José Saramago: In his diary for 14 October 1997 José Saramago records a telephone call from Dario Fo.

Even while savoring the pleasures associated with winning the Nobel Prize in Literature for 1997, the Italian dramatist promptly called the Portuguese writer to say: "I am a thief. I stole the prize from you. One day, though, it will be your turn."1 And, in fact, twelve months later the two exchanged greetings once again on the occasion of the Nobel awards, this time to celebrate Saramago's victory of 8 October 1998. Obviously the two calls indicate a genuine camaraderie between the two Nobel laureates, who have shared similar political views and exchanged war stories over the years about their respective controversies. Dario Fo's initial call, however, also suggests that Saramago had long been a serious contender prior to the decision of the Swedish Academy in the fall of 1998. Portugal's best seller for several years with most of his works available in translation in many languages, Saramago had become a point of reference in literary circles in both Europe and the Americas. According to all reports from Stockholm the decision was reached with remarkable unanimity among the judges and won strong support from public and press, quite unlike the situation of the previous year when Dario Fo made his call. Despite an occasional dissenting voice that I shall address presently, veteran observers of the prize hark back to 1978 and Isaac Bashevis Singer to find a similar example of such a positive atmosphere surrounding the literary prize. In light of the widespread support for Saramago and, at least for Dario Fo, the predictability of this year's award, it may seem paradoxical that the prize for 1998 occasioned the kind of jubilation that typically accompanies an unanticipated victory against overwhelming odds. It is also the case that Saramago's success has entailed a cultural dimension absent from the usual Nobel award in literature insofar as this is the first time the prize has gone to a writer of Portuguese. A language with a rich literary tradition beginning in the twelfth century, Portuguese is the official language of more than two hundred million speakers. When the British Hispanist Aubrey Fitzgerald Bell observed decades ago that Portuguese was the vehicle for one of the world's half-dozen major literatures, he could hardly have foreseen the extraordinary vitality that was beginning to emerge in Brazil, where a number of Nobel-quality contenders have appeared in this century, to say nothing of even more recent writers in Lusophone Africa. And yet the admirers of such talents as João Guimarães Rosa, Carlos Drummond de Andrade, Miguel Torga, Sophia de Mello Breyner, and many others have long come to dread October as the time when "Latin's last blossom" (as the Brazilian poet Olavo Bilac referred to his language) would once again be ignored by the Swedish Academy. Saramago's achievement, therefore, signifies a kind of recognition impossible to imagine had this year's laureate been from almost anywhere else besides a Portuguese-speaking country. Painfully aware of the many years of frustration and disappointment that had made October truly the cruelest month for Portuguese-speaking lovers of literature, José Saramago

where he studied to become a locksmith. Only when he was nine and living with his family in Lisbon did his father discover the mistake. rather than confront his country's bureaucracy.echoed Fernando Pessoa's "My country is my language" by dedicating his prize to Portuguese speakers everywhere (although he wryly added that he would keep the money for himself. the first so named in his family and a constant reminder of some mysterious association linking his relatives to the lowly wild radish known in Portuguese as Saramago. José Saramago is hardly the product of the Portuguese establishment with its centuries of sharp class distinctions and social privilege. Born in 1922 into a poor provincial family. On his visit to the Portuguese capital the new laureate found the city awash in festive bunting in his honor. one can hardly conceive of a more joyful or widespread celebration sparked by a Nobel Prize. he decided to make the change official by assuming his son's name as his own. The young Saramago attended a "proper" school for barely two years before financial constraints forced his transfer at the age of twelve to a trade school. a fascinating poet whom only later the young industrial apprentice would recognize as a heteronym of Fernando Pessoa and an inspiration for one of his most . including a number of authors who have left their mark. Such reminders are all the more timely given Saramago's own doubts with respect to any positive impact that a Nobel Prize in Literature might have on the prestige of Portuguese as a language. And so it is that the Nobel laureate in literature is not José de Souza but rather José Saramago. such as Luis de Camões. thank you . The future writer drank deep from the classics. who is little inclined toward bombast of any kind. he is in every sense a self-made man whose future distinction was curiously foreshadowed when a civil functionary erroneously appended a family sobriquet to the birth certificate of the infant José de Souza. The nearby library at the Galveias Palace further widened horizons that soon encompassed a certain Ricardo Reis. ). and. our writer's modest origins have provided him with a civil identity while serving as a source of inspiration for much of his work. He was immediately showered with congratulations and gratitude from Manaus to Maputo. and Michel de Montaigne. In short. Such botanical bonds between clan and nature are by no means unusual in the peasant world of rural Portugal. and the Portuguese government promptly declared that 8 October would henceforth be a holiday known as the Day of the Language. nor does he think that decisions reached in Stockholm will enhance the standing of a national literature in the international community.5 Such lofty matters with all their rhetorical grandeur fail to impress this year's winner. António Vieira. Several commentators have tried to temper the festivities with reminders that a Nobel Prize in Literature is conferred to recognize an individual's merits and not to kindle linguistic pride or further patriotic agendas.. moreover. Testimony to the occasionally beneficial aspects of a reactionary social system was the heavily humanistic curriculum provided by a vocational-technological institution that offered classes in French and a decent library to working-class boys in overalls. On the contrary. Miguel de Cervantes..

two collections of short stories. A member of the proscribed Communist Party since 1969. doubting that this fruit of early labor would enhance his bibliography. won the Portuguese Critics Award. The quickening tempo of Saramago's work during the seventies occurred against a background of important developments on the national scene. O Ano de 1993 (The Year 1993. When. The seventies also saw a third book of poetry. most significant. At the age of seventeen the future Nobel laureate was on his own. which was sent to a prospective publisher only to disappear until resurfacing forty years later. 1977). and after fifty we have to work until the end occurs". Saramago was himself dismissed and obliged to eke out a living as a freelance columnist and translator. José Saramago divides his life into two segments: "Until the age of fifty we have to learn. Claraboia (Skylight). 1966) and Provavelmente Alegria (Probably joy. he emerged from the political shadows to become an editor of the newspaper Diário de Notícias during a brief period of communist control of editorial policy. has declined all offers of publication elicited by the renown of recent years. During this time Saramago participated in the purge of a number of journalists associated with the previous regime's policies of censorship. and he published four volumes of his columns from 1971 to 1976. Not surprisingly.acclaimed novels. his next two endeavors were collections of poems. and. Os Poemas Possíveis (The Possible Poems. however. Into this account of a self-taught artist's growing awareness of his talents and his omnivorous curiosity the author put much of himself despite the plot's Italian setting. a novel. 1947). a realistic account of a widow's struggle with sexual and emotional needs in a rural setting. 1979). a play by the French writer Robert Merle.7 As befits a self-confessed late bloomer. his party lost power several months later. the publisher Caminho provided the . To this day Claraboia remains in manuscript form: its author. 1975). During these early years he wrote his first novel. earning a livelihood as a locksmith. but his knowledge of French coupled with an unusual grasp of grammar and the principles of composition eventually led to a job with an insurance firm before earning him a position as a literary editor. Saramago would find a number of themes that he would later revisit. especially following the revolution of 25 April 1974 and the end of a repressive right-wing regime that had prevailed since the author's earliest years in elementary school. In this account of heroic struggle for justice against the corruption of the powerful. Recognizing a promising new talent. he wrote little in the fifties save for an occasional translation like his version of Sisyphe et la mort. Manual de Pintura e Caligrafia (A Manual on Painting and Calligraphy. By this time Saramago was a contributor to the press. Saramago has referred to this realistic novel as perhaps his most autobiographical book. But the decade ended on a decidedly positive note when his first play. the novel represents a respectable first step and was followed by a second novel. colonial warfare. Terra do Pecado (Land of Sin. and reactionary social programs. However. A Noite (Night. Recently reissued. 1970).

The trio are joined by their confidant the musician Domenico Scarlatti as he plays the harpsichord in their secret workshop hidden away from the watchful eyes of the Inquisition. Saramago conflates past and present. Gone are the usual distinctions involving narrative. an enlightened priest who enlists their aid in building a marvelous flying machine. Baltasar is a maimed veteran of peninsular wars who decides to share his fate with Blimunda."8 The breakthrough that was Levantado do Chão made José Saramago a familiar name at home. Saramago follows the fortunes of a couple of families from 1900 to the revolution of 1974. 1980). an absolute king's payment for answered prayers regarding an heir. Perhaps even more remarkable is the author's development of a technique that has become his hallmark. the author suggested that he try reading aloud-sage advice most appropriate to a literary tone that is profoundly oral and quite often musical. like Merle's Sisyphus of 1956. and dialogue: now all three are melded into an unbroken web spun by the intensely personal voice of a weaver of tales. Once again employing his highly individualistic narrative technique. and paragraph indentations. marvelous events and rampant cruelty. For the first time we encounter his warm appreciation for simple men and women who attain a stature of heroic dignity as they doggedly persist. On the following day the friend. Levantado do Chão is a saga of landless peasants who have toiled on the large estates of the Alenteio region since medieval times. which won the City of Lisbon Prize and would ensure that the author become Caminho's most prominent writer to this day. called to say. Memorial do Convento (1982). Inspired in part by the author's own forebears in a similar setting. punctuation marks. Saramago balances the obscurantism of an ignorant and fanatical power structure comprising altar and throne against glimmers of intelligence and decency as represented by the lovers and their friend. It fell to his next novel. and while doing so he hits his stride. in a centuries-old struggle against misery and systemic humiliation. to introduce him to an international public. mass hysteria and lightly worn erudition to create a modern masterpiece that has been translated around the world. Against the background of early eighteenth-century Portugal the two join the thousands of mostly indentured workers who toil on the construction site of the enormous convent of Mafra. When a friend complained that he found the book impenetrable and difficult to read. description. The result with respect to the very format is unsettling as the reader opens to pages filled with lines of unbroken print.fifty-seven-year-old rising star with an advance to write a travel book on Portugal directed to the Portuguese reader (eventually published in 1981 as Viagem a Portugal [A Trip to Portugal]). The novel even inspired the Italian composer Azio . "Now I realize what it is you expect [from the reader]. But even more auspicious was the publisher's support for a novel. now much relieved. One may even lose one's way in the absence of capital letters. Baltasar and Blimunda (their names constitute the title of the English translation). The plot focuses on two lovers. Levantado do Chão (Up from the Earth. a mysterious seer with the ability to divine the inner will of others.

the first year of the Spanish Civil War. infuriated by the author's portrayal of the Church's historical role and by his denigration of their famous national monument. Probably the most acclaimed of Saramago's novels. One such issue of central concern to the author is the role of his country in a world characterized by multinational entities and a global economy. in the wake of his national acclaim following the awarding of the Nobel Prize. Eng. They also refused to grant a request by students and faculty who had asked that the local high school be renamed in the writer's honor. however. one of Fernando Pessoa's famous heteronyms who has decided to return to Portugal following the death of his creator in 1935. the doctor is an indifferent suitor of a handicapped and sad.9 To be sure. declared Saramago persona non grata. He is none other than Ricardo Reis. 1995). the acclaim has not been universal: Mafra's conservative city council has found allies who take umbrage at Saramago's mordant views of Salazar's dreary New State and his portrayal of popular religious beliefs as depicted in Ricardo Reis's excursion to the national shrine at Fátima. We find Castilian aristocrats fleeing social upheaval to take refuge in a Lisbon hotel that is also home to a certain medical doctor newly repatriated after spending years in Rio de Janeiro. perhaps I'm an essayist who has to write novels because he doesn't know how to write essays. With his next novel. a theme central to A Jangada de Pedra (1986. Pessoa himself would have marveled at the shifting moods. and Mussolini abroad. which premiered in Milan in 1990. Blimunda. if pretty. of all his novels the one most reminiscent of a thesis novel. the author initiates his demonstration . The Year of the Death of Ricardo Reis. the plot follows the doctor as he strolls along Lisbon's rain-swept streets. Notoriety of a different sort."10 Even allowing for the conventional modesty of one who has contributed hundreds of essays and columns to journals and newspapers on as many topics. there is no doubt that his novels contain much erudite commentary and analysis of cultural patterns and contemporary issues.Corghi to create an opera. voices. which George Steiner has likened to the best of Robert Musil. young woman while bedding the hotel maid who happens to bear the name of his muse. Saramago shifts his gaze to 1936. often in the company of his recently deceased (primary) creator. Positing as his argument that Iberia represents something of an anomaly in Europe. Saramago has suggested that "perhaps I am not a novelist. Although he is known for his elegant neoclassical verses celebrating idealized aristocratic women in Attic settings. and identities. which are usually delivered with such aplomb and linguistic precision that interviewers often dispense with editing before sending the transcript to a newspaper. In one of his frequent interviews. Eng. as they discuss life and literature against a background of Salazar at home and Franco. 1990). and he would have thrilled to the author's wit and irony. have they grudgingly relented in the face of official pressure. The Stone Raft. Hitler. O Ano da Morte de Ricardo Reis (1984. Fernando Pessoa. followed when the conservative city fathers of Mafra. Only now.

In a curious way The Stone Raft has mirrored events in the author's personal life. mountaineers. however. "We [Spaniards and Portuguese] have always felt a pull to the south. As for those who fault him for a lack of filial loyalty to Mother Europe. Until she does. A little band of Spaniards and Portuguese. join forces on their panic-seized peninsula as it proceeds to float southwest before eventually coming to rest somewhere between Africa and South America. and Germany. he will continue to defend his sympathies for the lands to the south while remaining wary of the hegemony of one Europe over another. and within two years the distinguished author and the young journalist were married. The author discerns an analogous dichotomy in European history as well. and of the author's works in general. For the defenders of a united European Community. One might note that among the very first to congratulate the new laureate were the presidents of Argentina. Latin Americans. Brazil. such a plot smacks of reactionary separatism even while they tend to look upon Iberia as an exotic appendage. France. including both men and women. and Nicaragua. like the sea." whether in Africa or the Americas. Saramago observes that. and Lusophone Africans. and the other confined to a peripheral reality of islanders. and semiliterate poor societies vulnerable to the designs of powerful neighbors. genocide. For Saramago. Cuba. economic exploitation. among Spaniards. progressive. In 1993 the couple . the same continental space that provides a medium for communication can also be a barrier dividing peoples who remain stubbornly different with respect to one another. all would agree that Portugal and Spain share much in common. which she much admired. Pilar del Rio.11 Even more fundamental. At the same time. which is as brilliant in its cultural achievements as it is stained by war. than a division between Iberia and the rest of the continent is Saramago's vision of two Europes. but the author makes a strong case for rendering highly problematic the European character of the Iberian peninsula as he sees it. he counters that a true mother respects all her children equally.on a fateful day when the peninsula is literally sundered along the Pyrenees from the rest of the continent. all lands "to the south" that he regards as traditionally no less important to the cultures of Iberia than are England. while Spaniards regard their smaller neighbor to the west with a mixture of condescension and indifference. and other horrors that once crowded the nightmares from which James Joyce wanted to awaken. Each found the other charming. and cultivated. interviewed the author of The Year of the Death of Ricardo Reis. That his thesis strikes a responsive chord is evident in the popularity of The Stone Raft. Clearly The Stone Raft raises a number of issues fraught with complexity and contradiction. For the present. prosperous. one powerful. remnants of the remote Roman provinces of Hispania and Lusitania more akin to North Africa than to the lands north of the Pyrenees. Even the inhabitants of Iberia itself may react with mixed feelings to Saramago's thesis: Portuguese take a dim view of alliances with their traditional and powerful enemy to the east. In 1986 a Spanish journalist for El Pais.

its publication shocked and dismayed many believers and conservative commentators unaccustomed to critical appraisals of popular dogma. the blood of martyrs (and of their adversaries as well) will nourish the Christian church. and description. Jesus is appalled to learn that he will be only the first to be sacrificed in a divine plan entailing centuries of suffering and death. In time Jesus becomes the lover of Mary Magdalene until God orders him to offer his life as an intermediary between Himself as a vengeful judge and a sinful mankind. he impulsively decides one day to insert a "not" into an account of the fall of Moslem Lisbon in 1147 to a Christian army. The protagonist. Saramago's God thus appears as a Moloch-like figure who wreaks havoc as He pleases to affirm His absolute power. the latter did not contain a large contingent of English crusaders en route to the Holy Land: only local troops under the direction of the first Portuguese king were involved. the atheist author draws heavily on biblical accounts while refining his own approach to magical realism to re-create the supernatural aspects of his subject's life. The Vatican especially . Eng. Eng. Chafing at his colorless routine. Many were especially incensed by the author's description of the Christian church as a divine instrument for war and repression in the form of crusades. 1997). dialogue. one of the Canary Islands. A besieged Lisbon beset by famine merges at times with its twentieth-century descendant in a plot that proceeds on several levels. inquisitions. one would have to confer the prize to O Evangelho segundo Jesus Cristo (1991. Satan. is a shy middle-aged bachelor employed as an editor in a large publishing house. on the other hand. The History of the Siege of Lisbon. Saramago's Jesus is the eldest son of Joseph and protégé of a mysterious shepherd who turns out to be none other than Satan himself. 1994) as Saramago's most important novel. and willful obscurantism. Raimundo finds the will to revise his own life as well when he falls in love with the writer Sara. our author delved into the parallels between past and present and between history and fiction. Although Saramago's interpretation of the life of Jesus (which he describes as "really the Gospel according to José Saramago")12 reflects a critical perspective reminiscent of certain authors of the eighteenth-century Enlightenment. According to Raimundo's revision of the past. Raimundo da Silva. A very reluctant Messiah. narrative. The Gospel According to Jesus Christ. and Pilar del Rio has become her husband's most loyal fan as well as the official translator of his works into Spanish. From all accounts the two remain devoted to each other.decided to relocate to Lanzarote. Quite literally. and their affair mirrors the loves of a twelfth-century soldier and a peasant girl. In retelling the life of Jesus. bound together by a storyteller blending commentary. represents the voice of common sense and reason in his defense of humanity. In his next novel. If one were to evaluate the significance of a work by its appeal to a sensation-hungry media. In revising the past. História do Cerco de Lisboa (1989. thereby creating their own version of a Spanish-Portuguese space between Africa and the Americas.

including In Nomine Dei (1993). Not at all daunted by the controversy following publication of his life of Jesus. Only a small group guided by a woman who has somehow maintained her sight avoids succumbing to the reigning barbarism. However. in the following year the undersecretary for the Ministry of Culture denied the authorization necessary for the book's entry in a competition at the level of the European Community. following on the heels of the rebuke delivered by the right-wing officials of Mafra's city government. the director of the Münster Opera. His decision outraged many. The change became apparent in Ensaio sobre a Cegueira (1995. The author describes a descent into terror and hysteria as all semblance of comity surrenders to unleashed savagery and wholesale cruelty. Will Humburg. Eng. but some have discerned a move away from the author's elaborate (or. In the same year Corghi also composed a cantata. a winner of Portugal's Grand Prize in Theater. He has written a number of plays on the topic. thereby becoming one more Portuguese emigrant (and not. "La Morte di Lazzaro. a novel some have described as harrowing in its vivid account of an unidentified society suddenly afflicted by a plague of blindness. who was joined by Claudio Abbado as director to compose and record a second major musical adaptation of a work by José Saramago. Based on the bloody suppression of visionary Anabaptists in sixteenth-century Germany. "baroque") brew of erudite commentary and narrative toward a more conventional novelistic structure. who saw in his opposition a return to the censorship that had stifled cultural expression for so many years under the Salazar regime. the survivors are faced with a devastated country that will have to be rebuilt." The current decade has seen no slackening in Saramago's creative drive. Once again. he observes. who reminds him that "no one is so sinful that he deserves to die a second time. In Saramago's version of the famous miracle Jesus raises the dead Lazarus only to be chided by a reproachful Mary Magdalene. was so taken by the play that he commissioned an opera based on Saramago's account of the violent events which rocked the German city from 1532 to 1535. Blindness. Saramago has continued to probe the marriage of religion and oppression. When sight is abruptly restored. It was at this point that he left his country to take up residence in the Canary Islands. as some prefer. 1998). On the other hand. Arrayed against Saramago's critics were nonbelievers subscribing to an equally traditional strain of Portuguese anticlericalism that prevailed when the novel won the 1991 grand prize granted by the National Association of Portuguese Writers. Azio Corghi collaborated with the author. proved to be the last straw. For Saramago the government's imposition of a heavy hand. an exile). echoed by members of the Portuguese hierarchy and clergy and their supporters. . including democratic believers." inspired by an episode in The Gospel According to Jesus Christ. the drama sparked a furious row when Portuguese national television refused to carry advertising promoting the published script.registered a protest. which he considers inseparable even while others may view the union as a scandalous paradox.

and many trips to international meetings. however. like Orpheus. rather. for they include entries on current events.14 Never one to frequent the night life and cafés so dear to Southern European society. Saramago also expends considerable time and patience caring for several stray dogs that have availed themselves of his wife's open door to take up residence with the couple. Our author is in constant demand for conferences. and he provides the reader of his journal with summaries of many of the papers he delivers in the course of far-flung travels that he seems to find less satisfying with each passing year. an optimistic resolution expressed in the poems in the form of "a rainbow that appears each night / and that is a good sign. Only then can social harmony emerge from the ruins. he is content to work on his writing each afternoon. thus rescuing his unknown but beloved Eurydice from bureaucratic death. with its anonymous setting and characters. One might note. 1975). known only as José. even while some commentators expressed misgivings over Saramago's expressionistic excesses in creating a vision of society's collapse. are by no means limited to scenes of domestic bliss. Also. however. . Here too one encounters plague-ridden cities where torture is officially sanctioned and social order collapses. The verses present horrific situations that even surpass Blindness in some ways. His search eventually reveals that she has recently died by her own hand." In 1997 Saramago returned to allegory in the novel Todos os Nomes (All the Names). a colorless white-collar employee who one day arbitrarily makes a life-changing decision at his job as a clerk in the Ministry of Civil Records. lectures. José becomes obsessed with the history of a woman whose records he removes by mistake from the files. from top to bottom" in a setting of volcanic hills.The critical reaction to Saramago's parable of a society bereft of lucidity and any sense of shared interests met with favorable reviews. as we find in one poem where household pets turn on their masters with sadistic cruelty. that the author entertained similar Dantean imagery twenty years earlier when he wrote the poems published in O Ano de 1993 (The Year 1993. At novel's end parable and myth merge when. flowers. Since moving to the Canary Islands the Nobel laureate has annually published a diary sequentially numbered with the title Cadernos de Lanzarote (Notebooks from Lanzarote). each work ends with a torrential downpour that washes away the debris of chaos. philosophical reveries. and the sea. But there will be no happy affair with a Sara. The notebooks. with evenings devoted to nearby in-laws or to friends and admirers who visit from far and near. And both the early poems and the recent novel suggest that wholesale mayhem may be a necessary prelude to restoring order and social tranquillity. The protagonist. is a spiritual twin of Raimundo de Silva from The History of the Siege of Lisbon. and honorary distinctions. José returns to the Ministry's labyrinth to remove her files from the records of the deceased. In this journal the reader finds the log of a man who is obviously very much at peace with himself and devoted to his wife in their new home "built entirely of books.

Each unusual occurrence triggers a unique blend of the real and the fantastic leavened with lyrical sensitivity. but from then on let reason prevail. José Saramago imbues his characters. in all his writings "there is at least one individual throughout-me!"16 His voice forges an intimate bond as he leads his reader over a challenging course that is completely absorbing from start to finish. however. and an erudition that manages to be impressive without becoming obtrusive. the conception of the Messiah. Similarly. nor would he posit an unreliable narrator when an unreliable author will do just as well. and irony to express an illusory reality. which stand in marked contrast to the foibles and failings of their times. and wisdom. compassion. while even their fellow workers toiling on the Mafra site redeem a bleak time with their quiet heroism. with his own respect for reason and clear-headed common sense. women as well as men. The judges have clearly recognized the laureate's penchant for allegorical structures founded on a striking original situation: a king's vow to build a massive convent. Both intelligence and a sense of humor are essential as long as society continues to indulge what Bacon called the idols of the cave. Saramago's works exhibit a sense of history that confers a kind of transcendent significance to his characters. as he reminds us. wit. Saramago's Messiah is the first of many thousands of victims whose names and tribulations will fill the liturgical calendar." One might add that it is his reason which prevails: not for Saramago theories regarding intentional fallacy or disappearing authors. the sudden outbreak of an epidemic of blindness. that mystery and wonder are absent from our author's works. does fantasy supplant the author's abiding respect for reason. One might even say that each derives her significance. dignity. Accordingly.. This is not to imply. none of his works is in danger of being orphaned by intertextuality. since our author creates female characters who are never marginal or in any way inferior to men in their strength. are not only lovers but also paragons of humanity in an age that is found wanting. on the one hand. the repatriation of a dead poet's heteronym.. and the woman who leads a little band in the midst of a blind panic ensures that civility and social responsibility will endure. for. In addition to a strong authorial presence. an arbitrary decision that alters history or one's life. At no time. Indeed. Each individual derives significance from a social context to which each contributes. Blimunda and Baltasar. There is a fertile tension between.In its decision honoring Lanzarote's most distinguished resident the Swedish Academy cited Saramago's consistent excellence in fashioning parables that balance imagination. and he is the first to follow his own advice: "Begin with the imagination. They are clearly the creations of one who finds "women more fully human [than men]" and claims to have learned far more from the women he has known than from his fellow males in a distinctly Latin society. however. wonder and mystery abound in his portrayal of the relationships that make it possible for lovers to unite and individuals to form bonds of friendship and solidarity. the lucidity . for instance. the separation of the Iberian peninsula from Europe.

A case in point is the Wall Street Journal's editorial "Another Nobel Laureate's Stalinist Past. especially in the United States. one might have expected a modicum of nuance given the author's record of intellectual independence. it is unfortunate that much of the international news concerning the 1998 Nobel Prize in Literature has focused on Saramago's membership in the Communist Party and on the Vatican's jaundiced view of his award. swears to respect Baltasar's intrinsic autonomy by never plumbing the depths of her lover's spirit. Given the complexity and versatility of the laureate's work."18 On the other hand. a sure defense against the dogmatism that the Wall Street Journal would impute to him. and even the seer Blimunda. He is therefore appalled that "the supreme superintendent of education in our time. he obviously finds in Marxism insights useful for understanding social issues. on the other. For Saramago." Our author answered the question "Can one still be a communist?" in the affirmative with his usual irony. "Love is perhaps all we have / perhaps our crown. must be reconciled." one reads in Os Poemas Possiveis. It may not be too much to say that Saramago's views regarding love and trust constitute a secular version of Pascal's appeal to heartfelt reasons that may elude reason itself. even while the other is never really known and opacity rather than transparency describes character." At the Frankfurt meeting he proceeded to define such a spirit by invoking a Marxist dictum: "If man is shaped by circumstances. Thus. stem from the fact that lucid individuals free of illusion can live in the harmony of love and trust without succumbing to wishful thinking and superstition. therefore. the kind of trust that asks no questions. while a verse from O Ano de 1993 affirms that "people are by nature evasive."20 As for . When the communist-oriented journal Seara Nova sought compliance in matters of artistic liberty in 1964. Even allowing for the media's preference for sound bites and." where one looks in vain for a single positive statement. The wonder and mystery in his works. the future laureate resigned in protest. Somehow the two. our mantle. he has publicly stated. opacity and trust. he was attending the Frankfurt Book Fair to participate in a roundtable of Portuguese writers discussing "On Being a Communist Writer Today. he sees little humanity in a world where market forces substitute for policies that are reasonable and rational and daily fluctuations of paper losses and gains on stock markets comprise the primary news of the day. who divines the inner will of others."19 For his part. More recently.that dissolves illusion and. men and women fall in love and trusting friendships are formed. The reconciliation seems to come about thanks to an adaptation of the traditional believer's faith in things unseen. being a communist requires "a certain spirit (I grant that this is hardly a materialist condition). When he learned of his award. including 'civic' and 'moral' education. despite a hoary hysteria regarding all things even remotely Marxist. We are being educated to be consumers." Thus. it behooves us to shape such circumstances humanely. This is the basic education that we are transmitting to our children. "I do not regard my party as competent to decide on literary matters or artistic issues. is the shopping mall.

When one looks into the second major news item. and the well-known Dominican intellectual. For all his reputation in certain quarters as an anticlerical firebrand. however. that human nature remains perversely recalcitrant to reason. In Portugal itself the Portuguese hierarchy exercised remarkable independence by publicly closing ranks in support of an honored favorite son despite Rome's disapproval. it soon becomes apparent that the editorial in the Osservatore Romano turns out to be less severe in its criticism than has been reported. "but the Pope is still there" to speak on behalf of such ideals as the inviolable dignity of the individual. and obscurantism." One might add that it is because of his interest in questions of faith and reason that he insists on not confusing the two with ill-advised attempts to impose faith-based policies in the public domain where reason alone can appeal to all. he counters with references to centuries of religious persecution. The Roman newspaper described the laureate as "anticlerical" and "an inveterate communist.. [The newspaper's reaction] is laughable. who declared that "José Saramago openly insults [our] Christian sentiments. and moral. one which is so not only politically or socially but also in a religious sense. peaceful. religiously oriented regime to argue cogently that religious beliefs are neither necessary nor sufficient to achieve a society that is just. though." Like Sisyphus. albeit terribly simplistic. believers and nonbelievers alike.those who claim that the history of communism invalidates any moral authority claimed by its adherents. he looks to history and to his own experience as one who has lived much of his life under a conservative. the worst of all kinds of intolerance. authoritarian oppression.. To those who would argue that religion is essential to ensure social harmony and the general welfare. including the humanism inherent in his Marxist principles. the pretender to the Portuguese throne. He is ruefully aware. His life and works demonstrate that even in the darkest of times the lives of ordinary people . went so far as to praise the laureate's courage in addressing "major world problems including issues dealing with human spirituality and life in society" and to fault the Vatican's newspaper for failing "to evaluate a literary body of work [in all its esthetic density] while criticizing someone for what he has every right to be-a communist." The prince was promptly excoriated in the press for assuming a religious homogeneity that many of his countrymen hotly dispute. It would appear that his attempt to deliver a royal scolding only served to validate a republican form of government." a description that Saramago himself might consider neither unfair nor inaccurate." A rare objection to Saramago's award based on religious reasons was expressed by Dom Duarte Po. Brother Bento Domingues. its drawbacks notwithstanding.. Recently our author expressed more than a little pessimism in an interview: "The world is not going to improve. Saramago has observed that "to be an atheist like me requires a high degree of religiosity. the Vatican's reaction. José Saramago perseveres in his defense of reason as an alternative to the claims of religion and the nihilism of contemporary cynicism. We are returning to an intolerant time.

Saramago.provide equal measures of delight. there is no European identity and it would be preferable if there never was one.: Politics in itself does not play any role in my work as an author.Saramago : What is united can be divided and so far the European Union has not acquired sufficient cohesion to allow us to speak about…union as such. Europe reflects a cultural dimension as well. shows quite clearly that Europe still has a long way to go before becoming something concrete and capable of having a voice that is heard in the world. these circumstances. we can deduce the general outlines of an author’s intellectual world. interview with José Saramago 1) What is the role of politics in your work? Is art an effective. and a renewed conviction that "Each one of us is for the moment life itself. As for the effectiveness or capacity of a work to be subversive. 2) You have recently been participating in the debate on the future of Europe.: No. Do you think it is feasible or even desirable? Where do you think such a process might lead? J. Every literary creation can be subjected to a political reading and in the same manner. Do you think the danger of a divided Europe is a thing of the past? J. intellectual challenge. 3) Apart from a political project. if not conditioned by. This.S. the more effective it is. in terms of setting the boundaries of European culture and trying to pin down a European identity. I believe that the less it is written as a political manifesto. The recent crisis. What would be the elements of such an identity? Would it be a mixture or the numerical average of several national . This means that all his words and actions are influenced. with a fair probability of success. In effect. even subversive vehicle for addressing political questions? J. or rather the ongoing crisis. the author is not an abstract concept. / Let that be enough for us. We should trust the readers’ intelligence. but a concrete figure living in a specific time in the framework of a specific set of circumstances.

Globalisation interests me to the extent that it endangers democracy. But over the following twenty years .: Globalisation interests me to the extent that it appears as a means by which economic and financial global spheres can dominate the political expression of citizens and peoples. an ideological baggage. Is your work inspired by this tension or do you believe the global and the local/national should be seen as complementary? J. When I was about 19 years old.S. Those who accuse me of introducing ideological elements in my books are probably advocates of ‘thought unique’ and ‘political correctness’. but nobody appears to be scandalised by this. But these too are forms of ideology which are presented in a guise of being free of ideological contamination…The Divine Comedy is clearly an ideological text. even dangerous. and I was asked what I would like to be in the future. from nothing to something. I did not postpone for long trying to achieve that objective. I answered that I would like to be a writer. Mass Humanities: An Interview with Jose Saramago An Interview with Nobel Prize-Winning Portuguese Novelist José Saramago Anna Klobucka: You experienced an explosion of literary creativity. What they cannot do is replace the board of directors of a multinational corporation. How do you explain the unusual trajectory of your development as a novelist? José Saramago: I do not know how to explain it. since I published a novel—Terra do Pecado—when I was just 24 years old. It is positive that the peoples of Europe feel European but the imposition of any kind of common cultural denominator would be negative. to a greater or lesser degree. when you were already in your sixties.or cultural entities? Would some prevail over others? The cultural wealth of Europe lies in diversity. to delusion and deceit. 4) Your work has often been criticised for being ideological. and I don't think anyone in a similar situation would be able to find and trace that line that leads. not uniformity.S. to nothing more than a ritual. the citizens of a state can replace one government with another. No one can live without ideology because no one can live without ideas. Do you think literature should be criticised on the basis of such a criterion? J. followed by national and international fame. : All works of men carry. Or isn’t religion a form of ideology? 5)Debate on globalisation usually assumes tension between the global and the local or national. in a person's life. By exercising their democratic rights. Governments are becoming the ‘political commissars’ of economic power and democracy is being reduced to mere appearance.

I write what I am. You seem to have given up on poetry. a playwright." If there is a secret. I have the same friends. by the time writing again became a regular activity for me. By 1974—the year of the revolution that ended nearly fifty years of dictatorship in Portugal—I had published only six books: that already remote and almost forgotten novel. I was finally beginning to believe I might have something to say that was worth saying. All the Names. I published Baltasar and Blimunda. AK: In October 1998. Manual of Painting and Calligraphy and Objecto Quase [Almost an Object] were published in 1975. I kept writing and publishing as a matter of simple habit. you became the first Portuguese-language writer to be awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. and three collections of newspaper articles and editorials. with no well-defined project to guide me. that old desire to be a writer was no longer so clear in my mind. AK: Having tried your hand as a writer in several different genres. I told myself then that if I really wanted to be a writer. neither for better nor for worse. Many of your readers perceive a clear dividing line between these narratives and your subsequent works. two volumes of poetry. I have said on earlier occasions that in effect I am not a novelist. for political reasons. the only answer I find is this: "I do not just write. How do you describe the balance of continuity and change in your writing in the last two decades? . or your relationship with your readers? JS: I am the same person I was before receiving the Nobel Prize. At the same time. the three allegorical novels from the 1990s: Blindness. and when I'm asked how I got to this point. and that experience resulted in the novel Levantado do Chão [Raised from the Ground]. AK: The mainly historical novels you wrote in the 1980s. In 1982. you have continued to write plays. Two earlier books.or so I wrote little and published nothing. form the first grand narrative cycle in your work. The Nobel has not made me a different man. or an essayist. perhaps that is it. be it as a writer or as a citizen. Saramago the poet. from the 1979 A Noite [The Night] to the 1993 In Nomine Dei. from the post of associate director of the newspaper Diário de Notícias. I was dismissed. which I had occupied for several months. I ended up being the writer I had wanted to be. Paradoxically. however imperfectly. In late 1975. from Baltasar and Blimunda to The Gospel According to Jesus Christ (published in 1991). and A Caverna. How does Saramago the novelist differ from Saramago the playwright. I work with the same regularity. from the 1980s on you have found your main literary home in the novel. but rather a failed essayist who started to write novels because he didn't know how to write essays. A few weeks later I found myself in the rural province of Alentejo. I have not modified my habits. and Saramago the essayist? JS: I am a better writer as a novelist than as a poet. has this distinction affected your identity as a writer or the psychological rhythm of your work. and I have not moved away from my course. But I would not be the novelist that I am (for what it's worth) without those other identities that also exist in me. published in 1980. now was the time to start. Beyond obvious practical consequences. when I was sixty years old.

Objecto Quase. I explain it through the metaphor of a statue and a stone: up to and including The Gospel According to Jesus Christ. They have discovered the fragility of life." AK: We have heard it said over and over in recent months: since September 11. however. It is not the first time that such a transformation has occurred. everything I have written in later years is rooted in those texts. And in the novels of the second cycle there are clear echoes of my earlier volume of short stories. something has indeed changed in the collective mentality of North Americans. where do you recommend that I should start?. into that space where the stone does not know whether on the outside it is a statue or. Since September 11. My own fear is that the only result of the material and psychological aggression they have suffered will be a compensatory reinforcement of their familiar insolence and arrogance. insofar as a statue is the external surface of a stone. but in this case we happen to be its witnesses. Do you agree? JS: The world had already changed before September 11. then it is necessary to shape those circumstances humanely. with others. A civilization ends." This contains all the wisdom I needed in order to become what it seems I am considered to be: a "political moralist.JS: The first narrative cycle you mention includes also. a doorsill. The world has been going through a process of change over the last twenty or thirty years. that has produced the attitude of insolent haughtiness characteristic of the relationships Americans form with what is alien to them. AK: Some critics of your work have defined you as first and foremost a political moralist. Levantado do Chão. that ominous fragility that the rest of the world either already experienced in the past or is experiencing now with terrible intensity. I have moved inside the stone. The hypothetical reader who accepts this suggestion is likely to appreciate my recommendation. between Levantado do Chão and Baltasar and Blimunda. another one begins. . I was describing statues. In my view. for example. As for the definition of the "dividing line" that separates the two novel cycles. who have lost the conviction that the United States are protected from any cala-mity save of the natural kind. as a starting point. the kind that made them indifferent toward what happens in the outside world. Furthermore. with Blindness and later novels. What are the fundamental elements of social and political morality that you subscribe to as a writer. an intellectual and a human being? JS: In Objecto Quase there is an epigraph from The Holy Family by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels: "If the human being is shaped by his circumstances. Deste Mundo e do Outro [From This World and the Other] (1971) and A Bagagem do Viajante [The Traveler's Baggage] (1973). we must not forget my still earlier collections of newspaper columns. a travel book I published in 1981. the world as we knew it has changed forever. They have discovered fear." what would you advise? JS: I would recommend—surely against all expectations—Journey to Portugal. the novel in which I articulated for the first time the distinct "narrative voice" that from then on became the hallmark of my work. The have realized (at least I hope they have) their own fundamentalism. AK: If a person unfamiliar with your writing were to ask you: "I am very eager to read some of your work.

I select my travel destinations according to their degree of usefulness [to my work]. a perhaps unavoidable question: Can you tell us something about your current projects in these early days of 2002. for the time being it will continue to be an arrangement that is convenient to the United States and imposed by the United States. naturally. the eightieth year of your life and work? JS: I am traveling less in order to be able to write more. About the latter. I will say no more. twenty years from now. I am not sure at all that he and I would be able to understand each other. The human being of the future will be different from us. and I hope that next fall will see the publication of my new novel. Then. Tomorrow. How do you imagine. a China once and for all converted to capitalism. the role of the world leader may belong to China. in both a utopian and a dystopian mode. Except that it has nothing to do with . O Homem Duplicado [The Duplicated Man]. contemplation of the past coexists with episodes of meditation about the future.AK: In your work. I will publish the sixth volume of my diary Cadernos de Lanzarote [Lanzarote Notebooks]. as the recent acceleration of steps it has taken in that direction leads one to believe. AK: To conclude. As for the new world order. the United States will once again experience fear. the new world order (or disorder)? JS: I am not a prophet.

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