Mark Sabine, «The Twilight World of the Lusosexual: Exploring Sexuality in Portuguese-Language Literatures», Journal of Romance Studies, Volume 5, Number 2, London, 2005.
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The timeliness of Lusosex’s appearance is confirmed by the recent publication of what is perhaps the first history of Portuguese literary homosexuality. Eduardo Pitta’s Fractura is a short but well proportioned survey that implicitly – and very persuasively – proposes the delineation of a national canon of representations of male homosexuality in twentieth-century letters. For Pitta, homosexuality emerges as a recognizable, if diffuse and often dissimulated, identity in the poetry of António Nobre, Pessoa and António Botto, and in particular in Sá Carneiro’s ‘inquietante jogo de espelhos’ [‘disquieting game of mirrors’] A Confissão de Lúcio (1913) [Lúcio’s Confession] (Pitta 2003: 12). By the mid-century, and despite the oppressively normative sexual ideology of the Estado Novo, there exists a gamut of identities and styles of expression. This runs from the ‘perfil hierático’ [‘hieratic profile’] of Eugénio de Andrade – long revered by gay and straight readers alike for his delineation of desire for a non sex-specific muse – to the camp and, under Salazar, often unacceptable candour of Mário de Cesariny (2003: 10). Pitta devotes considerable attention to the often perceptive and sympathetic depiction of homosexuality by (presumed) heterosexual authors, including Eça, Nemésio and especially Jorge da Sena. As Pitta illustrates, da Sena’s depictions of poorly disguised sexual ‘deviance’ and of homophobic anxiety are remarkable for more than the progressive credentials of their critique of the Estado Novo’s narrow and intolerant prescription for exemplary masculinity. Sena’s sensitivity to homosexual men’s experience of alienation and persecution constitutes an effective point of departure for the critique of a more generalized paranoia about belonging and about difference under (pseudo)-Fascist rule. Like Quinlan and Arenas, Pitta is alert to the political implications of imposing anglophone labels on lusophone culture, and he stresses some specifically Portuguese characteristics and contexts of the literary corpus that he identifies. His consideration of the fiction of Guilherme de Melo, for example, focuses especially on how the represented dalliances between settlers, army conscripts and natives in 1960s Mozambique critique, pervert, but also replicate the particular generic and racial hierarchies ordering Portuguese colonial society. Nevertheless, the pull of foreign cultural models is acknowledged. Pitta organizes his survey around his attempt to stabilize Portuguese definitions of the increasingly well-established loanwords ‘homossexual’, ‘gay’ and ‘queer’. Moreover, he bases his distinction between literatura homossexual and literatura gay on reference to what he considers the global watershed precipitated by the 1969 Stonewall riots in New York (2003: 29). Despite the increasing acceptance and visibility of a gay subculture in Portugal, Pitta argues, there has to date been ‘nenhum escritor português gay’ (2003: 29) [‘not one gay Portuguese writer’]. Rather, Pitta finds traces of ‘uma identidade sexual e social gay’ (2003: 19) [‘a gay sexual and social identity’] in the work of a tiny handful of lyric poets: in Joaquim Manuel Magalhães’s elegiac yet angry allusions to the AIDS pandemic, in the darkroom and bath-house metaphysics of Armando Silva Carvalho, or in the exuberant consciousness of the gay body in Luís Miguel Nava. Prominent amongst this coterie is, unsurprisingly, Al Berto. While Pitta sees Al Berto’s work as pioneering the representation in Portuguese literature of homosexuality on its own terms, he stresses that its principle focus is not a gay lifestyle but the queer and counter-cultural subversion of a prevailing patriarchal orthodoxy. Pitta rejects a conclusion of Portuguese cultural ‘backwardness’ with the argument that the nation’s writers simply feel no compulsion to invest in the ‘superação semântica da identidade do desvio’ (2003: 31) [‘the semantic transcendence of an identity of deviation’] – presumably because Portuguese homoerotism has mostly been too invisible to get branded as deviant. I say ‘presumably’ because Pitta’s conclusion is exemplary of the frustratingly elliptical nature of his absorbing study. There is so little space for the exploration of so many highly original, and often provocative, insights. Frequently one itches to engage the author in debate, and to develop fully the lines of inquiry that he deftly outlines. One hopes that this provocation will help draw forth the protracted scholarly attention that the subject of homosexuality in modern Portuguese literature merits.