Synopsis: A driver waiting at the traffic lights goes blind. An opthamologist tries to diagnose his distinctive white blindness, but is affected before he can read the textbooks. It becomes a contagion, spreading throughout the city. Trying to stem the epidemic, the authorities herd the afflicted into a mental asylum where the wards are terrorised by blind thugs. And when fire destroys the asylum, the inmates burst forth and the last links with a supposedly civilised society are snapped.
No food, no water, no government, no obligation, no order. This is not anarchy, this is blindness.
Author: Jose Saramago
Publisher: Vintage Classics
Pub Date: 1995
“I don’t think we did go blind, I think we are blind, Blind but seeing, Blind people who can see, but do not see.”
What would you do if there were no one to see you do it? Without the impeding fear of recognition – would you behave in a civilised manner? Or would you do what you wanted?
What is man’s true nature, when there is no fear of society’s judgement? Would we survive and prosper? Or would we crumble into selfishness and ambition?
I’ll give you one guess as to which situation Saramago goes for? Yep, it’s the darkest one.
My subconscious seems to be in a contest with itself on the darkest book it can possibly pick this year. We’ve had quite a few contestants (My Absolute Darling and A Little Life to name a few), and this is right there in the highest ranks. The writing is brutally honest – sometimes beautifully so and, others, horrifyingly so.
If you’ve a weak stomach for darker subjects – don’t read this.
If you struggle with translation pieces, I probably wouldn’t read this either. It takes a while to get into Saramago’s style of writing and even then, it can grate at times.
However. If you can appreciate beautiful prose and the darker side of human nature – then this beauty is for you.
“The advantage enjoyed by these blind men was what might be called the illusion of light. In fact, it made no difference to them whether it was day or night, the first light of dawn or the evening twilight, the silent hours of early morning or the bustling din of noon, these blind people were for ever surrounded by a resplendent whiteness, like the sun shining through mist. For the latter, blindness did not mean being plunged into banal darkness, but living inside a luminous halo.”
The most shocking thing in this book is the knowledge that, whether we become blind or not, we are utterly ignorant to the violence and cruelty in front of us. And I think this is the point Saramago is trying to make.
Think on it, how many times have you walked past a homeless person and averted your eyes? How many times have you seen someone being bothered on the street and walked past? We avoid the things we fear simply because it is easier to do so. In essence, we are blind.
And what would happen if we all became blind? Would we suddenly become equal? Or would the same thing happen?
“If we cannot live entirely like human beings, at least let us do everything in our power not to live entirely like animals.”
After reading this, there is one thing you can’t help but do… and that’s see things differently. On the plus side, beautiful little things that you would ordinarily walk past become more apparent – and more shockingly beautiful – because you’ve missed it so many times.
On the not-so-positive side, you begin to see everyone’s (and your own) selective vision. And once you see that, you cannot unsee it.
So thank you, Saramago, for making me see a little differently.