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Language speaks, because speaking is its pleasure and it can do nothing else.

Penelope Fitzgerald


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Clean, purified, naked

I put Blindness aside a few weeks ago to read The White Castle -- I was getting frustrated by a stretch of plot which seemed monotonous and deadening. Picked it up again the other night and my strategy of backing off and doing something else has paid off well: the book is fresh and surprising again. The scene in which the doctor's wife and the other two women are washing themselves and their clothing in the rain was especially gripping, even climactic.

Perhaps in the building opposite , behind those closed windows some blind people, men, women, roused by the noise of the constant beating of the rain, with their head pressed against the cold window-panes covering with their breath on the glass the dullness of the night, remember the time when, like now, they last saw rain falling from the sky. They cannot imagine that there are moreover three naked women out there, as naked as when they came into the world, they seem to be mad, they must be mad, people in their right mind do not start washing on a balcony exposed to the view of the neighbourhood, even less looking like that, what does it matter that we are all blind, these are things one must not do, my God, how the rain is pouring down on them, how it trickles between their breasts, how it lingers and disappears into the darkness of the pubis, how it finally drenches and flows over the thighs, perhaps we have judged them wrongly or perhaps we are unable to see this the most beautiful and glorious thing that has happened in the history of the city, a sheet of foam flows from the floor of the balcony, if only I could go with it, falling interminably, clean, purified, naked. Only God sees us, said the wife of the first blind man, who, despite disappointments and setbacks, clings to the belief that God is not blind, to which the doctor's wife replied, Not even he, the sky is clouded over...

I also really liked this conversation between the doctor's wife and the writer who is squatting in the apartment of the first blind man and his wife:

...How have you managed since the outbreak of the epidemic, We came out of internment only three days ago, Ah, you were in quarantine, Yes, Was it hard, Worse than that, How horrible, You are a writer, you have, as you said a moment ago, an obligation to know words, therefore you know that adjectives are of no use to us, if a person kills another, for example, it would be better to state this fact openly, directly, and to trust that the horror of the act, in itself, is so shocking that there is no need for us to say it was horrible, 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,...

Saramago's practice of referring to his characters by their role in the story rather than by name (I express some skepticism here) pays off big time when he is able to name the stray dog the group adopts (whose first appearance in the story was on the street, licking the tears from the face of the doctor's wife) "The dog of tears" -- this is a beautiful handle for him.

posted evening of Sunday, February 10th, 2008
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