Tropicalism or not Tropicalism


By Ricardo Fabbrini*

Em The book of the disc: Tropicália or Panis et circenses (Rio de Janeiro: Cobogó, 2018)[I], Pedro Duarte returns in good time, because at the current moment of impasse in Brazilian life, the controversy triggered by the release of the album Tropicália or Panis et circensis, which brought together artists Caetano Veloso, Gilberto Gil, Tom Zé, Torquato Neto, Rogério Duprat, Nara Leão, Gal Costa, José Carlos Capinam, and the group Os Mutantes. I will highlight just a few aspects of this clearly and precisely written book that combines, without ostentation, historical information and analysis of works, significantly contributing to the critical fortune on the tropicalist imaginary.

In characterizing the form of tropicalist songs, so diverse, Duarte resorts at the beginning of his book to the notions of bricolage and kaleidoscope used, respectively, by Augusto de Campo, in 1967, and Celso Favaretto, in 1978.[ii] These pioneering criticisms, recalls Duarte, characterized the songs on this album based on the idea of ​​montage, of juxtaposing fragments, typical of the sensitivity of modern life in the city, in the sense of a certain European avant-garde art, without resulting in an attempt at synthesis. .

In examining the critical reception of tropicalism in the heat of the moment, Duarte also uses Roberto Schwarz's essay, Culture and politics, 1964-1969, published in 1970, in the middle of the Brazilian military regime, in which the critic characterized the “tropicalist poetics” as an “absurd” form, a “nonsense” or “aberration”, since there would be an “odd combination of the archaic and the modern ” operated not only in the modern treatment of “archaic facts”, but in the “material of the songs”.[iii]

Unlike what would happen in Paulo Freire's pedagogy of the oppressed, from the same period, in which “the duality between rural archaism and specialized reflection” would be overcome by a libertarian literacy method; in tropicalismo, there would not be the same possibility of overcoming duality, due to the absence of mediations, which would make this artistic movement corroborate, even if involuntarily, that is, regardless of the political positions assumed by its artists, the ideology of modernity conservative implemented by the dictatorial regime after 1964.

In the course of the book, Duarte considers, however, that the absence in these songs of a synthesis that “eliminated the contradictions of the country” should not be taken as the “fado of timeless stagnation and paralysis”, given that in tropicalist songs the tension between antagonistic terms (such as archaic and modern) instead of naturalizing history by transforming it into destiny — in the sense of endorsing the economic miracle of the military dictatorship — would keep it open.

Duarte does not fail, however, to emphasize Schwarz's keenness in attributing, in the heat of the moment, an allegorical character to tropicalist songs, even though he took them in a negative light, because they were dissociated from dialectics. For Duarte “if the allegory has a dialectic”, this will be very particular, because in it the opposites (thesis and antithesis) “will not be resolved in a third term: the synthesis”.

This characterization of the tropicalista song as an allegory by Schwarz from his reading of Origin of German Baroque drama, by Walter Benjamin, which aimed to legitimize “the aesthetic right of allegory vis-à-vis the symbol, traditionally its hierarchically superior opposite” would have been an “upside-down finding”. For the author, what would underlie Schwarz's opposition to tropicalist poetics would have been, in short, two conceptions of dialectic: that of Walter Benjamin, taken as a "dialectical image", because "heterodox and interested in the tension between differences" (the allegory); and that of Gyorg Lukács, because “orthodox and interested in overcoming oppositions” (the symbol).

In Brazil, says Duarte, evoking Benjamin to think about the country, “the tropicalist song is with the first, and Schwarz with the second”. As a result, the tropicalist critique of cliché (or “identity”) images of Brazil should not “include only movement, but also its immobilization”, that is, the song in the form of allegory would operate in Benjamin’s expressions, as “dialectic in immobility” in the “instant of danger”, in those years of lead.

Based on these considerations by Duarte, it is possible to conclude that the controversy between Schwarz and the Tropicalistas (or Caetano Veloso, in particular) resumed, in the context of the so-called “Brazilian culture”, the debate on the notions of “organic work of art” and “work of art”. non-organic art” that had mobilized theorists of European aesthetics such as Adorno, Lukács, Brecht and Benjamin. Organic art is that, it is worth remembering, that attempts a unitary impression, seeking to make the character of the produced object unrecognizable; while non-organic art is that which does not postulate a unit, presenting itself as pure artifice.

In organic art (also called realistic or symbolic), the parts and the whole form a dialectical unity in the sense that the parts can only be understood from the perspective of the whole, which, in turn, can only be apprehended from its parts; while in non-organic art (also called avant-garde or allegorical), the parts are emancipated from the idea of ​​an organic whole, to which, as constituent parts, they would be subordinated.[iv] It can be said, in this sense, that the structural pattern of the organic form is syntagmatic, that is, that the connection between its elements is hierarchical or by subordination (or by hypotaxis); while the structural pattern in the non-organic form (which here extends from the art of the historical vanguards to tropicalist songs) is paradigmatic, given that the relationship between its interchangeable elements is not hierarchical, but by juxtaposition (or by parataxis).

In the tropicalist song, we would not have, finally, an organic whole, but a mosaic of heterogeneous elements, analogously safeguarding the local colors, to the art of certain European vanguards, such as the collages Cubists of Georges Braque and Pablo Picasso; to the assemblies Kurt Swhitters' Dadaists; the photomontages of John Heartfield or Raoul Hausmann; the cinema of Serguei Eisenstein, Vertov, and Jean-Luc Godard.

So if Roberto Schwarz is right in taking the tropicalista song as an allegory of Brazil, he would have been wrong, according to Duarte, in attributing a regressive character to it because the false appearance of totality had disappeared. These considerations by Duarte instigate the reader to think to what extent it is effectively operational to resort to the notions of baroque and modern allegory, in the sense that Walter Benjamin attributes to them, to characterize the tropicalist allegory.

Taking into account Duarte's meticulous analysis of the tropicalist imaginary in disc book, it is possible to tighten the link between the notions of allegory. The tropicalist song is essentially fragments, in opposition to the organic symbol, as we have seen. The “allegorist” in Walter Benjamin, through a juxtaposition process of isolated fragments of reality, produces a meaning, which means that this “attributed meaning” is not the immediate result of the original context of the fragments; the same occurs in the fragments of the tropicalist song.

Duarte also shows us that in park sunday from Gilberto Gil we have the expression of a melancholy that we take here as analogous to that of the “allegorist” who, faced with isolated details, lives the experience of disappointment, typical of someone who contemplates an “empty emblem”, in Benjamin's expression. This melancholy would still be present in the song general jelly, by Gil and Torquato Neto, in which the verse “joy is the proof of nine”, appropriated from Anthropophagous Manifesto, by Oswald de Andrade, from 1928, is followed by the verse “sadness is your safe haven”, as Duarte points out, marking the “profound ambivalence” between sad passions and happy passions in the heart of Brazil.

In summary: if Schwarz took the tropicalista song as an “absurd form”, it is because, unlike the symbol that presupposes the junction between signified and signifier, the allegory produces a disjunction between these elements. If the tropicalista song was considered “nonsense”, it is because it is not a monistic, closed representation of reality, but a “continued metaphor”; “a sequential figuration”; “a representation that never closes”[v] (as Lukács already said from Goethe, resumed by Benjamin and here extended to tropicalism) — a hieroglyph, in short: an enigma open to infinite meanings of the country.

Tropicalism and anthropophagy

Also noteworthy in Duarte's book is his analysis of the relationship between anthropophagy and tropicalism. Schwarz's criticism of the allegorical character of Tropicalismo, as the author shows, goes back to the approach of modernism, because he states that “since the Pau-brasil poetry manifesto”, in 1923, Oswald de Andrade resorted to the “juxtaposition of elements typical of Colonial Brazil and bourgeois Brazil”, with “the elevation of this product to the dignity of an allegory of the country”.[vi] In this direction, Schwarz also states that the Anthropophagous Manifesto, from 1928, presented “a disjointed portrait of the country due to the contrasts that constitute it”, which would be resumed, or more precisely updated, by Tropicalismo in the 1960s. It cannot be ignored, however, as Duarte rightly observes, that the activity of the tropicalists was associated with Oswaldian anthropology not only by Schwarz's critics, but also by the artists themselves, as was the case of Caetano Veloso, who stated that “tropicalism is a neoanthropophagism", or Lygia Clark (in Cannibalism e Anthropophagic Babe, 1973), who took anthropophagy as a cultural strategy for incorporating and recreating the most diverse avant-garde means, techniques and procedures.

One should not ignore, however, its specificities, because what tropicalismo retained from anthropological primitivism was rather its “syncretic cultural conception, the research aspect of expression techniques, the corrosive humor, the anarchic attitude towards bourgeois values, the that its ethnographic dimension; or the tendency to reconcile conflicting cultures”.[vii] If in both cases the conflict or cultural shock was accentuated, Tropicalismo, unlike Antropofagia, did not prescribe a defined project of overcoming (repeal), as advocated by Oswald de Andrade in the well-known passage from Messianic Philosophy Crisis, from 1950: “Because, finally, the following is the essential formulation of man as a problem and as a reality: 1st. Term: thesis – the natural man; 2nd. Term: antithesis – civilized man; 3rd. Term: synthesis – the technicized natural man. We live in a state of negativity, that's the real thing. We live in the second dialectical term of our fundamental equation”.[viii] 

Tropicalism does not guide, in other words, the Oswaldian idea of ​​a “barbarian metaphysics”, of “a social utopia with an anthropological-metaphysical base”[ix] that bets on technology as such, as a form of cultural criticism. Sixty years later, what became evident in the 1960s was the displacement of discussions of ethnic aspects (“from the idealism of a ethos Brazilian”) to the political-economic aspects resulting from the modernization of the country.[X] The mythical-poetic debate about “native originality” in the “super-technical world” (the homo ludens in Pindorama), in terms of Oswald de Andrade, was attenuated, if not replaced, to specify this displacement, by discussions around the cultural industry (entertainment as a form of consumption in Pauliceia) in tropicalismo.  

Musical tradition, parody and pastiche

Duarte's book also highlights the ways in which tropicalist songs appropriated elements of the musical tradition: "The past that is updated is based on a present need and configures with it a dialectical tension": "Therefore, the appropriation of what has already passed would not be a “random cannibalization”,[xi] which makes it possible to differentiate tropicalism from postmodernism, as we shall see.

Duarte considers, however, that the “tropicalist articulation of the present with the past” was not only achieved through the “parody of rupture”, but also through the “pastiche of permanence”,[xii] in terms of Silviano Santiago's characterization of literary techniques in Brazilian modernism. In the parodic construction, it is worth remembering, we have the procedure of irony, which was recurrent in modern art of the last century, that is, a critical operation in the face of the normativity of tradition:

In any case, a good parodist needs to have a certain tacit sympathy for the original, just as an excellent mime needs to be able to put himself in the imitated person's shoes. Thus, underlying parody is the feeling that there is a linguistic norm, as opposed to which the styles of the great modernists can be mimicked.[xiii]

Its literary matrix can thus be located in the XNUMXth century, in Pantagruel e The throat, by François Rabelais; or, in the seventeenth century, with Don Quixote, by Miguel de Cervantes. It was, however, in The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, by Laurence Sterne, from 1759, a reference to Machado de Assis, let it be said in passing that the idea of ​​a “disorganization of the narrative” reached its culmination. In the formal irregularities and eccentricities of this novel, the reader is led by a discontinuous verbal flow, permeated with digressions and insertions that frequently interrupt the course of an alleged main narrative. It would be this unusual procedure, which stems from a textual irreverence, which in Sterne's expressions "passes from the jocular to the serious and from the serious to the jocular, alternatively",[xiv] that, crossing modernism, would have reached tropicalism

Differently, in the procedure of pastiche, still according to Jameson, there are not the same critical motivations of parody, its “satirical impulse”, the same grace or humor, insofar as it would not result from the “still latent feeling that there is a norm , in comparison with which what is being imitated is mostly comic”;[xv] but from the feeling that there was no longer a linguistic norm against which to deprive it of its authority, everything became possible. Pastiche, in other words, would be a “stylistic masquerade”, a “speech in a dead language”; one potpourri of stripped signs gratuitously collected from the past.[xvi]


Duarte also differentiates tropicalism from the so-called postmodernism. In Tropicália's songs there is a critical spur proper to irony, since its effectuations are consistent in the sense of social satire, and not futile effectism, mere boutade, characteristic of the cynicism of those who take culture as a state of generalized availability of signs emptied of meaning. The appropriation, for example, of Vicente Celestino by Caetano Veloso – as Duarte shows – is not, after all, a “neutral” or gratuitous operation, but a “critical gesture”, intentional or motivated, “in the face of the well-behaved standardization of Bossa Nova ”.[xvii]

In any case, one can ask whether, given the large number of references (including stylistic imitations), the irony would not fall into cynicism (or the rupture in conformism), given that samba, rumba and rumba resound in tropicalist songs. , baião, bossa nova, rock, bolero, jazz, avant-garde music or macumba; that is, in an exemplary list: Lupicínio Rodrigues and the Beatles, Ary Barroso and Paul Anka, Orlando Silva and Bob Dylan, Roberto Carlos and Rogério Duprat; and, as in the field of literature, Oswald de Andrade, João Cabral de Melo Neto, Clarice Lispector, Carlos Drummond de Andrade, among many others.

The tropicalist song, however, is not a random ciranda of disparate musical references in the sense of postmodern pastiche, which would imply a regressive position, because it is evasive or nostalgic, but “games, inversions and dissimulations” that, as a rule, are demystifiers”.[xviii] In the tropicalista carnival there is historical awareness, a “work of culture” of elaboration of tradition that produces both a break with the past and the irruption into the present of its still unrealized possibilities.

This work of culture operated in the tropicalist song is approached by Celso Favaretto to the oneiric elaboration in the Freudian sense. In a similar way to the surrealist exercise, the tropicalist practice, resorting to procedures such as condensation and displacement, would have fertilized the Brazilian reality through the oneiric imagination, bringing to the surface hitherto repressed dimensions of the Brazilian cultural tradition.

This work of memory carried out in the form of a song was also approached by Favaretto, from Freud, on the psychoanalytic technique of “perlaboration” (Working through). In the same way that “the patient tries to work out his present disturbance by freely associating it with elements apparently inconsistent with past situations”;[xx] the tropicalist musicians would have elaborated the present in their songs, freely associating it with elements of the artistic tradition, which would have allowed them to discover hidden meanings of Brazilian cultural life.

Tropicalism and cultural industry

It should also be noted, in this very plural book, Duarte's considerations on the relationship between the tropicalistas and the cultural industry. Questioning Schwarz's idea that in tropicalismo there would be a "combination of violent social criticism and overt commercialism", which would result, despite the ideological positions of its artists, in an "empty space", receptive, therefore, to the logic of consumption, Duarte ponders that half a century ago, as “media techniques and mass communication in Brazil were still being experimented with” — and, therefore, their “meaning was still in dispute” — one understands the attempt of the tropicalists to act in the culture of entertainment aimed at carrying out an internal critique of that same culture, incorporating, in an anthropophagic way, “aesthetic ideas opened up by industrial technique”.[xx]

The participation of tropicalist musicians in the Chacrinha TV auditorium programs, in Duarte's example, would not imply docile submission to the rules of commercial culture, as their critics denounced at the time, because "Chacrinha would not be just an opponent to be tamed , but an element already with a tropical character to be summoned to compose the broad image of Brazil” attempted by the tropicalists.

Tropicalist musicians would not, in other words, have prejudice in relation to mass culture, because they took it as an inexorable fact of the reality of modern, industrial, urban society, which could, however, be altered by the elevation of its cultural repertoire, according to mass culture theorists of the 1960s and 1970s such as Décio Pignatari or Umberto Eco. His interventions in the technical means of diffusion of cultural products, such as TV, would aim, for these information theorists, to introduce information (the new, the invention) at the level of mass cult characterized by the repetition of formal formulas or clichés (redundancy).

The cultural strategy of the tropicalistas would thus be to promote, through pop music, the appropriation of signs from the levels of popular and erudite culture, without this resulting in the blurring of the boundaries between the three levels of culture, with the subsumption of culture high brown and culture low brow to the redundant form with socially and politically conformist content of mid-cult.This “transmigration of styles” — in terms of the semiotics of the 1970s — from one level of culture to another level of culture, producing a kind of porosity or tense reciprocal contamination between these levels, was a procedure — by the way, commonplace in avant-garde art over the past century — which cannot be identified with the hegemony of mass cult, understood in Jameson's sense as the reduction of high and popular art to the logic of merchandise, a characteristic of the so-called post-modernity, according to this author.

Tropicalism, visual arts and concrete poetry

Another significant contribution of Duarte's book is the analysis of the relationship between the tropicalist musicians and the visual artists of the period, as in the works of both we would have the same articulation of the constructive legacy of concrete and neoconcrete art of the 1950s to the appropriation of signs of the cultural industry that increasingly invaded everyday life in urban life. This approximation was not limited, of course, to the incorporation by the musicians of the title Penetrable Tropicália, by Hélio Oiticica, which was part of the exhibition New Brazilian Objectivity, at the Museum of Modern Art in Rio de Janeiro, in April 1967, because it extended to the sharing of the programmatic points of the “General Scheme of New Objectivity”, disclosed by the artist during the exhibition. In tropicalist music, we would have the same “general constructive will”, resulting from a “position in relation to political, social and ethical problems” in Brazil at the time, defended by Hélio Oiticica.[xxx]

Other traits shared by plastic artists and musicians were the “tendencies for collective compositions”, defended by Caetano Veloso and Hélio Oiticica, as can be seen in Tropicália or Panis et circensis, commented by Duarte, and the abolition of “isms” — since the Tropicalia it was a general position on the country's cultural situation and not a stylistic movement in the strict sense of the international artistic vanguards. In addition, “the participation of the spectator (corporal, tactile, visual, semantic, etc.)”[xxiii] proposed by the Nova Objetividade artists was analogous to the emphasis attributed to behavior, as the “pleasure of living aesthetically”, by tropicalist musicians, as seen in their presentations at song festivals, on television programs, or in interviews for entertainment magazines.

This convergence between visual artists and tropicalist musicians was also visible in the presence of the imaginary of pop art North America, and to a lesser extent nouveau realism French, both in the artistic objects of Rubem Gerchman and Antonio Dias and in the songs of Caetano Veloso, such as Lindonéia ou Baby, despite Oiticica’s attempt to differentiate the “New Objectivity” from the great international artistic currents. It is clear that pop in “countries like ours”, as Mario Pedrosa had warned, back in 1967, was not the pop of “immaculately clean forms” typical of “complacent conformism” in relation to the affluent North American consumer society, as we have Tom Wesselmann or Claes Oldenburg, but the poor, brutalist, “suburban”, “blunt”, “naked violence” pop.[xxiii] The important thing is to emphasize, in any case, with Duarte, that the “industrial technique”, also mediated by pop art, contributed significantly to the “opening of tropicalist aesthetic ideas”.[xxv]

Duarte also refers, in his book, to the proximity of the tropicalists to concrete poetry, in particular to the relationship between Augusto de Campos and Caetano Veloso. If in fact there was a “tropicaliança with the concrete” in “for the sake of a Brazilian art of invention”, in the formulation of Augusto de Campos, it was not devoid of conflicts since in tropical truth – as Duarte points out – Caetano says that he was criticized by Glauber Rocha and Augusto de Campos for his “excessive tolerance or generosity with national production”, including, in it, the “grandiloquence of the bel canto”.[xxiv] In such a way that “in this aspect the tropicalistas”, concludes Duarte in his assessment of this alliance, were “more generous with tradition than the concretists”.[xxv]

It cannot, in any case, as Favaretto already warned, state that “the tropicalistas would have put into practice the concrete project”, but “they recognized in the work of the tropicalistas coincidences with the work they had been carrying out for a decade already — the of the critical review of Brazilian literature and literary criticism”.[xxviii] Although for Augusto de Campos the tropicalists had “employed compositional processes close to those of concrete poets”, such as “montage, direct juxtaposition and explosive vocabulary sounds”, which effectively demonstrates “the analysis of lyrics and tropicalist songs is a discreet use of the typical procedures of concrete poetry (non-discursive syntax, verbal-vocal-visuality, vocabulary conciseness)”.[xxviii]

Only in songs like batmacumba, by Gilberto Gil and Caetano Veloso, from 1967, on the LP Tropicália or Panis et Circensis, fruit of the magma of comics, candomblé and concretism — as Duarte points out — or, moving forward in time at our own risk — in Rap Popcreto or in Hobbyhorse, by Caetano Veloso, on the CD Tropicália 2, from 1992, is that we identify the same formal conciseness of the poems of the orthodox phase of concrete poetry.

But there are still other aspects that differentiate them. If both converged in the search for cultural strategies contrary to nationalist and populist currents, the concretists, even if they sought to operate “in the consumption range”, would have “hypertrophied the value of formal procedures” in the sense of the international artistic vanguards, unlike the tropicalist composers who they already acted, from the beginning, directly, in the “paraphernalia of means of mass reproduction-dissemination”.[xxix]

This certainly results in the greater resistance of concrete poets in accepting the passage, considered inexorable by the concretist Décio Pignatari himself, from artistic production to mass consumption, as seen or read in the visual poem TVgram 1 (the tombeau of Mallarmé), from 1988, by Augusto de Campos, in a pitiful tone: “ah mallarmé/ the flesh is sad/ and nobody reads you/ everything exists/ to end up on TV”; poem that was updated, in 2009, with regard to the media, by the author himself, who emphasized, in the new version, tvgram 4 erratum, its dimension of resistance, or just saying not: “Ah, Mallarmé/ poetry resists/ if the tv doesn’t see you/ the cyber sky watches you/ in quick time and flv/ already hovers over the subs/ everything exists/ to end up on youtube”.[xxx] Without disregarding this difference in the mode of insertion in the productive apparatus of creation, it can be said that concretists and tropicalists converged in effecting “amalgams or hybridizations of codes, materials, or languages”; because both in the poem and in the song we have the same “intersemiotic root”: a reciprocal contagion between languages.[xxxii] 

Actuality of tropicalism

This is undoubtedly one of the main legacies of tropicalist poetics, in my opinion. To think about the resistance potential of tropicalismo in our time of “complete subsumption of the work of art to capital”, Duarte resorts to Roberto Schwarz’s 2011 critique of the autobiography tropical truth, by Caetano Veloso, from 1997. His intention is to verify “if this poetics still rubs the world” today, or, on the contrary, if it “slipped” in such a way to “the uncritical flirtation with the market”, as Schwarz wants , which ended up becoming a “symptom of a more general problem: adherence to contemporary capitalism that ended up consecrating the tropicalista movement itself”.[xxxi]

There would have been, according to Duarte, a misunderstanding regarding the idea of ​​negativity in the song, because tropicalismo would not have intended to “only win and overcome the market” — a function attributed to it by Schwarz —, but “to allow itself, in this same movement, to , to be transformed by him”, into what he “has to be virtuous”.[xxxii] Although Duarte does not specifically specify what these “virtues” would be, it is not difficult to assume that, from the tropicalist perspective, only by entering the market would it be possible to impregnate the praxis, that is, to produce liberating effects for everyday life, worth the means of technical reproduction. In general lines, the virtue would lie rather in the fact that the tropicalists considered the world of life (Living environment) not as ideality or on a transcendental level, but as something materially constituted by social relations as they occur within a society governed by the logic of the commodity.

The tropicalist song would aim, for Duarte, to “configure tensions” that “communicate a shock, to use the terminology of Walter Benjamin”.[xxxv] Just as in the syntax of the songs, as we have seen, the composers did not produce a synthesis that “dissolved the tensions” with which they worked, in the relationship between the form of the song and the world of life there would be no overlap or subsumption between these elements, but, here too, a tension in suspension.

In this direction, I would add, with the intention of being faithful to Duarte's texts, that tropicalist poetics as a form of negativity should not be taken as a great refusal, but as “participant hostility”; not as rejection, but as “polemical interiorization” (neo-anthropophagic); not as an escape, but as an “offensive insertion”; not as nihilism, but as lucid and acidic irony.[xxxiv]

If these quick considerations do not do justice to the nuances of Pedro Duarte's book, they at least attest that his texts enliven the reader's imagination, remembering that the greatest virtue of a text is not to convince him by the force of facts or arguments, but question him.

In tropicalista poetics, we would thus have — it can be inferred — a kind of dialectic in immobility or dialectic in suspension, a feeling, in short, of expectation between the present time and that which is announced without ever coming true. This notion of expectation or, in other words, of an unsatisfied desire in permanent expectation, the result of the tension between opposites that extends over time, should not be equated with the idea of ​​hope or utopia, in the sense of the European vanguards or Oswaldian anthropophagy. , as we saw.

What therun listening to the tropicalista song is thus what it announces through its internal tension that cannot be resolved: “Something will happen — to Brazil? "; being that the question itself: “Will it happen?” it is the occurrence that affects the listener. This one would experience, in the denial of meaning as a shock, in this state of deprivation of synthesis understood, here, as conciliation, an alert to the fact that its own vital praxis must be questioned and, consequently, to the need to transform it.

It would be in support of this interrogation, in the desire for something to arise, or even, that it is possible for something to happen. happen in the Brazilian chronicle general jelly that the listener lives the experience of the absence of a relationship of domination or determination of meaning. In the tropicalist song, the external, the absurd reality of the country, is internalized, becoming a constitutive element of its form. Forcing the form out of itself, as an index of indetermination of the so-called Brazilian reality, the song implicates its listener. The actuality of the tropicalista song consists, therefore, in the fact that it proved to be possible, in the midst of the years of lead, to transform the absence of a stable identity into a power of liberation.

*Ricardo Fabbrini He is a professor in the philosophy department at USP.

This article is a partially modified version of “The actuality of Tropicália”, an article published in the magazine Visa. Applied aesthetic notebooks n. 23, from UFF.


[i] As a general plan of this book — and this is one of the points that makes it original — is the temporal arc that inscribes Tropicalismo in a long-term history, which goes back to the ideas of the “first romantics” of the magazine Athenaum, from the end of the XNUMXth century, like Friedrich Schlegel and Novalis: the ideals of this “first group avant-garde of history”, according to Philippe Lacoue-Labarthe and Jean-Luc Nancy and also Octavio Paz, had repercussions in the period of the historical vanguards of the first half of the XNUMXth century (including anthropophagic modernism, in Brazil) as a fold or extension of romanticism: “ Thus, we find in Brazilian tropicalism three aspects that, since German Romanticism, have characterized modern avant-garde movements: collective production, innovation in art and cultural criticism”. Duarte goes back, for example, to the heterogeneity of the songs that make up the “collective album” Tropicália or Panis et circensis, from 1968, to the conflicting or complementary perspectives of the group Athenaum: “An entirely new epoch in the arts, said the romantic thinkers, would perhaps begin when symphilosophy and sympoetry — the prefix sim meaning same, poetize together — had become so universal and interior, that it would no longer be anything unusual if some natures that complement each other reciprocally constitute works together”. Finally, concludes Duarte: “Maintaining sympoetry, however, is difficult. German romanticism and Brazilian tropicalism were short-lived. Their collective creation was less than three years: 1799 to 1801, 1967 to 1969” (

[ii] Campos, a. Bossa balance and other bossas. São Paulo: Perspectiva, 1978, p. 151-158 (; Favaretto, C. Tropicália – Allegory, Joy. 2 ed. São Paulo: Ateliê Editorial, 1996 (

[iii] Schwarz, R. Culture and Politics (1964-1969). In: The father of the family and other studies. Rio de Janeiro: Paz e Terra, 1978.

[iv] Peter Burger. vanguard theory. São Paulo: Cosac & Naify, 2008, p. 117-162 (

[v] Georg Lukács apud Celso Frederico. In: Lukács: a classic of the XNUMXth century. São Paulo: Moderna, 1997, p. 73-75 (

[vi] Robert Schwarz. The wagon, the tram and the modernist poet. In: What time is it? São Paulo: Companhia das Letras, 1987, p. 12 (

[vii] Celso Favaretto. Tropicália – Allegory, Joy. 2 ed. São Paulo: Ateliê Editorial, 1996, p. 49 (

[viii] Oswald de Andrade. From Pau-Brasil to Antropofagia and Utopias: manifestos, theses for competitions and essays (Complete Works VI). 2 ed. Rio de Janeiro: Brazilian Civilization, 1978, p. 177. Recently, Roberto Schwarz resumed, in an interview, the relationship between Oswald de Andrade's anthropophagy and Caetano Veloso's tropicalism in a more concise way, namely: “While in Oswald the clash of times is the promise of a happy national future , in which the past and modernity are integrated under the sign of invention and surprise, in tropicalismo he is the incarnation of the national absurdity and disjunction, of our irremediable inability to integrate socially, in short, of the historical failure that would be our essence” . (Schwarz, R. Roberto Schwarz reflects on four attempts to modernize Brazil. Interview given to Bruna Della Torre de Carvalho Lima and Mônica Gonzáles Garcia. Folha de S. Paul, São Paulo, Ilustríssima, July 22, 2018, p. 6).

[ix] Favaretto, C. Tropicália – Allegory, Joy, op. cit., p. 51.

[X] Ibidem, p. 52. 

[xi] Duarte, P. The tropicalist allegory of the absurd. Mimeo, p. 6. See also Jameson, F. Postmodernism: the cultural logic of late capitalism. São Paulo: Ática, 1996, p. 13-25.

[xii] Pedro Duarte, The tropicalist allegory of the absurd. Mimeo, p. 6. See also Silviano Santiago. The permanence of the discourse of tradition in Modernism. In: In the meshes of the letter. Rio de Janeiro: Rocco, 2002, p. 134 (

[xiii] Fredic Jameson. Postmodernity and consumer society. New Cebrap Studies, Sao Paulo, vol. 2, no. 12, Jun. 1985, p. 23.

[xiv] Sterne apud Arlenice Almeida. The evolution of the concept of romantic irony in the young Gyorg Lukács. German Philosophy Notebooks, no. 9, Jan-Jun, 2007, p. 49. Cf. also Sterne, L. The Life and Opinions of Gentleman Tristan Shandy. São Paulo: Iluminuras, 1998, p. 171.

[xv] Fredic Jameson. Postmodernity and consumer society, op. cit., p. 23.

[xvi] Ibidem, p. 27.

[xvii] Peter Duarte. The tropicalist allegory of the absurd, op. cit., p. 6.

[xviii] Celso Favaretto, C. Tropicália - Allegory, Joy, op. cit., p. 131-136.

[xx] Jean-François Lyotard, J.-F. The postmodern explained to children. Lisbon: Dom Quixote, 1999, p. 97.

[xx] Peter Duarte. The tropicalist allegory of the absurd, op. cit., p. 9.

[xxx] Helio Oiticica. General Scheme of the New Objectivity (1967). In: Aspire to the Great Labyrinth. Org. Luciano Figueiredo, Lygia Pape, Waly Salomão. Rio de Janeiro: Rocco, 1986, p. 84.

[xxiii] Ibid.

[xxiii] Mario Pedrosa From American pop to sertanejo Dias. In: Arantes, O. (org.). Academics and Moderns: Selected Texts III. São Paulo: Edusp, 1998, p.367-372.

[xxv] Peter Duarte. The tropicalist allegory of the absurd, op. cit., p. 8.

[xxiv] Peter Duarte. The tropicalist allegory of the absurd, op. cit., p. 6. See Also Campos, A. Bossa balance and other bossas, op. cit., p. 56.

[xxv] Peter Duarte. The tropicalist allegory of the absurd, op. cit., p. 6.

[xxviii] Celso Favaretto. Tropicália - Allegory, Joy, op. cit., p. 27-53.

[xxviii] Ibidem, p. 44.

[xxix] Ibidem, p. 47.

[xxx] Auguste de Campos. bequest. São Paulo: Edusp, 1994, p.113; and, by the same author, Other. São Paulo: Edusp, 2015, p. 37.

[xxxii] Lucia Santaela. Convergence: concrete poetry and tropicalism. São Paulo: Nobel, 1986, p. 103.

[xxxi] Robert Schwarz. Martina versus Lucrécia: essays and interviews. São Paulo: Companhia das Letras, 2002, p. 52-110.

[xxxii] Peter Duarte. The tropicalist allegory of the absurd, op. cit., p. 12.

[xxxv] Ibid., p. 12. See also Walter Benjamin. About the concept of history. In: Magic and technique, art and politics. Selected Works, Vol. 1. São Paulo: Brasiliense, 1994, p. 231.

[xxxiv] John Flag. Under the tension of the dictatorship, artists combined a sinister atmosphere with a creative force. Newspaper, São Paulo, Ilustríssima, 17 May. 2018, p. 4-5.

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