Saramago, Nicolélis and the doctor's wife

Clara Figueiredo, series_ quarantine records, warning sign, São Paulo, 2020


Newspapers forget that the light they pretended to be when they annihilated the sphere of politics may have blinded common sense and clouded the future.

“Fear is blind, said the girl with dark glasses, Those are the right words, we were already blind the moment we became blind, fear blinded us, fear will keep us blind, Who is speaking, asked the doctor, A blind man, replied the voice, only a blind man, is what we have here”.

The above excerpt is from the novel by Nobel Prize winner in Literature in 1998, José Saramago. First published in 1995, Ensaio about Cegueira narrates the story of an epidemic of white blindness that affects the residents of a city one by one, spreads rapidly causing chaos, and undermines the structures and norms of a civilized society.

Saramago recognized that it was a terribly painful book, without any relief, immersed in the affliction of a reality that illustrates very well what he turned into fiction. In one of his public presentations of the novel, the author said: “This is a frankly terrible book that I want the reader to suffer as much as I suffered writing it. It describes a long torture. It is a brutal and violent book and is simultaneously one of the most painful experiences of my life. There are 300 pages of constant distress. Through writing, I tried to say that we are not good and that we need to have the courage to recognize that”.

The brutal fiction created by Saramago assaults me every time I watch the news impregnated with a real and astonishing tragedy: we are not good. Are? Would journalism have the courage to recognize its insufficiency in the face of the tragic coincidences that devastate the world and produce more and more corpses? There is a civilizational crisis forged in inequality, in the system's inability to generate wealth and maintain social and democratic standards, in the emergence of murderous and daring fascism.

In this corner of the world, the story has more tragic tones and at the same time, pathetic. It is not surprising that in these last two weeks Brazil and Porto Alegre have been the subject of headlines and editorials in the world's leading press (New York Times, Wall Street Journal e The Washington Post), denouncing the predictable collapse and saying in all letters how much maintaining the President of the Country is today a danger to the planet. It was no different in Brazilian newspapers that traditionally defend the interests of the elite and did not hesitate to support an obscure and demented politician who praised torture. O Estadão, yes, the same one who considers Lula's legal reparation a risk to Democracy, calls out the monster he helped to create and cynically keeps him in artificial symmetry with the entire spectrum of the left. But it's not just the Estadão asking for the incapable to leave. Now, pages and pages, hours of coverage, shoals of columnists cry out to stop the perverse and are reluctant to recognize that they no longer have the same influence they used to help defeat a popular project and break democratic normality.

Journalism, not just here, fails to capture perception, shape opinion, inculcate the dimension of danger. There is no lack of information, there is no lack of exposition of the terrifying results of the collapse caused by the pandemic, there is an abundance of testimonies from scientists, reports from exhausted doctors, weeping from victims and family members deprived of everything, even the funeral farewell, a gesture that, in fact, distinguishes us, from the beginnings, as human beings. Why, in the face of news full of numbers, victims, data, guidelines, do people not change their perception of risk, do not think about the collective, do not moderate the revolt because they are prevented from following their routines, do not hesitate to prioritize economic activities?

In Ensaio sobre a Cegueira, the characters who are not identified by name, but by physical characteristics, disabilities or professions, are affected by a type of sudden blindness that is not traditional. It is a white blindness, as if vision had been overtaken by a dense cloud, never before experienced or described. It is an illness about which little is known, including its severity or cure. Blindness spreads and in the face of the pandemic and chaos, infected people are placed in isolation, in an old asylum, where traces of humanity and humanism are left behind and the most atavistic faces emerge in the struggle for survival, in the satisfaction of impulses and most basic needs. With scarce and limited resources, animal instincts replace rational behavior, eliminating ethical and moral aspects.

Doesn't sound familiar? Clandestine parties, clandestine vaccine purchase, clandestine trade. Fractions that lose their name and come together in collectives that can defend the most barbaric, are merchants, businessmen, believers, specialists, representatives of a market with temperament that is terrified in the face of a judicial decision and omits in the face of death statistics. Journalism even tries to turn numbers into faces and names, but accounting is so high that it no longer fits in the stories.

The barbaric scenes described in Saramago's book (the quarantined relieve themselves anywhere, kill for no reason, rape only for the pleasure of power over others, eat the flesh of those who are dead, etc.) are no longer at a distance. very significant than what we can expect if, in fact, no extreme measures of removal of the incapable, summary closure of cities and effective social protection are not applied.

The Doctor's Wife, the central character of Saramago's plot because she is the only one he continues to see, describes a terrible scene of what the city has become. Putrified bodies in the middle of the street, a dirty city with feces, rats, garbage and urine. All together, including people who were still alive. At this point, the challenge is not to fight for a job, money or success, as the city is completely destroyed, but to find shelter, food and survival outside the asylum.

Again, doesn't it sound repeated? Scientist Miguel Nicolélis' harsh and desperate interview warns us that we are on the verge of a point of no return in which the pandemic will be joined by a crisis in the funeral system. In another excerpt from Saramago's work, one of the characters asks himself: “Why did we go blind, I don't know, maybe one day we'll get to know the reason, Do you want me to tell you what I think, Say, I don't think we're blind, I think that we are blind, Blind who see, Blind who, seeing, do not see.

The field of journalism and its existential engagement requires recognition, a reason for being. We can point out that among the reasons for the discursive contract of representation to work with the reading public and for the professional canons to constitute values ​​and premises that are shared and legitimized, one of these functions is to illuminate the truth. But does it still work in these times of disorder and post-truth? Furthermore, Cornu (1999, p. 116) warns us: “the truth is never absolute in its journalistic expression. […] [it has] the marks of ideology, politics, history.”

Newspapers forget that the light they pretended to be when they annihilated the sphere of politics may have blinded common sense and clouded the future. Today, they claim for themselves the role of interpreters of collective interests, acting as disinterested actors in the political game, but with the task of supervisory power, with a neutral and impartial posture of the facts and events they narrate, recommending good conduct, contrition and self-criticism to the too much In the name of false economic consensus and unconfessable market interests, they encouraged the breakdown, destroyed the coherence of democracy and now do not know how to regain influence to make it clear what awaits us right there, in the darkest corner of our history.

* Sandra Bitencourt, journalist, PhD in Communication and Information, is a researcher at the Núcleo de Comunicação Pública e Política (NUCOP) research group.


Daniel Cornu. Journalism and truth: towards an ethics of information. Lisbon: Piaget Institute, 1999.

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