Text by Tomás Vicente Ferreira. Translated into English by Tomás Vicente Ferreira. Proof-read by João N. S. Almeida.
Here we are, at last, arriving at the finish line of another academic year! Before we all go on vacation – or should I say, before most of us go on vacation? –, Os Fazedores de Letras have the pleasure of bringing out our issue no. 85. This issue arrives more than four months after the last one; this was a long interval, in which we have not ceased to work towards putting this edition together but during which time, too, we have organized many other initiatives. Hard work was, therefore, not missing from the team’s routine, and we want to start by thanking all who contributed to that. In this editorial, I want first to recapitulate a bit of what we did this semester since February, as well as to talk a bit about some positive engagements we had sparked by our work. In third place, I cannot but say a few words about a recent law that targets public means of communication – I mean, of course, the equivocally so-called “Portuguese Letter of Human Rights in the Digital Age” [Carta Portuguesa dos Direitos Humanos na Era Digital]. Finally, I want to talk a bit about the edition we now bring forth and about some plans we have for the near future.
Let us start by the first point. Issue no. 84 was published on the 8th of February last and, after work on it had ended, we resumed, with renewed enthusiasm, our series of public online onversations, as well as of interviews held behind doors and then divulged in our platforms. Regarding the interviews, the first of them was the one in which Joana Rebocho and João N. S. Almeida talked to artist and poet André Tecedeiro, which took place on the 13th February and was published a few days later. Then, at the beginning of April, I had the pleasure of interviewing Prof. Ana Isabel Soares (from the University of Algarve) about her work as translator of the Finnish epic Kalevala into Portuguese. Later, on June 11th, Prof. Ana Isabel Soares joined us for a very pleasant conversation about aesthetics, sports, crowds and presence with Prof. Hans Ulrich Gumbrecht (University of Stanford and FLUL). Before that, on the 30th May, our colleague Luís G. Rodrigues interviewed Prof. Fernando Brissos about the role of the media in a time of pandemic. As for the live online conversations, we started by organizing a round table/debate about Women’s Day – which we transformed in a ‘Women’s Month’, having published a sequence of related content on the topic between early March and mid-April – organized by our own Ana Sofia Souto, Joana Rebocho, Miguel Ribeiro and João N. S. Almeida and in which we had the honour of having as guests Raquel Serdoura and Mariana Gomes, in what was a very stimmulating group conversation. It was followed, on the 30th April, by the public discussion about Mécia and Jorge de Sena, for which the invited speakers were Prof. Isabel de Sena and Prof. António M. Feijó (unfortunatelly, we could only publish the portions of the video record featuring Prof. Feijó). A little while later, on May 6th, it was the turn of our conversation about Vergílio Ferreira to commemorate the 25thanniversary of his death (1996), also organized by our colleague from FCSH-UNL, Ana Sofia Souto (who, unfortunatelly, has had to put an end to her collaboration with us for professional reasons), in which we hosted Prof. Isabel Cristina Rodrigues (University of Aveiro) and Prof. Manuel Cândido Pimentel (Catholic University of Portugal). We staged, also, two debates, one about freedom of speech (on the 24th April) and the other about sexual practices and identities (on the 24th May) – to which we could add the Q&A session about our proof-reading and text revision process which took place on April 5th and the public discussion to commemorate the publication of issue no. 84, on the 24th February. We have also published the aforementioned themed dossier about Women’s Day and several other articles, as well as translations of our editorials into Russian and English. I take this opportunity, too, to thank Bernardo André again for having done an excellent job so far as official designer of the newspaper, namely by coming up with the fabulous posters for all these events. All these events and initiatives were, in general, well-received and we intend to continue with this line of work. We hope still to stage, until the end of July, at least two other events, organized respectively by João N. S. Almeida and Lourenço Duarte (but more on that later). Finally, I must highlight three new developments which are very relevant and will, I think, be welcomed: the first is that we have, a few weeks ago, inaugurated our presence in several podcast platforms with the audio records of our events to date (it is all here); the second is the chart of official and unofficial bodies constituting FLUL, compiled by Márcia Marto and João N. S. Almeida. This chart is a more or less unprecedented list, very opportune and useful for all, and specially for new students; the third is that we will soon be opening up the greater part of our fortnightly team meetings to the public at large, for we have no secrets to hide and we think that this opening may lead to a profusion of ideas from which good results can come.
Let us speak now a little about some reactions from a significant portion of the public, some very curious, some very positive, that our work has sparked throughout the last few months. Our take on the topic of Women’s Day, carried out in a universalist and objective spirit, attracted both a good deal of submissions that were very solid and fascinating, in the form of several critical and lyrical texts as well as artwork, but also some slippery reactions, probably due to the artificial polemicity with which the topic is sometimes experienced nowadays. The demanding criteria of our revision process and the frank way in which we dialogue with authors and readers alike generated an unexpected wave of protest online (almost exclusively on Twitter) based on two equivocated premises: the first, that someone, by virtue of being a women, would have, due to that condition, the right to write anything she liked about the topic without being subject to the same scrutiny, no matter how weak her text’s quality; second, the assumption of the general principle, presuposing the first point, that experiencing a given something qualifies one to necessarily speak better about that thing. This is an important mistake, for obviously things are not always thus, and it will merit from future debate. The online histeria, grounded on these two assumptions, came to a point when someone decided to leak online proofs of one of our text revisions, with comments, as if it were something we ought to be ashamed of. This is a practice that seems to be getting common among a certain group of the student population – let us remember that, last October, there were people who thought it right to leak online correspondence by the Dean of the School of Arts and Humanities, following which several television channels, incited by certain students, broadcasted lies and absurdities about supposed fact of community life at FLUL. If such actions have not had legal consequences for their perpetrators it is only because their targets have a much higher degree of decency than the people who do such things. Evidently, however, we discourage such behaviour, for decency’s sake but also bearing in mind the current legal provisions. That, however, is not the main question for us. In the Q&A session we held on April 5th, in which no question was left unanswered, and following conversations with several people, it was amply demonstrated that the acusations of which we were victim were absolutely false and that any text submitted to us merits from us the same demanding revision process, in dialogue with the author, be he or she student, teacher, politician, man, woman, national or foreign, etc., and that no one benefits from a special status that excuses him from undergoing that process. This, however, raises several questions. One of those questions concerns the apparent primacy of subjectivity for a considerable portion of the public. Now, it so happens that subjectivity is no criteria of truth. It is not because I happen to think or express such-and-such that such-and-such is true. Similarly, it is not because I feel something – say, ofense – that such feeling is warranted. In like manner, it is not because someone is something – let us suppose, woman, Chinese or composer – that he or she has privileged access to the content of what he or she is or does. We can easily imagine a man – for example, a psychologist – lecturing acurately about particular people or people in general without being those people – perhaps lecturing even more acurately than if he were those particular people. We can also easily conceive of an Englishman who understands Portugal better than most Portuguese people or Chilean who has particularly fine insights on China that would ellude most Chinese people. Needless to say, also, that someone can be very good at making music without, like a good enthousiastes, knowing how to explain – or even without being really conscious of – what he does, as Plato has famously said about poets. Here one ought to remember too that the same Plato also alerted us to the dangers of a public life conducted on the basis of emotions and subjectivity.
The conversation I alluded to in the above paragraph had, as conversations frequently do, very positive effects. The first of those was the reiteration, for us, of the fact that, when conversing in a detailed manner about apparent conflicts, people generally resolve their differences and the conflicts are dilluted. Or, so as to echo the United Nations and several religious and political leaders well known to us, dialogue propitiates peace. The second positive effect was having served to further spread word about our work and, above all, having allowed us to interact directly with the public. Finally, a third positive effect, common to all these engagements, was having served as an occasion for a considerable number of people to make known to us their solidarity and support. Some of those people were already known to us, with others we contacted now for the first time, and some even already started or will start to collaborate with us.
If memory serves, the next adverse grupal reaction we faced was generated around our initiative of organizing a debate about freedom of speech, which took place on the 24th April, eve of the day in which we commemorate the Carnation Revolution in Portugal. The debate itself was extremely cordial and fruitful but – again, on Twitter, the which social network seems to be the echo chamber of the least healthy impulses of society and in which one notes an acerbic polarization of opinion – in the weeks that preceded it we kept being confronted by some hostile reactions. It is strange that, FLUL being a community mainly oriented towards the centre and the left, it shows itself so wary of freedom of speech, the selfsame freedom of speech that, in many cases, is a guarantee of civic rights of which its members benefit and enjoy benefiting. It is strange, too, that Humanities students should misread a passage from Karl Popper and transform it in an internet meme that describes exactly the opposite of that which its author meant by it. It is yet worth wondering, equally, that today freedom of speech should be held as “a thing of the right-wing” and that a left that considers itself democratic should look on it with such suspicion and even with manifest hostility. Suddenly, there is a whole host of taboos and things we cannot question. Now, naturally, that is neither true nor healthy and Os Fazedores de Letras are not going to play along with it. We are here as newspaper that is conscious of descending and benefiting from the liberal tradition of free thought, freedom of conscience and of speech and we accept neither dogmas nor taboos, nor yet restrictions to that inalienable freedom that is indispensible to justice and truth. Let all those who hold difference, dialogue and tolerance dear – like we do – remember that none of these things exists without individual and collective freedom to think and be. Difference without freedom becomes a new sameness, a new dictatorship, a new oppressive standard. Dialogue without difference is not dialogue, it is either chorus or monologue. Tolerance without diversity is not tolerance because there is nothing to tolerate, as everything has been made equal to the subjective “truths” of the subject who claims to “tolerate”. We note, thus, with manifest concern, traces of an authoritarian and totalitarian orthodoxy in the midst of a community where open debate should reign supreme and we assure you that it is our intention to continue to fight against that tendency.
Our most recent debate, about “sexual practices and identities”, has equally generated some healthy reactions – yet once more, in the aforementioned social network and, this time, also on Instagram. The greater part of that agitation, as far as we could understand, comes from a kind of iliberalism masquerading as liberalism and from some of the dogmas of postmodernity. Several of these dogmas have to do with gender ideology and with debates about identity, the subject and sexual freedom (or that that each person believes to be sexual freedom). We shall here talk solely about two points that were raised: the first, that discussing sexual conversion therapies and sex-change operations implies a previous position about such matters; the second, that certain opinions about those topics can be read as transphobic. Let me start by the first. I want to vehemently state that sexual conversion therapies – that, for those who do not know, can take many forms – are, in general, in the words of an English friend of mine “a terrible idea, and they don’t work”. But what we questioned was whether they should be object of a legal prohibition, contrasting them with the analogous case of sex-change operations, these last involving painful procedures and multiple operations throughout several years, as the article from Público that we shared on our social networks makes abundantly clear. This allows me to address the next point, the ease with which today, in social networks and, to a lesser extent, in a part of public discourse, people are accused of being “transphobic”. Now that accusation, frequently and certainly in our case, is not at all true. “Phobia” means 1) having a deep fear of something or someone; 2) feeling hate towards something or someone; that is, “transphobia” properly means “being afraid or hating trans people”. It is obvious and should be obvious to any Humanities student worthy of the name – or anyone, really – that raising the questions described above concerning those therapies has nothing to do with “having fear or hating” anyone or anything, not unless the word is misapplied or its meaning distorted in order for it to be thrown at any political, ideological or philosophical opponent. In the same way, investigating, in a comparative manner, the pertinence or legitimacy of the complex and painful sex-change operations, which serve no clinical purpose, does not amount to transphobia; it is not a phobia because it does not derive neither from fear nor from hatred of anyone whatsoever. And to forbid these and other things from being openly and civily discussed only evidences the social malady of intolerance and authoritarianism that we diagnosed in the above paragraph.
All these conversations generated by our work ended up hinging on a point we believe to be very important and which will surely provide a topic for future debates and, who knows, a themed issue: what we mean when we refer to “science” and in what measure interpretation is not really science anymore. We are happy that all the robust conversations that were generated around these topics placed this question into focus, as it was where greater disagreement was found. Another very important point that was fleshed out by our interactions with readers recently, and which will also surely originate a greater production of essays and a deeper debate, is the relationship between religion and the humanities. The perplexity which many students feel upon seeing topic related with religion inserted in the middle of the study of arts and humanities and the even greater bewilderment they feel when they find out that much of what we study here has its origins in older religious questions. In sum, all these questions, stemming not only from our particular job as editors but also and above all from the contributions of all colleagues, be it in the form of texts or of participation in our debates or engagements in social networks, are immensely positive as food for thought and discussion. This is because they uncover dubious areas of the thought of all of us, as students of the Humanities, and because they help to once and again clarify misunderstandings and philosophical entanglements.
Before we move on to a brief overview of the present issue, I want to talk about a matter we cannot at all dodge. That is the publication of Law 27 of 17th May 2021, equivocally called “Portuguese Letter of Human Rights in the Digital Age”. Reservations and criticisms have already been heard from a vast array of major figures of society and the press, such as José Manuel Barata-Feyo from Público, the ex-minister and former member of parliament António Barreto and the bibliophile and former member of the European Parliament José Pacheco Pereira. As for us, having read the text of the law, we think it inexcusable, in a state said to be democratic, that the State should take on the role of deciding what is or is not fake news and to what information the public has access or that it should purpose to establish a regime of denunciation among citizens, as well as structures of information censorship and legal penalties (cf., about all these maters, numbers 1-2 and 5-6 of Article 6 of the bill). Let us look at it. We read in number 2 of the already mentioned article:
It is held to be fake news all narrative proven to be false or deceiving, created, presented and spread in order to obtain economical advantages or to deliberately deceive the public, and that be susceptible of causing public damage, namely of threatening the democratic political processes and the processes of elaboration of public policy and public goods.
That meaning, off course, that the Government is protecting itself from information that may injure or damage it (or remove it from power), not protecting its citizens. And, even if it were protecting its citizens, it is not the proper role of democratic governments to restrict the voluntary access of the public to whatever kind of information whatsoever. As for the regime of denunciation, we need but look at number 5 in the same article:
All have the right to press charges against entities that practice the acts envisaged in the present article and to have them examined by the Institute for Regulation of Social Communication, being applicable the means of action referred to in article 21 and the measures of Law no. 53/2005 of 8th November, concerning complaint procedures, deliberation and regime of sanctions.
As to structures of censorship and validation, let us look a number 6:
The state supports the criation of structures of fact-verification by institutions of social communication duly registered and encourages the attribution of seals of quality by trustworthy entities possessing the statute of public utility.
All this, as one of the authors mentioned above highlights, is not substantially different from the censorship laws from the time of Military Dictatorship (1926-1932) and the Estado Novo (1932-1974). It is supremely worrying that any democratically-elect government should feel so secure in power to the point of feeling able to start restricting step by step the public freedoms of its electorate. It is equally concerning the meekness with which this law’s publication is being received and that a large portion of the population is not seriously worried. A symptom, perchance, of the slight depth the truly democratic values have reached in Portugal, this is law is certainly the first funeral tolling of the bells of our democracy. Os Fazedores de Letras will, of course, continue to protest against this and any other anti-democratic moves.
At last, we shall now look to our present edition, no. 85. I start by thanking Lourenço Duarte, João N. S. Almeida and Luís G. Rodrigues for having contributed so much to ensure that this issue arrived at the safe harbour of publication. I draw attention, too, to the cover of this issue, created by Tiago Guerreiro, which is a worthy successor of our last two covers. A public word of thanks to the MPs Sara Madruga da Costa (PSD) and Jacinto Serrão (PS), who have very generously accepted to contribute to this edition with a column each about the 25th April (Day of the Carnation Revolution and Freedom Day in Portugal), which I invite all to read. Also in our columns section, I highlight the texts by Vítor Mendonça, Tomás Gorjão and Mariana Almeida. In the essay section, I recommend with particular enthusiasm the essays of Fátima Pinheiro, Tiago Ramos and João Rochate, without dishonour being made to the other ones, also very good. As far as reviews are concerned, I draw attention to that by Prof. Fr. Isidro Lamelas, OFM, about A Religião Gnóstica [The Gnostic Religion], by Hans Jonas, here in a translation by our colleague Ana Pereirinha (University of Lisbon Press, 2019). Lastly, I invite you to read our fine poetry section and the translations by James Dias of texts by Larkin and Dickinson.
One final note: for various reasons, to do mainly with the busy end of term to which we have all been having to give our attention in recent past, we could not include in this edition all the material we have planned to publish. So, we shall be publishing, until the end of July, a supplement to this issue. Edition no. 86 is due in October but we will continue to be active during the summer, by publishing isolated articles and interviews, organizing debates, commissioning essays and reviews and compiling themed dossiers. All students from the School of Arts and Humanities, and from the world beyond, are welcome to collaborate with us: sending us your submissions, asking us for ideas, giving us ideas, participating more closely in the life of the newspaper team, assessing and proof-reading texts, being present in our meetings, etc.
I wish all the academic community and the general public a good summer vacation.
With best regards,
Tomás Vicente Ferreira (Editor)
On behalf of the team of Os Fazedores de Letras