The 32 episodes of the program, produced by the newspaper Público, fulfill the promise of helping the listener to think of historical time at a pace that, although far from the urgencies present, is able to illuminate them.
If the above statement sounds a little grandiloquent, it should be noted that there is nothing pompous in Tavares’ text. “Agora, Agora e Mais Agora” is, in part, a kind of preview of the book of the same title that he was researching and writing in the USA before the pandemic ended up leaving him isolated in the Azores, together with his family.
This explains the more literary aspects of his speeches, but to them is added a certain orality and good humor that come close to a conversation between friends – even because the structure of the podcast is that of a dialogue between Tavares’ solitary voice and the audience.
This more intimate side of the episodes begins with the explanation of the undertaking’s name. “Now, now and more now” is a phrase that is part of the writer’s family history. Her great-grandmother, after suffering a stroke that affected her speech in the 1940s, started to repeat the expression in different intonations (it was the only phrase she could pronounce).
Tavares uses this unusual situation (which he did not witness personally, since his great-grandmother died before he was born, but which became part of his family’s oral history) as a symbol of the complicated relationship that human beings have with the moment in which they live , made of anxiety, hope and bewilderment.
The historian addresses this general theme in what he calls “six memories of the last millennium”, which spread from the 10th century AD, in the heart of the Middle Ages, to 1948, when the member countries of the United Nations approved the Universal Declaration of Human Rights .
Faced with such a wide arc of world history, Tavares opts, to a large extent, for what he calls “B sides” —persons and movements that normally do not appear as the great names of the human trajectory, but whose presence functioned as a kind of river underground to feed more well-known figures.
When speaking of the “lost Enlightenment” of medieval Islam, for example, he rescues the work of an Aristotle specialist from Central Asia, Abu Nasr Al-Farabi (872-951). His name gave rise to the words “alfarrabio” and “alfarrabista” (old book and person or place that sells such books, respectively), and his thought influenced the Muslim Averroes and the Jewish Maimonides, among other great names of medieval philosophy.
Al-Farabi and other lesser-known figures in the history of ideas are, after all, able to illustrate the great transformations of the last millennium as well as more well-known names.
Tavares also chooses to dedicate a good part of his episodes to more distant centuries – in addition to the Middle Ages, the world of the Renaissance and the 18th century – and relatively little space to the 20th century, which turns out to be the right choice.
This is because the podcast’s central concerns – the challenges brought about by environments of intolerance, polarization and fanaticism, how to build a pluralist political community, the meaning of the idea of human rights – are not restricted to modernity.
There is a thread that connects these debates, from Jewish, Muslim and Christian scholars in medieval Spain to United Nations artisans in the 1940s, through 15th century Florence and the “enlightened despotism” of the Marquis of Pombal (1699-1782).
Pombal and other Portuguese, illustrious and less well known, obviously appear in the stories of “Agora, Agora and Mais Agora”, but this happens mainly within a global perspective, according to the connections that unite the Portuguese trajectory with their old Jewish and Islamic communities, the triumphs and disasters of the Renaissance or European reconstruction after the Second World War.
Bittersweet and optimistic at the same time, despite everything, the series is perhaps one of the best ways to help Portuguese speakers understand how we got here.
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