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Liberty is not a woman walking the streets, she is not sitting on a bench waiting for an invitation to dinner, to come sleep in our bed for the rest of her life.

José Saramago

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Wednesday, September 17th, 2008

🦋 Saramago blogging

José Saramago has a blog! It is here: Saramago's Notebook -- in Portuguese naturally. There is an "idioma" button at the top of the page that appears to translate the page between Portuguese and Spanish, I have no idea how accurately though. The top entry AOTW is "George Bush, or the Age of Lies" -- opening sentences are approximately, "I wonder how and why the United States, a land of greatness, has often had small presidents. George Bush is perhaps the smallest of them all." (Link via The Literary Saloon.)

posted morning of September 17th, 2008: Respond
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Monday, September 22nd, 2008

🦋 Autobiography of Babel

Saramago says (approximately -- I am no Jull Costa; but with a little help from Google I can get something I think close to what he has written):

I believe that every word we pronounce, every movement and gesture,... each one and all of them together, can be understood as pieces of an unintentional autobiography, which although involuntary, or for that very reason, is no less sincere and truthful than the most thorough of stories of life written on paper. ...I propose a day, more earnestly than it might seem at first glance, when every human being would have to let his life story be written down, and that these thousands of millions of volumes, as they began to overflow the Earth, should be transported to the Moon. This would mean that the great, the enormous, the gigantic, the excessive, the vast library of human existence would have to be subdivided, at first into two parts, and then, with the passage of time, into three, into four, eventually into nine, always supposing that the eight remaining planets of the solar system would have environments hospitable enough to respect the fragility of paper. ...Like the greater portion of good ideas, this one too is unrealizable. Have patience.

posted evening of September 22nd, 2008: Respond
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Thursday, September 25th, 2008

🦋 Pure Appearance

Saramago says (apologies for the roughness of the translation):

I suppose that in the beginning of the beginnings, before we invented speech, which is as we know, the supreme creator of incertitude, no serious doubt tormented us about who we were, about our personal and collective relationship with the place where we found ourselves. The world, obviously, could only be that which our eyes see at each moment, and furthermore, as important complementary information, that which our remaining senses -- hearing, touch, smell, taste -- appreciate. At this initial hour the world was pure appearance and pure superficiality. Material was simply rough or smooth, bitter or sweet, sour or bland, sound or silent, smelly or odorless. All things were that which they appeared to be, for the simple reason that they had no motive for appearing some other way or for being some other thing. ... I imagine that the spirit of philosophy and the spirit of science were manifest on that day, when someone had the intuition that appearance, being the external image that consciousness could capture and use as a map of knowledge, might also be an illusion of the senses. It is more often used in reference to the moral world than to the physical, the popular expression that says: "Appearances can be deceiving." Or illusory, which is more or less the same thing...

This scribe has always been preoccupied with what was behind mere appearances, and now I'm not talking about atoms or subatomic particles, which, as such, are always the appearance of something that is hidden. I speak, yes, of current issues, routine, everyday, for example, the political system we call democracy, one that Churchill called the least bad of all known systems. He did not say the best, he said the least bad. For that which we are seeing, which it seems that we consider more than sufficient, and that, I believe, is an error of perception, whether we recognize it or not, we will be paying every day of our lives. Let us return to the matter.

posted evening of September 25th, 2008: Respond
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Wednesday, October 22nd, 2008

Saramago posts today about current abuse of Judge Baltasar Garzón, asking "Do executioners have a soul?" It is a long post and beyond my limited translating ability; but it did get me to look up Garzón and find out what the context is.

Garzón has ordered exhumation of a number of mass graves containing the bodies of people slaughtered by the fascist militias during the Spanish Civil War, and has furthermore declared that these massacres were crimes against humanity and thus prosecutable -- his conservative critics reply that the war crimes are covered by an amnesty that was declared "during the transition", which I think refers to the transition from Franco's dictatorship to democracy. I guess declaring something a crime against humanity would supercede a declared amnesty.

posted evening of October 22nd, 2008: Respond
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Sunday, November second, 2008

🦋 Falsehood, Truth

Saramago posts today on the subject of politics.

On the eve of the presidential elections in the United States, this brief observation does not seem out of place. Some time back, a Portuguese politician*, who at that time bore the responsibilities of prime minister, declared for whomever would like to hear it that politics is, in the first place, the art of not speaking the truth. The problem is that since he said that, there has not been, to my knowledge, a single politician, from the left to the right, who would correct him, who would say no sir, the truth is going to be the sole and ultimate objective of politics. For the simple reason that only in this manner can the two be saved: truth by politics, politics by the truth.
(I'm pretty uncertain about the translation of the last sentence: I'm translating the preposition "con", which usually means "with", as "by", because I'm not sure how else to make sense of the sentence.** Please let me know in comments if you know better.)

* The politician in question is António Guterres, as near as I can tell (based on a reference in this editorial from Lusopresse). I am tentatively translating Saramago's "governo" as "prime minister", since that was Guterres' position.

** Update -- Never mind, now I looked at the Portuguese source of the post (which I had been reading in Spanish) -- the preposition translated as "con" is "pela", which is Portuguese for "by". This makes me more confident in my translation of the Spanish.

posted evening of November second, 2008: Respond
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Tuesday, November 11th, 2008

🦋 The Old and the Young

I'll try my hand at translating another entry from Saramago's blog. (I am working from the Spanish translation.) Today he is writing about skepticism.

Some people say that skepticism is an infirmity of old age, an ailment of recent times, a sclerosis of the will. I don't dare to say this diagnosis is completely wrong, but I will say that it would be too comfortable to try to escape all difficulties through this door, as if the actual state of the world were a simple consequence of the old being old... The dreams of the young have never succeeded, at least until now, in making the world any better, and the rejuvenated bile of the old has never been enough to make it worse. Clearly the world -- poor world -- is not to blame for the evils afflicting it. That which we call the state of the world is the state of the unlucky humanity that we are, inevitably composed of old people who were young, young people who will be old, others who are not young and are not yet old. Whose fault? I hear it said that everyone bears the blame, that nobody can be presumed innocent, but I find that these sort of declarations, which appear to distribute justice evenly, are no more than spurious recurring mutations of the so-called original sin, which serve only to dilute and obscure, in an imaginary collective guilt, the responsibilities of the authentically culpable. The state, not of the world, but of life.

I write this on a day in which there have arrived in Spain and in Italy hundreds of men, women and children in the fragile vessels which are used to reach the imagined paradise of a wealthy Europe. On the island of Hierro, in the Canaries, for example, there arrived such a boat, carrying inside it a dead child, and some castaways who declared that during the journey, twenty shipmates died and were cast into the sea in martyrdom... So do not speak to me of skepticism, please.

Saramago links to Sara Prestianni's web site (in French) documenting migrants' stories, and to the NoBorders gallery on Flickr.

posted evening of November 11th, 2008: 2 responses
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Sunday, November 30th, 2008

🦋 A Cathedral of Books

Saramago writes today about the Livraria Cultura, a giant bookstore in the Conjunto Nacional shopping mall in São Paulo. (He and Pilar have been travelling in Brazil for the last few weeks and are now returning to the Canary Islands.)

The last image that we bring with us from Brazil is of a beautiful bookstore, a cathedral of books, modern, efficient, lovely. It is Livraria Cultura, in the Conjunto Nacional. It is a bookstore to be sure, a place for buying books, but it is also a place for enjoying the impressive spectacle of so many titles organized in such an attractive form, as if it were not a store, as if we were speaking of a work of art. The Livraria Cultura is a work of art.

So: kind of funny and cute to think about old man Saramago digging the lovely new bookstore. Especially nice to think about that, when I've got in mind pictures of young Pamuk seeking out books in the antiquarian shops of Istanbul.

posted evening of November 30th, 2008: Respond
➳ More posts about Book Shops

Wednesday, December third, 2008

🦋 Para quien le interese

Saramago writes a quick note to say that a new book has started walking around in his head. ¡Uff!

posted evening of December third, 2008: Respond

Monday, December 29th, 2008

🦋 Book

Saramago is starting his next book. He knows what the title will be, but he's not telling:

I am turning to a new book. When, in the middle of a conversation, I let fall this news, the inevitable question is put to me (my nephew Olmo asked me last night): and what will the title be? The most convenient solution for me would be to answer that I don't have one yet, that I have to get to the end in order to decide between the possibilities which are going to present themselves to me (assuming that they are going to) over the course of the work. Convenient, without a doubt, but false. The truth is that not even the first lines of the book had been written and I already knew, since nearly three years beforehand, what it would be called. Someone could ask: why this secrecy? Because the word of the title (it's only one word) contains, by itself, the complete story. I usually say that whoever doesn't have the patience to read my books, should pass his eyes at least over the epigraphs, because then he'll know the whole thing. I don't know if the book I'm working on will bear an epigraph. Maybe not. The title will suffice.

In other news, I'm thinking the best way for me to learn Spanish might just be to practice reading. Specifically I'm going to practice reading blogs like Saramago's and Jorge López', and find some more Spanish-language blogs to read, and reading the Bible.

Hi to any new readers showing up from Edmond Caldwell's Contra James Wood project. I don't have anything against Wood -- wouldn't really have recognized the name prior to reading Mr. Caldwell's piece -- but the criticism seems (at first reading) well-founded.

posted evening of December 29th, 2008: Respond

Tuesday, December 30th, 2008

🦋 Supper

Last week, Saramago posted a Christmas Message:

Several years ago, no less than in 1993, I wrote in the Lanzarote Notebooks several words which were the delight of some theologians from this part of the Peninsula, especially Juan José Tamayo, who since then has generously given me his friendship. They were these: "God is the silence of the universe, and man is the scream which imparts sentience to this silence." I recognized that this idea was not poorly stated, with its "quantum satis" of poetry, its gently provocative intention and its subtext that atheists risk much in venturing onto the rough paths of theology, even those that are elemental. In these days when one celebrates the birth of Christ, another idea has occurred to me, perhaps even more provocative, it could even be called revolutionary, which can be enunciated in just a few words. Here. If it is true that Jesus, at the last supper, said to the disciples, showing them the bread and the wine which they found on the table: "This is my body, this is my blood," then it would not be illegitimate to conclude that the innumerable suppers, the Pantagrueline gluttonies, the Homeric bellyfuls with which millions and millions of stomachs have risked the dangers of a fatal bout of indigestion, would be nothing more than multitudinous copies, at the same time actual and symbolic, of the last supper: believers nourish themselves with god, devour him, digest him, eliminate him, until the next nativity, until the next supper, with the ritual of a material and mystical hunger forever unsatisfied. Let's see now what the theologians say.

I didn't know about the Cuadernos de Lanzarote before, this looks like just my cup of tea.

posted afternoon of December 30th, 2008: Respond
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