Eduardo Lourenço is the quintessential Portuguese essayist, in the best tradition of the Iberian essay, somewhat reminiscent of elements of José Ortega y Gasset and Miguel de Unamuno. He was still in his twenties when he published a remarkable book of essays that would become a reference point both in his life and in the history of Portuguese intellectual life. Heterodoxia I (1949) reveals a heterodoxical mind balanced between the two forces pulling at Portuguese intellectuals, then and for the next four decades—Marxism and Catholicism. Lourenço carved out a space in which to build his own cohesive and powerful world view. Phenomenology and existentialism became the other two pillars of his edifice.
Lourenço’s style possesses a distinct brilliance, whether he is in dialogue with the great European minds of his time or rethinking the key topics of Portuguese cultural history.
His essays have graced a wide variety of publications, and his books are basically collections of essays organized thematically. Poesia e metafísica (1983; Poetry and metaphysics) collects pieces on the greatest Portuguese poets—Camões, Antero, and Pessoa, the last receiving special attention in seminal essays, some of them now standard.
Another collection, Ocasionais (1984; Occasionals), gathers earlier essays whose unity lies not in the theme but in the style and mental attitude of their author. His topics in this volume range from Sade to Lorca, and from Gilberto Freyre’s luso-tropicalismo to “Europe and Death.”
Portugal and the path of Portuguese cultural history in relation to the rest of Europe (almost an obsession in Iberian essay writing for the last two centuries) has been one of Lourenço’s major concerns. His bestseller O labirinto da saudade: Psicanálise mítica do destino português (1978; The labyrinth of saudade: mythical psychoanalysis of Portuguese fate) went through various editions throughout the 1980s. Its themes were dealt with from a more theoretical perspective in Nós e a Europa, ou as duas razões (1988; We and Europe, or the two reasons), for which Lourenço received the Charles Veillon European Essay Prize in 1988.
In the interview that opens a special issue of the journal Prelo dedicated to the study of his work, Lourenço explains the formative boundaries of his thought in the Portugal of the 1940s: “Of no little importance was the fact that I lived in a country and in a cultural atmosphere in which vital attitudes and spiritual or ideological choices were conditioned by the hegemonic presence of Catholicism, the creed, the ideology, almost the state religion and, even more important, the ancestral practice of the Nation. Out of that
background, and as a kind of anti-church, emerged what one could grossly call Marxism, less important, there and then, as a political reality than as a sign of opposition to, and rejection of the official cultural discourse.”
Explaining his turn from mainstream philosophy, in an interview entitled “As confissaes de um mistico sem fé” (The confessions of a mystic without faith) Lourenço says: “…it is true that my resistance to the philosophical temptation to engage in an absolute discourse found a basis in what is usually referred to as ‘existentialism.’ In the last analysis, it was the figure of Philosophy itself that at a given moment appeared to me suspect. Almost at the same time, my discovery of Pessoa and Kierkegaard took me in the same direction, one exemplifying the illusion of consciousness as ‘consciousness of itself’ existing ontologically; the other, the incommensurability of personal existence visà- vis any type of existence. In either case, the end of philosophy” (Prelo, 1984).
In the same interview, Lourenço explains the importance of literature in his life and thought: “…my disillusionment with philosophy…does not mean that I have encountered in literature the truth that in philosophy was denied to me. I encountered only a reality more in agreement with the general sentiment I look for in life and in the world, something which imposes itself precisely because in it (I speak of great literature) life manifests in terms of paradoxical (poetic) splendor the nature of our relationship with reality, which is fictional.”
To the question of how Lourenço sees himself, since some literary critics consider him to be metaphysical, and some metaphysicians consider him to be literary, he replies: “I would like to deserve the always undeserved epithet of ‘metaphysician’ in the two senses the pseudo-Baptists attribute to it. Unfortunately, this is not the case. As a more adequate label, I accept that of literato, if that means love or passion for the written word (imaginário). However, the absence of idolatry in regard to that same imaginário perhaps
will make me unjust with myself… I never desired, nor do I desire, any kind of status.
The most I could accept is, vaguely, ‘essayist,’ if one considers form, and ‘mystic without faith,’ if one considers content” (Prelo, 1984).
The status of Lourenço among Portuguese intellectuals is unparalleled. His writings combine a wide range of qualities—from an encyclopedic familiarity with Western philosophy and intellectual history, literature and art, to a unique knowledge and understanding of Portuguese cultural history, as well as a passionate involvement in contemporary Portuguese and world wide political events. His youthful, contagious spirit contrasts with a controlied, tragic sense of life written in the vivid yet sage prose of a born writer and poet.
Born 23 May 1923 in São Pedro do Rio Seco. Studied at a military college, Lisbon;
history and philosophy at the University of Coimbra, graduated 1946. Philosophy assistant, University of Coimbra, 1947–53; lecturer in Portuguese literature and culture, Universities of Hamburg, Heidelberg, and Montpellier, 1954–58; professor of philosophy, University of Bahia, Brazil, 1958–59; lecturer and associate professor, University of Nice, 1965–88; cultural attaché to the Portuguese Embassy, Rome, 1990;
visiting professor, Brown University, Providence, Rhode Island, 1995. Married Annie Solomon: one son. Awards: Veillon European Essay Prize, 1988; Camões Prize; Ordem de Santíago de Espada; honorary degrees from two universities.
Essays and Related Prose
Heterodoxia, 2 vols., 1949–67
O desespero humanista de Miguel Torga e o das novas gerações, 1955
Sentido e forma da poesia neo-realista, 1968
Fernando Pessoa revisitado: Leitura estruturante do drama em gente, 1973
Tempo e poesia, 1974
Os militares e o poder, 1975
Situação africana e consciência nacional, 1976
O fascismo nunca existiu, 1976
O labirinto da saudade: Psicanálise mítica do destino português, 1978
O complexo de Marx, ou, O fim do desafio português, 1979
O espelho imaginário, 1981
Poesia e metafísica: Camões, Antero, Pessoa, 1983
Ocasionais I, 1950–1965, 1984
Fernando, rei de Nossa Baviera, 1986
Nós e a Europa, ou as duas razões, 1988
O canto do signo, existência e literatura (1957–1993), 1994
Camões, 1525–1580, with Vasco Graça Moura, 1994
A Europa desen cantada, para uma mitologia europeia, 1994
“Eduardo Lourenço, o ensaísta criador,” special section of Jornal de Letras, Artes e Ideias 16 (1996)
Gil, José, and Fernando Catroga, O ensaísmo trágico de Eduardo Lourenço, Lisbon: Relógio de Agua, 1996
Guimarães, Fernando, “Eduardo Lourenço: Entre a filosofia e a poesia,” Colóquio-Letras 80 (July 1984):86–90
Letras & Letras issue on Lourenço, 3, no. 27 (March 1990)
“Lourenço, Eduardo,” in Logos: Enciclopédia Luso-Brasileira de filosofia, vol. 3, Lisbon and São Paulo: Verbo, 1991
“Lourenço, Eduardo,” in Dicionário do Estado Novo, Lisbon: Círculo dos Leitores, 1996
Prelo: Revista da Imprensa Nacional-Casa da Moeda issue on Lourenço (May 1984)
Simões, João Gaspar, Crttica V—Críticos e ensaístas contemporâneos (1942–1979),
Lisbon: Imprensa Nacional-Casa de Moeda, 1983
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