the circular runner

Jose Saramago is dead…so what was he?

In Uncategorized, writers & books on June 19, 2010 at 5:10 pm

I’ve been reading the obits for Jose Saramago today. He’s another one of those writers who gets a lot of labels thrown at him, and I don’t know why, but labels always get me a bit anxious. A few posts back, I hinted at an obsession of mine: why are people so caught up with what is and what is not “real”? I mean I understand the distinction when it comes to our daily lives. We want love that is real. If you buy a ticket to a concert, you want it to be real. Real friends, not fake ones, by all means. But when it comes to movies and fiction especially, people seem to also want “the real”. I’m not criticizing people for wanting realistic fiction–that’s one perfectly valid style of story telling. (I should add that though I like the fantastic in my fiction, I don’t have a lot of patience with fantasy a la dragons and dwarfs.)

The problem for many people, I think, comes when the two (realism and the fantastic) come together in one piece. I sometimes wonder if the problem is that this kind of work is too close to home. If you know that what you’re watching is just never going to happen (think dragons) then you accept the movie for what it is. But, as in Saramago’s Blindness , if the fantastic blends with the things you know well, then you (maybe not you, but critics and some editors and readers) have to start in with the labels because or else, there’s a small part of you that might start hoping that the fantastic can come into your lives. That’s a big hope to have in a very cynical age. Who knows, you might start to think that Santa does exist or the Easter Bunny, or maybe even God. Stories that mix the real with myth are too similar to what we used to call religious stories–I know that Saramago was an atheist, but then again, he did write a book about Jesus so he was dealing with bigger topics than straight realism can handle. I guess what I’m trying to ask here is if the need for all these labels for writers like Saramago covers up a fear of the old fashioned, non-intellectual, yearning-for-something-more of the past.

In the end, is Saramago a surrealist, magical realist, a fabulist, a fantasist? Was his tendency to write fantastic story lines a modernist trait or just a need to tell a story like people used to tell stories where mythology was not something silly, but real. Who knows? Just go read him and stop thinking so much. (I should probably take my own advice.)

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