[Here's more of my essay on concretism, surrealism, and kitsch in the work of Roberto Piva, with translations at the bottom. Surrealists, Brazilianists, and Deleuzians chime in por favor!]
Inspired by Piva’s experiences as a young man in what would only later become one of the world’s most populous megalopolises, Paranóia catalogues the frenetic pulse of São Paulo through a lyric as collisive as Benjamin’s dream kitsch. If Saul Friendlander describes kitsch paradoxically as “an antimodern face of modernity” to which we might oppose concretism’s ‘hidden face’ (as per Perloff), Paranóia could be said to deploy the characteristics of kitsch precisely in order to unravel narratives of progress (30). By engaging the deterritorializing strategies of accumulation, repetition, citation, and imitation, Piva’s poetry rejects more than the critical distance championed by concretists in the service of supposedly authentic innovation. Read as a Deleuzian enactment of sensation rather than a self-reflexive critique of signification, the text also defies the left-wing Marxist utopianism that originally undergirded the poetics of concretism and its offshoots in praxism and neoconcretism.
Piva’s speaker, incidentally, embodies just the Benjaminian flâneur whom Greenberg associates with surrealism, and whose aimless roaming would become increasingly hampered by São Paulo’s densification and modernization. As Paranóia forebodingly registers a rapid urban growth and development that would continue throughout the 60’s well into the present, its apocalyptic and homoerotic poems constitute queer assemblages of affects—or intensities—whose becomings are nothing if not spatially and temporally unstable. In so doing, Paranóia presents us with a visionary kitsch that collapses the demarcations of art/life and self/other as well as those of past, present, and future. The ontological reorderings of kitsch in Piva’s poetry thus materialize as a “cacophony of informational flows, energetic intensities, bodies, and practices that undermine coherent identity” (Puar 222).
Even a first glance at “Visão 1961,” the opening poem of Paranóia, signals the cumulative repetitiveness for which kitsch has so often been derided. If the poem is itself an envisioning, as per its title, its presentation on the page accentuates a seemingly endless and syntactically homogenous verbal accretion. The four-page text visually differentiates its fragmentary phrases only through single lines that touch the left margin and, after breaking, give way to indented lines. Otherwise, aside from page breaks, no stanza breaks or punctuation marks set apart each string of words:
as mentes ficaram sonhando penduradas nos esqueletos de fósforo
invocando as coxas do primeiro amor brilhando como uma
flor de saliva
o frio dos lábios verdes deixou uma marca azul-clara debaixo do pálida
maxilar ainda desesperadamente fechado sobre o seu mágico vazio
marchas nômades através da vida noturna fazendo desaparecer o perfume
das velas e dos violinos que brota dos túmulos sob as nuvens de
fagulha de lua partida precipitava nos becos frenéticos onde
cafetinas magras ajoelhadas no tapete tocando o trombone de vidro
da Loucura repartiam lascas de hóstias invisíveis
a náusea circulava nas galerias entre borboletas adi
e lábios de menina febril colados na vitrina onde almas coloridas
tinham 10% de desconto enquanto costureiros arrancavam os ovários
minhas alucinações pendiam fora da alma protegidas por caixas de matéria
plástica eriçando o pelo através das ruas iluminadas e nos arrabaldes
de lábios apodrecidos (Piva, Estrangeiro 30)
In a discussion of the allegorical function of kitsch, Celeste Olalquiaga posits allegory’s rejection of static symbolism by describing a textual instability it shares with Piva’s poetry: “it piles transitory meaning upon transitory meaning like so many layers of decay, producing an excess of signification” (Olalquiaga 128). If layered excess characterizes “Visão 1961” visually, it likewise saturates the poem’s content and form, resulting in just such an overflow of fleeting signifiers. While the first two phrases unfold with the vocabulary of the body through mentions of thighs, saliva, lips, and a jaw, subsequent lines dash any expectation of an easily discernible subject, narrative, or theme that might orient the reader. Even as the poem establishes its urban setting, the language swiftly shifts between allusions as disparate as tombs, alleyways, Madams, and hosts. Through parataxis, phantasmagorical phenomena such as a ‘flower of saliva,’ disappearing perfume, a ‘glass trombone,’ ‘fatty butterflies,’ and ‘violins sprouting through tombs’ also surface.
Such juxtapositions of urban and fantastical items might seem at once fancifully selective and unreservedly promiscuous. As in Umberto Eco’s agreement with critic Walther Kill, a kind of “fungibility” emerges as the poem’s “stimulus, its tendency to spread and grow all over the place—in other words, its redundancy” (Eco 182). Although Eco and Kill’s diagnosis refers to a passage of German literary pulp, their charge could easily apply to Paranóia, which Piva purportedly wrote using Salvador Dalí’s paranoiac-critical method to “fixat[e] on a detail and transfor[m] it into an explosion of colors, of themes, of poetry” (Piva, “Delirante”). If Eco thus saw in kitschy writing “one stimulus support[ing] another” in light of diction “corroded by lyrical use,” in his poetics Piva saw accumulation and repetition as means of proliferation rather than as compensatory devices for the lyric’s inadequacies (Eco 182).
The tension between these two perspectives—one a claim of kitsch’s inherent failure to stimulate, the other of its potential range in doing so—dissolves if we read “Visão 1961” not as a primarily representational text but rather as an enactment of sensation. Instead of asking what the poem means or signifies, we might thus wonder “what it functions with, in connection with what other things it does or does not transmit intensities, in which other multiplicities its own are inserted and metamorphosed” (Deleuze and Guattari, Plateaus 4). In so doing, we will attune ourselves to the text as an encounter or experience in itself whose forces do not so much reflect reality as partake in it. In effect, the first line of “Visão 1961” already encourages a Deleuzian unframing of the “book” so that it exists “only through the outside and on the outside” (4). Just as ‘minds were dreaming hanging off the skeletal matches,’ the poem resists the operative categories of inside and outside by intensifying not just the language out of which it is constructed but the very materiality of which it consists. An even more memorable, if just as instructive, instance of this intensification lies in the lines ‘dressmakers tore out the ovaries/of mannequins’—themselves evocative of Antonin Artaud’s ‘Bodies without Organs’ later famously taken up by Deleuze.
If “Visão 1961” therefore envisions São Paulo, it does so only as if in a contiguous relationship with the city that forecloses any distance between art and life. As with Cézanne, who expressed a need to paint at so close a range that he would no longer see his landscapes, the poem registers no world beyond the forces of urbanization. Such forces are, in fact, what the poem relentlessly renders visible. Through end-stopped lines whose effusiveness each page’s margin arbitrarily interrupts, the text enacts the speed, pull, and proximity of a “profound night of illuminated cinemas” and “nausea circulat[ing] galleries” until the speaker’s “imagination scream[s] in the perpetual impulse of bodies fenced in by the Night” (Piva, Estrangeiro 30-1). In another turn of phrase that confirms the immersive result of the poem’s rapid accretions, the closing line notes the speaker’s “memory thrown in the Abyss” before “[his] eyes [his] manuscripts [his] loves/jump into the Chaos” (33).
Despite the collapse toward which “Visão 1961” continuously loops and builds, the poem remains active in a process of becoming. If its conceivably kitschy diction of epic, urban, and apocalyptic dream-work (which, we must remember, is nevertheless materially continuous with actual waking life) is indeed ‘corroded’ as per Eco, its accumulation and refrain of disparate terms tends to strain language to the point of disequilibrium. For Deleuze, such is the strategy by which the minor writer “makes the language itself scream, stutter, stammer, or murmur” so that one of these linguistic acts “[becomes] an affect of language and not an affect of speech” (Deleuze, Clinical 110). One phrasal unit nearly midway through the poem, in particular, reflects this model of “a syntax in the process of becoming, a creation of syntax that gives birth to a foreign language within language, a grammar of disequilibrium” (112): “os banqueiros mandam aos comissários lindas caixas azuis de excrementos/secos enquanto um milhão de anjos em cólera gritam nas assembléias de cinza/OH cidade de lábios tristes e trêmulos onde encontrar/asilo na tua face?” (Piva, Estrangeiro 31) By spilling into a syntactic or grammatical limit, itself anticipated by an upper-cased cry, the line also reaches the limit of language in the only question asked in the entire poem. The question, incidentally, points to the poem’s rhizomatic ‘fungibility’—its spreading into the material plane of the city from which no ‘refuge’ is possible.
In this sense, “Visão 1961” performs a “stuttering [that] embraces the language so well […] it leaves the words intact, complete, and normal, but it uses them as if they were themselves the disjointed and decomposed members of a super-human stuttering” (Deleuze, Clinical 111). At a point where other poems might cease to ‘pile transitory meaning upon transitory meaning’ and avoid the risk of redundancy, Piva’s words irrupt as those of a “thwarted stutterer” (111). As phenomena accumulate in each phrase, they form multiple “zones of variation” until “the neighborhood of [other] substantive[s]” falls within associative reach of either the same phrasal unit or the following one (111). The effect of bifurcation through analogy, as opposed to redundancy, thus materializes when the clause “the iron and rubble pour out inconceivable monsters” of one phrasal unit both collides and resonates with the liquefaction of “a dozen angels urinat[ing]” in the next (Piva, Estrangeiro 31). Even as it endlessly catalogues urban phantasmagoria, “Visão 1961” advertently splits into heterogeneous deformation zones of language that transfer, to our bodies, the deforming sensations roused in urban modernity itself.
Significantly, according to Elizabeth Grosz’s understanding of Deleuze, this transference is also at once a divergence insofar as “[s]ensation can only emit its effects to the extent that its materials, materiality itself, become expressive, passing into sensation, transforming themselves, giving themselves a new quality” (Grosz 74). The implications of Grosz’s elaboration are especially noteworthy for our discussion of kitsch. If “[a]rt is the becoming-sensation of materiality, the transformation of matter into sensation” (75), it stands to reason that Clement Greenberg’s criticism of the “faked sensations” pursued by kitsch and, by extension, surrealism, is a contradiction in terms (Greenberg 10). If art exists, by definition, as an extraction from the materiality of which sensations themselves consist, its effects can only be as ‘faked’ as matter itself.
 My translation: “minds were dreaming hanging off the skeletal matches/invoking the thighs of the first shining lover like the flower/of saliva/cold green lips left a light blue mark under the pale/jaw still desperately shut on its magic emptiness/nomadic walks across nocturnal life causing perfume to disappear/from candles and violins sprouting through tombs under/rainclouds/the split moon’s spark precipitated in the frenetic alleyways where/skinny Madams kneeled on the carpet touching the glass trombone/of Insanity sharing invisible slices of hosts/nausea circulated the galleries in between fatty butterflies/and the lips of feverish girls stuck to the windows where colored souls/enjoyed a 10% discount while dressmakers tore out the ovaries/of mannequins/my hallucinations hung outside my soul protected by boxes of plastic matter/bristling hair throughout illuminated streets and the suburbs/of rotten lips.”
 “the bankers send beautiful blue boxes of dry excrement to the commissioners/while a million choleric angels scream in ashen assemblies/OH city of sad and trembling lips where to find refuge/in your face?”
 “catholic children offer lemons to small paquiderms that leave their burrows incognito.”
 “the dead stick each other up at night and howl from pangs of weakness.”