23 July 2015

Having Ears That Cannot See, Eyes Which Cannot Hear

The eye of man hath not heard, the ear of man hath not seen, man's hand is not able to taste, his tongue to conceive, nor his heart to report, what my dream was. Bottom, in Shakespeare, A Midsummer Night's Dream (4.1.211-214).

Blindness. I started it a few years ago, and having been distracted by other more pressing things, and not wanting to begin again after a rather lengthy hiatus, put the book on the shelf to gather dust along with my self-loathing for abandoning yet another obviously important and powerful book. I forced myself to recommence. I'm surprised I didn't go blind from reading for so many hours straight.

I got past the first part I had initially read and by then, I was all in: feet, hands, and all, up to the eyeballs!

This book, while a translation (which alone makes it layered), is seemingly simplistic. Nothing could be further from the truth. If one simply took the idea of voice, it would fill many pages with all of the nuances of meaning in that concept as it is depicted by José Saramago in this amazing novel. Yes, it can be read as simply a harrowing and interesting story.... But, why limit it; or yourself, for that matter?

Like Shakespeare's King Lear, this novel plays with the denotations AND the connotations of the words blind, and see. It also has fun and many memorable antics with such words/concepts as: hear, smell, taste, touch, balance, and fear, to list just a few. Particularly peculiar is synesthesia in lines such as "... blinding a man's sense of smell" (177). A reader would be rewarded by reading and rereading this work, each time focusing on a different of the senses as the theme.

Also, the ideas of clean and dirty, good and bad, right and wrong, self and other, us and them, are explored here, as are liminality, temptation and transgression. You would think the book would be several times thicker, something in the neighborhood of David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest, or William Gaddis's The Recognitions, or maybe, War and Peace or The Bible, but Saramago pulls it off like he has Hermione Grainger's magic bag (which holds a large tent among other things). All the desirables and the undesirables have found representatives in Blindness. I mentioned The Bible because there is a lot of allusion to that work in this one. Adam and Eve, the lepers, and Ruth's words to Naomi: "Where you go, I will go."

The ideas behind this novel may not be known entirely, but it makes me think of the things that are truly important. If tomorrow, all the world goes blind, it won't matter if you are rich or poor, have a job or are unemployed, own a house or rent. When all the world is blind your looks no longer matter. Who cares if you have the perfect body or are a little fluffy? To the blind a Rolls Royce is not much different than a VW bug; they are unable to drive either of them.

It's the life itself that is important, that is precious; your life and the life of other living beings. The Buddha has this pegged. For some reason, the capitalism of our age has become a blind consumerism, where even relationships can be thrown away and new ones sought when we tire of them. The people who become the protagonists in this story realize the importance of relationship/trust/friendship over material or over class or any other dividing concept. People are equaled out and relationships/friendships are important. These people may not have become friends had their world not turned inside out. That's something to cogitate on. The latest iPhone, or Samsung, or even the cheapest most looked down upon flip phone, would be worthless if all the electricity was suddenly gone. Blindness has challenged me to reevaluate my priorities yet again. This is something I've done several times in my life. Don't get me wrong, here. Having things is great. I'm just trying to remind myself and you to keep it real and balanced out.

Unlike me, Saramago reminds his readers of these things without getting up on a soap box. He lets the characters live it out. The idea of show, don't tell is interesting in this work. How do you show blindness? Well, obviously it can be done; Saramago did it. Yes, he told, too, but I could see the people doing the things his words said. And, I haven't seen the film....

My only regret, besides not having finished this novel sooner, is that I can't read Portuguese and so can't read it in the original. Yet.

I hope you check it out and I hope you enjoy it, in all its gruesome glory, as much as I did.

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