War as an internal and external battleground in Alamo Oliveira's Ate Hoje (Memorias de Cao).
o fim do longo processo de desterritorializacao colonial suscita diferentes movimentos de reterritorializacao (o impacto moltiplo de o pais retomar, depois de cinco seculos, os limites do seu territ rio) [...] Portugal e uma sociedade semiperiferica. Findo o ciclo do imperio, est[sz] a renegociar a sua posicao no sistema mundial. [...] O regresso C nossa territorialidade ocorre no momento de emergencia de um novo desterrit rio, a Europa da CEE e do Acto onico Europeu. (2)
Margarida Calafate Ribeiro expands on this identification as follows:
The symbolic dimension of Portuguese politics, which propagates the image of Portugal as the centre, was constructed through empire. Or rather it was fashioned through a conception of Portugal as an imperial nation that, in the same manner as today, concealed a second image of Portugal more closely related to the reality of life at the periphery, while 'imagining the centre'. (3)
The loss of empire and the effect of the events after 25 April 1974 thus produced a cultural questioning of the validity of Portugal's involvement in the colonial war, contributing to the social turmoil in the first years of democracy. In cultural terms this led to the emergence of a body of literature that dealt with the colonial war which questioned and re-evaluated ideals that had hitherto never been openly questioned. (4) Joao Medina expresses this in the following way:
[It] translated into an unspeakable loss, without benefit to anyone, and as useless and criminal without honour or glory. [...] It was both useless and criminal, or rather it was criminal precisely because it was useless in so far as blindness, egoism and the incapacity to opt for a reasonable solution prevented Lisbon from acting in the best interests of the world. (5)
The end of the war also signalled the beginning of a new era, not just in political terms, but also in literature. Rui de Azevedo Teixeira confirms this by saying that the period sees a literary examination of people's involvement in the war, in which the authors explore the idea that they form part of a generation writing about the loss of its empire and of their contribution to that loss. (6) The colonial war novels continued themes found in previous works written before and during the Estado Novo, unrestrained by the need to circumvent censorship with veiled language and imagery, as they had done during the dictatorship, to criticize, high-light and examine social or political problems. Isabel Allegro de Magalhaes further explains that both the regime, and Portugal's perception of itself as a nation on the periphery, or semi-periphery, allowed for the emergence of localized and particularized visions and examinations of Portugal's fragmented identity. (7) For Magalhaes, the colonial war narratives continue various tropes found in Portuguese literature, such as the historic tradition of voyages, to depict a fragmented nation whereby
Independentemente do seu especifico valor estetico essas narrativas constituem testemunhos fictivos, talvez exemplares, sobre Portugal e algumas modalidades do ser/estar dos portugueses. As suas personagens, de dentro e fora do exercito, falam constantemente de si mesmos e do pais, e a continuidade hist rica de experiencias e atitudes, e suas representaces, permite reconhecer imagens de uma identidade colectiva, identica atraves das suas variaces no tempo. [...] A suposta 'grandeza' do passado nacional parece ter-se tornado numa barreira que impede ver o presente. Desta natureza de Cais, real e metaf rico, da nacao emerge a sua transmutacao numa jangada de pedra C deriva, onde e intoler[sz]vel ficar, pois, cada personagem perdeu o seu lugar de pertenca e vive apenas o naufr[sz]gio de si mesma. (8)
The writers, thus, use the colonial war, either as a point of departure or as a background reference to reconcile the past with the present and produce a deep and historically aware examination of society that contributes to the construction of a Portuguese identity. For critics such as Paulo de Medeiros, this examination also acts as a way in which to remember the revolution and its aftermath, fighting against the loss of memory in relation to this part of Portuguese history, and questioning the selective memory of the depiction of this period. (9) The narratives, for Paulo de Medeiros, succeed in filling a gap or absence of historical reflection on the war, memory and the voicing of that memory where it is
the only available remedy against not only the fading of time but the attempt to cover up the 'disgrace' in imaginary shortcomings of manhood or equally imaginary conspiracies.
One of the problems inherent in the memory of the colonial wars and their narratives is that they tend to reflect primarily, if not exclusively, the point of view of those who, even if against their will, took an active part in the war, who both suffered the effects of the war and were part of the colonial army. (10)
Furthermore, Paulo de Medeiros echoes Boaventura de Sousa Santos's assertion, and by extension Calafate Ribeiro's analysis, that Portugal had always been a peripheral nation in terms of its world context,
but a nation that positioned, or imagined itself positioned at the centre as regards to its empire by saying that: (11)
For many, like [Eduardo] Lourenco, the desire to erect a uniform national identity modelled on glorious achievements, be it the voyages of discovery in the sixteenth century or the end of fascism in the recent past, necessitates forgetting the ghosts of imperialism and of the colonial wars. History thus becomes the celebrated realm of Portuguese achievement and the grounds for an imaginary position and secure national identity, whereas memory, of the colonising enterprise, or more to the point, of the colonial wars, is negated. (12)
This would seem to further echo Boaventura de Sousa Santos's assertion that
A violacao recorrente das liberdades civicas e a atitude hostil C razao critica fez com que acabasse por dominar a critica da razao geradora dos mitos e esquecimentos com que os portugueses teceram os seus desencontros com a hist ria. (13)
This would also seem to fulfil Bill Ashcroft's idea of the construction of identity, both national and personal, as being something fluid and constantly evolving which legitimizes itself with an appropriation of history, manipulated to fit within a certain perspective in order to construct identity. (14) In the case of Portugal, the loss of empire created a need for reinvention and re-appropriation of the past removed from the nationalist discourse of Salazarism by necessarily using the same key historical events, but offering a different perspective on history and therefore replacing, or rejuvenating, myths.
The idea of what constitutes the periphery and the centre can be extended to the position of the Azores itself in reflecting Magalhaes's assertion of the emergence of localized identities. The Azores could be seen at the periphery as regards Portugal, imagining it as a centre and creating a myth of Portugal from this interpretation. However, for the Azorean emigrants, both in Europe and the United States, it is the Azores that forms the centre, thereby moving the boundaries of centre-periphery. Positioned as it is in both Portuguese and Azorean literature, Alamo Oliveira's first novel, Ate Hoje (Memorias de Cao), shifts the boundaries of what constitutes the centre and the periphery, and examines the role not just of Portuguese but Azorean identity within a Portuguese context. (15) In this way, Oliveira's novel constructs a myth not just of Portugal, but of the island itself.
In Ate Hoje (Memorias de Cao), the main character attempts, through the narrative, not only to come to terms with the effects of the colonial war on himself, but also to (d) enounce and rescue the memory of this war, and its history, both for himself and for the reader. However, Oliveira gives a unique interpretation of the colonial war that presents the reader with particular problems that are not found in other colonial war novels. Through the analysis of this novel, this article will show that the difference in depiction and treatment of the colonial war derives from the geographical and cultural origins of Alamo Oliveira as a writer from the Azorean archipelago. This difference is also highlighted by Joao Medina when he singles out Azorean authors and their colonial war narratives, echoing Calafate Ribeiro's representation of the peripheries imagining the centre by saying that
It derives, I think, from a natural inclination of those [authors] from the islands to find the strangeness and otherness in the traumatic experience of a war waged in an environment totally foreign to the rocky Atlantic coastline they left behind them. Thus the experience for them, waged as it was within the density of a tropical forest, was experienced as doubly outside their own world, thus making them feel the loneliness, the absurdity of war, and the inability to adjust to the environment of a land so radically different, hostile, and inaccessible as much in terms of soil and vegetation, as in terms of living and toiling within it. Thus the experience of Africa was in every way incomprehensible to the sons of the far-off misty islands. (16)
In Oliveira's narrative this is reflected in the structural duality of the novel itself, a novel with a diary narrative within it, as well as in its thematic duality, which raises many questions arising from the mix of themes which are present in both colonial war writing and Azorean literature. Two themes found within the colonial war novel, namely the role of the individual within the war and his evolving sense of personal identity, values and reintegration into society once the war is over, receive a new twist when viewed from the Azorean perspective in this novel. It builds upon and makes more complex the concept of the colonial war novel as an examination and destabilization of the idea of the uniformity of Portuguese identity and Portuguese society.
Alamo Oliveira presents us with the main character, Joao, leaving his native island, Terceira, for the first time as he is called up to fight in the colonial war. His experience of the boat trip is also a first, as is his short stay in Lisbon before he goes to Guine Bissau. When he arrives in Guine he is taken from the main town to the camp, where he is to replace the baker--another first for him as he does not know how to bake. He spends two years in this camp where he forms a close friendship with a Portuguese soldier called Fernando. At the end of the two years he returns to Lisbon, and then to Terceira, where he remains for about six months before he decides to emigrate to the United States. This cycle of new experiences will further accentuate the previous scarcity of references to these environments.
Oliveira's novel presents the reader with a multifaceted idea of war that questions the glorification of the soldier in historical accounts and highlights a narrative and interpretative duality. Cultural references that glorify Portuguese history, used by Salazar himself, such as Camoes's Os Lusiadas, are depicted at the beginning of the novel as childhood stories that portray the idea of a different society divorced from his impoverished island reality. Both Camoes's narrative and Portugal, as a nation to which the islands belong, are parts of the same glorified myth construction in the eyes of Joao, who initially believes this fiction of the nation and of national identity in his island home, away from the Portuguese mainland. (17) Further, the main character, Joao, juxtaposes this idea of the cultural wealth of Portuguese national literature by comparing it with his own experiences and background. Firstly, the representation of Os Lusiadas as a revered and treasured book only taken out on special occasions gives it the quality of something that is unavailable and divorced from his present. (18) It is almost equated with religion in that it demands unquestioning faith in what it portrays. Secondly, the glory and prosperity depicted in Os Lusiadas contrast sharply with the impoverished reality of the island, presenting a further contradiction between myth and reality that leads to a questioning of its truth and relevance to the present in the nation, and specifically to island society.
This deconstruction of myth through its juxtaposition with reality is present throughout the novel and is a feature of Portuguese colonial war novels in general. (19) In Oliveira's novel, it crystallizes with Joao's arrival at his African destination and his disillusionment as his beliefs are shattered with the realization that he has been led to believe untruths about the state and the nature of Portugal's empire. Indeed, the idea of the patria and its values are presented as something that has been corrupted and adulterated, as if the imagination and its formulation, when presented with the reality, undergo a transformation that highlights the limits and degradation of its formulation. (20) The prostitution of the nation, as put forward by Joao, is equated by him to the prostitution of Camoes's intention by Salazar:
A sua volta, passam farrapos de resignacao. Sao soldados, diga-se sem mais met[sz]fora de mau gosto. Arrastam os pes como quem nao pode, bebados, drogados. [...] L[sz] estavam os Lusiadas do Tio Jose Barraca outra vez parados num desfiar de m[sz]goas. Sorte tirana. 'P[sz]tria tao cantada que deu em puta. Nao era caso para menos [...] Cames morreria de vergonha se visse os quinhentos anos do nosso andar por aqui. Qual imperio, qual burla! Joao, tem cuidado, que ainda te pelas.' [...] Naquela mangueira grande, que d[sz] sombra C caserna, Cames enforcar-se-ia [...] e a p[sz]tria naufragando libertinamente no novo Quibir de Portugal. (21)
This leads Joao to question everything around him as being different from what he had been led to believe as a child. He begins a process whereby the only things that are held as believable truths are those to do with his own personal origins and experience. (22) In this way the heroes of the Portuguese past are replaced in his mind by those people he admires from his own life:
Agora, Joao via, e muito claramente, a inutilidade do seu esforco. Tudo ruia pela base e antes ruinas s lidas que edificios de papel. Mais lhe teria valido decorar todos os her is da infencia, que, esses sim, eram reais, vivos, verdadeiros, leais, simples. E eram muitos! O Ti Tome--o Ti Tome das nesperas. (23)
The myth of Portugal as a great nation is now replaced by the myth of the island as an unspoilt and protected place, becoming a point of reference throughout the novel that is contrasted with the reality of war and the previously mythified life beyond the island. (24) This process of replacing one myth with another, begun with his departure from the island, is shattered once more on his return after the war to the island that he had held as a perfect and timeless paradise untouched by the outside world. His expectations are destroyed with the realization that the war has affected and changed him. He is unable to reintegrate into society because he feels different from the islanders as a result of what he has experienced and what he has learnt from the war. The change in his character has come about by a mental and physical distancing from his mythical reference points: Portuguese history, Portugal and the island. This distancing is a direct result of the journey of discovery begun on the ship to Guine. This single journey begins the process of a never-ending journey, where one utopia replaces another, and which, by the end of the novel, becomes a vicious circle and leads him to emigrate from the island and find an alternative myth to suit the reality of his predicament. (25)
The theme of neglect and isolation present in novels dealing with the colonial war is developed here to suggest that Portugal as a whole is cut off from the truth about the reality of the war. This connects with a theme also found in colonial war literature that discredits official accounts that manufacture national pride from a glorious past. (26) In this novel, only the soldiers know the whole truth about the colonial war, learning and understanding more than the people back home. The letters written by the main character to his family, far from disclosing this truth, concentrate on telling lies in order to protect them from knowing their predicament. His letters also betray the recipients by effectively allowing them to construct their own mental picture, or myth, of the war. (27) By not writing the truth in his letters, Joao also chooses to neglect his duty to be honest with himself and face up to reality, using the letter as a mental trigger to escape and build an alternative reality. The reasoning he uses for doing this provides a double criticism: the need to censor his own words, and the broad use of censorship by the Portuguese state itself, and by the soldiers reporting back to the homeland: (28)
'Nao achas que est[sz]s a mentir a ti pr prio?' | 'A mim?!', e sente uma tristeza perdida por ter de admitir essa verdade. 'O oficio mais velho do mundo poder[sz] nao ser o mentir, mas quase' Joao dizia-o com muita conviccao, satisfeito pela frase que acabara de criar, que procurava nao esquecer ate a grafar no seu caderno-di[sz]rio. Descobrira tambem a utilidade da mentira e estava apostado a masturbar-se no gozo da sua aplicacao. Queria l[sz] saber da verdade--essa peconha reles que dessassossega consciencias, que gera ins nias e neuroses de arrepiar. Era f[sz]cil mentir. Todos se serviam da mentira sempre que necess[sz]rio. (29)
It is interesting to note that the main character keeps a diary of his thoughts and feelings where, through self-examination, he can allow himself to be honest. The function of this diary in the novel is that of a channel that allows him to express his innermost feelings and, at times, the harshest criticism of the regime, the war and the situation in which he finds himself. It is also the medium whereby he reflects on his life before and during the war, acting like a pseudo-autobiography. (30) The diary is a secret way of venting his frustrations--a form of therapy whereby the war becomes a double secret; he is keeping secrets from both his family and from the other soldiers around him. On his return to the Azores, a disillusioned Joao attempts to put his life in order and reintegrate. Re-reading this diary, he relives the experiences once more. The pain and suffering of the war return to him as clearly and acutely as they had been when he was living them for the first time. The diary fulfils the same function as the letters; it is a mental trigger that enables his mind to travel away from the reality in which he finds himself, to his personal, constructed myth reality away from his present. This need arises out of the crisis brought about by the war, which has destabilized his own sense of self after all his points of reference have been questioned. It is this sense of self that he now seeks to rebuild. (31) The burning of this diary at the end of the novel becomes a ritual of cleansing from all that is painful in his past, effectively closing one stage of his life and preventing it from returning in the future. The role of the diary in this novel, as an examination of the self, enables him to acquire and maintain a sense of perspective where there is none, and it is only applicable to his time in the colonial war. By re-reading the diary, he realizes that it only fulfilled that role in the war, but now that he is outside that situation his life needs to be ordered in another way; he needs to keep reconstructing his own identity and replacing one myth with another. His island environment is no longer a viable myth as it is distanced and divorced from his reality. Burning the diary is also a form of self-censorship as he is preventing anybody else from finding out the truth about his experience in the war and about his inner self.
By doing this, Oliveira mirrors Paulo de Medeiros's analysis of Portugal as a society that has brushed aside and consciously erased the memory of the colonial war. The diary and its ritual burning thus become a symbol of the traumatic taboo underlying the national psyche that cannot be allowed to surface. The novel, with its need to recapture the memory and to give voice to it, conflicts with the burning of this memory at the end, reflecting a deep-seated trauma that the author(s) needs to come to terms with. The act of writing and re-writing memory becomes a vicious circle in the narrative of this novel whereby the censorship becomes a dual one, representing the dual identity and identification of the main character. It is censorship at both collective (society) and personal levels, which works to construct rather than de-stabilize the personal as well as the collective formulation of self after the trauma of the colonial war.
The burning of the diary also provides another criticism of the content of official accounts and how they differ from unofficial discourses. This idea is reiterated in the structure of the novel as a compilation of different sources: a letter within a book, a diary within the same book--both versions of the same historical event. The letters are the official account, the diary is the personal experience and unofficial account. Both sides are brought together by the novel to explore a possible reason why the truth has not been told, or what the effect of this truth is on the returning soldier. The reader becomes a redeemer in the novel by uniting the two accounts, understanding and forgiving the past, effectively coming to terms with it and achieving this for the characters in the story. It is the reader's role not to forget, thereby recovering the memory and coming to terms with the trauma caused by the war. The author/narrator creates a relationship with his readership that produces a dialogue between the story and the past in order finally to move on and look towards the future. By having Joao emigrate at the end of the novel, the author could also be hinting that the past is best left behind and that life has to evolve and move on. The author could also be hinting at the impossibility and incompatibility of the past and the present merging seamlessly and without conflict. There is a need to assume the faults of the past, and acknowledge them so as to move on to something more acceptable and less traumatic than the silencing of part of the national identity/history.
The war as a theme in this novel becomes a myth where the soldier is also glorified in the official accounts for fighting the national cause against the enemy. (32) The soldier becomes part of this rhetoric of constructing a national myth that, in this novel, comes under scrutiny as reality confronts myth in Joao's experience. The absence of any actual war conflict contrasts with the feelings he has about their situation as soldiers. The war is represented as a myth that unites a group of people from different regions of Portugal, his platoon, and makes them feel a connection with each other through the common goal they must pursue and through their shared experience. This idea is further emphasized by the fact that all the soldiers in the novel are stripped of their individual names and given numbers when they arrive in Africa. (33) By this act they are stripped of their individuality and become indistinguishable cogs in the machinery of state fighting the common enemy of their nation. To re-appropriate their lost identity, the soldiers address each other by their surnames, by a character trait, or by the name of the place they come from. Joao undergoes this process, identifying himself as a Portuguese soldier fighting for the Portuguese nation. However, even the basic idea of Portuguese national identity and union undergoes re-evaluation yet again as it means different things to each soldier: for Joao it refers to his native island, for the other soldiers it refers to the regions they are familiar with. Aside from this difference in interpretation of national identity, there is a further shock for Joao with the changing environment. The vastness of the land he encounters in Guine is very different from his native island environment where he is enclosed by the sea: 'Para qualquer ilheu, a Guine era chao impossivel.' (34)
Joao loses every point of reference and comfort, something that sets him apart from the continental Portuguese soldiers. This fragmentation of what constitutes national identity is a direct reaction to being stripped of the other individual traits, as well as a deconstruction of the notion of national unity presented by the state (already examined above). The point made in the novel is that individual identity does not necessarily concur with the identity that the state portrays or imposes. In this novel, the portrayal of individual identity is set against that of the island and of Portugal as a whole.
According to Isabel Allegro de Magalhaes's examination of colonial war narratives, and in particular those written by Azorean writers, the authors of these novels create a place of imaginary displacement where they can find, or invent, their own place of belonging within a collective identity whereby
Aquilo que nos vamos apercebendo em todas as personagens e, afinal, uma permanente nao-coincidencia de si com o tempo e o lugar do presente; e a incompatibilidade de se ficar onde se est[sz], porque em nenhum lugar e possivel ser: nem no pais antes da partida, nem l[sz], nem depois no regresso, aparentemente tao desejado. Na volta, a idealizacao da p[sz]tria, que fora sendo construida [sz] distencia, provoca uma frustracao ainda mais paralizante. [...] Dai que, de novo, a ideia de deixar a p[sz]tria atravessa destas personagens e para essa discussao contribuir[sz] tambem a pr pria reaccao de alguns sectores mais fechados da sociedade portuguesa, que reflita os 'regressados da guerra'. [...] Abre-se assim, para v[sz]rias destas personagens, no seu regresso, um novo tempo de partidas, j[sz] nao metaf ricas mas reais, agora como emigrantes. (35)
This finding/constructing of their own place, as well as the difference in identities between both the soldiers and their own identities, before and after the war, is further highlighted by their behaviour. The soldiers sleep a lot, get drunk daily and their behaviour changes noticeably as the war wears on. (36) Joao, however, is the only one in the camp who does not engage in homosexual practices. This forms not only part of the construction of his own space but of a reinterpretation on the part of Alamo Oliveira of what, or who, constitutes the real enemy in the war. It is not just the African 'other' that the soldiers must fight, it is also the conflict within the characters themselves, and their bickering amongst each other as their loneliness and despair makes them more cruel and violent than the war around them. Their homosexuality is a symbol of the conflict and the situation they find themselves in, where the lack of violence, their lack of willingness to fight, and their growing uncertainty as they question everything they believed in, are reflected in their behaviour. It is not that homosexuality is their true nature, as many of them have families back home, it is more an impulse that comes from within as the most immediate way to comfort and support each other through the trauma of a war that is never outwardly fought. (37) The change in behaviour pre-empts the shock of having taken part in a war that they would not have fought had they known the whole truth about it, or its outcome. The price they pay is too high and so, through the relationships they construct with their colonial war lovers, becomes one more secret to keep from a war and a country in which they are beginning to lose faith. Further, the use of homosexuality as a theme in this novel could symbolize the idea that this is a relationship that will produce no outcome. (38) Homosexuality has, thus, effected a response to the outside stimuli of fighting a war and the circumstances of giving, and having given, their bodies for the cause of the nation's salvation, and having no control other than their choice of partners. Fernando highlights this need to Joao:
Vou ser frontal. [ETH] preciso viver ao melhor modo neste mato. Tentar destruir o tedio, o medo, a amargura, o tempo. Descobrir[sz]s o que se passa. Para j[sz], interessas a muita gente, es a nossa novidade, caiste-nos no goto. E eu fui o primeiro. Pe-te a pau!, porque nao vou deixar que te toquem. [...] 'Levantou-se, o sorriso aberto, homido, o desejo visivel. Acariciou o queixo de Joao, com demora, volopia, muita ternura.' Tens uns olhos lindos! Esse verde mata-me ...! (39)
The soldiers only have control over their choice of partners and, there-fore, their homosexuality allows them to take control of their situation, making sure there is no reproduction, no possibility of perpetuating or repeating history. Moreover, the homosexuality of the soldiers could be seen as a symbol of the colonial war and Portugal's relationship with her African colonies; the war is a conflict fought by both sides of the same coin. It is the final subversion on the part of the soldiers who have given their bodies to save the national cause, a cause for which they have no love or interest. Their lack of moral prejudice in engaging in acts that would have been considered immoral in their normal surroundings forms a kind of collective revolt against their involvement in an undesired conflict. The non-reproductive end to their actions, together with their collective masturbation, symbolizes, on a wider scale, the image of an immobilized nation that, like them, is waiting for something to happen. (40) Isabel Allegro de Magalhaes asserts that
Tanto para Alamo de Oliveira como para Joao de Melo, a masturbacao, por um lado, e as relaces homosexuais no exercito, por outro, sao apontadas com situaces inevit[sz]veis. [...] Pressente-se aqui uma especie de arrastamento entre a entrega do corpo, quase involunt[sz]ria e sem sentido, uns aos outros ou Cs mulheres nativas, como meio de exorcizar a violencia. Por isso, os corpos possuidos (sobretudo os das mulheres) sao vistos como 'corpos em trensito', provisoriamente possuidos. Quanto C experiencia do corpo pr prio, e dito tambem que o local de guerra se tornou um novo espaco de descoberta de si, onde se faz outra experiencia de conhecimento pr prio. (41)
The colonial war against an unseen enemy is latent and so powerfully felt by the soldiers that it almost becomes a character in the story. This, in turn, contrasts with the impression of the war held by those people back home who view the enemy as something tangible. The enemy in this novel never materializes, yet there are continuous battles in the camp to maintain the platoon's hierarchy, and to decide who is going to claim Joao as a prize of conquest. For Joao the main battle is keeping himself from losing his sanity, and plunging into a sexual relationship with Fernando, someone that he is attracted to, but with whom he builds, instead, a close friendship and bond. This reinforces his portrayal as both an outsider and an insider. In a sense, his lack of participation in the norm is his way of rebelling against the situation as well as a protection-mechanism that prevents his identity and behaviour from being affected by the war around him.
Joao's difference in behaviour reflects a difference in identity references as he withdraws into writing his diary and only superficially participates in the platoon's activities. As noted before, the diary enables him to withdraw into his mythical island, his utopian place of reference. This imaginary island comes into play again to symbolize the barrier he constructs between himself and the other soldiers as, by behaving differently from the people around him, he becomes isolated from the soldiers. This insularity develops as he sees that the relationships formed around him cause more pain than comfort. The soldiers' initial bickering to gain Joao's affection causes a division in the camp. The suicide of one camp member affects not just his lover but all the other soldiers as the pain of mourning combines with the realization that suicide is a way out of the despair of their situation. (42) When Fernando 'betrays' Joao by kissing someone else, he effectively breaks their close platonic bond, making Joao withdraw further into himself and prompting Fernando to point out that, metaphorically, Joao has become a mythical island himself. (43) Fernando highlights that, through his distancing and isolation from the other soldiers, Joao has entered into a state of self-destruction where he has lost control of his own identity. Joao is not just preserving his identity from being corrupted by his surrounding environment, he is also preventing his plunge into mental breakdown and, in the process, becomes something other than what he intended. The very mechanism of protection has corrupted his inner essence and made him into something that he is not.
This presents the reader with yet another interpretation of the war as internal conflict where Joao is fighting the change in his own self as well as in the external war that never actually happens for him anyway. His own war is one of hierarchical values set against his emotional values and yet, through the course of the novel, both sets of values are incorporated and accepted, even adapted.
By the end of the war, Joao does allow himself to go to bed with Fernando, consummating his relationship before they part and return home. This change in behaviour could be viewed in two different and contradictory ways, mirroring the many interpretations that this novel invites from the reader. On the one hand, Joao has completely lost control over his own emotions and, when confronted with the idea of returning to normality, indulges in one final act of compromising the identity he had been protecting. His experience of the war has finally succeeded in corrupting his identity and his behaviour, and he becomes a soldier like many another and, as such, is given the right to behave like them. Joao has nothing further to lose and so this act is not just one of resignation, but of acceptance of how different he has become from the people back home. Further-more, as was asserted earlier, his homosexual relationship could symbolize an unwillingness to reproduce the situation in which he finds himself, this final act thus symbolizing both his reaction to, and his rejection of, the war. On the other hand, the war, and the situation he encountered in the camp, enabled him to learn about himself and to come to terms with his difference. Unlike the other soldiers, the reader learns that he had been tempted by his own sex before, on the island. An older boy had asked him to perform a sexual act. Joao had run away rather than succumb to temptation for reasons of innocence, or perhaps to preserve appearances and accepted social behaviour in a small and closed society where such practices would be frowned on. (44) The war, thus, began a process which led to his finally being able to express his own sexual identity and where such behaviour was not considered deviant. The period spent being confronted by the 'other' had shown him what his own identity was, and had given him the courage to indulge in his desires. The war freed him from the constraints of heterosexual 'insularity'.
In many ways, the war fought by Joao in Guine was an internal one, where he came to terms with himself, with the things he had seen, and with the destabilization of the truths he had previously believed, not just in general, but also about himself. This is a war against an unseen enemy, as well as his own unknown self: an imaginary army that he fights both mentally and on the battlefield of his diary. This enables him to learn and construct, out of his experiences, his own concept of what his individual, island and national identities are.
The conclusion we draw as readers is that the way a person responds to outside stimuli, and our interpretation of these actions, are highly subjective. Bill Ashcroft comments that history and individual identity are constructed, fluid and evolving, reflecting changes of habitation and place within a society. (45) If identity is not static and is subject to a person's positioning and habitation in the world around him, as Ashcroft suggests, then our interpretation of Joao's character depends on his own construction, as well as our perspective. We can then assume that our perspective as readers leads to the belief that identity is as fluid as the many interpretations we can derive from it. As such, Oliveira could be illustrating the fluidity of interpretation through the characters' behaviour as they fight the battlefield of their emotions to find that there is no one identity, just as there is no one interpretation to a story. Therefore, the novel fulfils the role of a memory aid, similar to that memory aid used by Joao through his diary, that fills in the gap left, in Paulo de Medeiros's words, by the silencing of the memory of this period of Portuguese history. But this memory aid is insufficient as well as inadequate in that it asks the reader to construct his, or her, own version of events, to come to terms with the trauma, and to move on by acknowledging the past.
The duality of the inner and outer conflict fought by the characters in this novel represents the duality or multiplicity found within each person, and within Portugal as a nation as it struggles between history and the present. Furthermore, the characters in this novel, such as Joao, fight their inner selves, their own fluid identity, confronting both what they want to be and what they are becoming. In a sense they are fighting their utopian, constructed selves, with their 'real' selves. They create myths about themselves that are in a constant process of evolution and replacement, subject to the many fluid and changing perceptions of themselves. This, in turn, reflects the process of constructing identity of the recovery of memory and of the past that the colonial war novel seeks to reproduce in its analysis of this historical period in relation to the present. The depiction of a conflict as being both internal and external opens the way for the depiction of a society that has been changed by war, not just in its beliefs, but also in behaviour and perhaps in readiness of acceptance of events because these events are being recovered and (d)enounced.
The novel represents a dialogue and a way forward after the shock of finding out the truth, commenting on the need to accept the past, consolidate it with the present, and move on. This need to move on is reflected in Joao's decision to emigrate at the end of the novel. This should not be seen as the result of his inability to reintegrate into island society, rather it is because this society has not moved on from the time when he left to fight in the war. It has therefore not come to terms with the new reality and the future ahead of it as is found in many of the colonial war narratives by other Portuguese authors, such as those of Lobo Antunes. By emigrating to the USA, Joao is making a fresh start whereby he can come to terms with the changes in his perception of both Portuguese and Azorean society, and his own sexuality. By emigrating, the new society he enters enables him to be himself, changed, rather than expecting him to 'return' to his old self as he was before his experience of the colonial war. By presenting the many sides and many interpretations of the experience of war, the novel is presenting a case for a new beginning and a new construction of a national myth or a collective identity distinct from that presented in the past. (46)
(1) Malyn Newitt, Portugal in Africa. The Last Hundred Years (London: Hurst, 1981), p. 186.
(2) Boaventura de Sousa Santos, '11/1992 (Onze Teses por Ocasiao de Main Uma Descoberta de Portugal', in Luso-Brazilian Review, 29 (1992), 104 and 111.
(3) Margarida Calafate Ribeiro, 'Empire, Colonial Wars and Post-Colonialism in Portuguese Contemporary Imagination', Portuguese Studies, 18 (2002), 133.
(4) See Margarida Calafate Ribeiro, 'Percursos Africanos: A Guerra Colonial na Literatura Pos-25 de Abril', in Fronteiras/Borders. Portuguese Literary & Cultural Studies, 1 (1998), 125-52 (p. 126). See also Luis de Sousa Rebelo, 'Identidade Nacional: As Retoricas do seu discurso', in Nacionalismo e Regionalismo nas Literaturas Lusofonas. Actas do II Simposio Luso-Afro-Brasileiro de Literatura, Lisboa Abril de 1994, ed. by Fernando Cristovao, Maria de Lourdes Ferraz and Alberto Coelho (Lisbon: Cosmos, 1997), pp. 21-32 (p. 23).
(5) Joao Medina, 'The Old Lie: Some Portuguese Contemporary Novels on the Colonial Wars in Africa (1961-74)', Portuguese Studies, 15 (1999), 149.
(6) See Rui de Azevedo Teixeira, A Guerra Colonial e o Romance Portugues (Lisbon: Noticias, [n.d.]), pp. 96-97 and 103.
(7) Isabel Allegro de Magalhaes, 'Narrativas da Guerra Colonial: Imagens Fragmentadas da Nacao', in Capelas Imperfeitas (Lisbon: Horizonte, 2002), p. 210.
(8) Magalhaes, pp. 162 and 210.
(9) Paulo de Medeiros, 'Hauntings: Memory, Fiction and the Colonial Wars', in The Politics of War, Memory and Commemoration, ed. by T. G. Ashplant, Graham Dawson and Michael Roper (London and New York: Routledge, 2000), pp. 201-21 (pp. 202-05).
(10) Medeiros, p. 210.
(11) See Boaventura de Sousa Santos, 'State and Society in Portugal', in After the Revolution: Twenty Years of Portuguese Literature, ed. by Helena Kaufman and Anna Klobucka (London: Associated University Presses, 1997), pp. 33-34.
(12) Medeiros, p. 217.
(13) Sousa Santos, '11/1992 ...', p. 97.
(14) See Bill Ashcroft, Post-Colonial Transformations (London and New York: Routledge, 2001), pp. 85-99. This view is also upheld and examined, within the Azorean context and in relation to the events following the 1974 revolution in Portugal, by Jose Manuel de Oliveira Mendes. Oliveira Mendes argues that both the Azorean press and intellectuals participated in a conscious construction of regional identity following the events of the 1974 revolution and in the run-up to the establishment of the Azores as an autonomous region. See Jose Manuel de Oliveira Mendes, 'A Violencia da Pureza: a Identidade Acoriana no Discurso Jornalistico Regional (1974-1975)', in Entre Ser e Estar. Raizes, Percursos e Discursos da Identidade, ed. by Maria Irene Ramalho e Antonio Sousa Ribeiro (Porto: Afrontamento, 2001), pp. 539-76.
(15) By Azorean literature we mean a literature that reflects a cultural and regional identity of the Azorean archipelago including its particular social conditions within the larger context of Portugal and Portuguese literature. Themes that receive particular treatment in Azorean literature are, for instance, the effect of the island environment on the islander, not just in terms of shaping and influencing his character, but also in the sense of imprisonment. This imprisonment may lead to a mental and/or (desired) physical journey to what lies outside the island. This last theme also combines with the theme of emigration as a desired journey for survival. The term Azorean literature is subject to debate that, for reasons of space, cannot be entered into here. See Onesimo Teotonio Almeida, A Questao da Literatura Acoriana (Angra do Heroismo: Direccao de Assuntos Culturais, [n.d.]), and by the same author Acores, Acorianos, Acorianidade. Um Espaco Cultural (Ponta Delgada: Signo, 1989). For a more detailed examination of the theme of journey, as well as other themes in Azorean literature, see Carmen M. Ramos Villar, In Search of the Tenth Island: Migration as a Theme in Azorean Literature (unpublished doctoral dissertation, University of Bristol, 2003).
(16) Medina, p. 155. Isabel Allegro de Magalhaes also highlights the island origins of the writers in their depiction of the colonial war.
(17) Alamo Oliveira, Ate Hoje (Memorias de Cao) (Angra do Heroismo: Signo, 1988), pp. 19-21.
(18) It is as divorced from his present as his own chain of first experiences and their contrast between the already familiar with the new.
(19) We find it for instance in the dual narrative of Lidia Jorge's A Costa dos Murmurios, and in the fragmenting mind of the returning soldier in Lobo Antunes's Os Cus de Judas. In Alamo Oliveira's novel, the construction of myth and reality is related to the treatment of emigration in Azorean Literature in that the islanders imagine life beyond their island environment and, when they emigrate and confront this reality with their constructed myth, the result is a further construction of a 'replacement' myth.
(20) According to Joao Medina, in Oliveira's novel 'Camoes does this precisely because he has come to recognize how the use of his nationalistic epic as a kind of Bible has been justification for countless Portuguese, who have gone to the African wars steadfast in their conviction that they were fulfilling the sixteenth century idea of establishing a "novo reino" (a new kingdom) for their country' (p. 156).
(21) Oliveira, pp. 44 and 45. One could also go so far as to connect the two periods in Portuguese history, the sixteenth and twentieth centuries, in that both represent a period when national sovereignty was being compromised. The questioning of Camoes's reaction could serve as a warning about the outcome of the war in the eyes of the Azorean soldier witnessing the war as both outsider and insider/participant.
(22) This would seem to support Bill Ashcroft's view that literature performs a dual role that contrasts what is real and what is assumed; underlying this is the historical construction of national identity aiming at the construction of an individual identity with its own myths. Joao's re-appropriation of history is in many ways a re-appropriation of references pertaining to his own identity once they have been destabilized by the confrontation between colonial war reality and the myth of nationalist discourse (pp. 100-03).
(23) Oliveira, p. 50.
(24) This replacement of the island with a mythical place once away from its surroundings is a theme that is present in Azorean literature where the theme of emigration is central. The characters in the Azorean works find themselves locked in mental journeys in which they revisit their constructed myth: a survival tactic to deal with a traumatic or unsettling situation.
(25) As has already been asserted, this confrontation with reality and the destruction/replacement of myth forms part of a theme in Azorean literature that looks at emigration as an ongoing and never-ending journey process. Emigration, whether mental, as in the change from childhood to adulthood, or physical, as in leaving the island environment, enables the character to see or understand something he was unable to before. Both these interpretations of emigration as a journey of change are evident in this novel and, in many ways, echo the idea of the novel being a Bildungsroman whereby Joao is writing about his development into another self, or into a more mature self.
(26) Both in this novel and in the colonial war novels of Lidia Jorge and Lobo Antunes we see a preoccupation with the notion of truth and the official line as it is conveyed to the people in Portugal. The truth, and the way this truth is announced or presented, becomes an important element in the narratives, forming part of the collective construction of the myth that the authors seek to denounce. Unlike Lidia Jorge's novel, where one unstable notion of events is replaced by another, in Alamo Oliveira's novel it is presented as a destruction or replacement/reconstruction of the truth by the presentation of another truth or point of view of the same event.
(27) The islanders' construction of the myth of the war, or what lies beyond the island, reworks the theme of imprisonment and construction of the myth found in Azorean literature.
(28) We see here a similar criticism of censorship to that in Lidia Jorge's A Costa dos Murmurios, where the dual narration deconstructs the official line presented in both 'Os Gafanhotos' and in the official reports of the war that Eva Lopo questions in the second section of the novel. In Oliveira's novel, this questioning also acknowledges that society cannot understand, or is not ready to understand, the events of the war, echoing Paulo de Medeiros's analysis of the colonial war narratives in terms of recuperating the memory of the war to fill a gap that was discovered earlier. For Joao, in Oliveira's narrative, this understanding forms the beginning of his realization that he cannot re-integrate into society in much the same way as Lobo Antunes's character is unable to integrate.
(29) Oliveira, p. 107. In this quote we see another reference to prostitution echoing the criticism of the false use of Camoes in the earlier passage. Here, the lie and its formulation are part of the prostitution that all Portuguese society engages in by participating in and upholding the ideals behind the colonial war, somehow collectively corrupting the participants, and preventing them from seeing the truth behind their actions.
(30) Clare Blake examines the use of the diary as therapy through self-examination. The process of writing, reading and re-reading produces a situation whereby the person who writes this diary is able to come to terms with his situation and construct his own image as a response to the examination of the self in relation to the past, and to his unfamiliar surroundings. In this way the process of writing and reading becomes one where a distillation of identity, and coming to terms with this identity, emerge as the author of the diary becomes a detached observer both as writer and reader. For a more detailed discussion see Clare Blake, 'A Strategy for Survival', in The Uses of Autobiography, ed. by Julia Swindells (London: Taylor and Francis, 1995), pp. 56-63 (pp. 57-60).
(31) Jerome Hamilton Buckley notes that, consciously or unconsciously, the fact that diaries and letters are selective in what they include is but a portion of the whole truth. Because diaries are a form of autobiography, they reflect upon past events in order to make sense and justify the present. The perceived identity of the self influences the choice of facts included within the narrative. Often the author writes about events that are significant to him because they constitute, or contribute to, an identity crisis, where the account of the past provides a means of examining the author's identity, constructing a new or revitalized identity. See Jerome Hamilton Buckley, The Turning Key. Autobiography and the Subjective Impulse Since 1800 (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1984), pp. 39, 41, 50, 96-97.
(32) This theme is found and deconstructed in all colonial war novels.
(33) Oliveira, p. 31.
(34) Oliveira, p. 47.
(35) Magalhaes, pp. 171-72.
(36) The changes and pattern of behaviour described in the novel bear similarities to the psychological findings reported by Peter Watson. He notes that the behaviour of US soldiers in the Vietnam War changed dramatically with changes in climate, altitude and time zone, resulting in out of the ordinary behaviour as a way of coping with war fatigue. This becomes especially true if the war is prolonged, or if the reasons for fighting are overtaken by the wish to end the war and return home. He also reports that the biggest enemy in guerrilla warfare is not the enemy, but boredom, which becomes the common enemy of all soldiers. See Peter Watson, War on the Mind. The Military Uses and Abuses of Psychology (New York: Basic, 1978), pp. 224-41 and 265-87. Critics of the Portuguese colonial war novels, such as Isabel Allegro de Magalhaes and Joao Medina, also highlight the fact that the need to write forms part of the confrontation between the myth of the war and the reality of it, highlighting in their narratives the contrast between the idea of the war and the non-confrontational reality in which they have long periods of waiting for an unseen enemy that never materializes.
(37) In some ways it represents a kind of impotence on the part of the soldier as highlighted by Medeiros in his analysis of the soldier in Lobo Antunes's novel and his relationship with the black woman where, in his own words, it 'becomes a symbol of the narrator's impotence in relation to the regime in whose army he serves, and of an idealized and victimized other' (p. 212). This could further represent an image of castration for the soldiers, but emphasized in this novel as a symbol for the war itself.
(38) We also encounter the theme of homosexuality in Alamo Oliveira's Ja Nao Gosto de Chocolates. Unlike Ate Hoje (Memorias de Cao), the theme of homosexuality in Ja Nao Gosto de Chocolates could be seen as a response to the newly-found freedoms encouraged by American society and which run counter to island values. Homosexuality, thus, represents emancipation for the character in the new society.
(39) Oliveira, p. 66.
(40) Isabel Allegro de Magalhaes also highlights the fact that the colonial war writers also point to the emptiness of the ideals formerly held by the soldiers themselves fighting for the national cause, which further emphasizes the lack of justification for the war and the corruption and decadence of the authority of the nation. It also forms part of the denunciation of the official image of the war and its own self-destruction whereby that which is exposed is a diseased country that has lost its points of reference--indeed its morality (pp. 176-79).
(41) Magalhaes, p. 185.
(42) The interpretation of the suicide in this novel is, for Magalhaes, a further indication of the soldiers' impotence and their role in the war, it being a collective suicide on their part as participants in a war they could not see a reason for, and on the part of the country which, through the war, was in its final death throes. For Medina, this suicide represents the culmination of the intolerable and desperate waiting for the end of their martyrdom and exile. See Magalhaes, p. 183; and Medeiros, p. 159.
(43) Oliveira, pp. 140-41.
(44) Oliveira, p. 138.
(45) Ashcroft, pp. 175 and 193.
(46) I would like to thank Professor David Brookshaw and Dr Hilary Owen for their helpful comments in the preparation of this article. Any errors or misinterpretation are, however, entirely my responsibility.
UNIVERSITY OF MANCHESTER
|Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback|
|Author:||Ramos Villar, Carmen M.|
|Article Type:||Critical Essay|
|Date:||Jan 1, 2004|
|Previous Article:||Gabriel de Oliveira's 'Ha Festa na Mouraria' and the fado Novo's criticism of the Estado Novo's demolition of the Baixa Mouraria.|
|Next Article:||Jorge de Sena on Cinema: some further insights into the genesis of O Fisico Prodigioso?|
|Padre Oliveira's outburst.|
|The old lie: some Portuguese contemporary novels on the colonial wars in Africa (1961-74).|
|Portugal e Brasil em 1875: duas cronicas esquecidas de Oliveira Martins.|