By Jose Saramago. Translated from the Portuguese by Giovanni Pontiero from the 1991 O EVANGELHO SEGUNDO JESUS CRISTO.
New York: Harcourt Brace and Company, 1994
From LJ Lindhurstljl@w-rabbit.com
This is a response to Bob Galloway's comments on Saramago's book THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO JESUS CHRIST.
Hello Bob and Bob--
How absolutely wonderful that we can now have a spirited discussion on this book. As I mentioned to "Herr" Corbett, I have never met anyone else who's read this book and I have been dying to discuss it. It's just got so much in it, and it's such a delightful rendition of the Gospel that I think we could drink Guiness and argue for days and still never get to the bottom of it.
With this in mind, I want to first say that I loved your essay about the book, Mr. Galloway. You're a nutty guy, and I mean that in the best possible way! :) I think I am going to also write something more structured, especially after wishing to respond to the following passage from your essay: This is a making of each reader his or her own God in a serious sense, and it hints at what may be Saramago's hope that we may attempt to reach such a status in real life. But it also cares to show in its sharp-tongued comedic haste that it is easy to assume we already have deemed ourselves such fortuitously, simply because we are told or tell ourselves such. That considered, Saramago gives us much acknowledgment of the place of the other in epistemology - we can say we are God or that we know for sure where we stand, but others will inevitably decide to either listen or condemn us to the realm of misunderstanding.
I think you are reading too much into it here, but it is fertile ground for me to leap into an evaluation of Saramago's narrative voice(s), especially in "Gospel". But first, just off the top of my head:
Have you read any other Saramago? This is a common element in all of his books, and it's one of the things I love about his writing. He is not necessarily the omniscient voice of narration, but rather like a friendly old voice rambling through a story, even somewhat doubtful of his own knowledge. He always gives you a real sense that he is simply story-telling, and he often addresses the reader directly, second-guessing what you might be thinking. If you read any interviews with him, or his beautiful Nobel Prize acceptance speech (http://www.nobel.se/literature/laureates/1998/lecture-e.html ), you'll see that at the root of everything he's written is this desire to preserve the art of storytelling in its most oral, embellished, and magical form. He talks about how his grandfather would tell him stories under a fig tree at night, and remarks that "I imagined my grandfather Jerónimo was master of all the knowledge in the world." Isn't that at the root of all storytelling? You take the world, or rather *a* world, and you lord over it, making it your own, including all of your own very human shortcomings and opinions.
Let me quote from Saramago again: "When painting my parents and grandparents with the paints of literature, transforming them from common people of flesh and blood into characters, newly and in different ways builders of my life, I was, without noticing, tracing the path by which the characters I would invent later on, the others, truly literary, would construct and bring to me the materials and the tools which, at last, for better or for worse, in the sufficient and in the insufficient, in profit and loss, in all that is scarce but also in what is too much, would make of me the person whom I nowadays recognise as myself: the creator of those characters but at the same time their own creation. In one sense it could even be said that, letter-by-letter, word-by-word, page-by-page, book after book, I have been successively implanting in the man I was the characters I created. I believe that without them I wouldn't be the person I am today; without them maybe my life wouldn't have succeeded in becoming more than an inexact sketch, a promise that like so many others remained only a promise, the existence of someone who maybe might have been but in the end could not manage to be."
Oh man, I love that guy...!
So, as I take it, he isn't so much letting the reader be his or her own God, but rather this ol' storyteller is getting so intimate with his characters that he is not only becoming them to an extent, but I'll take this even further to suggest that he's also becoming everything in the story. Maybe he's the ultimate literary God because in his stories, SARAMAGO IS EVERYWHERE AND EVERYTHING! (I need to get some bumperstickers printed up that say that) He is the fish in the sea of Galilee (I, too, found that charming) and he's in the minds of the Roman soldiers. In _All the Names_, he even takes on the voice of the ceiling of the protagonist. The ceiling sees everything that happens in the small one-room apartment, passes some very critical judgments, and even has some conversations with the protagonist.
I guess what's so charming about him is the fact that he doesn't attempt to take on a God-like omniscient view of things; he's never that pretentious. Instead, he joyfully embraces as much of the world of his characters as he possibly can (or perhaps is necessary to his tale), and infuses them with his own fallible voice.
Now, to the contrary, you may argue that this manner of narration is truly beyond God-like, due to the fact that he is *creating autonomous characters* who have a life beyond the scope of Saramago's knowledge. He will often intimate that there is a great deal that he doesn't know. For example, in _The Year of the Death of Ricardo Reis_, he describes a group of visiting fishermen: "Tomorrow, when the bus departs in the presence of journalists...the fishermen will give loud cheers for the New State and the Fatherland. Once cannot be certain if they were paid to do so, but let us assume it is a spontaneous expression of gratitude..."
He can only say with certainty the things that took place in front of journalists, but "cannot be certain" of his own characters' motivation. This is not a God-like narrator, but rather a storyteller, like any other, who makes his own assumptions and has his own opinions. But on the other hand, to argue with myself (!!), here is a man who has so completely *created* these characters that they do go off and think things that are unknown to their God, their Creator, Mr. Saramago. So in this sense, he is BEYOND GOD. I mean, if God is all-knowing, then wouldn't it be a greater God that can create autonomous beings that he DOESN'T know everything about?
So there you go. I have just proved *without a single doubt* that Jose Saramago is GREATER THAN GOD. :)
And hmm, if I can see that Saramago is greater than God, then what does that make ME???!
Oh wait, goddamnit, I just made myself cease to exit. Thanks a lot, Galloway--this is ALL YOUR FAULT!
[poof!]Bob Corbett firstname.lastname@example.org
Bob Corbett email@example.com