Between oral and visual

Image_Adir Sodré


An essay by the recently deceased Portuguese poet

One can imagine a diachronic journey for the poetic word from orality to writing and from this to visual poetry. It can be noted, in a historical-classificative act, that visual poetry consistently appears four times in the history of Western art: during the Alexandrian period, in the Carolingian renaissance, in the Baroque period and in the XNUMXth century.

It can also be seen that each of these outbreaks of visual poetry is related to the end of a historical period and the beginning of a new era. Visual poetry would thus be “a sign of transformation, a cry from the poet, as the content of the past is cancerous and a new skin must be produced to contain the dreams of the future – an affirmation that nothing meaningful can ever be said. before we restructure the basic conception of what a historical culture is”. This is, for example, the opinion of the North American Geoffrey Cook.

Such a historical vision, however, seems too easy to me, in addition to the attractions that it unquestionably has as an enhancer of the function of visual poetry, in a world in transformation. Function that resides mainly in the synthesizing power of visual communication. Force that simultaneously connects to two types of structures: to archetypal formations that will be the basis of the functioning of human mental activity (see Jung); and to the synthesis movements that, after the analytical-rationalist moments of the first and second industrial revolutions, allowed the qualitative balance, in the future development of the spiral, dialectic that is already projected in the XNUMXst century.

However, this kind of thinking cannot give us more than an abstract framework for something that is very concrete: the practice of visual poetry, in its interdisciplinary and intertextual relationship, with other forms of articulation of the word and the production of images. This is how we are led to consider, synchronically, a vast range of verbal and non-verbal productions that intertwine between orality and visuality, as if it were an intricate network of translations and equivalences. Orality and visuality conceived as radiant qualities of the signs through which we perceive their existence, through the senses of hearing and sight.

Two zones of structuring these signs can be schematized in combinatorial series, more or less articulated: the zone of oral communication and the zone of visual communication, which can be graphically displayed as two quadrants, respectively the left and the right.

The left quadrant, being that of orality, will contain the sound, temporal, rhythmic values ​​that will tend to music. The right quadrant, being that of visuality, will contain the visual and spatial values ​​that will tend towards the visual arts (in the fine arts classification system, still commonly used). Visual poetry will therefore correspond to an investment of the signs from which poems are formed (letters, words, images) in the right quadrant, that is, in spatial and visual values, to the detriment of sound and temporal values ​​that predominate in non-verbal poetry. visual.

However, this schematization, if it has pedagogical value, is reductionist, since visual poetry does not abdicate temporal and sonorous values, such as conventionally written poetry, which plays in the quadrant of orality, and does not abdicate, either, the values visual and spatial and often appeals to them, in its imagistic function.

This is, truly, the theme of this text: to seek to establish a system of meaningful relations between each of the poetics that preferentially play in one and another quadrant; first, through an adequate theoretical formulation, second, through visual and sound examples of texts-poems.

Before proceeding, I think it is necessary to make a parenthesis to warn that this is not about the idea of ​​illustrating poems through drawings, paintings or photographs, nor even, without the inverse sense, the stimulation of verbal production through the contemplation of pictorial images, revivalism that which is very much in vogue among us.

What is proposed here is the construction of structural equivalences between two semiotic systems, the oral and the visual, so that “verbi-vocal-visual” formulations can be implemented, as proposed by the group Noigandres, from São Paulo, about James Joyce. Equivalence that will be played in each of the two mentioned quadrants, through the respective characteristic specifications, of the oral and the visual, but which, for this very reason, will allow a simultaneous network of stimuli and synesthetic perceptions to the reader-user of the poem.

Charles S. Pierce's notion of “interpreting sign” can be useful as theoretical equipment for understanding this network of equivalences. Says Pierce: “A sign, or representamen, is that which, under a certain aspect or way, represents something to someone. It addresses someone, that is, it creates in that person's mind an equivalent sign, or perhaps a more developed sign, the so-called "interpretant" sign of the first sign. The sign represents something, its object.

It is easy to observe that it is at the level of the interpreting sign that the reading-use function of the poem is carried out. It is therefore interesting to characterize the interpretive signs that are at stake, respectively in the visual and oral quadrants. In the visual quadrant the interpretive sign is specifically synchronic, compact, synthetic, spatial, concrete. In the oral quadrant, the interpretive sign is specifically diachronic, extensive, analytical, temporal, abstract. Thus, antithetical pairs of specific characteristics can be established, through which valid or interdisciplinary relationships can be established, which constitute a challenge to the artist's creativity and also to the reader's ability to read.

The poet obviously works with what Peirce calls “representamen” which are constituted by the materials he uses: sounds in the case of orality (even if written), letters and graphic signs, in the case of visuality. The work of constructing texts, in each of these areas, cannot abdicate the characteristic specificity of signs (representamen) used. It is therefore not at the level of the sign, whether visual or oral, that one can look for equivalences, but rather in the scriptural articulations that will look for equivalent interpretive signs in the reader.

Before proceeding with some practical examples of the creative possibility of establishing these equivalences, I think it is necessary to clarify, albeit briefly, some notions that will help a more correct reading of the examples I propose. Thus, I will consider that interdisciplinary relations exist when, through identical formulations in two different disciplines of knowledge, transfers of terminology or principles can be established. The establishment of anrtheic pairs between specific concepts of two disciplines also allows transfers of this type. Intertextual relations are characterized, as is known, by the recovery and alteration of the text, through plagiotropic moments and parodies.

Intratextual relations refer, in turn, to the structural elements of a given text. Finally, as intersemiotic relations, those that are established between two different codes can be conceived, as a possible equivalence between the interpreting signs, but that depend on the structural organization of the representamen. These somewhat synthetic notions, I repeat, are justified only because it will be around them that the reading of some examples of poems will be proposed, from the extreme pole of orality to the extreme pole of visuality, passing through various degrees of interequivalence.

Next, several types of these semi-optical interequivalences are shown in poems of different types:

Example XNUMX — Poem Rondel do Alentejo, by José de Almada Negreiros. Note first musicality as a dominant stylistic value. The sound and rhythmic values ​​are linked diachronically. But the text is woven, however, from visual images, which results in a dynamic synesthetic climate in which the rhymes, alliterations, repetitions and parallelisms are total.


in minaret
snow green
of moonlight

of the Secret
on the boulder
one night
of moonlight
expensive eyes
with preparations
of moonlight

break through fog
tuesday dance
and beautiful
cheetahs dance
and jackets
are the tapes
of moonlight

the shawl flies
for the prom
is life
and the hermit
At the moonlight

of cocotte
in revelry
of moonlight

turn feet
steps rotate
and the caps
and the arms
of these two
loops spin
At the moonlight

the vest
of this Virgin
go crazy
of the rocket
in vertigo
of moonlight

in minaret
snow green
of moonlight


Example 2 – Handwriting by Roland Barthes or the “signifier without meaning”. However, one can ask whether a signifier without meaning actually exists... since all signs are the signifier of an object, even if it is purely aesthetic, that is, not translatable into another code, for example ideological or of another nature. And that a purely aesthetic sign cannot exist as such, since there can be an “interpretant” always open.

Example 3: concrete poem by EM de Melo e Castro in which the visual signs structured in open and dynamic spiral forms simultaneously propose a sibilant, fragmented and anesthetic sound.

*EM of Melo e Castro (1932-2020) was a poet, essayist, writer and artist. He was a visiting professor in the area of ​​Comparative Studies of Portuguese Language Literature at USP. Author, among other books, of Ephemeral Anthology (Lacerda).

Book excerpt Poetics of Media and High Tech Art. Lisbon: Ed. See, 1988.



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