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March 16, 2005

Discussion: All the Names

All the Names

There is an amazing moment in All the Names when the protagonist, Senhor José¹, is deep within the Central Registry and his flashlight goes out, leaving him in total darkness, surrounded by immense and somewhat threatening piles and mounds and shelves of documents. In this moment, he ultimately gains control of himself by describing the darkness outside of himself as no different from the darkness inside himself, merely separated by a skin. This was such a profound shock to me that I immediately had to write it down: "they are two darknesses separated by a skin".

This slim, fairly abstract, even Kafka-esque volume has many such moments. Just a few pages later, I am reading a description of photographs as being of people who no longer exist, who would observe us looking at them and say "who's that looking at me sadly", and I wonder, taking a moment to look sadly at the photograph of the author on the dust jacket, if José Saramago fears death. This is a book filled with the poetry of loneliness, but in a subtle way, a way that sneaks up on you and fills every pore, making you wish you had listened to E. M. Forster's admonition to "only connect".

The emotions I felt reading this book were extreme. I'm still not entirely certain that they could have gripped me so; it was like reading Marquez, or Borges, a mental labyrinth which seized me, held on, wouldn't leave me be, even now two weeks after I've finished reading it. At one point I was seized by a powerful urge to put on my boots and coat, gloves, hat, and walk to the grave of my grandfather, some three hundred miles distant, he dead just under a year and a half, and stand before his grave and reminisce and perhaps cry, he being the only person I've known who is now dead and with whom I felt a close connection, a person I feel I understood in some small way, even knowing that I didn't, I couldn't, we never can. After all, two skins separate each of us from the other.

I read this and think that people might find me a little mad, to write these words, to let it spill out over the blog like this, and perhaps I am, perhaps I am. But I read this book and I think that it would have been a crime to have awarded the Nobel Prize that year to anyone but Saramago. I read this book and he immediately jumps up near the top of my list of people who I'd really like to meet, to have lunch with, to get to know. How can I not tell you all about that, how can I let that pass, how can I not share with you a book that I will read several times, perhaps once every few years just to mark my own growth against it. The answer is that I can't, I won't, even though it might make me look a fool, or mad.

We all have books, movies, media² which combine with our present selves and touch us in expected, overwhelming, and deeply lasting ways. This was mine; if you read it and aren't similarly impressed, please don't tell me, don't even mention you read it, I won't want to know.

¹The novel is translated from the Portugese.
²I continue to doubt that a game will ever touch me in this way. I very much wish to be proven wrong.

Posted by Brett Douville at March 16, 2005 08:19 PM


if you liked it, you should read "O Ano de 1993". (sorry the portuguese title, but i don't know if was translated.) it's a great book with some paintings, that shows Portugal in dictatorship, but in a poetic way. one phrase that keeps with me is one in a story that tells a village where all nights people are arrested and tortured every 59 minutes, with one minute rest. and Saramago says: «but the torturer doesn't know that the truth lies in the 60est minute.» ;-) keep reading/writing.

Posted by: Rui at April 26, 2005 07:42 AM

Ah, regrettably that is not available in English -- unless the title was actually The Year of the Death of Ricardo Reis (ANO Da Morte de Ricardo Reis). I couldn't find a book under that title in any language on Barnes and Noble or Amazon. I'll keep an eye out, thanks for the recommendation.

I've recently picked up The Double in English, which was just published here in 2004. I'll be getting to it in a week or so.

Thanks, and come on back. Regrettably, I can't read your blog since it's in Portugese. But if I'm not able to read everything by Saramago in English, I may well learn Portugese.


Posted by: Brett Douville at April 26, 2005 09:02 PM

sorry the delay, "but if Maome doesn't go to the mountain, the mountain goes to Maome". i.e., here goes a translation of one of my posts (basicly an experiment of automatic writing):
life is a mere presence in the hearts of our lovers all the others are moments forgoten in time which doesn't count on the sunshine of history i look in the paragraphs expressions of someone who has ment something to me but i only see the breathing of my eternity the rithm of my inside and outside

Posted by: Rui at May 13, 2005 07:58 AM