School of the Americas Watch, The
Seeing Like A State
Seventh Bullet, The
Slogans To Be Spread Now By Every Means
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Readers of the Turtle
have occasionally been known to put down their well- thumbed copies
of Capital, and read works of fiction instead. Few contemporary
authors deserve to be higher on summer reading lists than José
After an abortive
couple of novels written in his twenties, Saramago decided his writing
career was over. For 20 years, between 1947 and 1966, Saramago didn't
write a single fictive word, and worked as a clerk in a hospital. He
joined the Portuguese Communist Party in 1969, in April 1974 he became
the editor of the official Communist newspaper, and remained so until
November 1975 when the incumbent centre-right regime purged him from
his job. Faced with the prospect of unemployment, he started to write
again, and with Raised From the Floor (1977) he finally found
the fluid, disarming and richly simple voice which won him the Nobel
prize for literature in 1998.
Saramago is a bit
of a late bloomer -- he was 60 when he first won widespread critical
acclaim for his Baltasar and Blimunda. To date he has written
fewer than ten volumes, including two collections of poetry. But while
his canon may not be large, it is certainly well charged. After hitting
the big time with Baltasar and Blimunda, his second book won
him notoriety: The Gospel According to Jesus Christ tells the
of an all too human Jesus, conceived far from immaculately, and living
the life of a not terribly talented shepherd. The result is a darkly
funny, and poignant, revisiting of the origins of Christianity. Unfortunately,
neither the Vatican nor the Portuguese government quite saw it like
that, and the book was banned for blasphemy. In protest, Saramago left
Portugal and now lives in Lanzarote. The book has since been translated
into twelve languages and has earned Saramago a reputation as a world
class author. Saramago: 1, Church of Rome: Nil.
The Turtle's aesthetic
sensibility is not, however, affected solely by the virtue and credentials
of the writer. Happily, Saramago writes like an angel. His most recent
book, Blindness, is an elegiac and haunting fable of a country
savaged by an epidemic of blindness. One day, and all of a sudden, the
sight of some of the citizens dissolves into 'a milky whiteness'. In
an attempt to control the spread of the disease, the blind are sent
to an asylum, guarded by a frightened army, while the government figures
out what to do with them. Only one character's sight is unaffected throughout
all this: the optician's wife. (There are no proper names in the book
at all - we only come to know characters by the names of their relationships
with each other - the wife, the thief who visited the optician, the
policeman who caught him, etc.) In this key passage, the doctor's wife
passes some of the blind citizens:
a square where groups of blind people entertained themselves by listening
to speeches from other blind people, and at first sight neither group
seemed to be blind, the speakers turned their heads excitedly towards
the listeners and the listeners turned their heads attentively to
the speakers. They were extolling the virtues of the fundamental principles
of the great organised systems, private property, a free currency
market, the market economy, the stock exchange, taxation, interest,
expropriation and appropriation, production, distribution, consumption,
supply and demand, poverty and wealth, communication, repression and
delinquency, lotteries, prisons, of the penal code, the Seville code,
the highway code, dictionaries, the telephone directory, networks
of prostitution, of armaments factories, the Armed Forces, cemeteries,
the police, smuggling, drugs, permitted illegal traffic, pharmaceutical
research, gambling, the price of priests and funerals, justice, borrowing,
political parties, collections, Parliaments, governments, complex,
concave, horizontal, vertical, slotted, concentrated, diffuse, fleeting
thoughts, the fraying of the vocal cords, the death of the word."
In this lyrical
prose, the book follows the optician's wife, from her decision to feign
blindness in order to follow her husband into the asylum, through the
terror of the degenerating conditions there, and into the deserted city
beyond. It is a powerful story, told with the compassion of Primo Levi's
If this Is A Man, with the withering (and occasionally heavy
handed) humour of Nineteen Eighty Four and raising, albeit far
more subtly, some of the issues broached in The Lord of the Flies.
Indeed, Blindness has started to creep on to undergraduate syllabi
for precisely these reasons.
continues to write and has just completed a short story, set off the
northern coast of South America, "El Cuento de la Isla Desconocida"
(The Tale of the Unknown Island), and he'll be giving 100% of the profits
from it to the Colombian earthquake disaster relief fund. It is because
of writing and gestures such as these that Saramago has become one of
the Turtle's favourite Portuguese.
You can find Saramago's
works in your local library.
to the top.
of the Americas Watch, The
Read about the heroic
activities of the School of the Americas Watch and its founder, Father
Roy Bourgeois, in the Turtle's November
Salute. The SOAW webpage
is itself packed with useful information about the nefarious activities
of the School of the Americas, and is highly recommended.
to the top.
Like A State
James C. Scott's
Seeing Like A State: How Certain Schemes to Improve the Human Condition
Have Failed, published by Yale University Press in 1998 as a part
of its Agrarian Studies Series, is the subject of the first Symposium
of the Turtle, the heart of the Autumn
Literary Harvest Festival of 1999.
to the top.
(directed by Ali
Khamraev, USSR, 1972, 85 mins, starring Dilorom Kambarova, Suimenkul
Chokmorov, Bolot Bejshenaliyev, Talgat Nigmatulin)
Deeply obscure (as
of June 2002, the Internet Movie Database has yet to receive five votes
on its stature) but nonetheless fascinating, the mere fact that this