between these voyages, Andrade taught piano at the Conservatory, becoming a professor in 1921.

     During this period Andrade also became close friends with several other São Paulo poets and artists, a group which would come to be known as the Grupo dos Cinco (the Group of Five), including Andrade, the unrelated poet Oswald de Andrade, Menotti del Picchia, and artists Tarsila do Amaral and Anita Malfatti. Malfatti had introduced Brazil to expressionism, and the others were well versed in contemporary European poetry and art. The group continued to work together through most of the 1920s until Mário had a falling-out with the poet Oswald de Andrade, purportedly over a pseudonymous accusation of the former being “effeminate,” a code-word, clearly, for Mário’s possible homosexuality. But as the Grupo dos Cinco broke up, other groupings occurred around these figures, helping to extend Brazilian modernism in different directions.

      In 1920, Andrade, after being show a sculpture, “Bust of Christ,” depicting Christ as a Brazilian with braided hair, had what he described as a “delirious” vision. Looking down from the balcony of his room, he saw before him:

 Noises, lights, the ingenuous bantering of the taxi drivers: they all
 floated up to me, I was apparently calm and was thinking about
 nothing in particular. I don’t know what suddenly happened to me.
 I went to my desk, opened a notebook, and wrote down a title
 that had never before crossed my mind: Hallucinated City.

That work, Paulicéia Desvairada, would ultimately alter the landscape of Brazilian poetry and literature. Far different from his early formal abstraction, this work was created from disconnected and fragmented impressions, a maze of dialogue in São Paulo dialect and whirling, sometimes surreal-like images that represent a delirious collage of his home city. Andrade’s famed introduction to this volume, “Extremely Interesting Preface” is, in part, an explanation of his poetic intent and a kind of wild manifesto for a new Brazilian poetics:

There are certain figures of speech in which we can see the
embryo of oral harmony, just as we find the germ of musical
harmony in the reading of the symphonies of Pythagoras.
Antithesis: genuine dissonance.

      Just before the publication of Paulicéia Desvairada, de Andrade collaborated with Malfatti and Oswald de Andrade to create a large event that might bring attention to their work. The event, the Semana de Arte Moderna (Modern Art Week), consisted of exhibitions of paintings, readings, lectures on art, music, and literature. As the central organizer, Mário gave lectures on the principles of modernism and on Brazilian folk music (much of which he had recorded on his trips over the years), as well as reading his collection’s introduction, “Extremely Interesting Preface.” The culminating event was his own reading of the poetry, which received numerous jeers, yet had a transformative effect on its audience. And the event remains seen, even today, as a seminal occurrence in Brazilian modern literature. Numerous other such gatherings occurred over the years by different artists and writers.

     Throughout that decade Andrade continued to travel throughout Brazil, gathering information on the cultures and folklore of the interior, as well as developing theories on the social dimension of folk music, particularly the relationship between “artistic” music and the music of the street and countryside, including both Afro-Brazilian and Amerindian works. In the later 1920’s Andrade began writing, in the newspaper O Diario Nacional, an ongoing travelogue titled “The apprentice tourist,” writing of his discoveries and accompanying them with his own photos. His large collections of writing, recordings, and photographs would later become the core of the São Paulo Department of Culture’s collection—a department he helped to establish—material which later would be extensively used by Dina and Claude Lévi-Strauss with their cinematic researches in the Brazilian interior.

     Using some of the techniques he had developed in his Hallucinated City, Andrade began writing fiction, the first, Amar, Verbo Instransitivo (1927, Love, Intransitive Verb) and in 1928 the important fiction, Macuaíma. It is hard to overstate the immense importance the second work had upon Brazilian culture. The book, a mix of both native languages and accents and sophisticated Portuguese, tells the story of a black native of the interior, a man of great magic and dichotomies (he has, for example, the body of an adult and the head of a child) traveling to São Paulo and his strange encounters with that sophisticated culture. Ultimately he returns to his native village, only to eventually destroy it. The intense extremes of language and imagery helped to create what has since been described as “magic realism,” and has become a classic of South American literature. Andrade also wrote books of stories and essays.

     Some critics have noted several of the qualities of the work’s hero, such as the dark-skin of the central character, his lack of sexual fulfillment, and the fact of his being a kind of wanderer with no real home, as paralleling many elements of Andrade’s own life as a gay mulatto who regularly traveled. And over the next several years, with the break up the Grupo dos Cinco and the rise of dictator Getúlio, Andrade’s life itself become restricted. Although he was able to remain as Chair of History of Music Aesthetics at the Conservatory, Andrade’s freedom to move and his role at the Department of Culture was revoked.

     In 1938 Andrade moved to Rio de Janeiro to teach at the Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro. In 1941 he returned to São Paulo to work on his last major poem, “Meditação Sobre,” a long epic devoted to his home city which has been compared with William Carlos Williams’ Patterson.

     Four years later, on February 25, 1945, Andrade died of a heart attack at the age of 52. Because of his opposition to the Vargas regime, the official reaction was muted. But after Vargas’ death the following year, Andrade’s complete poems were published and the municipal library of São Paulo was renamed the Biblioteca Mário de Andrade.

Há uma Gota de Sangue em Cada Poema (1917); Paulicéia Desvairada (1922); Losango Cáqui (1926); Clã do Jubuti (1927); Remate de Males (1930); Poesias (1941); Lira Paulistana (1946); O Carro da Miséia (1946); Poesias Completas (São Paulo: Martins, 1955)

Hallucinated City, trans. by Jack E. Tomlins (Nashville: Vanderbilt University Press, 1968)

For a poem Andrade, click below:

For Andrade’s poet “Poet Eating Peanuts,” go here:

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