EM de Melo e Castro (1932 – 2020) – III

Image: João Nitsche


Two essays by Portuguese poet EM de Melo e Castro, with comments by literary critic Flavio Aguiar

We continue our homage to EM de Melo e Castro, a Portuguese poet living in Brazil for the last few years, an essayist, professor, a veritable factotum of the word, presenting two of his many critical essays. The chosen pair reveals the permanent polarity of two of the multiple faces of creative writing.

In the first, “The Adventure of Construction”, EM de Melo e Castro exposes his entire consideration of the process of constructing poems. Getting out of the norms – this seems to be his main concern. It's not just about going out for the sake of going out. It is about establishing “a new human and extreme world”. It is, therefore, a question of recovering human doing from its daily alienation in the consecrated forms of a kind of denial of being, of giving up the search for inventive freedom.

For him, this gestus (here we take the expression in its Brechtian sense) establishes a “bitter” poetry, because he is aware of the openness but also of the limits of this work. The poet then navigates like a tightrope walker on a razor's edge, between "matter and anti-matter", "creation and anti-creation", absorbed by this true "black hole" that is the adventure of creation, without knowing what awaits him on the other side. To paraphrase the point of view of Canadian critic and professor Northrop Frye, it is not the poet who discovers and unveils the poem; this, latent in language, is what discovers it and absorbs it into itself. The poet thus becomes an Ulysses without Ithaca to return to. Adventure calls to him forever, as in Dante's Inferno adventure calls to the Greek warrior and his traveling companions.

In the second essay, “The reading of the impossible book (before April 25, 1974)”, the poet launches into reflection on literary creation and historical circumstances. What were our borders before the 25th of April? Around which programs was writing debated in Portugal, pressed between an oppression that does not create and a search for freedom that does not establish itself? EM de Melo e Castro's questions have intense repercussions in our Brazil today, where, in a way, April 25, 1974 appears to us as a diffuse dream of recovering the dignity of our polis, continually trampled underfoot by the gang of rogues and forgers who have taken over the paths of words, transforming them into seemingly impregnable alleys of institutionalized lies as the only possible truth.

Both essays can be found in the volume “The end visual of the twentieth century”, an anthology organized by Professor Nádia Batella Gotlib for Edusp, published in 1993, with her presentation.

The Construction Adventure[I]

Let us not look for a definition of poetry: it is rather the acts and objects of poetry that reveal it to us. Acts and objects of poetry, which are the poems. Acts in which man projects himself outside himself, building them and finding himself. Because it is in the awakening of ourselves that poetry is created. Because the construction of the beautiful object, in its slow and painful search, is poetry itself and its creative method. That is, the deliberate search for beauty is the way and the guarantee of human authenticity, since only man, who is realized in beauty and for whom life necessarily includes the aesthetic phenomenon, can have the sufficient structure to support with dignity responsibility for their free acts.

The beautiful assumes an ethical and simultaneously technical, indispensable and universal value, whose mastery is only apprehensible through a slow and painful work of subjective discovery. Beauty is the individual man's participation in the interdetermination of the expansive and open system that is the work of art. In this way, what until now has been called “communication” is nothing more than a consequence of the centrifugal force inherent in the poem or painting object, and which projects it beyond itself, towards the reader or spectator.

It is this reader or spectator who will be able to capture this centrifugal force or not, having, by himself and for himself, a specific perception of the poem or painting.

The work of art also has a centripetal force that attracts the spectator, transforming him into a participant. If the centrifugal force is a force of “shocks” that hits the subject, the centripetal force is a force of fascination that attracts him to the work of art, but, without both cases, in fact, the reader or spectator does not communicate with the author of the work of art, but only with himself in it. Or, more exactly still, he reacts to the complex of perceptions that are possible for him.

“Mad poetry of form”[ii]. By madness it is understood, not the pathological state, but the overcoming of sense and logical and discursive reason. Poetry is the delirium of form. By delirium it is understood, yes, the ultimate limit of understanding and misunderstanding, of apprehension and rejection of facts and situations, and of the values ​​created by them. Parmenides and Heraclitus were not philosophers, but poets, according to the Hellenic conception, because they lack the systematization and intelligence of the nostalgia that goes from being to being, if we use Heidegger's terminology. Philosophy is not only this intelligence, but also its expression and discovery of being in beings. Now, the path of current poetry, that is, of the future, is to discover the entity in being, it is to give life to being, to make it a form of life, an essence, a madness, a delirium of language to the point of its own excess and to destroy.

Only from the destruction of being and form can essence and poetry be born, respectively. Heraclitus and Parmenides are poets in the pre-philosophical manner. They are syncretic and primitive poets, with poetry in their hands having religious, moral, epic, dramatic, political functions, references that will later be called philosophical. Poetry cannot be the return to this condition. Poetry today can only be the surpassing of form by itself, the madness of philosophy, the delirium of reason: an entity born of being, magmas sprouting from hard, dry, cold stones. Thus matter is itself reason. It is poetry born from the reason-form by its own potentialities and limits; it is poetry excessive in itself, beyond the aesthetic functions, but only through these same functions can it be a bitter concrete approximation.

Poetry, an effort at word construction on the material level, places the entity before the absorbing reality of non-being; that is, a poem is a contradictory object of its own substance, darting dangerously between the abyssal of beings and the abysmal of non-being. A poem and its own material: two phases of a single object, contradictory forces of the same material, the dynamic effort of construction. Two phases of the same matter, i.e. matter and antimatter[iii] of the same cosmos, of the same surviving dynamics. Survivor, that is, what lives “on” or what lives in itself and beyond.

Of this bitter poetry I will only say a few lights that cannot be explained. I will say: “today I went to see the mud of time”; “I bring my hands full of empty things from there”; “I'm astonished that I'm still here writing, without being able to say anything that I'm really writing” “today it's not me, but a monster full of things that I've forgotten”. And so on. The poetic process has always been a real process of construction: construction of the being before non-being and before others; construction of himself as well, for the astonishment of seeing the unconstructed take shape and reality with the age-old certainty that it could not be otherwise.

Hence the terrible need to do away with everything in the poetic process that is systematic obfuscation and is not absolutely necessary and vital. From the description, we moved on to the poem-object; from the total adjectives, the war on adjectives was generated; the images took on volume; metaphors split into themselves into a new reality; the parallelisms became perpendicular; and the qualities of things became substantive, so that we could touch them; the verbs acted.

A new human and extreme world is created by our hands, in our eyes and has its body glued to ours. A requirement of ourselves before all other beings and all things is realized through the knowledge that remains of adjectives, images, metaphors, parallelisms, nouns, verbs that pierce our five senses – indeterminate suggestive correspondences. Of this bitter and tense poetry, I will not say the exhausting expression of being, as was the aim of the German expressionists.[iv].

I will say, rather, the extreme construction of the entity placed in a world of external materials, abolishing the internal-external dichotomy. And I will not say about the expression, because in reality it manages to say nothing useful or bring to man (the feeling or the ideal) and itself. Because the means of this expression, although tense, rigorous and purified, are only representations and equivalences. There is a barrier between the entity and its expression, between sentiment and the beauty that corresponds to it as an origin or as a result, between the ideal of men and its communicable realization.

Hence a fragmented and misunderstood view of men and the world in unstable atomization, in forced equilibrium, obsessively surrounded by facts, words, other men, in a continuous effort between a mutual encounter always a little further (in fact, impossible) and a terrible release of self-contained energy, which would amount to total destruction as a species (also certainly impossible).

Impossible and therefore necessarily tempting and painful, either in one sense or another. This leads to a formal objectification and a direct pressure on the allusive power of words, to the point of emptying them completely, thus reinforcing them potentially as autonomous, perhaps even living, things. And at this point new words come, reinforced only by themselves, to propose poetic reality with a force that is contrary to them and for that very reason vital. And at this point, an object pole of poetic reality emerges: anti-poetry.[v].

Words empty of themselves can exist only in a wordless world, and our wordless world loses cohesion and substance. Anti-poetry can therefore only be a builder of beings and worlds. But the antiworld that would then be built would be similar to ours, in the relationship between antiobjects and antibeings, and these would be constituted by antimatter.

It is, therefore, necessary to widen dimensions, perspectives and interpretative possibilities, so that our own perception of the universe does not fade away and harmonize with the circumstances, observations and realities that are more and more acutely imposed on us every day. Matter and antimatter, although not possibly confrontable in simultaneous reality, can, however, create mental and sensitive perspectives in which a “creation-anti-creation” game is effectively meaningful and of objective utility. Game is the possibility of interaction, not defined, in a statistically definable degree of probability. Play is therefore the possibility that tends towards an expanding whole. Game is, on the other hand, the perceptible materialization of this unstable totality.

The pressure of forms thus proposes to us, in a non-univocal way, a polarization in form and anti-form, even of matter and anti-matter, not possibly coinciding, but proposing an opening and a fluidity of its own dimensions disaggregated in an energetic structure . The possibility of an anti-form, or even anti-intuition, whose properties can be evaluated for the time being by the properties of form and intuition, proposes a possible anti-pressure and anti-art, inescapably probable. We conceive of the opening of space, the discontinuous structure of matter, the expansionist universe, the intersectionism of planes of perception, the acceleration of particles, up to their possible disintegration.

It is within the limits of our ideation of the universe, of matter and of perception, a valid creative act in itself, but assuming the role of unfixing structures, activating energetic dissociation, equating expansions beyond the limits of even current intellectual possibilities. Rationalist monisms then remain in the prehistory of the mental and formal structuring of the human intellect.[vi]. All of our physical and mental experience proposes itself to us in terms of expansion, openness, polydimension, creation, anti-creation, poetry, anti-poetry.

On a level of immediate sensation, we cannot escape the multiple and open structure of phenomenological perception either, but it is impossible to establish direct links between sensation and perception. This is the path of universe activation and limitless amplifying understanding. Poetry, anti-poetry – the resources will be equivalent. Images, metaphors, words, syllables, subject to a polyfaceted tension, but exactly structured in the progressive expansion of their own forms. In this way, the duplicity of poetic images multiplies indefinitely in an expanding space, at the same time that the image tightens and clarifies itself, focusing on itself, an active particle of the poetic matter.

Metaphors propagate in a multiplicity of simultaneous meanings. Creation has repercussions on simultaneous levels of meaningful reality. Words are loaded with meaningful possibilities. The syllables are structured in sound units, of antimusical intensity and vibration. The whole problem of writing prose and writing poetry is overcome, insofar as the creation-anti-creation factor present in the text is concerned. The mode of the poem, verse or prose, etc., only has value in itself, that is, it only counts as another way of objectifying the poem. Because only rhythm (vibration) – let us remember the quantum theory – will be the structure of life and poetry. Prosaic prose will remain for univocal and logical affirmations of intelligible linearity.

All that remains is an asymptotic creation of itself. Examples of this “creation-anti-creation” are experiments in open space, abstract art[vii], kaleidoscopic objects, all the evolution of nuclear and space science, since Einstein and Bohr, quantum mechanics and a certain literature that arrives with James Joyce[viii] and Kafka, and which begins to impose itself among us through poetry, in the dismantling of traditional syntax, non-fixed images and metaphors, successive substantivated adjectives, the tension with which words are overloaded and the syllables that disintegrate of verbs that act, of adjectives and adverbs that overlap themselves in an increasingly open space of possible relationships.

If the attempt to fully express oneself ends up in the impossibility of going outside oneself and fully communicating – as was tragically demonstrated by the high number of suicides among German expressionist poets; if reciprocal incomprehension cannot in any way be a basis for fraternity, understanding and happiness, then let us stop supporting our system of relations, in expression, communication, understanding, as Aristotelian aesthetics have done.

Rather, let us make a world of possible constructions where men – each man – identify and relate to what they build, with their hands, with their being. The adventure of construction, the game of realizing the being and its opening in the space of endless possible relationships, of countless objective meeting points in what we beautifully realize and build for ourselves and for others. And each man in his cell of energy and vibration, trapped in his moment of life, opens himself completely, beyond the shadows of the frustrated expression for centuries, freeing himself in the real and endless construction of himself – painful construction in which Beauty it is the offer and way of universal vitality.

Reading the Impossible Book (Before April 25, 1974)[ix]

It still won't be a book. It still won't be a read. But what could it be? – this is the central question that one arrives at in this craft of creatively creating, critically criticizing, theoretically theorizing.

From letters, phonemes and words, our writing on paper is made. From notions, ideas and criteria, positions are played between us and others. Ourselves. But what does the paper say? But who knows what we are? What ideology can project us into history? What divided do we find ourselves fragmented? What, fragmented in our own living experience, do we identify with whom?

From the smallness of space to the difficulty of expression-listening, nothing allows creativity to be exercised and experienced. Utopia that we know perhaps the only ideologically admissible form.

And for that very reason it is written and created. And even so, what is impossible to continue continues: that is, an activity that produces impossible books. An activity that renews impossibility itself: the very thing that since the beginning of the century has been called “vanguard”.

But if it is in terms of classes that history and ideology play themselves out, creation is constructed in terms of language and communication, and it is in the characteristics of this language that we must look for class marks and the codification of their positions and conflicts. .

The recent extensions of the structural notions of “language” and “text” to the social and political sciences and even to psychology perhaps contribute to finding a reason for the poetic text, demonstrating its universality and at the same time reformulating the ideology-text relationship. creativity in terms of an indissoluble need for a dialectical relationship.

With that in mind, will it ever be possible to outline (even) a “history” of ideology-creativity in Portugal?

And doesn't the notion of history itself contain the seeds of its inadequacy and impossibility, right here among us, fragmented from the marrow, from the marrow to simple gestures and aspirations? And what can we understand by history, if fragmentation precedes the existence of a cohesion of concepts and principles, and if from the “not yet” we find it difficult to know how to pass to the “already”?

This is how, since the generation of the 70s (1870), only a textual utopian intent has guided us, when we deal with realism, futurism, Paulism, neo-realism, surrealism, experimentalism, building our own ) impossibility(ies) in the form of a book(s), that is, creatively writing the impossible book that ideology(ies) and history do not know how to give us.

Fragments, limitation, ambiguity, impossibility, utopia are for us perhaps the epistemological roots of our realism, with coherent consequences at the level of writing (if it is writing that we are concerned with here), the aesthetics of writing, the function of writing, of the power of writing.

If neo-realism was in fact a quest to adjust “literature” to national realities, it was through the regional particularisms of that nationality that it tried to reach a general pattern of understanding our problems. Now, the flaw of neo-realism comes from never having overcome this analytical-regionalist plunge, not knowing how, in Portuguese terms (despite its roots in the realism of the 70s), to write the man and for the man.

In the absence of synthesis capacity, which would allow a universal extrapolation of the works (even in the order of writing), the failure of Portuguese neo-realism is encoded. We would even say that this failure only increases the ambiguity, the impossibility, the fragmentation, the dispersion, which, from experiential data, are transformed against themselves into characteristics of the creative discourse of the generations that then poetically tried to create their space and “write a book”, without, perhaps because of that, getting it.

It would therefore be necessary to break the circle.

Thus, the internationalism of experimental and concrete poetry must be seen on two planes: the country and the supranational.

One of the structural parameters of experimental poetry in the 60s is that it was only viable in international terms, and only in these terms was it defined throughout the world, from Brazil to Czechoslovakia, from England to Japan, to the United States, to Italy, to the two Germanys, to Yugoslavia, etc.

The Portuguese participation in this underground movement was evidently against the current of neo-realism, because experimental poetry is precisely research-synthesis and non-regionalist but universal values ​​from man to man, through formal radicalism and visualism. semantic: that is, of a conceptual codification.

How, with these universal values, we Portuguese continue to write the same impossible book is already a problem of the historical situation. From that same story that is also impossible to write or that is only utopianly viable, since even in 1960 the problem was: how to survive (creatively) in a context in which the various forms of the real slip through the fingers, or become impossible or deny themselves in a closed space and, in turn, the various possibilities of order are inadmissible or non-existent?

And yet: how to survive where the order established as a basis for the real is based on irrational idealisms and the new order to be established is covered with the inability to found and establish a real reality, for not being able to recognize itself in the circumstances and find its own path of establishment?

Between the dematerializing idealism dominating matter (on the right) and the unrealized reality (on the left), which paths would be possible in 1960? – the avant-garde cut(s), dangerously disenfranchised from both temptations, more dialectically defined in relation to both sides.

Cut that, by its very specificity, is unique and unstable. Project that in the abyss once again fragments.

And so we lived and created until April 25, 1974, asking, at most: What kind of writing are we?

* Flavio Aguiar, writer and literary critic, is a retired professor of Brazilian literature at USP. Author, among other books, of Romantic-inspired theater (Senac);


[I] Published The Proposition 2.01 - Experimental Poetry, Lisbon, Ulisseia, 1965, Col. Poetry and Essay.

[ii] These pseudo quotes are taken from poem IV of my book soul ignorance, albeit with some modifications.

[iii] Note, as they are of capital importance, the following passages from the book Matiere et Anti-matière by Maurice Duquesne: “At the end of 1956 the list of atomic antiparticles was completed and the image of antimatter took consistency: in the center the antinucleus with antiprotons and antineutrons and around, sometimes at considerable distances, gravitate the antielectrons involving the central negative charge of an atmosphere of positive electricity (exactly the opposite of the atoms of 'matter'). But could such an antiatom exist? What property will Antimatter have?

Our terrestrial world where we work is made of matter, and it is known that the fundamental property of antiparticles is to annul themselves when in contact with the particles that correspond to them. How, then, can we experience it? To know the properties of matter well is to be able to glimpse the properties of antimatter. It does not seem unreasonable to imagine stars and galaxies composed of antimatter. But the coexistence of matter and antimatter for the time being does not seem reasonable to us.

Let us also note that, if the electron corresponds to positive kinetic energy, evolving from the past to the future, the anti-electron corresponds to negative kinetic energy, evolving in the inverse direction of ordinary time – from the future to the past –, that is, going back in time. .

If in fact it is not permissible for us to take interpretative liberties, at least we should draw attention to the indisputable opening and enlargement of the field of possibilities that is antimatter, and the extraordinary interest for the rigorous consolidation of the poetic phenomenon that is the possibility of “resuming the course of time” scientifically demonstrated – since the return to origins is one of the dominant concerns of current poetry.

[iv] On German expressionism, note the study by Pierre Garnier in issue 153 of the magazine Critical (Feb. 1960).

[v] “Anti-art” can have two interpretations, both equally valid. The first is a more rigorous sense that is experimentally proposed here. The second is the current sense in which antiart means “beyond” the rules and mold of conventional literary and artistic genres – without, however, ceasing to be novel, theater, criticism, poetry, etc., and in a certain way against these closed classifications, because due to their univocal and logical nature, such literary genres, when surpassed, have to be denied as such. Therefore, the anti-plays are theater in an open space, the anti-novels are fiction in an open space, the anti-poems are open poetry, not pure poetry, because today this expression is a label of the last catalogable path of the poetic de-rationalization process, starting with Baudelaire and Rimbaud.

[vi] Knowledge of Stéphane Lupasco's studies on the “principle of antagonism”, logic and contradiction is fundamental, for which, for example, one can consult the book Les trois matieres (Julliard).

[vii] “The laws of semantics are inverted. Since always, when something was given, a sign was invented for it. And therefore, being given a sign, it would be viable and therefore truly a sign, if it found its incarnation.

Questions of purpose no longer arise.

The work of art becomes a geometric locus of questioning. Instead of a “reduction of the Cosmos to man”, the work of art is nothing more than an opening onto this Cosmos. From the Ideal to the Real, from the Real to the Abstract, we pass from the Abstract to the Possible. Plato and Aristotle, with their finite universes, are definitely dead. The future has passed from the domain of man to the domain of cybernetic machines. Logic is established on contradiction, Physics on relations of Uncertainty or Indetermination.

Science is only interested in its powers. As for Painting… The phase that could be called from the Abstract to the Possible is nothing more than a phase. It is a new era of Art and thought that begins and which is precisely the era of a new incarnation of signs”. – Georges Mathieu.

[viii] Note Umberto Eco's study “L'Oeuvre Ouverte et la Poétique de l'Indéterminarion”, published in the July and August 1960 issues of “The Nouvelle Revue Française".

[ix] The impossible book, from a suggestion by JC Alvim, in an article published in the newspaper Republic, on 28.2.1974/XNUMX/XNUMX. Text extracted from Dialectics of the Vanguards, Lisbon, Horizonte Books, 1976.

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