Thursday, June 16, 2005

"Blindness" by Jose Saramago

An epidemic of blindness. That’s the central allegory of Nobel Laureate Jose Saramago’s novel. The victims do not experience blank dark, but a mysterious white incandescence that would evoke awe were it not for the disability. The white blindness first afflicts a man stopped at a traffic light. From there, the affliction spreads to hundreds of people who are immediately quarantined in an abandoned psychiatric hospital--all the inmates sightless, except inexplicably one woman, the wife of the ophthalmologist and the main character of a narrative that pursues a group of seven struggling to emotionally and theologically manage a blight with no etiology or explanation within grasp. Desperation spreads among the swarm of blind internees crammed in a dilapidated structure; decorum fails and tyrants appear, otherwise normal people who soon discover how to control a vital resource (bins of food) and then exploit those who need it, some for their jewelry and some for their bodies.

Eventually, the quarantine fails and the internees escape, since the guards with guns also go blind, along with the whole town (with the abiding exception of that woman, who keeps her secret within the group). For all that we know, the whole world has lost its eyes. But it’s an unexplored question, for Saramago masterfully dissuades external curiosity. Instead, you’re pulled into carefully drawn characters whose names are never told. There is the fine control of an author agile with his allegory and careful in dispersing biting observations throughout the narrative, often bleak and despondent.

The group ventures out into the city, blind eyes everywhere, a veritable urban heap of distressed, filthy, and hungry people feeling their way around, stumbling into corpses and waste of putrid proportions, people searching for food and lodging wherever they may find it. Ownership and currency mean nothing. It’s about survival only, with food as the main objective of life.

There are many layers to the story, much to understand about thinly covered despondency of our day ready to show itself, only temporarily restrained by a fundamental pointlessness that’s vaguely agreed upon. One aspect that consistently juts out of the narrative, however, is the woman with eyes that work. She is the savior of her group, the guide, the person without whom doom would have been inevitable. She was the Seer, as far as the blind were concerned. It has to be this way: people created with sensory functions needing guidance from one who sees more. What would this lady’s sight mean to these people had they no conception of sight? What possible value would they attach to her? But they knew something about sight, though now all lost, so she was their guide by default. No vote or opinion offered. It was a priori understanding that such a person should naturally lead and be obeyed. Perhaps that’s part of the allegory, of God, the All-Seeing, guiding people to what they cannot see but must be trusted. Or it is of prophecy, elect mortals experiencing insight delivered from above, walking people through the City.

Jose Saramago is a Portuguese writer who was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1998.


Blogger Cyrus Roxas said...

The Godlight Theatre Company is producing Blindness in New York. Adapted and Directed by Joe Tantalo. It starts March 1st.

2/02/2007 3:25 PM  

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