Saramago or the agitator of sleeping consciences

The Portuguese José Saramago is synonymous with commitment to human beings and coherence, and as his friend Mario Benedetti added “and courage to maintain it”, a writer who intelligently explores and questions the history of his country, the social reality and the deepest and most contradictory motivations of the individual. His political commitment cost him the persecution and censorship of the Salazar dictatorship until 1974.

A need, “as an intellectual and narrator to alert about the deviations of the system and question it”, something that occurs both in his literature and in his public activism as a citizen committed to his time, with the defense of the rights of the most vulnerable. . He displayed a very dynamic critical vigilance characteristic of his personality.

Saramago did not deny his pessimism, because in him it was nothing more than his antidote against indifference in the face of injustice, so much so that his work becomes a constant denunciation of the “malfunctioning of the world” and the need to change it in order to “be -he said- side of those who suffer.

“Writers live off the unhappiness of the world. In a happy world, I wouldn’t be a writer,” said the master of irony, who claimed to write to “deeply unsettle the reader,” determined as he was to stir the sleepy consciences of those who only seek their personal success and forget the rest.

This commitment to man and dehumanization can already be seen in his first texts, such as the novels “Tierra de sin” (1947) or “Levantado del piso” (1980), where he narrates the suffering, exploitation and oppression suffered by the peasants who have nothing more than the work of the land. Saramago shows the most tender and hopeful side of the human being through those peasants beaten by a harrowing reality.


José Saramago (Azinhaga, 1922 – Lanzarote, 2010) knew a lot about that. Being born into a family of peasants in a village north of Lisbon, had a decisive influence on the thinking of the writer, who despite being a good student could not finish high school due to the limited economic resources of his parents who enrolled him in vocational training to learn a trade. Still, he never stopped reading in the night library.

José de Sousa (Saramago was his family’s nickname and was spontaneously added by the civil registry employee behind his last name and referred to a plant very popular among the poor) worked as a mechanic, locksmith, civil servant, translator and journalist until already in the sixties he could live exclusively from literature. Recognition of him did not come to him until he was 60 years old in 1982, when he published “Memorial del convento”.

His most recognized novels were released in the 1990s: “The Gospel According to Jesus Christ” (1991), whose controversy pushed him to leave his country, and “Essay on Blindness” (1992), in which a mysterious pandemic, blindness white, an extremely contagious blindness that despite the efforts of the State to stop it, this strange disease acquires dimensions of authentic human drama, a metaphor and criticism towards society that even in the most absolute misfortune continues to be sick of selfishness and corruption.

A work that was made into a film (Blidness), and was the first of a trilogy on the identity of the individual, which continued with «All names» (1998) where he insisted on the idea of ​​the insignificance of the citizen against the power of a system increasingly inhuman: “The name we have matters less and less, what matters is the number of the credit card and the bank account”, a trilogy that closed with “Essay on Lucidity” (2004).

In “La Caverna” (2000) Saramago criticizes consumerism and the superficiality of busy modern life. The title of the novel, written without question marks or exclamation marks and which refers to Plato’s myth of the cave, tells the story of an old potter who sadly contemplates how progress and industry make survival increasingly difficult. of his honorable profession.

In 1998 he received the Nobel Prize for Literature and became the first and only Portuguese-language writer to do so. His speech was a fiery defense of the dignity of the human being, “insulted every day by the powerful of our world”, a dissertation that began with the memory of his grandfather and his humble origins: “The wisest man I have known in All my life I could not read or write.


When in 1992 he settled with his wife, Pilar del Río, on the Canary Island of Lanzarote, it coincided with Saramago’s international opening, especially with Latin America. Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Chile, Cuba, Mexico, Peru and Uruguay are some of the countries to which the Portuguese author traveled, maintaining a great friendship with Mario Benedetti, Gabriel García Márquez and Carlos Fuentes. For Fuentes, Saramago “was very demanding with himself, both personally and professionally, so his work had a very high quality without interruption.”

For Benedetti, “in his unusual fictions, Saramago, once installed in them, the author handles them with the same naturalness as if they were costumbrista stories. The reader finds that the bizarre becomes everyday, that the paradoxical becomes ordinary, and that is the most disturbing thing, because, among other things, that reader becomes blind with all the blind and recovers his vision along with them.

Saramago’s creative capacity was inexhaustible, he continued writing until the end of his days. A year before he died, at the end of 2009, he published “Cain”, an ironic reinterpretation of the biblical character far removed from religion that, as in the case of “The Gospel According to Jesus Christ”, did not please the Church. It was a very sharp and brilliant novel, written, in its own way, followed, without periods and apart or signs. Cain appears walking from one place to another and going through different presents while God shines for his sharpness and intelligence. Even so, it was criticized by the Portuguese right. “Religions have never served to bring human beings closer together,” said the author.

Skeptical and inveterate pessimist, Saramago will always be remembered for his commitment to the underprivileged and for his high-quality works that helped revalue the Portuguese language. A man who was active in the Communist Party because, as he said, he was always on the side of the losers, who raised his voice against injustice, conservatism, the Church and the great economic powers.

As I reflected, in a democracy, the people elect their parliamentarians, their president, but then those democratically elected rulers are pressured, directed, managed or manipulated by large supranational “decision makers”, such as the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank…” And these”, Saramago wondered, “Who chooses them?”.

Amalia Gonzalez Manjavacas.


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Saramago or the agitator of sleeping consciences