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ArribaAbajo

Surrealist Benjamin Péret and Brazilian Modernism


M. Elizabeth Ginway


University of Georgia


O ocidente que nos tem mandado tanta coisa ruim, desta vez nos enviou uma exceção... Viva Péret!


-A Revista de Antropofagia                



I. Péret and Modernism

Although Brazil's Modernist Movement centered on the reformulation of national identity critics such as Amaral (1970), Teles, H. Martini (1973), and Eulálio (1978), among others, have acknowledged the movement's ties with the European Vanguard. Benjamin Péret, a French surrealist poet who lived in Brazil from 1929 to 1931 is a figure whose presence has yet to be reevaluated in detail within the context of Modernism. The commemoration of the sixtieth anniversary of Surrealism spurred some interest and has lent recognition to Péret's presence and activities in Brazil (Abramo, 43, Giobbi, 4); however, a more in-depth study about Péret and Brazilian cultural history would offer insight into the end of the «heroic phase» of Modernism, a period of political and literary divisions. As we shall see, Péret's trajectory while in Brazil, as demonstrated by his publications there, follows the increased social concerns of the latter phase of Modernism itself. Since Péret's Brazilian sojourn falls during this period, it is essential to examine his intellectual contacts, political activities and scholarly work, all of which reveal missing links in the understanding of the surrealist legacy in Brazil. My purpose here is to review these missing links to explore the full impact of Péret on Brazilian intellectual life.

Although his poetry was held in high esteem by fellow surrealists, Péret's particular gifts, until quite recently, have eluded literary critics. For this reason alone, it is not surprising that Péret should remain relatively unknown in Brazil. However, his contribution to Brazil's Modernist Movement has less to do with his poetry and more with his writings on primitive religion and political issues. This scholarly work is important evidence that Péret was in touch with the key concerns of Brazilian Modernism. In addition, his experience in Brazil allowed him to tap resources unavailable to him in Europe. Péret acknowledges the ties between his own poetry and primitive myth and religion in the introduction to Anthologie des mythes, légendes et contes populaires d'Amérique; for him, myth and religion reveal an unleashing of the imagination in the pursuit of the «marvelous», which represents the ultimate liberty from society and its repressive quotidian dictates. Like Breton, Péret joined the Marxist cause in 1927, extending the surrealist revolution to the political arena. By the time he arrived in Brazil in 1929, he had the ideas of Breton and Trotsky firmly in mind, and from this perspective he set about examining Brazil's social and intellectual reality.

Uncompromising in his principles, Péret, while in Brazil, naturally sought out these movements and people who agreed with him and participated in the Brazilian political and intellectual vanguard in several ways: as a contributor to the Revista de Antropofagia, a co-founder of the Trotskyist Liga Comunista and as author of the studies «O Almirante Negro» and «Candomblé e Macumba». Despite his active role in these movements and publications, his work in Brazil remains generally unknown both in Brazil itself and abroad. His virtual omission in Brazilian cultural history is a result of several complicating factors, namely, his contact with a diverse group of Brazilian intellectuals in a variety of fields (artistic, political and literary), his controversial political and artistic principles and the timing of his trip, which fell during a time of social upheaval, culminating in the Revolution of 1930.

In much the same way that the surrealist movement divided along political lines, the Brazilian

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modernists began to split on ideological grounds in the late 1920s. Oswald de Andrade and the «antropofagistas» aligned themselves with the left, while the Verde-amarelo and Anta groups tended toward the right. The Rio-based groups Movimento Brasileiro and Festa did not take a political stance although the former recognized the need for educational reform while the latter centered around cultural Catholicism (Boaventura, 1978, 77). Behind these ideological reformulations lay the economic and social realities of increased urbanization and industrialization, as well as the tensions developing between civilian and military politics and divisions in the military itself, as represented by the Tenente revolts and the Prestes Column. The Wall Street Crash of 1929 and the drop of coffee prices on the world market weakened the ties between the coffee oligarchy and the Old Republic, and the subsequent political rivalries led to the Revolution of 1930 and the ascension of Getúlio Vargas. Increased economic pressures and a more repressive government marked the end of an era and the emergence of modern-day Brazil.

In a similar vein, the period of the late twenties marks a shift in Brazilian literary history from the more urban vanguardist experimentation of Modernism to a deepening recognition of Brazil's African and Indian heritages as well as a commitment to socio-political issues. No work exemplifies this current more than Mário de Andrade's Macunaíma, which combines folklore, social criticism, and historical revision. As Haroldo de Campos has noted, throughout the mock epic Macunaíma searches for his identity: «Da busca assim di-ferida e frustrada... fica a diferença, o movimento dialógico... jamais pontualmente resolvido, do mesmo e da alteridade, do aborígene e do alienígena (o europeu)» (13). In a similar vein, the tension between European sensibility and Afro-Brazilian culture goes unresolved in Péret's study on macumba, proving, in a sense, that Modernism is necessarily an open-ended problem that resides in a sense of «otherness» and not identity.

In poetry, the main vehicle of the Modernist esthetic, early iconoclasm gave way to political militancy (Oswald de Andrade, Plínio Salgado), religious conversion (Jorge de Lima, Murilo Mendes) or an ironic perspective on literary nationalism in the case of Carlos Drummond de Andrade (whose poem «Também já fui brasileiro», published in 1930, is a parody of the euphoric nationalism of the 1920s). Many writers and poets began to look inward for artistic solutions, initiating a period of consolidation that would shape their later work. Due to this search for authenticity, Péret and his espousal of surrealism did not rally Brazilian intellectuals the way Blaise Cendrars' poetry had earlier. Aracy Amaral and Alexandre Eulálio have documented that the modernists in Brazil were quite familiar with Cendrars' poetry and welcomed his «cubist» style which fit their own needs to free literary discourse from the rhetorical restraints of Parnasianism and Symbolism as well as the formality of written Portuguese. Péret did not go to Brazil to divulge surrealism per se, but rather to sharpen his powers of observation; this attitude partially explains why his own work in Brazil explores issues in the fields of social history and primitive religion rather than debates about literary esthetics.

Péret did, however, have a group of Brazilian «admirers» who shared an interest in surrealism dating back to 1926. Art critic Antônio Bento wrote that he, along with friends Mário Pedrosa and Lívio Xavier, planned to publish a magazine with dadaist and surrealist overtones with the idea of shaking the complacency of certain Rio intellectual circles. Although the project never got off the ground, these three men were among Péret's closest allies in Brazil. The group knew of Péret via their friendship with the Houston family, whose residence was one of the few places where modern art was appreciated and discussed in Rio at the time (Bento, 1966, 67). Elsie Houston, a Brazilian singer, had met and married Péret in Paris in 1927 (Bandeira, 161-62), and several other Brazilians were in Paris during the 1927-28 period where they had contact with surrealism. Among them were painter Ismael Nery, who met with André Breton and Marc Chagall, «antropofagistas» Oswald de Andrade and his wife, painter Tarsila do Amaral, as well as Mário Pedrosa. In the Pile on Pedrosa at the Banco de Dados at the Estado de São Paulo Pedrosa mentions in an interview with Maria Antoineta D'Alkmin in 1961, «Ainda no ano 27 fui para Alemanha estudar na Faculdade de Filosofia da Universidade de Berlim até 1929, cursando as cadeiras de filosofia, estética e sociologia... Nessa época, juntamente com muitos colegas, lutei contra o nazismo nas roas de Berlim... Viajei depois para Paris onde filiei-me à corrente surrealista liderada por Aragon, Breton, Péret, Tanguy, Miró e Eluard». Thus even before Péret's arrival in Brazil in February of 1929 Oswald de Andrade and Mário Pedrosa already supported the surrealist cause and were among his

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earliest Brazilian contacts. Indeed, Stefan Baciu quotes Péret as saying in an interview from 1955, «Aqui mesmo, no Brasil, tive a surpresa, a 25 anos, de encontrar intelectuais de minha geração que conheciam e apreciavam o movimento melhor do que seus confrades em Paris».

These connections explain Péret's ready acceptance by the second «dentição» of the Revista de Antropofagia. Péret's presence in São Paulo accounts for the surrealist bent of the March and April numbers of the magazine which include quotations by Breton, the Marquis de Sade (one of Péret's favorites) as well as a poem and surrealist proverbs by Péret himself. Péret's poem printed in the Revista de Antropofagia, «Le bon vieux temps», evidences the major currents of Péret's surrealist style of child-like wonder and free association. Julia Costich has commented that Péret's poetry is «a dynamic form of utopia in which the pleasure principle dominates in the omnipresence of food and the use of play as the primary form of action and interaction» (197), and these elements predominate in this poem printed in Brazil. Péret's literary presence drew strong reactions from Mário de Andrade (who accused Oswald of propagating literary theories that were not his own) and from Carlos Drummond de Andrade (who refused to participate in the movement specifically because of Péret's presence). This hostile reception of Péret also marks their breaking point with the movement (H. Martins, 20). Despite this reaction, Péret, most likely through his friendship with Oswald de Andrade, gave a lecture titled «Du symbolisme au surréalisme» in March of 1929 and was among those photographed at Tarsila's first one-woman show in Brazil in July of that same year (Amaral, 1975, 280). During 1929, Elsie Houston and Benjamin Péret spent most of their time in São Paulo, where they stayed at the apartment of Lívio Xavier and another friend, journalist Paulo Duarte, who hosted modernist gatherings; among those present was Dr. Rubens Borba who recalls that while the group recognized Péret's keen intelligence, he was disliked for his surrealist intransigence (Amaral, 1975, 268). As a surrealist first and foremost, Péret openly fought with those who did not share his ideas and had no qualms about being direct to the point of rudeness. As Lívio Xavier points out, Péret and his brand of surrealism was bound to be misunderstood -«como surrealista, nessa época, verdadeira novidade, vanguarda mesmo, em Paris, o que nao seri a aqui no Brasil? Se em Paris qualquer reunião terminava em pancadaria e polícia, como imaginar a possibilidade de sua compreensão, ou adeptos em São Paulo na década de 20?» (Quoted in Amaral, 1975, 268). In an interview from February of 1929, Péret made it clear that he was more interested in the exotic elements of Brazilian culture and therefore was less interested in contacting the members of the country's cultural elite (Correio da Manhã, 21 Feb. 1929, 3).

Despite this generally hostile reception of surrealism in Brazil, architect-designer Flávio de Carvalho was one of the few actively working in the surrealist esthetic at the time. In an interview from 1967 it was discovered that not only was Flávio working on surrealist-like watercolors in the late twenties, but he also knew Péret, who was impressed by his work (Lima, 118). Although Flávio de Carvalho did not belong to the literary world (even though he did found an experimental theater group in 1934), both his work and his contact with Péret show that he had much in common with surrealism. At the Fourth Pan-American Congress on Architecture and Urbanism in 1930, he presented a thesis titled «A cidade do homem nu»; by protesting the withering of the imagination provoked by following Christian dogma, he seems to echo surrealist dictates, especially the distaste for organized religion:

O homem repetindo sempre a oração diária do seu sistema social, tornou-se incapacitado para criar uma nova oração e continuou reproduzindo a vida de seus antepassados, reforçando o recalque de suas tendências, eliminando da sua alma a volúpia das coisas, o prazer de apalpar futuros exóticos, o gozo do lógico, o desejo de uma forma mental nova... A monotonia embrutecedora do cristianismo precisa desaparecer...


(quoted in Lima, 118)                


In fact, his objections to religion are quite similar to those implied in Péret's anticlericalism. J. H. Matthews explains that Péret's hate for religion was based on his wariness of moral compromise. For Péret, religion «continues more or less to satisfy at bargain-basement prices a need for the marvelous that the masses retain in the most secret recesses of their being» (quoted in Matthews, 22). Flávio's study Experiência No. 2, published in 1931, is based on disrupting a religious procession (an experiment that almost got him lynched by the angry crowd). Flávio's interpretation of the experience reveals his interest in Freudian psychology applied to mass behavior. Although he never declared himself a surrealist, Flávio was clearly a kindred spirit, and he, along with the «antropofagistas», seemed to be most receptive to Péret's presence in São

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Paulo. Moreover, Péret was instrumental in introducing Paulo Duarte, Flávio de Carvalho and Antônio Bento to André Breton when they were in Paris during 1932-1934. In this sense, Péret served as an intermediary between Brazilian and French intellectuals, continuing the long cultural exchange between the two countries.

However, since Péret sought no direct imitators or followers, his presence is more of an undercurrent than a readily identifiable influence in Brazilian Modernism, bringing us to the problem of surrealism in Brazil. In one analysis of the situation of surrealism in Brazil, Alexandre Eulálio believes that the movement penetrated Brazilian literature in a «subterranean manner», and characterizes it as taking shape in Brazilian literary consciousness as a radical or transcendental way of viewing the world rather than a direct adherence to the French movement. This may explain the importance of Péret, who, instead of proselytizing, allowed himself to become immersed in Brazilian culture as evidenced by his writings on macumba, discussed below. It is also important that Eulálio actually mentions Péret, Ismael Nery, and Mário Pedrosa as the pioneers of the movement in Brazil, adding that traces of surrealism are found in Aníbal Machado, and poets Murilo Mendes and Jorge de Lima. These three writers not only knew one another personally, but were also quite close to Ismael Nery. Murilo Mendes and Jorge de Lima shared an interest in Catholicism and Ismael's own philosophy, «essencialismo». Despite the fact that Péret disagreed violently with these men on the issue of religion he did meet with them in Rio through his friendship with Pedrosa, Bento and the Houston family.

These writers have certain works that attest to their interest in surrealism: Murilo Mendes's Os Quatro Elementos (1935), Jorge de Lima's O Anjo (1934), and his later work A Invenção de Orfeu (1952) are a Brazilian blend of mysticism and surrealist technique. Eulálio finds traces of surrealism in Aníbal Machado's works, although these traces are more thematic than technical in nature: «Toda a realidade esmagada pelo cotidiano, a fuga para o sonho, o horror à opressão, a conquista do ideal e da utopia são constantes do surrealismo que afloram em Aníbal e às quais ele dá o seu tom pessoal. Um dos seus contos, em que um piano é jogado no mar, lembra um quadro de Magritte» («Surrealismo 50 Anos», Jornal do Brasil, 12 Oct. 1974). Although these assessments are not based on close examinations of the works mentioned, they point to the value of a comparative study of fine arts and letters based on the influence of surrealism. Viewed in this way, the ties among writers (Aníbal Machado. Murilo Mendes and Jorge de Lima) along with artists (Cícero Dias, Tarsila do Amaral, and Ismael Nery) and art critics (Mário Pedrosa and Antônio Bento) form a group with surrealist inclinations in Rio in the early 1930s, although they hardly form a coherent current unless we consider an interdisciplinary approach. However, if it is true that surrealism entered Brazilian intellectual consciousness in a more «subterranean» level, as Eulálio contends, then perhaps its effects are all the more profound in that its influence depended less on direct imitation and more on personal assimilation on the part of Brazilian intellectuals. Péret's influence is complicated by this assimilation. For example, Péret believed that the art of Brazilian Indians needed to be evaluated esthetically in his article «Arts de fête et de cérémonie», published in 1958, a project actually taken up in great detail by Antônio Bento in his study Abstração na arte dos índios brasileiros some years later. In this book Bento stresses that the concept of abstract design is meaningless to Brazilian Indians who refer to triangular shapes, for example, as «uluris» or «tangas» (38), an idea he also emphasized in a personal interview (9 May 1983). Bento's discussion of abstraction in his study indicates that Bento was also aware of Péret's argument against the use of the concept of «abstraction» as applied to art, ideas Péret discussed in «La soupe deshydratée», an article originally published in 1950. When considered in this context, perhaps the legacy of surrealism in Brazilian culture runs: deeper than originally assessed, much in the way that Péret remains a subtle yet profound presence in Brazilian Modernism.

As previously mentioned, Péret's activities were varied, and his contact with Brazilian writers and critics in São Paulo and Rio is only part of his Brazilian experience. No study of Péret's life and work is complete without a brief summary of his political activities; it is well known that he was expelled from Brazil for political reasons and that he devoted much of his time to political causes: aside from joining the Trotskyist; in Brazil, he also fought in Barcelona alongside the anarchists in the Durruti Column in 1936 After escaping imprisonment for refusing to fight in the Second World War, Péret spent seven years in Mexico (1941-1948), where he collaborated on the publications Contra la Corriente, Lucha Obrera and Revolución under the pseudonym

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Peralta, as stated in a letter from G. Munis to Franklin Rosemont. A study of Péret in Brazil, therefore, points to the need to view the political activities of the Left and the surrealists' connections to the Trotskyist movement.

Although the Revolution of 1930 marks the ascension of the Trotskyist movement in Brazil, Pedrosa, after returning from Europe in 1929, contacted those sympathetic to the Trotskyist tendency in Brazil. The article, «A arte de viver com a política», from the Folha de São Paulo (6 Nov. 1981) discusses the circumstances precipitating the actual founding of the movement and includes Pedrosa's first experience as a leader of a popular revolt during the fall of Washington Luís. Edgard Carone documents the Trotskyists' winning the support of the typesetters union which had grown dissatisfied with the Brazilian Communist Party leadership after a prolonged strike, and cites Pedrosa, Xavier, Péret and Aristides Lobo among the founding members of the group in São Paulo in 1931 (Carone, 1974, 270-75). Since none of the articles in the party's theoretical pamphlet, Luta de Classe, nor in their newspaper, Boletim de Oposição, were signed, it remains difficult to assess Péret's contribution, although from interviews it appears that he was quite active not only with the leadership but with certain leaders from the rank and file. Former Trotskyist and journalist Hilcar Leite recalls Péret's presence not only from political meetings but also from the modernist gatherings held at Aníbal Machado's residence (personal interview, 17 May 1983). Miriam Xavier, niece of Lívio Xavier and a personal friend of Péret's also remembers that he tried to contact two workers «Manuel e Mateus» when he returned to São Paulo in 1955. These workers may very well have been Manuel Medeiros and João Mateus who were active in the Trotskyist movement, according to Carone (1974, 270).

In a broad sense, Edgard Carone has described the relationship between the Trotskyists and the PCB (Brazilian Communist Party) as that of feuding Siamese twins, whose histories are inextricably bound (Carone, 1973, 375). Besides their ideological divergence -the PCB following a more Stalinist line according to the Trotskyists in their pamphlet, «A Oposição Comunista e as Calúnias da Burocracia», (reproduced in Carone, 1974, 366-74)- they also disagreed in strategic matters, and the Trotskyists were set against the PCB's recruitment of Luis Carlos Prestes, as Wilson Martins documents in História da Inteligência Brasileira (410). A major contribution of the Trotskyists was their translation of leftist political theorists in Brazil; the leading members, Pedrosa, Xavier and Lobo prefaced and translated works by Marx, Engels, Lenin and Trotsky. These works were translated between 1931 and 1935, probably after Péret had left; however, at the time he devoted his writing skills to one of the most oppressed sectors of Brazilian society: the black population.




II. Péret and Macumba112

Apparently Péret was attracted to macumba for two reasons: first, it gave him the chance to comment on political oppression, and second, it allowed him to view a culture with access to the poetic «marvelous». A parallel could be drawn between Péret's attraction to African culture and that of the Cuban writer Alejo Carpentier. In the case of both of those authors, it could be argued, surrealism is indirectly responsible for the reevaluation of African culture in Brazil and Cuba. Péret researched his macumba study in Rio during the latter half of 1930; the study, comprised of thirteen articles, was most likely brought to the Diário da Noite in São Paulo by Péret himself and then translated into Portuguese by Lívio Xavier. Toward the end of his stay Péret spent more time in Rio and researched another study, «O Almirante Negro», a portrait of black leadership exemplified in the sailor João Cândido, who led the 1910 Navy Revolt protesting corporal punishment of black crew members. According to Mary Houston Pedrosa, Péret had access to the Navy archives via the Houston family's contacts (personal interview, 17 March 1983). In addition to the discovery of a mimeograph machine used for producing political pamphlets in his Rio residence, the incendiary nature of this study contributed to Péret's being taken prisoner and then expelled from the country in December of 1931 by a decree signed by Getúlio Vargas and Osvaldo Aranha. Sérgio Lima states, «no texto do processo menciona-se que 'se trata de um agitador comunista, e orientador da Liga Comunista no Brasil (diz o chefe da Polícia), tendo sido apreendido um mimeógrafo em seu poder'; menciona-se cartas de apresentação ao arquivista e ao bibliotecário do Ministério da Guerra da Marinha, bem como à Documentação do Palácio de Catête, 'para obter informações (acrescenta chefe da Polícia)- Audácia!'» (Lima, 121).

Unfortunately, the copies of Péret's study were either confiscated or lost, and the text of

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«O Almirante Negro» subsequently disappeared, although Péret does mention the situation of João Cândido in «Black and White in Brazil» published in Nancy Cunard's Negro Anthology 1931-1933. All that remains of Péret's scholarly work written about Brazil from the 1929-1931 period is the «Candomblé e Macumba» series, which Mário de Ándrade collected in his archive on Brazilian folklore now housed in the Instituto de Estudos Brasileiros at the University of São Paulo. An analysis of this study by Péret on Afro-Brazilian religion is particularly revealing, not only in its early attempt to re-evaluate these rites as valid cultural expression, but also because it gives us an idea of Péret's political views at that time and how he saw Brazilian reality. The articles develop and function as an organic whole as the initial perspective shifts from that of an outside observer to that of an insider aware of the socio-political issues behind the formation of national identity.

Throughout these articles on Afro-Brazilian religions (published in São Paulo's Diário da Noite between Nov. 25, 1930 and Jan. 30, 1931), an unresolved tension exists between Péret's poetic appreciation and his political analysis of their role in Brazilian society. Clearly Péret's initial fascination with macumba and candomblé lay in what he called their «primitive poetry», an idea he would later develop in the introduction to his Anthologie des mythes, légendes et contes populaires d' Amérique. In Brazil, Péret had the chance to observe these religions first-hand, an experience which clearly influenced his poetics. In an overview of Péret's lifelong interest in popular religion in Latin America, critic J. H. Matthews notes that Péret, rather than believing in the superiority of the individual poetic voice, «was attentive, instead, to the intimations of a collective impulse to challenge the world of reason through the release of imaginative forces that he took to be universal in effect. Hence his abiding interests in myths, folklore, and legend, all of which pay homage to the salutary power of the imagination, without taking into account the contribution made by individuals in testifying to that power» (38). However, Afro-Brazilian religion is syncretized with Catholicism, an organized religion that symbolized repression in politics and the imagination of Péret and other orthodox surrealists. This proves to be problematical for Péret, and may be behind his seeing Afro-Brazilian religion as ultimately unhealthy for its participants -hence the tension between condemning the religions as the «opiate of the people» and admiring them for their «poesia primitiva e selvagem que é quase, para mim, uma revelação» (25 Nov. 1929). Although Péret believed the poetic world and the sphere of political action must be separated so that poetry would not be put to propagandistic use, in this study he seems to combine his poetic and political interests by calling attention to the marginalization of blacks, while recording his initiation into the realm of the «marvelous» found in primitive religion.

In the first of these articles, Péret states his objectives and initial observations, demonstrating a preference for a macumba «lei» that is farthest removed from mainstream Brazilian society. The «Lei de Nagô» which had a black, proletarian following was far more interesting to him than the «Lei de Angola», which was made up of mulattoes of a slightly higher social class. He identifies the former with more authentic African expression, while he believes the latter to be imbued with the more repressive, moralistic altitudes he attributes to religion in general. At the «terreiro» of the «Lei de Nagô» presided over by «Tio F...» its spiritual leader or «babalaô», Péret comes closest to his ideals of poetic and political freedom of expression. He greatly admires «Tio F...'s» liberalism, spontaneity and incipient political consciousness, qualities that distinguish him from most religious leaders, even other leaders within macumba, such as «Mãe M...», the stern and solemn leader of the «Lei de Angola», whom he describes as a type of «Dom Sebastião Leme» (the Catholic Archbishop of Rio de Janeiro at that time). In such comments, we see Péret's typical anti-clericalism and a dry humor used against those in power. In general, his tone is receptive and informal, and the articles combine political commentary and current events, as well as cultural and anthropological observations.

Péret admits from the beginning that his approach is poetic, not scientific, yet the first articles have a documentary style and consist of detailed descriptions of the rites that he saw. Although the tone in the beginning is that of an outside observer, he offers his first commentary on the dancing in the ceremonies, a type of movement that was for him «religiosa e erótica ao mesmo tempo» (28 Nov. 1930). In the hypnotic or transcendental quality of the dancing, Péret must have seen a unity of mind and body uncommon in Western religions. The unity of the spiritual and sensual found in Afro-Brazilian dance (perhaps more sensual to him than to the

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actual participants) struck a chord in Péret, one that he was to pursue in his concept of «Sublime love». In his essay «Le noyau de la comète» he speaks of the possible unity achieved through this emotion as one that has the power to «transform the flesh and the spirit into a superior unity in which they become virtually indistinguishable» (my translation from Péret's introduction to Anthologie de l' amour sublime). This concept is, in part, behind his idea of «sublimation» (in the sense of making sublime) which perhaps prompted him to admit that these dances were the only truly beautiful ones he had ever seen (28 Nov. 1929). At the same time, these dances unleashed a creative energy and spontaneity that the surrealists aspired to in their own work through automatic writing and the tapping of subconscious creative visions. In the same article Péret says that Josephine Baker is but a «pale shadow» when compared to these dancers he saw at the «Lei de Nagô», and later on he makes the same comment about the dances in the ceremonies of the «Lei de Angola», which, for him, had lost their authenticity due to their contact with «civilization». Clearly he sides against those rites having contact with any hint of civilization in favor of the more spontaneous or authentic alternatives. While this interpretation by Péret is a form of cultural exoticism, it is linked to the rediscovery of black culture by Brazilian modernists.

Viewed in the context of the period, Péret was following the «primitivist» current in Modernism in a bit more anthropological sense. These articles represent his attempt to expose the readership of the Diário da Noite (many of whom probably considered these rites too «primitiva» to be of esthetic value) to Afro-Brazilian religion from a new perspective. Resistance to the primitivist esthetic was particularly strong in Rio, where, as Antônio Bento recalls, painters Tarsila do Amaral and Cícero Dias both had incidents of vandalism during their exhibits. Furthermore, the practice of Afro-Brazilian religion was still illegal at the time and the «terreiros» were raided periodically by the police, as Péret documents in his second article in the «Candomblé e Macumba» series. Although Afro-Brazilian religion had been studied by Raimundo Nina Rodrigues and other late-nineteenth century doctors and psychologists, Péret offers a very different view of candomblé and macumba because he did not consider them inferior to Christianity, nor did he view them as a hotbed for neuroses as many of the early researchers did. He tried to evaluate these religions as a key to unconscious creative force, since he was interested in primitivism as a psychological pathway back to a universal artistic impulse that «civilization» represses or destroys.

As a surrealist he had an appreciation for the exotic, although he did not, as did the exponents of «négritude», try to imitate or use African elements in his poetry. To an extent, primitivism is similar to the Romantic idealization of the noble savage in that it emanated from the European imagination, yet Péret did recognize the actual oppression of blacks in Brazil, a factor that gives his study its ambivalence. In any event, his first feeling of «revelation» experienced while in Brazil led to his later work on Mexican and Brazilian culture. His view of popular culture in Latin America adds another dimension to the surrealist contribution to the New World. Perhaps his writings on macumba are twentieth century chronicles of discovery; as creative observation, they seem to share the same dilemma as did the early «cronistas», who also were influenced by the ideas of their own era. Often the chronicles revealed as much about the world view of their authors as they did their actual subject matter. This holds true for Péret who reveals his own political and esthetic preferences in these texts based on his own preoccupations with Marxism and primitivism.

Often Péret's appreciation for Afro-Brazilian religions is limited by his interpretation of them based on only an esthetic or political criteria. In general he seems to have little idea of how these rites function in everyday life in Brazil. Anthropologist Peter Fry has observed that Afro-Brazilian religion treats «affliction in general... It's as much about sealing lovers' quarrels, finding work and telling people how to make money as it is curing disease» (quoted in Hoge, 81). Péret himself observed several ceremonies in which macumba was called on to solve the romantic, financial and health worries of its followers; however, he did not analyze their meaning in Brazilian society. Sociologist Líseas Nogueira Negrão of the University of São Paulo has noted that macumba represents some sort of guarantee in the areas of health care and financial security, two sectors in which social legislation is relatively weak. It seems essential to consider that in the 1930s Péret was involved in a political struggle which he believed would bring about profound change in the social institutions of Brazil. In this sense his political involvement partially explains his lack of interest in analyzing the rites

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he saw. Aside from having no formal analytical methodology, Péret believed that macumba was a symptom of political oppression that once eradicated, would diminish the need for religious expression. However, contemporary sociologists have noted that the general interest in macumba and other cults is stronger than ever. Although Péret's conclusion that Brazilian blacks would revolt has been proven wrong by history, these articles provide early sociological documentation of uses of these rites in Brazilian society.

Interestingly enough these articles do reveal how macumba was called upon to solve some of the problems of its followers as it is today. One of his articles, «O palpite de São Cosme e São Damião» refers to financial help in a rather indirect way, as São Cosme and Damião were called upon to predict the winning lottery number (9 Dec. 1930). The area of health is also of importance to the community, and Péret mentions witnessing an initiation rite, which, according to what he had read in Manuel Querino, was to insure the good health of the initiate. As Professor Nogueira Negrão pointed out, being a member of these seas is, however indirectly, preventive medicine for those who have little chance of getting adequate medical care. The ceremony Péret witnessed, called «dar comida à cabeça» was one of considerable solemnity in comparison with the others he mentions, proving that being an initiate is not to be taken lightly (11 Dec. 1930). Those able to receive the «santo» are privileged within the community and are protected by their particular «orixá» or «santo». The risk, however, is to be «cursed» or troubled by an evil «orixá». Péret witnessed another ceremony in which a woman had to be cured after a shunned admirer cast a spell over her, making her prone to seizures. In this case macumba was called on to cure both romantic and medical ills. This ceremony is of particular interest because it documents a sect of macumba that has become increasingly popular under the name of «umbanda», which combines the spiritist teachings of Allan Kardec with those of macumba. The founding of this sect in Rio in the 1930s coincides with Péret's visit, and he may be among the first to document its rites. Péret was invited to this ceremony by «P...», a mulatto musician, a fact that attests to umbanda's acceptance among those of a more elevated social class than the followers of candomblé or macumba. (24 Dec. 1930).

Péret, like his nineteenth century predecessors, interprets the behavior of the woman cursed by her lover in the umbanda ceremony as a classic case of hysteria, and subsequently links macumba with psychosis. Contemporary psychiatrist Rubim de Pinho believes that not only are religious examples of psychosis rare in Brazil, but that the mystical experience may bring adjustment and serenity to many (quoted in Hoge, 81). In part, Péret's interpretation is based on his idea that all religious practice is simply a form of collective neurosis. His assessment differs from his Brazilian forerunners in that he views all religion as misdirected creative energy, including all forms of Christianity. His complete denial of the need for the mystical in favor of political consciousness seems an unlikely and contradictory solution, because it denies the romantic power of the marvelous inherent in the «primitive poetry» he so ardently admires.

This brings us to consider how Péret saw the issues of power and politics in Afro-Brazilian religion. He was aware that these religions survived in Brazil because they not only furnished a source of identity but also functioned as a source of power outside the mainstream institutions of Brazilian society. Two incidents told to Péret by «Tio F...» illustrate how the power of the «orixás» acts upon race relations and judicial decisions, giving «Tio F...» a heightened sense of power and control in a society that granted him relatively little. A friend of «Tio F...'s», having lost a court case twice, enlists his aid and wins the case in the Supreme Court with the help of Rui Barbosa (31 Dec. 1930). A more obvious case of religious power as a substitute for legal recourse involves «Tio F...'s» grandfather, who paralyzed the arm of a young white man who had hit him because he was black. In mentioning these incidents, Péret shows how these religions address oppression while avoiding the issues of outright conflict. In the final articles, Péret searches for a spirit of protest in the historical and religious experience of Brazilian blacks.

As in other countries of Latin America, religious syncretism in Brazil brings out the complex relationship between dominant and marginal cultures. In «As origens das crengas dos negros brasileiros» Péret interpreted Afro-Brazilian syncretism as a logical solution which slaves consciously used to cover their own religious practices «com o ligeiro véu do catolicismo» in order to avoid punishment at the hands of their masters (8 Jan. 1931). Whereas this view seems a likely one, early observers, such as Nina Rodrigues, believing the racist doctrines of his

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time, attributed syncretism to the African «inability» to adapt to the abstract principles of Christianity. On a more anthropological note, Péret observed that syncretism itself was more problematic than the earlier authors believed, in that the systems they considered fixed and unchanging were indeed quite variable. The one-on-one correspondences between Catholic saints and the Afro-Brazilian «orixás» not only varied considerably among the authors themselves, but also differed from cult to cult as Péret himself observed, an observation later confirmed by Roger Bastide (170-76). Although Péret was far from orthodox in his methods, his careful readings of the available sources allowed him to make some valid contributions to the study of Afro-Brazilian religion in Brazil.

In the final four articles of the series, Péret shifts his focus from the description of religious rites and beliefs to an analysis of the historical experience of Brazilian blacks. At this point he also overtly politicizes his views, whereas in earlier articles he only hinted at a Marxist analysis. Once again, this shift in perspective from covert to overt political commentary parallels the increased political awareness of the modernist sensibility. In addition, he begins to adapt a «Brazilian» optic by including himself in the following quotation with regard to the origin of Afro-Brazilian religion: «Se é certo que a base destas crenças nos foi importada da Africa pelos escravos, a origem certa das religiões dos negros do Brasil é ain da um problema não completamente elucidado» (2 Jan. 1931, my italics). Here Péret shows that he not only has immersed himself in Brazilian consciousness, but also shows solidarity with the fundamental problems of historical revision and the origins of national identity in Modernism. By including a history of the frequent slave rebellions in Brazil, he hoped to illustrate how religion was an incipient form of revolt against oppression. He delves into the possible links between religion and revolt by emphasizing the experience of the Hausa and Nagô nations in the revolts of the early 1800s in Bahia. He cites Nina Rodrigues's belief that the more educated Islamic Hausas not only refused to be converted to Catholicism, but openly rebelled for religious freedom, making these revolts a type of crusade or «Holy War». The religious leaders of the Hausas were also political leaders, in that they organized revolts, taught the Nagôs their Arabic characters, and actually wrote out plans for rebellions, and thereby were able to communicate and organize other blacks. He also notes that «batuques» ostensibly used for religious purposes were outlawed in Bahia probably because they shaded the planning for revolts, and outside the city, the «quilombos» were destroyed because they proved to be a threat to the security of the city itself (30 Jan. 1931). In the case of the Hausas and the slaves of Salvador that joined them, religion and revolt are clearly related. As a group, however, the Hausas and their culture all but died out during Nina Rodrigues' s time, and presently only traces of their influence are to be found in candomblé practices. In The Negro in Brazilian Society, Florestan Fernandes shows that the Hausas's experience in the earlier part of the nineteenth century is an exceptional one, since blacks in Brazil have not, in the twentieth century, participated as a cohesive political group (141-44; 224-28).

In «As origens das crenças dos negros brasileiros», Péret concludes that the mere survival of Afro-Brazilian religions attests to a latent spirit of revolt, which is still on the «unconscious level». He concludes that once blacks recognize themselves as an oppressed group, revolt will take the form of conscious political protest:

«Do mesmo modo que a forma religiosa dos negros do Brasil moderno é função da sua situação no grau mais baixo da escala social, é natural que sua revolta inconsciente diante dessa situação siga o caminho mais elementar, o caminho da reliçião. A medida que os negros forem adquirindo consciência de sua situação de oprimidos, essa forma de revolta irá desaparecendo, transformando-se em revolta consciente».


(30 Jan. 1931)                


After the experience of U. S. blacks in the 1960s, and the academic studies on race relations that it provoked, clearly his conclusions seem more applicable to the case of blacks in the United States, who, subjected to restrictions based on the bi-racial attitudes of the U. S., did enter a period of active political protest. Comparative studies of race relations such as those of Degler and Skidmore show that because of the more flexible concept of «multi-racial» society in Brazil, blacks did not identify themselves as an oppressed group, and strong class barriers further complicate the issue of racial discrimination. Despite the conclusions Péret draws, his study «Candomblé e Macumba» recognizes the contribution of black culture to Brazilian society while documenting racial and social inequality.

Although Péret's activities in Brazil may seem diverse, they did incorporate the major currents of his life's work in a short span of

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years. Whereas his collaboration with the «antropofagistas» and the «Liga Comunista» continued interests dating from his Paris days, the studies on the black sailors' revolt and macumba both marked a new awakening. These studies are among Péret' s first important essays, a genre that critics have found useful in understanding his poetics. Had his study «O Almirante Negro» survived, perhaps he would have received more recognition as an active member of the Modernist Movement, since historical revision and political consciousness were fundamental concerns of the latter phase of Modernism. As it stands, Péret's surviving study on macumba remains early evidence of the essence of myth in his own poetics. In fact, Julia Costich concludes that:

In his attempt to formulate the ideal relationship between man and the world, Péret studies primitive myth and legend and finds in them guidelines which are less contaminated by the civilized European tradition. Péret finds the openness and vitality of primitive beliefs to be a more satisfying and valid response to the human need for physical and metaphysical interaction with the world than the religious and political dogmatism which separates man from nature...


(196)                


Ultimately, Péret's interest in the African heritage of Brazil began a phase of his work that would come to characterize his contribution to surrealism. In another explanation of his poetics, J. H. Matthews notes that Péret believed that myths almost always have their beginnings in a universal creative search that furnishes the basis of all art. For Péret, «Primitive man... did not know himself and was searching for himself. Modern man, in contrast, has lost his way. Is not the implication that he will find it again, as primitive man searched for himself, by prospecting the marvelous?» (44).

With its double heritage of Western and non-Western traditions, Brazil proved to be a fertile ground for Péret's interest in relating the rational and marvelous elements of human experience. It is important to note that he did not impose the conflict between the Western and non-Western elements on Brazilian culture, but rather was able to draw it out in his writings on macumba. As a surrealist, he hoped to recuperate the spirit of mythic perception into his poetry, a spirit lost in the centuries of Western civilization. In much the same way, the Brazilian modernists set out to redefine and recover national identity through a re-invention of Brazilian history and folklore, freeing it from colonial prejudices and demystifying its cultural heritage. His work on candomblé and macumba contributes to the reevaluation of Brazilian society. Since his reception in Brazil was ambivalent at best, he is often relegated to the material of footnotes. This may be explained, in part, by the problems of «cultural influence» and the issues of continued cultural colonialism. Traditionally, influence is viewed as emanating from a cultural center to the periphery. By redressing Péret's omission in the study of Modernism, the movement can be seen as an international phenomenon; his presence proves that not only was surrealism influential in Brazilian Modernism, but his brand of surrealism was deeply affected by his experience in Brazil. In short, the contact between Péret and the modernists proved fruitful for both sides, which brings up the problem of «influence» in Modernism in general.

Péret's experience in Brazil shows the necessity to articulate the concept of cultural influence so as to include the role of myth, primitive religion and socio-political issues to understand the full impact of surrealism on Latin America and vice versa. Seen from this widened perspective, the goals of surrealism and Modernism in Brazil are much closer than a purely literary approach to the problem would reveal, proving that the influences were mutually enriching for both sides. I agree with Maria Eugênia Boaventura who concludes that the mutual exchange between modernism and surrealism is clear: «Os exemplos dessa troca recíproca saltam aos olhos... Oswald (de Andrade) intuiu imediatamente o alcance da nova arte nacional e a interferência que podia provocar na arte européia e vaticinava: sob um tom de paradoxo e violência... 'Note você como a Europa procura se primitivisar'» (1987, 30). The inclusion of Péret in the study of Modernism in Brazil would not only expand this idea but would also reveal the value of an interdisciplinary approach to the subject, one that allows us to understand more fully the political and artistic factors that shaped the transitional phase of Modernism, as well as the omissions that require the re-writing of intellectual history itself.





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