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erhaps the most important aspects of the transformations that Portuguese literature has experienced over the last 25 years are the decline of the idea of a vanguard and the disappea­rance of the literary groups and movements which had marked the 20th century up until the 1960/70’s (modernism, neo-realism, surrealism, experimentalism and so on). The fact is that today’s writers do not present themselves as the spokesperson of a collective message, but simply as the holder of a personal point of view that expres­ses and lends shape to a singular universe.

Now that the dominant figure of Fernando Pessoa no longer overshadows the world of Portuguese poetry, the lights shone by two magni­ficent authors who began to write in the 1940’s - Sophia de Mello Breyner Andresen and Eugénio de Andrade - have been joined by those of some of the surviving greats of the 50’s, such as Pedro Tamen, Fernando Guimarães, Fernando Echevarría, A. M. Couto Viana, Alberto de Lacerda and José Bento. The surrealist Mário Cesariny, and Herberto Helder, whose work is charged with a powerful metaphoric energy, are also key figures. In the 1960’s three different lines of poetry began to materialise: one developed in the political and student struggle against the Salazar regime (Manuel Alegre); another - “Experimental Poetry” - proclaimed the need for linguistic research (Ana Hatherly, E.M. Melo e Castro and Alberto Pimenta); while finally “Poesia-61” (Poetry of ’61) was influenced by António Ramos Rosa, who is still very active and whose work questions the relationships between reality and language. Be that as it may, the attitudes that were initially taken both by the poets of ’61 (of whom Gastão Cruz, Fiama Hasse Pais Brandão, Casimiro de Brito and Maria Teresa Horta are still alive today) and by those who were close to them (Armando Silva Carvalho), then evolved and gave rise to a number of more fluent styles.

However, the most far-reaching renewal occurred from the 1970’s onwards, when a number of poets returned to a style of lyrical outpouring that came close to being an experience which could be shared with the reader. Given the multiplicity of values that they have expressed, it would be impossible to systema­tically describe a set of themes or motives which could be attributed to all of those who have been writing since then. Still, it is worth mentioning the revelation late in life of António Osório (who possesses a humble style that remains close to things natural and human), the works of Nuno Júdice (who has managed to creatively reintegrate a large number of literary traditions and is the most widely translated poet of his generation), João Miguel Fernandes Jorge (who wanders to the tune of a scattered and circumstantial memory), Vasco Graça Moura (who reencounters a mannerist attitude beneath a veil of irony), Joaquim Manuel Magalhães (another leading critical voice) and António Franco Alexandre (the conveyer of the unease generated by a manner of speech that borders on muteness). It is also possible to discern a variety of paths in our most recent poetry - that of the 1980’s and 90’s. One of them takes on neo-expressionist outlines, thanks to an intensification of the meaning that is present in the text (Isabel de S·, Eduardo Pitta, Fátima Maldonado or Fernando Luís Sampaio, for example); a more suave trend tends to evoke not only memories of the heart that have already healed (Helder Moura Pereira, João Camilo, Miguel Serras Pereira), but also an inventory of western culture (Paulo Teixeira). In the words of Luís Filipe Castro Mendes we find a brilliantly handled return to the formats of the Portuguese lyric tradition, while Manuel António Pina wends his way through a reflexive “post-Pessoan” labyrinth and José Agostinho Baptista sends his magical voice echoing through oneiric spaces in Madeira and Mexico. Ana Luísa Amaral and Maria Rosário Pedreira (two of the best female voices of recent times) show us some diffe­re­nt ways of looking at generally banal or familiar scenes from daily life. Yet another type of outlook sees poetry as a satirical reaction to society and employs some corrosive forms of humour and irony (Adília Lopes, Jorge de Sousa Braga). Despite its diversity, this list of authors still does not exhaust a panorama from which a number of recently revealed names - Manuel Gusmão, Carlos Poças Falcão Luís Quintais, J. Tolentino Mendonça, Rui Pires Cabral, Paulo José Miranda, Pedro Mexia, J. L. Barreto Guimarães, Jorge Gomes Miranda and Manuel de Freitas - also stand out.

Following the death of such great figures as Vergílio Ferreira, José Cardoso Pires and Maria Judite de Carvalho, and leaving aside writers who are difficult to classify according to traditional models, shattering as they do the frontiers between fiction, essays, diaries, poetry, memoirs and so on (Maria Gabriela Llansol and Rui Nunes, to name but two), when it comes to narrative works I would begin by mentioning the novels of Agustina Bessa-Luís. Bessa-Luís is attracted by atmospheres and characters that are bound to a mysterious destiny - her prose unfolds in luminous aphorisms, the product of a mind that lucidly observes and analyses the tragic but also mocking side of human relationships. The books of José Saramago, who is a case apart in the world of the contemporary Portuguese novel (one that culminated with the award of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1998), are situated on a different level. It was above all from 1982 and Memorial do Convento onwards that his writing received a decisive impulse, with novels that take some original ideas and show us how realist verisimilitude floats until it dives into the fantastic. Another author who has enjoyed success with a broad international audience is António Lobo Antunes, whose texts mirror a vast range of experiences derived from memories of war, clinical psychiatric practise and an imagination in which a wealth of metaphors is allied to a brilliant psychological understanding. Rooted in the 1950’s, Urbano Tavares Rodrigues finds himself at the crossroads between the existentialist and Mar­xist philosophies that moulded his political and erotic vision of the world, while Augusto Abelaira explores the circumstances of daily life with cutting humour and a sharp reflexive sense. Other members of the same generation include ¡lvaro Guerra, Baptista-Bastos, Helder Macedo and Fernanda Botelho, who have accompanied the changes that Portuguese society has undergone over the last few decades. Slightly younger, Almeida Faria and Maria Velho da Costa are two prose writers who first became known in the 1960’s, when they were applauded for the innovations in their writing, in which they questioned the canons of the rea­list tradition and explored their inner voices. The 1980’s saw the appearance of some of today’s leading female authors, such as LÌdia Jorge (who draws some of the strength of her words from popular roots), HÈlia Correia (who revisits the experiences of a mysterious rurality), Teolinda Gers„o (who questions human relationships) and two very prolific authoresses (Clara Pinto Correia and LuÌsa Costa Gomes), whose work divides itself between narrative fiction, the thea­tre and chronicles, amongst other topics.

The current landscape also includes the dense literary work of M·rio Cl·udio, who manages to reconcile virtuoso writing with faithfulness to historical data, as well as the memories of the Azores or the war in Portugal’s former African colonies evoked by Jo„o de Melo, and the interesting path taken by M·rio de Carva­lho, who mixes philosophical reflection, fantasy and satire in his reactions to the contradi­c­tions of the contemporary world. Also worthy of note are the fictional experiences of AntÛnio AlÁada Baptista (who illuminates an inner learning with some autobiographical lines), as well as the works of Teresa Horta, Maria Isa­bel Barreno, Eduarda DionÌsio, Fernando Campos, Jo„o Aguiar, Fernando Dacosta, Bento da Cruz, Paulo Castilho, Amadeu Lopes Sabino and AntÛnio Mega Ferreira. Nor should we forget the disturbing texts by Mafalda Ivo Cruz, Sil­vina Rodrigues Lopes and JosÈ Amaro DionÌsio.

To bring this short survey to an end it is possible to say that of late, while some authors have once more taken to telling believable tales which they can share with their readers (Helena Marques, Rosa Lobato de Faria), or which are sometimes aimed at broader public tastes (Rita Ferro, Domingos Amaral, Margarida Rebelo Pinto), others have been distilling a form of humour that is loaded with eroticism (Rui Zink, Miguel Esteves Cardoso). Finally it is worth pointing out a few names that have from time to time arisen from the worlds of journalism or advertising and have lent new life to literature in the 1990’s - Pedro Paix„o, with his fragmented and anti-rhetorical style, InÍs Pedrosa, who seems to possess a road map of contemporary feelings, Ana Teresa Pereira, who lives within a universe of portents, JosÈ RiÁo Direiti­nho, who has been bringing a lost rural world into the present and Francisco JosÈ Viegas, who has revived the thriller, along with Teresa Veiga, Abel Neves, Jacinto Lucas Pires,  F. Duarte Mangas, Paulo JosÈ Miranda, Cabral Martins, PossidÛnio Cachapa, AntÛnio Cabrita, M. F·tima Borges, Catarina da Fonseca, Miguel Miranda, LuÌsa Beltr„o, Julieta Monginho, Ana N. Gusm„o, Cristina Norton and many more.

Inasmuch as there is no space here to look at essayists - amongst whom the name of Eduardo LourenÁo is particularly prominent - I would just like to emphasise the current vitality of Portuguese literature. Thanks to the variety of its voices, it continues to express the challenges, seductions and problems of a society that has changed enormously over the last few years. Albeit the population as a whole still reads little by European standards, it is while fully integrated into a European context that today’s Portuguese writing is opening itself to the third millennium with that kind of uncertain truth which, from time to time, it really does manage to communicate to its readers and which is, at the end of the day, its real raison d’Ítre.


sophia de mello breyner andersen
josé cardoso pires
josé saramago
antónio lobo antunes

© Instituto Camões, 2003