The Necessity of Error: History, Truth and Utopia in the novels of Jose Saramago

Lead Research Organisation: University of Nottingham
Department Name: Sch of Cultures, Languages & Area Studie

Abstract

The projected book assesses the political philosophy of the 1998 Nobel Literature laureate José Saramago (b.1922) through original readings of his five historiographical novels, informed by contemporary literary and cultural theory. Over the last twenty years, Saramago has become the most acclaimed contemporary Portuguese-language novelist, his books translated into over forty languages and his opinions reported by news media worldwide. As a lifelong political activist as well as a creative writer and essayist, Saramago is increasingly recognised as a key contributor to debates regarding literary representation, historiography, cultural identity, popular protest, and radical social and economic reform. Despite this burgeoning global reception, significant gaps exist in the critical bibliography on Saramago's work, and particularly in that part of it available in English. This focuses predominantly on the series of allegorical novels, commencing with _Blindness_ (1995), for which Saramago is best known outside Iberia and Latin America. Therefore, in addressing the growing demand for book-length studies of Saramago, my book foregrounds the sequence of novels that re-examine Portuguese history and that secured his fame in Portugal.
By exploring Saramago's responses to innovations worldwide in literary technique and cultural theory, my book will advance beyond the focus adopted in much existing criticism on historiographical theory and on specifially national literary and political contexts. It will thereby offer a fresh perspective on the seeming paradox that Saramago presents, as a writer who publically espouses a Marxist programme while his books advance a post-modernist interrogation of Marxism's epistemological and sociological premises.
The book will comprise an integrated sequence of close readings of the novels, starting with _Risen from the Ground_ (1980) and concluding with _The History of the Siege of Lisbon_ (1989). It will first identify how Saramago's ecasting of the historical novel responds both to Marxist literary theorist's formulation of alternatives to 'socialist realism', and to the experiments of contemporary radical left writers in Europe and Latin America. It will then use contemporary anglophone and francophone cultural and political theory to identify the five novels' continuing international relevance as vehicles for a new philosophy and praxis for radical socialism. In particular, this study will identify Saramago's response to post-structuralist debates regarding the roles of desire and of gender and ethnicity in determining identity and social relations, and how this is central to his quest for an enhanced culture of radical politics.
The book will guide the reader through Saramago's historical, cultural and literary allusions, relating each novel's specifically Portuguese frame of reference to international contexts, and thereby illuminating continuities between them and his later, 'allegorical' fiction. Saramago himself has suggested that each of his novels can be considered a component of a single multi-volume text. My study will work towards a comprehensive reading of his literary project by exploring Saramago's ever more intricate intertextual allusion to his earlier works in each of his novels to demonstrate how each individual novel amplifies and refracts the political messages of the others. While primarily aimed at scholars of Portuguese and world literature, the book will thus also be of interest to specialists in political and cultural theory, by revealing how Saramago's ostensive focus on the past, and on the aspirations of a nation rediscovering its history and identity after decades of authoritarian rule, offers a nuanced and challenging contribution to contemporary radical left analyses and responses to the impact of neo-liberal economics and globalisation on cultural identity, civic and employment rights, democratic participation, self-Other relations, and ecology.

Publications

10 25 50
 
Description Through the research funded with this grant, I have developed a book-length study, and two related articles, assessing the political philosophy of José Saramago (1922-2010) through a focus on his five historiographical novels of 1980-1989. I would identify the following as the most important contributions of the research.
It has addressed a significant gap in the critical bibliography on Saramago by foregrounding his five novels of 1980-1989 re-examining Portuguese history, which - particularly in criticism published in English - have attracted less attention than his later, 'allegorical' novels, commencing with _Blindness_ (1995). My work argues for the importance to literary studies worldwide of Saramago's particular template for fiction that combines political analysis with an interrogation of the premises and uses of historiography. It breaks new ground, in particular, where it investigates (a) his reception of Latin American 'neo-baroque' and 'magical realist' writers (e.g., respectively, Alejo Carpentier and Gabriel Garcia Marquez), and (b) how his work affirms the continuing relevance of Marxist theory - especially through the innovations of twentieth-century thinkers such as Adorno, Marcuse, and Cabral - yet simultaneously endorses a post-structuralist critique of Marxist historiography's claims to 'scientific' accuracy.
My research also breaks new ground in tracing Saramago's response to debates, emerging from twentieth-century psychoanalysis, from post-structuralism, and from the 'identity politics' of the 1960s and 1970s, regarding the roles of desire and of gender and ethnicity in determining identity and social relations. To a greater degree than existing studies, it explores how Saramago incorporates such thinking about desire, erotic relations, and particularly women's emancipation, into an essentially socialist and materialist ideology, and indeed makes them central to his pursuit of an enhanced culture of radical politics.
These arguments are elaborated in full in the book-length study which I am now submitting for publication. In the first of the two book chapters that I have already published, I expanded on the book-length study's necessarily brief argument that each of Saramago's works can be approached as just one instalment of an over-arching 'macrotext'. This chapter's particular innovation lies in demonstrating how each successive novel deploys an ever more intricate system of intertextual allusion to its predecessors, thereby amplifying and refracting the political messages that these latter introduced.
My second published chapter proposes an entirely new understanding of Saramago's reception of the work of the great Modernist poet Fernando Pessoa, and particularly, of Pessoa's innovation of writing under a plethora of distinct identities, or 'heteronyms', as a means both of critiquing the liberal humanist belief that an individual is a unitary, stable, and sovereign 'subject', and of exploring the mutability and multiplicity of the human psyche (such as psychoanalysis was only beginning to uncover in Pessoa's lifetime).
Exploitation Route My findings are already being taken forward, e.g. in Rhian Atkin's 2012 study of Saramago's Blindness and All the Names, which responds to my exploration of the intertextual strategies by which Saramago's works function as a single 'macrotext'. Other aspects of my work to which I expect other Saramago scholars to take forward include my analyses of his reception of the thinking of e.g. Gramsci, Marcuse, and Baudrillard, and his work's significance in relation to the current political and financial crises of Portugal and of the EU. Both of my published articles are, or have recently been, included on undergraduate module reading lists at leading UK universities (inc. Manchester and Bristol).
My research could achieve significant non-academic application through its future publication in Portuguese translation, offering a fresh perspective to secondary school students in Portuguese-speaking countries where Saramago is frequently included on literature syllabi. My exploration of Saramago's writing within a transnational frame of reference would provide a healthy challenge to a predominant focus on his place within a national literary 'tradition'. Moreover, my argument that Saramago makes a radical - and profoundly political - reinterpretation of Fernando Pessoa's work could animate students' engagement with the other most-studied modern Portuguese writer.
Sectors Education

 
Description Findings funded by this award and disseminated in the two publications, in public lectures in the UK, Brazil, and Malaysia, and in a 4-minute interview on BBC4 World News Today in June 2010, have contributed to public knowledge of Saramago, of contemporary Portuguese culture, and their wider significance internationally.
First Year Of Impact 2010
Sector Education
Impact Types Societal

 
Description Nação e Narração Pós-Coloniais: Angola e Moçambique 
Organisation University of Coimbra
Country Portugal 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Further to the output listed below, my principal contributions to this partnership were, first, of an advisory nature, contributing to the conception of the project and to discussions of the relationships between gender, race, and the construction of national identities, and secondly, researching and presenting a paper in the concluding project conference, in a session on 'Migrations and Subalternities', looking at national and post-national identities in post-colonial Europe and Africa. Further to this, I also peer-reviewed, and contributed to the copy-editing of the English-language edition of the second multi-authored volume arising from the project (_Speaking the Postcolonial Nation: Interviews with Writers from Angola and Mozambique_ (Oxford: Peter Lang, 2014).
Collaborator Contribution My partners's most valuable contributions, from my perspective, were in conceiving and shaping this ambitious project, in convening meetings of researchers with expertise in diverse aspects of contemporary Angolan and Mozambican culture, and in facilitating contacts with leading Angolan and Mozambican scholars, writers, film-makers, and graphic artists. These contacts have provided new leads for my subsequent research activities (particularly, the study of film culture in lusophone Africa) and projected new collaborations and institutional partnerships.
Impact Sabine, Mark, '_Nós Matámos o Cão-Tinhoso_: A emasculação de África e a crise do patriarca negro', _Via Atlantica_, 17 (2010), 187-200.
Start Year 2009
 
Description Nação e Narração Pós-Coloniais: Angola e Moçambique 
Organisation University of Lisbon
Country Portugal 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Further to the output listed below, my principal contributions to this partnership were, first, of an advisory nature, contributing to the conception of the project and to discussions of the relationships between gender, race, and the construction of national identities, and secondly, researching and presenting a paper in the concluding project conference, in a session on 'Migrations and Subalternities', looking at national and post-national identities in post-colonial Europe and Africa. Further to this, I also peer-reviewed, and contributed to the copy-editing of the English-language edition of the second multi-authored volume arising from the project (_Speaking the Postcolonial Nation: Interviews with Writers from Angola and Mozambique_ (Oxford: Peter Lang, 2014).
Collaborator Contribution My partners's most valuable contributions, from my perspective, were in conceiving and shaping this ambitious project, in convening meetings of researchers with expertise in diverse aspects of contemporary Angolan and Mozambican culture, and in facilitating contacts with leading Angolan and Mozambican scholars, writers, film-makers, and graphic artists. These contacts have provided new leads for my subsequent research activities (particularly, the study of film culture in lusophone Africa) and projected new collaborations and institutional partnerships.
Impact Sabine, Mark, '_Nós Matámos o Cão-Tinhoso_: A emasculação de África e a crise do patriarca negro', _Via Atlantica_, 17 (2010), 187-200.
Start Year 2009
 
Description Nação e Narração Pós-Coloniais: Angola e Moçambique 
Organisation University of Manchester
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Further to the output listed below, my principal contributions to this partnership were, first, of an advisory nature, contributing to the conception of the project and to discussions of the relationships between gender, race, and the construction of national identities, and secondly, researching and presenting a paper in the concluding project conference, in a session on 'Migrations and Subalternities', looking at national and post-national identities in post-colonial Europe and Africa. Further to this, I also peer-reviewed, and contributed to the copy-editing of the English-language edition of the second multi-authored volume arising from the project (_Speaking the Postcolonial Nation: Interviews with Writers from Angola and Mozambique_ (Oxford: Peter Lang, 2014).
Collaborator Contribution My partners's most valuable contributions, from my perspective, were in conceiving and shaping this ambitious project, in convening meetings of researchers with expertise in diverse aspects of contemporary Angolan and Mozambican culture, and in facilitating contacts with leading Angolan and Mozambican scholars, writers, film-makers, and graphic artists. These contacts have provided new leads for my subsequent research activities (particularly, the study of film culture in lusophone Africa) and projected new collaborations and institutional partnerships.
Impact Sabine, Mark, '_Nós Matámos o Cão-Tinhoso_: A emasculação de África e a crise do patriarca negro', _Via Atlantica_, 17 (2010), 187-200.
Start Year 2009
 
Description Nação e Narração Pós-Coloniais: Angola e Moçambique 
Organisation University of Sao Paulo
Country Brazil 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Further to the output listed below, my principal contributions to this partnership were, first, of an advisory nature, contributing to the conception of the project and to discussions of the relationships between gender, race, and the construction of national identities, and secondly, researching and presenting a paper in the concluding project conference, in a session on 'Migrations and Subalternities', looking at national and post-national identities in post-colonial Europe and Africa. Further to this, I also peer-reviewed, and contributed to the copy-editing of the English-language edition of the second multi-authored volume arising from the project (_Speaking the Postcolonial Nation: Interviews with Writers from Angola and Mozambique_ (Oxford: Peter Lang, 2014).
Collaborator Contribution My partners's most valuable contributions, from my perspective, were in conceiving and shaping this ambitious project, in convening meetings of researchers with expertise in diverse aspects of contemporary Angolan and Mozambican culture, and in facilitating contacts with leading Angolan and Mozambican scholars, writers, film-makers, and graphic artists. These contacts have provided new leads for my subsequent research activities (particularly, the study of film culture in lusophone Africa) and projected new collaborations and institutional partnerships.
Impact Sabine, Mark, '_Nós Matámos o Cão-Tinhoso_: A emasculação de África e a crise do patriarca negro', _Via Atlantica_, 17 (2010), 187-200.
Start Year 2009
 
Description Interview on BBC4, _World News Today_ 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact I was interviewed on the BBC4 television channel daily current affairs programme, _World News Today_, following the announcement of Jose Saramago's death on 18th June 2010. The 4-minute interview, conducted by _WNT_'s anchor, Zeinab Badawi, was live to air. The subject matter covered the political content of Saramago's writing, his status as a public intellectual and international political activist, his views on religion, and the challenges and pleasures that his characteristic writing style present to the reader.

I have not received any feedback regarding the interview either from the BBC or from members of the public. Colleagues within my own discipline kindly offered positive comments on my response to the questions asked, and in several cases asked me to expand on arguments that I had presented.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2010
 
Description Public lecture, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact The activity will take place on 13th December 2014
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014
 
Description Public symposium on Jose Saramago (University of Bristol) 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Undergraduate students
Results and Impact C.25 undergraduates, and several members of the local community, attended the talk, in addition to staff and researchers from the University of Bristol. My talk, and an accompanying contribution from the translator of Saramago's works into English, Margaret Jull Costa, OBE, were followed by questions and discussion with students and members of the public.

I was subsequently contacted by several students who had attended, amongst them one who wrote the following:
" I came along to yours and Margaret Jull Costa's talk on Saramago on Friday in Bristol and wanted to write to say thank you for such an interesting, inspiring talk. I hadn't read the book, thinking I would be out of my depth with the Portuguese, but decided to come along anyway and was very glad that I did. I spent 6 months of my year abroad in the Alentejo, in one of those very small towns that Saramago describes (Cuba, near Beja), on a Comenius Assistantship and I found your analysis incredibly insightful and relevant, especially the comparison to A Hundred Years of Solitude. Your talk has motivated me to return to Saramago."
(e-mail received 22/10/12 from Miss Alice Webb, Bristol)
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2012