This paper discusses in a book review format two recent American editions of the Portuguese essayist Eduardo Lourenço. It envisages to present the main features of both books and the relevance of Lourenço's work.
Portugal, Europe, Literature, Politics, Lourenço, «estrangeirados»
Portugal, between Vence and the New World
The coincidence between the double American publication of Eduardo Lourenço, the most acclaimed Portuguese essayist of the last three decades, should to be noticed on at least two levels. The first is the recognition in the English-speaking world of Lourenço's essays
as a useful tool to engage in a non-parochial study of contemporary Portuguese criticism.
The second is the mapping of all the work that has to be done e in order to make such a study effective, and not only limited to one of Portugal's most exceptional essayists. Both issues have a history already quite long (for instance, Gavea-Brown's edition of Nelson H. Vieira's Roads
to today's Portugal dates back to 1983 and is still today valuable in many respects).
1. Eduardo Lourenço's life and body of work is aptly presented by both editors in their introductions, so I'll focus on what is relevant for the purpose of this review. Both these books make very recent essays available in English, that is to say, essays that revisit most
of the topics from the 1940's to the 1970's: Portugal in relation to Europe, Literature (and Poetry in particular) as the cultural form par excellence , and the uses of Philosophy (his academic background), Psychoanalysis and Cultural Criticism in day-to-day political debate. In fact, Ronald W. Sousa insists on the first two aspects (perhaps giving the unadvised reader a feeling that there is a great phenomenology work going on in Portugal) and Carlos Veloso stresses the third, in reference to Lourenço's buzzword, «imagologia».
The inclusion of «On the Permanence of the World of Spirit» in Veloso's volume and of the even more inspiring (for its political resonance) choice of Sousa's «The Situation in Africa and National Consciousness», assure two essays that are the exceptions of the recent and very recent texts (Veloso's edition ends with a previously unreleased essay, in fact). As for the rest, Veloso's edition focuses mostly on Literary matters (and on Pessoa, of whom Lourenço
is a demiurg, in particular) and Sousa's slightly broadens the band, towards cultural studies.
But this is merely circunstancial, for Lourenço mixes by his own initiative all those stances.
So, the English speaking public can read about painting in Veloso's selection and some
of the most brilliant lines on Camões (Portugal's epic poet of the Renaissance) are on Sousa's translation of the 1960's essay on the colonial wars (check in particular pp. 184/5).
Lourenço's ability to constantly mesh these topics usually adressed by different specialists makes him the most sophisticated, and also the most widely appealing, Portuguese essayist since António Sérgio. It also makes him the object of a growing dislike by the major Portuguese social scientists, who look at him much in the same way he regarded Sérgio in the 1960's:
as an amateur, with a few good insights but stuck on a mythic language. This sort of resentment is part of the academic demi-monde , but Lourenço's fortune is, hélas , in a great deal dependent on that environment. He acquired an enormous influence over the 1960's «new critics» with his views on Pessoa and Portuguese Literature and subsequently became publicly recognized since the late 1970's as a cultural analyst. It's too bad so much of his finest writing, so very political, suffers from this excessive dependence on Literature; in fact, Sousa's translation of the essay on the colonial wars gives no more than a glimpse of what brilliant and intervenient public intellectual Lourenço is, and most especially was in the 1970's, when
he wrote the finest political analysis of the Portuguese 1974 revolution, later published
in O Fascimo Nunca Existiu («Fascism has never existed», 1976) and O Complexo de Marx («The Marx Complex», 1978). If things had turned out another way, he could have distanced himself from the narrow Pessoa industry of Portuguese academia and acquired that status
of public intellectual that Ronald W. Sousa suggests he has (p. 13).
Such as it is, these essays present to the English the major traits of Lourenço's psychoanalysis of Portugal and of that imagology of Portuguese (Literary) culture, even succeding to make noticeable his metaphysical quest on the subject of Time (clearly the legacy of a Catholic upbringing and phenomenological but mostly existentialist philosophical education). The overall picture is that of one European and not so much Portuguese (and certainy not «little lusitanian») essayist. They also provide a clearer notion of what is to be done, both in Lourenço's translations and, more important, with Portuguese contemporary essayism.
2. So to end, let me address an obvious remark: the longest essay in both these volumes
is the same one: «Portugal como Destino», translated by Sousa as «Portugal as Destiny»
and in Veloso's book as «Portugal and its Destiny». This is not just a misfortunate repetition
for the English public, but also an editorial option that elected in both books a recent essay over a similar, previous one - in fact over the one that gives its title to Lourenço's most famous and influential book, O labirinto da Saudade («Saudade's labyrinth» - I'll leave it to those more apt than myself, such as Onésimo Teotónio Almeida to try to make some sense of what «Saudade» is in English). In the 2000 reedition of that book, Lourenço's preface pointed this very issue: «Portugal as Destiny» tries an aggiornamento of the 1978 essay on Portuguese irrealism
and excessive identity issue». It is very doubtfull that it succeeds, but this is not the place
to to discuss that. What is relevant is that the simultaneous English presentation of Lourenço's essayism both privileged the recent approach over the «classical» one (and it is, in fact,
a classical piece of Portuguese XXth century essayism).
It would be very simple and in fact automatic to mention individually each of the essays in these two volumes and embellish them with those pompous adjectives so frequent in Portuguese criticism. In most cases, the essays selected even merit a good deal of praise, so it wouldn't
be inappropriate. But this would envolve overlooking something also relevant: Eduardo Lourenço's essayism can not be detached from its surroundings. In fact, although he belongs
to a generation of «estrangeirados» («foreignized») of XXth century Portugal that much contributed to an Europeisation of Portugal's culture, that work always relates to authors barely discussed in the translated essays: Raul Proença, António Sérgio, José Régio, Vitorino Magalhães Godinho, Vasco Magalhães-Vilhena, João Gaspar Simões, Adolfo Casais Monteiro, Jorge de Sena, and several others. Despite the obsession with Pessoa, all of Lourenço's views only become intelligible when articulated with this Europe-oriented Portuguese critical discourse. So, if one does agree with Sousa's remark on Lourenço as a public intellectual, why not go one step further and engage in a collective appraisal of those generations (three, at least) of XXth century Portuguese «estrangeirados» that kept a minimal relation between Portugal and Europe alive even during half a century of Fascist regime? Those were Portugal's public intellectuals
in a more acurate sense than what is even possible in free, liberal societies such as those of the USA or England. Lucky they were and this is possibly an interesting point to keep in mind
in future attempts to present non-parochial Portuguese essayism to English readers.
Eduardo Lourenço, Chaos and Splendor & other essays (ed. Carlos Veloso), Center
for Portuguese Studies and Culture, Univ. Mass. Dartmouth, Mass., 2003.
Eduardo Lourenço, This Little Lusitanian House: Essays on Portuguese Culture
(ed. Ronald W. Sousa), Gávea-Brown, R. I., 2003.