University of São Paulo: A “metaphorical alien” on the border between adverse worlds


If poetic freedom is allowed, we can think of the history of culture as a partially covered night sky. Each star seen would represent one of the great names that illuminate, with more or less intensity, the generations that followed them. But behind the clouds, as we suspect, space is even more populated with stars than we can see.

In Brazilian literature, one of these hidden stars is Jamil Almansur Haddad (1914-1988), a Lebanese-Brazilian poet, translator, literary critic and psychiatrist, contemporary of the Geração de 45 and author of seven published books and three unpublished. With a poetic work that flows from eroticism to the Koran and from exoticizing orientalism to political engagement, Haddad was considered “out of place” and “incoherent” by the critics of his contemporaries. A “minor poet”, in the words of Antonio Candido. Appropriate adjectives to describe the difficulty that his work inspires rather than its supposed irrelevance.

This is precisely the idea that appears in the pages of the book A Lua do Oriente e Outros Luas: Biografia e Seleção de Poemas de Jamil Almansur Haddad , written by journalist Christina Stephano de Queiroz. Result of Christina’s doctoral thesis, defended in 2017 at the Faculty of Philosophy, Letters and Human Sciences (FFLCH) at USP – and winner of the USP Thesis Highlight Award in 2018 -, the volume transits between journalism and letters, mobilizing poetic analysis , theoretical and historical repertoire alongside interviews and research in newspapers, magazines, libraries, private collections, second-hand bookstores and on the internet. The edition is by Ateliê Editorial.

Jamil Almansur Haddad was born in São Paulo, the son of Lebanese parents, and was the only one of five siblings who learned Arabic from his mother, a journalist and feminist considered, we could say, “ahead of her time”. Sympathetic to “damned” writers, as a translator Haddad was responsible for the first full Brazilian version of As Flores do Mal , by Charles Baudelaire. He also introduced the works of the Marquis de Sade to Brazil, at a time when the author was banned in French bookstores. As a literary critic, he presented new readings of the poetry of Castro Alves and Álvares de Azevedo and of the speeches of Father Antônio Vieira.

Christina Stephano de Queiroz – Photo: Personal archive
Christina Stephano de Queiroz, author of the book – Photo: Personal archive
During the 1940s and 1950s, Haddad played a leading role in national intellectual circles. He collaborated regularly with the press and published for major publishers such as José Olympio, Brasiliense, Saraiva and Record. During his life, he wrote ten books of poetry, seven of which reached bookstores, in addition to having in his curriculum more than 30 translations from French, Arabic and English. He also organized anthologies, produced several critical studies and essays, and served as president of the Poetry Club, founded by the poets of the Generation of 45.

This muscular baggage, however, was not enough for the author to appear among the first echelon of national writers or receive the attention of historiography. The reason for this, as Christina points out, involves the difficulty that critics had to understand and classify his poetry, without being able to insert it into the Brazilian artistic movements of his time, nor finding a satisfactory place for Haddad along with his Lebanese roots. “Verborrágica” and “unclassifiable” were some of the terms used to define his poetic production, considered minor, subversive and pornographic – which even earned him the surveillance of the political police from the 1940s onwards and the need for authorization to leave the country. .

Unclassifiable and out of place, ponders the researcher, perhaps because of the scope and versatility of themes covered in her work. In Alkamar, My Mistress (1935), his first book, there is a flirtation with Orientalism. Afterwards, the poet would dive into engaged poetry, coming to embrace the revolution led by Fidel Castro in Romanceiro Cubano (1960). Already in the last decade of his life, the Qur’anic surahs would be the baseline for Warning to Mariners (1980).

Jamil Haddad’s work – Photo: Reproduction
Jamil Haddad’s work – Photo: Reproduction
Jamil Haddad’s work – Photo: Reproduction
Jamil Haddad’s work – Photo: Reproduction
Jamil Haddad’s work – Photo: Reproduction
Jamil Haddad’s work – Photo: Reproduction
Jamil Haddad’s work – Photo: Reproduction
Jamil Haddad’s work – Photo: Reproduction
Jamil Haddad’s work – Photo: Reproduction
Jamil Haddad’s work – Photo: Reproduction
But there have been some somewhat off-kilter attempts to frame his lyric. These often led critics to label him a foreigner, an author detached from the Brazilian literary context and belonging to a distant, exotic and unknown place. Lebanese parents, the Arabic language, political persecution, intellectual conflicts and disagreements in the medical field (as a psychiatrist, Haddad was adept at the therapeutic use of LSD) contributed to reinforce this image.

“The French sociologist Roger Bastide, for example, to support the idea that Haddad was an oriental poet, selected the following image: a woman who coughs up blood and it turns into a flower”, says Christina. “For Bastide, this is typical of an oriental poet. But we note that Haddad borrowed this metaphor from a Brazilian symbolist poet. So there’s nothing oriental about her.”

Both his biography and his work, the researcher shows, point out that the classification of foreigner is not the most satisfactory. Brazilian by birth, Haddad only discovered Lebanon in 1954, when he became a cultural attaché in Beirut. There, he had the shock of coming into contact with a different country than the one reading and imagination had created: in the East too he was a foreigner.

“He spent his whole life with the Arab he learned from his mother and with the family stories, fabbling with a Lebanon he had never seen,” says Christina. “Living two years in Beirut, he actually got to know a reality he had only imagined before and realized that he also did not belong to that fabled Orient.”

For the researcher, the best way to understand Haddad’s work is to see him as a frontier poet. “At first, I bought this idea from the critics, that he was a poet out of place, out of focus and marginal. But I started to question myself. It wasn’t possible, he had to write from somewhere. Hence, I proposed the idea of ​​a border poet between East and West, cursed poetry and metrical verse, Modernism and Baroque.”

From this perspective, Christina sees Haddad as a metaphorical foreigner, who refused to structure his poetic identity on the basis of a precise nationality. Even when he versified inspired by Islam, his poetry appears disjointed from national contexts. On the other hand, his connection with Brazilian literature did not come from his direct identification with his modernist contemporaries, but with the universal environments of the Baroque and the cursed lyric. The result, identifies the researcher, is a representation of the self that is neither local nor foreign, but belongs to a border space between Lebanon and Brazil, past and present, East and West, profane and sacred.

In his poetic work, Haddad defended traditional versification (this being one of his disagreements with Oswald de Andrade), romantic idealization and eroticism, at a time when Modernism raised the banner of rupture. He also painted, especially in Alkamar, Minha Amante , an exotic Orient, permeated by seductive Bedouins, camels, palm trees and cedars, which would change along his trajectory, leading to Warning to the Navigators , a work in which the Koran is the basis. used by the author to deal with universal elements.

In his later years, Haddad became increasingly isolated, which may have contributed to his current oblivion. His work was also amplifying the border character – Notice to the Navigators was published in France even before getting a Brazilian edition. “Towards the end of his life, he stopped writing in Portuguese and adopted French, leaving two unpublished books in his estate.”

Without children, the author donated part of his collection to a public library in Santo André. The other part, in which the unpublished texts were found, is with a great-niece. As indicated by Christina, the material there would deserve attention from researchers. “Haddad has a very interesting collection, with unpublished poems, translations and critical studies. There we can find clues to reconstruct other aspects of Brazilian cultural and literary life. Looking at these strays, like Haddad, we can understand a little more about our literary history”, proposes the researcher.

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