Traveling in Haroldo de Campos's Galáxias:

A Guide and Notes for the Reader



K. David Jackson

Yale University



Homage to the presence of Haroldo de Campos at Yale

and other North-American universities, 1968-1999


Long Distance Calls by Cellular Prose

Haroldo de Campos remained full of projects and of the creative energy, always so positive and exuberant as was his characteristic, up until his last moments.  When in hospital, in August 2003, he proposed to his brother Augusto a joint translation of Dante’s Divine Comedy, with the striking suggestion that they could do it by telephone.  That would have been another successful encounter of technology with philology for Haroldo, the synthesis of a syncretic and a temporal vision of literature in its most creative moments, across time, with the vanguardist techniques of our own age.  That galactic-technical vision was always Haroldo’s specialty, from the “panaroma” of Finnegans Wake to the “transhelenization” of the Iliad, the final monument of his long literary career.  This is the same Haroldo of the "Scribblevaganza," the title he gave to a conference that he and I organized at the University of Texas in Austin in 1981, an event in which the act of writing was meant to accelerate to galactic speeds. He dedicated the same energy to the Yale Symphosophia in 1995, where an international group of with ties to his work, poets, writers, and critics from Italy to Japan, collaborated to produce a book of commentaries on the concrete aesthetic based on their active participation (Experimental--Visual--Concrete: Avant-Garde Poetry Since 1960, Amsterdam, Rodopi, 1996).  In 1999 Haroldo again read polemical texts and poetry, even in poor health, at the consecutive symposia organized at Oxford and Yale in honor of his 70 years (Haroldo de Campos: A Dialogue with the Brazilian Concrete Poet, Oxford, 2005).  Haroldo's classicism, rooted philologically in the great epic poems, in Homer, Virgil, Dante and Goethe, always found its modern expression in the theme of the voyage, where a contemporary Ulysses strolls among the cities of the world, in the guise of a Westerner whose  phantasmagorical prototype  can be found in Cesário Verde's poem "Sentimento de um Ocidental."  As Finismundo attests, one of Haroldo's last poems, Ulysses continues his voyage until he arrives at the Brazilian coast, thus the theme of the voyage becomes one unified theme over time, from its classical origin in Homer to the spaceships, from Greek islands to contemporary cities.  It is as if baroque opera were sung with concrete poetry to announce the final arrival of Ulysses at the land and literature of Brazil.

The voyage is also philological, another characteristic of Haroldo, who always worked in close contact with many different languages and literatures -- Japanese, German, English-American, French, Italian, Spanish, Spanish American, Greek, Hebrew – applying his techniques of transcreation to the greatest philological challenges: pois um livro é viagem (frag. 8).  Deeply rooted in Brazil, his imagination allowed no borders between languages or literary genres.  His work on the Galáxias from 1963 to 1976 (São Paulo, Ex Libris, 1984; 2nd ed. São Paulo, 34 letras, 2004) was located, as he said, at the extreme limits of prose and poetry (“à l’extrême des limites de la poésie et de la prose”, Galaxies, La Souterraine, 1998).  In the Galáxias it is the poet who travels through a gigantic phantasmagorical world, in a Dantesque and Faustian stroll, going from city to city, as in Dante's circles.  In the style of James Joyce, Haroldo returns us to a geographical-linguistic-mythical sea of classical proportions, weaving new literary metamorphoses into his "verbivocovisual," or phono-morpho-syntactical net. His prime materials are the basic fables of human imagination, conceived as voyages or as metamorphoses.  In the 50 fragments of Galáxias, the narrator is a Haroldo-Ulysses confronting his own dangerous journey, his world discourse, narrating a mythical autobiography by a contemporary navigator, via Ulysses and Camões.  The Galáxias are a new voyage by the Ulysses-narrator, without geographical borders, where the philology of language fables meets the technology of a Brazilian traveler molto perpetuo, in paradisiacal and infernal wanderings on the Earth, through cities of God and the devil.  Following the technical terms that Haroldo proposed to his brother, the Galáxias are fifty long-distance calls by cellular prose.


From the Odyssey to Brazilian Seas: "Routes, Routes, Routes, Routes"

One of the essential references for a reading of Galáxias in the context of the historical vanguards is Joyce's novel Ulysses (1922). The Joycean novel narrates the live of Dublin's citizens, with multiple allusions to the city in all its vitality and disorder for a symbolic period of 24 hours.  It is structured in episodes, narrated by interior monologues, soliloquies coming from the subconscious often in a stream of consciousness.  There is a diurnal/nocturnal rhythm that oscillates between esthetic emotion (stasis) and a putrid realism (kinesis), each episode carrying the marks of a certain hour of the day, scene, organ of the body, art, symbol and, above all, corresponding to an episode of the Odyssey.  Joyce's scheme, today universally known thanks to Stuart Gilbert's James Joyce's Ulysses (New York, Vintage, 1955), was meant to help the reader perceive the novel's larger organizational units, revealing in its composition a discipline that the critic compares to Greek drama, or to the symmetry of any living organism.  In his chart, Gilbert distinguishes 18 episodes, divided into three sections (3-12-3), corresponding to the morning, or Dedalus and Bloom's leaving home, to their wanderings around the city, and to their return home, now in the early morning hours.  In this scheme each episode is numbered and assigned a title, taken from the corresponding episode of the Odyssey, according to the scene or place, the hour, an organ of the body, an art, a color, symbol and technique: “1. Telemachus/The Tower/8 a.m./Theology/White, Gold/Hair/Narrative (young).”  

Possessing a structure reminiscent of Ulysses, the Galáxias accompany the narrator's voyage, in a subconscious open monologue, through multiple cities in an allegory of human destiny, in his mythical search for esthetic emotion and structure (stasis), in a material world governed by worthlessness and nothingness (kinesis).  Traveling through microcosms toward the macrocosm, following the Joycean expression "all space in a not-shall," each fragment of Galáxias returns the reader to a larger mythical structure, originating not only in the Odyssey but in the allegorical nature of speech itself, of an occult world of symbols. By reinventing stories in the fashion of the thousand and one nights, both enchanting and fatal, the monologue in Galáxias both affirms and negates, alternately, reproducing an organic rhythm.  The hero seems condemned to wander eternally among the world's cities, waiting for a utopian-esthetic liberation or for an epiphany or illumination: “…une insinuation épique se résolvant en une épiphanie.” Galaxies, 1998).  In these wanderings through a purgatory of the real, the narrator finds a referential unity, parallel to the basic skeleton of the novel Ulysses, unlocked by Gilbert.  To aid the reading of Galáxias, I propose a schematic design parallel to the one that Gilbert designed for Ulysses, so that the reader of Haroldo's greatest work of prose and poetry can better accompany and understand its themes and profound rhythm.   The initial scheme outlays a sequence of cities and of literary references that makes up the basic material of the voyage of the narrator-poet through a world of plural signifiers.  These notes are the result of seminars on the Galáxias in Brazil in 1991 at Universidade Federal de Santa Catarina (Florianópolis) and Universidade Federal de Rio Grande do Norte (Natal), under the Fulbright program, in addition to interviews with the author in São Paulo and in the U.S.


Guide to the 50 fragments of Galáxias


TITLE                                                     AREA/SPACE                      LITERARY-AESTHETIC REFERENCES

1. e começo aqui                                   fable                                       Divine Comedy

2. reza calla y trabaja                            Granada                                 Lorca, António Machado on Lorca

3. multitudinous seas                          sea                                          Pound, Borges, Macbeth.

4. no jornalário                                      newspaper                             Dante, Paradiso

5. mire usted                                          Córdoba                                 Arabist

6. augenblick                                         Stuttgart                                art gallery

7. sazamegoto                                       Prague                                    Haiku. Bashô, Buson (1716-84)

8. isto não é um livro                           Geneva                                   story by Cortázar

9. açafrão                                               Rome                                      post card

10. ach lass sie quatschen                  Germany                                Sinagogue

11. amorini                                             Italy                                        Pompei

12. um avo de estória                           Spain                                      San Sebastián      

                                                                                                                Roman mosaic of Cologne

13. esta é uma álealenda                      Paris                                       Artaud 

14. ma non dove                                   Ravvisano, Italy                   text by Carducci.  Sousândrade.

15. circuladô de fulô                            Brazil

16. um depois um                                 Germany                                group of drunks at the Cologne station

17. uma volta inteira                             Karlsbücke, Prague              Baudelaire

18. cheiro velho                                    Rome                                      August holiday.  Cassiano Ricardo.                                

19. como quem escreve                       Lithuania                               bad faith

20. não tiravam o chapéu                    Madrid                                   bullfight, newsmen

21. e brancusi                                        Stuttgart                                Brancusi's egg

22. hier liegt                                           Cologne                                 Exposition. Lorca.

23. neckarstrasse                                  Tübingen                               Schiller, Goethe, Sophocles, Hölderlin, Bloch

24. a liberdade                                       Manhattan                            Sapho, Mondrian, Lorca, Vozniessienski,


25. aquele como se chamava              N. York/Mexico,D.F.            Mexican roads

26. apsara                                              Boston                                   Kenholz painting

27. sob o chapéu                                  San Francisco                       William Carlos Williams, Ferlinghetti.

28. ou uma borboleta                           New York                               Tchuang-se

29. poeta sem lira                                  Los Angeles                         Ode by Píndaro, Hölderlin, Novalis, Henry Miller,

                                                                                                                Arthur Miller, Marilyn Monroe, Bashô.

30. pulverulenda                                   Argentina                              tangos of Buenos Aires, Orson Welles

31. o que mais vejo aqui                      fable

32. na coroa de arestas                        Andalucia                              Triptic

33. mármore ístrio Venice, Rapolla,    Pound

34. calças cor de abóbora                   Washington, D.C.                black power

35. principiava a encadear-se             Washington, D.C.                Galdós, Goya

36. eu sei que este papel                     New York                               Barbarella.

37. cheiro de urina                                Salvador, Bahia                   

38. o ó a palavra ó                                Mariana, Minas Gerais        N. S. de Ó

39. circulado de violeta                       France                                    Monet in Paris.

40. como quem está num navio          Cluny                                     Woman in a café, Raphael

41. tudo isto tem que ver                    writing                                    Joyce

42. a criatura de outro                          fable                                       Sanscrit

43. vista dall’interno                            Italy                                       

44. cadavrescrito                                  fable                                       Rabelais

45. mais uma vez                                   sea                                          Joyce, polypho

46. esta mulher-livro                            paper                                      Galatea  

47. passatempos e matatempos         fable                                       Macunaíma and Propp

48. nudez                                               New York                               Circe in New York. Rilke.

49. a dream that hath no bottom        Blumenau, Desterro,            Dr. Fritz Müller, Darwin, Agassiz, Pound, Oswald,

                                                                Santa Catarina                      Volpi, Faustus, Don Juan

50. fecho encerro                                  fable                                       Pasárgada.  Sobolos rios. Dante. Snow White.



A Neo-Baroque Drama: Reversible mirrors


The 50 fragments of Galáxias can be read in the form of a neo-baroque drama, controlled by the technique of mirroring and of reversible forms: esta é uma álealenda ler e reler retroler como girar regirar retrogirar (frag. 13).  The principles that Walter Benjamin distinguished in German drama apply to art and to the concepts in Galáxias (Ursprung des deutschen trauerspiels, Berlin, E. Rowohlt, 1928).  More than contrasts, or meeting of opposites, there is a play of images and or words that return or repeat constantly, in which each affirmative/positive contains its own negative pole. Such is the respiratory rhythm that runs throughout the work in all its plural levels of meaning. As in neo-baroque drama, the libretto is the writing itself, while the fragments suggest excerpts from an endless legendary narrative or chant. As if on stage, a narrator, heard but not seen, walks through the world's cities looking for his art and his muse.  The scene is allegorical and Faustian, representing a narrator navigating through an occult sea of language, always searching for a key that will open forms and end his exile, that will allow him to reach a supreme consciousness of the celestial city for which he searches, in terms that parallel Camões's mannerism in the celebrated poem of exile "Babel e Sião," through artistic means: a mente quase-íris se emparadisa neste multilivro e della doppia danza (frag. 50).

The main esthetic building blocks of the "galactic" neo-baroque drama can be represented schematically, following the same categories that Gilbert applied to Ulysses: rhythm, technique, scene, and symbol:



            RHYTHM                              TECHNIQUE                         SCENE                                             SYMBOL


1. e começo aqui                                 

Alternating rhythm                              fable,                                     

                                                                Divine Comedy



2. reza calla y trabaja                        

Allternating textual rhythm                Melopea                                1959, Granada

memory/experience;                             from Homeric Greek                                            

silence/speech;                                    Laitn Shakespeare




Spanish landscapes.


3. multitudinous seas

Rhythm: systole, diastole                   dimension                              Red Sea                                                  The sea

                                                                memory-reading                   in blood,

                                                                textual                                    Homeric sea.         .              

                                                                                                                sounding, polysonorous sea


                                                                as movement,

                                                                covert memory

                                                                into experience


4. no jornalário

descent into inferno,                            satanic                                  daily life,                                        Newspaper

the voyage                                                                                            vision of paradise at the end             


5. mire usted                                        

                                                                short notes                            1959, Córdoba


6. augenblick                                      

group of old women                                                                            Stuttgart                                               

art works

                                                                                                                art gallery                                        almost

                                                                                                                                                                          mythic nudity

                                                                                                                                                                          of paintings


7. sazamegoto                                      

whispering,                                           Haiku,                                     Prague                                              stork

seduction                                              Japonese                               woman with poet

                                                                literature                                in a train carriage


                                                                “The rains of Spring!

                                                                Dear lady driving with me here

                                                                Your whispering!”


8. isto não é um livro                         

News in a paper,                                   ambiguity                              Geneva                                             prostitute

                                                                between space                      João Pessoa                                    underdeveloped        

                                                                and time                                 S. Francisco churches                   and ingenuous


9. açafrão                                             

counterpoint                                         eroticism                                Rome;                                               post card for which

                                                                of language,                          Vilagiorio                                         there cannot be

                                                                of referents                            museum;                                          reproduced

                                                                                                                sale of stolen


10. ach lass sie quatschen                 

lace                                                         arabesque                              Stuttgart                                          names of the


                                                                                                                synagogue,                                     tragic beauty

                                                                                                                manuscript with names

                                                                                                                of the dead


11. amorini                                           

tragic-erotic                                           Priapic                                    Pompei                                             evil eye;      

daily trivia                                                                                             licentious                                         cadavers in the

                                                                                                                costumes                                         museum in the

                                                                                                                                                                          position in which

                                                                                                                                                                          they died 

12. um avo de estória                         

basic speech                                         mosaic                                    Spain                                                green eyes of a

                                                                                                                Roman mosaic                                woman-panther:

                                                                                                                of Cologne                                      jaguarfulguros


13. esta é uma álealenda                   

perfect equilibrium                               painting                                 Paris                                                 French woman with


miscegenation                                      miniturized                                                                                       biological    

                                                                in a box                                                                                            recolonization


14. ma non dove                                  

reflexive structures                              notes                                      Ravvisano                                       headlines of TIME,

                                                                that form                                                                                          “nympholveros…”

                                                                a macrostrutcure                                                                            Sousândrade, old

                                                                                                                                                                          poet and the stones

15. circuladô de fulô                          



16. um depois um                                

moment of inferno                                labyrinth                                Cologne station                              group of drunks


17. uma volta inteira

reflection                                               artificial paradises                Karlsbrüke, Prague                        Czech film,

on socialism                                                                                          Congonhas                                     “once there was a”



18. cheiro velho                                  

youth confronting                               infernal images                     Rome                                                Cassiano Ricardo

satisfied old person                                                                            


19. como quem escreve                      

real/imaginary confraternization                                                        Lithuania                                         woman with children

with the enemy;                                                                                                                                              dead in the war

bad faith                                                                                                                                                          and young lover


20. não tiravam o chapéu                 

stylization                                              description trouvé               Madrid                                             bull fights


21. e brancusi                                      

others                                                     Parody of                               Stuttgart                                          Brancusi's "Egg"

Generals in Paris/ “Famíly",               old ladies of                          Mulatta going into

1964 coup                                              "Tradition  &                        museum/                                          hillside, corral of the

                                                                Property”                               very beautiful                                 poor


22. hier liegt                                        

train trip                                                 Cologne                                                                                           a young woman,

contrast Madrid                                   exposition on                        Tea house                                       Civil

and Toledo                                            barbarities committed                                                                    Guards

                                                                against the jews


23. neckarstrasse                                

description of night                             counterpoint                         Tübingen                                         character with green                                                                                                  eyes;                                                                                               


                                                                                                                                                                          red word

24. a liberdade                                    

always virgin                                        infernal circle                        Manhattan,                                     Sapho verse,    

25. aquele como se chamava            

pop culture                                                                                            N. York/                                           Mexican

                                                                                                                Mexico,D.F.                                     roads


26. apsara                                            

the false                                                 hyperrealism                         Boston                                             waitresses,

                                                                                                                                                                          Hindu nymph,

                                                                                                                                                                          woman                                                                                                                         making love

                                                                                                                                                                          on the backseat

                                                                                                                                                                          of a car

                                                                                                                                                                          from that time


27. sob o chapéu                                 

procession                                            contrast                                 San Francisco                                 Ferlinghetti/

                                                                                                                                                                          William Carlos




28. ou uma borboleta

haiku                                                      newspaper                             New York/                                       Strip tease.

                                                                                                                S. Paulo


29. poeta sem lira                                                                               

Granada train,                                       blind score                            Los Angeles                                   trivial things

obscure poem

from antiquity


30. pulverulenda                                 

Orléon performer                                  religion and order                 Buenos Aires                                  tango


31. o que mais vejo aqui                    



32. na coroa de arestas                     

Triptik                                                    from repor                              Andalucia                                        Death of Guevara,

                                                                in a newspaper                                                                               Monroe, Kennedy


33. mármore ístrio

Pound's poetry                                     Venice, Rapolla                     Pound's hotel



34. calças cor de abóbora

                                                                                                                Bloomington, Ind/                          black power in

                                                                                                                Dupont Circle                                 D.C./sad bureaucrats


35. principiava a encadear-se         

metalanguage in the text                     Spatial signs                         Washington, D.C.                          girl on Lincoln's

                                                                                                                                                                          lap;  Suleiman's



                                                                                                                                                                          professor giving

                                                                                                                                                                          lecture on Galdós


36. eu sei que este papel                    

happening                                             placenta of nothing             New York                                         Instalation,

                                                                                                                                                                          Plastic balls,

                                                                                                                                                                          Barbarella in a



37. cheiro de urina

semantics                                              Om                                          Salvador, Bahia                              “Colorless green





38. o ó a palavra ó                             

continuity in writing                            Baroque haikai                      Mariana, MG                                   a painting

                                                                                                                Sabará museum                              book of designs;

                                                                                                                                                                          gold that took on

                                                                                                                                                                          the form of a



39. circulado de violeta                    

subway announcements                     grafitti from hell/                   France,                                             Monet ugly nymphs

in Paris;                                                  book from heaven                oriental                                             immense paintings

tunnel / funicular                                                                                  museum



40. como quem está num navio        

detours and disasgreements              the page                                 Paris,                                                stork/albinp                                                                 accepts everything                                              Café de Cluny                                 woman in a café,


41. tudo isto tem que ver                   

beams of light                                       grotesque description         writing                                              toilet paper

between visible                                    of the writer                                                                                     in Latin:

and invisible                                                                                                                                                   cacara carta;




42. a criatura de outro                      

Sanscrit poem, fable,                                                                           writing                                              Lesbian

Buddist psalm.


43. vista dall’interno

flight                                                       distortion                               Italy                                                  travestite,



44. cadavrescrito                                

rescue langauge                                   writing                                                                                              magic moment

Portuguese fable                                                                                                                                                 


45. mais uma vez                                 

                                                                to learn French                     sea                                                    Polypho. 


46. esta mulher-livro                          

reading                                                   Polyphemo-desire                Lingam;                                            paper, Japanese


.                                                                                                               Yonis                                                Woman in kimono

                                                                                                (Female sex                                      Galatea

                                                                                                in Sanscrit)                                      Word nymph.


                                                                                                                                                                          with red wings


47. passatempos e matatempos        

talisman                                                 pseudo-fable                                                                                   girl who wants

                                                                                                                                                                          “the who of the,

                                                                                                                                                                          story, passes all the



48. nudez                                              

Tautodessey                                         transmorphosis                    New York.                                        Ulysses's voyage. 

.                                                               into pigs                                                                                          Circe,

                                                                                                                                                                          masseuse in NY;

                                                                                                                                                                          Venus on the beach.


.49. a dream that hath no bottom    

atheism                                                  teach Latin                            Blumenau,                                       Fritz Müller

anti-racism                                             to youth;                               Desterro,

                                                                fish by Müller:                      Santa Catarina



50. fecho encerro                                

reversible,                                              Textual salvation.                 Pasárgada.                                       Paradise of writing.     

self-portrait of                                       Dante's Paraíso.                    Mirror:

writing                                                                                                    “Quasi Glória”                                neg./pos. of



The Galáxias have received growing international critical attention, intensifying since the French translation by Inês Oseki-Dépré in 1998.  At the Oxford/Yale symposia in 1999, the novel received critical attention from the grand names of criticism, Marjorie Perloff, Luiz Costa Lima, Wladimir Krysinski and others.  Krysinski places Galáxias in the company of the great texts of the twentieth century that refer to all literature, as well as to themselves, beginning with the Cantos of Pound, the Waste Land of Eliot and Joyce's Finnegans Wake.  And Perloff compares the technique of Galáxias to works by Gertrude Stein (How to Write, 1931) and to the diaries of John Cage.  To travel through its pages is always intriguing; it is to travel through the insistently new, in the meaning that this quality gained from the vanguards of world literature. Galáxias represents the Brazilian contribution to that tradition, Haroldo de Campos's invitation to a referential and self-reflexive literary voyage. The charts presented in this essay should serve the purpose of helping the reader to navigate through the sea of text, through the multiple philological and technical references, and so to answer the phone, picking up the 50 long distance calls from Haroldo, who now continues his earthy and textual journey in galactic space.



Works Cited


Benjamin, Walter. Ursprung des deutschen trauerspiels, Berlin: E. Rowohlt, 1928.


Cage, John. A Year from Monday; new lectures and writings.  London: Calder and Boyars, 1968.


Campos, Haroldo de.   Galáxias, São Paulo, Ex Libris, 1984; 2nd ed. São Paulo: 34 letras, 2004; Galaxies, Inês Oseki-Dépré, trans., La Souterraine, La main courante, 1998.


Campos, Haroldo de.  Finismundo: a última viagem.  Ouro Preto: Tipografia do Fundo de Ouro Preto, 1990.


Campos, Haroldo de.  Pedra e luz na poesia de Dante.  Rio de Janeiro: Imago, 1998.


Eliot, Thomas Sterns.  The Waste Land. New York: Boni and Liveright, 1922.


Gilbert, Stuart. James Joyce’s Ulysses, New York, Vintage, 1955.


Homer.  Ilíada. 2 vols.  Haroldo de Campos, trans. São Paulo: Mandarim, 2001; Arx, 2002-03.


Homer.  Odisséia.  Odorico Mendes, trans. São Paulo: EDUSP, Ars Poética, 1992.


Jackson, K. David.  Haroldo de Campos: A Dialogue with the Brazilian Concrete Poet.  Oxford: Centre for Brazilian Studies, 2005.


Jackson, K. David ; Eric Vos, Johanna Drucker, eds. Experimental--Visual--Concrete: Avant-Garde Poetry Since 1960, Amsterdão, Rodopi, 1996


Joyce, James.  Ulysses.  Paris: Shakespeare & Co., 1922.


Joyce, James.  Finnegans Wake.  London: Faber and Faber Limited, 1939.


Pound, Ezra. The Cantos of Ezra Pound.  14th printing. New York: New Directions, 1998.


Stein, Gertrude.  How to Write.  Paris: Plain Edition, 1931.


Verde, Cesário.  O Livro de Cesário Verde. Lisboa: Typ. Elzeviriana, 1887.