Multiplicity of Selves in Olga Savary's Poetry
Julien Simon

Originally published in "A Mindful Maze: Proceedings of the III Annual Graduate Symposium. Ed. Matthieu Chan Tsin and Samuel Francis. West Lafayette: Purdue University Department of Foreign Languages and Literatures, 2001.

    The poetry of Olga Savary shows a great interest for the savage, particularly in poems like "Auá," "O Dia da Caça e do Caçador" and "King Kong." In all those poems the figure of the savage King Kong is omnipresent. We can also mention that those three poems have been extracted from the poetry book called "Repertório Salvagem" (Savage Repertoire).

    Chronologically, Olga Savary belongs to Brazilian modernism, which started in 1922 with the "Semana del Arte Moderno." Nevertheless, she does not fully share the agenda of modernists poets even though she presents this "savage" feature, which reminds us of the nationalist project of many modernist poets, like Mário de Andrade, Carlos Drummond de Andrade and Jorge de Lima, who investigate the diversity of the Brazilian identity. This Modernism tries to include in its poetry all the races, all the people (indigenous, Afro-Brazilian, etc.) that form the country to reaffirm their belonging to the true Brazilian identity. Our author, however, does not seem to pay much attention to this particular aspect. Neither does she promote the usage of the spoken language as opposed to the very refined and poetic language that was used thus far in the Brazilian poetry[1].  This modernist change in writing style was one of the main claims of the movement and could be considered revolutionary. Nonetheless, her lyric is natural, even simple in between colloquialism and erudite language. She does not make too much use of symbolist vocabulary, in which the words have to be carefully and meticulously chosen.

    As Olga talks to her readers, she tries to be look for intimacy with them through her poetry. In her first poem of the "Repertório Salvagem," called "Introdução a Repertório Salvagem," she warns the reader about what he/she will encounter in the reading of the following poems:

Leitor, não estranhes a repetição:
Propositadamente obsessivos
São os poemas? como a paixão.

Reader, don’t be surprised by the repetition:
Purposely obsessive
Are they poems? like passion.

    We can feel in this foreword to her book that she is talking to us and her poetry is deeply personal. There is an undeniable autobiographical component in Olga Savary’s poetry. In "Ah King Kong" she informs us of the affectionate name that her father was using during her childhood ("Putzlik"). In this particular poem, like in "Auá," the author confesses that she is King Kong:
… King Kong sou eu
… King Kong this is me
    "Auá" means "who" in Tupi (an indigenous language from Brazil). In this poem, Savary shares with us the description of her personality. By doing so, she is maybe answering the question: Who am I? Generally speaking, Olga tends to share her thoughts with the reader. In "Neputira, Paem (Polivalência)," she is almost talking directly to us to provoke a reaction from us readers:
Assim para ti me faço: primeiro musa.
Depois, votiva caça e caçadora, fetichista,
E até? por que não? Já que sou também cruel ?

…For you I try to be: first muse.
Then, devoted hunted and hunter, fetishist,
And? why not? Since I’m also cruel-

    In establishing a relationship between her and her reader, her personality invades the poems as she previously announced it in "Introdução a Repertório Salvagem," in the foreword to her work:
Dentro da vida como em meus livros.

In life like in my books.

    Olga introduces an innovation in her poetry that is in accordance with her intimist project. In "Auá" she breaks the poetic conventions by introducing her name in the poem. Consequently we confuse the poet’s voice (the narrator) with the author (the human person). Later on, we see a writer engaged with her readers, trying to get closer to them.
    Olga Savary not only is innovative in the way she structures the poem, including her name, but also in her themes. We previously saw that Olga tried to be intimate identifying herself with "King Kong." She acknowledges that this savage character is a part of her identity. Later on, by citing various names as well as nicknames that people have used during her life, she tells us that those represent different moments of her life or, in other words, different identities among which we find the intimate ("Putzlik"), the one of the friends ("Olga"), of her Russian roots ("Olenka"), of the public or of her public image ("Savary") as indicated in the footnote of "Ah King Kong."

    In fact, those identities are all intertwined, just as she intertwines her identity as a public figure with her more intimate side:

          minhas múltiplas
        Putzlik, Olga, Olenka, Savary,
                          ("Ah King Kong")

my multiples
Putzlik, Olga, Olenka, Savary,
                  ("Ah King Kong")

    In "Neputira, Paem (Polivalência)" as well as in "Ecce Femina" we can see this idea of the multiplicity of the self. In the last two poems she looks at identity from a more social point of view focusing on how society sees women.
In modernism, as we saw, the poets aimed, among other things, at defining Brazilian identity. Olga Savary, without exactly touching on that particular aspect, goes beyond to talk about the many levels that identity is composed of.

    At the end of the nineteenth century, William James (as explained in Harter and Marold’s book) defined "self esteem," or the idea that we have of our identity, as the "ratio of one’s successes to one’s pretension’s to be successful" (69). This author was focusing his definition of identity on the person itself without comparing the individual with other people. A few decades later Cooley (as explained in the previously mentioned book) was investigating the identity issue with respect to society. For him, "the origins of our sense of self lie in our perceptions of the regard that others hold for the self" (69). He is positing that society, the others are the ones that define our self. The way in which people imagine how we should be is how we think we are. In other words our concept of identity is defined with respect to the expectations that the society has of us. Six decades later, in 1992, Flanagan proposes a more dynamic and multiple definition of identity based on the concepts put forth earlier (i.e. the social dimension):

Our selves are multiply authored. (…) We can modify and adjust our self-conceptions unconsciously and effortlessly in response to our judgments of fit between who we are and who we aspire to be. (201)

    Flanagan is positing that our identity construction is a combination of the factors discussed before: the social influence and the personal expectations (or pretensions in James’ terms). He also states that we adjust our self at will, depending on the context in which we are. Going beyond this notion of adaptation of the self he says that we actually possess multiple selves that we can interchange depending on whom we are talking to. One does not behave the same way with his/her family, with his/her children, with his/her friends, with his/her colleagues, with his/her boss, in public, etc. This multiplicity concept was actually more thoroughly developed by Daniel Dennett with his "one self for a customer" theory.

    In "Ah King Kong" Olga Savary acknowledges that she has multiple selves. When she quotes the four names that have been used to call her all through her life, she mixes in one poem her different selves: as a girl, as a writer, as a Russian born person, as a friend, and as a young poet.

    This last aspect fits well in the schema that Thomas Blakeslee proposes on the levels of identities. For him, each level is represented by a circle where the first one is the individual, which is in turn included in a bigger circle representing the couple’s level of identity, then included in a bigger circle representing the family, and so on until the last and biggest circle which represents the human being who belongs to the universe (100). Flanagan also suggests that identity has a dynamic nature and is updated at all time. According to him, the ever-changing nature of society forces us to adapt to it and therefore to adapt our identity to the context by reshaping it each time. Since society evolves, our identity evolves too, adapting itself to the changes.

    In "Ah King Kong" as well as in "Auá" Olga acknowledges that King Kong participates in the construction of her identity ("King Kong sou eu"). The fact that she was born the same year (1933) that King Kong was shown for the first time, may play an important role in the identification of our author with this fictitious character. However she goes on to compare herself with this savage character, finding traits that also correspond to her personality[2].

    In "Ecce Femina" and "Neputira, Paem (Polivalência)" the author is investigating woman’s identity with regard to the society. If we remember Blakeslee’s representation of the identity organized in circles, we are talking about an intermediary level. However in "Ecce Femina" Olga Savary is referring to two different levels of the self: the one at home and the one in the society. This poem draws our attention to the distinct opinions that we can have of the same individual or group of persons depending on the context in which this person or group is:

Na rua, dama; puta na cama.
Na rua, guerreira;
Na cama, cordeiro.
Na rua/na cama, inteira.

On the street, madam; whore in bed
On the street, fighter;
In bed, lamb.
On the street/in bed, complete.

    In the last verse of this poem, the context that produces those two divergent visions will even fuse to show us the duality and/or struggle of the different selves that a person is composed of.

    In "Neputira, Paem (Polivalência)" even though the tone and the structure suggest we consider this poem to be directed to us, Olga Savary is giving here her own vision of how others see her.

    Throughout the analysis of some of her poems we have been able to appreciate to what extent Olga Savary is concerned with multiplicity of the self. Nevertheless, this interest seems to be shared by many poets and artists in today’s Brazil. In the web site of "Jornal de Poesia," Marlise Vaz Bridi presents us a joint interdisciplinary project between a plastic artist, Valdir Rocha and forty-one Brazilian poets. Valdir Rocha painted a face that was then sent to the poets for them to write a poem, inspired by the painting ("glosar o quadro"). The poet Eunice Arruda was in charge of the project that ended up in the publication of a book recollecting all the poems. Olga Savary, as a Brazilian poet, participated in this enterprise and wrote a poem she called "Fui Eu (It was me)." Like the painting’s title, the poem suggests that each poet has to identify him/herself with the face painted[3].

(…) sou a face pálida
e ocre, o firme olhar fixo
do olho à espreita, olho que vê, (…)
                                      ("Fui Eu")

(…) this is me the pale face
and ochre, the firm fixed view
of the spying eye, the eye that sees
                                     ("Fui Eu")


[1] Before 1922 the predominant poetry trends were the symbolists and the Parnassian, which had a very poetic/symbolic vocabulary, away from the Brazilian reality.

[2] Since in this poem, directed to King Kong, Savary talks about the "novo e verdadeiro nascimento" (the new and true birth), she might be referring to the new version of King Kong released in 1976. Because of the closeness between 1967 and 1976, I propose that there might a mistake in the poem. This would make the comparison between the author and King Kong more striking.

[3] See appendix


Blakeslee, Thomas R. Beyond the Consciousness Mind: Unlocking the Secrets of the Self. New York & London: plenum P, 1996.

Dennett, Daniel C. Consciousness Explained. Boston: Little Brown, 1991.

Flanagan, Owen. Consciousness Reconsidered. Cambridge: Bradford Books/MIT P, 1992.

Harter, Susan and Marold, Donna B. "A Model of the Determinants and Mediational Role of Self-Worth: Implications for Adolescent Depression and Suicidal Ideation." The Self: Interdisciplinary Approaches. Ed. Strauss & Goethals. New York: Springer-Verlag, 1991.

Savary, Olga. Repertório Salvagem. Rio de Janeiro: Biblioteca Nacional/Multimas/Univ. de Mogidas Cruzes, 1998.


King Kong.

Savary, Olga. Fui Eu.

Vaz Bridi, Marlise.



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