Sunday, May 28, 2006

Hate and mistrust are the children of blindness (Sir William Watson)

It's been several days since I finished reading Seeing by José Saramago. I had to put some distance between being in the book and writing about it because I found that I got emotionally involved in the story. That this involvement happened surprised me. It snuck up on me. I didn't realize it until near the end when a particular passage almost brought me to tears, not only for what it said but also because it was so beautifully written. I read the passage on my lunch break at work, fought back the tears, and somehow managed to continue my day, thinking only that I had to finish the book when I got home. And I did. And I sobbed. The writing in this book is gorgeous. It takes some work to read it since there are long sentences that contain entire conversations without paragraphs or the sorts of punctuation we've come to expect. The effect of such a style is that the story and the tension builds and builds continuously. But if you're like me, concentrating on the reading, you don't notice how involved you've become until the last 50 pages or so when the proverbial shit hits the proverbial fan. But even at the end of the book when the tension is at its peak, and something happens, and you think that maybe, maybe everything will be okay but how is it going to end because you can't imagine what the ending might be, even then, with the small release, within a few pages it is ratcheted up even higher and it goes someplace totally surprising but not contrived, not inappropriate. Within the pages long paragraphs and the sentences that go on forever, are sparkling gems of insight and observation and humor that are easy to miss if one is not paying attention. Here are a few I found that I feel the need to share:

The prime minister's final flourish, Honor your country,...was ruined by a Good night that rang entirely false, but then that is the great thing about ordinary words, they are incapable of deceit. ... The most common occurrence in this world of ours, in these days of stumbling blindly forward, is to come across men and women mature in years and ripe in prosperity, who, at eighteen, were not just beaming beacons of style, but also, and perhaps above all, bold revolutionaries determined to bring down the system supported by their parents and to replace it, at last, with a fraternal paradise, but who are now equally firmly attached to convictions and practices which, having warmed up and flexed their muscles on any of the many available versions of moderate conservatism, become, in time, pure egotism of the most obscene and reactionary kind. Put less respectfully, these men and these women, standing before the mirror of their life, spit every day in the face of what they were with the sputum of what they are. ... Nowadays, having abandoned their blind obedience to the lord's orders, lightning bolts fall only where they want to, and, as has become manifest, one can clearly not count on them to lead this sinful city and caster of blank votes back to the path of righteousness. ... But that's absurd, utterly absurd, As I've learned in this job, not only are the people in government never put off by what we judge absurd, they make use of absurdities to dull consciences and to destroy reason...
Sorry for including so many, but I couldn't help it, they are all so good. Even though the book is called Seeing there is much in it about blindness. Blind is applied by different people to describe other people or groups that don't agree with the one or ones doing the describing. Blind is also deployed by the narrator who intrudes upon the story from time to time. But who is blind and who sees? No one is ever described as having sight but it is clear who those in possession of it are. It is also clear that Saramago sees pretty well himself. The book feels dangerous. Some of the characters in the book can be linked to real life people in terms of attitude and conduct. Some of the situations can be linked to real life as well. And then there are things you hope came from Saramago's imagination because they are just too horrible to make real, but because of what you know is real, you are left to wonder. I find the wondering to be unsettling. The desire to see clearly meets an equally strong desire not to see. I don't often tell people they have to read about, but I want to tell everyone to read this book. I recommend reading Blindness first, though it isn't entirely necessary, it will make what happens in Seeing all the more powerful.