Monday, April 02, 2012

Holy Books of Guttersnipe Das: Jose Saramago

Jose Saramago, All The Names

Harcourt, 1999

Years ago, I used to carry around a copy of the later stories of Chekhov, which I referred to as “my artificial heart” because the book seemed to me so radiant with human understanding that it might well restart my heart if I should falter.

I have found a new heart. Like Chekhov, Saramago uses the novel to investigate and invoke compassion. Or, as a shepherd in the novel declares, “I don’t believe one can show greater respect than to weep for a stranger.”

Previously obsessed with celebrity, a government clerk finds himself following the trail of a random name. He seeks to know her, and fails -- as we all fail each time we open a newspaper or a phone directory or go for a walk in the street. Yet the clerk nonetheless arrives at love, and so perhaps can we.

This book reminds me of the long and convoluted guided meditations Tibetan Buddhists use to awaken compassion in the heart, meditations which aim to arouse love even for those who are distant and unknown.

It is possible that literature could have some higher purpose than this. But I have no idea what it could be.

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