Welcome back to Expat in Lisbon and today we are going to talk about one of the most important contemporary novelists: José Saramago.
José Saramago was a prolific writer, publishing 30 books and having his works translated into over 25 languages. Saramago won the Camões Prize in 1995 and the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1998.
Saramago was a Portuguese writer who lived from 16 November 1922 – 18 June 2010. His work is oftentimes allegorical and deals with issues that force us to look upon accepted cultural norms and institutions from a very different perspective. In this sense he can be viewed as an author who achieves what most writers aspire to: shedding more light on the human condition. His works are frequently subversive and go against the establishment position, whatever that may be. He was frequently the object of critisism by Israel, the Catholic Church, and the International Monetary Fund, all of whom Saramago disagreed with. This was probably due to his notable novels Cain, The Gospel According to Jesus Christ, and Blindness, respectively.
From Cain: “Yes, you read correctly, the lord ordered abraham to sacrifice his own son, and he did so as naturally as if he were asking for a glass of water to slake his thirst, which means it was a deep-seated habit of his.” Saramago continues: “The logical, natural and simply human response would have been for abraham to tell the lord to piss off…But that isn’t what happened.”
So you can see why the Judeo-Christian lobby would have a problem with Saramago, since he points out the rather obvious conclusion that the “god” who ordered child sacrifice is evil and Abraham a fool and a would-be child killer. Any other interpretation of the story of Abraham and Isaac/Ishmael is ludicrous and involves a spectacular amount of denial and Orwellian double think. However, humanity has always been most susceptible to confirmation and cognitive biases, especially when these are life and community affirming, despite leading people to form the completely wrong conclusions. As Nietzsche once pointed out, “humanity has no organ for truth”, and, “success has always been the greatest liar.”
Saramago also interprets Jesus Christ as a very human and fallible figure, one beset on all sides by passions and intrigue in his novel, The Gospel According to Jesus Christ. It’s obvious why the Catholic Church doesn’t like this.
As for Blindness, I interpret the affliction of blindness in the novel as an allegory of the increasing amount of global poverty around the world and its necessary social consequences. As the blindness spreads, people become increasingly desperate and closed-off, hoarding any and all resources that they can and becoming increasingly hostile towards their neighbors and society. Eventually, society breaks down and rampant crime and violence ensues. This is exactly what happens when poverty and wealth inequality reach epidemic levels.
The governments of the world are virtually powerless (in the novel, and in real life) to stop the spreading of the plague because they can’t see the problem: a ruthless cabal of money-interests and private banks have hijacked world governments and rule behind the scenes by fiat. They are living like gods while the rest of us stumble around helpless. “In the kingdom of the blind, the one-eyed man is king.” Governments are powerless to stop it because these bankers control the money supply, thus they control the economy and everything. So it’s clear why the IMF would have an issue with Saramago.
The José Saramago exhibit is currently on display at Casa dos Bicos in Lisbon. The building itself is an example of a beautiful mixture of Renaissance and Maneuline architecture. It happened to survive the great earthquake that hit Lisbon in 1755. It is most well known for it’s diamond stone façade (shown later).
I love seeing original manuscripts, notebooks, and agendas from writers long past. It really gives you a sense of what their day to day lives were like, and being able to see their handwriting tells you a lot about their personalities. Does anyone know where I can find an agenda like the one displayed below? Leave it in the comments below.
So if you want to see what a Nobel Prize looks like or what the grand ceremony surrounding it is like, you can check it out at the exhibit.
A typewriter and a dictionary. As a novelist myself, I know exactly how hard it is to write day in and day out, even on an advanced computer with word processing software. I really have tremendous respect for authors like Saramago who did all of their writing either by hand or with a typewriter. I couldn’t imagine how much harder it would be if I had to use a typewriter.
Any local in the city can point you to Casa dos Bicos. It’s easy. Just ask, “where’s that big, pointy-walled building?” It’s close to Alfama and you can climb up there from Arco do Jesus just around the corner.
José Saramago rests beneath the shade of a tree that was planted in his honor in front of Casa dos Bicos. This quote serves as his headstone:
Would anyone like to offer a translation and explanation of this quote by Saramago? Put it in the comments below.
Thanks again for visiting Expat in Lisbon, and as always,
Lisboa Espera Por Ti…