sábado, 12 de Janeiro de 2008

‘Portagees,’ ‘Brazucas,’ and Other ‘Funny Porto Ricans’: Overlapping Citizenships in the U.S. Lusosphere

By: Christopher Larkosh
University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth

On Portuguese as a second language and other "wasteful projects"

It probably came as no surprise to anyone last month when U.S. President George W. Bush rejected the latest health and education budget (House Bill 3043), but what was even more perplexing was the rhetorical strategy he used to voice his disapproval: out of the more than 2,200 possible line items that he could have chosen as the most egregious examples of wasteful government spending, Bush chose to single out only three, with the supposed final kicker among them "a program for Portuguese as a second language" (Wolf n/p). In the current cultural and political environment, in which Portuguese language education has been singled out not only as one example among many, but as the most illustrative case of a presumably wasteful educational endeavor, it almost seems futile to dwell upon the fine points of citizenship while the very choice of language through which many of us imagine our political and cultural agency, both as national and global citizens, is not only implicitly circumscribed but officially dismissed, even if only for the most calculatedly partisan of political reasons. If not in our public institutions, where then will the space be made to imagine and speak of such urgent questions on the dwindling scope of our own citizenship? Or does this also qualify as a waste of time and resources?

Hopefully, this space can serve that purpose today: in keeping with the title of today’s panel ("Citizenship, Literature and Culture") [1], my perspective on present-day understandings of citizenship, both here in the U.S. and in the greater Lusophone world, is grounded not only in a base corpus of Portuguese-American literary works, but also in certain elements of everyday life in southeastern New England that can be readily identified as part of my own and a shared Portuguese-American culture. (Such a definition of culture might include interactions with local, national and international media, whether in English, Portuguese or other languages; work and domestic life; educational and religious institutions; and a continual transit through the mythological and documented sites of origin, exploration, discovery and identity that give a distinctive cultural character to the region, along with other specialized forms of grassroots cultural praxis, such as folklore, artisanship, music and performance, as well as video production).

What interests me most in the understanding of Portuguese-American culture as one inclusive of localized practice, though, are the possibilities of approaching languages, literature and culture in connection to the 'here and now': that is to say, some dimension of the present lived cultural experience of the area or region in which an academic perspective is necessarily situated (Larkosh). It is in this context of the 'here and now' that those present can begin to speak of questions of citizenship and belonging in ways that implicate their own personal positionalities all the more unavoidably, not only insofar as such questions affect the wide range of other national and transnational subjects in the distant corners of that officially Lusophone world as enshrined in nation-states and transnational organizations so often identified by acronyms such as CPLP (Community of Portuguese-Speaking Countries), but also those in those unofficial diasporic and often bilingual corners of the global Lusosphere that, though closer to home, are too often overlooked, if not explicitly discounted, by present-day academic and governmental institutions both in the U.S. and abroad.

First off: Interrogating market or military-based models of citizenship

I do want to take the topic of this panel seriously, after all, and by that I mean actually ask myself what citizenship means at this particular place and time. Are the current models of citizenship simply products for a market of preferred and frequent shoppers, like those made overseas by a low-cost labor force, and shipped back by way of a container freighter and interstate highway to the nearest consumer outlet? If so, I am already maxed out on these inadequate privatized models of media/product consumer citizenship, and thus would hope that at least those present are still able to think outside of the box store, both for my own sanity and perhaps even for those who share my immediate surroundings, whether on the highways and suburban shopping centers that have come to dominate the landscape of southern New England or beyond. This is why I remain thankful above all for the lingering presence of those cultural elements from Portuguese-American culture—much like a voice speaking in Portuguese or singing a familiar fado on the car radio—that serve to remind me and others of the lingering cultural alternatives and thus reconnect those atomized subjects in traffic to spaces that challenge dominant cultural paradigms through language, sounds, images or practical examples.

What, then, would a truly wasteful cultural project actually look like, especially in this discussion aimed at constructing a humane model of citizenship? One might start by considering one’s own complicity in the present-day political continuum not only of consumerism but also of war, with its unending narrative of potential markets to be exploited and threats to be neutralized, whether foreign or domestic, tangible or propaganda-generated.

Let me offer three canonical examples from Portuguese-American literature to illustrate this point: first, in the early 20th century, the U.S. author of Portuguese descent John Dos Passos identified this mode of constructing citizenship in his early novel on World War I entitled Three Soldiers. Even the ethnic differences of the soldiers underscore how military service was considered the most sure-fire way for immigrant men to obtain the full benefits of their adopted national identity. Indeed, one need only read a few pages into the work to recognize the overriding importance of ethnic categories for the characters in the construction of their own identities: as the Italian-American recruit Fuselli states, "I used to go with a Portugee girl. My but she was a toughie. But I’ve given all that up now that I’m engaged, though" (11). One might go so far as to ask what is meant by the term "engaged": engaged to someone else, or engaged in warfare? Military conscription is thus represented not only as a form of committed relationship that forces the recruit to shape up, but also as one offering a way out of ethnic identity and the limitations imposed by them, so that one can become a "real American." It is important to note, however, that at the time this novel was published, Dos Passos was considered downright "un-American" by the New York and Chicago mainstream press for portraying the war and U.S. society in such realistic, ethnically determined and starkly manipulative terms.

The challenge of acquiring the full benefits of U.S. citizenship through military 'engagement' is also echoed by the Portuguese exile author José Rodrigues Miguéis in the short story "Cosme," in which an undocumented Portuguese migrant to the United States enlists in the Armed Forces to gain citizenship after being threatened with deportation, only to die in combat overseas during World War II. Most recently, the contemporary Portuguese-American poet Frank X. Gaspar extends this discussion into the conflicts of the latter part of the century, specifically the Vietnam War, by way of his collections of poetry, especially the one entitled Mass for the Grace of a Happy Death. In his poems about the monotony of being stationed on a naval warship in the Gulf of Tonkin (38), or a few days of furlough in Manila for some "R and R" in sexually graphic and often less than heroic terms (34), he resists what he considers to be all-too-common euphemisms like 'military service,' that is to say, not a form of "service" to either his country or to the collectivity of his fellow citizens.

Second model: Citizenship Made to Order

By this point, it may be clear that the question I wish to pose through this discussion of the terms of citizenship is hardly one of how might best become a obedient "model citizen," whether in the U.S. or anywhere else, but rather one of to how to explore understandings of it as a fundamentally critical exercise, in spite of any and all hegemonic interference to the contrary. If it truly is impossible to base a notion of citizenship at least partially upon the concept of critique, then where might one begin?

In the much-touted postmodern context of continually repeated messages in mass media, the answer might well be anywhere. For example, many of you may remember the 1988 film Mystic Pizza, in many ways merely a stock example of the formula Hollywood romance combined with the local ethnic color and small town ambiance of a largely Portuguese-American fishing village on the New England coast. Nonetheless—or perhaps for this very reason—such a film can serve as a useful document of mainstream discourses on ethnic difference and cultural belonging in the U.S. After all, this film was made at the climax of the neo-liberal economic and cultural shift once called Reaganomics: a point made most forcefully by the moment in which the main character, played by Julia Roberts, comes home to find her mother asleep on the couch in front of a television blaring the television show "Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous." The rest of the film follows the economic cues of the decade to a tee; perhaps for this reason, the means for attaining a greater sense of power and agency for the three young Portuguese-American women at the center of the film’s plot are as deceptively simple as ordering a pizza: perhaps because, much as Margaret Thatcher used to say, "There is no alternative." The choices presented are: 1) simply get into and go to Yale, in this case, to study astronomy: or 2) marry one of your Portuguese-American neighbors, settle down in your hometown and thus reconcile yourself to repeating the by-now codified cultural stereotypes of the New England "townie": in this case, working in a pizza parlor decorated with tourist posters from the Azores, armed only with a special recipe for pizza sauce handed down from the old country; in this case not Naples, but strangely enough, from the Algarve in southern Portugal.

For those uncomfortable with these two choices (even when considering how delicious Portuguese-American pizza can be), there is an additional, third option, and perhaps the trickiest of all: to simply sleep with and eventually marry one’s way into wealth and social prestige, bypassing elite education altogether. This presumed shortcut to one’s "slice of the pie" is spelled out as clearly as possible in the culminating scene, in which the Julia Roberts character, Daisy Araujo, goes to the house on the hill to meet the parents of her new boyfriend, a preppy law school dropout by the name of Charles Gordon Windsor. At dinner, she runs the gauntlet of social mobility: overdressed in black-and-white 80’s fashion to the point of causing vicarious embarrassment, she is waited on at the table by an old friend from town, another Portuguese-American girl named Teresa. An unlucky spill on Teresa’s part while serving the food, however, allows for the family members to voice comments both on the servant’s worth and ethnic identity that would usually be spared a public airing in front of guests, not to mention in the presence of the very ethnic subjects they are directed against, such as: "These Portuguese girls are very hard to train," or, "I had one once who barely spoke English." Then the scene degenerates into an argument between the son Charles and his family on the one hand (Charles: "If you can’t train a golden boy like me, there’s no way you can train a dumb Portagee") and Charles and Daisy on the other (Daisy: "Did you think you could shake up your family by bringing home your poor Portagee girlfriend? I’m poor and I hate it, I admit it.") What interests me most about this scene is not only how an ethnic slur—in this case, "Portagee"—is employed not only to mark the limits of social class, but other terms of that form of first-class citizenship such as wealth or education, as underscored by the adjectives attached to the slur: first "poor Portagee," then, "dumb Portagee."

Both of these compound ethnic slurs could be considered part of a longer list elaborated upon in the Portuguese-American author Charles Reis Felix’s recent memoir entitled Through a Portagee Gate: "For the Portuguese, [the adjective added to the slur] was 'dumb.' The Portuguese accepted the term with equanimity. They really didn’t feel too smart. And I heard the words 'dumb' and 'Portagee' put together so many times that I had periods of doubting my own smartness. Could they be right? Were all Portagees dumb?" (319) In recent years, thankfully, what constitutes Portuguese-American identity has already been transformed by an enhanced recognition of academic achievements by Portuguese-Americans (with perhaps the most notable recent example the 2006 Nobel Prize in Medicine shared by UMass Medical School professor Craig Mello for his discoveries in genetics, specifically RNA interference and gene silencing). But as I have suggested at the beginning of this talk, present accusations of stupidity or a waste of academic resources might best be leveled elsewhere: above all towards those who judge the importance of other languages and cultures on the basis of their own limited understanding or cultivated indifference, and who underestimate the challenge that finding alternatives to present cultural models might pose to their own sense of inherited personal privilege and entitlement.

Finally: Are there, in fact, alternatives?

In the future, an understanding of Portuguese-American culture in southern New England might also be transformed by an increased awareness of the longstanding intercultural dialogue spurred by success in assimilating into mainstream U.S. culture, but also by the ongoing contact with other Lusophone cultures in the region, especially from Brazil and Cape Verde. So before I conclude, let me briefly mention two films that have already spurred this kind of intercultural dialogue and thereby initiated alternatives to the models of citizenship elaborated upon in earlier examples.

The 2003 Brazilian shock film A Fronteira is perhaps the best-known work on the dangers that recent arrivals from Brazil to New England have faced in entering the U.S. by crossing its southern border; but now that literally thousands of these same immigrants are returning to Brazil in the wake of diminished expectations for a clear path to U.S. citizenship and economic opportunity, recent articles in the local and national press, including a prominent piece in the New York Times this month "Brazilians Giving Up Their American Dream," have begun to tabulate the losses not only for those returning, but for the cultural diversity and economic vibrancy of the urban communities that they leave behind.

The second and final example of the potential for crosscultural contact (at least for now) can be found in the 2006 documentary entitled "Some Kind of Funny Porto Rican?," in which director Claire Andrade-Watkins narrates the displacement and subsequent disintegration of her own childhood community, a long-standing Cape Verdean neighborhood in the Fox Point section of Providence, Rhode Island, through the construction of an interstate highway and subsequent gentrification. While the story of uprooted communities due to highway construction is all too familiar to many ethnic communities in the region (Charles Reis Felix also narrates the dissection of his own Portuguese-American neighborhood in the North End of New Bedford in the final chapters of his aforementioned memoir Through a Portagee Gate), what is perhaps most original and provocative about this last film is the title itself; by taking an intentionally misspelled inability to distinguish between ethnic identities such as Cape Verdean and the Puerto Rican, the title raises the question of how the lived experiences of so many groups, may well be seen as an archipelago of misunderstood cultural identities, further complicating the terms of citizenship in the U.S. While no one would deny that Puerto Ricans are subject to shifts in the terms of their citizenship depending on where they find themselves (especially with respect to voting or taxation), it would probably come as no surprise to other displaced communities that such uneven models of citizenship extend beyond a single island to impact a potentially wider range of marginalized ethnically-based cultures.

Another set of questions might also arise from this parallel: To what extent is it possible for newcomers to 'migrate' not only into a adopted national identity and conception of citizenship and belonging, but also into and out of those of ethnic identity such as that of Portuguese-Americans, Cape Verdeans or Brazilians? If so, how? After all, it has become all the more impossible to ignore the role of second- or third-generation 'hybrids,' as well as former 'outsiders,' have come to play as part of the cultural fabric of these often endangered ethnic identities. Whatever the answers to these questions may ultimately be, the task of this increasingly heterogeneous community of Portuguese speakers, both in southern New England and elsewhere, remains the same: the challenge to continually renew the possibility for a recognizably distinct and vibrant culture by continuing to reinterpret its traditional signs and symbols in its own terms, while affirming new manifestations of cultural agency characterized by linguistic, ethnic and racial hybridity, both in the 'here and now' and in the broader global 'Lusosphere,' in order to make a more culturally inclusive conception of both U.S. citizenship and global community possible.

Oak Bluffs-Dartmouth, Massachusetts, Dec. 2007.

--

Editor's Note
[1] - This work was originally presented on Friday, December 28, 2007 at the MLA Conference in Chicago, as part of a panel entitled "Citizenship, Literature, and Culture."

Works cited
Andrade-Watkins, Claire, dir. Some Kind of Funny Porto Rican? Spia Media, 2006.

Bernstein, Nina and Elizabeth Dwoskin. "Brazilians Giving Up Their American Dream." New York Times 4 Dec. 2007. 5 Jan. 2008. http://www.nytimes.com/2007/12/04/nyregion/04brazilians.html.

Carminati, Roberto, dir. A Fronteira. 2004.

Dos Passos, John. Three Soldiers. [1921] Intro. Townsend Ludington. New York: Penguin Classics, 1997.

Gaspar, Frank X. Mass for the Grace of a Happy Death. Tallahassee, FL: Anhinga Press, 1995.

Larkosh, Christopher. "Allophone Presences: In the 'Here and Now' of the Humanities." Producing Presences: Branching Out from Gumbrecht’s Work. North Dartmouth, MA: Center for Portuguese Studies and Culture, 2007. 229-241.

Petrie, Donald, dir. Mystic Pizza. Perf. Julia Roberts. 1988.

Reis Félix, Charles. Through a Portagee Gate. North Dartmouth: Center for Portuguese Studies and Culture, 2004.

Rodrigues Miguéis, José. "Cosme." Steerage. Providence: Gavea-Brown, 1983. 53-70.

Wolf, Richard. "Bush signs defense bill but balks at cost of domestic plan." USA Today. 14 Nov. 2007. 5 Jan. 2008. http://www.usatoday.com/news/washington/2007-11-13-bush-bill_N.htm.

sábado, 29 de Dezembro de 2007

Was Camões Gay? Queering the Portuguese Literary Canon

Anna M. Klobucka

(Paper presented at the annual convention of the Modern Language Association, Chicago, 28 December 2007)

The title of this paper echoes, tongue in cheek, the titles or opening lines of a couple of recent interventions pertaining to the matter at hand—queering of the Portuguese literary-historical canon—which, regardless of their sui generis referential framing, are in my view symptomatically illustrative of the structures of power and meaning that have shaped this ongoing process. In June 2002, a new Portuguese book-review magazine called Os Meus Livros published in its inaugural issue a review by Vasco Graça Moura of a just-released debut novel Pode um desejo imenso by Frederico Lourenço, a classical scholar and professor at the University of Lisbon. The review’s title, featured also on the magazine’s cover and doubtlessly meant to attract attention of prospective buyers, was “Não, Camões não era gay—obviamente não era” and the author took just a few short paragraphs to make it clear to the reader that this emphatic negation was not of his own making but rather a near-verbatim reproduction of the words of Lourenço’s protagonist, Nuno Galvão, a Camões scholar and professor at the University of Lisbon, who explains to a friend the main thesis of his conference paper on homoerotic echoes in the poetry of Portugal’s national bard: “O que me interessou foi . . . ponderar as ilações susceptíveis de serem extraídas da apropriação, por parte de Camões, de micro-enunciados retirados da poética clássica . . . referentes ao amor homoerótico: ponderar as ilações, percebes? Não dizer que Camões era gay, que obviamente não era” (Lourenço 2006, 190). The latest occurrence of the denial of the poet’s hypothetical gayness to be cited here is the preamble of a paper delivered by Lourenço himself at a recent (June 2007) conference at Oxford University, a gloss on his literary experiment in “queering Camões”: “It seems best to begin by saying quite clearly that, no, I don’t think Luís de Camões was gay. Quite apart from the difficulty in ascribing any objective meaning in sixteenth-century Portugal to what we now call ‘being gay,’ not the slightest shred of evidence (biographical or otherwise) suggests in any way that Camões might have been less keen on the opposite sex than on his own” (Lourenço 2007, 1).
I find it instructive to zoom in on these, as Lourenço’s protagonist would say, “micro-enunciados” of literary and critical discourse that contribute to the gradual articulation, on the contemporary Portuguese cultural scene, of a queering reading horizon (which is what I would call, summarily and no doubt reductively, any perspective that actively questions automatic attribution of normative heterosexuality to literary texts and subjects), because they highlight an important difference between this particular epistemological shift and other kinds of
revisionary rereadings of literary canons and individual works from perspectives previously marginalized or excluded by literary history, most prominently those fostered by feminist and postcolonial criticism. These latter rereadings have not generally been perceived as being first and foremost ad hominem or, for that matter, ad feminam, that is, interested in saying something dramatically different about the author rather than about the work (notwithstanding the occasional incidental fallout in the form of questions such as “was X racist?” or “was Y a sexist pig?”). By contrast, queering interpretations, at least in the Portuguese context, are nearly without exception taken to be “really” about the author’s own sexuality, as illustrated perhaps most prominently by the many defensive comments seeking to prop up Fernando Pessoa’s heterosexual credentials that can be found dispersed throughout the critical literature on the poet. To give an example involving a different author, at a recent conference I had the opportunity to hear a paper on the influence of Walt Whitman on the poetry of Eugénio de Andrade. This very brief presentation, which focused on the themes of cosmic oneness with the universe and valorization of the body, was described as a small slice of a larger project, which prompted me to ask the speaker (João de Mancelos) whether Whitman’s well-attested function as a powerful literary role model for poets of homoerotic desire throughout the world played any part in his large-scale reading of this intertextual engagement. The answer was yes, but what I especially want to evoke here is that Mancelos began to formulate it by saying “Yes, it is believed that Eugénio de Andrade was homosexual” (my translation). Neither the speaker nor, I would be willing to bet, anyone else in the room with us at that time perceived this initial reply as the non sequitur it clearly was, so deeply naturalized remains the notion of assimilating all non-heteronormative assessments of literary works to the performative speech act of outing their authors.
Another aspect of the emergent queering discourse in Portuguese literary and cultural criticism is an insistent and widespread, albeit not universally shared, concern with defining and classifying its putative objects of interest. Some of the responsibility for this must go to Eduardo Pitta’s groundbreaking 2003 essay Fractura: A condição homossexual na literatura portuguesa contemporânea, whose goals are described as follows in its cover blurb: “Existe literatura gay em Portugal? Literatura gay e literatura homossexual são uma e a mesma coisa? Quais os parâmetros pelos quais podemos avaliar se determinado escritor português é um autor gay? Na literatura portuguesa contemporânea, que obras são susceptíveis de leitura gay? E de leitura homossexual? Podemos lê-las em clave camp, ou queer? Foi para equacionar estas questões que Eduardo Pitta escreveu Fractura.” It is important to recognize, with Ana Cristina Santos, the affirmative value inherent in such “classificação estratégica, visando criar espaços de visibilidade e legitimidade num contexto de exclusão”; as she argues further, “Em contextos em que as sexualidades que escapam à normatividade heterossexual são remetidas para a invisibilidade e marginalidade (como nos meios ‘mainstream’ portugueses) torna-se necessário reinvestir e consolidar categorias que lutem contra essa invisibilidade” (quoted in Coutinho 11). At the same time, however, at least if the no less troubled history of the gradual infiltration of Portuguese literary and cultural studies by feminist perspectives is any indication, such privileging of ontological imperatives over epistemological opportunities may ultimately prove counterproductive. I’m alluding here to the fact that over the past two decades most discussions of literary production by women in Portugal have tended to feature the mindlessly reiterated, worn-out question “Haverá mesmo escrita feminina?” Just as this unanswerable inquiry has typically preempted, instead of promoting, any in-depth critical engagement with differentially gendered writing, it may well be the case that aprioristic fixation on the desire to describe and determine the true nature of “literatura gay” can contribute to hindering, rather than fostering, the empirical (albeit theoretically informed) practice of rereading the Portuguese literary canon from a non-heteronormative perspective. (Not to mention, let me add parenthetically, the questionable validity of such insistence in the context of what Daniel Halperin, glossing Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick’s analysis in Epistemology of the Closet, calls “the irreducible definitional uncertainty about what homosexuality itself really is” [105]). When Pitta points to Mário de Sá-Carneiro’s A Confissão de Lúcio as the foundational text of the “contemporary Portuguese homosexual canon” (12), he notes that in 1914—the year after its publication—“it couldn’t be read as it should be” [não pôde ser lida como devia]. While conditions of possibility for queer readings of Sá-Carneiro’s novella certainly exist in the Portuguese twenty-first century, to date the only interpretations of A Confissão de Lúcio I’m aware of that place homosexuality at the center of the text’s narrative scenario were written by a US-based, non-Portuguese scholar and published in Brazil (Arenas 2002; 2005).
While Frederico Lourenço has not been immune to typological concerns—in his Oxford paper he muses
I’m always a little wary of describing Pode um desejo imenso novel as a ‘gay novel’―simply because it’s not sexy enough. It’s a novel about gay characters written by a gay author; but does that make it a ‘gay’ novel?” (6)—his literary work has traced multiple pathways of a literary-historical “queering” revisionism that neither depends on nor foregrounds the ontological preoccupations of some of his fellow travelers and critical observers. The case of Pode um desejo imenso is of course unique, in that the novel blends fictional narrative with a perfectly serious—although, as the author himself admits, not quite watertight (2006, 462-63)—literary-critical argument concerning mainly the intertextual correspondence between Camões’s Eclogue I (“Que grande variedade vão fazendo”) and two Virgilian sources: the episode of Euryalus and Nisus in the Aeneid and “the most famous homoerotic poem in Antiquity” (Lourenço 2007, 4), Virgil’s Eclogue II. Limitations of time will not allow me to reproduce this argument for you, much less summarize the extensive critique to which it is subjected in Graça Moura’s review, but in any case my focus here is less the precise content of Lourenço’s (or rather Nuno Galvão’s) revisionist hypothesis than the way in which the entire novel—including, but not limited to, the embedded conference paper—becomes an enactment of various related strategies of queer representation and tradition-building in the context of Portuguese culture and literary history.
The strategy of rereading—and, in doing so, becoming attentive to “further voices” (to cite the title of Oliver Lyne’s book Further Voices in Virgil’s Aeneid, an acknowledged inspiration for Nuno Galvão’s paper)—plays, of course, the most prominent role in Pode um desejo imenso and it is hardly limited to a single poem. This is how Galvão formulates his agenda for a comprehensive critical reassessment of Camões’s lyric poetry:

A Laura de Petrarca e o chavão do amor platónico por via ficiniana; a Vénus da sensualidade pagã: era apenas a essa dicotomia prosaica e enjoativamente repisada na bibliografia tanto salazarenta como pós-moderna que se reduzia aquilo a que Eduardo Lourenço chamou “o erotismo inquieto e ardente” da mais erótica, inquieta e ardente manifestação poética do Renascimento europeu: as Rimas de Camões? Resumia-se tudo a esse moteto medieval a duas vozes com o sujeito lírico—estilo Tannhäuser—lá no meio, dilacerado entre a castidade e o pecado? Não haveria outras vozes, further voices, mais romanas, mais polifonicamente maneiristas? (166)

Dispersed throughout the novel are several other hints at queering critical paths to follow, among them the mention of “amor nefando” in the Isle of Love episode of Os Lusíadas or the quotation of a homoerotic poem included in Garcia de Resende’s Cancioneiro Geral. But it is at the level of its fictional development that Pode um desejo imenso realizes another crucial strategy of queer representation, the interplay between a critical engagement with literary texts from the past and the coming-of-age of the novel’s protagonist as a gay man. Another sixteenth-century poem, “Elegia da Arrábida” by Frei Agostinho da Cruz, plays an instrumental role in this process, and in his Oxford paper Lourenço remarks on the fact that discussions of the novel have not generally given much attention to his “queerification” (5) of the elegy. I would venture that this is probably because the narrative argument in this case does not rely on the attribution of any discernibly homoerotic intentio auctoris or even intentio operis—to use Umberto Eco’s terms—to the poem itself, but merely on the projection upon it of a fully autonomous and willful intentio lectoris, the reader in question being the twenty-something Nuno Galvão and the epiphany brought on by the verse he singles out—“menos contradição, mais clara vista”—the realization “that henceforth being gay is going to be the defining characteristic of his existence” (Lourenço 2007, 6). In other words, this narrative move is in no way reducible to being read as posing the question “Was Frei Agostinho da Cruz gay?” and neither can it be said to ask whether “Elegia da Arrábida” is a homosexual poem. At the same time, it does stand in the novel as an example of a “queer fiction of the present”—to extend Scott Bravmann’s notion of “queer fictions of the past”—whose articulation depends, in however subjective terms, on an activist and denaturalizing reading of a historical text. The last strategic manoeuvre I want to mention before my time runs out is the recent republication of Pode um desejo imenso as a single three-part novel instead of the originally released trilogy of novellas (in fact, the abovementioned Arrábida episode belonged initially in O curso das estrelas, which traces Nuno Galvão’s early career as a young research assistant but was published as the second instalment in the series). Intentionally or not, due to this editorial choice various overlappings and continuities discernible in the narrative correlation between Nuno’s Bildung as a gay man and his activity as a reader and writer of literary and academic texts emerge much more clearly as the sustaining backbone of the work as a whole. In conclusion, by virtue of these and other aspects of the novel’s textual politics, which I’m unfortunately unable to describe more amply here, Pode um desejo imenso can be said to share with Pitta’s essay—notwithstanding its distinct (and self-consciously asserted) status as a work of fiction—the role of the pioneering contribution to the enterprise of queering rearticulation of the discourse of Portuguese literary criticism and literary history.

Works Cited

Arenas, Fernando. “A encruzilhada do desejo homoerótico na ficção de Mário de -Carneiro.” A escrita de Adé: Perspectivas teóricas dos estudos gays e lésbicos no Brasil. Eds. Rick Santos e Wilton Garcia. São Paulo: Xamã; Nassau Community College/State University of New York, 2002.

—. “Onde Existir?: A (im)possibilidade excessiva do desejo homoerótico na ficção de Mário de -Carneiro.” Metamorfoses 6 (2005), 159-68.

Bravmann, Scott. Queer Fictions of the Past: History, Culture and Difference. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997.

Coutinho, Isabel. “Diz-me com quem dormes e eu digo-te o que escreves?” Ípsilon (Público), 24 Agosto 2007, 4-11.

Halperin, Daniel M. How to Do the History of Homosexuality. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2002.

Lourenço, Frederico. Pode um desejo imenso. Lisboa: Cotovia, 2006.

—. “‘Queering’ Camões: a recent literary experiment.” Keynote address at Queer, Queerer, Queerest: Evolving Gender Identities in Portugal and Spain. Exeter College, Oxford University. 1-2 June 2007.

Moura, Vasco Graça. “Não, Camões não era gay—obviamente não era.” Os Meus Livros 1:1 (Junho 2002), 21-25.

Pitta, Eduardo. Fractura. A condição homossexual na literatura portuguesa contemporânea. Coimbra: Angelus Novus, 2003.

sábado, 15 de Dezembro de 2007

Autobiography and the Death of the Self

Despite the widespread cynicism of our post-modern times, many scholars in the humanities are using autobiographies as prime sources of information, or as objects of literary investigation. Paradoxically, some other researchers either claim that autobiography is dead or deny it has ever existed. I thus wonder: What is autobiography? Is it actually possible to write one? What's the purpose of studying it? If we divide the word "autobiography" by its constituents, we have autos, which in Greek means self; bios, the course of life; and graphe, writing. We hence suppose that a definition to the term autobiography may run like "the writing of a self's life course." The task of discerning what actually is autobiography is light years beyond this simplistic concept, though. To begin with, all three complex elements of the word (arbitrarily created and first printed in late 1809) have been understood very differently from time to time.

There have been theories, for instance, that call for the writing of history grounded in autobiographies, because such theories rely on the importance of an individual life and on the assumptions that language is an accurate medium of reference, and that the self is an authentic entity. There are several problems here: First of all, I agree with Françoise Lionnet, who says that "because language is molded by the politics and ideology of a community, it influences--in turn--the way a given community comes to think of the world." History, therefore, drawn from personal stories may become very deceptive. Secondly, not all lives seem to matter to those who write in the name of historical truth. Dealing with ancient writings, Georg Misch neglects women's texts because their bios are "culturally insignificant," and their graphe are "not aesthetically meaningful." Likewise, Karl Weintraub, a historian influenced by Misch, argues that male-model types of warriors, gentlemen, ideal monks and teachers are those lives and writings worth studying.

Despite its dangers and shortcomings, the studies in autobiography can be not only fascinating in and of themselves, but also very useful to other fields. For all the variety and depth of insight they provide, autobiographies may become a central reading to various kinds of research besides literary criticism (such as American studies, philosophy or women’s studies). Autobiographies can also be very helpful to our understanding of all other literature, especially since many autobiographies are written by the same people who produce fiction. A third and very important use has to do with preserving the history of those who are usually neglected by the dominant sectors of society--the people who produce historiography--in the name of the whole nation. James Olney contends, for example, that African-American history has been preserved in autobiographies rather than standard histories.

After major advancements in psychology, linguistics, and semiotics (among other sciences), however, we must definitely question not only the problematic issues of the so-called self-expression, but also the very existence of an entity called self. The pronoun "I" makes sense only within a communicative situation. There has to be a message sender and a listener, so that the former may be able to refer to him/herself by using the word "I." But "I," as this case exemplifies, is the object of a verbal reference; it is not a "self." The self, though, exists "as an arbitrary cultural fact," not a delusion, as Candace Lang explains. The self, which is a construct undergoing constant mutation both symbolically (through our understanding), and empirically (through any human deeds), gradually acquires a fictitious configuration within the limits of the written text, at the moment in which one writes an autobiography. As Sidonie Smith puts it, the fictions of the autobiographer "are always mediated by a historic identity with specific intentions, if not pretensions, of interpreting the meaning of one's experience."

The point in time in which the individual's life course apparently comes to a halt is nothing but an illusion, just like the notion of a solidified self constructing its own portrait. The impasse of this view of time is one among several incongruities of the autobiographical act to which many autobiographers of yesteryear could not relate. Life, after all, is never a finished product, but after death. (Indeed, even death as an ending to a life may be a debatable issue.) Despite the artificiality of that halt, which many autobiographers take for granted, one can actually read in the past, "one's acts and utterances," as Lang puts it, insofar as they signify within a social and linguistic context.

Lang rightfully says that it is ludicrous how "positivist critics," like Michael Sprinker, proclaim the end of autobiography, vis-a-vis the pitfalls of language, while they themselves read and interpret within linguistic constraints. They announce the very impuissance of what they do as they try "to maintain a discourse of mastery." To Lang, and myself, this is the "demise of criticism itself in the classical sense of interpretation." Barrett J. Mandell, in turn, contends that autobiographies and novels are totally distinct. I don't agree. To me these boundaries, in some cases, can be severely blurred. Yet I do believe in the existence of this complex mode of narrative per se, and thus oppose the critics who claim that the same impulse that produces fiction produces autobiographies. In other words, not everything is fiction.

In a slightly different way I also disagree with Robert F. Sayre, whose broad definition of autobiography seems large enough to accommodate all sorts of discourses. Not everything is autobiography either. My own concept of autobiography does not rely on normative or essentialist traits. Much indebted to the latest of Philippe Lejeune's thoughts on the issue, I understand autobiography as a mode of reading as well as a mode of writing. I also trust, in part, Elizabeth Bruss' theory based on John Searle's notion of illocutionary action. Bruss sustains that the style or structure of autobiography cannot explain what is at the heart of its generic value.

To me, an autobiography is possible, first, as long as the author, in good faith, acknowledges and carries on the will to write one's own personal visions of mostly his/her own real life experiences. Second, the reader, while aware of the author's conscious attitude toward the piece (as suggested, i.e., by the subtitle to the work, or the use of the same author/narrator/protagonist name), approaches the text as a human utterance within its potential to impart meaning to experience and within its limitations to tell the "truth" or express a sense of self. As Francis R. Harts remarks, the unreliability of the autobiographer is "an inescapable condition, not a rhetorical option." So I hesitate to say that there is, intrinsically, an autobiographical form. I believe in how a text may function as an autobiography, in which there may be an implicit or explicit binary pact between the writer's mode of writing and the reader's mode of reading. I do not mean to prescribe it as a "genre" in itself, though, mostly because an autobiography may escape all traditionally established generic forms.

Dário Borim
Department of Portuguese, UMass Dartmouth

domingo, 9 de Dezembro de 2007

Platonic Anonymity and Pessoan Heteronymity

Some literary problems are quite old, very old actually, though interestingly new or--better put--continually new. Let me provisionally suggest that the "old" problem of Platonic Anonymity and the historically newer problem of Pessoan Heteronymity are mutually elucidating and of interest to scholars pursing research in Plato or Pessoa Studies. A thorough discussion of Platonic Anonymity should demonstrate some of the common features and questions raised in these problem spaces, and, hopefully, provide something of an object lesson for approaching Fernando Pessoa's works.

Platonic Anonymity is a "problem" for Plato scholars, historians of philosophy and literary theorists interested in understanding Plato's writings. The problem has waxed and waned periodically over the history of Plato scholarship, and these changes in approaches to Plato's works should be noted, but we must bracket the issue for now. For those unfamiliar with the problem of Platonic Anonymity, I will spend time elucidating it. The term "anonymity" is somewhat misleading when speaking of Platonic Anonymity unless one understands that the manner in which Plato is considered "anonymous" is in light of his absence as a philosophical theorist in the manner established by Aristotle through his writings and historical reception. Plato is "anonymous" insofar as he does not write philosophical treatises utilizing the methods formalized by Aristotle (and "proper" to philosophical writing thereafter). Plato did not write treatises. He wrote dialogues and, perhaps, some letters (all of which have been questioned as to their authenticity at some point). It is in contrast with Aristotle and his legacy that Plato has been called "anonymous" and this is what is typically considered the traditional problem. This way of conceiving the problem barely scratches the surface veiling deeper issues regarding Plato's writings.

Anyone daring to roll up their sleeves and delve into the problem of Platonic Anonymity will quickly question this "anonymity" to some degree. Plato does appear as a character in his own dialogues. In the Apology, Socrates mentions that Plato is present ("Plato here..." 38 b). In the Phaedo, a framed dialogue in which two characters, Echecrates and Phaedo, discuss the events at Socrates' execution, Phaedo tells Echecrates that Plato was ill, absent when Socrates dies (59 b). Plato is a truly minor character, but he is a character among the many characters he develops in the philosophical-dramatic genre he invented. He writes himself as among the least of his characters, but he is not precisely "anonymous."

As a writer experimenting in non-comedic verisimilitude, Plato's characters appear in his dramas as seemingly "real" persons. They are not quite Pessoa's heteronyms, as they are all authored by "Plato," yet Pessoa's heteronyms are very much like dramatic characters, having biographies and lives independent from their author or some form of authorial independence. Plato created characters that stand apart from himself (and from each other) biographically and philosophically in the way that heteronyms do (more will be said later about the power of Plato's heteronyms to appear "real"). Most of Plato's characters are historical figures, and it is easy to forget they are effectively crafted dramatic representations of people from a generation before Plato wrote (the dialogues are set during Socrates' lifetime in the 5th century B.C.E., Plato wrote in the 4th century B.C.E. until his death in 347/8). Some of his characters appear to be "inventions" with no historical reference. Some of his characters even appear to be inventions of characters within dialogues. Diotima in the Symposium, for example, is a character we have no historical evidence for, and, moreover, her speech related by Socrates directly references Aristophanes' speech--in parody, perhaps, but the references are obvious nevertheless. Plato's presentation illustrates the invention of a character by a character. It should be noted that the Symposium is a framed work related by a character, Apollodorus, who relates the account of the Symposium that yet another character, Aristodemus, had related to him. Not every Platonic dialogue is this elaborately framed and related by multiple characters. Some dialogues are set in "real time," unfolding in the eternal present of performance, while other dialogues relate a discussion from the near or more distant past. Plato's Socrates relates the entire lengthy discussion of the Republic to an unnamed audience the day after it had occurred. In the Timaeus we find out who some of the members of this audience are and get to hear two of their speeches (although one unnamed character remains conspicuously absent). In Plato's writings, we find a proliferation of characters whose roles in the dramas vary, and whose contributions to the discussions depicted vary widely. There are unnamed audiences present. There are sumptuously described audiences present (Protagoras). There is privacy (Phaedrus, Euthyphro). Angry interlocutors stand by observing conversations as they continue (Thrasymachus, Anytus). It is easy to focus exclusively on the content of the exchanges in a dialogue, overlooking just how many characters Plato has operating in the work.

Socrates may dominate philosophical discussion in some dialogues, yet meet his matches in others where interlocutors like Protagoras, Callicles, Timaeus, Parmenides and the Eleatic Stranger are not clearly refuted by him at all. Characters' views go unchallenged in some dialogues, famous views like the theory of ideas in the Republic and Phaedo, yet are demolished in another dialogue (Parmenides), or ignored entirely while other methods are operating (Philebus, Theatetus, Sophist, Statesman). It might appear that Plato "developed" philosophically and changed his mind about his views, yet at this point stylometry no longer supports a clear developmental hypothesis about Plato's thought. Much, much worse, whatever you may think of the developmental hypothesis, is the fact that regardless of the order in which Plato wrote the dialogues, he crafted the majority of them so that they preserve an overarching narrative--the story and fate of Socrates leading to his death. The Parmenides, where the theory of ideas is demolished is set as the very first of all the dialogues; the young Socrates' encounter with the venerable Parmenides and his eromenos Zeno. All of the "theory of ideas" dialogues are set after this initial demolition. The Theaetetus is set just prior to the Euthyphro. The Sophist and Statesman occur between the Euthyphro and the Apology. The Phaedo follows the Crito in terms of the dramatic order of the the Platonic Corpus. Dialogues considered "early," "middle" and "late" are juxtaposed and intermingle within the overarching narrative of "the Socrates Story." More importantly, the conflicting philosophical perspectives and methods of the dialogues' characters inhabit the order of a single narrative fate, not the clean order of a developmental system. They do so without explanation or apology. These are the texts we have.

In this complicated literary context the real problem of Platonic Anonymity arises. For where is Plato in all this? He appears as both present and absent when he makes himself a character; one of his most minor characters of all. He is the writer of the dialogues, though he never explains in any clear, independent theoretical manner what his dialogues are--that is, unless we take whatever literary theory a character within the dialogues expresses as Plato's "true" literary theory. However, even if we made this move, for instance taking Socrates' view of writing in the Phaedrus as Plato's theory, we still end up with grave difficulties. In this text, Socrates claims that writing, at its best, can merely facilitate remembering in those "who already know." Written works are "amusements" that can never take the place of face-to-face discussion. If we take the 7th Letter seriously (and there is debate on its authenticity), we find Plato claiming he never wrote any of his philosophical views. It becomes unclear why Plato spent most of his entire adult life writing the dialogues as "amusements" or having virtually no relation to his actual philosophical views at all. Under these reconstructive views the dialogues become even more mysterious, not less. It seems more than reasonable to ask why we would take what any of Plato's characters, including himself in the 7th letter, claim about writing as "the account."

No matter what route we take, whether we are (wisely) skeptical about taking any theory expressed by one of Plato's characters in any of the dialogues as the "master theoretical key" to interpret the whole Platonic Corpus, or we diligently attempt to reconstruct such a "master theory" from pieces of Plato's writings, we are left stranded. We do not know what his dialogues are supposed to be or supposed to do. Platonic Anonymity is the absence of any master hermeneutical key to the dialogues.

No theory of the dialogues has stood the test of time. And the prospects of achieving one do not look so hot. Although such a theory might be a holy grail sustaining Plato scholars, to be pursued and formulated until it can finally be established, celebrated and venerated, the question remains: Should there be a theory of the dialogues?

Doesn't Plato's writings themselves suggest the defiance of a master hermeneutical key?

Why have we wanted it so badly, in spite of the texts themselves? Who or what are we trying to save?

With this more sophisticated take on Platonic Anonymity and the questions it raises, we are in a position to reflect on Pessoan Heteronymity. It would seem that Pessoa's multiple heteronyms, their poetry and prose, his "own" poetry and prose, his semi-heteronym, jointly constitute a similar problem space. Precisely where do we locate an authoritative Pessoa, the one who will bestow a master theory of his work upon us? The problem is not looking for Pessoa, for he is present in his writings, in a way akin to Plato. Pessoa is a character among his characters, and just as unhelpful. He is not the most interesting of his characters, and does not give himself final word or aim at consistency with his "others." The temptation to reconstruct a Pessoa and his "point of view" is a real danger because, like Plato, the disagreements, contradictions, diversity of methods of expression and plurality of expressions across characters are integral to his writing. Strike that--ARE his writing. Pessoa is "anonymous" in the way that Plato is. Or Plato is heteronymous in the way that Pessoa is.

Unlike the Platonic Corpus, we do not find an overarching narrative under which competing views are juxtaposed in Pessoa's work, but we do find strands of narrative--the master/student relations of Caeiro, Reis and Campos, and we find similar reference and connections to historical "real life" figures and contexts. Pessoa studies will suffer unnecessarily if Pessoa scholars believe these tidbits of "reality" appearing in the texts are the reality and hence granted decisive hermeneutical value and weight. For generations, Plato's beautifully crafted heteronyms seduced readers into believing that they were, in fact, reading accounts of the "real" historical Socrates and other "real" famous historical figures. (We did not want to lose the historical Socrates, I suppose, even though he deliberately wished to be lost.) It took until relatively recently for Plato scholars to grasp and make explicit this "seduction" operating in the dialogues and in our interpretive projects. Stylometric analysis of the dialogues arose in the mid 19th century, promising to to help us discern the "real" Plato and his philosophy. Instead, we have found a lack of consensus on the patterns of the dialogues, and conditions suggesting that Plato revised them over time, may have written groups simultaneously, and even may have had students write with him. The "groups" do not tell us about particular ordering, and do not come close to explaining Plato's attention to the overall narrative of Socrates' life across his career until he wrote the Laws. Scholarly arguments that position dialogues with respect to Plato's development beg the question, using views presented in the dialogues to establish the order Plato wrote them, while using an accepted view of the order he wrote them to verify the views he held. Yes, it's been that bad. These are the kinds of things that have happened on the search for the one true Plato. It would be wonderful for Pessoa scholars to skip this quest, finding more productive approaches to his work.

Perhaps it seems odd to talk of new approaches to theory-resistant anonymous- heterononymous authors, when the question might be: How is scholarship of Pessoa or Plato possible? Or is it scholarships?

It seems to me, after years of teaching and studying Plato's works, that their immediate intelligibility within any context is a matter of provisional choices of the frameworks at hand, whatever framework is needed in a pragmatic sense in order to enter into engagement and dialogue with the works. Do anonymous/heteronymous works have the potential to make explicit the continually changing, historically grounded "selves" that communicate about them from context to context? And offer an opportunity to admit this provisional, continually changing, and re-created interpretive situation? Or, just as often, an opportunity to deny it?

Do I have the courage, today, to admit the heteronymity solicited of me each and every time I engage a heteronymic work?

Tomorrow, when "I" am teaching the Republic, and need to explain the "theory of ideas," who will be speaking?


(You suspect that she won't resemble the writer of this blog, don't you?)

Maureen Eckert
(meckertisically writing)
Department of Philosophy UMD

Select Bibliography
Ludwig Edelstein, "Platonic Anonymity," The American Journal of Philology, Vol. 83, No. 1, Jan. 1962, pp. 1-22.
Charles L. Griswold, "Irony in the Platonic Dialogues," Philosophy and Literature, Vol 26, No. 1, April 2002, pp. 84-106.
Gerald Press, ed., Who Speaks for Plato? Studies in Platonic Anonymity, Lanham: Rowman and Littlefield, 2000.
Debra Nails, "The Early Middle Late Consensus: How Deep? How Broad?" In Plato: Critical Assessments, Vol. I. N. Smith., ed., London and New York: Routledge, 1998, pp. 164-179.
Plato, Complete Works, eds. J. Cooper and D.S. Hutchinson, Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing, 1997.
Andrea Wilson Nightingale, Genres in Dialogue: Plato and the Construction of Philosophy, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996.