Speaking of Oswald



Considerations on the intellectual trajectory and on the last year of life of a modernist writer

The main absentee from the Congress of the IV Centenary of the city of São Paulo was Oswald de Andrade, who gave one of his last interviews that same year. The interview was published in the Rio de Janeiro magazine Shadow, in the January-February 1954 issue. That was also the year of his death, in October.

Publisher and bookseller Cláudio Giordano published the important and little-known article by promoting its republication, in the first issue of the magazine he created, the Bibliographic & Cultural Magazine.[I] Giordano is widely known in the country's literary and cultural circles, as one of his achievements includes a major undertaking, which is the edition of the Catalan chivalry novel translated into our language. Tirant lo Blanc – the only one that Don Quixote, by denying all the others, refuses to throw away.

The journal Shade, with a literary and worldly profile, who in 1954 celebrated his 13thº birthday, had Lúcio Rangel as editor-in-chief. Several renowned journalists appear in this issue, among them the critic José Sanz, who writes about cinema, Guillheme de Figueiredo, Paulo Mendes Campos and the two nephews of the editor-in-chief, both of unlimited popularity in Rio de Janeiro at the time, the Flávio brothers and Sérgio Porto, the latter better known for his plume-name by Stanislaw Ponte-Preta. To Flávio Porto we owe the aforementioned interview.

If, on the one hand, the two photos that illustrate the article show an Oswald almost unrecognizable, so weakened by the disease that he would still have that year, on the other hand, the ping-pong character that he gave to his fulminating answers confirms what we know of their talents and show it off in a big way.

Well received by Oswald, with coffee and sympathy, Flávio Porto found the interviewee in a good mood, despite the illness. That year, he would be in and out of the hospital several times.

The two did not know each other, but the provocative content of the questionnaire shows that the reporter was well prepared and knew what to expect. Oswald took the opportunity to display all his verve and forge the murderous phrases that were his trademark.

When probed through synthetic and classificatory evaluation questions, he gave good answers, added to accurate puns, much to his liking. Thus, for example, when asked who “the most refined imbeciles in Brazil” were, he did not wait and ended: “Pedro Calmon, Pedro Bloch and Pedro Nelson Rodrigues”. Nor did he fail to call journalist and senator Assis Chateaubriand “Chatobrioso”.

But it's still little. To the question “Who are the best and worst Brazilian novelists?”, he replied with epithets: “The worst are: the buffalo from the Northeast, José Lins do Rego, and the bentevi from the South, Érico Veríssimo. But there is only one worse poet – Augusto Frederico Schmidt”.

After such a statement, the next question could only be: “V. do you think you are a righteous man?” To which he replied: "Perfectly". And your opinion on Plínio Salgado? "A cow".

But he spoke well of the production of Millôr Fernandes, Paulo Mendes Campos, Vinicius de Morais, Darwin Brandão, Carlos de Oliveira, Cassiano Ricardo and the painter Marina Caram.

When asked if he thought the success of the cangaceiro, film recently awarded at Cannes (1953), he says, alluding to its director’s reputation for megalomania in one of those verbal games that earned him both fame and enmity: “Yes, without a doubt. As for Lima Barreto, there is a mistake. It's not a super-ego, it's a super-mare."

However, when expressing his assessment of which would be the best women writers in the country, he advances the names of Clarice Lispector, Rachel de Queiroz, Lúcia Miguel Pereira and Adalgisa Nery.

Before dying in October, he would still participate in the Congress of Writers of the IV Centenary, in August. More in spirit than present in body, but in a way in which one verifies that his absence hovered in the air.


in Congress

Oswald de Andrade was not even part of the two directorates of the Sociedade Paulista de Escritores sponsoring the event,[ii] nor the organizing committee that had prepared him, but he was an “registered congressman”. However, he was bedridden and was unable to attend, having attracted attention by his absence.

In the session on the 9th, it was Paulo Mendes de Almeida who stood up at the preparatory meeting to ask for the initiative of an official visit to Oswald: “As the poet and writer Oswald de Andrade finds himself ill, we propose that a commission be appointed to take the illustrious confrere, and also congressman, the word of solidarity and comfort of the International Congress of Writers. Congress Plenary in Preparatory Meeting, August 9, 1954. Signed Paulo Mendes de Almeida, Edgard Cavalheiro, João Condé, Décio de Almeida Prado, Paulo Emílio Salles Gomes”.

President Paulo Duarte, upon unanimous approval, appoints the signatories of the proposal to the mission.

Days later, on August 12, the Poetry Section manifested itself in the same sense and in identical terms: “We came to propose to the plenary that a commission be appointed of members of this Section of the International Congress of Writers to pay a visit to the poet Oswald de Andrade, one of the heroes of the Modern Art Week, who has been ill for some time. Sign Cassiano Nunes, João Francisco Ferreira, Edgard Cavalheiro, Péricles Eugênio da Silva Ramos, Alexandra Hortopan, Fausto Bradescu, Dulce G. Carneiro, João Cabral de Melo Neto, Alberto da Costa e Silva, José Tavares de Miranda.

Oswald would end up finding the courage to thank the gestures. In a message transmitted to Paulo Mendes de Almeida and read at the closing ceremony, on August 14, he responds to the courtesies and takes a bomb from his waistcoat pocket, as an unexpected figure of his paideuma: “The writer Oswald de Andrade, still sick, he thanks, moved, for the visit that the International Congress of Writers paid him. In doing so, in Moção-Recado Fônico, he takes the opportunity to express his ardent desire that the friendship that now ends be the starting point of an ever closer relationship between Brazilian and Portuguese writers. He declares that he owes his training and the sap that his literature may have to Portuguese origins, not forgetting the decisive influence that Fialho d'Almeida's knowledge and practice had on his intellectual life”.[iii]

Proceeding in the week following the Unesco Intellectual Meetings, Oswald appears already at the end of the lights at 3ª session, held on August 17, being greeted by Paulo Duarte, in warm words: “Mr. President – ​​Before closing the debates, I would like to present, on behalf of the Board, our greetings to the writer Oswald de Andrade, who has just arrived at this Plenary. The International Congress of Writers, which ended a little while ago, had the essential collaboration of Oswald de Andrade. Unfortunately, Congress could not count on his presence, due to his state of health, which did not allow him to leave his bed.

But at this moment we see that Oswald de Andrade, evidently dominated by the magnetism that dominated his whole life, and that was Culture, could not allow himself to stay at home, in the rest that is required of him by his condition, and he comes to us. So, I believe, this greeting will be made not only by the Mesa dos Encontros Intellectuals, but by all those who participate here in this supremely human work of bringing peoples together, which was never strange to Oswald de Andrade's entire life. (Extended clapping)”.

Returning the compliments, Oswald will say: “I am infinitely grateful for the honorable words of Paulo Duarte, president of Encontros Intellectuals, words that, evidently, I do not deserve. Only I lost with my illness and with the impossibility of being present at this conclave, which has been wonderfully carried out by you, extraordinarily honoring our culture and our civilization. (Well done. Clap)”.


in the chronicles

If Oswald had gotten up from his bed to go to the Intellectual Meetings, his interest in cultural events, which had never failed, had also led him to speak out about the IV Centenary International Film Festival, an integral part of the festivities and linked to the Congress. Of what this event, organized by Paulo Emílio Salles Gomes, was like, in size and repercussion, one can get a pale idea from the publication entitled 1954 International Film Festival.[iv] Oswald wrote, but did not get to publish because he died before, two chronicles about it, left unpublished.[v]

In one of them, he lists, albeit incompletely, the foreign guests present, including Henri Langlois, creator and prestigious president of the French Cinematheque, origin and model of so many other cinematheques, including ours. The greatest French film critic, André Bazin. Journalist and writer Claude Mauriac. Actors and actresses Michel Simon, Sophie Desmarets, Edward G. Robinson, Errol Flynn, Fred Macmurray. The other is entirely dedicated to Erich von Stroheim.

The column “Telefonema”, which he would maintain weekly in the Rio de Janeiro newspaper Morning mail for ten years, from 1º from February 1944 to October 23, 1954 (he would die the day before), shows an intermittent sequence in the last year, due to the precarious state of his health. Every now and then the articles either talk about Hospital das Clínicas or are dated from Hospital Santa Edwiges. The public personality, who for so many decades held a leading position in the country's literary and artistic life, would still have the pleasure of writing a last chronicle about the 2ª Bienal de São Paulo, where he noted: “From the Week of Modern Art to here, the world has happily moved on. And with him Brazil and São Paulo. Our city, which saw the revolutionary demonstration of 22, can witness the consecration of what we announced at that time”.[vi]

It is his son Rudá who tells how it was precisely with this awareness of victory, for having imposed a new aesthetic canon, that Oswald savored the joy of visiting the exhibition. In his words: “At the end of his life, in 1954, I took him to the 2ndª Biennial. It was Niemeyer's Ibirapuera, the definitive formalization of architecture and modern art that Brasília would give. We were practically alone that afternoon, under the bold concrete structures and surrounded by abstract art. Oswald felt like one of the main authors of that conquest. He cried. It was as if he had won a long battle. He felt supported and right. It was something that happened in his small provincial town, after a lifetime of work”.[vii]



The simultaneous re-edition of two important works on Oswald has reignited the discussion around this paradoxical protagonist. They are a biography and a collection of newspaper columns, totaling 1.200 pages. The biography, authored by Maria Augusta Fonseca, is simply called Oswald de Andrade; the collection, edited by Vera Maria Chalmers, brings the column title, Phone call.

The vogue for biographicalism, which spreads across the country's editorial landscape, has been stingy with two things: one, electing writers as an object; another to rely on years of toil. Matching the lightness of most of its achievements, the genre has given preference to entertainment heroes.

The present biography is one of the most complete. The author interviewed first-hand witnesses, such as descendants and other family members, friends and enemies, combat companions, doctors, etc. In addition to largely dominating the work, she scoured public and personal collections, such as those of her children Rudá and Marília, not disdaining the slightest paperwork. She used the numerous unorthodox diaries to which our author would be attached from an early age, keeping notebooks where he wrote down some things, drawing others and pasting reminders. The most sensational of them, O perfect cook of the souls of this world, it has already been published, in a facsimile edition which is a masterpiece. He found and made good use of materials that were secondary in principle, unpublished at the time, such as the Dictionary of illustrious names and os One hundred business cards, establishing correlations with steps in the writer's path. In the back and forth between life and work, he deals with the critical reception, of which he speaks with authority.

There we see Oswald in full body, in all his exuberance: the passions and loves; the raids, tantrums and feuds; the outbursts; the polemics in which he was embroiled; forked tongue; the verbal agility served by a temperament that would rather lose a friend than a joke – which it did repeatedly. At the same time, generosity and inability to hold a grudge, as well as irrepressible talent and fidelity to writing, which, in one way or another, he practiced every day of his life.

Journalism served Oswald's fierce spirit well, who made his debut early and only death silenced him: he produced the last stories in the hospital bed from which he would never get up again. Starting out as a reporter and editor for People's Daily, covering arts and shows, two years later he left to open his own weekly newspaper, the brat, with satirical overtones. He gathered a good group, which included the caricaturist Voltolino and Juó Bananere from the famous chronicles in macaroni language.

He would be a founder, director or just a member of the most relevant journals of Modernism, standing out among them Horn and Anthropophagy Magazine. Later he would create with Patrícia Galvão man of the people, communist trench, which would end up jammed by the right. Furthermore, he would be a columnist for the main newspapers in the country; they just kept changing the vehicles and what he intended with them. The family finances, which supported the brat, would allow Oswald to sail to Paris at the age of 22 (1912). The first of many, the trip would mark his path and be decisive for Modernism in establishing a bridge with the French avant-gardes, then the most brilliant of all.

The second book mentioned is about journalism, Phone call, in the frames of the well-kept reissue of the Complete works by Editora Globo, in 22 volumes, under the direction of a specialist, Jorge Schwartz. The organizer comes from Unicamp, which is in charge of the Oswald de Andrade Fund and has proved to be a hotbed of scholars in this work, such as herself and Maria Eugênia Boaventura, Orna Messer Levin and Gênese Andrade.

In this weekly column, Oswald, in his most consistent collaboration, which would take him the last ten years, commented on current affairs and a bit of everything. Fans of the clown Piolim continued to pay attention to the cultural panorama and through his texts, events in literature, theater, dance and cinema paraded. And politics: there are highlights of these decisive ten post-war years and the rescue of democracy both here and worldwide.

It will be a little more thorny to disentangle Oswald's positions, which did not err on the side of constancy or coherence. In his kaleidoscope of points of view, his penchant for multiples stands out. At this point, he is almost out of fifteen years of militancy in the Communist Party and is showing signs of pretense about electoral participation. the reading of Phone call surprises the unsuspecting reader who expects Dadaist volutes: he was indeed able to trace them, but not in this format. Rhetoric and even grandiloquence collide with the colloquial and with the scathing Oswaldian formulas. With the help of the fine analysis of Vinicius Dantas,[viii] we note that Oswald oscillates between an alarmed understanding of what the country's plunge into the industrial age was bringing and a hint of nostalgia for the rural past: after all, the rise in coffee prices had subsidized the outbreak of Modernism. Between the two, he placed his optimism – impervious to any denial that reality might suggest –, solidly anchored in his faith in the utopias that he never lost and to which he would attach “technical progress”.

Nor can Oswald's work be framed in the tracks of a rectilinear evolutionary process. His excellent poetry flowed by spurts. His seven novels are divided into a first trilogy, two separate ones and a second trilogy that would remain unfinished: the trilogies, much more conventional than the separate ones. However, the first trilogy is being written at the same time as the two separate ones, the “odd pair”.[ix] As is known, Seraphim and Miramar constitute, together with Macunaíma, the pinnacle of the experimental level reached by modernist prose. Later, two novels from the other trilogy – planned, but incomplete – would come out of his pen, these far from avant-garde and many degrees below that level.

But, between one and the other, he ventured into dramaturgy, producing plays so transgressive that they would take almost half a century to reach the stage, and even then because they found in José Celso Martinez Corrêa another transgressor. Apparently, he was inclined to operate in several registers, going back and forth, if we take as a parameter what he did most advanced. Shortly after writing the “even odd”, he makes, as the biography shows, speeches to workers using the “vos”, because, in all seriousness, it could use backward language despite the progressive aim. And it would leave unpublished, but contemporary with the absence of daring in the second trilogy, one of his most subversive writings, the poem The Sanctuary of the Mangrove.

As a matter of fact, here are two books for anyone who wants to delight in the findings of this one that was the spearhead and the enfant terrible of Modernism, shooting verbal darts in all directions; and, in addition to being a great writer, his most colorful figure.


two poems

Among the achievements of the modernist generation is a rediscovery of Brazil. As Oswald de Andrade confesses, his took place in place clichy, in Paris. This was the generation that, in addition to revolutionizing literature and the arts, sought to map the country and its heritage. Among the tasks he carried out were a journey to Minas Gerais, on the train of Blaise Cendrars, to get to know the Minas Gerais baroque, and Mário de Andrade's excursions to the Northeast and the Amazon, reported in The apprentice tourist.

Oswald would also be the creator and theorist of the anthropophagic movement, which proposed a very special relationship with the colonizer, through his devouring. The movement's manifesto is daringly signed and dated as the “Year 374 of the swallowing of Bishop Sardinha”, raising a cannibal bid studied in school benches as a landmark of anti-colonialist foundation.

The rediscovery implied a return to the pages of chroniclers and travelers, our first historians, a reading that left traces in many writings, such as portrait of Brazil by Paul Prado, Macunaima of Mário de Andrade and those of Oswald; and, later, Murilo Mendes. A cycle of small poems, entitled “História do Brasil”, is part of Oswald’s first book of poetry, Brazil (1924). Cutting out those pages, he makes use of the delights of the language of the originals and the candid perception of the prodigies of the New World, from the nudity of the Indies to the unlikely sloth.

The poem “Error in Portuguese”, from 1925, belongs to a second book, Student Oswald de Andrade's first poetry notebook (1927):

Portuguese error

When the Portuguese arrived
under a heavy rain
dressed the indian
what a pity!
it was a sunny morning
the Indian had stripped the Portuguese

In it, the apparent colloquial spontaneity barely covers the sophistication of the work, exposing to the reader's eyes, with remarkable economy of means, the confrontation between two cultures. This expresses the opposition between the verbs to wear/undress, resonating in the pairs of opposites Portuguese/Indian, rain/sol, arrived/fosse, all combined according to two axes: fact/utopia. Thus, sardonically, he attributes the power of the colonizer to oppress the colonized only to the climate – which, incidentally, was the subject of the great racial debate that marked the time. Could inferior or mixed races be the cause of our backwardness, or also the tropical climate? Was it a coincidence that all the rich white countries were in the northern hemisphere, or did the cold spur on industriousness?

Note also the happy game of double meaning mobilized in the poem. First, in the concrete and abstract dimensions of the word “pity”, expertly explored. Then, the cliché of the current meaning of the title – where “Portuguese” refers to the language –, when shifted to people, metamorphoses into a broad and ominous historical commentary.

Another poem illustrates the opposite extreme of Oswald, in the book Brazil (1925):

Another Sunset

In the mountains amphitheater
the prophets of Aleijadinho
monumentalize the landscape
the white domes of Passos
and the upturned headdresses of the palm trees
they are steps of the art of my country
where no one else climbed

Soapstone Bible
bathed in gold from the mines

As is known, the view from an upward perspective is that of someone standing in front of and below the church of São Bom Jesus de Matosinhos, in Congonhas do Campo. Inspired by and very similar to the homonym in the Portuguese city of Braga, it is no longer confused with it, especially by the prophets, the work of Aleijadinho's chisel. Although in another book, the poem is certainly the result of the modernist journey to the baroque cities of Minas Gerais.

In a longer and more regular meter than the previous poem, the main stanza is completed by the couplet in the most Luso-Brazilian of verses, the larger redondilha, both relying on the alliteration of the same phoneme, which echoes inside. The beauty of the description, in its clear visual outline, elides the church and elects the sculptures as an agent of art over nature. A subjective assessment ends the stanza, displacing the apparently objective observation into an upward movement that borders on the sublime. The extreme synthesis of the couplet manages to bring everything together, the transfigured raw material, the perception of the sacred, the underlying history.

However, what is most curious about the poem is its respectful nature. While the first presented here is playful, irreverent, avant-garde, irregular, anti-colonialist, a joke-poem in short, the second is solemn, deliberately slow, more leisurely and regular, respectful of the colonial heritage, practically awestruck by the beauty from Congonhas. It expresses and transmits an epiphany, which took hold of the iconoclast, conveyed by the power of the aesthetic experience. The title can be read in two keys, alluding to the time of day but above all to the level of achievement, unattainable since then.

This is how the poet Oswald, exemplified in two of his most characteristic poems, is able to conform very different things, as in the rest of his work.

*Walnice Nogueira Galvão is Professor Emeritus at FFLCH at USP. She authored, among other books, A maiden-warrior: a gender study (Senac).

Originally published in the book reading and rereading (Senac/Gold over blue).



[I] Bibliographic & Cultural Magazine, At the. 1, São Paulo, May 1999.

[ii] International Congress of Writers and Intellectual Meetings, op. cit.

[iii] Antonio Candido, “Books and People of Portugal”, paths 3 – II, Porto, 2000: “… a study has yet to be done on the influence it had on the scathing journalism of Oswald de Andrade, his assiduous reader in his youth”.

[iv] 1954 International Film Festival, São Paulo Cultural Center, 2004.

[v] Vera Maria Chalmers, “Two unpublished chronicles by Oswald de Andrade about the international film festival”, Cedae notebooks, Year I, No. 1, Unicamp.

[vi] Oswald de Andrade, Phone call, Vera Maria Chalmers (Org.), Rio de Janeiro, Globo, 2007, 2nd. ed, p. 611 (February 16, 1954).

[vii] "Letter from Rudá de Andrade”, in Antonio Candido, Various writings, São Paulo, Two Cities, 1995, 3ª ed. revised and expanded.

[viii] Vinicius Dantas, “The Cannibal and Capital”, in Benjamin Abdala Jr. and Salete de Almeida Cara (Eds.), Modern by birth: critical figurations of Brazil. São Paulo: Boitempo, 2006.

[ix] As Antonio Candido called him.

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