Imperfect harmony: Coca-Cola and the cannibal metaphor in beba coca cola, Sangue de Coca-Cola,and a hora da estrela.
A logical implication of this triumphant "coca-colonialization" might be an inexorable trend towards global cultural uniformity. Around the time the Hilltop add appeared Marshall McLuhan was questioning the whole notion of a passive or homogeneous reception of cultural phenomena. McLuhan asked "whether the same figure, say Coca-Cola, can be considered as 'uniform' when it is set in interplay within totally different grounds from China to Peru" (41).
In the light of McLuhan's question this article will examine Coca-Cola's often antagonistic relationship with Brazilian culture, (2) focusing on three literary examples of Brazil's dialogue with Coca-Cola: Decio Pignatari's 1957 poem "beba coca-cola," Roberto Drummond's novel Sangue de Coca-Cola (1980), and Clarice Lispector's penultimate book, A hora da estrela (1978). The figure of Coca-Cola will, in turn, be viewed through the prism of Brazil's "quintessential cultural metaphor" of antropofagia cultural. (3) As Randal Johnson has written: "Since the 1920"s Cannibalism has become a major cultural metaphor in Brazil, constituting a reflection on the possibility of creating a genuine national culture, an attack on uncritical imitation of foreign models, and a critical metaphor of cultural relations between First and Third World nations" (42).
By the end of the 20th century the concept of Brazilian cultural dependency came into question as Brazil itself became a net exporter of culture, especially of popular music and television programs (Arenas 37). However, writing before 1980 Pignatari, Drummond, and Lispector approached their work with a different set of assumptions. In their literary-historical context questions of modernization and cultural identity were still sharply focused on "defending the "national-popular" rather than "exporting the "international-popular" (Ortiz 205). In this context, the Cannibal metaphor is a vibrant, highly relevant vehicle for analysis, proving to be particularly appropriate when addressing the cultural impact of Post WWII consumer culture epitomized by Coca-Cola.
Decio Pignatari's 1957 concrete poem, "beba coca-cola" both anticipates and subverts new forms of communication, most particularly television commercials, which did not become culturally significant in Brazil until the 1970s (Perrone 46). (4) Appropriating the industrial language of commercial propaganda, Pignatari creates an "anti-advertisement" by turning the soft drink's advertising slogan against itself. The poem begins with the command beba (drink) and then rewrites the imperative to babe (drool). The word "coca" is isolated from cola, creating a clear reference to coca leaves, the raw material for cocaine and original ingredient of Coca-Cola (Solt 14). Through a simple vowel shift, Coca is then deformed into caco or glass shard. (Coke was bottled in glass at the time the poem's composition). Next, separating the word cola from coca, Pignatari produces the Portuguese word for glue, which is then combined with caco to form (cola caco or glue shard). Finally, the poet scrambles the letters of Coca-Cola to form the word cloaca, meaning a "filthy place" or cesspool.
Playing with the limited possibilities of the ad slogan, Pignatari's poetic satire manages to reflect the nationalist spirit of the Kubitsheck era (1956-61). The poet equates the command to drink Coca-Cola with idiocy and dependency (drooling) and the production and consumption of the product with cultural poisoning and pollution (coca-cocaine, cloaca). Pignatari's stranger reformulation, cola caco (glue shard) has provoked Rosemarie Waldrop's transnational concern as to what future archaeologists might say about modern civilization if the shards we leave are not fragments of fine pottery, but rather broken bits of Coca-Cola bottles (146).
If we read Pignatari's poem across from left to right we see that the first verse faithfully reproduces the Coca Cola company's advertising slogan: beba coca-cola (drink coca cola) only to undermine the message in the second verse babe cola (drool glue), which is then followed by the toxic command beba coca (drink coca(ine)). This message is followed by babe cola caco (drool glue shard), which invites the consumer to slaver both the consumable substance and its packaging.
Reading the poem's left hand column as a stanza the first three "verses" telegraphically produce the alternating commands beba/ babe/ beba/ babe (drink/ drool /drink/ drool), creating a rhythm which echoes the brief, rapid communication of commercial information and Pop culture. The poem's right hand column mimics a packaging label listing a product's ingredients, beginning with the brand name (coca cola) followed by a list of the drink's constituent parts: cola/coca/cola caco (glue/coca(ine)/glue/ shard). Pignatari's anti-advertisement completes its backhanded "pitch" in the last line of the right hand column--consisting of one word: cloaca (cesspool), which, as Marjorie Perloff notes, clearly equates drinking Coke with "the consumption of excrement" (117-18). Ending the poem with the word cesspool also signifies a thorough rejection of Coca-Cola, simultaneously suggesting the true origin, real essence, and proper destination for the world's most famous soft drink.
In 1992 Pignatari's "beba coca-cola" was updated for the era of music videos, becoming a twenty-one second video on TV Cultura de Sao Paulo's documentry "Poetas de Campos e Espacos." The film version of the poem, combined with coral music by Gilberto Mendes, parodies the omnipresent thirty second commercial spot. The video truncates and fragments Pignatari's original poem, reducing the text to the first verse (beba coca-cola) and the last line (cloaca). The initial moments of the video-poem repeat the command beba coca-cola in a cacophonous counterpoint of voices, which is abruptly silenced by a Coca-Cola induced eructation, followed by a round of applause. In the final seconds of the video-poem we hear the chorus chant "Cloaca! Cloaca! Cloaca!" until the sound and image fade out.
On one hand the video-poem's supposedly affirmative command to drink Coca-Cola (beba coca-cola), with its cacophonous counterpoint accompanied by its musical and lyrical dissidence, creates a sense of atomization. On the other hand, the clear denunciation of the product (expressed by the chant "Cloaca!") evidences a communal feeling akin to the harmonized sound of a torcida at a soccer match or an angry, but well organized group of protestors. As it does in Pignatari's original poem, the pejorative cloaca has the last word. As the video-poem fades away Coca-Cola is verbally discharged into a cultural culvert to the unanimous approval of the singer-chanters who, through their performance of Pignatari's poem, renounce the role of passive consumers of commercial propaganda.
Pignatari's "beba coca-cola" is of particular interest with regard to the Cannibal metaphor. The poem's cannibalism is conscious and anthological, that is to say, it selectively appropriates the techniques but rejects the image/con tent of what it "consumes." As an anti-advertisement advocating anti-consumption "beba coca-cola" devours, then turns the digestive metaphor inside out, regurgitating (as opposed to consuming) unwelcome alien cultural influences. Pignatari's poem combines the theory and playful spirit of Andrade's manifesto antropofago with a deconstruction of the Coca-Cola icon. The appropriation and distortion of modern advertising techniques also represents a realization of Oswald de Andrade's objective, first expressed in O Manifesto Pau Brasil (1924), of producing exportable poetry. (5) Acknowledging both the metaphor and goal of Andrade's cultural cannibalism, poet and theorist Haroldo de Campos cited poesia concreta as a case of Brazilians exporting cultural "know how"(Perrone 47). Because the concrete poet Pignatari selected the universally recognized and easily translatable figure of Coca-Cola, the elegant simplicity of his satirical, anti-consumerist commentary is readable (hence exportable) across the world. We can decipher the Brazilian poet's message on any menu where we can read the command "beba coca-cola," which is to say everywhere on the planet.
In a 1978 interview with the Jornal do Brasil novelist Roberto Drummond spoke of writing a new cycle of novels that would be an urban, Pop literary version of the rural regionalism of Jose Lins de Rego's "Sugar Cycle" and Jorge de Amado's "Cacao Cycle." Rather than reflecting the regionalist particularities and monoculture economies of his literary compatriots, Drummond suggested a symbolic product that would mirror an urbanized Brazil, a nation that was integrated into a borderless world dominated by multinational corporations. Drummond proposed to write a "Coca-Cola Cycle." Two years later, in 1980, he would publish his novel, Sangue de coca-cola (Stroun 16).
Sangue de coca-cola is a kaleidoscopic blend of Pop Culture and Brazilian history that telescopes the first 16 years of Brazil's military dictatorship (1964-1980) into one twenty-four hour period: April 1, 1964. (6) The military government's subsequent censorship, torture of political prisoners, and encouragement of the pervasive influence of multinational corporations are all lampooned in Drummond's text. Amid the novel's narrative chaos there are three constants: the pervasive referencing of people and products of Pop culture, the use of historical names for characters, and, what most concerns us here, the persistent evocation of Coca-cola as a lethal contaminate in Brazil's cultural bloodstream.
To introduce various sections of the novel Drummond reproduces photographic illustrations of the Coca-Cola bottle (or sometimes the bottle cap) and the Coke logo, along with the company's advertising slogan of the era: "A pausa que refresca." Drummond then proceeds to charge the Coca-Cola image with socio-political significance. For example, immediately below one of his reproductions of the Coke bottle we read the following prosecutorial question: "O que voce estava fazendo no dia 1 de Abril de 1964?" (91). Drummond's query clearly links Coca-Cola's 'Pause that Refreshes" with the 1964 military coup d'etat and the calamities that followed in its wake. From the perspective of Drummond's novel, the historical "pause" of Brazil's extended hiatus from democracy hardly refreshes, but rather constitutes a long national nightmare. Indeed, Drummond's narrative equates this period with a collective hallucination that began on April 1, 1964, when "O Brasil tomou Coca-Cola com LSD e entrou numa bad" (7).
In Sangue de coca-cola the three principal fictional characters have a perverse fixation with Coca-Cola, which becomes a symbol for political cowardice, confused identity, and socio-cultural dependency. As Isabelle Stroun has noted, in Drummond's novel Coca-Cola represents a form of cultural contamination produced by "the penetration of a foreign element into authentic Brazilian reality" (38). Published two years into the period of Abertura (1978-84), Drummond's text presents a symbol for many of the forces that have undermined Brazil's political autonomy and the cultural integrity. Drummond's Coca-Cola novel is also a protest against the postmodern condition of vanishing borders that make problematic (if not impossible) the project of constructing a national-popular cultural identity. It is as if Drummond's Brazil, aside from enduring the military dictatorship, is also being dragged kicking and screaming into the globalized, postmodern era of inescapable, inexorable, and often indigestible foreign influences.
Contrary to Oswald de Andrade's modernist cannibal metaphor, which would have the Brazilian cannibal "consume" the most noble qualities of "high" European culture, Drummond's postmodernist characters uncritically devour the least noble (and most ephemeral) qualities of "low," American Pop culture. The deglutination of this latter material "poisons" the "cannibal," producing the contrary of the desired result of the Manifesto antropofago. Rather than Oswald de Andrade's nostalgic utopia of national cultural autonomy we see a dystopian vision of a culture corrupted, not nourished by what it consumes.
One of the novel's principal characters, Camaleao Amarelo is an innocent bystander swept up in the political violence following the golpe de abril. As his name suggests, Camaleao Amarelo is Macunaima-like in his lack of character. He ascribes his own extreme malleability and pusillanimity to the condition of having sangue de coca-cola: "Eu gritei 'Viva o Presidente [Medici] quando o meu coracao queria gritar' 'Assassino, Assassino!' Gritei por causa de meu coracao de Coca-Cola, assim como eu pulei comemorando o gol de Flamengo, mesmo sendo Botafogo doente" (38). The novel's narrator (called Sapato Amarelo) shares the view that the consumption of Coca-Cola culture represents the shameful acomodismo of those who passively co-exist with tyranny: "Ele [Camaleao Amarelo] esta vivo e os outros estao mortos, ou tritu rados, porque ele tem sangue de coca-cola e os outros nao, o sangue dos outros era sangue mesmo" (60).
A second character, Julie Joy (who bears the ironic nome de guerra, Vera Cruz Brasil), parodies the quasi-religious associations of Coca-Cola as a substitute modern religion. A sort of consumer culture beata, Julie Joy is a devotee of "Santa Coca-Cola," a sacrilegious evocation of Brazil's actual patron saint, Nossa Senhora Aparecida. (The latter, after being cassada by the military regime, is scheduled to be replaced by Santa Coca-Cola). Julie Joy's perverse syncretism exemplifies and parodies transnational cultural influences (symbolized by Coke) that have invaded the most intimate spaces of Brazilian culture. Pop culture becomes Pop Cult as Julie Joy's "prayers" to "Santa Coca-Cola" produce a conflation of word-play, misguided spirituality and Coca-Cola advertising slogans: "Doce Senhora do mundo/Rainha do ceu da boca/Sois a pausa que refresca/A alma sedenta" (58). Other examples of Julie Joy's "prayers" to Santa Coca-Cola are: "Bem aventurada Santa Coca-Cola/Filha de Nosso Senhor Jesus Cristo/Matai minha sede de alegria/E ao meu pobre e ansioso coracao. Oh, Santa dos Impossiveis/Dai a pausa que refresca os justos" (137). And "Coracao quem dera fosse/Lamparina e eterna luz/Pra eu morrer repetindo:/ A Santa Coca-Cola/E a unica que me seduz" (169).
A third character (and the narrator) of Sangue de Coca-Cola, is the Leftist guerilla, Sapato Amarelo. His death at the hands of the military police parallels the final scene of Joaquim Pedro de Andrade's 1969 film version of Mario de Andrade's Macunaima (1928), where we see the cannibalistic metaphor representing "Brazil being devoured by Brazil." The demise of Sapato Amarelo signifies that the Coca-Cola cultural transfusion has polluted universally, effecting even those who are willing to sacrifice their lives resisting the military regime: "Eles me mataram, eu estou morrendo Tati. Eles me mataram, eu estou sangrando e morrendo. E eu provo um pouco do meu sangue: tem gosto de Coca-Cola. Tati; e eu descubro que isso e a causa de tudo o ruim que aconteceu comigo e com o Brasil. Porque o Brasil tambem tem sangue de CocaCola" (304). Here Drummond's narrative leaves little doubt as to the symbolism of Coca-Cola. From the perspective of the cannibal metaphor, Coca-cola, both as product and image, represents an inescapable toxin, the inverse of the culturally therapeutic "vacina antropofagica" or "transfusores de sangue" of Oswald de Andrade's manifesto antropofago.
Alcemo Bastos has noted that Roberto Drummond's Pop literary texts create an "oblique realism" through the constant insertion of marcas registradas or brand name products, constructing a prosaic, quotidian atmosphere reflecting the realities (post)modern urban life (23). Isabel Stroun adds that the contemporaneity proclaimed by these ephemeral Pop culture references is precisely the cause of their rapid obsolesce. Taken au pied de la lettre Drummond's literary project is self-effacing to the point of being suicidal since his novels relinquish any claim to permanence through time (14). In other words, Drummond has created a text that is as disposable as the informational and material detritus produced by consumer culture. In this vein Sangue de coca-cola represents a sort of cannibalistic recycling where the cannibal as author offers his text as a performance of literary self immolation. Embracing the ethos and velocity of the market economy, and insisting on the "nowness" of his cultural references, Drummond's novel sacrifices future readings for the expediency of the "new and improved" moment. Clearly, the cannibal as Pop Artist has abandoned the grand designs of Oswald de Andrade's modernist manifestos.
Roberto Drummond's pessimism with regard to Pop culture also constitutes a counter response to Tropicalismo. Just as the bossa nova had fused traditional Brazilian forms (samba) with foreign influences (jazz), Tropicalistas like Caetano Veloso, working consciously along the lines of Andrade's Manifesto antropofago, chose to deglutinate mass culture--particularly American cinema and rock music--to produce a highly exportable expression of world music (Juaregui 542). In Drummond's Sangue de coca-cola the cannibal metaphor, when applied to Pop Culture post-modernity, fails where Tropicalismo succeeds. The consumption of foreign pop cultural elements, subsumed by Coca-Cola, does not facilitate the nourishment of exportable culture. On the contrary, Drummond's texts indicate that the cannibal's imported, derivative culture will be forgotten almost as readily as it is consumed.
Rodrigo S. M, the narrator of Clarice Lispector's penultimate novel, A hora da estrela makes Coca-Cola the point of departure for his text. (7) He begins by acknowledging the power of the Coca-Cola mystique, sarcastically stating that his socio-politically committed writing is "sponsored" by the Coca-Cola Company (38). Here Coke's "patronage" carries a triple message. First it points to the ubiquity of the brand name and its deep penetration into Brazilian culture. Secondly it expresses the narrator's ironic stance since the idea of Coca-Cola sponsoring the obra of an unknown writer of social commentary is as laughable as it is preposterous. Where Coke projects the utopia of "Perfect Harmony" the narrator exhibits bitter dissidence. While Coke claims to be the "pause that refreshes" the narrator wants no pause, he wants to keep on observing (and writing) and not to refresh, but rather to be a thorn in the reader's side. The third implication of Coke's "sponsorship" of the narrator's work is that Coca-Cola symbolizes many of the forces that have indeed inspired his work. Since his writing addresses social marginalization the narrator's text is made possible, in large part, by the Coca-Cola Company and all the other multinational corporations that have had such a considerable role in shaping late twentieth century Brazilian urban society.
When Lispector's narrator describes the soft drink he echoes Pignatari's "beba coca-cola," describing Coke as an unpalatable, industrial--flavored brew with a "gosto do cheiro de esmalte de unhas, de sabao Aristolino e plasti co mastigado" (38). Rodrigo S. M.'s satirical panegyric to the beverage continues: "Tudo isso nao impede que todos o amem com servilidade e subserviencia" (38). The implication is that "everbody loves Coke" because, as Cocacola advertising executive Paul Foley himself would put it, "They are drinking the image, not the product." Rodrigo S. M.'s "ode to Coca-Cola" also recognizes that our era is marked "under the sign of consumption" (Baudrillard 50-51). Moreover, he acknowledges that Coke is the paramount symbol of belonging to this age: "... essa bebida que tem coca e hoje. Ele e um meio da pessoa atualizar-se e pisar na hora presente" (38).
Nevertheless, Lispector's narrator rejects Coca-Cola consumer culture. Rodrigo S. M. wants to flee from a culture that considers pleasure to be an obligation, where "one is, in Baudrillard's words, obliged to be happy, to be in love, to be adulating/adulated, seducing/seduced, participating, euphoric, and dynamic" (52). Like Dostoyevsky's "Underground Man" Lispector's Rodrigo S.M. (Sadomasoquista?) prefers the freedom (and perhaps the pain) that comes with living outside of the dominate paradigms of his time. In Rodrigo S. M.'s case this means refusing to love, "com servilidade e subserviencia," the consumerist Utopia that Coca Cola symbolizes (38).
Macabea, the protagonist of A hora da estrela, comes from Brazil's rural Northeast to Rio completely unprepared for success in the modern urban context. She is a marginal figure in a society that, as Giovanni Pontiero notes, "has become hopelessly abrasive in its obsession with material success" (15). Financially unable to actually make many purchases of consumer goods, Macabea must content herself with the consumption of simulacra. Just as she fashions her external worldview through the fragmented bits of trivia transmitted by Radio Relogio, Macabea constructs her internal existence by collecting newspaper and magazine advertisements and pasting them in a scrap album.
In a rare (and perhaps the only) moment of self reflection Macabea defines herself in the following manner: "... sou datilografa e virgem, e gosto de coca-cola" (52). This self identification points to one of the principal developments of the consumer revolution: that an individual's identity is "built through consumption [and that] consumption expresses the self " (Campbel 288). Moreover, by aligning herself with the Coca-Cola image Macabea believes she can acquire social congruency, vicariously partake of the utopian dreams of Coca-Cola ads, and be at one with her fellow Coca-Cola drinkers. In other words, Macabea seeks to escape the anomie of 20th century urban life by joining what Marshal Sahlins has called "a cohesive society of perfect strangers" (203). Macabea's consumer culture escapism also exemplifies Adorno and Hor-kheimer's critique of the culture industry, where the production and consumption of mass, Pop culture and its corresponding commercial propaganda leads to the formation of false identity. Macabea's life is emblematic of a world where existence is homogenized, cheapened, and characterized by illusory desires that will remain forever unsatisified. (8)
Near the end of the novel, when Macabea is run over and killed by a Mercedes Benz it is as if Macabea has wandered into a commercial where she does not belong. (9) The emptiness of Macabea's displaced meaning of consumerist desire is ultimately revealed by the portrayal of her lonely, impoverished existence and her meaningless demise. Rather than Oswaldo de Andrade's mau selvagem, Lispector's Macabea is more like an anorexic cannibal, isolated by the monotony of her material existence and lobotomized by the consumption of symbols that have no real meaning for her. As Macabea plays out her life on the margins of western consumer culture, A hora da estrela gives pause, not to refresh but rather to disconcert the reader who, cannibalistically speaking, is unlikely to desire the absorption of Macabea's qualities.
The three works we have considered bear witness to Marshal McLuhan's insight that a figure such as Coca-Cola will not produce a passive or uniform response. If anything we see that Decio Pignatari, Roberto Drummond, and Clarice Lispector have responded to Coca-Cola's symbolism with vibrant creativity. And, while all three texts are critical of Coca-Cola's influence on Brazilian culture, they also acknowledge Coke's iconic status. They concede that we cannot ignore an image as ubiquitous or as powerful as Coca-Cola. However, as the three texts tacitly recognize the globalizing influence of things non-Brazilian, they also create their own (counter)cultural space(s). Addressed through the imperfect harmony of the cannibal metaphor with the image of Coca Cola, we see that the three works have made new contributions to Silviano Santiago's dynamic of cultural mesticagem, summarized in Silviano Santiago's catalogue of "entre-lugares" or "spaces between" of the "anthropophagic literary ritual." (10) In "beba coca-cola" it is the space between propaganda and art, in Sangue de coca cola, it is the space between transfusion and illusion, and in A hora da estrela it is the space between the product and the image. Finally, by creating original works in a clearly Brazilian idiom, all three texts keep Oswald de Andrade's cannibal metaphor alive by securing the space between consuming and being consumed.
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by Thomas P. Waldemer
Iowa State University
(1) Coca-Cola established itself in Brazil during the Estado Novo (1937-45). The Coca-Cola Company's appropriation of things Brazilian also extends to its product line. In 2000, the company brought out its own guarana beverage, "Kuat," named after an Amazonian Tribal Sun God.
(2) Brazilian receptions of Coca-Cola are not universally negative. For example, Brazilian pop star, Lulu Santos "has indicated his appreciation for Company support by mentioning Coca-Cola frequently in his song lyrics" (Pendergrast 380).
(3) See Fernando Arena's Utopias of Otherness: Nationhood and Subjectivity in Portugal and Brazil (32). The cannibal metaphor has its critics. See Roberto Schwartz's essay "Brazilian Culture: Nationalism by Elimination" and Leslie Bary's "Civilization, Barbarism, 'Canibalism': The Question of National Culture in Oswald de Andrade."
(4) The Portuguese original of "beba coca-cola" (1957), was published in Antologia Noigandres 5, 1962. The poem is usually graphically produced on a red background with white letters to mimic the Coca-Cola label. A copy of the original poem along with an English translation by Maria Jose de Queiroz and Mary Ellen Solt and be found in Concrete Poetry: A World View (108).
(5) For a discussion of Haroldo de Campos' theories of antropofagia cultural see Else Ribeiro Pires Viera's "Liberating Calibans: Reading of Antropofagia and Haroldo de Campos' poetics of transcreation." See also Haroldo de Campos' own article "Da razao antropofagica: a Europa sob o signo de devoracao."
(6) This is the date of the coup d'etat that established the military regime that would last until 1985. Coca-Cola International expressed unhappiness with the title of Drummond's novel fearing "that the book was about an incident that supposedly occurred in Rio in which some workers fell into the syrup and died" (Baden 167).
(7) For a discussion of the role of the narrator in A hora da estrela see: Earl E. Fitz Clarice Lispector, "Point of View in Clarice Lispector's A hora da estrela." See also Bento Nunes's "Clarice Lispector ou o naufrafio da introspecao" and Maria Jose Somerlate Barbosa's "A hora da estrela and Um sopro de vida: parodies of Narrative Power."
(8) See Adorno and Horkheimer's "The Culture Industry: Enlightenment and Mass Deception." See also Carlos Jauregui's "Canibalismo revisitado" (562).
(9) This is precisely how director Suzana Amaral interprets Macabea's demise in her in her 1986 film adaptation of A hora da estrela, shooting the final scene in advertising style.
(10) Silviano Santiago's essay "O entre-lugar do discurso latinoamericano" concludes with the following litany: "Entre o sacrificio e o jogo, entre a prisao e a transgressao, entre a submissao ao codigo e a agressao, entre a obediencia e a rebeliao, entre a assimilacao e a expressao--ali nesse lugar aparentemente vazio, seu tempo e seu lugar de clandestinidade, ali, se realiza o ritual antropofago da literatura latinoamericana" (28).
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|Author:||Waldemer, Thomas P.|
|Date:||May 1, 2008|
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