José Saramago

Portuguese novelist (1922–2010)
(Redirected from All the Names)

José de Sousa Saramago, GColSE (16 November 192218 June 2010) was a Portuguese novelist, poet, playwright and journalist. In 1995, he won the Camões Prize, and in 1998 he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature.

If I'm sincere today, what does it matter if I regret it tomorrow?


Words were not given to man in order to conceal his thoughts.
Inside us there is something that has no name, that something is what we are.
The difficult thing isn't living with other people, it's understanding them.
  • já estava na vigésima parte do livro, triste, quando senti que o livro podia ser escrito. Percebi que só seria capaz de escrevê-lo se o fizesse como se contasse. Não passando para a escrita o chamado discurso oral, porque isso é impossível, mas introduzindo na escrita um me-canismo de aparente prolixidade, aparente desor-ganização do discurso. Digo aparente porque sei o trabalho que me deu fazer de conta que era tudo assim.
    • I was already at the twentieth section of the book and not very happy with it, when I realised how it could be written. I saw that I would only be able to write it if I did so as if I were actually telling the story. That could not be done by putting so-called oral language into writing, because that's impossible, but by introducing into my writing a mechanism of apparent spontaneity, apparent digression and apparent disorganisation in the discourse. I say 'apparent' since I am only too aware of how much work it took to ensure that it turned out like that.
    • Interview in Idéias, no. 107 (15 October 1988), trans. Margaret Jull Costa.
  • Deus é o silêncio do universo, e o homem o grito que dá um sentido a esse silêncio.
    • God is the silence of the universe, and man is the cry that gives meaning to that silence.
      • Lanzarote Notebooks (1990), quoted in The Notebook, entry for 9 October 2008.
  • Le religioni, tutte, senza eccezione, non serviranno mai per avvicinare e riconciliare gli uomini e, al contrario, sono state e continuano a essere causa di sofferenze inenarrabili, di stragi, di mostruose violenze fisiche e spirituali che costituiscono uno dei più tenebrosi capitoli della misera storia umana.
    • No religion, without exception, will ever serve to bring men together and reconcile them. They have been and will continue to be a cause of unspeakable sufferings, of carnage, or monstrous physical and spiritual acts of violence that constitute one of the darkest chapters in human history.
  • From literature to ecology, from the escape velocity of galaxies to the greenhouse effect, from garbage disposal methods to traffic jams, everything is discussed in our world. But the democratic system, as if it were a given fact, untouchable by nature until the end of time, we don't discuss that.
    • Intervention in the World Social Forum in Porto Alegre, February of 1992; quoted in Las leyes antidiscriminatorias en el Mercosur: Impactos de la III conferencia mundial contra el racismo, la discriminación racial, la xenofobia y las formas conexas de intolerancia, Durban, 2001: informe sobre el seminario realizado en Montevideo, 29 y 30 de abril de 2002. Published by Organizaciones Mundo Afro, 2002 163 pages.
  • A writer is a man like any other: he dreams. And my dream was to be able to say of this book, when I finished: 'This is a book about Alentejo'.
    • Quoted in José Saramago: il bagaglio dello scrittore‎, page 41, by Giulia Lanciani, published by Bulzoni, 1996 ISBN 8871199332, 9788871199337 (256 pages).
  • Não é a pornografia que é obscena, é a fome que é obscena
    • It is not pornography that is obscene, it is hunger that is obscene.
    • Interview Programa Jô Soares, 1997.
  • Um dia, sentado à mesa, pensei: E se fôssemos todos cegos? Imediatamente me veio a resposta: Nós somos todos cegos.
    • The question suddenly came into my head, 'And if we were all blind?' And then immediately, as if answering myself, 'But we are all blind.'
    • On the idea for his next novel (Blindness), which came to him while sitting in a restaurant; New York Times interview with Alan Riding (1998), as quoted in Portuguese Literary & Cultural Studies, 6th Edition (Center for Portuguese Studies and Culture, 2001), p. 131.
  • Sometimes I say that writing a novel is the same as constructing a chair: a person must be able to sit in it, to be balanced on it. If I can produce a great chair, even better. But above all I have to make sure that it has four stable feet.
    • Interview with Katherine Vaz, José Saramago, BOMB Magazine, June 2001.
  • Intoxicados mentalmente pela idéia messiânica de um Grande Israel que torne por fim realidade os sonhos expansionistas do sionismo mais radical, contaminados pela monstruosa e arraigada "certeza" de que neste mundo catastrófico e absurdo existe um povo eleito por Deus e, portanto, estão automaticamente justificadas e autorizadas, em nome dos horrores do passado e dos medos de hoje, todas as ações nascidas de um racismo obsessivo, psicológica e patologicamente exclusivista, educados e formados na idéia de que qualquer sofrimento que tenham infligido, inflijam ou venham a infligir aos demais, em especial aos palestinos, sempre será inferior ao que eles padeceram no Holocausto, os judeus arranham sem cessar sua própria ferida para que não deixe de sangrar, para torná-la incurável, e mostram-na ao mundo como se fosse uma bandeira.
    • Intoxicated mentally by the messianic dream of a Greater Israel which will finally achieve the expansionist dreams of the most radical Zionism; contaminated by the monstrous and rooted 'certitude' that in this catastrophic and absurd world there exists a people chosen by God and that, consequently, all the actions of an obsessive, psychological and pathologically exclusivist racism are justified; educated and trained in the idea that any suffering that has been inflicted, or is being inflicted, or will be inflicted on everyone else, especially the Palestinians, will always be inferior to that which they themselves suffered in the Holocaust, the Jews endlessly scratch their own wound to keep it bleeding, to make it incurable, and they show it to the world as if it were a banner.
    • Interview with El País (2002); cited in Princípios (Editora Anita Garibaldi, 2002), p. 88; English translation taken from Phillips The World Turned Upside Down (2010), p. 207.
  • We live in a very peculiar world. Democracy isn't discussed, as if it was taken for granted, as if democracy had taken God's place, who is also not discussed.
    • Quoted in Evans, 2002, p. 13, as reported in Fundamentals of action research, Vol. I (2005), p. 305.
  • [The Jewish people no longer deserves] sympathy for the suffering it went through during the Holocaust. … Living under the shadows of the Holocaust and willing to be forgiven for anything they do on behalf of what they have suffered seems abusive to me. They didn't learn anything from the suffering of their parents and grandparents.
    • Quoted in News Brief, Jewish Telegraphic Agency, October 15, 2003.
  • The human being should be the absolute priority. It seems it is more important to reach the planet Mars than prevent 13 million Africans dying of hunger. Why would I want to know if there is water on Mars if we are polluting the water here on Earth, or doing nothing to avoid it? Priorities need to be redefined, but there is no chance of this, if we don't confront the need to know what democracy is.
    • Quoted in New African (IC Magazines Limited, 2003), p. 25.
  • Nossa maior tragédia é não saber o que fazer com a vida.
    • Our biggest tragedy is not knowing what to do with our lives.
    • During the opening lecture of the course Literature and power. Lights and shadows, in the University Carlos III in Madrid. As quoted by Marco Aurélio Weissheimer in the article Saramago prega retorno à filosofia para salvar democracia, na Agência Carta Maior. (January 19th, 2004)
  • ...I'm not able to fear death... We will all turn skeletons and everything shall end. The skeleton becomes, therefore, the most radical form of nudity.
  • Yes [death has become a taboo]. Today people want to avoid the subject and hide the deaths that happen around them. It is as if the world were a hotel where the dead usually disappear at night, without any guest being able to notice their presence. While movies and television address death, they do not touch the fundamental point of finitude. The deaths are false, the good guys get shot and come back to life. It's another way of treating death as unreal.
  • I'm not pessimistic. It is the world that is terrible. How can we be optimistic in the face of a planet where people live so badly, nature is being destroyed and the dominant empire is money?
  • O universo não tem notícia da nossa existência.
    • The universe has no news of our existence.
    • Interview with Adelino Gomes, Público, 13 November, 2005.
  • Doesn't anybody understand that killing in the name of God only makes Him a murderer?
    • Interview with Edney Silvestre, 2007.
  • If I could repeat my childhood, I would repeat it exactly as it was, with the poverty, the cold, little food, with the flies and pigs, all that.
    • Interview with Edney Silvestre, 2007.
  • Globalization is a form of totalitarianism... It is the rich who rule, and the poor live as they can.
    • Interview with Edney Silvestre, 2007.
  • I write to try to understand, and because I have nothing better to do.
    • "Efe" report, in Arrecife de Lanzarote (Spain), "Saramago diz que escreve por não ter 'nada melhor para fazer'", published in Folha de São Paulo, 2007.
  • We humans are, at bottom, carriers of the time, because we take it with us, we use it, sometimes we waste it and sometimes something remains, though everything is doomed to oblivion.
  • Eu, no fundo, não invento nada. Sou apenas alguém que se limita a levantar uma pedra e a pôr à vista o que está por baixo. Não é minha culpa se de vez em quando me saem monstros.
    • Deep down, I don't create anything. I'm just someone who simply lifts a rock and exposes what's beneath it. It's not my fault that monsters come out some times.
    • Quoted in the article Literatura: Saramago doutor honoris causa da Universidade Autónoma Madrid. Published by Rádio Mirasado. (March 15th, 2007)
  • Everything is discussed in this world, except for one thing: democracy. Democracy is not discussed. Democracy is there, as a kind of saint, from whom no miracles are expected, but that is there as a reference: "the democracy"; and we don’t notice that the democracy in which we live in is a kidnapped, conditioned and amputated one, because the power of the citizen, the power of each one of us, is limited, in the political sphere, I repeat, in the political sphere, to removing a government that we don’t like and replacing it by another one that we might come to like. Nothing else. But the important decisions are made in another sphere, and we all know which one it is. The great international financial organizations, the IMFs, the World Trade Organizations, the World Banks, the OECD, all of these... None of these institutions is democratic, so how can we continue to talk about democracy, if those who actually govern the world are not democratically elected by the people? Who chooses the countries' representatives in those institutions? Their respective peoples? No. So where is the democracy?
    • Conference at Fórum Social Mundial, December 2007.
  • Deep down, the problem is not a God that does not exist, but the religion that proclaims Him. I denounce religions, all religions, as harmful to Humankind. These are harsh words, but one must say them.
    • Interview to the newspaper "O Globo" (at the time of the release of his latest book, Cain), in 2009.
  • To me, the Bible is a book. Important, no doubt, but a book.
    • Interview to the newspaper "O Globo", 2009.
  • I think that we do not deserve life, I think that religions have been and continue to be instruments of domination and death.
    • Interview to the newspaper "O Globo", 2009.
  • There is nothing that is truly free nor democratic enough. Make no mistake, the internet did not come to save the world.
    • Interview with "O Globo", July 2009.
  • I believe that I've been asked all possible questions. I, myself, if I were a journalist, would not know what to ask me.
    • Interview with "O Globo", July 2009.
  • Death is the inventor of God.
    • Interview with "El País", 2009. [1]
  • God, the devil, good, evil, it's all in our heads, not in Heaven or Hell, which we also invented. We do not realize that, having invented God, we immediately became His slaves.
    • Interview with "El País", 2009.
  • There are those who deny me the right to speak of God, because I am not a believer. And I say that I have every right in the world. I want to talk about God because it is a problem that affects all humanity.
    • Interview with "El País", 2009.
  • O pior da morte é que antes estavas e agora não estás.
    • The worst thing about death is that you once were, and now you are not.
    • Interview, O Saramago que conheço, Portal 730, 2010.

Raised from the Ground (1980)

(Portuguese: Levantado do Chão, tr. Margaret Jull Costa)
  • Mas tudo isto pode ser contado doutra maneira.
    • But there is another way to speak of all this.
      • p. 4
  • In between these four whitewashed walls, on this tiled floor, notice the broken corners, how some tiles have been worn smooth, how many feet have passed this way, and look how interesting this trail of ants is, travelling along the joins as if they were valleys, while up above, projected against the white sky of the ceiling and the sun of the lamp, tall towers are moving, they are men, as the ants well know, having, for generations, experienced the weight of their feet and the long, hot spout of water that falls from a kind of pendulous external intestine, ants all over the world have been drowned or crushed by these, but it seems they will escape this fate now, for the men are occupied with other things. [...]
    Let's take this ant, or, rather, let's not, because that would involve picking it up, let us merely consider it, because it is one of the larger ones and because it raises its head like a dog, it's walking along very close to the wall, together with its fellow ants it will have time to complete its long journey ten times over between the ants' nest and whatever it is that it finds so interesting, curious or perhaps merely nourishing in this secret room [...]. One of the men has fallen to the ground, he's on the same level as the ants now, we don't know if he can see them, but they see him, and he will fall so often that, in the end, they will know by heart his face, the color of his hair and eyes, the shape of his ear, the dark arc of his eyebrow, the faint shadow at the corner of his mouth, and later, back in the ants' nest, they will weave long stories for the enlightenment of future generations, because it is useful for the young to know what happens out there in the world. The man fell and the others dragged him to his feet again, shouting at him, asking two different questions at the same time, how could he possibly answer them even if he wanted to, which is not the case, because the man who fell and was dragged to his feet will die without saying a word. Only moans will issue from his mouth, and in the silence of his soul only deep sighs, and even when his teeth are broken and he has to spit them out, which will prompt the other two men to hit him again for soiling state property, even then the sound will be of spitting and nothing more, that unconscious reflex of the lips, and then the dribble of saliva thickened with blood that falls to the floor, thus stimulating the taste buds of the ants, who telegraph from one to the other news of this singularly red manna fallen from such a white heaven.
    The man fell again. It's the same one, said the ants, the same ear shape, the same arc of eyebrow, the same shadow at the corner of the mouth, there's no mistaking him, why is it that it is always the same man who falls, why doesn't he defend himself, fight back. [...] The ants are surprised, but only fleetingly. After all, they have their own duties, their own timetables to keep, it is quite enough that they raise their heads like dogs and fix their feeble vision on the fallen man to check that he is the same one and not some new variant in the story. The larger ant walked along the remaining stretch of wall, slipped under the door, and some time will pass before it reappears to find everything changed, well, that's just a manner of speaking, there are still three men there, but the two who do not fall never stop moving, it must be some kind of game, there's no other explanation [...]. [T]hey grab him by the shoulders and propel him willy-nilly in the direction of the wall, so that sometimes he hits his back, sometimes his head, or else his poor bruised face smashes into the whitewash and leaves on it a trace of blood, not a lot, just whatever spurts forth from his mouth and right eyebrow. And if they leave him there, he, not his blood, slides down the wall and he ends up kneeling on the ground, beside the little trail of ants, who are startled by the sudden fall from on high of that great mass, which doesn't, in the end, even graze them. And when he stays there for some time, one ant attaches itself to his clothing, wanting to take a closer look, the fool, it will be the first ant to die, because the next blow falls on precisely that spot, the ant doesn't feel the second blow, but the man does.
    • pp. 172–174
(Original title: Memorial do Convento, trans. Giovanni Pontiero)
  • Além da conversa das mulheres, são os sonhos que seguram o mundo na sua órbita. Mas são também os sonhos que lhe fazem uma coroa de luas, por isso o céu é o resplendor que há dentro da cabeça dos homens, se não é a cabeça dos homens o próprio e único céu.
    • Besides the conversation of women, it is dreams that keep the world in orbit. But dreams also form a diadem of moons, therefore the sky is that splendour inside a man's head, if his head is not, in fact, his own unique sky.
      • p. 107
  • Voando a máquina, todo o céu será música.
    • Once the machine starts to fly, the heavens will be filled with music.
      • p. 165
  • Abençoem-se antes um ao outro, é quanto basta, pudessem ser todas as bênçãos como essa.
    • Be content to bless each other, that is all the blessing you need, and how I wish that all blessings were so.
      • p. 175
  • Em profunda escuridão se procuraram, nus, sôfrego entrou nela, ela o recebeu ansiosa, depois a sofreguidão dela, a ânsia dele, enfim os corpos encontrados, os movimentos, a voz que vem do ser profundo, aquele que não tem voz, o grito nascido, prolongado, interrompido, o soluço seco, a lágrima inesperada, e a máquina a tremer, a vibrar, porventura não está já na terra, rasgou a cortina de silvas e enleios, pairou no alto da noite, entre as nuvens, pesa o corpo dele sobre o dela, e ambos pesam sobre a terra, afinal estão aqui, foram e voltaram.
    • Fumbling in total darkness, they reached out to each other, naked, he penetrated her with desire and she received him eagerly, and they exchanged eagerness and desire until their bodies were locked in embrace, their movements in harmony, her voice rising from the depth of her being, his totally submerged, the cry that is born, prolonged, truncated, that muffled sob, that unexpected tear, and the machine trembles and shudders, probably no longer even on the ground but, having rent the screen of brambles and undergrowth, is now hovering at dead of night amid the clouds, Blimunda, Baltasar, his body weighing on hers, and both weighing on the earth, for at last they are here, having gone and returned.
      • pp. 255–256
(Portuguese: História do Cerco de Lisboa; trans. Giovanni Pontiero)
  • Todo o romance é isso, desespero, intento frustrado de que o passado não seja coisa definitivamente perdida. Só não se acabou ainda de averiguar se é o romance que impede o homem de esquecer-se ou se é a impossibilidade do esquecimento que o leva a escrever romances.
    • Every novel is like this, desperation, a frustrated attempt to save something of the past. Except that it still has not been established whether it is the novel that prevents man from forgetting himself or the impossibility of forgetfulness that makes him write novels.
      • p. 47
  • O meu problema, nesta situação, é saber se já deveria ter corado antes, ou se é agora que devo corar, Lembro-me de a ter visto corar uma vez, Quando, Quando toquei na rosa que estava no seu gabinete, As mulheres coram mais que os homens, somos o sexo frágil, Ambos os sexos são frágeis, eu também corei, Sabe assim tanto da fragilidade dos sexos, Sei da minha própria fragilidade, e alguma coisa da dos outros.
    • My problem in this situation is to know whether I should have blushed before or if l should be blushing now, I can recall having seen you blush once, When, When I touched the rose in your office, Women blush more easily than men, we're the weaker sex, Both sexes are weak, I was also blushing, How come you know so much about the weakness of the sexes, I know my own weakness, and something about the weakness of others.
      • p. 219
  • Orientamo-nos por normas geradas segundo consensos, e domínios, mete-se pelos olhos dentro que variando o domínio varia o consenso, Não deixas saída, Porque não há saída, vivemos num quarto fechados e pintamos o mundo e o universo nas paredes dele.
    • Let's be guided by norms based on consensus and authority obvious as it is that any variation in the authority varies the consensus, You give no leeway, Because there can be no leeway, we live cooped up in a room and paint the world and the universe on its walls.
      • p. 267
Men, forgive Him, for He knows not what He has done.
(Portuguese: O Evangelho Segundo Jesus Cristo)
  • O filho de José e de Maria nasceu como todos os filhos dos homens, sujo de sangue de sua mãe, viscoso das suas mucosidades e sofrendo em silêncio. Chorou porque o fizeram chorar, e chorará por esse mesmo e único motivo.
    • The son of Joseph and Mary was born, like any other child, covered with his mother's blood, dripping with mucus, and suffering in silence. He cried because they made him cry, and he will cry for this one and only reason.
      • p. 58
  • Então Jesus voltou lentamente o rosto para ela e disse. Não conheço mulher. Maria segurou-lhe as mãos, Assim temos de começar todos, homens que não conheciam mulher, mulheres que não conheciam homem, um dia o que sabia ensinou, o que não sabia aprendeu.
    • Then Jesus slowly turned to look at her and said, I have never been with a woman. Mary held his hands, This is how everyone has to begin, men who have never known a woman, women who have never known a man, until the day comes for the one who knows to teach the one who does not.
      • p. 235
  • Ninguém na vida teve tantos pecados que mereça morrer duas vezes.
    • No one has committed so much sin in his life that he deserves to die twice.
      • p. 362
  • Jesus compreendeu que viera trazido ao engano como se leva o cordeiro ao sacrifício, que a sua vida fora traçada para morrer assim desde o princípio dos princípios, e, subindo-lhe à lembrança o rio de sangue e de sofrimento que do seu lado irá nascer e alagar toda a terra, clamou para o céu aberto onde Deus sorria, Homens perdoai-lhe porque ele não sabe o que fez.
    • Jesus then realized he had been brought here under false pretences, as the lamb is led to sacrifice and that his life had been planned for death since the very beginning. Remembering the river of blood and suffering that would flow from his side and flood the entire earth, he called out to the open sky where God could be seen smiling, Men, forgive Him, for He knows not what He has done.
      • pp. 376-7; Jesus' last words from the cross.
(Portuguese: O Ano da Morte de Ricardo Reis)
  • Perhaps it is the language that chooses the writers it needs, making use of them so that each might express a tiny part of what it is.
    • p. 47
  • To hope, Hope in what, Hope, just hope, one reaches a point where there is nothing but hope, and that is when we discover that hope is everything.
    • p. 108
  • A man must read widely, a little of everything or whatever he can, but given the shortness of life and the verbosity of the world, not too much should be demanded of him. Let him begin with those titles no one should omit, commonly referred to as books for learning, as if not all books were for learning, and this list will vary according to the fount of knowledge one drinks from and the authority that monitors its flow.
    • p. 117
  • O destino é a ordem suprema, a que os próprios deuses aspiram, E os homens, que papel vem a ser o dos homens, Perturbar a ordem, corrigir o destino, Para melhor, Para melhor ou para pior, tanto faz, o que é preciso é impedir que o destino seja destino.
    • Fate [is] the supreme order to which even gods are subject. And what of men, what is their function. To challenge order, to change fate. For the better. For better or for worse, it makes no difference, the point is to keep fate from being fate.
      • p. 288
(Portuguese: A Jangada de Pedra)
  • The possibility of the impossible, dreams and illusions, are the subject of my novels.
    • Introduction
  • So often we need a whole lifetime in order to change our life, we think a great deal, weigh things up and vacillate, then we go back to the beginning, we think and think, we displace ourselves on the tracks of time with a circular movement, like those clouds of dust, dead leaves, debris, that have no strength for anything more, better by far that we should live in a land of hurricanes.

Cadernos de Lanzarote (1994)

  • Privatize-se tudo, privatize-se o mar e o céu, privatize-se a água e o ar, privatize-se a justiça e a lei, privatize-se a nuvem que passa, privatize-se o sonho, sobretudo se for diurno e de olhos abertos. E finalmente, para florão e remate de tanto privatizar, privatizem-se os Estados, entregue-se por uma vez a exploração deles a empresas privadas, mediante concurso internacional. Aí se encontra a salvação do mundo... e, já agora, privatize-se também a puta que os pariu a todos.
    • Privatize everything, privatize the sea and the sky, privatize the water and the air, privatize justice and the law, privatize the passing cloud, privatize the dream, especially if it's during the day and open eyed. And finally, for the embellishment of so many privatizations, privatize the States, surrender once and for all their exploitation to private companies through international share offering. There lies the salvation of the world... and, while you're at it, privatize your whore mothers.
    • Diary III, p. 148.
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.
(Original title: Ensaio sobre a Cegueira)
  • Se podes olhar, vê. Se podes ver, repara.
    • If you can see, look. If you can look, observe.
      • Epigraph
  • Some drivers have already got out of their cars, prepared to push the stranded vehicle to a spot where it will not hold up the traffic, they beat furiously on the closed windows, the man inside turns his head in their direction, first to one side then to the other, he is clearly shouting something, to judge by the movements of his mouth he appears to be repeating some words, no one word but three, as turns out to be the case when someone finally manages to open the door, I am blind.
    • p. 2
  • That night the blind man dreamt that he was blind.
    • p. 15
  • The sceptics, who are many and stubborn, claim that, when it comes to human nature, if it is true that the opportunity does not always make the thief, it is also true that it helps a lot.
    • pp. 16-17
  • Blindness is a private matter between a person and the eyes with which he or she was born.
    • p. 30
  • This is the stuff we're made of, half indifference and half malice.
    • p. 32
  • How are you, doctor, that is what we say when we do not wish to play the weakling, we say Fine, even though we may be dying, and this is commonly known as taking one's courage in both hands, a phenomenon that has only been observed in the human species.
    • p. 32
  • Se não formos capazes de viver inteiramente como pessoas, ao menos façamos tudo para não viver inteiramente como animais.
    • If we cannot live entirely like human beings, at least let us do everything in our power not to live entirely like animals.
      • p. 116
  • Perhaps only in a world of the blind will things be what they truly are.
    • p. 126
  • A mulher do médico vai lendo os letreiros das ruas, lembra-se de uns, de outros não, e chega um momento em que compreende que se desorientou e perdeu. Não há dúvida, está perdida. Deu uma volta, deu outra, já não reconhece nem a ruas nem os nomes delas, então, desesperada, deixou-se cair no chão sujíssimo, empapado de lama negra, e, vazia de forças, de todas as forças, desatou a chorar. Os cães rodearam-na, farejam os sacos, mas sem convicção, como se já lhes tivesse passado a hora de comer, um deles lambe-lhe a cara, talvez desde pequeno tenha sido habituado a enxugar pratos. A mulher toca-lhe na cabeça, passa-lhe a mão pelo lombo encharcado, e o resto das lágrimas chora-as abraçada a ele.
    • The doctor's wife reads the street signs as she goes along, she remembers some of them, others not at all, and there comes a moment when she realises that she has lost her way. There is no doubt, she is lost. She took a turning, then another, she no longer remembers the streets or their names, then in her distress, she sat down on the filthy ground, thick with black mud, and, drained of any strength, of all strength, she burst into tears. The dogs gathered round her, sniffed at the bags, but without much conviction, as if their hour for eating had passed, one of them licks her face, perhaps it had been used to drying tears ever since it was a puppy. The woman strokes its head, runs her hand down its drenched back, and she weeps the rest of her tears embracing the dog.
      • p. 234
  • Dentro de nós há uma coisa que não tem nome, essa coisa é o que somos.
    • Inside us there is something that has no name, that something is what we are.
      • p. 276
  • The difficult thing isn't living with other people, it's understanding them.
    • p. 284
  • Blind people do not need a name, I am my voice, nothing else matters.
    • p. 290
  • If I'm sincere today, what does it matter if I regret it tomorrow?
    • p. 290
  • Do you want me to tell you what I think, Yes, do, 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.
    • p. 326
(Portuguese: Todos os Nomes (1997); tr. Margaret Jull Costa, London: The Harvill Press, 1999, ISBN 0151004218
  • You know the name you were given,
    You do not know the name you have
    • "The book of certainties"
  • The distribution of tasks among the various employees follows a simple rule, which is that the duty of the members of each category is to do as much work as they possibly can, so that only a small part of that work need be passed to the category above. This means that the clerks are obliged to work without cease from morning to night, whereas the senior clerks do so only now and then, the deputies very rarely, and the Registrar almost never.
    • p. 2
  • The caressing, melodious tones of humility and flattery never sang in the ears of the clerk Senhor José, these have never had a place in the chromatic scale of feelings normally shown to him.
    • p. 8
  • [...], indeed nothing so tires a person as having to struggle, not with himself, but with an abstraction.
    • p. 14
  • None of his colleagues noticed who had arrived, they responded to his greetings as they always did, Good morning, Senhor José, they said and they did not know to whom they were speaking.
    • p. 16
  • [...], perhaps that's how you learn, by answering questions.
    • p. 48
  • No, there are three people in a marriage, there's the woman, there's the man, and there's what I call the third person, the most important, the person who is composed of the man and woman together.
    • The woman in the ground floor flat; p. 48
  • Consciences keep silence more often than they should, that's why laws were created.
    • The Registrar
  • The bread was dry and hard, only a scraping of butter was left, he was out of milk, all he had was some rather mediocre coffee, as we know, a man who had never found a woman who would love him enough to agree to join him in this hovel, such a man, apart from rare exceptions which have no place in this story, will never be more than a poor devil, it's odd that we always say poor devil and never poor god, [...]
    • p. 100
  • uma escuridão parada à espera, espessa e silenciosa como o fundo do mar
    • a waiting, stagnant darkness, thick and silent as the ocean deeps
    • p. 107
  • [...] the skin is only what we want others to see of us, underneath it not even we know who we are, [...]
    • Senhor José's ceiling; p. 132
  • One might ask why Senhor José needs a hundred-yard-long piece of string if the length of the Central Registry, despite successive extensions, is no more than eighty. That is the question of a person who imagines that one can do everything in life simply by following a straight line, that it is always possible to proceed from one place to another by the shortest route, perhaps some people in the outside world believe that they have done so, but here, where the living and the dead share the same space, sometimes, in order to find one of them, you have to make a lot of twists and turns, you have to skirt round mountains of bundles, columns of files, piles of cards, thickets of ancient remains, you have to walk down dark gulleys, between walls of grubby paper which, up above, actually touch, yards and yards of string will have to be unravelled, left behind, like a sinuous, subtle trail traced in the dust, there is no other way of knowing where you have to go next, there is no other way of finding your way back.
    • pp. 140–141
  • [...], old photographs are very deceiving, they give us the illusion that we are alive in them, and it's not true, the person we are looking at no longer exists, and if that person could see us, he or she would not recognise him or herself in us, Who's that looking at me so sadly, he or she would say.
    • p. 153
  • No life is without its lies.
    • p. 172
  • when you are old and realize that time is running out, you start imagining that you have the cure for all the ills of the world in your hand, and get frustrated because no one pays you any attention,
    • p. 172
  • In order to protect the physical hygiene and mental health of the living, we usually bury the dead.
    • p. 181
  • What the eye doesn’t see the heart doesn’t grieve over.
    • p. 185
  • That it’s possible not to see a lie even when it’s in front of us.
    • p. 210

Nobel Lecture (1998)

Forgive me if what has seemed little to you, to me is all.
How Characters Became the Masters and the Author Their Apprentice. (Portuguese: De como a Personagem Foi Mestre e o Autor Seu Aprendiz.) Nobel Lecture (December 7, 1998).
  • The wisest man I ever knew in my whole life could not read or write. At four o'clock in the morning, when the promise of a new day still lingered over French lands, he got up from his pallet and left for the fields, taking to pasture the half-dozen pigs whose fertility nourished him and his wife...
    • Referring to his grandfather, Jerónimo Meirinho.
  • This Jerónimo, my grandfather, swineherd and story-teller, feeling death about to arrive and take him, went and said goodbye to the trees in the yard, one by one, embracing them and crying because he knew he wouldn't see them again.
  • As I could not and did not aspire to venture beyond my little plot of cultivated land, all I had left was the possibility of digging down, underneath, towards the roots. My own but also the world's, if I can be allowed such an immoderate ambition.
  • Blind. The apprentice thought, "we are blind", and he sat down and wrote Blindness to remind those who might read it that we pervert reason when we humiliate life, that human dignity is insulted every day by the powerful of our world, that the universal lie has replaced the plural truths, that man stopped respecting himself when he lost the respect due to his fellow-creatures.
  • Forgive me if what has seemed little to you, to me is all.

Nobel Banquet Speech

Speech at the Nobel Banquet (10 December 1998)
  • Nobody performs her or his duties. Governments do not, because they do not know, they are not able or they do not wish, or because they are not permitted by those who effectively govern the world: The multinational and pluricontinental companies whose power — absolutely non-democratic — reduce to next to nothing what is left of the ideal of democracy. We citizens are not fulfilling our duties either. Let us think that no human rights will exist without symmetry of the duties that correspond to them. It is not to be expected that governments in the next 50 years will do it. Let us common citizens therefore speak up. With the same vehemence as when we demanded our rights, let us demand responsibility over our duties. Perhaps the world could turn a little better.
(Portuguese: A Caverna (2000); tr. Margaret Jull Costa, Vintage, 2003; Harvest, 2002, ISBN 0151004145
  • Nem a juventude sabe o que pode nem a velhice pode o que sabe.
    • The young have the ability, but lack the wisdom, and the old have the wisdom, but lack the ability.
      • p. 4 (Vintage 2003)
  • He got out of the van to see how many other suppliers were ahead of him and thus calculate, more or less accurately, how long he would have to wait. He was number thirteen, he counted again, no, there was no doubt about it. Although he was not a suspirations person, he knew about that number’s bad reputation, in any conversation about chance, fate or destiny, someone always chips in with some real-life experience of the negative, even fatal influence of the number thirteen. He tried to remember if he had ever been in this place in the queue before, but the long and the short of it was that either it had never happened or else he had simply forgotten. he got annoyed with himself, it was nonsense, utterly absurd to worry about something that has no real existence, yes, that was right, he had never thought of that before, numbers don’t really exist, things couldn’t care less what number we give them, its all the same to them if we say they’re number thirteen or number forty-four, we can conclude, at the very least, that they do not even notice the position they happen to end up in. people aren’t things, people always want to be in first place,
    • p. 9 (Vintage 2003)
  • Destiny isn’t taken in by people trying to make what came first come afterwards.
    • p. 12 (Vintage 2003)
  • There comes a point when the confused or abused person hears a voice saying in his head, Oh well, might as well be hanged for a sheep as a lamb, and, depending on the particular situation in which he finds him he either spends his last bit of money on a lottery ticket, or places on the gaming table the watch he inherited from his father and silver cigarette case that was a gift from his mother, or bets everything he has on red even though he knows that red has come up five times in a row,
    • p. 14 (Vintage 2003)
  • Even the strongest spirits have the moments of irresistible weakness,
    • p. 15 (Vintage 2003)
  • We would know far more about life’s complexities if we applied ourselves to the close study of its contradictions instead of wasting so much time on similarities and connections, which should anyway, be self-explanatory.
    • p. 15 (Vintage 2003)
  • There is relationship between sight and touch, something about eyes being able to see through the fingers touching the clay, about fingers being able to feel what the eyes are seeing without the fingers actually touching it.
    • p. 20 (Vintage 2003)
  • Earthenware is like people, it needs to be well treated.
    • p. 21 (Vintage 2003)
  • The only time we can talk about death is while we’re alive, not afterwards.
    • p. 22 (Vintage 2003)
  • A vida é assim, está cheia de palavras que não valem a pena, ou que valeram e já não valem, cada uma que ainda formos dizendo tirará o lugar a outra mais merecedora, que o seria não tanto por si mesma, mas pelas consequências de tê-la dito.
    • Life is like that, full of words that are not worth saying or that were worth saying once but not any more, each word that we utter will take up the space of another more deserving word not deserving in its own right, but because of the possible consequences of saying it.
    • p. 28 (Vintage 2003)
  • I don’t doubt that a man can live perfectly well on his own, but I’m convinced that he begins to die as soon as he closes the door of his house behind him.
    • p. 29 (Vintage 2003)
  • He spent the whole time sitting on a log in the woodshed, sometimes starting straight ahead with the fixity of a blind man who knows that even if he turns his head in the other direction he will still not see anything,
    • p. 30 (Vintage 2003)
  • At this time of life even a day makes a difference, the only saving grace is that sometimes things improve.
    • p. 43 (Vintage 2003)
  • Where do begin, he asked, Where you always have to begin, at the beginning,
    • p. 53 (Vintage 2003)
  • Authoritarian, paralyzing, circular, occasionally elliptical, stock phrases, also jocularly referred to as nuggets of wisdom, are malignant plague, one of the very worst ever to ravage the earth. We say to the confused, Know thyself, as if knowing yourself was not the fifth and most difficult of human arithmetical operations, we say to the apathetic, Where there’s a will, there’s a way, as if the brute realities of the world did not amuse themselves each day by turning that phrase on its head, we say to the indecisive, Begin at the beginning, as if that beginning were the clearly visible point of a loosely wound thread and that all we had to do was to keep pulling until we reached the other end, and as if, between the former and the latter, we had held in our hands a smooth, continuous thread with no knots to untie, no snarled to untangle, a complete impossibility in the life of a skien, or indeed, if we may be permitted on more stock phrase, in the skien of life. … These are the delusions of the pure and unprepared, the beginning is never the clear, precise end of a thread, the beginning is a long, painfully slow process that requires time and patience in order to find out in which direction it is heading, a process that feels its way along the path ahead like a blind man the beginning is just the beginning, what came before is nigh on worthless.
    • p. 54 (Vintage 2003)
  • Encyclopedias are like immutable cycloramas, prodigious projectors whose reels have got stuck and which show, with a kind of maniacal fixity, a landscape which, because it is condemned to be only and for all eternity what it was, will at the same time grow older more decrepit and more unnecessary.The encyclopedia purchased by Cipriano Algor's father is magnificent and as useless as a line of poetry we cannot quite remember.
    • p. 57 (Vintage 2003)
  • (a picture of)a naked woman, although she was covering her pubis with her right hand and her breasts with her left._ _ _ _ covering yourself up like that is worse than showing everything,
    • pp. 58–59 (Vintage 2003)
  • You can learn almost everything from reading, But I read too, So you must know something, Now I’m not so sure, You’ll have to read differently then, How, The same method doesn’t work for everyone, each person has to invent his or her own, whichever suits them best, some people spend their entire lives reading but never get beyond reading the words on the page, they don’t understand that the words are merely stepping stones placed across a fast-flowing river, and the reason they’re there is so that we can reach the farther shore, it’s the other side that matters, Unless, Unless what, Unless those river don’t just have two shores but many, unless each reader is his or own shore, and that shore is the only shore worth reaching,
    • p. 60 (Vintage 2003)
  • In general, fakirs, like scribes and potters, are sitting down, when he’s standing up, a fakir is just like an other man, and sitting down, he’ll be smaller than the others,
    • p. 60 (Vintage 2003)
  • The day before is what we bring to the day we're actually living through, life is a matter of carrying along all those days-before just as someone might carry stones, and when we can no longer cope with the load, the work is done.
    • Page 61, 2002 (Harvest Hardcover edition)
  • … because contrary to what people say, two weaknesses don't make for a still greater weakness, but for renewed strength ...
  • Very few people are aware that in each of our fingers, located somewhere between the firs phalange, the mesophalange and the metaphalange, there is a tiny brain. [...] It should be noted that fingers are without brains, these develop gradually with the passage of time and with the help of what the eyes see…. That is why the fingers have always excelled at uncovering what is concealed.
    • p. 64 (Vintage 2003)
  • Each part in itself constitutes the whole to which it belongs.
    • p. 68 (Vintage 2003)
  • Age carries with it a double load of guilt,
    • p. 69 (Vintage 2003)
  • The emptiness of old age had caused him to forget that, in matters of feeling and of the heart, too much is always better than too little.
    • p. 69 (Vintage 2003)
  • He felt very tired, not from the mental effort, but because he had suddenly seen what the world was like, how there are many lies and truths,
    • p. 73 (Vintage 2003)
  • After all, we are always on time, behind time, in time, but never out of time, no matter how often we are told that we are.
    • p. 73 (Vintage 2003)
  • Don’t quibble with the king over pears, let him eat the ripe ones and give you the green ones.
    • p. 78 (Vintage 2003)
  • It’s is the old who age a day every hour,
    • p. 85 (Vintage 2003)
  • The best way to killing a rose is to force it open when it is still only the promise of a bud.
    • p. 89 (Vintage 2003)
  • Every thing in life is a uniform; the only time our bodies are truly in civilian dress is when we’re naked.
    • p. 92 (Vintage 2003)
  • Creating is always so much more stimulating than destroying.
    • p. 107 (Vintage 2003)
  • Lord knows why they depict death with wings when death is everywhere.
    • p. 112 (Vintage 2003)
  • Time is a master of ceremonies who always ends up putting us in our rightful place, we advance, stop and retreat according to his orders, our mistake lies in imagination that we can catch him out.
    • p. 115 (Vintage 2003)
  • Human nature is, by definition, a talkative one, imprudent, indiscreet, gossipy, incapable of closing its mouth and keeping it closed.
    • p. 117(vintage 2003)
  • Words were not given to man in order to conceal his thoughts.
    • p. 124
(Original title: O Homem Duplicado)
  • [T]here are times when it is best to be content with what one has, so as not to lose everything.
  • Worse still if that sameness should ever become total.
  • We have an odd relationship with words. We learn a few when we are small, throughout our lives we collect others through education, conversation, our contact with books, and yet, in comparison, there are only a tiny number about whose meaning, sense, and denotation we would have absolutely no doubts if, one day, we were to ask ourselves seriously what they meant. Thus we affirm and deny, thus we convince and are convinced, thus we argue, deduce, and conclude, wandering fearlessly over the surface of concepts about which we have only the vaguest of ideas, and, despite the false air of confidence that we generally affect as we feel our way along the road in the verbal darkness, we manage, more or less, to understand each other and even, sometimes, to find each other.
(Portuguese: As Intermitências da Morte; trans. Margaret Jull Costa)
  • No dia seguinte, ninguém morreu.
    • The following day, no one died.
      • p. 1
  • A propósito, não resistiremos a recordar que a morte, por si mesma, sozinha, sem qualquer ajuda externa, sempre matou muito menos que o homem.
    • By the way, we feel we must mention that death, by herself and alone, with no external help, has always killed far less than mankind has.
      • p. 117
  • The man changed position, turned his back on the wardrobe blocking the door and let his right arm slide down toward the side on which the dog is lying. A minute later, he was awake. He was thirsty. He turned on his bedside light, got up, shuffled his feet into the slippers which were, as always, providing a pillow for the dog's head, and went into the kitchen. Death followed him. The man filled a glass with water and drank it. At this point, the dog appeared, slaked his thirst in the water-dish next to the back door and then looked up at his master. I suppose you want to go out, said the cellist. He opened the door and waited until the animal came back. A little water remained in his glass. Death looked at it and made an effort to imagine what it must be like to feel thirsty, but failed. She would have been equally incapable of imagining it when she'd had to make people die of thirst in the desert, but at the time she hadn't even tried. The dog returned, wagging his tail. Let's go back to sleep, said the man. They went into the bedroom again, the dog turned around twice, then curled up into a ball. The man drew the sheet up to his neck, coughed twice and soon afterward was asleep again. Sitting in her corner, death was watching. Much later, the dog got up from the carpet and jumped onto the sofa. For the first time in her life, death knew what it felt like to have a dog on her lap.
    • p. 172
(Portuguese: As Pequenas Memórias; trans. Margaret Jull Costa)
  • Mal sabendo ainda soletrar, já lia, sem perceber que estava lendo. Identificar na escrita do jornal uma palavra que eu conhecesse era como encontrar um marco na estrada a dizer-me que ia bem, que seguia na boa direcção. E foi assim, desta maneira algo invulgar, Diário após Diário, mês após mês, fazendo de conta que não ouvia as piadas dos adultos da casa, que se divertiam por estar eu a olhar para o jornal como se fosse um muro, que a minha hora de os deixar sem fala chegou, quando, um dia, de um fôlego, li em voz alta, sem titubear, nervoso mas triunfante, umas quantas linhas seguidas.
    • I was reading even before I could spell properly, even though I couldn't necessarily understand what I was reading. Being able to identify a word I knew was like finding a signpost on the road telling me I was on the right path, heading in the right direction. And so it was, in this rather unusual way, Diário by Diário, month by month, pretending not to hear the jokey comments made by the adults in the house, who were amused by the way I would stare at the newspaper as if at a wall, that my moment to astonish them finally came, when, one day, nervous but triumphant, I read out loud, in one go, without hesitation, several consecutive lines of print.
      • pp. 87–88
(Portuguese: A Viagem do Elefante; tr. Margaret Jull Costa, 2010)
  • The past is an immense area of stony ground that many people would like to drive across as if it were a motorway, while others move patiently from stone to stone, lifting each one because they need to know what lies beneath. Sometimes scorpions crawl out or centipedes, fat white caterpillars or ripe chrysalises, but it's not impossible that, at least once, an elephant might appear...
    • p. 18

Cain (2009)

(Portuguese: Caim; tr. Margaret Jull Costa)
  • When the lord, also known as god, realised that adam and eve, although perfect in every outward aspect, could not utter a word or make even the most primitive of sounds, he must have felt annoyed with himself, for there was no one else in the garden of eden whom he could blame for this grave oversight...
    • p. 1
  • In short, as well as being as big a son of a bitch as the lord, abraham was a consummate liar, ready to deceive anyone with his forked tongue, which in this case, according to the personal dictionary belonging to the narrator of this story, means treacherous, perfidious, false, disloyal and other similarly fine qualities. When he reached the place of which the lord had spoken, abraham built an alter and placed the wood on it. He then tied up his son and lifted him on to the altar, on top of the wood. Without pausing, he took up his knife in order to sacrifice the poor boy and was just about to slit his throat when he felt a hand grip his arm and heard a voice in his ear shouting, What are you doing, you wretch, killing your own son, burning him, it's the same old story it starts with a lamb and ends with the murder of the very person you should love most, But the lord told me to do it, said abraham, struggling, Keep still, or I'll be the one who does the killing, untie that boy at once, then kneel down and beg his forgiveness, Who are you. My name is cain, I'm the angel who saved isaac's life. This isn't true, cain is no angel, that title belongs to the being who has just landed with a great flapping of wings and who is now declaiming like an actor who has finally heard his cue, Lay not thy hand upon the lad, nor do anything to him, for now I know that thou fearest the lord, being prepared, for love of him, to sacrifice even your only son, You're late, said cain, the only reason isaac isn't dead is because I stepped in to prevent it. The angel looked suitably contrite, I'm terribly sorry to be late, but it really wasn't my fault, I was on my way here when I developed a mechanical problem in my right wing it was out of synch with the left one, and the result was that I got completely turned around, in fact I wasn't even sure I would get here, and given that no one had told me which of these mountains had been chosen as the place of sacrifice, it's a miracle I arrived at all, You're late, said cain again, Better late than never, replied the angel smugly, as if he had uttered a great truth, That's where you're wrong, never is not the opposite of late, the opposite of late is too late, retorted cain. The angel muttered, Oh, no, a rationalist, and since he had nor yet completed the mission with which he had been charged, he rattled off the rest of his message, This is what the lord commanded me to say: since you were capable of doing this and did not withhold your own son, I swear by my good name that I will bless you and multiply your seed as the stars of the heavens and as the sand upon the seashore and they will possess the gates of his enemies, and in your seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed because you have obeyed my voice, the word of the lord, That, for those who don't know it or pretend to ignore it, is the lord's double accounting system, said cain, whereby one man can win and the other not lose, apart from that, I don't see why all the people of the earth will be blessed just because abraham obeyed a stupid order, That is what we in heaven call due obedience, said the angel.
    • pp. 69–71.



Quotes about Saramago

José Saramago will be a permanent part of the Western canon ... In all of his wonderful meditations upon the ruefulness of our lives, there is always the spirit of laughter beckoning us in the art of somehow going on. His achievement is one of the enlargements of life. ~ Harold Bloom
  • The most gifted novelist alive in the world today ... one of the last titans of an expiring literary genre.
    • Harold Bloom, Genius: A Mosaic of One Hundred Exemplary Creative Minds (2003)
  • José Saramago will be a permanent part of the Western canon. ... In all of his wonderful meditations upon the ruefulness of our lives, there is always the spirit of laughter beckoning us in the art of somehow going on. His achievement is one of the enlargements of life.
  • Saramago is not easy to read. He punctuates mostly with commas, doesn't paragraph often, doesn't set off conversation in quotes —; mannerisms I wouldn't endure in a lesser writer; but Saramago is worth it. More than worth it. Transcendently worth it.
  • I read to learn. I have always read to learn. For example, I have learned almost more than I can bear to know from Saramago's Blindness and Seeing. But for all the intensity of Saramago's moral purpose and the awful clarity of his vision, my whole heart and soul rebel against calling those great novels "didactic."
  • With parables sustained by imagination, compassion and irony[, José Saramago] continually enables us once again to apprehend an elusory reality.
  • A writer, like Faulkner, so confident of his resources and ultimate destination that he can bring any improbability to life.
    • John Updike, Due Considerations: Essays and Criticism (2008)
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