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Commentary on the book by José Agrippino de Paula

Notable was the year 1967: earth in trance, The Sailing King, New Brazilian Objectivity, the environment Tropicalia, by Hélio Oiticica, the explosion of tropicalist songs and this legendary book, but until now little known, by an equally legendary artist.

In the preface to the new edition of PanAmerica, Caetano Veloso recalls the impact of the book before the appearance of his tropicalist songs -an important piece of information, as it clarifies even more the concomitance of references that presided over those productions. Indeed, the harmony between the mode of enunciation in many of these songs, Agrippino's narrative, the visual images of artists of the “Nova Figuração” and Oiticica's environment is evident. The similarities are structural, language and the operation of cultural decentering. Constructivist and desacralizing, they place the relationship between aesthetic fruition and social criticism outside the parameters set by the opposition between experimentalism and participation, emphasizing not the themes, but the processes and procedures.

In the following years, interest in Agrippino and his book was only confirmed. In 1976, Gilberto Gil set a fragment of the book to music with the title “Eu e Ela Weren Ali Encosados ​​na Parede”, a song included on the album barbarian sweets; in 1977, in People, Caetano cites Agrippino as one of those who are “people who mirror life/ sweet mystery”; the following year, in Trash, along with cultural brands and emblems of São Paulo, Agrippino's book also appears in the cascade of references (“panamericas of utopian africas tomb of samba but possible new quilombo of zombie”).

In 1981, number 5 of Art in Magazine, dedicated to the documentation and analysis of the artistic-cultural production of the late 1960s and early 1970s, reproduced texts by Agrippino about Rite of Wild Love, an innovative multimedia staging, conceived by him and Maria Esther Stokler, in 1968-69, based on some fragments of the play United Nations, written by Agrippino in 1966 and still unpublished.

And, finally, in 1988, the publisher Max Limonad re-launched PanAmerica, with the graphic stain of the text similar to the splendid original edition. The second edition also went unnoticed, and after that there was a long silence about the book, until now.

Already in 1965 the appearance of Public place, his first novel, was surprising in production at that time. In the horizon of a literature marked by the theme of political participation, either through the instrumentalization of language or through the allegorization of the revolution, which was believed to be in progress, Agrippino's book was out of tune for the way in which such themes appeared. It also clashed with a few attempts in fiction, which did not even consolidate as works, to do in this genre what was done in experimental poetry of various extracts.

The book shows a singular assimilation of the basic processes of the literary inventions of the 20th century. The narrative flows uninterruptedly, without division of chapters or sectioning of place or time, as pointed out, with his keen nose for the talents that emerged, the critic Nogueira Moutinho: “ Technically a novel without a subject, (...) written without gloves, without asepsis, without prior disinfection, a novel in its raw state, in which reality is transmuted into language”. Here already appears the representation of modern reality, more precisely of everyday banality, as a scenario, in which modern life is represented as a spectacle.

Blandness, machinery, speed, crowds, advertisements, cinema, mass culture mythologies – indices of urban life in industrial society that would reappear in PanAmerica – compose a narrative without history. Objects and events lack presence, as excessive visibility devalues ​​their images.

However, if Public place it is a novel in which elements of the depth, although not psychological, of modern narrative are still recognizable, as it emphasizes reflection on the trivialization of experience and the emptying of consciousness, PanAmerica it is no longer a novel. Classified by Agrippino as an “epic”, it can be considered a particular case of the malleable fictional forms that, articulating various experimental trends, opened the field of writing.

Tropicalist production was notable for the irregularities it produced in the languages ​​and relations of art with its context. On the one hand, it provided the creative absorption of the transformations that pop art shot: the great world of collage, stylistic blending, juxtapositions and unusual technical and technological procedures. On the other hand, a significant change in the ways of expressing and trying to transform political and social meanings into action, bringing contradictions to bear on procedures.

PanAmerica participates prominently in these two dimensions, providing a solution hitherto unknown in avant-garde literature in Brazil, whose strength comes largely from having given the mixture of cultural references a sensitive body as emblematic as that of tropicalist songs and that of plastic artists. like Antônio Dias, Rubens Gerchman, Roberto Magalhães, Claudio Tozzi, Roberto Aguilar, Wesley Duke Lee, for example.

It is not by chance that the cover of the first edition is by Antônio Dias, illustrated with an image of the violent narrative frames, plastically brutal, of the “New Figuration”, as The American Death, in which the imaginary that circulates in mass society is connected to the denunciation of domination. A delirious text that pretends to be real, Agrippino's epic works like a hallucination, a phantasmagoria made entirely of shards, of fragments of culture, in the happy image of Evelina Hoisel, in the pioneering book in which she examined the work with historical and analytical propriety. by Agrippino (Superchaos – The Fragments of Culture in PanAmerica and the United Nations, Brazilian Civilization, 1980).

Discontinuous narrative blocks succeed each other, building hyperbole of aspects of contemporary mythologies: sexuality, political struggle, cinematographic stars, sports characters, politics, are managed in a depsychologized and decentered narrative, irreducible to a panel or a totalizing image, like an allegory from Brazil. Aspects of culture are designated and hyperemphasized, simultaneously satirized, as the language that presupposes them symbolic is deconstructed.

Proceeding through an exposition, indicated by the repeated use of the particle “e”, the field in which the narrative is instituted is fragmentary and incomplete. The references and fragments of culture are articulated in a cinematographic rhythm, with cuts and mergers. Toxic, violent writing, with an excess of images and reiteration of the same elements, induces the reader to devalue the designated objects, with which the destruction of the image itself takes place.

Thus, pulverizing production and reception codes, reiterating what is visible, hyperbolizing representation, the text demobilizes the reader's expectations, who would look for a meaning in it, a deep meaning, a criticism such as that of the abstracting allegorization of the Brazilian political-cultural context, which then it was current in cultural production. Pure exteriority, the narrative corrodes the subject of representation. The reiterated self that the narrator disseminates in the text does not fix any identity, rather pulverizes it. Not being a subject's position, the self is just an enunciative effect subjected to a technical regime, homologous to that of cinematographic narrative. A hysterical machine, the enunciation is paced by repetition, which can be associated with the industrial form of cinematographic production.

Contemporary epic of the American empire, as Mário Schenberg said in the presentation of the first edition, the book thematizes mythologies of the culture of industrial society. In this cyclopean narrative, the types generated by the Hollywood film industry are presented as natural, when they are, in fact, conventional. Stars and stars, interspersed with the appearance of politicians, sportsmen and other characters, enter the scene and leave it, without anything that justifies or properly requires an action. The acts and gestures they develop are typical, indicating emblems of the imperialist imaginary.

The narrator, neither hero nor anti-hero, wanders between beds and other cinematographic settings, sometimes as a hero, soon denied, who wants to destroy the empire, eliminating the giant Joe diMaggio and conquering the beautiful Aphrodite, Marylin Monroe, character- Agrippino icon.

Taking the form of a Hollywood blockbuster, as The ten Commandments, by Cecil B. de Mille (another icon), reconstructing details of the filming, scenarios, processes and techniques, exposes the production of illusion, as if it were the development of a novelistic construction, which configured the epic of conquest and destruction of the great empire From north.

But the cinematographic stagings with the constellations of the empire are alternated with other stagings, as if debasing the references: they are the scenes of the other America, which does not submit to the plans of a Pan-American operation, a clear reference to the North American policy of intervention in some countries, under the guise of an operation for peace, in fact of domination, disguised as a struggle against the so-called communist influence. In the epic, the only possibility of resistance is guerrilla warfare, as it forms an atopic, deterritorialized policy, the only one that acts, not with force, but with cunning.

The reference to the Brazilian historical situation is obvious. The 1964 coup, the marches, the repression of the military government, the emergence of urban guerrillas, the climate of terror, the identification of resistance to the regime with the Communist Party are some of the indices. But there are others, like the Brazilian Indian in the window of an American city, naked, adorned with feathers and with an enormous, soft penis, which falls to the knee, therefore bloodless, de-energized at the cost of exploitation. This exotic object, a Brazilian image ready for export and consumption, is a rare motivated sign of the narrative, the only manifestation, unless I'm mistaken, of a historically affirmed subject: “I suffered internally, (...) I screamed with hate”.

Coupled with the Brazilian references, it is clear that, intentionally, the guerrillas extend to all of South and Central America, indicating in this the awakening of Latin American solidarity, mainly signified in the exemplary figure of Che Guevara.

Merging the "imagery” which proceeds from pop art, onirism and expository technique of the new French novel, the text explores the distance from any reality, representing the representation.

Thus, the erotic obsession is not fixed as a purpose, therefore as an exploitation of pornography, since sexuality is there just a desublimated object, ready for circulation in the capital regime; one more of the reproducible and interchangeable images that the performance system manages. The events are narrated from an outside point of view, with a technical objectivity, excluding any affective involvement. As one of its critical effects, it highlights the alienation that informs the production of the spectacularization of culture, because, by taking representation to the point where consciousness cracks, it establishes objects as something already known, devoid of presence.

A pure heteroclite that results from the assembly of cultural references available in consumer society, in which visual images stand out, the novel operates a spectral realism in which history is dispossessed of its meanings, since culture, naturalized, is reduced to facts, to the pure objectivity of the events that became news.

However, as a result of the staging, history reappears brutally in this delirious realism. in the presentation of Rite of Wild Love, Agrippino characterizes the process of composing the text and staging as mixing, by analogy with what in cinema is the mixing of various sound tracks, dialogues, noises and music; in it the mixture of means, of different media, articulate information, fragments, in simultaneity. The lack of faith in the power of the word, he says, led him to what he called a “wear and tear text”, all based on stereotypes, remnants and shards of consumer culture, industrial signifiers-objects ready for circulation, in which desire it is reified.

It is the same process as the composition of PanAmerica, in which a bottomless ritualization fixes mere appearance as reality, replacing the symbolic values ​​of culture and the depth of the inner experience of novelistic plots with a pure exteriority of events that become icons or emblems.

The artificial fabrication that the text shows is the effect of the repetition of the same meanings, a typical process inherent to periods of cultural saturation. The emptiness of reality is the feeling that remains at the end of the reading. More specifically, the volatilization of the symbolic in the narrative, with which we no longer have a novel, but an objective fiction in which the story is disarticulated, as a result of the narrative technique, and reduced to an accumulation of clichés, objects, materials and industrialized behaviors which, according to Agrippino, have a “superior presence”. Hence its fascination.

*Celso Favaretto is an art critic, retired professor at the Faculty of Education at USP and author, among other books, of The invention of Helio Oiticica (Edusp).

Originally published on review journal, No. 75, 09/06/2001.



José Agrippino de Paula. PanAmerica. Parrot, 258 pages.



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