Jose Saramago on George W. Bush

My disappointments with the current democratic administration continue to outpace my ability to forgive the actions of the previous administration- actions which guarantee that I will never vote again for that political party. Never. The following is from a recently published translation of Jose Saramago’s blog, O Caderno. Agree or disagree with him, Saramago always had a way of making his points in a way that few others dared to make them, or were skilled enough to make them..

 September 18, 2008: “George W. Bush, or the Age of Lies”

(from The Notebook, a collection of Jose Saramago’s blogs, originally published in Portuguese. Verso, 2010, p.7)

I wonder why it is that the United States, a country so great in all things, has so often had such small presidents. George W. Bush is perhaps the smallest of them all. This man, with his mediocre intelligence, abysmal ignorance, confused communications skills, and constant succumbing to the irresistible temptation of pure nonsense, has presented himself to humanity in the grotesque pose of a cowboy who has inherited the world and mistaken it for a herd of cattle. We don’t know what he really thinks, we don’t even know if he does think (in the noblest sense of the word), we don’t know whether he might not just be a badly programmed robot that constantly confuses and switches around the messages it carries inside it. But to give the man some credit for once in his life, there is one program in the robot George Bush, president of the United States, that works to perfection: lying. He knows he’s lying, he knows we know he’s lying, but being a compulsive liar, he will keep on lying even when he has the most naked truth right there before his eyes- he will keep on lying even after the truth has exploded in his face. He lied to justify waging war in Iraq just as he lied about his stormy and questionable past, and with just the same shamelessness. With Bush, the lies come from very deep down; they are in his blood. A liar emeritus, he is the high priest of all the other liars who have surrounded him, applauded him, and served him over the past few years.

George Bush expelled truth from the world, establishing the age of lies that now flourishes in its place. Human society today is contaminated by lies, the worst sort of moral contamination, and he is among those chiefly responsible. The lie circulates everywhere with impunity, and has already turned into a kind of other truth. When a few years ago a Portuguese prime minister- whose name for charity’s sake I will not mention here- stated that “politics is the art of not telling the truth,” he could never have imagined that sometime later George W. Bush would transform this shocking statement into a naïve trick of fringe politics, with no real awareness of the value or significance of words. For Bush, politics is simply one of the levers of business, and perhaps the best one of all- the lie as a weapon, the lie as the advance guard of tanks and cannons, the lie told over the ruins, over the corpses, over humankind’s wretched and perpetually frustrated hopes. We cannot be sure that today’s world is more secure, but we can have no doubt that it would be much cleaner without the imperial and colonial politics of the president of the United States, George Walker Bush, and of the many- quite aware of the fraud they were perpetuating- who allowed him into the White House. History will hold them to account.

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Adeus Jose Saramago

“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..

saramago

The Death of Death!!

“The following day, no one died. This fact, being absolutely contrary to life’s rules, provoked enormous and, in the circumstances, perfectly justifiable anxiety in people’s minds, for we have only to consider that in the entire forty volumes of universal history there is no mention, not even one exemplary case, of such phenomenon ever having occurred, for a whole day to go by, with its generous allowance of twenty-four hours, diurnal and nocturnal, without one death from an illness, a fatal fall, or a successful suicide, not one, not a single one.” (Jose Saramago, Death With Interruptions, Harcourt, 2008, p.1)

In Saramago’s most recent novel, everyone in a particular small European country inexplicably stops dying. The Queen mother, on her deathbed, stays there. Healthy persons who are injured or become ill go to hospitals and stay there, too. Life goes on the way it always has, until it is time to die.

Chaos follows. Nursing homes and hospitals overflow, life insurance companies grow wealthy, while health insurance and pension funds and the funeral industry go broke. A calamity overtakes the church, and the hierarchy from the pope on down, begin praying that God return death as a fact of life! Death- the fear of it, the theological threats able to be made because of it- had become the primary sustenance of this country’s church and nobody’s dying meant no one was bothering with church anymore!

Saramago is one of the world’s living literary treasures- he sees the world differently than most people; he sees beyond the superficialities of life and into the real and true underpinnings that define the ‘stuff’ of life. And he doesn’t hesitate to indict us as a society for our peculiarities and vagaries, even though he does it with humor, even gently. Death he says, is a big deal- of course! But we also tend to make it into an even bigger deal for financial, religious, and other societal reasons!

The funeral industry, the entire insurance industry, and (Saramago would say) the church industry- all are built upon the foundations of death’s inevitability. Those “industries” depend on death (again, Saramago says). Therefore, death in a modern sense gets dressed up in ways death was never dressed up in before. Jessica Mitford’s 1963 book An American Way of Death, was an expose of what she named the “death-care industry” in America: the funeral business. Hers was an indictment not only of high pressure sales techniques being used at the time, and of genuinely underhanded marketing, but of the industry’s simply making of a much, much bigger deal about funerals than any other country in history had done for persons other than royalty. What we had come to think of as normal- funeral homes, embalming, sealed and expensive caskets, and flowers- Mitford exposed as purely American ideas, successfully sold! (In the later, revised edition of her book, she added a chapter on the frequent collusion of funeral homes with local pastors: “Nosy Clergy” the chapter was called.)

Death had become- and largely remains- Death as a series of exclamation points!!!!! And that emphasis obscures the true nature of Death’s marking the end of a life, the end of a period. The Death of a body need not be a disruptive, climactic extravaganza. The death of a body is the cessation of breath, stillness, and the preparation of those nearby, for burial. The remembrance of the soul, the person, the consciousness which gave the body animation and distinction- that remembrance can be, should be acknowledged and honored. That remembrance is a very real psychologically and emotionally necessary period at the finish of a time. But it is not easy to do. There are decisions to be made, people to call, flowers to be ordered- Did anyone call the florist? There are clothes to be chosen and- one limousine or two? How many songs, which songs, who should pray, and- oh my god- do we go with ebony, bronze, or walnut, or- gross!- plywood? Do you have the checkbook with you? Open? Open? What, I have a choice?

Such is life, but c’est l’muert, too! We need respect and quiet, and we need to be able to note the passing of time without trying to stop the passage of time. We need to remember, and keep walking. Others have always done it that way, and we used to. We’ll be looking at some ancestral memories of those times soon.

"Blindness" by Jose Saramago

 

Blindness

Published in 1997 and now, 11 years later, read by me.

I had forgotten- for far too long- the great joy, and the discordant but necessary misery that is a part of that joy, that indeed makes that joy possible when words are crafted, sculpted by such an artist.

Saramago, 86, is Portuguese. I am 58, and American. An artist, like Saramago, makes us aware, if we allow him, of the diverting and dehumanizing veneer which such numbers and adjectives, in reality, are. He points us toward that within ourselves which enables us to see, and- if we are courageous enough- to observe. He peels away the layers of grey mythologies we are buried beneath so that we might remember the colors and tiny, very human events that gave rise to them. He invites us to smell human excrement so that we may remember, perhaps for the first time, the splendors of rain and tears.

Saramago writes with as few punctuational and structural barriers as are possible, thus allowing the reader to become part of the creative process. I attempt that now, too, by simply offering several of the quotations from Blindness which made me gasp, or linger, or begin to observe. To give you my synopsis of the story itself would only take away from what is waiting in dormancy within you now for the cleansing waters of Saramago’s words. Here:

..if, before any action, we were to begin by weighing up the consequences, thinking about them in earnest, first the immediate consequences, then the probable, then the possible, then the imaginable ones, we should never move beyond the first point where our first thought brought us to a halt. The good and evil resulting from our words and deeds go on apportioning themselves, one assumes in a reasonably uniform and balanced way, throughout all the days to follow, including those endless days, when we shall not be here to find out, to congratulate ourselves or ask for pardon, indeed there are those who claim that this is the much-talked-of immortality.. (pg.78)

..in my opinion we’re already dead, we’re blind because we’re dead, or if you would prefer me to put it another way, we’re dead because we’re blind, it comes to the same thing.. (pg.251)

Do you mean that we have more words than we need, I mean that we have too few feelings, Or that we have them but have ceased to use the words they express, And so we lose them.. (pg.292)

Don’t lose yourself, don’t let yourself be lost, he said, and these were unexpected, enigmatic words that didn’t seem to fit the occasion. (pg.294)

If I’m sincere today, what does it matter if I regret it tomorrow.. (pg.306)

Do you want me to tell you what I think, Yes, do, I don’t think we did go blind, I think we are blind, Blind but seeing, Blind people who can see, but do not see. (pg. 326)

Get Blindness. See. Look. Observe.