The Avant-Garde Tradition in Literature

By Richard Kostelanetz | Go to book overview

Points — Periphery — Concrete Poetry

Augusto de Campos

"Without presuming what will grow from this in the future, nothing or a nearart," said Mallarmé in the preface to the first version of Un coup de dés ( Cosmopolis magazine, 1897), opening the doors on a new poetic reality. 1

The various pugil-isms of the beginning of the century — in spite of their utility and necessity — had the misfortune of obscuring the importance of that "plant poem," that "great typographic and cosmogonic poem," worth more by itself than all the vanguardist shoutings of some years later.

Un coup de dés made of Mallarmé the inventor of a process of poetic composition whose significance seems to us comparable to the value of the "series," introduced by Schoenberg, purified by Webern, and through his filtration, bequeathed to the young electronic musicians presiding over the sonorous universe of Boulez and Stockhausen.I would define this process, from the beginning, by the word "structure," having in mind an entity where the whole is more than the sum of the parts or something qualitatively different from the individual components. Eisenstein, in the foundation of his theory of montage, and Pierre Boulez and Michel Fano, with reference to the principle of the series, testified — as artists — to their interest in the application of Gestalt concepts to the arts. And it is in the strictest Gestalt terms that we understand the title of one of e. e. cummings's books of poetry: Is 5. For poetry, and especially for the structural poetry of Mallarmé or cummings, two plus two can be rigorously equal to five.

____________________
The title "Points — Periphery — Concrete Poetry" stems from a Poundian aphorism ("Points define a periphery") that appears in the introduction to the new version of Analects of Confucius ( The Hudson Review, 3, no. 1 ( Spring 1950).
From Jornal do Brasil, Nov. 11, 1956. Reprinted by permission of Jon M. Tolman, translator.

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