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Cannibal Angels

Transatlantic Modernism and the Brazilian Avant-Garde


Kenneth David Jackson

In the first three decades of the twentieth century, artists, writers, musicians, and architects from both sides of the Atlantic interacted to create a modern style for Brazil. Their works shaped Brazilian national expression and self-definition for the twentieth century and into the present, with renewed relevance as Brazil plays an increasingly important role in global affairs. Artists such as Tarsila do Amaral and Roberto Burle-Marx are appearing for the first time in museums in the United States and Europe, along with the concept of antropofagia from the «Cannibal Manifesto», a theory of cultural autonomy and a model for fusion, hybridity, and assimilation. This book offers a cultural history and interpretation of Brazilian modernism in the arts and letters, exploring how modernism depends on transatlantic negotiation and develops through interchanges between Brazilians and Europeans.
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CHAPTER 7: Improvisation: Play and Excess


And above all freedom! […]

It is only possible to create something grand within

the most absolute liberty of expression.

– Villa-Lobos1

But we never recognized the birth of logic among us.

– Cannibal Manifesto

Since their subject is always themselves as Brazilians, the modernists are continuously improvising on themes or topics around them that they find interesting, whether about language, folklore, national culture, music, or history. The 1918–19 diary composed by visitors to a garçonnière and maintained by Oswald de Andrade – O Perfeito Cozinheiro das Almas deste Mundo2 (The Perfect Cookbook of the Souls of this World) – is a book always open ready to record spontaneous comments on their lives and a living example of improvisation, both in life and art. With its pre-cannibal title, the diary-scrapbook is the first book, or artefact, ←249 | 250→to record the life of a modernist group in São Paulo through improvisation. The young writers and intellectuals draw and write on 200 blank pages (24 X 36 cm) ‘kept open like a door’. The expression is from André Breton’s 1928 novel, Nadja, a work comparable to the Perfeito Cozinheiro in the role of the male narrator. Published the same year as the Cannibal Manifesto, Breton’s novel confirms the cannibalization of the muse as aesthetic object of male narration.3 The group records life as it passes by from a reclusive space that is a world apart, still maintaining a fin-de si...

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