Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Speaking About Genre: the Case of Concrete Poetry , Victoria Pineda

Assessing the question of genre with the help of a particular example, and not from a strictly theoretical point of view, proves to be a multifarious task. The genetic "question" thus becomes a constellation of genetic "questions." This paper will try to analyze some specific problems that arise from the concept of genre when studying the case of concrete poetry: from its beginnings to its development, production, and transmission; from its interpretation to its relation with traditional forms, and finally, in the context of what this paper calls the "intervention of other systems."
In the first place, it might be necessary to justify the use of the term "genre" when applied to concrete poetry. Apart from obvious reasons of methodological convenience, at least two theoretical frameworks (Mignolo's and Fowler's) would most likely endorse the identification of concrete poetry as a genre. According to Walter Mignolo, a genre is identified as a set of ideas linked to a particular label, and associated with a sufficient number of metatexts that account for it.(1) In Alastair Fowler's system, based on the categories of kind, subgenre, and mode, concrete poetry would be a "historical kind," not a "subgenre" (since it does not display the "same external characteristics with the corresponding kind, together with additional specification of content"), nor a "mode" (which is a "selection or abstraction from kind").(2)

I. Birth of a Genre: Polygenesis

In the origins of concrete poetry as a literary genre we find a paradigmatic example of the process that Fowler categorizes under the name of polygenesis. In dealing with the formation of genres, Fowler analyzes different possibilities. Monogenesis would explain how the start of a new genre is related to the achievements of particular writers, for "it remains true that a single writer's creativity can play a decisive part in originating a new kind." However, "in considering individual origins we also have to allow for the possibility of polygenesis," since "comparative studies have steered toward the conclusion that original creativity is often doubled, even in other literatures with their own independent lines of development" (KL 154). This kind of polygenesis precisely explains the case of concrete poetry.

In concrete poetry, however, polygenesis does not refer to two individual writers, as in Fowler's definition, but rather to one author on the one hand, and to a group of three on the other.(3) The one writer is the Swiss-Bolivian Eugen Gomringer who in the early riffles was in Switzerland working on a project he called "constellations" in the wake of Mallarme's Coup de des. Meanwhile, in 1954 Decio Pignatari and the brothers Augusto and Haroldo de Campos put together in Brazil a group they called "Noigandres," following in the steps of Ezra Pound. When the two parties met a few years later, they both realized that the forms they were developing were about the same. They were all engaged in experimenting with "verbovocovisual" (a term dating back to Joyce) values of the text, which partake "of the advantages of non-verbal communication, without renouncing the virtuality of the word" in literature.(4) For his own work Gomringer accepted and assimilated the new nomination "concrete poetry," that the Brazilian group had adopted from Kandinsky, who had used it a few years earlier to refer to pictorial objects that were not an abstraction of something figurative.

As we can see from these facts, the creation of the new genre is quite clearly determined in both time and space. Obviously the birth of concrete poetry did not happen ex nihilo, and even the "creators" of the genre acknowledged their "predecessors": Mallarme, Pound, Joyce, Cummings, and Apollinaire from literature; Mondrian and Max Bill from painting; Eisenstein from cinema; Webern from music. We are not dealing, however, with any of the processes described by Fowler (KL 171) as combination, aggregation ("several complete short works . . . grouped in an ordered collection"), inclusion ("a literary work may enclose another within it"), or generic mixture. In concrete poetry, instead, different elements are taken from different systems and incorporated into a completely new experience. Some of these elements, defined in the "Plano-piloto para poesia concreta" are the "prismatic subdivisions of ideas," the "ideogrammic method," the "organic inter-penetration of time and space," the "typographical techniques," the "perceptive ambivalence," the "montage," and so on.(5)

II. Intervention of Other Systems

The term that identifies the genre, the diversity of the predecessors' fields, and the elements taken from them, are all aspects that uncover one of the major difficulties when trying to define concrete poetry as a genre, namely, the variety of systems that intervene in it.(6) Concrete poetry does not present a case of parallel discourses, as would, for example, literature versus history, philosophy, or journalism, although it does allow for the interplay of various types of "discourse." Music, for example. Musical spaces, electronic music, and, of course, concrete music are some of the elements that affect the transmission of concrete poetry, as we will see later. From sculpture concrete poetry takes the concept of negative spaces,(7) which will also influence its transmission.(8) The contribution of mathematics includes elements from symbolic logic, and the combinatory system (permutation of letters).(9) Graphic art and advertising also play a significant role in the genre.(10) But of course its major influences are derived from painting. We face, then, a "form of poetic objectivation, relevant not only because of its constructive aspect, but also because of its expansion toward the visual, and toward sonority and movement" (Ss 252).(11)

At this point it seems inevitable to pose the question again: Is there a genre theory that accounts for the complex reality of concrete "texts"? Most theoretical approaches (Fowler, Hirsch, Bajtine, Mignolo, Lotman, Imbrie, Genette) deal with linguistic, literary, or discursive aspects of the text. But what about its nonlinguistic, nonliterary, and nondiscursive elements? Let us now look at possible solutions. In approaching the always intriguing question of the relation between poetry and painting, the starting point in contemporary art is, of course, Lessing. We will examine now some of the ideas expressed in his Laocoon,(12) and then we will attempt to trace (reviewing also the work of Benveniste,(13) Calabrese,(14) and Nadin [see Ss]) the different steps that lead to a satisfactory theoretical position.

A. Poetry/Painting; Texts as Units; The Signs of the Text

As it is well known, Lessing is, in the long tradition of commentators on the topos ut pictura poesis, the first author to establish clear distinctions and strict limits between the two arts. His Laocoon was written to counteract the "bad taste" and wrong judgments of the critics of his time, who "engendered in poetry the rage for description, and in painting the rage for allegorising, in the effort to turn the former into a speaking picture without really knowing what she can and should paint, and to turn the latter into a silent poem without considering in what measure she can express general concepts and not at the same time depart from her vocation and become a freakish kind of writing" (L 4).(15)

The essays contained in Laocoon are devoted to evince his beliefs about the unbridgeable gap between poetry and painting. The distance, according to Lessing, affects various levels: writing is progressive whereas painting is the representation of a static moment; writing can represent abstract concepts whereas painting cannot; poetry describes or imitates actions whereas painting imitates bodies;(16) and, above all, painting has to do with space, and poetry has to do with succession in time.(17)

Emile Benveniste can help in this matter. In "Semiologie de la langue," Benveniste analyzes the possible relationships between language and other systems. Although his observations are not entirely satisfactory for the solution of our problem, at least he opens up the possibility of a relationship, which Lessing had completely eliminated. Benveniste points out how language finds its unity and functioning principle in its semiotic character, which defines its nature and integrates it into a set of similar systems: "The character common to all systems and the criteria that govern their belonging to semiology are their being signifiers or signifieds, and their composition into significant units or signs" (Pl 51).(18)

Spoken language has a certain number of phonemes; written language has a certain number of letters; music has a certain number of notes. What about the visual arts? If it is true that in the written (and the spoken) language there is a fixed number of minimal units, phonemes and letters, what would these units be in painting? On the other hand, in the case that these units did exist, would there be rules to govern them in the way that syntactic or phonetic rules govern linguistic signs?(19) On account of these obstacles, Benveniste does not consider visual arts as semiotic systems, and he claims that individual artists create individual systems. The artist "institutes his or her oppositions in traits that he himself or she herself makes significant in their order" (Pl 58). In other words, "the significant relationships of artistic 'language' are to be discovered inside a work. Art is here just a particular piece of art, in which the artist freely places oppositions and values . . . according to criteria - conscious or unconscious - to which the whole composition bears witness" (Pl 59).(20)

But even in the case that the status of "system" could be granted to painting and literature, and that the relationship between the two systems could be fully explained, we would still be dealing with two systems that face each other, and not with two systems within one and the same "text."

Omar Calabrese proposes certain modifications to Benveniste's assumptions. What is really needed, he thinks, is a shift in the point of view. Following Umberto Eco, Calabrese shows the three most serious errors committed when undertaking the study of pictorial semiotics, namely: "the illusion that we can treat visual phenomena as if they were susceptible of sign analysis; the naive and dogmatic application of a linguistic model; the belief in a pictorial language completely constituted and perfectly working" (FS 10). On the contrary, it is necessary to start from a new perspective, "from the analysis of macrostructural, complex elements (which are nevertheless systemic ones) and not from the inquiry of minimal elements" (FS 13). What becomes relevant then as "unit" is the text itself, not the signs that make it up. In this way, linguistic or pictorial signs acquire a new value as components of a text. Therefore, they can both coexist (as in concrete poetry), and the difference in the systems should not disturb this coexistence; all the signs are at the same level.

Nadin's remarks only confirm the idea of equivalence of signs proposed by Benveniste. According to Benveniste, language is the only system whose meaning is articulated around two dimensions, whereas other systems have a unidimensional signification, which can be "either semiotic (politeness expressions, 'mudras') and non-semantic; or semantic (artistic expressions), and non-semiotic" (Pl 65).(21) However, in concrete poetry the system undergoes an alteration explained by Nadin: "Concrete poetry is a para-linguistic reality that may be identified because the linguistic signs which participate in it (together with so many other signs) do not intervene in the making up of meaning as units of languages with a double articulation, but as signs which oppose themselves to the second articulation" (Ss 253),(22) that is, linguistic signs in concrete poetry are equivalent to the elements of "artistic expressions" [expressions artistiques].

B. A "Literary" Genre

But then, to what extent can these texts be considered as "literature"? In what sense can they be "read" as "poetry"? Or, using Carole Ann Taylor's words, "Under what circumstances does a combination of visual and verbal media achieve the status of poetry and under what circumstances does the logic of vision and that of language interfere with each other in ways that cannot convincingly be labeled 'poetic'?"(23)

To get more deeply into the theories of "the literary" obviously goes far beyond the scope of the ideas presented in this paper, and so we do not have all the arms to fight the battle. But we do have Certain elements available which can help us observe how concrete poetry is located (according to some) or not (according to others) within the realm of literature. These elements include the traditional association of poetry and painting, the genre creators' testimony, and a set of metatexts that identify and define it. In his outline of the history of concrete poetry, Armando Zarate emphasizes the common origin of poetry and painting: "In spite of the obliging diligence of reciters, written poetry seems to unveil or remind that in its origin, it was born also a form of painting. This written word that entered, millennia ago, the magic circle, the sacred, the hieroglyph, is again [in concrete poetry], curiously enough, the word that breaks into pieces, the word that checks itself and comes back to its original nature, devoid of 'thing,' but a living matter and act."(24) The closeness of the two arts was first explained by Aristotle, and reformulated once again during the Renaissance.(25) Two centuries after Tasso, the topic still constituted the object of a good number of studies, such as Lessing's Laocoon. In the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, a renewed interest for experimentation in the field joins the old theoretical preoccupations. The practice of making literature into a picture was not entirely new, of course. The tradition began in ancient Greece (third century B.C.), was later developed in the Middle Ages (carmina figurata), and the Renaissance (emblems), and was even incorporated into the novel (Rabelais's Pantagruel).(26) The long path lead to the proliferation of what one might call "visual poems": Mallarme (Un Coup de des), Apollinaire (Calligrammes), Paul Eluard (Quelques-uns des mots), Ezra Pound (Cantos), E. E. Cummings (Is 5), Joyce (Finnegans Wake), Vicente Huidobro (Horizonte cuadrado), Octavio Paz (Blanco).

The evolution of traditional poetic forms, from more or less fixed rules to a more "free" poetry, alters the condition of poetry itself. Nadin observes how art has evolved during this century in such a way that it has acquired a new fundamental characteristic: specificity, concreteness. In this sense, poetic modernism responds to poetry's assimilation of its own mechanisms, and its abandonment of all ornamentation that blocks the access to poetic meaning: "Both progressive withdrawal of rhyme, measure, and rhythm, and even of metaphor, and de-poetization (realized by means of poetry . . .) represent an attack, from the inside, on the form, which is supposed to mask, to disguise, and to make difficult the access to poetic meaning" (Ss 251).(27)

Concrete poetry is just one instance that reveals the results of the process. This seems to be also the creators' intention, as Augusto de Campos states in "A moeda concreta da fala": "in poetry, by definition, all must be functional," and later, "the revolt of concrete poetry is not against language. It is against its nonfunctionality and its formulization. It is against appropriation by discourse which makes a formula of it."(28)

These words betray, at a second level, something crucial: In the "writing" of concrete poetry there is some kind of "poetic awareness" in the sense that what is being created is more or less consciously taken as poetry and nothing else. The essays and manifestos included in Teoria da Poesia Concreta point toward this direction. A few quotations will suffice: "a poem does not mean this or that, it means itself";(29) "if, in Sartre's opinion, poetry distinguishes itself from prose in that in prose words are signs whereas in poetry they are 'things,' here this distinction of generic kind steps up to an even sharper, more literal stage";(30) "concrete poetry places the poem under the focus of a rigorously organizing conscience, which acts upon the poetic material in the broadest, most consistent manner";(31) "concrete poetry substitutes space for the verse line, as the poem's formal base."(32)

The publication of metatexts in specialized journals, and the interest for this new poetic form in the field of literary studies by a good number of university departments, further prove that the community accepts these texts as "literary." And although it is a fact that concrete poetry is also the object of a few studies in publications related to typography (Journal of Typographic Research, Visible Language), even those articles give us testimonies such as Mary Ellen Solt's: "Poets, typographers, and critics involved in the international concrete poetry movement have tended to overstress the relationship to constructive art, forgetting that poetry is first and foremost a form of literature,"(33) or Mike Weaver's: "concrete poetry is an aesthetic movement in poetry."(34) Nadin's statement follows the same path: "Form of poetic objectivation" (Ss 258); "the poetics of concretism - for it is poetics we are all dealing with" (Ss 251), and so forth.(35) There are some experts, however, who considering "emotion and subjectivity as inherent qualities of the lyric genre" (AP 242), take concrete poetry as just "an interesting but unpoetic manipulation of concepts" (AP 224). As we have pointed out, though, concrete poetry seeks precisely to free itself from all subjectivity, shifting the "lyrical" focus, and placing it in the aesthetic side of the process, as it always happens with any kind of message whose dominant function is centered on the message itself.

III. Production and Transmission; Poets and Typographers

The fact that the interrelation of systems also affects production techniques puts us in a new problematic situation. Production and transmission of concrete poetry cannot be achieved through conventional methods only. Photography, engraving, color, graphic design, collage, moving pictures . . . have become part of these texts, and that produces very peculiar "poem books," when it does not jeopardize their very existence. Many times what we see in anthologies are not the "real" poems, but mere "reproductions" (while the originals are shown at exhibitions). It cannot be forgotten that concrete poetry has evolved "along the lines of industrial design and architecture."(36) That is why now poets influence the graphic arts, and "the anthologies of concrete poetry have become veritable picture books" (234).

Poets are aware of how strong the link between poetry and graphic art is, and how greatly they influence each other, and they want to take advantage of the new possibilities. "If concrete poetry is to remain a viable new genre, its visual potential must be liberated rather than restricted" (TV 109); "most [concrete poets] are unwilling to commit themselves exclusively to one type of style and to close the door against any of the visual and expressive possibilities available in the typographical medium" (TV 111). Therefore in concrete poetry the aesthetic qualities of the shape of letters and other graphic signs are consciously used by the poet in order to intensify the meaning of the words. Hence, the poet ought to be acquainted with typographic techniques, at least in theory. Practice is, of course, a different story, as Solt emphasizes quoting Gomringer: "When concrete poets try to be graphic artists and graphic artists try to be poets, the results are frequently inferior poetry, inferior design, or both" (TV 112). For in the production of this genre, unlike traditional poetry, the intervention of two (maybe more if we add performance) "experts" is needed. Poets usually send suggestions to the typographer regarding the treatment they want for their texts. These suggestions are not normally transcribed when poems are printed, but Solt gives some examples of notes that she herself sent to the press accompanying her poems. In one of these notes, she makes clear that the poem "leaf" "requires a graceful serif face so that the hieroglyphic 'f' in subtly bolder type can be seen to fall through the poem. An italic face would overdo it, I feel. The poem should be placed upper-right on the page to suggest the poems written on Japanese scrolls [Typeface: Garamond]" (TV 118). We see how decisively the transformations in the poetic structure affect the production and transmission of written material.

In addition, another quality of concrete texts must be taken into account: since they are "poems," they should be able to be recited. Of course, recitation must necessarily undergo some kind of change, too. In the first place, it seems obvious that very few concrete poems could be recited without losing their true sense. What is usually done then is to adapt the poems to music, so that in exchange for the loss of visual force, oral/auditive expression is very much reinforced. The role of music, so extensively praised by the Noigandres group, becomes crucial in the performance of the texts. Pignatari remembers how a few poems, accompanied by Anton Webern's music and "adapted to voice were executed in the Teatro de Arena of Sao Paulo in November of 1955 by the 'Ars Nova' musical group."(37) Ronald Sousa also describes one of these readings, in this case of a poem by Pignatari: "'Beba Coca-Cola' has been performed in high choral style - completed with recorded belches for punctuation - in an arrangement by Klaus Dieter-Wolff as a part of a recording entitled 'Madrigal Ars Viva.'"(38) The combination of poetry and music is of course subject to a number of variations, since the elements in the poetic text can be reorganized, repeated, or even modified. Therefore the reading of concrete poetry "does not depend, as traditional poetry does, upon a fixed, linear text for its communication" (210). The role not only of the performer or the adapter, but also of the receptor of concrete poetry, becomes fundamental, as explained by Claus Cluver: "Construction of variants is an operation many concrete texts invite the reader to perform."(39)

IV. Poem/Metapoem; Difficulties in Interpretation; Importance of Perception; The Function of Metatexts

The last question this paper will approach refers to the interpretation of concrete poetry. Due to all the novelties present in the genre, the reader, or let us say the receptor, of concrete poems must make an effort of adjustment at two levels. First, readers must adapt their expectations until they find the new "type of meaning," using E. D. Hirsch's terminology.(40) Second, in concrete poetry a second level of adjustment has to take place: expectations about the function of interpretation itself must also be modified. Cluver claims that concrete texts "do not curtail the referential qualities of the verbal material of which they are composed. . . . They communicate primarily their own structure, which is their proper 'content'" (RV 138). Or, as we saw earlier, language has lost its second level of articulation. That is why for the unwarned reader, "the very label 'poem' may arouse many expectations that the text will not fulfill" (RV 140). The most widespread proposal on how to read a concrete poem, defended by Cluver, Nadin, and Weaver, tends to the abandonment of what is usually taken as "interpretation," and its substitution by a more useful activity: perception.(41) Traditionally, the reader "is used to looking 'through' a text rather than 'at' it" (RV 140). The concept of perception, outlined here in such a shallow manner, is broadly developed by Mike Weaver, who asserts that "the act of perception itself is the first preoccupation of concrete poetry" (CP 294). The emphasis falls on formal values, "on the micro-aesthetic of perception rather than on the macro-aesthetic of attitude," in such a way that "energy is directed towards solving problems of scale, movement, sequential relations, time, stamina, and, above all, the identification of forms" (CP 294). All that is asked from the "receptors" (new form of "readers") is that they have their capacity of sensory stimulation ready, and just that, since "a capacity for fantasy, or self-stimulation of the notoriously 'literary' kind, is not required. To participate in the concrete poem means no more (no less) than paying active attention in perceiving" (CP 295).

Weaver's opinion, somewhat radical, eliminates the possibility of interpretation as an intellectual exercise. Mihai Nadin, along the same line, allows nevertheless for a certain degree of intellectual activity: "Poetic meaning is not perceived by reason alone (after a certain decoding process), or by sensitivity alone (perception of the shape, for example), but by both of them - influencing each other - at the same time" (Ss 257).(42) At any rate, both Weaver and Nadin are advocating the importance of sensory experience as a process, which had already been proposed by Susan Sontag: "Interpretation takes the sensory experience of the work of art for granted, and proceeds from there."(43)

The adjustment of expectations about the function of interpretation is fundamental for the acceptance of concrete poetry as a genre. Carole Ann Taylor's study offers a remarkable example of what happens, or may happen, when the adjustment does not take place. Taylor's criticism of concrete poetry shows an attitude linked to the traditional concept of interpretation in literature. Even her treatment of the relation between poetry and painting reminds us of Lessing's ideas: "Poems elicit a sense of beginning and ending whereas paintings elicit little sense of starting and finishing" (AP 232). As far as expectation adjustment is concerned, it is noteworthy that Taylor deems "profundity," "duration," and "social function" essential features of poetry. Since concrete poetry does not respond to these prerequisites, it should be ruled out from poetic discourse, for "these techniques abolish sequence by abolishing the internal relations between words that we usually think of as providing the richness and depth of poetry" (AP 236). And yet such a process is seen by Augusto de Campos as a waning of the word's strength, since it "deprives the word of its own vitality, transforming it then in a tumulus-taboo, dead cell in a living organism" (Mc 114).(44) The poem communicates itself; there is nothing "profound" about it: all is in the surface.

On the other hand, the structure of concrete poetry, its sometimes ephemeral configuration, its closeness to graphic art, advertising, and mass media techniques, inscribe the genre within the communication process to which the modern consumer is accustomed: newspaper headlines, simplified syntax. In other words, "high speed communication,"(45) which by the way justifies and validates the theoretical principles that concrete poets hold.(46) Again, this peculiarity is seen by Taylor as one more "weakness" of concrete poetry, because "such objects may fascinate momentarily, but the durability of their appeal seems limited" therefore running the risk of reducing "messages to mementos" (AP 237).

Finally, a third manifestation of the lack of adjustment takes place in the pragmatic value granted to poetry. Taylor accuses concrete poetry of restricting itself to "celebratory, affirmative values, a pleasure with the tendency to turn away from the real world's pain," and because of that, "such poetry cannot give birth to a sustained, focussed criticism of personal and social malaise, cannot make fine and particularized enough distinctions to shake us out of apathy or - however delightful, however pleasureable - to open our eyes to the connections between our own patness and the suffering of others" (AP 234).

These words, however, are far from agreeing with Augusto de Campos's opinion on the "social mission" of poetry: "The true social mission of poetry would be to stir latent energies in language so as to overthrow its petrifying dogmas, and to revitalize it. This is a mission that takes place in the ethic and aesthetic exigences of true poetry, which prefers running the risk of being unknown rather than being labelled by the inquisitorial patterns of language" (Mc 114).(47)

The comparison of the two statements uncovers a fundamental aspect of the question of genre, namely, the way in which metatexts function in the process of text reception as establishers of a "reading norm." At a different level it can also be observed that metatexts have, or they can have, or they think they do have, the ability of solving the genre problem, at least partially: metatexts analyze texts and the circumstances that surround them, or that arise from them, and with all this material, they come to general conclusions about the inclusion or exclusion of a text in a genre, about "the literary," about "labels," and so forth.

The "problems" of concrete poetry do not end here. What remains to be examined includes, for example, the evolution of the genre (how semiotic poetry, where verbal signs have definitely been eliminated, comes from concrete poetry), its present state, or the questions generated by a "literary" genre arising within the semiotics of the visual. All of it, however, would fall outside the scope of these pages, focused only on the subject of genre. In them, this paper has tried to illustrate with the example of concrete poetry some of the many problems that the question of genre may stir up at a theoretical level, and reciprocally, to elucidate, with the help of a few theoretical principles, the comprehension of concrete poetry as a literary genre.



1 Walter Mignolo, Elementos para una teoria del texto literario (Barcelona, 1978).

2 Alastair Fowler, Kinds of Literature: An Introduction to the Theory of Genres and Modes (Cambridge, Mass., 1989), pp. 55-56; hereafter cited in text as KL.

3 The external history of the genre can be followed in Mary Ellen Solt's anthology Concrete Poetry: A World View (Bloomington, Ind., 1968). Other aspects are studied by Eniko Bollobas, "Poetry of Visual Enactment: The Concrete Poem," Word and Image, 2 (1986), 279-85; Antonio Chicharro Chamorro, "Notas para un analisis de 'la poesia concreto-visual,'" in Estudios sobre literatura y arte dedicados al profesor Emilio Orozco Diaz (Granada, 1979), vol. 1, pp. 377-88; Claus Cluver, "Brazilian Concrete: Painting, Poetry, Time, and Space," in Literature and the Other Arts, vol. 3 of Proceedings of the IXth Congress of the International Comparative Literature Association, ed. Zoran Konstantinovic, Steven P. Scher, and Ulrich Weisstein (Innsbruck, 1979), pp. 207-13, and "From Imagism to Concrete Poetry: Breakthrough or Blind Alley?" in Amerikanische Lyrik: Perspektiven und Interpretationen, ed. Rudolf Haas (Berlin, 1987), pp. 113-30; Liesbeth Crommelin, Klaukteksten, konkrete poesie, visuale teksten (Amsterdam, 1971); Harald Hartung, Experimentelle Literatur und Konkrete Poesie (Gottingen, 1975); John Jacob, "Principles of Concrete Structuralism," in Visual Literature Criticism, ed. Richard Kostelanetz (Carbondale, Ill., 1980), pp. 125-28; Thomas Kopfermann, Theorische Positionen sur Konkreten Poesie (Tubingen, 1975); G. M. Lang, "From the Pictograph to the Metapoem: Realms of Concrete Literary Reference in Brazilian Concrete Poetry," Revista Canadiense de Estudios Hispanicos, 3 (1978-79), 101-20; Enrique Sacerio-Gari, "The Wake of Form in Concrete Poetry," Poesis, 7 (1986), 15-26; Von fur uber Heinz Gappmayr, ed. Peter Weiermair (Zirndorf, 1985).

4 Augusto de Campos, Decio Pignatari, and Haroldo de Campos, "Plano-piloto para poesia concreta," originally published in Noigandres (1958), and included later in Teoria da Poesia Concreta. Textos Criticos e Manifestos. 1950-1960 (Sao Paulo, 1975). All quotations from manifestos are taken from this edition. "Das vantagens da comunicacao nao-verbal, sem abdicar das virtualidades da palavra" (p. 157). Translations of this and other non-English texts throughout this paper are mine, except those from Laocoon.

5 "subdivisions prismatiques de l'idee," "metodo ideogramico," "interpenetracao organica de tempo e espaco," "recursos tipograficos," "ambivalencia perceptiva," "montagem" (p. 156).

6 The term "system" is used here in a very broad sense, without considering in detail in what manner, and to what extent, painting, sculpture, or music are true "systems," or what are the rules that govern them.

7 As implied in Alfred J. MacAdam, "Decio Pignatari: Retrato en Blanco y Negro," Revista Iberoamericana 43 (1977), 98-99. See also Roland Grass, "Concrete Treatment of Space," in Kostelanetz, Visual Literature Criticism, pp. 135-40.

8 See figs. 91, 104, and 107 in Solt, Concrete Poetry.

9 See Armando Zarate's comment (Antes de la vanguardia, ed. Rodolfo Alonso [Buenos Aires, 1976], p. 113) on Peirce and Morris's "New Poetry, New Language." See also Fowler's example (p. 157) and Mihai Nadin's analogy of a concrete poem being at the same time a mathematical game ("Sur le sens de la poesie concrete," Poetique, 42 [1980], 250-64, 262); hereafter cited in text as Ss.

10 Jon M. Tolman ("The Context of a Vanguard: Toward a Definition of Concrete Poetry," Poetics Today, 3, no. 3 [1982], 149-66), explaining how art and business are not necessarily exclusive, provides us with this anecdote: "Pignatari himself established a successful ad agency in Sao Paulo for a number of years, and one of his ads is usually included in concrete anthologies. In his 'Disenformio' (an anti-diarrheal medicine) the letters of the product invade and consume the 'intestinal disturbance.' The ad is at once a highly effective commercial message (part of whose effectiveness is subliminal) and a demonstration that what works has artistic value" (p. 161). This is not an isolated case, as anyone can verify at some ophthalmologists' offices.

11 "forme d'objectivation poetique, pertinente par son aspect constructif ainsi que par l'expansion vers le visuel, le sonore et le mouvement."

12 Gotthold Ephraim Lessing, Laocoon or the Limits of Painting and Prose, ed. William A. Steel (London, 1930); hereafter cited in text as L.

13 Emile Benveniste, Problemes de linguistique generale (Paris, 1974), vol. 2, esp. ch. 3, "Semiologie de la langue"; hereafter cited in text as Pl.

14 Omar Calabrese, "From the Semiotics of painting to the Semiotics of Pictorial Text," Versus, 25 (1980), 3-27; hereafter cited in text as FS.

15 This single consideration would evict at once concrete poetry from the domains of art. Or maybe art forms such as concrete poetry would help to evict considerations like this one.

16 It would, however, be necessary to review the meaning of "action" in the context of figurative representation as gesture, posture, and so on.

17 It is worth noting, though, how Lessing himself offers a solution to his own dilemma, touching at the same time on the question of reception. He admits that works of art "are made not merely to be seen, but to be considered, to be long and repeatedly contemplated. . . . The more we see, the more must we be able to add by thinking" (L, p. 14), implying that temporal succession is not completely ignored in painting.

18 "Le caractere commun a tous les systemes et le critere de leur appartenance a la semiologie est leur propriete de signifier ou signifiance, et leur composition en unites de signifiance, ou signes."

19 Of course the same questions could be formulated in relation to literature. But since literature uses language as a vehicle of expression, one would tend to consider that the "units" of literature are the units of language. And yet it seems clear that literature does not mean written (or spoken) language.

20 "institue ses oppositions en traits qu'il rend lui-meme signifiants dans leur ordre"; "les relations signifiantes du 'langage' artistique sont a dicouvrir i l'interieur d'une composition. L'art n'est jamais ici qu'une oeuvre d'art particuliere, ou l'artiste instaure librement des oppositions et des valeurs . . . selon des criteres, conscientes ou non, dont la composition entiere porte temoignage et devient manifestation." This statement on the other hand, would fit the parameters of concrete poetry, but then again the linguistic component would be being ignored, and the problem would remain unsolved.

21 "ou semiotique (gestes de politesse; 'mudras'), sans semantique; ou semantique (expressions artistiques), sans semiotique."

22 "La poesie concrete est une realite para-linguistique qui peut etre identifiee par cela que les signes linguistiques que participent a sa realite (a cote de tant d'autres signes) ne participent pas a la constitution du sens en tant qu'unites de langage doublement articule mais en tant que signes qui s'opposent a la seconde articulation."

23 Carole Ann Taylor, A Poetics of Seeing: The Implications of Visual Form in Modern Poetry (New York, 1985); hereafter cited in text as AP. The usefulness of this study is two-fold: first, for suggesting the very question; secondly, for revealing an approach to visual poetry that could exemplify the problem of "interpretation" of concrete poetry. The title of the chapter that examines concrete texts ("No Ideas, Even in Things") and the bias in the formulation of the question quoted are, in my opinion, highly significant.

24 Zarate, Antes de la vanguardia, p. 67. "Pese a la diligencia oficiosa de los recitadores, la poesia que se escribe parece revelar o recordar que esta nacio tambien como una forma de la pintura. Esta palabra escrita, que hace milenios entro en el circulo de lo magico, de lo sagrado, del numero, del jeroglifico, vuelve a ser, curiosamente, la palabra que se fragmenta, que se ausculta y se reintegra a su naturaleza elemental, profana de 'cosa,' pero en tanto que es materia y acto vivo."

25 See, for example, Bernardo Tasso's "Ragionamento della Poesia": "According to Aristotle's opinion, poetry is an imitation of human actions, very similar, as Horace writes, to painting, because both imitate" ("La poesia, secondo la mente d'Aristotele, e una imitazione delle azioni umani, molto simile [si come Orazio scrive] alla pittura, perche l'una e l'altra imita"), quoted in Edward Williamson, Bernardo Tasso (Rome, 1951). Literature on the subject is so copious that even the most "selected" bibliography would exceed by far the limits of these pages. Let us only mention, for the sake of tradition, the famous study by R. W. Lee "Ut Pictura Poesis: The Humanistic Theory of Painting," Art Bulletin, 22 (1940), 197-269.

26 See a partial study of this tradition in Jose Romera Castillo, "Poesia figurativa medieval: Vigilan, monje hispano-latino del siglo X, precursor de la poesia concreto-visual," 1616, 3 (1980), 135-56.

27 "L'abandon progressif de la rime, de la mesure et du rythme, de la metaphore meme, la depoetisation (realisee avec les moyens de la poesie . . .) representent une attaque, de l'interieur, sur la forme censee masquer, dissimuler, rendre difficilement accessible l'acces au sens poetique."

28 Augusto de Campos,"A moeda concreta da fala," in Teoria da Poesia Concreta, p. 115; hereafter cited in text as Mc. "Na poesia, por definicao, tudo deve ser funcional"; "A revolta da poesia concreta nao e contra a linguagem. E contra a infuncionalidade e a formulizacao da linguagem. E contra a sua apropriacao pelo discurso que a converte em formula."

29 Decio Pignatari, "De poimento," in Teoria da Poesia Concreta, p. 9. "Um poema nao quer dizer isto nem aquilo, mas diz-se a si proprio."

30 Augusto de Campos, "Poesia Concreta," in Teoria da Poesia Concreta, p. 34. "Se, no entender de Sartre, a poesia se distingue da prosa pelo fato de que para esta as palavras sao signos enquanto para aquela sao 'coisas,' aqui essa distincao de ordem generica se transporta a um estagio mais agudo e literal."

31 Haroldo de Campos, "Evolucao de Formas: Poesia Concreta," in Teoria da Poesia Concreta, p. 51. "A poesia concreta coloca o poema sob o foco de una consciencia rigorosamente organizadora, que atua sobre o material de poesia de maneira mais ampla e mais consequente possivel."

32 Haroldo de Campos, "Aspectos da Poesia Concreta," in Teoria da Poesia Concreta, p. 100. "A poesia concreta substitui o verso, como base formal do poema, pelo espaco."

33 Mary Ellen Solt, "Typography and the Visual Concrete Poem," Visible Language, 6 (1972), 116; hereafter cited in text as TV.

34 Mike Weaver, "Concrete Poetry," Journal of Typographic Research, 1 (1967), 294; hereafter cited in text as CP.

35 "Forme d'objectivation poetique"; "la poetique du concretisme - car il s'agit bien d'une poetique."

36 Eugen Gomringer, "Poetry as a Means for Structuring of a Social Environment," Visible, Language, 10 (1976), 237; hereafter cited in text.

37 Decio Pignatari, "Concrete Poetry: A Brief Structural-Historical Guideline," Poetics Today, 3, no. 3 (1982), 192.

38 Ronald W. Sousa, "Concrete Poetry: A Contrastive Approach," Kentucky Romance Quarterly, 23 (1976), 209; hereafter cited in text.

39 Claus Cluver, "Reflections on Vervivocovisual Ideograms," Poetics Today, 3, no. 3 (1982), 140; hereafter cited in text as RV.

40 E.D. Hirsch, Validity in Interpretation (New Haven, 1967). For the explanation of this concept see ch. 3, "The Concept of Genre."

41 Obviously these "rules" on how to read concrete poetry are merely descriptive. This paper just wants to illustrate how metatexts propose solutions to the problem of reception.

42 "Le sens poetique n'est pas percu par la seule raison (apres un certain decodage) ou par la seule sensibilite (perception de la forme, par exemple) mais bien toujours par les deux a la fois, qui s'influencent reciproquement."

43 Susan Sontag, Against Interpretation and Other Essays (New York, 1961), p. 13.

44 "exaure a palavra sua vitalidade propria, tranformando-a logo num tumulo-tabu, celula-morta de un organismo vivo."

45 Tolman, "The Context of a Vanguard," 161.

46 Susan Sontag describes in a few words this type of art, "whose momentum is so rapid, whose address is so direct that the work can be . . . just what it is," in Against Interpetation, p. 11.

47 "A verdadeira missao social da poesia seria essa de arregimentar as energias latentes na linguagem para destronar os seus dogmas petrificadores, vivificando-a, donde a extremada exigencia etico-estetica da poesia realmente digna desse nome, que prefere correr o risco de ver 'desconhecida sua existencia' a ser etiquetada pelos padroes inquisitorios da linguagem."

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