23 October 1969
Your letter finally reached me after a round-about trip to Lisbon. You used the address I evidently gave you my first week here. I have used Posta Restante, Cascais, since April.
I hope that this letter reaches you since you told me that you were leaving soon for England. Do you have any special plans for your trip? I remember your telling me that you disliked London.
I continue to love Portugal. In a purely personal sense I respond avidly to all the aspects of the culture that are genuinely Latin. This is the great success, I believe, of Latin culture, that it satisfies the senses…whereas in the U.S. everything is done to deprive one of the sensual world (which is why drugs are popular there; perhaps they fill that vacuum). But the name “Latin” doesn’t really serve for the culture that developed in the Iberian peninsula and spread principally to Central and South America. When I think of the ancient Latins, the Latins of Rome…Caesar’s Latins…I think of a culture that absurdly formalized ways of Greek living and thinking. In connection with Rome one thinks of rules and boundaries (and, of course, the wild excesses that resulted from all that). Latin literature was quite sterile, even Ovid’s Metamorphoses that inspired Dante. Actually the Latins didn’t become Latins as we now think of them until the Bishop of Hippo, St. Augustine, introduced the spiritual mystery and the symbolic sensuality of Christianity. The Latins of the Iberian peninsula developed somewhat differently, due to the Arabic influence primarily, I believe. And they interpreted Christianity differently.
I am beginning to think more and more that there was something tragically wrong with Greek culture…at least in its effects on Rome, Renaissance Italy, England and the West in general. The Greeks saw the world in the wrong way. They should have felt it more. They gave us Reason at the expense of Passion. The Arabs sensualized the Iberian peninsula and the Catholic religion provided the necessary tensions and dimensions to that sensuality.
The process of Americanizing the world should be reversed. I would like to Latinize the U.S. It would be a great step forward if only Americans would all begin speaking Portuguese or Spanish. Latin culture somehow doesn’t lend itself to technology. The Latin bureaucracy, for example, is primarily designed to frustrate order and the Latins are basically anti-order. They treat machines like toys instead of with the insane respect that Americans treat them. It’s people, living breathing feeling people, who are important to the Latins. Their curiosity is centered on human beings instead of on machines. (By the way, I read about a Catholic priest’s experiment in New York this summer in getting people out on the streets and mixing with each other). The café, the street, are the focal points of Latin culture…wherever one can see other humans. No one could feel alienated or rejected here even if he wanted to. Everyone is a source of interest.
Herbert Marcuse has written about the sensual deprivation of American technological society. However, in Eros and Civilization his solutions are Freudian ones geared to the machine. He approves of technology. Evidently in Lewis Mumford’s latest book he condemns Americans for reversing “necessity is the mother of invention” to “invention is the mother of necessity.” Everything that can possibly be technologically realized is avidly accepted…i.e., superjets and trips to Venus…etc. ad. inf. What can possibly be more absurd than machines controlling man rather than vice versa? Man is a slave to his own frantic technological imagination. He invented gods from primitive forces. Now he invents the forces themselves to become gods.
Well, the Latins have taken to the automobile and even though they don’t treat it with respect, they are rapidly killing each other off. Something must be done to save them from this menace.
The Latins (Portuguese, Spanish, etc.) condemn political parties in a desperate attempt to defend their governments. However, in order to protect their way of life they don’t realize that they must do more than exclude politics. Modern advertising and economics, television, tourists, automobiles…all these are insidiously and effectively destroying what is uniquely Portuguese. These days one must make one’s raison d’etre explicit and politics, perhaps, could effectively do this. I don’t know. I do know that it’s somewhat difficult for Portuguese intellectuals to understand what I am trying to say. Thus, while they condemn the U.S. for being “materialistic,” still they don’t perceive all the complex and subtle implications of freedom. They don’t understand how easy it is to follow the path to that materialism by the means of the very “freedom” they espouse. They suffer from not being able adequately to express themselves…and of course they condemn what are and what they consider are the repressive forms of their culture. But Rousseau saw that freedom essentially means putting one’s personal freedom at the service of the community, not using it for oneself….which then no longer becomes freedom.
I think the main problem here lies in developing more understanding among the intellectuals so that they don’t flee, nor futilely simmer among themselves. If only they could be convinced of the strength and value of their own culture and consequently emphasize what is good, alleviate the unnecessary suffering, etc., and present a bulwark against the destructive tendencies of the U.S. and the outside world.
There are so many problems. You ask me about the war in Vietnam. Have you read Mary MacCarthy’s article? I think she clearly sees just what the Americans are doing. How does one put a culture back together again, even if one does stop a war? Things are never the same. Of course, one must have some sense of ultimate values and that is what is lacking in the U.S. The whole culture must be changed…and its easier to flow along with the tide, to follow MacLuhan or the pathetic protests of the hippies. All this is another chapter. Please write soon. I would like to hear from you and I am always ready to expound my ideas.
I feel that I should return…but I feel sad at the thought. It is difficult to know where I belong, but I suppose I have a fundamental responsibility there. Perhaps there is nothing for me and I am relatively happy here. But I don’t know.