Thursday, March 17, 2005

The possibility of the impossible

Many years ago, my wonderful mother-in-law mentioned a writer I might like: José Saramago. She reads him in the original Portuguese; I have to make do with English translation, but his prose (and the excellent translation) comes through with living clarity.

The first book of his I read was Blindness. Since then, I save his books, parcel them out as special treats so I don't run out of them too quickly; I wait until I can bring to each book the active attention it asks.

The latest book, which I just finished, is called The Double, and I see that his power continues to grow. I laughed at the following exhange early in the book (Saramago doesn't use quotation marks--you know it's a different speaker because the phrase begins with a capital--sounds odd & clunky, but it flows, inside his books it's almost as though the voices are speaking inside my own head). The speakers are two high school teachers, talking about individual responsibility for the state of the world:

Contenting yourself with the music of the orchestra you play in and with the part you play in it is a common mistake..., Some people are more responsible than others, you and I for example, are relatively innocent, of the worst evils that is, Ah, the usual argument of the easy conscience...the best way to achieve a universal exoneration is to conclude that since everyone is to blame, no one is guilty, Perhaps there's nothing we can do about it, perhaps they're just the world's problems, The only problems the world has are problems caused by people...

And so succinctly does he bring about what I was trying to say.

In the same book, one of the most romantic bits of dialogue I've ever read. Earlier the main character's beloved leaves a message on his answering machine:

...I imagine how wonderful it would be if you were to phone me just because you felt like it, like someone who suddenly feels thirsty and goes and drinks a glass of water, but I know that would be asking too much of you...

Three pages later he calls her:

Maria da Paz asked, Is that you, and he replied, Yes, it's me, I was thirsty and I've come to ask for a glass of water.

If I am doomed to live until I'm ninety-five years old, I will be happy if only I can approach the level of his work.

2 comments:

monkey#5 said...

A writer I know wrote:

"When I raised my arms I felt him standing behind me, running his fingers down my side. He lifted me as I jumped, and when I curled my body into a backbend, I was offering everything I had to him. I was carrying a thousand million volts, and it all came crackling out on the dance floor."

Pretty damn close, you ask me.

Chemical Billy said...

blush.