Thursday, December 20th, 2007
Meredith Sue Willis has a blog! (Found via South Orange Journal's list of links.) One without permalinks, which I haven't seen much of lately. But if you scroll down to December 12 you will see she is recommending José Saramago's Blindness. This is good timing because I had been looking for a book to read, Blindness was on my list but forgotten, I think now is a good time to find a copy and read it.
Tuesday, December 25th, 2007
At the pedestrian crossing the sign of a green man lit up. The people who were waiting began to cross the road, stepping on the white stripes painted on the black surface of the asphalt, there is nothing less like a zebra, however, that is what it is called.
This is a promising start to Blindness -- the descriptive language, the comic timing. Also the final line of the first chapter is very nice: "That night the blind man dreamt he was blind."
It will take a little while to really get into the rhythm of the dialogue -- I'm reminded of how it takes some time to get into the groove reading Gaddis.
I'm loving Saramago's style of writing dialogue without yet totally getting it -- it draws me in and hypnotizes me, but I sometimes find myself struggling in mid-paragraph to track who is saying what. The characters are always threatening to sound like automata, I think in part because of this clipped, almost dismissive rendering of their speech; but in small ways their humanity comes through.
Sunday, December 30th, 2007
From this point onward, apart from a few inevitable comments, the story of the old man with the black eyepatch will no longer be followed to the letter, being replaced by a reorganised version of his discourse, re-evaluated in the light of a correct and more appropriate vocabulary. The reason for this previously unforeseen change is the rather formal controlled language, used by the narrator, which almost disqualifies him as a complementary reporter, however important he may be, because without him we would have no way of knowing what happened in the outside world, as a complementary reporter, as we were saying, of these extraordinary events, when as we know the description of any facts can only gain with the rigour and suitability of the terms used.
--José Saramago, Blindness
I'm struggling with this passage a little. It seems to me like it must be pretty important to the story, coming as it does near the center of the book and immediately after the scene in which the old man with the eyepatch, "the one person who was missing here", joins the inmates of the opthalmologist's ward. Some significant shift in the narration is occurring here -- this is the first time the narrator has referred to himself and to the job he is doing in this way. But it seems very strange for him to say "from this point onward", when throughout the story so far all dialog has been paraphrased to the point of dismissal -- nothing has been "followed to the letter".
Monday, December 31st, 2007
Hm, a couple of things seem not quite right with continuity in Blindness. Like for instance, my tracking of the time the inmates have been quarantined suggests it's been not so long, maybe a week at most, at the point the old man with the eye patch joins them. But the events he narrates from the outside world sound like they take place over a month or more. (More specifically, he is talking about many quarantine centers already being full of blind people; but before the arrival of the group he was in, this center was not full, and it was the very first one to be opened.) Also the wife of the first blind man says she went blind at home, weeping into a handkerchief; but she was already in the quarantine when she went blind, and this is not something I would expect her to lie about. Not a huge thing though. The narration is growing perceptibly more reserved since those remarks about formal language -- like the narrator is using formal language and technical detail to distance himself from the events he's describing.
I want to find out who is the owner of the "unfamiliar voice" being referenced in the scene where they all describe what was the last thing they saw before going blind. (And come to think of it, why is the opthalmologist's wife not reacting and identifying the newcomer?)
Tuesday, January first, 2008
Be quiet the doctor's wife said gently, let's all keep quiet, there are times when words serve no purpose, if only I, too, could weep, say everything with tears, not have to speak in order to be understood.
I'm not sure quite why, but this line (from Blindness, after the doctor's wife has approached her husband and the woman with dark glasses, who have just had sex together) touches me very deeply.
I am finding it clumsy writing about the characters in Blindness without having names for them. I understand, sort of, why Saramago does not want to give them names; but if he had, it would make it easier to think about the book. I had this same reaction recently to another book, I am forgetting which one.*
I found the rape scene utterly devastating -- so even without names, I am apprehending the characters enough as individuals, to feel for them. This book is generally getting under my skin -- the descriptions of walking through the sewage on the hallway floors are viscerally revolting, as strongly as anything from any other book I can think of. (Specifically, the comparison that came to mind when I was reading the first such description, was to the coprophagy scene in Gravity's Rainbow.)
*Oh yeah, it was The New Life.
Tuesday, January 8th, 2008
Every time I see this Saramago quote: "The gate is wide open, the madmen escape." at the top of my blog, I hear it sung to the tune of "Away in the Manger". Not that useful but there you have it.
Sunday, February 10th, 2008
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.
Monday, February 11th, 2008
The final pages of Blindness are very strong, I think everything that has been rough and disorganized in the novel is crystallizing here, coming into focus. (I have not gotten quite to the ending, though I think I will finish it tonight.) I opened the book to get some pull-quotes and realized that really everything starting from where I stopped yesterday shines with such clarity as to be difficult to exerpt. The scene in which they bury the neighbor of the girl with dark glasses; the wedding proposal of the one-eyed man; the church with the defaced artwork... Here: I have not yet quoted any passages featuring the dog of tears.
...It won't be long before we have outbreaks of epidemics, said the doctor again, nobody will escape, we have no defenses left, If it's not raining, it's blowing gales, said the woman, Not even that, the rain would at least quench our thirst, and the wind would blow away some of this stench. The dog of tears sniffs around restlessly, stops to investigate a particular heap of rubbish, perhaps there is a rare delicacy hidden underneath which it can no longer find, if it were alone it would not move an inch from this spot, but the woman who wept has already walked on, and it is his duty to follow her, one never knows when one might have to dry more tears.
Well ok, and also the church -- this really seems to me like a little masterpiece, a visual impression worthy of Buñuel:
She raised her head to the slender pillars, to the high vaults, to confirm the security and stability of her blood circulation, then she said, I am feeling fine, but at that very moment she thought she had gone mad or that the lifting of the vertigo had given her hallucinations, it could not be true what her eyes revealed, that man nailed to the cross with a white bandage covering his eyes, and next to him a woman, her heart pierced by seven swords and her eyes also covered with a white bandage, and it was not only that man and that woman who were in that condition, all the images in the church had their eyes covered, statues with a white cloth tied around the head, paintings with a thick brushstroke of white paint, and there was a woman teaching her daughter how to read and both had their eyes covered, and a man with an open book on which a little child was sitting, and both had their eyes covered, and another man, his body spiked with arrows, and he had his eyes covered, and a woman with a lit lamp, and she had her eyes covered, and a man with wounds on his hands and feet and his chest, and he had his eyes covered, and another man with a lion, and both had their eyes covered, and another man with an eagle, and both had their eyes covered, and another man with a spear standing over a fallen man with horns and cloven feet, and both had their eyes covered, and another man carrying a set of scales, and he had his eyes covered, and an old bald man holding a white lily, and he had his eyes covered, and another old man leaning on an unsheathed sword, and he had his eyes covered, and a woman with a dove, and both had their eyes covered, and a man with two ravens, and all three had their eyes covered, there was only one woman who did not have her eyes covered, because she carried her gouged-out eyes on a silver tray.
Update: the woman carrying her gouged-out eyes on a silver tray is Saint Lucy, the patron saint of the blind.
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