restricted access Between Colonial Past and European Future: Identity Crises in Recent Portuguese Drama
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Between Colonial Past and European Future:
Identity Crises in Recent Portuguese Drama


National Identity Crises and Portuguese Contemporary Drama

Two of the most interesting Portuguese plays of the 1990s are preoccupied with the representation of adolescents and the way in which they try to construct their identities: Universos e Frigorificos [Universes and Refrigerators] (Pires) and De miragem em miragem se fez a viagem [From Mirage to Mirage] (Pessoa). Although there are only very few studies on contemporary Portuguese drama, the young authors of these dramas can be considered promising examples of a new generation of dramatists. Carlos Porto mentions Carlos Pessoa next to other recent and noteworthy authors like José Jorge Letria, Hélio de Correia, Francisco Pestana, and Abel Neves. Porto's claim that Pessoa is gaining in importance has proved correct, since the plays that he usually produces and directs with his company A Garagem / The Garage, founded in 1990, are being shown at all the important Portuguese national theatres and cultural centers and have also been published.1 The career of Jacinto Lucas Pires, who only started out in 1997, has progressed remarkably, as the staging and uncommonly quick publication of his plays confirm.2

Pessoa's and Pire's plays about adolescents are not merely concerned with the troubles of growing up and the common conflicts of family, first love, sexual experimentation, or the trying out of limits. Rather, they are related to the complicated transitional identity that results from the deep social changes that have taken place since the end of the Salazar dictatorship in 1974. Undoubtedly, the difficulties of identity construction are marked by the hegemony of Portugal's national identity as an empire but also by the modernization that results from Portugal's return to democracy and adhesion to the European Community in 1986. [End Page 98]

The literary critic and philosopher Eduardo Lourenço notes that in the wake of Portugal's peaceful revolution, which changed five-hundred years of Portuguese self-image as a colonial power, the question of identity was firmly put on Portugal's agenda. He also observes that the profound identity crises that followed the reinstallation of democracy left the ancient empire without a clear idea of how to relate to its historical experiences and shared cultural codes. Portugal's membership in the European Union, with its capitalist imperatives, further deepened the crises. This occurred after twelve years of a nominally socialist but, following the collapse of imperial power, severely depressed economy. As Lourenço detects, "[S]trangely, in the middle of the orgies paid with the other's money, for the first time, Portugal does not quite know who it is. It does not quite know what is its destiny" (68).3 The author suggests that a necessary "Cultural Revolution" has not taken place because the young democracy had not been prepared for the "delicate deconstruction of a structurally imperial ideology without empire. Militant, hagiographic, ultra-nationalist, openly and innocently hostile to democratic inspirations, it wasn't possible to overcome half a century of 'single thinking'" (79–80).

The obvious interest in adolescent characters as allegory for the national identity crises in the two plays seems easily explained, given that adolescents, by definition, find themselves in a situation of identity construction. Since adolescence is nowadays usually seen as a moment of discontinuity, rupture, perturbation, and conflict, anxieties about its destructive or transgressive potential have grown. Does this mean that the allegory of the adolescent necessarily implies a pessimistic view of postcolonial Portugal as troubled and incapable of growing up?

The Adolescent: A Case Study in Nonessential Identity

The allegory reveals itself as more complex when linked to the contemporary questioning of identities as essential and final. According to Stuart Hall, cultural identity can be generally understood as a temporary positioning within an identity process. Using the concept of suture to clarify the process in relation to identification with films, Hall explains that while the subject takes up its position, it is not only hailed – in the sense of being spoken – but also invests in discourses and practices – in the sense of subjects that can be spoken – within a process through which subjectivity...