“Life is like that, full of words that are not worth saying or that were worth saying once but not anymore, each word that we utter will take up the space of another more deserving word, not deserving in its own right, but because of the possible consequences of saying it.” Jose Saramago, The Cave, p.28
Jose Saramago, Nobel Prize winner for literature in 1998, died yesterday. He was 87. (Here’s the Wikipedia biography, if you need it: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jose_Saramago)
I cannot add to his biography, so to pile words on top of him that have already been piled would be to obscure the life he lived and the death he died in ways that would prove to any student of his life (or death) that I did not know Saramago except through his writings, knowledge that has only spanned the last four years anyway, and I don’t know Portuguese which it would be vital to know if a credible biographical sketch were to be written, but what I do know is this and it is why I was fruitlessly looking for his newest book yesterday at Books-a-Million before I came home and discovered on Yahoo News that he had died: he set words loose for me.
And for thousands of others, maybe millions.
I know a run-on sentence when I see one and Saramago, the purists would say and have said, used them a lot, along with more than usual commas and less than normal periods. When I first read The Gospel According to Jesus Christ- as banned in his homeland Portugal and as awarded a Nobel in Sweden- it was as if God godself had smashed the grammatical link which had kept me chained to my eighth grade English teacher Mrs. Bair and untangled me from the sentence diagrams in which I had been by her, wrapped.
I would have liked to have met him and felt the frailness of his hand in mine and to have been made stronger and more courageous by the very fingertips which had tapped out the words, two decades ago, “A rope was also tied around his feet to prevent him from running away, and Jesus said to himself, Too late, I have already fled.”
He made words be adequate- as perfect as they could be for a moment, or for decades, never forever. He tortured them as they tortured him and his readers were that contest’s winners. He understood that to use a word meant not being able to use a hundred others; that words both explained and hid, enhanced and destroyed our human realities, our remembered dreams, and our unleashed imaginings.
“Compared with the instantaneous speed of thought, which heads off in a straight line even when it seems to have lost its way, because what we fail to realize is that, as it races in one direction, it is in fact advancing in all directions at once, anyway, as we were saying, compared with that, the poor word is constantly having to ask permission from one foot to lift the other foot, and even then it is always stumbling, hesitating and dithering over an adjective or a verb that turns up unannounced by its subject..” The Cave, p. 32
Adeus, Sr. Saramago, não sou tão cego por causa de você
Goodbye, Mr. Saramago, I am not so blind because of you..