Blindness is Saramago’s most powerful novel. It is a grim story of the barbarity, degeneracy, and overwhelming despair that overtakes a society in which every persom but one goes blind, and all are trapped in some extreme political malevolence and transformed into brutish beasts floundering in the horror of that awful darkness of total blindness that visits all humanity held in some totalitarian vise. None of the characters in Blindness is given a name. There is the doctor and the doctor’s wife, the girl with the dark glasses, the old man with the black eyepatch, etc., written just like that, without even the dignity of initial capitals. Saramago pushes his characters to the limits of endurance to suggest that there is no bodily degradation that a person will not submit to in order to survive, and he spares no details in the accumulation of horrors that become unbearably painful to observe—e.g., a woman must suck the dripping penis of a man who has just withdrawn it after raping another because the women’s meager ration of food is in his criminal control. The scene is created with such physical force that the reader is made to suffer the woman’s excruciatingly revolting sensation—and though it’s a world in which people cannot see what they’re doing, it could not be projected on each imagination with sharper clarity. In creating such a world, Saramago has created a novel with a searing vision, and its meaning is not exclusively political (how a nation falls into a common blindness) or anthropological (how quickly people abandon civilized control) or philosophical (why the conditions of life are so intolerable, and what, after all, is life?), but includes all of these ideas and then goes beyond them to become that poetical vision which is intuitively experienced by the reader as the distinguishing characteristic of a timeless work of art.
I was talking about Saramago to a friend yesterday, so here’s a Saramago article from Dalkey Archive Press’ Context. [via Context]