I didn't plan to write any articles now, I wanted to concentrate on books - anyway, to finish two books in only four weeks of research is not exactly what most people do. Nonetheless, the topics for the articles have been coming to me without being summoned and, if I can say so, in excess. Well, there are two texts fighting for my attention and for a place in the next issue of Estudios Hispanicos, under the topic of "transferencias culturales". At the first moment, it occurred to me that I might write on Greece and Greek imaginary heritage in Portugal. Such a topic remains connected to my work for Empire and Nostalgia, where I touch the problem of the "civilizational" identity of Portugal and their ambivalent relationships with Europe, so many times commented by Eduardo Lourenço. Evidently, the "reinvention" of the classical antiquity occupied an important place in the process of building up a link with Europe for the generation of Jorge de Sena and Sophia de Mello Breyner Andresen. Nonetheless, their attempts of reshaping this tradition as a living culture tended to remain a closed field of the erudite culture. There was always something missing, some evasive element that couldn't be captured for more than a glimpse. The result was a consciousness of a distance rather than proximity, dependence rather than identification. Curiously, the situation changed with the economic crisis and with a very specific comment on this crisis formulated by Teolinda Gersão in the novel A Cidade de Ulisses. The financial actuality forces the change in the symbolic contents associated with the word "Greece". It becomes something else than an abstract and distant source of the highest civilization. The heroine of this novel, discovering Greece in a quite different kind of travel than the dreamed excursion to Acropolis in Maria Judite de Carvalho, looks to the country with a neofeminist, critical perspective. The myth of Ulysses, invented by the humanists as the founder of Lisbon, appears as the root of a patriarchal problem. The syndrome of the male absence is yet something more than a point of feminist complaint against the life of a Penelope, misused in waiting; it is first of all the cause of the persistent failure in the economy that can be observed in Portugal throughout several centuries and that identifies the country with the "deficient South" of Europe. This emergent look, transforming Greece in something else than "the master of civilization", helps to establish a new balance in the external relationships of the Portuguese imagination. The cultural transfer is understood no more as a flow of values between the perennial giver and not less permanent receptor. The heritage and the influence require a problematical approach. In the explicit of the novel, the male personage, characterized by a mixture of lucidity and blindness, reinforces his link with a determined perception of the myth of Ulysses, rejecting another Ulysses, the northern one, the one given by Joyce, the one who transcribes in modern terms the issue of matrimonial fidelity. Well, I believe that the difference between two Europes, the efficient and the deficient one, could've been inscribed in literature in no better way than those elliptical and yet extremely suggestive terms.
On the other hand, the proposed topic of "cultural transfer" brings me the temptation of a completely different approach. There is, of course, no more "transferable" art than the art of falconry. I've been studying the Portuguese treatises. The fact that they come so late to this shows that their peripheral condition may be traced as early as in the late Middle Ages. Yet the Portuguese falconry is very persistent in time. They have, as I already mentioned on this blog, an interesting book on this topic produced in the first half of the XVII century. Even later on, they have an important center of falconry in Salvaterra de Magos, where the Portuguese king is among the last European monarchs to receive the falconry masters from Valkenwaard in Brabant and where he gladly stores the gyrfalcons offered as a present by the king of Denmark, proud of his dominion over Iceland. What I would like to know is the relationship between the treatise of Pero Menino and the knowledge gathered from the Mediterranean travels of Adelard of Bath. The character of his treatise, concentrated on the illnesses of the birds, comes very close to the concise program of Adelard's text, yet the philological traditio of this text (given mainly by Carolina Michaëlis de Vasconcelos and by its not less illustrious editor, Rodrigues Lapa, in the beginning of the 20th century) apparently doesn't put in evidence such a connection. Lesser commentators, such as Mário Martins, try to find a suitable context for Pero. Nonetheless, perhaps because of a general lack of erudition, he doesn't manage to come closer to the matter than just evoking Speculum by Vincent de Beauvais or Albertus Magnus. (There is nonetheless a more recent, English speaking study by Carlos Almaça, I didn't manage to find it yet). Apparently, the Portuguese didn't need to travel as far as Adelard for their Arabica studia or to enter in contact with the Islamic falconer expertise. Yet the cultural frontier between them and the Moroccans seems impermeable. There is hardly any falconry to break through this frontier, except for the appreciation given to falcão tagarote or falcão-da-berbéria, a smaller subspecies of Falco peregrinus. The Portuguese crusade on the western shore of Africa didn't provoke the same phenomena of exchange that marked either the European presence in Syria or the Sicilian court of Frederic the Great. There is no Portuguese Fulk to call any Usama ibn Munkidh "his brother" - or is Syrian context simply better known than this one? The previous knowledge, the contacts that must have preceded such an event as the Portuguese intervention in the Battle of the Four Kings ("a jornada de África" or "desastre de Alcácer Quibir" as it is called here, with no attention payed to its importance or consequences in the history of Morocco) became completely obliterated from the national memory. Or am I somehow wrong in this interpretation?
And there is yet another thing, the idea I've had since a long time. I would like to speak about the problem of the emergent writing in Lhoussain Azergui and Dorota Maslowska. Against the disparity of origins and historical backgrounds, in both of them the writing acquires the value of a magical gesture. Easier to comprehend in Morocco... But also in the Polish novel Paw królowej the writing woman becomes a witch and a Marzanna - a victim that must be sacrificed to bring a breakthrough, to invert the deteriorating dynamics of winter.
I've got the hint there must be something there, and in fact I've written about Azergui and Maslowska before, yet I see their problem much more clearly after adding a third point to the triangulation: Um rio chamado tempo by Mia Couto. The comparison helps to build up a consistent story in which there is an essential renegotiation addressing the falseness of the post-colonial concept of nationality or, more precisely, of national unity. Such a concept is inscribed either in the uniforming policies of Hassan II or in the vision of Mozambican unity against the dualism of the shores of Zambezi river. In Poland, there is also a dimension of falseness in the dominating vision of the national culture, defined by the resistance against an exterior enemy, a potential (if not real) colonizer, the Russians. The trans-colonial renegotiation, if I use the term, consists in accepting the pluralism, and also confronting the generation of fathers (and their abuse) through a solidarity with the grandfathers, the ancestors, the dead. Something quite similar did appear before, f.ex. in Ben Jalloun's novel, Moha le fou, Moha le sage, yet before it was only a voice - the emergence of writing appears now as a crucial element, with a growing consciousness that no oral culture can confront modernity on its own grounds. This is perhaps where the conjunction of literacy and magic appears as unavoidable. A return to the ancestral universe, not in order to escape the modernization and the modernity, but to complete them.