The Brooklyn Rail

MARCH 2021

All Issues
MARCH 2021 Issue
Critics Page

A Guide to Eating and Walking

On Oswald de Andrade's “Manifesto Antropófago” (“Cannibalist Manifesto”).

Oswald de Andrade’s “Manifesto Antropófago” (“Cannibalist Manifesto”) in <em>Revista de Antropofagia</em> (1928).
Oswald de Andrade’s “Manifesto Antropófago” (“Cannibalist Manifesto”) in Revista de Antropofagia (1928).

A manifesto is a map, a geopolitical drawing of territory.

A cartographer draws a map to translate space into lines. These guidelines dictate the exploration, and sometimes exploitation, of a particular piece of land. A map is an instrument for finding resources. And in that sense, it is a colonial artifact. A map expands at the explorer’s pace; in drawing land, it becomes territory, state. A map is an artifact that regulates space, administrates goods and property, and determines borders and the complexities of identity.

A map is also an artifact for escape.

Manifestos, as I understand them, share the characteristics of maps that I propose here. They reflect the political contexts in which they are produced. And their raison d’être is to declare a movement’s intentions, aims, and proposals. They display their geography explicitly. At the same time, a manifesto can be devised as a tool to present escape routes from the system in which it was produced. Such is the case of “Manifesto Antropófago” by Oswald de Andrade, published in Portuguese in the 1928 inaugural issue of Revista de Antropofagia.

De Andrade’s “Cannibalist Manifesto” is usually read as a proposal for cultural cannibalism. He writes that the culture of the Tupis—a common denomination for disparate groups indigenous to the Amazon—would devour European culture, and by doing so it would assemble a decolonized, unified Brazilian nation. Unintentionally and oppositional to its own purpose, the manifesto appropriates the cultural values of Indigenous communities. The manifesto is anti-colonial, but it forgets it was produced in the city, with Western tools and based upon Western thought and tradition; in fact, de Andrade drew the manifesto’s prose structure from Rimbaud’s Une Saison en Enfer (1873). De Andrade idealizes Tupi culture and hence, appropriates it. Cultural appropriation most often occurs in tandem with the state’s occupation and exploitation of Indigenous land. The state expropriates and extracts resources under the guise of building progress, unity, and national pride.

Brazil will become “the matriarchy of Pindorama,” writes de Andrade.

Even though it’s haunted by this contradiction, the manifesto allows another simultaneous reading: it draws a route to escape the state’s impulse to expand, control, regulate, extract, and appropriate.

In the manifesto, language moves as if through a forest: the writing is foggy, covered by an infinite shade of green, with paths that don’t seem walkable until they are. “Routes. Routes. Routes,” announces the manifesto. To survive in the forest, one has to walk and observe, rummage and converse with the natural space, as well as the living and nonliving things that inhabit it. The Huaorani, an Indigenous group that lives in the Amazon, mark leaves where they walk; they break one after the other until they form a path—a different kind of map.

Tarsila do Amaral, <em>Abaporu</em>, 1928. Oil on canvas, 33 1/2 x 28 3/4 inches. Museo de Arte Latinoamericano de Buenos Aires (MALBA). Image courtesy Tarsila do Amaral Licenciamentos.
Tarsila do Amaral, Abaporu, 1928. Oil on canvas, 33 1/2 x 28 3/4 inches. Museo de Arte Latinoamericano de Buenos Aires (MALBA). Image courtesy Tarsila do Amaral Licenciamentos.

De Andrade founded the Anthropophagic movement with the painter Tarsila do Amaral, his wife. His manifesto was inspired by her painting Abaporu (1928), which she gave to him as a gift. In the Tupi language, Abaporu means “the one who eats human flesh.” MoMA used the now-famous painting to promote its 2018 do Amaral retrospective. It depicts a man on green ground with his knees pressed into his chest. He sits alongside a cactus, and a sun, smaller than his body, rests upon his head. His extremities are enormous, especially his leg and foot; his head is smaller than his nose. The painting has been interpreted as a critique of the importance Western culture gives to critical thought in lieu of a sensory experience of the world. Experience matters most to the cannibalist. De Andrade proposes: “Death and life of all hypotheses. From the equation ‘Self, part of the Cosmos’ to the axiom ‘Cosmos, part of the Self.’ Subsistence. Experience. Cannibalism.”

The cannibalist can be thought of as a walker who renders space through their feet first, then of course, through their mouth. Only later, their head.

Nothing gets us closer to something—or someone—than eating and digesting it. One is obliged to chew and feel the flesh, the skin, the fluids. Our intestines and our stomach and our bacteria and our gastric juices transform food into energy. And then we can walk.

To experience the world with the intensity of devouring another body is an escape route.

Can we escape the forces of the capitalistic state by experiencing the world through our own enormous legs and feet? Maybe. Can we escape by seeking the intensity that eating another flesh provides us? It might be. Cannibalism—as a method for experiencing life and perceiving what surrounds us—is a route, and all routes are unpredictable.


José Peña Loyola

José Peña Loyola is a PhD student in the creative writing concentration at the Hispanic Studies program in the University of Houston. He comes from Ecuador and currently lives in Houston. He holds an MFA in Art Criticism and Writing from the School of Visual Arts. He has worked as a writer and editor for film festivals in Ecuador. His writings about film and visual arts have appeared in small digital publications.


The Brooklyn Rail

MARCH 2021

All Issues