Saramago describes himself as a child as melancholic, and further explains that this is not a bad thing. Where is the virtue in being happy? "C'est bien la tristesse." For the soul. A typically Portuguese sentiment (to which I relate).
You are sad, you are happy, you write, you don't write.
Adrienne Clarkson suggests he was a late-bloomer, to which he agrees maybe he bloomed differently. You bloom in one way when the time is right, and then again. He seems to be saying that in order to write, one must live first and bear witness.
He fears the specialist, the "What do you do for a living?" askers.
"One writes well under liberty. But under a dictatorhip, the writer is more intelligent." One learns to overcome, to fool, to be vigilant. One masters language as a cryptic device.
(Saramago assures the Governor General, and the audience, that he is not suggesting she instate a dictatorship — Canadians are already sufficiently intelligent.)
Clarkson raises the theme of bureaucratic walls his protagonists keep running up against. Saramago, to my surprise, segués to the subject of women. Are the women also walls?
[His female characters are weakly drawn, but they are often catalysts, driving forces (for better or worse) and inspiration. I don't think he actively dismisses them so much as he doesn't consider them at all. There's something of a saint–whore complex to them. Saramago is an old man, from the Old Country, so for this I forgive him.]
"For men, women are opaque. Men for women are transparent."
He admits women are a mystery, with a "force intérieure." It is evident he loves women. He gazes lovingly and respectfully at his current wife, seated in the audience. There is tenderness and awe.
Clarkson turns to The Cave, a vision of the near future, and in this context asks Saramago for his impression of West Edmonton Mall (which he recently visited).
Saramago has much to say about the shopping centre. (I'm reminded of my visit to Portugal — a man I'd met wanted to show me around the city, so we took the subway out to one the city's more recently contructed landmarks and a point of pride. A suburban mall.)
Shopping centres are clean, well-lit, calm, secure. There is never a lack of people offering to help you. There are women whose happiest moments in life have been realized in a mall.
The mall is not much different from the traditional market or main street in concept, but there is a difference of spirit.
The conversation turns a little political. A citizen's duties. The duty to vote. We must choose; also we must have choice.
Saramago is tearful "What's happened to the human species?" "Is God an assassin?" Why do we accept to live in a world like this?
Each of us in in our own hearts knows that we have responsibility for the future, and knows what that responsibility is.
I have a hard time believing I understood all that was said (in French!), even if I feel as if I did. Perhaps my comprehension was better than usual because of the "level" playing field — all participants were not native speakers of French. More likely, I've made a lot of this up. Recognized a few words and filled in the blanks to match the expressions and gesticulations. Still, that's not to say I didn't gain anything from the evening — I engaged with my own self for some fresh insight into Saramago's character and work, whether or not he actually said any of these things.
What Saramago is currently reading:
Flaubert's Parrot, Julian Barnes.
(Actually, rereading, if I understood correctly.)
His favourites and influences:
Gogol, Kafka, Montaigne, Cervantes.
He comments also on the impact on him personally of the lesser known (internationally, relatively) Portueguese canon, highlighting Anton Vieira, a 17th century Jesuit, as having great personal significance in addition to his importance in forming the literary tradition in which Saramago was raised.
Gracing the book of his that has the most personal significance to me.
Blindness on screen
Jonathan Safran Foer gets his wish.
The mood in reference to the planned movie adapation of Blindness was celebratory, it being a point of pride that the much-sought after rights (more than 30 serious requests, Saramago says) were granted to a Canadian.
In March 1999, Saramago
explained that in his own novel, Ensaio sobre a Cegueira (Blindness), he had striven to express his own perception of that dehumanised modern reality which Kafka's work foreshadows: his main purpose in this novel was 'to denounce the perversion of human relations'. He had been asked by numerous film directors for permission to film this novel, but the answer was no: he felt that a film of his book would reduce it to a mere spectacle of sex and violence and — as had happened with Umberto Eco's The Name of the Rose — deprive it of its entire intellectual content.
Saramago: man of greatness. Unquestionably Nobel-worthy. Clever, down to earth, funny, sincere. He gives a lot of thought to what he says; he's not afraid to say what he thinks. He's shy, but poised, exuding some vast inner reserve of calm and wisdom. He stands in awe of the world, and shouts about it from the rooftops of his novels.
From Saramago's Nobel lecture:
The apprentice thought, "we are blind", and he sat down and wrote Blindness to remind those who might read it that we pervert reason when we humiliate life, that human dignity is insulted every day by the powerful of our world, that the universal lie has replaced the plural truths, that man stopped respecting himself when he lost the respect due to his fellow-creatures.