José Saramago – the political dimension

Hélio Oiticica, Tropicália, Penetráveis ​​PN 2 'Pureza é um mito' and PN 3 'Image', 1966-7
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By AMARILIO FERREIRA JR.*

Commentary on a Facet of Saramago's Literature

José Saramago by himself: (a) “My work can be understood as a reflection on error. Yes, about the error as an installed truth and therefore suspect”; (b) “My art consists in trying to show that there is no difference between the imaginary and the lived. The lived could be imagined, as well as the opposite”.

The political dimension of José Saramago (1922-2010) was engraved in the body of literary work he bequeathed us. Not only because he was elected, in 1989, president of the Municipal Assembly of Lisbon, a kind of Parliament composed of 106 seats, but also because, this year, we commemorate the 100th anniversary of the birth of a voice that was demolishing, and we still miss it today. From his timid mouth came harsh denunciations against “established truths”, “dogmas and shady beliefs” or even the “disillusionment” that peacefully accepted the consumerist banality of the Western world.

After having joined the Portuguese Communist Party (PCP) in 1969, his literature became amalgamated between reality and imagination, as well as universes related to dreams and everyday politics. In moments of crisis in which moral virtues were at stake, the literate was transfigured into a public intellectual who abandoned imagination a little to dedicate himself to the concrete reality of the world. His novels, because of this distinctive feature, always moved between fiction and non-fiction.

He shaped his work through a dialectical movement that transmuted quantitative elements (reality) into qualitative elements (imagination) or vice versa. He produced texts in which these shifting passages exacerbated the logic of the Portuguese language beyond its grammatical limits. By the way, he didn't like to use full stop. And that was how his “pen” inexorably marked world literature.

Furthermore, we can say that the conception of the world he professed – Marxist and atheist – marked his literature transversally through the negation of the negation both in relation to Western capitalism and Christianity, particularly Roman Catholicism. A cultural fruit of western civilization itself, Saramago had the Portuguese language as his “homeland”, as Fernando Pessoa taught us. The 1998 Nobel Prize for Literature, used the plot derived from Galician as a cork to dismember the cultural body of the proper civilization that Camões' epic has delegated to us.

It exposed its “guts” through a radical critique, without any concession to the binomial Christianity-capitalism. Considering that the structuring pillars of Western civilization rest on this monomial, no other writer wrote about the historical figure of Jesus Christ – without subjecting himself to an obligatory respect – as José Saramago did. He expressed his position, ascetic and piercing, better than two other “accursed icons” of Western literature: David Herbert Lawrence (1885-1930) and Norman Mailer (1923-2007). In comparison with these two Anglo-Saxon writers, respectively authors of Apocalypse (1931) and The Gospel according to the Son (1997), Saramago's novels about Christianity were much more humanist and demolishing in relation to the mythology that the West created for the Christian god.

In this brief text, I will refer to only two of Saramago's novels in order to reaffirm both the deep humanism he professed and the denial he maintained in relation to a possible creative being located outside men themselves. In O Evangelho second Jesus Christ (1991), he referred to the origin of the Nazarene thus: “the son of Joseph and Mary was born like all the sons of men, dirty with his mother's blood, slimy with her mucus and suffering in silence. He cried because he was made to cry, and he will cry for that one and only reason.”

Em Cain (2009), his writing predicted the following: “I have always heard the ancients say that the wiles of the devil do not prevail against the will of God, but now I doubt that Satan is nothing more than an instrument of the Lord, the one in charge of bringing the I carry out the dirty works that God cannot sign with his name”. The excerpts above are emblematic to highlight the fact that Saramago distinguished himself in a unique way in the context of Western literature.

However, the radical criticism that Saramago engendered against religious worldviews cannot be disassociated from the same acidity with which he rejected capitalism. Therefore, to commemorate the event corresponding to the 100th anniversary of his birth, I would like, in this short text, to present a hypothesis that I consider feasible and without which it will be difficult for us to navigate the “literary labyrinths” constructed by Saramago: the attempt to expunge from his literature, the manifest antagonism between Marxism/atheism – on the one hand – and capitalism/Christianity – on the other – is a way of approaching it, at least inconsistently.

This prognosis is based on the following assertion: the organic and unitary relationship between capitalism and Christianity irremediably marked the Western world after 1789. From there, two trends emerged that became the background of the proscenium in which José Saramago wrote, for example, the two novels here cited. Deep in the depths of the “ulterior debate” that took place between Karl Marx (1818-1883) and Max Weber (1864-1920) during the XNUMXth century, Saramago never relied on the idea that the “Protestant ethic” had engendered capitalism .

For the illustrious resident of Lanzarote, capitalism was actually born based on human labor exploited by man himself, who became “like a god”, in the same sense used by Marx both in his youthful writings and in his mature work: The capital (1867)

But it was not only in relation to the logic that presides over capitalist relations of production that Saramago expressed his affiliation with Marxism. His atheism also laid links in the theoretical matrix developed by the German philosopher. In one of his interviews with the newspaper The State of S. Paul (2009), he explained the meaning of his irreligiousness as follows: “god, demon, good, evil, everything is in our head and not in heaven or hell, which were also invented by man. We do not realize that, by inventing God, we immediately become his slaves”. In Karl Marx (1818-1883), in the work Critique of Hegel's Philosophy of Right – Introduction (1844), we find the following passage: “religious misery constitutes at the same time the expression of real misery and the protest against real misery. Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, as well as the spirit of brutish states of affairs. She is the opium of the people.”

Therefore, it is not possible to dissociate the literature of José Saramago from the writings of Karl Marx, since his criticism of capitalist and Christian society comes, therefore, through the bias of Marxian theory. If we take liberalism and Christianity as ideological and cultural essences of Western civilization, we can say that Saramago maintained a relationship of unity and struggle of opposites with it.

The unity materialized in the historical tradition created by Western civilization, which gave him the Neo-Latin language that flourished in the Iberian Peninsula in Roman times and which he used as a lacerating acumen. As for the struggle of opposites, he took sides between two historical blocs that are mutually exclusive: atheism/communism versus Christianity/Capitalism. An observation is necessary here: other great artists of the XNUMXth century, outside of literature, also struggled with these dichotomous issues raised by Saramago.

Filmmakers Pier Paolo Pasolini (1922-1975) and Stanley Kubrick (1928-1999) directed, in that order, The Gospel according to Saint Matthew (1964) and eyes wide shut (1999). Masterpieces of world cinema, the first is a declaration of love for humanism condensed in the historical figure of Jesus Christ, especially considering that its director was a communist and an atheist; the other, on the other hand, exposed, in a film lasting two hours and thirty-nine minutes, the trifle with which the market, based on the law of supply and demand, transformed human sexuality into an alienated obsession, in which the female body is transformed into a merchandise that is discarded after being used.

In Kubrick's film, capitalism is synonymous with death. Therefore, Saramago was not the only artist who established a dialectical relationship of unity and, at the same time, of collision with the edifying structures of Western civilization.

But Saramago paid a price for using his language in such a cruel way, especially in the land of The Lusiads, from where he retired to live in the Canary Islands. When awarded the literary prize in Stockholm (1998), the newspaper The Osservatore Romano, an official organ of the Holy See, thus declared himself: “a communist with an anti-religious vision of the world”. Later, the newspaper The State of S. Paul nothing was owed to the Vatican newspaper.

In 2009, the year of publication of Cain, the title of the article in your Notebook 2 it was a kind of condemnatory sentence: “Saramago attacks God again”. Yes, Saramago was the Western writer who hit like no one else the frantically possessed imbrication between Christianity and capitalism. His death in 2010 not only left world literature more inopic, but humanity also lost “a good man, an excellent person and a magnificent writer”, in the parting words of Pilar del Rio, his Spanish lover.

*Amarilio Ferreira Jr. is professor of education at the Federal University of São Carlos (UFSCar).

 

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