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Jose Saramago’s sincerest flattery

Saramago's catastrophe
Saramago's catastrophe
Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images

Blindness

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If there are any readers out there who remain perplexed about why the ophthalmologist’s wife retains the ability to use her eyes in the novel Blindness, they should think of the wife of Dr. Rieux in Albert Camus’ The Plague. As Mrs. Rieux is absent from the epidemic which decimates Camus’ little corner of Algeria, so the doctor’s wife, in Saramago’s conception, is excluded from sensory deprivation. Both women suffer singular affliction amid a mass aggregate of apocalyptic horror.

Saramago’s use of white light as a symbolic stand in for mortality is undeniably clever, even if it is a time honored, traditional image: as a condition, this white blindness is slightly more inexplicable and disembodied than Camus’ buboes. It generates unimaginable suffering, in this tale it is suffering particular to humanity’s urban environments. It must also be conceded that the author displays no small degree of skill in choosing to leave his characters unnamed but managing to differentiate them with relative ease as his collapse of civilization unfolds. The doctor, his wife, the boy with the squint, the car thief, the woman in the flat who eats her rabbits raw, but dies anyway, possibly for the sake of something.

Blindness was adapted into a film which limped along in distribution, and reviewers complained about technical handicaps, but its failure at the box office points to larger difficulties with this Nobel laureate’s dire warnings, and this is, namely, that the ideological left which lived through the mutual tragedies of Fascism and Marxism in their various guises, this leftist sensibility has exhausted itself into a tiresome stridency.

Even with the reemergence of authoritarian state models, as evinced by the recent Russian expansion, Jose’s Menippean anger has the discomforting feel of a snow job, one that fizzed out alongside the collapse of the Soviet Union. Bummer.