Algernon (Darth Anyan)'s Reviews > Blindness

Blindness by José Saramago
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it was amazing
bookshelves: 2014


I’ve read more than my share of post-apocalyptic novels where humanity is suddenly wiped out by a sudden plague or enslaved by aliens, attacked by zombies, buried under snow or under volcanic ash. I have even read one about people going blind overnight in The Day of the Triffids by John Wyndham. Yet, none of them managed to touch me so deeply and to disturb me out of my comfortably numb daily routine as Jose Saramago’s account. There are no teenage chosen ones to pull us back from the brink of extinction, no armed to the teeth Rambo’s to drive back the forces of evil, no scientists to discover a cure by the 25th hour. The blindness epidemic is as unavoidable as the radiation cloud closing in on the last survivors of the atomic holocaust in Nevil Shute’s novel On the Beach (my top choice for post-apocalyptic novels until this one).

Blindness is also this, to live in a world where all hope is gone.

While the description of the affliction and of the progressive dissolution of all social and moral institutions is ‘concrete and real’, (... no imagination, however fertile and creative in making comparisons, images and metaphors, could aptly describe the filth there.) I believe the correct way to read the novel is as a master metaphor of going through life blind to the fragility of our existence and of our ‘civilized’ way of life, ignorant or indifferent to the abuses and the violence going on all around us.

This is the stuff we’re made of, half indifference and half malice.

The phrase ‘man’s inhumanity to man’ has been used before, and the way the unnamed governement in the novel reacts to the first cases of the epidemic (first denial, then frantic damage control, later isolation and military guards with trigger happy fingers) is sadly reminding me that life beats fiction as I watch the unfolding events and the mass hysteria in the ongoing Ebola epidemic.

I will not delve too much on the plot, as I believe the message is more important than the details. I could make a comparison and say the novel is kind of like Lord of the Flies with adults instead of children, devolving all the way back to the animal instincts, to predator and prey and ruthless selfishness. But it would be a false image. Yes, there is a group of isolated people in a kind of concentration camp, and yes, some of these people try to take the law into their own hands and treat others as slaves, but throughout the novel there is an enduring inner core that still distinguishes between right and wrong, there are still people who try to maintain their dignity and their integrity, who are ready to fight back and help a person in distress.

The moral conscience that so many thoughtles people have offended against and many more have rejected, is something that exists and has always existed, it was not an invention of the philosophers of the Quaternary, when the soul was little more than muddled proposition. With the passing of time, as well as the social evolution and genetic exchange, we ended up putting our conscience in the colour of blood and in the salt of tears, and, as if that were not enough, we made our eyes into a kind of mirror turned inwards, with the result that they often show without reserve what we are verbally trying to deny.

There is a writer at one point of the story, blind himself, yet still trying to put down on paper his thoughts in unintelligible scribbles goind up and down and crosswise over a blank page (my favorite cover of the novel among several). It may be a interpreted either as a pointless exercise, as the ultimate failure of art to help with real life and death problems, or as the irrepressible spirit of man that refuses to go silently into the night, that fights back against oblivion and hopelessness:

... words inscribed on the whitenes of the page, recorded in blindness, I am only passing through, the writer had said, and these were the signs he had left in passing. “Don’t lose yourself, don’t let yourself be lost!”

I have looked through the rest of my bookmarks, and all the quotes I have selected are a reiteration of the basic conflict between the material dissolution and the persistence of the moral spirit. I believe they are self explanatory:

If we cannot live entirely like human beings, at least let us do everything in our power not to live entirely like animals.
---

The tuning knob continued to extract noises from the tiny box, then it settled down, it was a song, a song of no significance, but the blind internees slowly began gathering round, without pushing, they stopped the moment they felt a presence before them and there they remained, listening, their eyes wide open turned in the direction of the voice that was singing, some were crying, as probably only the blind can cry, the tears simply flowing as from a fountain.
---

You have no idea what it is like to watch two blind people fighting. Fighting has always been, more or less, a form of blindness.
---

Blind people do not need a name, I am my voice, nothing else matters.
---

Dying has always been a matter of time. But to die just because you’re blind, there can be no worse way of dying, We die of illnesses, accidents, chance events, And now we shall also die of blindness, I mean, we shall die of blindness and cancer, of blindness and tuberculosis, of blindness and AIDS, of blindness and heart attacks, illnesses may differ from one person to another but what is really killing us now is blindness, We are not immortal, we cannot escape death, but at least we should not be blind.
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Quotes Algernon (Darth Anyan) Liked

José Saramago
“The only miracle we can perform is to go on living, said the woman, to preserve the fragility of life from day to day, as if it were blind and did not know where to go, and perhaps it is like that, perhaps it really does not know, it placed itself in our hands, after giving us intelligence.”
José Saramago, Blindness

José Saramago
“You have no idea what it is like to watch two blind people fighting. Fighting has always been, more or less, a form of blindness.”
José Saramago, Blindness
tags: war


Reading Progress

September 3, 2014 – Started Reading
September 3, 2014 – Shelved
October 6, 2014 – Shelved as: 2014
October 6, 2014 – Finished Reading

Comments Showing 1-19 of 19 (19 new)

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message 1: by Samadrita (new) - added it

Samadrita Powerful review, Algernon. That image of the blind writer trying to put down his thoughts on paper in barely legible scribbles stays with me somehow. Must pick up Saramago's nightmarish, dystopian classic soon.


Algernon (Darth Anyan) The writer is one of the less disturbing characters in the book. it is not for the fainthearted, especially when it comes to scenes of women abuse and physical violence


Renato Magalhães Rocha Can't express how happy I am that you not only read this, but rated it 5 stars and wrote such a great review! :-)


Algernon (Darth Anyan) Those Nobel Prizes are awarded for a reason: the books says so much about our humanity, who can only be revealed in adversity.
I plan to see the movie, and maybe also read the sequel.


Erin One of my all-time favorites....and I love it so much I don't want to EVER see the movie!


Algernon (Darth Anyan) I know it is difficult to capture all the subtlety of the book in a movie that will probably deal more with the shocking aspects of the story, but i am still interested to find out how they've done the adaptation.


message 7: by Dolors (last edited Oct 06, 2014 11:12AM) (new)

Dolors Stupendous dialogue between the selected quotes and your own impressions Algernon. This is a chilling novel and I also wondered what made some people radicalise their vices whereas others maintained their dignity and tried to act accordingly to a moral code. I should re-read this one.


message 8: by Algernon (Darth Anyan) (last edited Oct 06, 2014 11:24AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Algernon (Darth Anyan) I am now linking some of the quotes with similar ones from other writers. I try to remember one from David Mitchell about music keeping the wolves from our door (I think it is in Cloud Atlas, from the composer type)


Renato Magalhães Rocha I'm reading the sequel. It's very interesting as well and another great idea to write about.


Algernon (Darth Anyan) good to know. the presence of the sequel indicates that the world didn't end, after all.


message 11: by Steve (new)

Steve Thanks to this excellent review, I know to expect great things from this book, and also to fear it. You're a man who can put chilling accounts into perspective. So when you tell us it's an affecting tale, I'm inclined to believe you.


Algernon (Darth Anyan) You wonder while you are reading how would you cope in this situation, blind and with nobody to help you, to clean or to feed you.


message 13: by Ian (new) - rated it 3 stars

Ian Laird I think the power of the book is in what you say about the personal impact – it really hits home that the event, the blindness, is happening to people as they are going about their everyday lives, and its genesis in unknown; there are no easy fixes. And secondly, how easily and thoroughly social order could collapse. Splendid review.


Algernon (Darth Anyan) I have read The Day of the Triffids, and I think I know what you try to say about the lack of action or of a larger perspective, that is hinted at only after the group goes out into the city.

I remember thinking that after the whole degradation of social order in the first half of the book, the more upbeat ending belonged to a wholedifferent kind of novel.


Seemita "I will not delve too much on the plot, as I believe the message is more important than the details."

Bang-on, Algernon! That is precisely what drives this tour-de-force novel to achieve; revelatory!


Algernon (Darth Anyan) I think of this book when I have a blue day and nothing turns out right, and I am reminded to be grateful for all the gifts we take for granted, even a glass of cool water and clean pillow to lay my head down.
You are so right this is not a depressing story.


message 17: by Ian (new) - rated it 3 stars

Ian Laird Algernon wrote: "I think of this book when I have a blue day and nothing turns out right, and I am reminded to be grateful for all the gifts we take for granted, even a glass of cool water and clean pillow to lay m..."
It does make me grateful, like when I walk outdoors and notice the trees and the light playing on the buildings. I am still intrigued though - why does the wife remain sighted? And is this mass event like the flood, a cleansing of the earth? Are people supposed to feel more generous and understanding after the deprivation?


Algernon (Darth Anyan) I read it like a fable (the Flood, as you put it), because immunity to the sickmess would not have been limited to only one person. Plus, the plot would devolve too rapidly into chaos without the wife, I think, so she is necessary as a literary device.


message 19: by Ian (new) - rated it 3 stars

Ian Laird Algernon wrote: "I read it like a fable (the Flood, as you put it), because immunity to the sickmess would not have been limited to only one person. Plus, the plot would devolve too rapidly into chaos without the w..."I think you are exactly right.


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