Imperial Cryptonomy: Colonial Specters and Portuguese Exceptionalism in Isabela Figueiredo’s Caderno de Memórias Coloniais
Imperial Cryptonomy: Colonial Specters and Portuguese Exceptionalism in Isabela Figueiredo’s Caderno de Memórias Coloniais
Abstract and Keywords
In opposing mainstream metropolitan narratives of the imperial past, Figueiredo’s memoir retells many of her traumatic experiences growing up in the colony, beginning with her formation as a gendered and racialized subject and the teaching of desire by her social and familial circles of colonists. She, in other words, utilizes her own placement into Empire’s discursive field in order to contest the metropolis’s dominant post-imperial narrative regarding its colonial past. Of the different characters that emerge from her memoir, her father is undoubtedly the most prevalent. For instance, Figueiredo notably equates her father with colonialism, as the embodiment and voicing of race, gender, and class-based power. The ubiquity of the father in her narrating of the past urges us to think of him as a specter, one that repeatedly destabilizes the present, both hers and that of the former metropolis. This chapter thus utilizes Jacques Derrida’s concept of spectrality in dialogue with his engagement with Maria Torok and Nicholas Abraham’s notion of cryptonomy. The goal of this particular inquiry is to understand the ideological relationship between the field of racial, socio-economic and sexual meaning experienced by Figueiredo as a colonist and the official political narrative of Portuguese pluri-continentality and amicable colonialism promoted during and after the final three decades of Portuguese imperialism.
The end of formal colonialism in Lusophone African nations (Angola, Cabo Verde, Guinea-Bissau, Mozambique, and São Tomé and Príncipe) ushered in numerous political, societal, and cultural shifts on a transnational spectrum. Portuguese decolonization, following more than a decade of counter-insurgency in Angola, Guinea-Bissau, and Mozambique, and the eventual fall of the right-wing Estado Novo regime, led to the migration of over half a million former colonists to the metropolis. Those who did not see a future outside of the colonial system of power, or feared political turmoil in the postcolony, arrived in Portugal in 1974 and 1975 to find a metropolis also at the beginning of political reconstruction following the Carnation Revolution that ended the Estado Novo. The process of repatriation began with the political designation of former colonists as retornados [returnees], a paradox because many were born in the colonies and had never set foot in Portugal. Angola and Mozambique had been the largest settler colonies of the Portuguese overseas empire. Subsequently, they accounted for the vast majority of retornados, even before they became internationally recognized sovereign nations.
Following their large-scale arrival in Portugal, the term retornado quickly became imbued with social stigma stemming from imperial notions of nationhood and colonial otherness. The depth of this stigma is central in much literary production by or about retornados, reflecting on the interrelated events and periods of colonial settlement, decolonization, and nation-(re)building in Lusophone Africa and Portugal. The introspective and erratic retornado narrators of António Lobo Antunes’s O Esplendor de Portugal [The Splendor of Portugal] (1997) comment, often extensively, on their (p.174) social standing in post-imperial Portugal, as individuals of compromised whiteness.1
On the other hand, the retornados were also perceived by metropolitans as petit bourgeois colonial parasites, as former colonist Isabela Figueiredo recalls:
Quando chegámos a Portugal fomos muito maltratados. Eu era criança e fui muito maltratada pelos meus colegas, pelos meus familiares. Diziam que o meu pai e a minha mãe eram ladrões, que tínhamos tido pretos para nos lavarem os pezinhos e o rabinho. E que merecíamos ter perdido tudo.
(Coelho non. pag.)
[When we arrived in Portugal we were mistreated. As a child I was mistreated by classmates and relatives. They would say that my mother and father were thieves, that we had blacks to wash our feet and behinds. And that we deserved to lose everything.]
Antunes’s novel was arguably one of the first literary treatments of post-imperial Portugal, its present in conjunction with its imperial past, through the lens of the retornados. Since then, numerous works of fiction have been centered on retornado experiences. These range in terms of both thematics and, especially, critical tone. Manuel Arouca’s Deixei o Meu Coração em África [‘I Left My Heart in Africa’] (2005), Jaime Magalhães’s Os Retornados [‘The Returnees’] (2008), and Tiago Rebelo’s O Último Ano em Luanda [‘The Last Year in Luanda’] (2008) are undeniably imbued with heavy doses of colonial nostalgia and imperial adventurism. Meanwhile, works such as Dulce Maria Cardoso’s O Retorno [‘The Return’] (2011) and Aida Gomes’s Os Pretos de Pousaflores [‘The Blacks of Pousaflores’] (2011) critically engage, on different levels, the politics of return in terms of racial and cultural identity, in addition to rethinking the imperial past. On an arguably related note, the latter have garnered significant critical interest, while the former have enjoyed bestseller status in the Portuguese literary market.
Another title within this trend that has had a profound impact in the Portuguese public sphere and the collective reimagining of Portugal’s colonial past is Isabela Figueiredo’s Caderno de Memórias Coloniais [‘Journal of Colonial Memories’]. Published in 2009, the collection of memoirs began as a series of blog posts by the author titled Novo Mundo [New World] and reflecting on her experience of being raised as a white colonist girl in colonial Mozambique. Figueiredo was born in Lourenço Marques (present-day Maputo) in 1963, her formative years coinciding with the final decade of (p.175) Portugal’s colonial presence in Africa. Her colonial memoirs, comprising 43 of the aforementioned blog posts, relate her experiences of race, gender, and the reproduction of colonial power, as well as the dawn of her insertion into Portuguese society as a retornada in 1975.
Anna M. Klobucka posits the national impact of Caderno in its opposition to the commonly held narrative of amicable relations between Portugal and its colonized peoples, made most famous by Brazilian sociologist/ anthropologist Gilberto Freyre in a series of writings beginning in 1933. He notably theorized Portuguese love of the tropics to be at the core of an exceptional culturally syncretistic and hybrid civilization which he called ‘Lusotropicalism.’ Klobucka reads Figueiredo’s memoir ‘as a particularly forceful counter-cultural statement against the Portuguese and Freyrean tradition of infusing the representations of Lusophone colonialism and postcolonialism with postulations of affect as a centrally operative force’ (40). In a similar vein, Patrícia Vieira asserts that Figueiredo’s work ‘strives to debunk myths associated with Portugal’s supposedly benevolent colonialism and present a de-idealized image of the former empire’ (‘Imperial Remains’ 284). Figueiredo accomplishes this by foregrounding ‘the violence and falsehood that operated in the colony and in the consciousness of the colonists and the retornados, although she does so with a fiercely confrontational bluntness that has few, if any, equals in the literature of Lusophone postcolonialism’ (Klobucka 41).
The bluntness of her stance is evident from the very outset of the collection. The first chapter/blog post critically alludes to Manuel Arouca’s Deixei o Meu Coração em África and its participation in propagating the Lusotropical narrative:
Manuel deixou o seu coração em África. Também conheço quem lá tenha deixado dois automóveis ligeiros, um veículo todo-o-terreno, uma carrinha de carga, mais uma camioneta, duas vivendas, três machambas, bem como a conta no Banco Nacional Ultramarino.
[Manuel left his heart in Africa. I also know someone who left in Africa two compact vehicles, a sport utility vehicle, a cargo van, a small truck, two townhouses, three pieces of farmland, and also an account in the Overseas National Bank.]
The brief commentary dissects Arouca’s titular evocation of love for Africa as nostalgia for the privileges of colonial life founded upon systemic violence and exploitation. Figueiredo’s positioning of her text against Arouca’s from the beginning speaks to the latter’s recycling of Lusotropical thematics. (p.176) One particularly noteworthy portion of Arouca’s novel exemplifying its Lusotropical inclinations focuses on the colonial war/anti-colonial struggle in Guinea-Bissau – as the protagonist joins the Portuguese military – but decenters the inherent violence of the confrontation in favor of an interracial love affair between the protagonist and a Fulani woman.
According to Figueiredo, such popularized treatments of Portugal’s colonial past ultimately drove her to write and disseminate her experience of such a past. In an interview annexed to the published memoir she states:
sinto que faço o que tinha de ser feito. […] Estamos sempre a varrer o colonialismo para debaixo do tapete. O que mais gostamos de dizer, quando acusados relativamente ao nosso passado ultramarino, é que ‘a nossa colonização foi suave, não teve nada a ver com a dos ingleses, etc.’
[I feel I am doing what had to be done. (…) We are always sweeping colonialism under the rug. What we most love to say, when accused of our colonial past, is that ‘our colonialism was soft, it was nothing like that of the English, etc.’].
Through the medium of memoir, Figueiredo’s proposed interruption of metropolitan narratives of the colonial past is undertaken via an overtly autobiographical posture; that is, through a narrating of her placement within ideology, specifically imperial narrativization and local colonial reality. In Joana Pimentel’s words, ‘Figueiredo recalls her own version of Portuguese colonialism in Mozambique, challenging public memory by commenting on the historical archive of Lusophone postcolonial discourse’ (243). The historical period that constitutes Figueiredo’s reconstructed past is one of overlapping and conflicting discourses. Born in 1963, her childhood or preadolescence in the late 1960s and early 1970s coincides with the final throes of Portugal’s colonial project, along with its exceptionalist rhetoric, and the ongoing struggle for liberation in Mozambique and various parts of the global South, more internationally. In other words, while Portugal’s heads of state stubbornly defended a Portuguese presence in Africa on the international stage, pushing the narrative of a transcontinental and multicultural nation composed of overseas provinces and amicable relations between Europeans and Africans, a young subject was being formed by the quotidian race-based violence that informed colonial reality ‘on the ground.’
Figueiredo’s account of the past detailing numerous variably traumatic experiences ultimately offers a glimpse into the interpellational function of colonialism – how privilege-based colonial society reproduces itself by means of subjectivation. The mainstream Lusotropicalist narrative (p.177) of Portuguese colonialism, and of Portugal as a global entity, functions, moreover, to formulate a national subject/identity whose desire is circuited to the imperial spectrum of power. Herein lies the depth of Figueiredo’s text – as Pimentel succinctly puts it – a text that ‘challenge[s] the links between identity, language, history and nation’ (243). The discourses of race, gender, labor, and capital – central to imperial power, within which identity, language, history, and nation are also couched – ultimately ‘hail’ (Althusser 174) Figueiredo into Empire’s field of meaning. The most salient voice of this field, or the most prominent instrument for its reproduction, is Figueiredo’s father. After all,
Quando o meu pai regressou a Portugal trouxe consigo o colonialismo e nunca foi capaz de sair dele. O meu pai era o colonialismo. Portanto, o meu pai era também a injustiça e a violência. Talvez eu não saiba bem, do ponto de vista histórico, o que foi o colonialismo – muito me escapará; mas sei muito bem o que foi o meu pai, o que pensava e dizia, e esse é um conhecimento prático do colonialismo que nenhum historiador pode deter, a menos que tenha vivido a mesma experiência.
[When my father returned to Portugal, he brought colonialism with him and he was never able to escape it. My father was colonialism. Therefore, my father was also injustice and violence. Perhaps I do not know, from a strictly historical point of view, what colonialism was – much escapes me – but I know very well what my father was, what he thought and said, and that is practical knowledge of colonialism that no historian could grasp, unless they have lived the same experience as me.]
In tacitly opposing her words to those of historians, Figueiredo ultimately reveals her writing as a way of challenging how the Portuguese colonial past has been historicized. The close and intimate voice that fills the memoir inevitably re-emerges in this interview, making the latter a sort of extension of the former. This is especially the case when reflecting on her father. As the patriarch of a colonist family, the father embodies the intersecting point of whiteness, masculinity, heteronormative notions of sexuality, and control over racialized labor (in their transhistorical imperial constructions). His agency resides, therefore, in the privileged experiences tied to these as separate yet overlapping formations.
One of the father’s main privileges implies the right to signify and to reproduce imperial signifiers while establishing the relationship between them and his daughter. Jacques Lacan referred to this role within the realm of meaning as the Name-of-the-Father, that which regulates the desire of the subject-offspring. The term, though, is not limited to a biological father or paternal subject. Rather it refers to a ‘symbolic function’ (Écrits 230) that enforces the law vis-à-vis the subject within ideology, from interpellation on.
More than simply hailing, ideology – in this case, the field of colonial meaning – must trace Figueiredo’s desire; that is, her subjective and corporal relationship with colonial space and otherness. While the father in Figueiredo’s memoir may represent the crystallization of colonialism’s violence and metaphysics, he is not the only source from which colonial meaning is communicated to the narrator. Isabela is placed – as a white woman – into the realm of colonial desire (being taught how to desire in the colonial space – the alphabet of colonial desire), guiding power dynamics in the local realm of the colony and the trans-spatial domain of Empire. This is a process undertaken by and through various members of the colonial intersubjective space, notably those who have also been interpellated as white colonist women. Within the racialized and gendered compartmentalization of colonial space and social life, Isabela’s body, genitalia, and actions are traced for her by colonist wives, for instance, in contrast with those of black women: ‘Recordo as conversas ouvidas entre mulheres. Eu não tinha idade para entender, pensavam elas […] porque as esposas de colono, quando se juntavam, falavam das cabras das pretas e da facilidade com que tinham filhos’ [‘I remember the conversations I heard between women. I was not old enough to understand, they thought (…) because the wives of colonists, when they got together, would talk about the black whores and the ease with which they gave birth’] (Caderno 19).
Fantasies of racial and sexual otherness are central to the narrativization of colonial time, space, and power – one in which interpellated cisgendered female colonists also participate. In fact, Figueiredo’s memoir articulates a white female public (micro-)sphere where members inscribe their bodies, as well as those of black women, and their place within local colonial power. It is during this quotidian construction and performance of white colonist womanhood that the young narrator learns of the colonial system of difference and her place therein:
As pretas tinham a cona larga, diziam as mulheres dos brancos, ao domingo à tarde, todas em conversa íntima debaixo do cajueiro largo, (p.179) com o bandulho atafulhado de camarão grelhado, enquanto os maridos saíam para ir dar a sua volta de homens […]. As pretas tinham a cona larga e essa era explicação para parirem como pariam, de borco, todas viradas para o chão, onde quer que fosse, como os animais. A cona era larga. A das brancas não, era estreita, porque as brancas não eram umas cadelas fáceis, porque à cona sagrada das brancas só lá tinha chegado o marido, e pouco, e com dificuldade, que elas eram estreitas, portanto muito sérias […]. Limitavam-se ao cumprimento das suas obrigações matrimoniais, sempre com sacrifício, pelo que a fornicação era dolorosa, e evitável, por isso é que os brancos iam à cona das pretas.
[Black women had loose cunts, the wives of white men would say on Sunday afternoons, in intimate conversation under the wide cashew tree, their belly filled with grilled shrimp, while the husbands went out on their ‘man trips’ (…). Black women had loose cunts and that was why they gave birth the way they did, face down, wherever, like animals. Their cunts were loose. White women didn’t, it was narrow, because white women were not easy whores, because the sacred white cunt was only accessed by the husband, and very seldom, with much difficulty, since they were narrow, and thus very serious (…). White women would merely fulfill their wifely obligations, always with sacrifice, because fornication was painful, and avoidable, and because of this, white men sought out the cunts of black women.]
This moment ultimately creates a specular image into which Isabela is interpellated – the corporal and subjective place where she is to reside within the colonial field of meaning. In this public space, her body schema and its actions are elaborated as those of a white woman vis-à-vis the fantasy of the black female body. Her body is thus placed into Empire’s field of meaning where the sign of black womanhood has been rendered for centuries as simultaneously abject, lascivious, an object of wonder, violable, and an instrument of labor exploitable by white masculinity as a master scene of writing that is also voiced by white women whose identity-sign too has been constructed by this imperial master scene of writing.
One can trace this gendered dialectic of white and non-white womanhood as far back as Pero Vaz de Caminha’s Carta do Achamento do Brasil ‘[Letter on the Discovery of Brasil’] (1500), which details, among other topics, the supposed greater sensuality of Tupi women in comparison to European women:
uma daquelas moças […] certamente era tão bem feita e tão redonda, e sua vergonha – que ela não tinha! – tão graciosa, que a muitas mulheres (p.180) de nossa terra vendo-lhe tais feições, provocaria vergonha, por não terem as suas como a dela. (165)
[one of those girls (…) was certainly so well-formed and so voluptuous, and her shame – of which she had none! – so charming that many women of our land, seeing such traits, would be ashamed that theirs were not like hers.]
Isabela must, therefore, render her body and perform its corresponding identity according to these long-established yet shifting textualities of racialized womanhood.
The specular image of corporal and subjective totality which the individual confronts and assumes in the Lacanian mirror stage is discursively produced through the power relations of the symbolic realm of intersubjective meaning. For Lacan, this stage marks the transition from specular I to social I (Écrits 79). It is this ideal image – or ideal ego – that ‘situates the agency known as the ego, prior to its social determination, in a fictional direction’ (Écrits 76). Ever-ambiguous and polysemic in his wording, the ‘fictional’ nature of the ego speaks to both the un-Real existence of meaning and the ego’s inscription within symbolic meaning. In this regard, the moment the ego – nothing ‘other than an imaginary function’ – is enunciated is also ‘the moment the symbolic system appears’ (Seminar II 52) to the subject. This instance in which the specular totality of colonial white womanhood is articulated is also a moment in which the symbolic system of colonial power and meaning is presented to Isabela. Nevertheless, Isabela’s interpellation as a white cisgendered woman in the colony is both reproduced and complicated throughout her life, thanks in large part to the omniscience of her father.
Crypts and the Colonial Past
The memoir, as a series of vignettes delving into Figueiredo’s experience of the colonial past, autobiographically reflects on her corporal and subjective entrapment, privileges, and perils in the realm of imperial meaning. In this regard, the contents of the book tell the story of a crypt – in the sense of Nicholas Abraham and Maria Torok’s term ‘cryptonomy’ – of both Figueiredo’s and Portugal’s colonial past. As Abraham and Torok argue, ‘the crypt works in the heart of the Ego as a special kind of Unconscious’ (80). The crypt itself is a psychic location of fragmented symbols stemming from the trauma of subjectivation. The most omnipresent fragmented symbol of the memoir is inevitably the father – the symbol responsible for consistently policing the narrator’s body and intersubjective life within (p.181) colonialism, subsequently embodying colonial power. At the heart of the split subject – between body and specularity – resides the paternal function/enforcer of colonial intersubjective Law, due largely to the father’s dual and contradictory role prescribed by the exigencies of colonial power. It is Figueiredo’s father who, more than other characters, conveys both restraint and excess. In terms of the laws of whiteness, the father posits himself vis-à-vis Isabela as ‘the negating law – a NO that forecloses a YES’ (Rothwell 19). But the patriarchal foundations of Empire allow the father to seemingly transgress the Law – that negating interracial sex, for instance – the caveat being that the father’s actions always reproduce colonial meaning and power.2 Interracial sex between white men and African women, as evidenced in the colonist women’s words above, repeatedly produces the colonized feminine body – an edifice of imperial knowledge and historicization.
This seemingly irreconcilable duality of the father embodies, and is largely produced by, the machinations of colonial power and its narrativization. Under the guise of sexual constraint – such as the prohibition of imperially signified non-normative sexual preferences for women and men of color – the father presents excess as a modus operandi of his quotidian power. Figueiredo finally seems to make sense of this contradiction through her act of writing, coming to the conclusion that it is in this very conundrum (of enforcing the Law while breaking it) that her father ‘was colonialism.’ This paradox had of course been a subject of consideration for Freyre and others, who made sense of it through a narrative of interracial love stemming from Portuguese cultural ambivalence between Europe and the tropics. What Figueiredo’s memoir teaches us regarding the tenets of Lusotropicalist discourse is that interracial sex did not blur or compromise colonial racial binaries and compartmentalizations, but rather reinforced them. Interracial sex and sexual violence were merely modes of reformulating racial difference – race as a floating signifier (as Stuart Hall called it) reifying otherness through different yet related discourses, such as those of sexuality, gender, and science.
Phillip Rothwell’s seminal A Canon of Empty Fathers: Paternity in Portuguese Narrative (2007) explores the intersections of the paternal function and the construction of Portuguese nationhood and empire. He concludes that when ‘the YES and NO of the paternal function […] become a binary opposition, striving to obliterate each other, they empty paternity of its function’ (174–75). The colonial space seemingly allows the father to circumvent such (p.182) a binary. While placing Isabela’s desire in line with that of Empire through a series of constraints, the father also does so by sanctioning particular YESes over the colonized body. Although interracial sex is out of the question for white colonist women, as we will explore further, Isabela is introduced to the pleasures of colonial power through her father’s staging of physical violence on his African employees – a violence which Isabela emulates. Through this sort of balance, the paternal function aims to produce white heteronormative colonist womanhood within a reproduced order of power. Figueiredo’s relationship with her father is thus ‘built upon a division between the body of knowledge that utters a discourse and the mute body that nourishes it’ (de Certeau, Writing 3).
Portugal’s Contemporary Imperial Narrative, and the Crypts of Historicization
As mentioned above, the claims of Lusotropicalism continue to permeate mainstream reflections on the colonial past in Portugal. Imagery of affect such as that which infuses the aforementioned titles of bestselling retornado literature is merely one way in which the excesses of colonial power are re-narrativized or elided altogether in the contemporary Portuguese public sphere. The public focus on imperial endeavor and early modern navigation also produce similar erasures of colonial violence that dovetail with Lusotropicalism’s claims of a non-violent colonial project. In 2009, for instance, the state-owned Rádio e Televisão Portuguesa held a television and online poll to select ‘As Sete Maravilhas de Portugal no Mundo’ [‘The Seven Wonders of Portugal in the World’], the 27 candidates were all imperial monuments ranging from forts to basilicas and convents built across the southern hemisphere for colonial purposes.
In the realm of sport, the run-up to the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa led to rehashing a somewhat lost tradition of attributing a team nickname ahead of a major tournament. The Portuguese national team manager Carlos Queiroz called the squad ‘Os Navegadores’ [‘the Navigators’]:
Pelo tributo que temos de fazer aos nossos antepassados e à maior epopeia da história dos portugueses. Dividiram o mundo com a Espanha e chegaram ao Japão. Temos ali um simbolismo, mas acho que o termo navegadores adaptava-se mais a esta circunstância de jogarmos na África do Sul, num sítio onde dobramas aquele cabo.
[We owe a tribute to our ancestors and the greatest epic of Portuguese history. They divided the world with Spain and reached Japan. It is a (p.183) form of symbolism, but I think the term ‘navigators’ can be adapted to the circumstance of playing in South Africa, where we rounded that cape.]
Ahead of the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, sports daily Record conducted an online survey to determine the national team’s moniker, and the winner was, tellingly, ‘Os Conquistadores.’ The selection of such a term for a sporting tournament held in a former colony only confirms the mainstream seduction of Portugal’s imperial past.
We can think of imperialism, and perhaps power in general, as a series of overlapping and/or contradictory narratives that give meaning to power – and notably how it organizes bodies (in terms of sameness and difference), resources, capital, and land. The final decades of Portuguese colonial presence in Africa, as experienced by Figueiredo, constitute one of the clearest examples of this. While colonial power was practiced through a system of differences that perpetuated the disenfranchisement (or the de facto enslavement) of the colonized, the violability of black bodies, and the privileges of whiteness (on different scales according to class, gender, and sexuality), such a colonial reality was resignified on the postwar international stage as a culturally syncretistic endeavor. Shifting away from the paternalistic rhetoric of Europe’s civilizing mission, Lusotropicalist thinkers, and subsequently Estado Novo spokespeople, posited Portugal’s overseas mission as that of forming a new multicultural civilization based on interracial love. The two narratives came together for the sake of maintaining power – one narrative of difference on the ground and the other on the international front. Together, they served to consolidate imperial power, privilege, and history.
The contradictions of the father represent also the contradictions of colonialism in its conflicting narrativization, or rather, colonial discourse’s multiple layers of signification. The colonial practice of power ‘on the ground’ and its system of race-based privileges implies its own narrativization in order to reproduce colonial hierarchies based on imperial forms of knowledge. The interpellating voices that surround young Isabela ultimately survey and reproduce the field of colonial meaning. At another level, one finds the grand narratives of Western History that focus on endeavor (i.e. civilizing mission and intercultural humanism). These are not only contingent upon the localized narratives of power and bodies, but resignify the product of these, shifting focus from slavery, rape, and exploitation to ‘greater universal values.’ The Lusotropicalist narrative, for instance, reformulated the meanings pertaining to African women articulated in the excerpts above. This speaks to the internal dialogisms of the imperial (p.184) spectrum of power and historicity. In other words, the colonist site of articulation differs from the metropolitan place of historicization. The grand narrative seeks to consolidate the different experiences of power – from the metropolitan elite to the colonized subject – by means of presenting or omitting. After all, it is through historiography that power represents itself.
The grand narrative pertains more overtly to the historiographic project of the imperial West, while the ‘ground’ narrative produces the material and metaphysical conditions for such a project. This implies a dissonance in scenes of writing between the two, between colonists of working-class origins and metropolitan (historicizing) elites. The latter ultimately synthesizes the two, if not speaks for the former. Figueiredo’s memoir asks us to see this opposition as that of a colonial narrative of Empire and a metropolitan narrative carrying overtones of Lusotropicalism and the saudade of Portuguese overseas endeavor.
At the moment of writing the memoir, it is the metropolitan narrative/ historiographic project that prevails, its scene of writing negotiating the terms by which both narratives intermingle and form a totalized and comfortable whole. Michel de Certeau speaks of the historiographic endeavor as a mode of hiding through meaning: ‘this project aims at “understanding” and, through “meaning,” hiding the alterity of this foreigner’ (Writing 2) – the sign for that which is other and outside the historiographic scene of writing. Imperial historicization, as power’s writing of its past, must thus be a monological narrative project from which the heterologies (to borrow another of de Certeau’s terms) of the imperial spectrum of power are hidden. Within this spectrum, the voice of the colonized is effaced and foreclosed from historicization, from the encounter to the everyday imposition of power in the colony. The colonist voice that carries out the imperial field of meaning in the colony must also be, to varying degrees, occulted from the former metropolis’s historiographic reflections on its imperial project – hidden through the meaning produced about the past by historians, state television, bestselling fiction, and even sporting figures.
Figueiredo, however, cannot shake off the colonist voice, especially that of her father, who constantly reappears, much like a haunting. The first chapter/entry of her memoir establishes a tension between metropolitan historicization embedded in the present and her experience of colonial power in the past. This tension is inevitably guided by the ghostly presence of her father as she attempts to situate herself – and her colonial subjectivation – in the current metropolitan historiography of imperial exceptionalism. The father’s violent role within power is, of course, incompatible with metropolitan historicization, and thus must be excluded from the recorded (p.185) contents of the past. De Certeau argues, however, that ‘these voices – whose disappearance every historian posits, but which he replaces with his writing – “re-bite” [re-mordent] the space from which they were excluded; they continue to speak in the text/tomb that erudition erects in their place’ (Heterologies 8). We can therefore approach Figueiredo’s memoir as a spectral text, not only with regard to the apparitions of her father, which imbue the writer’s memory, but most importantly with regard to how the memoir intervenes in the present.
Spectrality and Imperial Public Sphere
Jacques Derrida is widely credited with bringing forth the spectral turn in critical theory and cultural studies with his Specters of Marx (1993), which conceives spectrality as a fundamentally ethical project:
If I am getting ready to speak at length about ghosts, inheritance, and generations, generations of ghosts, which is to say about certain others who are not present, nor presently living, either to us, in us, or outside us, it is in the name of justice […]. It is necessary to speak of the ghost, indeed to the ghost, and with it, from the moment that no ethics, no politics, whether revolutionary or not, seems possible and thinkable and just that does not recognize in its principle the respect for those others who are no longer or for those who are not yet there, presently living, whether they are already dead or not yet born. No justice […] seems possible or thinkable without the principle of some responsibility, beyond all living present, within that which disjoins the living present, before the ghosts of those who are not yet born or who are already dead, be they victims of wars, political or other kinds of violence, nationalist, racist, colonialist, sexist, or other kinds of exterminations, victims of the oppressions of capitalist imperialism or any of the forms of totalitarianism. (xviii)
Derrida seems to posit the specter along the lines of disenfranchisement. We surely cannot do the same with the specter of Figueiredo’s father – for her, he is the embodiment of colonialism. Nonetheless, the voice of this specter poses an inconvenient truth for contemporary exceptionalist historiography. In a way, the haunting of the father, and the writer’s relationship with his specter, opens a possibility for ‘suffering to speak’3 by reintroducing suffering into the exceptionalist narrative that strategically (p.186) elides the violence of the past. By omitting violence, the specters of the colonized – which are also present in the memoir – are further barred from all enunciation regarding the past.
As Carla Freccero argues with regard to the ethical potential of spectrality, ‘in the concern for justice, spectrality may allow an opening up – or a remaining open – to the uncanny and the unknown but somehow strangely familiar, not to determine what is what – to know – but to be demanded of and to respond’ (207). The colonial spectrality of Figueiredo’s memoir thus engenders a space for postcolonial de-silencing in the metropolitan public sphere – a collective ontological space where the everyday experience of nationality is negotiated through institutions, politics, and modes of mass communication. It is thus an ideological space in which ‘public opinion can be formed’ (Asen 117) and is ‘coextensive with public authority’ (Habermas 30), a space where members are interpellated into a field of meaning that narrates the present and rearticulates the past, managing the relationship between individual and nation – in this case, imperial nation. The public sphere of meaning, moreover, inevitably affects private life and the interactions of intimacy therein.
In Jürgen Habermas’s idealized version (prior to co-option by bourgeois society), the public sphere represents ‘a society engaged in critical public debates’ (52). Meanwhile, Hannah Arendt’s take on the public realm points to deep power relations that construct a ‘common world’ where particular ‘forces’ ‘lead an uncertain, shadowy kind of existence unless and until they are transformed, deprivatized and deindividualized, as it were, into a shape to fit them for public appearance’ (50). Arendt goes on to mention storytelling as an example of such transformations – the translation of acts into words, by which the latter substitutes the former, thus delineating historiography’s modus operandi. Arendt’s quote above denotes its own notion of spectrality, as a shadow that is tenuously inserted into the realm of language yet resides behind the sign’s public circulation. The same can be said regarding Portuguese imperial historiography and the aforementioned examples of colonial narratives presented in various cultural realms (literature, media, sports) that reproduce the Portuguese ‘imagined community’ (Anderson) or the Arendtian ‘common world.’
Central to this common world of Portugueseness is the construction of time, namely the mournful chronometry of the imperial past, as what Dana Luciano has called ‘sacred time,’ referring to ‘the altered flow of time experienced by the mourner’ (7). The collective experience of mourning cannot, however, be separated from the power to produce meaning in the public sphere – and who holds such a right to signify; ‘dirigentes pátrios’ [‘directors of nationhood’] as Eduardo Lourenço would call them (p.187) (44). Drawing upon Freud’s opposition of mourning and melancholia through Luciano’s stance, we can think of mourning as a political project of signification by which the object of loss is established; as opposed to melancholia, by which grief is detached from meaning, directed toward an unsymbolized phenomena, an ‘unknown loss’ (Freud 245). In the political project of mourning, the power that regulates the public sphere traces the parameters of what is worthy of mourning, or ‘entitled to veneration’ (Luciano 7), transforming the past into a consumable version of itself, the consumption of which informs notions of Portugueseness.
One can oppose this signified object of loss to Lourenço’s remarks regarding the psychological vestiges of empire in the Portuguese soul:
marcas duradouras na alma de quem ‘teve’ quinhentos anos de império nada, ou só a ficção encarecente que n’Os Lusíadas ecoa, não como mudadora da sua alma, mas como simples nomenclatura extasiada de terras e lugares. (44–45; emphasis original)
[long-term scars on the soul of he who ‘had’ five hundred years of an empire of nothing, or just the needy fiction echoed by The Lusiads, not as something that changed his soul, but as a simple ecstatic nomenclature of lands and places.]
For Lourenço, Empire was always already a loss of nothing, a void over which fictions and stories were inscribed, a phenomenon not experienced by the vast majority of the metropolitan population. To put it in Arendtian terms, the past of Portugal’s imperial project was the shadowy, uncertain existence that was transformed to produce a common experience.
Drawing on Freud, Patrícia Vieira crucially associates the loss of empire in the contemporary Portuguese public sphere and cultural imaginaries with melancholia, which occurs, for Freud, at a far more insidious level – that of the unconscious. In relation to mourning, Vieira argues that ‘a melancholic approach to the former overseas territories would entail a failed process of mourning the lost empire and the attempt to integrate its idealized image in contemporary life, a condition that comes through in several recent novels and films’ (‘Imperial Remains’ 281). In both her above-cited article and her work on Portuguese colonial cinema of the Estado Novo period,4 Vieira makes an interesting connection between melancholia and fetish with regard to Portugal’s imperial project. This overseas endeavor, and the way in which it was historicized in Portuguese cultural production, (p.188) she argues, owes much to the loss of Portuguese historical agency on the global stage and within Western modernity, beginning in the late sixteenth century. Thus late Portuguese imperialism is historicized in relation to early Portuguese expansion. Vieira ties the fetishization of empire evident in twentieth- and twenty-first-century Portuguese film and literature as a sustained stand-in for the lost object – a dominant place within the global symbolic realm of power.
Although there is a level of mourning in Figueiredo’s Caderno revolving around the tumultuous paternal figure, the spectrality of colonialism (embodied by the father) destabilizes public historiography by disrupting the political project of mourning/melancholia and the sacredness of the mourned object. The revenant, Derrida’s term for ghost, is ‘that which comes back’ (Specters 224, n.1), which ‘comes from and returns to the earth, to come from it as from a buried clandestinity (humus and mold, tomb and subterranean prison)’ (Specters 116). The clandestinity of the father’s place in the past must thus be barred from the venerability of the lost object that structures the present – the cohesive signifying chain of Portugal’s exceptionalist imperial past. Given Derrida’s philosophical project of understanding the ways and ends in which meaning is produced through exclusion, presence, and absence, it is no wonder that he was interested in Abraham and Torok’s notion of the crypt. Furthermore, in Derrida’s foreword to their The Wolf Man’s Magic Word: A Cryptonomy (1986), one can grasp the stirring of his interest in spectrality and its relationship to presence through his treatment of the crypt. What is more, his reflection on the crypt can help us better comprehend the spectral function of Figueiredo’s memoir.
The Framework of Cryptonomy
As a location of meaning, the crypt is ‘not a natural place [lieu], but the striking history of an artifice, an architecture, an artifact: of a place comprehended within another but rigorously separate from it, isolated from general space’ (Derrida, ‘Foreword’ xiv; emphasis original). In other words, the crypt is not simply an artifice in itself, constructed by meaning. The term refers, also (not rather), to a layer of signification outside the crypt; the running narrative that historicizes an existing signifying chain, reformulating by way of presenting and omitting. Figueiredo places her memoir in opposition to the cryptonymic framework of imperial historicity, its ‘system of partitions, with their inner and outer surfaces […] the assembled system of various places’ (Derrida, ‘Foreword’ xiv). Imperial historicity, as a crypt, takes on a shifting existence within what Derrida calls the ‘forum’ or ‘public square’ – (p.189) ‘a place where the free circulation and exchange of objects and speeches can occur’ (‘Foreword’ xiv). In this public sphere, ‘the crypt constructs another, more inward forum like a closed rostrum or speaker’s box, a safe: sealed, and thus internal to itself, a secret interior within the public square, but, by the same token, outside it’ (‘Foreword’ xiv). In other words, by residing within the inner partition of the Portuguese exceptionalist imperial narrative, Figueiredo’s father is subsequently masked within a tomb of the Portuguese public sphere. The cryptic safe of imperial historicization ‘protects from the outside the very secret of its clandestine inclusion’ (‘Foreword’ xiv). To be sure, the father is inevitably included in this historicization – as he participated in the material construction of power – but as a safeguarded secret, written over through the transformational process of historical inscription. Hence Derrida’s insistence that the crypt also implies the significational means by which it is hidden.
It is through the absence of the father and his violence (in the forum) that a particular version of Portuguese imperial history is made present in the now – the forum’s temporal present. Imperial presence as the object lost through decolonization is recovered through inscription in the forum – an example par excellence of the politically strategic chronometric reordering which Luciano addresses above. Such a reordering of time is predicated on the crypt’s ‘sepulchral function’ (Derrida, ‘Foreword’ xxi) – here Derrida begins to expound upon a nascent theorization of spectrality regarding the crypt. The cryptic underpinnings of imperial chronometric reordering situate the crypt’s inhabitant as ‘a living dead, a dead entity we are perfectly willing to keep alive, but as dead, one we are willing to keep, as long as we keep it, within us, intact in any way save as living’ (Derrida, ‘Foreword’ xxi). The specter, as a clandestine entity vis-à-vis the imperial forum where the exceptional narratives of the past reside, must be continuously relegated to the inner crypt. This significational location, or non-location, is, as Derrida argues, ‘the haunt of a host of ghosts, and the dramatic contradiction of a desire’ (‘Foreword’ xxiii), in this case the paradox of inscribing an imperial history without the violent means by which domination was achieved and sustained over land, bodies, and markets. This gets to the heart of Derrida’s characterization of the crypt as ‘a tale of a tale, of its progress, its obstacles, its delays, its interruptions, its discoveries all along a labyrinth’ (‘Foreword’ xxiii). The outer crypt – in its historicizing fictional function – resignifies the movements, the fictions of the inner crypt – the lies that structure colonial power (i.e. the intertwined fantasies of whiteness and colonial otherness that dictate exploitation and societal compartmentalization).
With the passing of time, the outer crypt becomes more ubiquitously (p.190) reproduced across Portuguese post-imperial society, including among other former colonists, at whom Figueiredo launches a scathing accusation:
Mas parece que isto era só na minha família, esses cabrões, porque segundo vim a constatar, muitos anos mais tarde, os outros brancos que lá estiveram nunca praticaram o colun […], o colonis […], o coloniamismo, ou lá o que era. Eram todos bonzinhos com os pretos, pagavam-lhes bem, tratavam-nos melhor, e deixaram muitas saudades.
[But it looks like this was only the case with my family, those jerks, because as I came to notice, many years later, the other whites that were there never practiced colon (…), colonis (…), colonialism, or whatever it was. Everyone was so kind to blacks, they paid them well, treated them even better, and left many sweet memories.]
Such an outer crypt began taking shape before decolonization, of course, before the end of Portugal’s overseas presence. Figueiredo’s play with the word colonialismo reverts back to Salazar’s renaming of Portugal’s imperial project and narrative from a civilizing mission to an intercontinental nation. The term colony was of course replaced with overseas province. Decades later, Salazar’s own paternal voice – toward the nation – continues to shape the crypt of Portuguese imperialism through the perpetual foreclosure of the terms colony, colonialism, and their derivatives. The barred terms naturally destabilize the narrativization of the past – they are to remain in the inner crypt, the domain of Figueiredo’s father. They point to the unspeakable presence that was to be made absent at the level of the outer crypt. In the realm of Portuguese nationhood, or its Arendtian forum, these signifiers and their exploitative and exclusionary connotations can nonetheless intrude into the present, as they do for Figueiredo.
This embodies the haunting that speaks to a relationship between a subject and the crypt – along with its specters – as a particular signifying chain to which the subject is bonded. ‘To be haunted,’ Avery Gordon argues, ‘is to be tied to historical and social effects’ (190). More specifically, haunting is ‘a process that links an institution and an individual, a social structure and a subject, and history and a biography’ (19). It is through the father that Figueiredo is inextricably tied to the social effects of the inner crypt, the reality of everyday colonial life that continues to be rewritten decades after decolonization. The specter of the father binds her to the inner crypt and its ghostly signifiers that compose colonialism’s field of meaning.
Figueiredo’s memoir is more than a denunciation of the quotidian atrocities of Portuguese colonialism embodied in the paternal figure. The father was, after all, an instrument for something larger – the reproduction of colonial power and its system of differences. Figueiredo exposes the inner crypt by retracing her placement into the physical and discursive space of the colony, namely its racial discourse and underpinnings. In addition to the earlier passages pertaining to a colonial space of white cisgendered female inscription, from which Figueiredo learns her body in racial and sexual terms, the memoir is rich in other examples of her gendered and racialized interpellation within Empire:
Era absolutamente necessário ensinar os pretos a trabalhar, para o seu próprio bem. Para evoluírem através do reconhecimento do valor do trabalho. Trabalhando, poderiam ganhar dinheiro, e com o dinheiro poderiam prosperar, desde que prosperassem como negros. Poderiam deixar de ter uma palhota e construir uma casa de cimento com telhado de zinco. Poderiam calçar sapatos e mandar os filhos à escola para aprender ofícios que fossem úteis aos brancos. Havia muito a fazer pelo homem negro, cuja natureza animal deveria ser anulada – para seu bem.
[It was absolutely necessary to teach blacks to work, for their own good. So that they could evolve by recognizing the value of work. By working, they could earn money, and with money they could prosper, so long as they prospered as blacks. They could cease living in a hut in order to build a house of cement and zinc. They could then wear shoes and send their children to school to learn trades that are useful to whites. There was so much to do for the black man, whose animal nature was to be eliminated – for his own good.]
While the epistemic violence of a European civilizing mission was removed from Portugal’s official imperial narrative at the time of Figueiredo’s childhood, it continued to inform interactions between black natives and white colonists. The paternalism of colonial discourse was, of course, most strongly conveyed to young Isabela by the paternal figure himself. As a result, as Isabela is placed into the racialized and gendered division of labor upheld by Empire’s discursive fabric of alterity, so too are the colonized subjects with whom she comes into contact. The task of persistently interpellating black bodies into the colonial order, through labor and desire for colonial labor, dialectically becomes part of the colonial father’s own imago. As Figueiredo (p.192) makes abundantly clear, this division of labor, reproduced through the father’s mandate, must perpetuate the racial class system. In other words, racialized labor exclusively serves white wealth accumulation (even in the case of lower middle-class families like Figueiredo’s) over that of colonized subjects. This particular passage thus embodies the memoir’s strongest rebuttal to mainstream Lusotropicalist views of Portugal’s imperial past by placing racial discourse as a structuring tool of colonial society in its many components – from the formation of colonial identities to the meaning ascribed to sexual practices and access to capital.
Returning to Lacan, the father – or rather, the Name-of-the-Father – is the signifier through which the subject identifies with a symbolic order or field of meaning. The father’s role in the symbolic is to mediate between the desire of the subject/offspring and the discursive fabric of social organization. In Lacan’s words, the ‘true function of the father is to fundamentally unite (and not set in opposition) a desire and the Law’ (Écrits 698). For Lacan, the father is always synonymous with the symbolic order. It is the father who intervenes in the imaginary relationship between child and mother by enunciating and enforcing the symbolic order and its social relations. There is, in Lacan’s theorization, a hint of spectrality concerning the father’s role vis-à-vis the subject. Firstly, his presence destabilizes the pre-Oedipal imaginary, ultimately reordering the terms by which the subject relates to the outside world. More importantly for Lacan, the father as signifier and function in the realm of meaning takes precedence over the father as an actual person. Peter Guy further underscores the spectrality of Lacan’s elaboration of the father: ‘paternal power is linguistic rather than corporeal […]. The name of the father is an epitaph, destined to outlive the dissolution of the flesh and Lacan insists that death inheres in language as a whole, where every vocable enfolds a void’ (42). From her placement into colonial ideology to her reaction to the outer crypt of the Portuguese imperial narrative, Figueiredo’s father is the constant haunting presence in her life – ever-present and interventive even in death. The father is, for her, equivalent to colonialism – its praxis of power, and of course its language as the symbolic realm where such power resides over its Real void.
The father’s colonial actions – categorizing, compartmentalizing, and castigating the bodies that occupy colonial space – follow her and make themselves present in her own actions. In one vignette from the past, young Isabela accompanies her father to the city’s caniços [shanties] to seek an employee who had not shown up for work that day. Inside her father’s truck:
eu ia atrás, voando sobre o solo vermelho, espreitando pelos recortes no muro de caniço atrás do qual se escondia a vida dos negros, essa (p.193) vida dos que eram da minha terra, mas que não podiam ser como eu. Eram pretos. Era esse o crime. Ser preto. Depois o meu pai encontrava o lugar, é aqui que mora o Ernesto? Onde está o preguiçoso? A mulher apontava a palhota. O meu pai largava-me a mão e entrava, enquanto eu ficava cá fora abraçada ao meu peito, no meio das galinhas, dos filhos descalços do preto, da preta, dos outros pretos todos da vizinhança que tinham visto o branco e vinham saber.
O meu pai gritava lá dentro, e aos safanões trazia-o para fora, atordoados ambos. Segunda, vais trabalhar, ouviste? Segunda, estás nas bombas às sete. Vais trabalhar para a tua mulher e para os teus filhos, cabrão preguiçoso. Queres fazer o quê da vida? Safanão. Soco. E a mulher e os filhos e o bairro todo, e eu, estávamos ali, imóveis, paralisados de medo do branco.
E eis que o branco mete uma nota na mão da negra e diz-lhe, dá de comer aos teus filhos; depois levanta-me no ar, atrás de si, presa pelo seu pulso, enquanto grita ao negro, Segunda, nas bombas, ai de ti.
[…] E o homem branco que me leva pela mão voando, atravessa o caniço veloz, procura a Bedford estacionada lá fora, senta-se, põe o motor a trabalhar, arranca, olha para mim, então estás cansada, queres ir beber uma Coca-Cola? Queres que te deixe provar o meu penalti? Olho-o, não respondo. Aquele homem branco não é o meu pai.
[I would ride in the back, flying over the red soil, peeking through the cuts in the wall behind which the lives of blacks were hidden, those lives of people who were from the same country, but could not be like me. They were black. That was the crime. Being black. My father would find the place, does Ernesto live here? Where is that lazy hobo? His wife would point to the hut. My father would let go of my hand to go inside, while I remained outside hugging myself, among the chickens and the barefoot children of the black men and women of the neighborhood who had seen the white man arrive and come to see what was happening.
My father was shouting inside and, manhandling Ernesto, brought him outside. ‘On Monday, you are going to work, you hear me? On Monday, you will be at the station at seven. What do you want to make of your life?’ A shove. A punch to the face. And his wife and children and the entire neighborhood, and myself, were there, immobile, paralyzed by fear of the white man.
And then the white man places a bill in the hand of the black woman and tells her, feed your children; he then lifts me up in the air, behind (p.194) him, grabbing on to his wrist as he shouts at the black man, ‘Monday at the station, don’t you dare not show up.’
(…) And the white man who takes me flying by the hand crosses the shantytown, finds the Bedford parked outside, sits down, starts the engine, pulls out, looks at me, ‘So you’re tired, do you want to drink a Coca-Cola?’ I look at him without replying. That white man is not my father.]
The actions of Figueiredo’s father can be found at the core of her experience of Empire’s crypt. As paternalistic agent, he carries out colonialism ‘on the ground,’ reproducing imperial power by exercising physical, epistemic, and significational power over othered bodies while preserving imperial fantasies of whiteness. In terms of the gendering of racialized power, this particular scene embodies the inter-masculine dynamics of slavery explored in Chapter 1 in the context of Oswald de Andrade’s poem ‘fazenda antiga.’ As much as she wishes to separate her father from colonial power and violence, she cannot. Father and colonialism are not two separate entities, they each supplement the other.
Her father’s words and actions inevitably inform her own within colonial society and especially its racial structure. His ubiquitous presence, even in absence, regulates and oversees her relationship with the colonized. It is no surprise, then, that the blog entry following that of her father’s assault on Ernesto begins with a confession:
Nunca tinha batido em ninguém, mas dei-lhe uma bofetada, porque ela me irritou, porque não concordou comigo, porque eu é que sabia e mandava e estava certa, porque ela tinha dito uma mentira, porque me tinha roubado uma borracha, sei lá por que lhe dei a maldita bofetada!
Mas dei-lha, […]. Era a Marília.
Foi premeditado. Tinha pensado antes, se ela voltar a irritar-me, bato-lhe. Podia perfeita e impunemente bater-lhe. Era mulata.
[I had never hit anyone, but I slapped her in the face, because she irritated me, because she didn’t agree with me, because I am the one who knew and gave orders and was right, because she had lied, because she had stolen a rubber band from me. Who knows why I hit her!
But I did (…). It was Marília.
It was premeditated. I had thought about it earlier: if she bothers me again, I will hit her. I could hit her without punishment. She was a mulatto.]
(p.195) The hypothetical reasons Figueiredo gives for her actions all reference those used by her father in his interactions with his non-white employees – control over knowledge, the colonial construction of truth, anxiety over private property, disavowal of the colonized’s desire. Her violent actions, like those of her father, are of course sanctioned by the law: ‘Era mulata e não podia bater-me’ [She was a mulatto and therefore could not hit me’] (Caderno 55).
The haunting presence of Figueiredo’s father, before and after death, underscores the spectrality of the specular image that Isabela understands to be her father – the Lacanian imago of false identitarian totality assumed by the subject in the mirror stage. In this regard, the events of the mirror stage are not limited to one particular moment. Rather, subjectivation – the formation of the ego – is a constantly repeated process guided by the persistent specters of ideal ego and interpellator. For Figueiredo, the father is the intersection of both. On the one hand, in occupying the paternal function vis-à-vis Isabela’s psychic existence, he formulates her desire in accordance with the Law of colonial relations. On the other, in carrying out the paternalistic project of European occupation, he must embody the ideals of Western subjective totality and the underpinnings of Western universality – heteronormative masculine whiteness.
The very next entry after recalling Figueiredo’s violence against Marília highlights this additional aspect of the father’s spectral psychic presence. In other words, in the span of three entries, Figueiredo traces the father’s reproduction of colonial meaning and power, his placement of her desire within it, and his own identitarian performance for the Portuguese imperial project. Figueiredo recalls spending time eating piri piris, challenging herself to show no weakness against the pepper’s spiciness. The ultimate goal was to ‘ser forte como o meu pai. Ser forte como o meu pai desejava que fosse’ [‘be strong like my father. Be strong like my father wanted me to be’] (Caderno 57). These two short sentences succinctly convey the haunting centrality of the father in the psychic dwelling of colonial life. The father is thus always a multiple ghost – self and desire, ideal ego and interpellator, in one specter. As a result, young Isabela is stuck in the ambiguity of her father’s multifarious place and role within Empire; between following his own imperial performativity or the gendered direction of her imago.
The father’s repeated apparition – constitutive of subjectivation – always enunciates a colonial narrative, a field of meaning and set of knowledge that resides in the inner crypt of the imperial past. Interpellation into the symbolic realm of meaning is much more than a ‘hailing’ (Althusser 171). It is a moment of narration in which the interpellating agent re-narrates the field of power, now with the interpellated subject in it. But his re-narration is not confined to one particular moment. It is a haunting reoccurrence (p.196) driven by Figueiredo’s father’s actions: the beating of Ernesto, the daily distribution of work among his employees, his political conversations with fellow colonists, etc.
The Father and Colonial White Womanhood
Although the aforementioned space of colonist women gathering is one in which colonial categorization of bodies and genitalia is carried out, and the white female body is surveyed, it is nonetheless the father who administers the disciplinary consequences of the categorization. Isabela learns of her racialized genitalia through the female public space and debate, but it is her father who physically imposes the categories by disciplining the body accordingly. Reflecting on her romantic feelings for the son of a black neighbor, Figueiredo recalls her fears:
Se eu estivesse grávida do preto, o meu pai podia matar-me, se quisesse. Podia espancar-me até ao aviltamento, até não ter conserto. Podia expulsar-me de casa e eu não seria jamais uma mulher aceite por ninguém. Havia de ser a mulher dos pretos. E eu tinha medo do meu pai. Desse poder do meu pai.
[If I fell pregnant by the black boy, my father could kill me, if he wanted. He could have beaten me to a pulp. He could have expelled me from my home and I would no longer have been accepted by anyone. I would have been a black man’s woman. And I feared my father. That power my father possessed.]
The interpellational agency of white colonial paternalism implies such executive power. Through it, the father not only places the subject – Isabela – into meaning, he also retains the power to decide where she will reside within colonial meaning. Paternal power over the home is, of course, tied to the paternalistic power over colonial space, conferring to the father the ability to marginalize Isabela’s body from both intertwined spheres of life – the private and the public. He enforces the order of the home and the racial/ sexual taxonomies of the colony.
Contrary to the Lusotropical narrative of interracial love, whether public or private, the union carried damning consequences for the white female subject that it did not for the white male – as is underscored by Isabela’s father’s sexual liaisons with colonized women. Ensnared in white colonialist patriarchy and its signifying privilege, the interracial liaison ascribes to white women’s bodies symbolic devaluation due to sex with abjectified bodies. For Isabel, more so than for her father, interracial sex is (p.197) coded as deviant because it goes against the significationally reproductive prerogatives of Empire’s white patriarchal heteronormative core. As such, Isabela would become a signifier of failed whiteness, especially in contrast with the colonialist role ascribed to white women – ensuring the purity of whiteness, especially through the construct of the nuclear family.
Ana Paula Ferreira illustrates and underscores how, in the context of Estado Novo Portugal and its late colonialist discourses, the regime’s ‘“institutionalization of Portugueseness” could not have been achieved without the rhetorical involvement of womanhood and femininity as ideological signs, and of women and those deemed “different” as socio-political subjects’ (‘Homebound’ 134). Ferreira goes on to point out that ‘the Estado Novo relied on and in turn generated a consensual fictional poetics of womanhood and femininity encompassing heterogeneous spaces and peoples characterized as “naturally” different’ (‘Homebound’ 134). The Estado Novo’s ensnarement of women into nationalist and imperial ideology subsequently carried a colonialist functionality, while maintaining a well-defined white patriarchal order based on a family structure by ‘contain[ing] women within the family unit – while at the same time colonizing all subjects of difference under the aegis of the greater national family’ (Ferreira, ‘Homebound’ 134).
Margarida Calafate Ribeiro’s research on the role of women as agents of Estado Novo nationalist and colonialist discourses provides in-depth explorations of how this relationship was officially conveyed through the regime’s different propaganda machines. One of these was the Movimento Nacional Feminino [National Women’s Movement], which began as a grassroots women’s group in support of Portugal’s colonial wars in Angola, Guinea-Bissau, and Mozambique. Ribeiro examines the ideological functions of the movement through (and beyond) its publications, noting that:
eram feitos apelos às mães portuguesas para que sacrificassem os seus filhos ‘pela Nação,’ nos jornais da época, nacionais e principalmente regionais, eram aplaudidas as mulheres que tinham muitos filhos e que os ‘davam’ para a defesa do ultramar português.
[pleas were made to Portuguese mothers to sacrifice their sons ‘for the Nation’ in the newspapers of the period, national ones and especially regional ones. Women with many children were celebrated for ‘giving’ them in defense of the Portuguese overseas empire.]
The movement’s publications thus enunciate a Portuguese nationalist maternal subject whose desire is circuited to that of the Estado Novo, while reinforcing patriarchally ascribed gender roles, the concomitantly gendered (p.198) division of labor, and the underlying rigid gender binary, now in the name of Empire.
Within the purview of ascribed gender duties vis-à-vis nation and empire, the role of Portuguese women also implied their role in relation to family and colonization. On this topic, Ribeiro cites Maria Archer who, despite seeking exile in Brazil due to her opposition to the Estado Novo (namely its discourses on women), nonetheless embraced Portugal’s colonial mission, at the core of which she posited women: ‘Archer, referindo-se à falha da colonização portuguesa em África, “uma civilização só se fixa e define através da mulher”’ [‘Archer, referring to the failure of Portuguese colonization in Africa, (wrote) “a civilization can only establish and define itself through the woman”’] (‘Mulheres portuguesas’ 289). Archer’s understanding of the colonial role of women, shared by the Estado Novo as reflected in its propagandistic mission to bring more families to the colonies, thus places women at the core of both Portugal’s civilizing mission and its cementing of whiteness and white presence overseas.
In her genealogy of racial segregation in colonial life, Ann Laura Stoler explores the relationship between larger influxes of European women to the colonies and the greater stratification of colonial society, along with the conflicting notions and stereotypes regarding female colonists:
The arrival of large numbers of European women coincided with new bourgeois trappings and notions of privacy in colonial communities. And these, in turn, were accompanied by new distinctions based on race. European women supposedly required more metropolitan amenities than did men and more spacious surroundings for them. […] Their psychological and physical constitutions were considered more fragile, demanding more servants for the chores they should be spared. In short, white women needed to be maintained at elevated standards of living, in insulated social spaces cushioned with the cultural artifacts of ‘being European.’ […] Segregationist standards were what women ‘deserved’ and, more importantly, what white male prestige required they maintain. (55)
Regardless of who set these standards, it is apparent that colonial segregation followed a bourgeois logic; often this was a lifestyle that implied a sort of social mobility for Portuguese colonists, the majority of whom hailed from a rural working-class background (Castelo 2007). Colonial space was thus one where European bourgeois fantasies could be acted out. It is within the sphere of bourgeois social values that the white female body is enveloped, signified, and surveyed. The racial boundary cannot, of course, be separated from that of class; the logic of colonial power deeply intertwines them.
(p.199) Portuguese colonization of Africa in the twentieth century was not solely predicated on the migration of Portuguese women to the colonies, but on the import of the nuclear family structure. The construction and performance of class in the final decades of Portugal’s colonial presence in Africa is thus centered on the family and white heterosexual marriage as bourgeois institutions of Western modernity. In the colonial setting, the power dynamics internal to these gained increased racial components while further reinforcing colonial compartmentalization. A white wife became a signifier of status within the colonial setting, enunciating a public family narrative of white bourgeois – and thus normative – sexual practices. As a colonial marker of whiteness under the rules and regulations of a white patriarchal gaze, white colonist womanhood was to be isolated from sexual pleasure – especially interracial sex – at all costs. The white colonial female body, as Figueiredo’s memoirs render it, was thus produced to be an instrument and index of colonial power. Sexual pleasure was the sole reserve of white imperial masculinity. Female sexual enjoyment, on the other hand, was potentially fatal to the reproduction of imperial power, from the bourgeois colonial microcosm of family life to the ideological superstructure of Empire. To quote from Foucault’s genealogy of sexuality and bourgeois values, ‘the familial and civic status of a married woman made her subject to the rules of conduct that was characterized by a strictly conjugal practice’ (145–46).
Colonial whiteness, in its pure bourgeois form, thus depended on the strict control over white female sexuality and the systemic curtailing of non-reproductive pleasure. This stood, of course, in stark opposition to the freedoms afforded to white masculinity: ‘no sexual relation was forbidden to him […] he could have an intimate affair, he could frequent prostitutes, he could be the lover of a boy – to say nothing of the men or women slaves he had in his household at his disposal’ (Foucault 146–47). Aside from enjoying this freedom, Figueiredo’s father is responsible for maintaining whiteness through the bourgeois distribution of pleasure in the colonial space. After all, ‘subversions of the bourgeois order were those that threatened that repertoire of sensibilities glossed as “personal character” and that marked who was eligible to be classed as white’ (Stoler 157).
Figueiredo’s father takes up the mandate of producing colonist womanhood throughout her youth. She notably recalls a particular episode related to her preadolescent sexual curiosity, prefacing the memoir entry: ‘Foder. Essa descoberta tornou-se algo que me envergonhava e desejava. Tinha os tais sete ou oito anos’ [‘Fucking. That discovery became something that embarrassed me, but that I desired. I was about seven or eight years old’] (Caderno 29). While playing in a nearby abandoned construction site (a (p.200) new house for an arriving colonist family) with a white neighbor close to her in age, Luisinho, they agree to ‘jogar a foder’ [‘play-fucking’] (Caderno 29):
Despimo-nos completamente, eu deitei-me sobre a terra, exactamente como nos ensinavam que se devia dormir, pernas e braços direitos, o Luisinho deitou-se nuzinho sobre mim, exactamente como nos ensinavam na escola que se devia dormir, e ali ficámos alguns minutos, nessa posição de difícil equilíbrio, conversando e ‘fodendo.’ Eu estava por baixo e podia ver a abertura já existente onde se situariam as janelas. E, num ápice de segundo, apercebo-me da figura do meu pai, oh, meu Deus, o meu pai, estou a vê-lo ainda hoje, debruçado nesse vago, com os antebraços pousados no tijolo, olhando para baixo, observando a cena, apercebendo-se da situação e desaparecendo rapidamente. Percebi tudo. Nessa fracção de segundo levantei-me, derrubando o Luisinho, e agarrando a minha roupa. No momento em que o meu pai deu a volta ao exterior da casa, entrou pela porta e me arrebatou pelo braço, estava o Luisinho ainda em pelota e eu já meia vestida. Segundos antes da pancada, tinha já a certeza absoluta que foder era proibidíssimo.
[We got completely naked, I lay down on the ground, exactly how they taught us we should sleep, legs and arms straight, and Luisinho lay down on top of me in the exact same way, and there we stayed in that acrobatic position, talking and ‘fucking.’ I was on the bottom and could see the hole where the windows would go. And, in a split second, I noticed my father, oh my God, my father, I can still see it today, leaning into that hole, forearms resting on the brick, looking down, observing the scene, realizing what was happening and quickly disappearing. I understood everything. In that fraction of a second, I got up, throwing off Luisinho, and grabbing my clothes. When my father rounded the house and came inside, and grabbed me by the arm, Luisinho was still naked and I was already half dressed. Seconds before the beating, I already knew for sure that fucking was strictly prohibited.]
This particular memory captures the father’s spectral being as a gaze. Even before the father deals a punitive blow, Isabela fully comprehends the sexual prohibition explicit in the very presence and surveillance of her father. This comprehension, one that genders her within the imperial field of meaning, is inevitably traumatic to the point that it continues to haunt her ‘ainda hoje’ [‘even today’]. This moment from her childhood – for her, a primordial scene of her father’s intervention in her sexual desire – ultimately provides an image to the father’s interpellational gaze. This embodiment of a gaze (p.201) into a traumatic image-apparition is inevitably a product of the racialized and gendered configuration of colonial society. The colonial patriarchal system, entrusting the paternal figure with the power of surveillance and the enforcement of the Law, provides him almost boundless spatial access – from the colonial home and its surroundings occupied by the family to the city’s outskirts occupied by the colonized subaltern.
It is this gaze that stalks Isabela’s early sexual relations and manifestations of desire, a Lacanian partial object that enunciates the patriarchal imperial desire to reproduce white heteronormative femininity. Elaborating on Freud, Lacan explains that partial objects such as gaze and voice ‘represent only partially the function that produces them’ (Ecrits: Selection 315). Through the father, the partial object, Empire’s gaze takes the form of a spectral body – a haunting and persistent image giving a sensory feel to spectral experience.
Through the power conferred on him by the imperial field of meaning and power, the father also becomes an object of desire – not only as ideal ego, the specular image of colonist identity, but as an incestuous object of desire for Isabel. This, however, has more to do with the father’s role as ego-ideal than as specular image. As the interpellator and surveyor of her identity and performativity as white colonist woman, her existence as gendered subject within the symbolic realm is dependent on the father’s appraisal and acceptance – on his love for her. Figueiredo notably reminisces over the joy she felt in his presence during their frequent leisure outings:
Eu gostava da sua presença, de passear com ele a pé, por onde quer que fosse, de mão dada […]. Era muito grande e muito poderoso como um rei-gigante, e a sua presença protegia-me de todos os medos irracionais. Acho que nunca fui tão feliz como nesses momentos em que me pegava pela mão e caminhava comigo pelas ruas de Lourenço Marques, até ao Scala, até depois do Scala, vendo montras, pessoas, sentindo cheiros vindos de todo o lado, ao entardecer, enquanto as luzes das avenidas e dos néons se iam acendendo […]. Todos os meus sentidos despertavam nesses fins-de-tarde.
Sentia-me uma pessoa. Sentia-me uma mulher. A sua alma-gémea.
Não houve nenhum homem capaz de me resgatar como ele, de me quebrar, de me dar vida só por existir. Só por estar ali, sorrir-me, dar-me valor. Dar-me a mão. Pegar em mim. Escutar-me.
[I had enjoyed his presence, strolling with him, to wherever, holding his hand (…). He was very tall and very powerful, like a giant king, his presence protected me from all irrational fears. I don’t think I have ever been as happy as I was in those moments when he would take (p.202) me by the hand and we would walk through the streets of Lourenço Marques, to Scala, and even past Scala, window shopping, looking at people, smelling the scents coming from everywhere, until late, when the lights of the avenues and signs would light up (…). All my senses would awaken in those late afternoons.
I felt like a person. I felt like a woman. His soulmate.
No man was able to rescue me like him, able to break me, able to give me life just by existing. Just by being there, smiling at me, valuing me. Holding my hand. Picking me up. Listening to me.]
The love she feels emanating from her father in these moments – and her corresponding filial pleasure – can be translated as the reconsolidation of her nascent imperial womanhood. Her subjective totality becomes contingent upon the reassuring presence of the father – he who oversees her desire. In desiring to be whole within the colonial field of meaning, she is taught to desire her father’s presence. As the paternal signifier, he has posited himself throughout her life as the only person capable of validating the desire that he, himself, engendered for her – that she be a white woman in the imperial field of meaning.
Figueiredo seems to suggest that her father was cognizant of his grip over her when later in the same entry she recalls his wish that she never become dependent on any man: ‘Tens de ter uma profissão que te permita viver a tua vida, com os teus filhos, ou não, sem depender de nenhum homem! Sem estares às custas de ninguém. Tens de ser dona da tua vida. Tens de ser livre’ [‘you must have a profession that allows you to live your life, with your children, or without, without depending on a man! Without depending on anyone. You must own your life. You must be free’] (Caderno 82). On the surface, her father’s injunction seems to be overtly emancipatory. We cannot, however, separate the words from their enunciator. ‘Being free’ does not necessarily suggest being free from him. In other words, his demand does not displace his desire; it enunciates his desire. Naturally, under the semblance of freedom, Isabela has no choice but to oblige:
- ‘Para isso tens de estudar, tens de ir para a universidade!’
- ‘Sim. Eu vou.’
- [‘For that you must study, you must go to university!’
- ‘Yes. I will go.’]
The ocular emphasis Figueiredo gives to the father in the last three passages tacitly betrays the larger multi- or even extra-sensory impact of the specter. The very terms often used to discuss ghosts and hauntings – such (p.203) as ‘specter’ and ‘apparition’ – seem to be etymologically centered on the visual field. Derrida, however, rejects such an incomplete take on spectrality through what he calls the visor effect:
this spectral someone other looks at us, we feel ourselves being looked at by it, outside of any synchrony, even before and beyond any look on our part […]. To feel ourselves seen by a look which it will always be impossible to cross, that is the visor effect on the basis of which we inherit from the law. Since we do not see the one who sees us, and who makes the law, who delivers the injunction.
(Specters 6–7; emphasis original)
Although the father’s specter is momentarily captured in the memory of a seen image, the specter’s implied gaze constantly eludes any permanent placement in the visual field, or even any tangible identification of it by the senses. In other words, the surveying gaze of power – that of the father – is only, at the very most, a fleetingly knowable presence. The father’s interpellation resists temporal and spatial fixity. It is a continuous act of seeing that the subject cannot visually grasp. The field of meaning, and the movements of individual desire therein, are thus persistently formed and structured by an unseen agency.
In her nuanced exploration of seeing and its limits in the political spectrum, Patrícia Vieira offers a further interpretation of spectrality and its relation to the visual field:
Derrida reverses the Husserlian model of intentionality, where a subject directs her or his mental regard to the intended object. Here, the traditional object (the ghostly Thing) becomes the subject of vision and contemplates my blindness to the virtual, an inversion that represents a re-description of Levinasian ethics from the perspective of the other. The I who comes into the other’s field of vision becomes aware of its relative position vis-à-vis the ghost; the subject is, thus, decentered, since it is no longer the origin of perception and of the phenomenological world. Further, the other is now virtual, and I am no longer able to identify it concretely. (36)
What gives the father the semblance of a body is his simultaneous existence as ideal ego and ego-ideal as well as his temporal physical presence. His injunctions, however, once voiced, do not necessitate a tangible body, as Isabela becomes the object of colonialism’s spectral contemplation. Although she may eventually refuse the injunction, the specter is never fully elided from her intersubjective life.
The father oversees Isabela’s placement into imperial womanhood, and her sexuality as one of the performative components of it, within Empire’s synchronization of normative gender identity and sexuality. It is through her transgressions vis-à-vis the demands of colonial gender politics, however, that she is introduced to sexual pleasure. Aside from her preadolescent experience with Luisinho, Figueiredo recalls her sleepovers at the house of a fellow colonist family and her homoerotic friendship with their daughter Domingas:
A Domingas era mais velha que eu. Tomávamos banho de imersão juntas. Eu achava-a grande, e bonita, porque já tinha mamas e pêlos púbicos, mas na verdade ela era apenas grande.
A Domingas foi quem me masturbou pela primeira vez. Logo pela manhã, com a banheira cheia de água morna, estendeu a sua perna entre as minhas, e procurou, com o pé, a entrada da minha vulva, que esfregou devagar, fitando-me trocista e rindo-se. Sabia-a toda. E eu fitei-a, e ri-me, e deixei-me ficar a olhar para ela, rindo e gozando, igualmente.
Quis tomar banho com a Domingas a vida inteira, mas depois veio o 7 de Setembro, os revoltados partiram a banheira, e tivemos de negar-nos esses prazeres tão higiénicos e marginais.
[Domingas was older than me. We would take baths together. I thought she was big, and beautiful, because she already had breasts and pubic hair, but really she was just big.
Domingas was the first person to masturbate me. Early in the morning, with the tub full of warm water, she stretched out her leg between mine, and searched with her foot for my vulva, which she rubbed slowly, looking at me and laughing connivingly. She was wise. I looked back at her, and I laughed, and I just let myself look at her, laughing and enjoying, equally and simultaneously.
I wanted to bathe with Domingas for the rest of my life, but then September 7 happened, the rebels broke the bathtub, and we had to deprive ourselves of those hygienic and marginal pleasures.]
Isabela’s relationship with Domingas, breaking ‘the regulatory apparatus of heterosexuality’ (Butler, Bodies that Matter 12), introduces her not only to the pubescent female body, but to the sexual pleasure of her own. Although Figueiredo does not frame this experience as a direct transgression of (p.205) the father’s impositions of heteronormativity and sexual propriety, it nonetheless reveals the limits of his mandate. Against the colonial imperative of producing white femininity divorced from sexual pleasure – vis-à-vis the colonial fantasy of the lascivious woman of color – Isabela learns to recircuit her sexuality away from the desire of the father, shifting the colonist female body from Empire’s instrument of reproduction to the instrument of her own pleasure. In this regard, this shift momentarily displaces the father’s desire – as well as that of Empire – over her own body.
It is interesting, then, that this period of Isabela’s preadolescence coincides with the final days of Portuguese colonial presence in Mozambique. Figueiredo interlaces this intimate memory with allusions to the historic date of the Lusaka Accord – September 7, 1974 – which formally transferred sovereignty of Mozambique from Portugal to FRELIMO (Front for the Liberation of Mozambique). The agreement triggered waves of violence throughout the colony as well as the mass exodus of colonists, some of whom returned to Portugal while others sought to live under white rule in neighboring apartheid South Africa and Rhodesia. Figueiredo recalls the event being understood by colonists as betrayal by the new socialist Portuguese government: ‘o Almeida Santos e o Mário Soares são uns cães que nos estão a vender por meio tostão’ [‘Almeida Santos and Mário Soares are nothing but dogs selling us out for a penny’] (Caderno 91). Meanwhile, she remembers, with a tone of ironic critical distance, the anti-colonial reappropriation of land and homes by the former colonized: ‘os negros do Domingos estavam fartos de carregar sacos de farinha e milho e farelo que nunca eram para eles’ [‘Domingos’s black workers were tired of carrying sacks of flour and corn that were never for them’] (Caderno 94). Amidst these larger political shifts, the centrality of her father’s desire over Isabela’s subjective existence is dislocated as his excessive power within colonial reality draws to an end. This last passage also points to how the struggle for independence against Portugal has been historicized in relation to Lusotropical narratives. By erasing the institutional, economic, and physical forms of violence against colonized peoples, independence movements encoded in the outer crypt of metropolitan public memory are stripped of their historical urgency and humanitarian ethics.
The Specter’s Persistence
Figueiredo’s relationship with the specter of the father and the crypt of Empire also reveals her entrapment within the contradictions of colonial discourse, especially regarding gender performance and sexuality. These are particularly tied to the omniscience of the father as both ideal ego and (p.206) ego-ideal. She reads him, at different times, at both levels of identification: imaginary and symbolic. The former pertains to identification with the ideal ego, the specular image of desired identitarian totality while the latter relates to the ego-ideal, thus implying identification ‘with the very place from where we are being observed’ (Žižek, Sublime 116). In other words, she is stranded between following the father’s masculine specular presence – evidenced in her desire to be ‘forte como o meu pai’ [‘strong like my father’] – and following what her father wants her to be: a woman in the colony. The excessive power of the father ultimately leads to his excessive, simultaneously seeable and intangible presence, which produces confusion and anxiety in the subject he repeatedly seeks to interpellate. At the end of colonial reality, the imperial interpellation of Isabela slips out of the father’s hands as she is sent to Portugal to become one more returnee and her father is imprisoned by FRELIMO forces for three years before his return to the metropolis.
Like colonial discourse, though, her father’s gaze is never completely eradicated. Its spectral omniscience continues after the Portuguese colonial project, following her intersubjective life even after his death. Inevitably, the father’s specter affects how she relates to the past, although she ‘não conseguia ver o mundo pelos seus olhos’ [‘was unable to see the world through his eyes’] (‘Isto é a sério’ 23). Her interview, from which the last quote is taken, reveals that she felt she was betraying her father by not sharing his views: ‘Uso o vocábulo traição muitas vezes ao longo do livro, porque sempre me senti sua traidora’ [‘I use the term betrayal many times throughout the book because I always felt I was his traitor’] (‘Isto é a sério’ 23). This would suggest that imperial interpellation – undertaken by her father – eventually broke down. At different points of her childhood and adolescence, Isabela refuses to read the imperial field of meaning as her father had presented it to her. The father’s desire to situate his offspring within a particular symbolic realm hinges on the offspring’s interpretation of it – one that must be in sync with that of the father. This then contributes to her painful inability to rid herself of the father’s ghost, which always carries a supplement of the past – in this case, the symbolic realm of late Portuguese colonial settlement which she refused, in refusing the father.
In the same interview, Figueiredo suggests that one of her main objectives in writing the memoir was to confess her father’s sins: ‘ele não se confessou antes de morrer, e eu quero realizar essa confissão em seu nome’ [‘he never confessed before dying; I wish to do that for him’] (‘Isto é a sério’ 24). This seems to be the only way to exorcise his ghost – essentially rewriting the father by placing the inner crypt of Empire (of which he was keeper) into the outer crypt of the contemporary public sphere. If it is through the father that (p.207) she relates to the Portuguese imperial crypt – rather than through Camões, Lusotropical tropes, and odes to the Discoveries – then the post-imperial nation must now also deal with the father’s specter as he ‘re-bites’ the outer crypt. In keeping with Derrida’s ethical formulation of spectrality, Figueiredo’s own decolonial ethical project vis-à-vis the colonial past consists of staging the father’s specter in the public space of metropolitan readership. By means of the memoir, Figueiredo is, in the words of Avery Gordon, ‘writing with the ghosts’ (7). Although the specter cannot be eliminated, it can be shared.
Figueiredo’s memoir inserts the father – his actions and colonial mandates – into a present in which ‘the postmodern, late-capitalist, postcolonial world represses and projects its ghosts in similar intensities’ (Gordon 12). The present is thus a ground of contestation regarding the past, a power struggle for historicization. Resignifying the past becomes a political project along the entire spectrum of power (from local to global), serving the interests of the present whether they are emancipatory or conservative. Figueiredo’s sharing of the specter acts against forgetting, which ‘is not something passive, a loss, but an action directed against the past’ (de Certeau, Heterologies 3). Following de Certeau’s argument, the specter of the father is ‘the mnemic trace, the return of what was forgotten, in other words, an action by a past that is now forced to disguise itself’ (Heterologies 3–4). As we have seen, the father’s specter represents a series of actions, utterances, and apparatuses that have been tentatively erased from public memory by an ongoing exceptionalist interpretation of history. It is through this series, though, that the material conditions are fostered for such a narrative and its enunciating power. In this regard, Figueiredo’s memoir seeks not only to recover what is strategically forgotten by imperial power in order to destabilize imperial historicity, but also to offer a glimpse into how imperial power and historicization is (re)produced.
(3) This is part of the famous Cornel West quote, itself delineating an ethical stance: ‘You must let suffering speak, if you want to hear the truth.’
(4) See Vieira’s Portuguese Cinema, 1930–160: The Staging of the New State Regime. Trans. Ashley Caja. New York: Bloomsbury, 2013.