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Improvement makes straight roads; but the crooked roads without improvement are roads of genius.

— William Blake

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Monday, July 27th, 2009

🦋 Tomarctus

The bedroom door, which was only pushed to, opened softly in the darkness. Tomarctus, the household dog, had come in. He came to find out if this master, who only turns up very infrequently, was still here. He is a medium-sized dog, and inky black, not like other dogs that, when seen from up close, are really gray.
Nice to see the dog making his appearance -- I think there have been dogs in every Saramago book I've read so far -- it is a nice linking thread. Tomarctus is the name of a prehistoric species which is an ancestor of canis familiaris.

I am wondering about the roles of the female characters in this book, Maria, Helena, and Tertuliano's mother. Each one of them seems pretty cryptic in her own way.

posted evening of July 27th, 2009: Respond
➳ More posts about José Saramago

Saturday, July 25th, 2009

🦋 Doubles

They say that if you meet your double, you should kill him -- or that he will kill you. I can't remember which; but the gist of it is, that two of you is one too many.

-- Double Take

I'm midway through The Double now, and still not sure how to approach reading it. It seems at times like a Woody Allen movie, exploring the humorous consequences of its main character's depression/inferiority complex; at other times I think Saramago has something enlightening to say about depression, but the (overly?) dismissive tone of his narrator makes it impossible to develop this much -- every thing he says, he cuts down. I'm pretty sure the intent of the book is neither broad comedy nor pedagogy, but I'm sort of alternating between these poles in my reading -- I'm hoping Saramago will show his hand a bit when the doubles meet.

Bill of Orbis Quintus linked to an interview with screenwriter Tom McCarthy, in which he discusses among other things his most recent project, the movie Double Take (a longer article about the movie is at Art in America). Sounds great -- he says it is based on "a Borges tale about meeting his own double" -- at first I thought this was referring to "Borges and I", but this is probably wrong, unless the relationship between the source text and the movie is very loose indeed.* He's changed it around so that the movie is about Alfred Hitchcock rather than Borges, which seems to me like a excellent move -- not that I wouldn't be glad to see a movie about Borges, but throwing Hitchcock into the mix can only produce good consequences. Here is a clip:

...And yikes! another, mind-boggling, clip underneath the fold.
* (The story referenced is "The Other", from The Book of Sand.)

posted afternoon of July 25th, 2009: 3 responses
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Sunday, July 19th, 2009

🦋 The movie

The video Máximo Afonso rents at the beginning of The Double is called Quem Porfia Mata Caça -- internet translation sites seem to think this proverb should be translated as "Where there's a will, there's a way"; Jull Costa chooses "The race is to the swift" -- which does sound like a good title for a movie, though from checking with imdb, it does not appear to have been used that way yet. This title is repeated several times in the first few pages -- makes it seem like riffing on the adage is going to be an important part of the book. I think the literal translation is something like "He who perseveres will kill his prey."

posted morning of July 19th, 2009: 3 responses

Saturday, July 18th, 2009

🦋 Another look at Saramago's œuvre

Yikes! I am starting another book by José Saramago -- namely The Double. I haven't heard much about this one, I think Jorge has referenced it once or twice as an enjoyable read. It is from 2003, after The Cave and before Seeing. Just want to say up front, with each book I read of his I am more deeply in awe at the breadth of his writing -- what is prompting this is one of the few explicit references I've seen him make within a novel to his other work. On page 2, Saramago is describing Máximo Afonso as a solitary man who has "succumbed to the temporary weakness of spirit ordinarily known as depression."

What one mostly sees, indeed it hardly comes as a surprise anymore, are people patiently submitting to solitude's meticulous scrutiny, recent public examples, though not particularly well known and two of whom even met with a happy ending, being the portrait painter whom we only ever knew by his first initial, the GP who returned from exile to die in the arms of the beloved fatherland, the proofreader who drove out a truth in order to plant a lie in its place, the lowly clerk in the Central Registry Office who made off with certain death certificates,...
Gosh! four of his other novels and only two that I have read! (plus one that is on my reading list.) I wonder if the portrait painter is the main character of Manual of Painting and Calligraphy. ...Somehow I had been going along thinking that Baltasar and Blimunda was his first major novel, that I was close to mastering his back catalog. Somehow I had formed the silly impression that Manual of Painting and Calligraphy was what it claimed to be, that based on this and Journey to Portugal, Saramago's previous, untranslated works were not fiction. That is clearly false and it looks like if I really want to know his work, I need to learn Portuguese -- or at least get better at Spanish, it looks like almost all of his novels are translated into that language. As far as his poetry, I've been reading some of it in Spanish online; I think the combination of reading in Spanish for understanding and Portuguese for the sound will be sufficient for getting it, at least once I figure out how to pronounce Portuguese.

posted morning of July 18th, 2009: 3 responses

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