Macao, 22nd – 23rd October 2014
Between Demystification and Utopia: an inquiry into Lusophony
Few terms, in an exclusively academic context, are able to ignite such heated controversy. In both its singular and plural forms, meant to translate the multiplicity of its manifestations rather than describe an objective linguistic reality (Portuguese-speaking countries or “special regions”), the term “Lusophonia” always corresponds to an ideological construction, depending on or resulting from political strategies that often carry with them economic agendas and realities. Be that as it may, we can hardly ignore or replace the word, these days. When one examines the most recent postcolonial studies on the Portuguese-speaking countries, one finds an on-going debate amongst those who dismiss it out of hand, contesting its epistemological validity while emphasising the burden of the ideological and political baggage that comes with it, those who defend it as an operational and productive concept from a strategic point of view, and those who have surrendered to both its operative value and its kindness, discovering in it a usefulness justifiable in a hypothetical encounter between Lusophone people and in their shared affinities.
This concept of “Lusophonia” – which belongs in the same category as the “Francophone” and the “Anglophone “, etc. – is in fact, despite the ingenuity of some who use it, no more than camouflage for a nostalgic colonial reference. It does not refer to the survival of an imperial desiderium, but rather, more subtly, to the nostalgia of a mythical reality founded on the idea of ”beyond-the-seas”. The existence of the empire was decisive in shaping the national identity: it allowed for a huge expansion of the way one thought, dreamt, imagined and constructed the idea of Portugal. This is as true for the political advocates of colonial rule as it is for those who refused colonialism. An insistence on the usefulness of the concept of “Lusophonia” reveals in its supporters an enduring nostalgia for a dreamt-of imperial power, lost or compromised in the context of historical facts but persisting within the collective imagination, all the more active now when the actual dimensions of Portugal (in terms of political and economic capital) are shrinking, lending particular added resonance to the symbolic plane.
As soon as one places the academic debate under the banner of the “decolonisation of thought”, it becomes particularly interesting to relocate the question to Macau, where this issue has already seen several rounds of debate and continues to inspire passionate reactions within academia and civil society. Pondering the issue of “Lusophonia” in Macau involves questioning the balance of power between different communities and cultures – the Chinese, Portuguese and Macanese – who have been coexisting and conditioning each other’s notions of identity and placing them in the wider frame of Sino-Portuguese relations. Today, its integration into a Lusophone “Commonwealth-to-be” – a Lusophonia as a broader, globalising entity, its usefulness validated by the economic and political sphere and, thus ontologically validated, guaranteeing the survival of the language and its international added value – would have decisive implications for the self-image and destiny of the Macanese community and the Portuguese speakers of the diaspora.
This debate we wish to continue, on “Lusophonia”, triggering demystifications, resubmitting proposals and responses in a persistently utopian sphere, draws multiple perspectives and various points of observation into the dialogue. The invitation is hereby extended for the undertaking of a concerted investigation into the “phenomenon” of Lusophony – with a particular focus on the reality of Macau – which will take us through an analysis of the anthropological, sociological and literary dimensions, through an examination of language policies and a survey of rhythms and images. In the end, voice will be given to vital testimony on the experience – in various contexts – of Lusophony in Macau.
In fact, the title of this meeting should be Between demystification and utopia: an inquiry into Lusophony in Macau – or beginning in Macau – because location is not inconsequential, even when discussion embraces other loci.
Organiser: Faculty of Humanities, University of Saint Joseph
Sponsor: Macao Foundation