At a school in the interior of Portugal’s El Algarve region, several young children copy the “Saramago 100” logo, created by Manuel Estrada to celebrate the centenary of Jose Saramago’s birth, which falls on November 16th. This activity, which is small compared to the great festive acts that have taken place this year, is one of the most moving Pilar del Río, journalist and president of the foundation that bears the name of the Portuguese author. He, who has been the translator of his books and his wife since 1988, is the main guarantee of his legacy and throughout 2022 he has not stopped traveling around the world to celebrate his imprint. In addition, last April he published La intuición de la isla. The Days of José Saramago in Lanzarote (Editorial Print) with illustrations by Juan José Cuadrado and a prologue by Fernando Gómez Aguilera.
“If Saramago had not been a person integrated into the cultural life of peoples, nations, even beyond Portugal or Spain, it would have been difficult to be the boast of the centenary,” says Pilar del Río in a conversation with this magazine. . “In schools and institutes of many countries, his entire work has been read, there are exhibitions and conferences in universities. Something is being done everywhere. Even we were surprised to see the level of roots and love it has,” he claims.
All kinds of acts were carried out in Spain: starting once with a coupon dedicated to an essay on blindness, to the deposit of his legacy in the Cacha de las Letras of the Cervantes Institute. In addition, the publishing house Alfaguara launched the Biblioteca Saramago collection with covers by Manuel Estrada, and from November 9 the exhibition El taller de Saramago can be seen at the National Library of Spain, which was previously available at the National Library of Portugal. “A lot of things came to me,” says Pilar del Rey, “but, for example, on the beach of Conil, they put a sign that said: ‘This beach reads Saramago,’ and some of his books were to be given to people that I wanted to read and thought that This was an amazing detail.
Although the centennial look seemed to be a success when preparations began, it was not clear that it would go well due to an unforeseen reason: the COVID-19 pandemic. “We planned the centenary without knowing if we would be able to show up. In fact, the street performance El viaje del elefante, which was supposed to come to Lanzarote and take place all over the island, has been postponed until next year,” reported the director of the Saramago Foundation. “It’s the last play he wrote and it helped keep him alive for another three years, so it’s a show of love,” he explains.
“We can say that there is love, and love for Jose Saramago was shown in villages, cities, markets. Even from institutions where you least imagine them to arise,” says Del Rey. He can’t pinpoint which act seemed the most crucial to celebrate the figure of his companion, but he was left with a compelling phrase: “The Las Palmas Book Fair was dedicated to José Saramago with the phrase: “Saramago is cool.” And everywhere you can see that Saramago is cool”, he concludes.
Jordi Cerda is the director of the José Saramago Chair, created in 1997 by an agreement between the Instituto Camões and the Universitat Autonoma de Barcelona. From his institution they organized the Congress of Saramago and Trans-Siberianism at the Jaume Fuster Library in Barcelona. in March, attended by Portuguese Ambassador to Spain Francisco Ribeiro, Colombian writer Laura Restrepo and Pilar del Río, among other speakers. “Trans-Siberianism is his proposal to harmonize the interests of all the peoples of the Iberian Peninsula and those peoples who have a historical connection to the peninsula, i.e. America, Africa in the Portuguese Corps or Asia,” Cerda explains. The event attracted a lot of interest, because according to the person in charge of the organization: “Saramago is an author who, in addition to being read, was loved very much. Already in his lifetime he enjoyed a collection of readers and even a collection of people who did not read but wanted to hear him and know what he wrote in the media.
Saramago introduced the concept of Trans-Siberianism in his book La balsa de piedra, published in 1986, a year after Portugal and Spain joined the European Economic Community. Carlos Reyes, curator of the Saramago Centenary, who also participated in the congress, explains that this book is an example of how the commemoration allowed a critical reading of the writer’s work and the creation of a new perspective. “This was a novel that some, including me, felt somewhat unsuccessful or incomplete, and it takes on a new dimension when read through Saramago’s own post-publication reflections,” he says. “One such reflection allows us to overcome the concept of Iberianness with the concept of Trans-Siberianism, which emphasizes the common destiny of the Iberian nations, the “journey” to a common destination. With regard to the Iberian-American South, Portugal and Spain, with serious errors and omissions, have become “discoverers” and colonizers in the past,” says Reyes, corresponding member of the Royal Spanish Academy in Portugal since June 25, 2009.
For the curator, knowledge of the author changes when there is an opportunity to return to his work. And the centenary was the perfect “excuse” to bring Saramago back and, therefore, to better understand all aspects of his figure. “For example, Essay on Blindness is now a different novel, more complete, in a sense, as a denunciation of the crisis of the human mind, because we have passed through the tragedy of the pandemic, which has given this novel a new urgency. “- says Reyes.
The festivities also included screenings of documentaries or plays, such as Assaig on the blind Women, an adaptation of the aforementioned Essay on Blindness, directed by Nuno Cardoso, performed in Catalan and Portuguese with Catalan subtitles at the National Theater of Catalonia. . These “transliterary manifestations,” Reyes argues, “allow us to conclude that Saramago’s world is not ‘closed’ within the literary works themselves. This movement, which was very broad, allows us to return to his literary work, which will always be the central axis of his legacy, with the help of new perspectives, new concepts of analysis and new artistic proposals.
For Jordi Cerda, however, commemoration and tribute threaten to tame the author they celebrate. “Saramago seems to have entered the law and no longer has the edge he had in his life. This also has its dangers. He himself said that he wanted to be a cojonera fly, and if he loses this quality, he will no longer be like Saramago,” he says. “Scripts and anniversaries are always dangerous because they are controlled by a set rule. And Saramago’s case is to be an author who encourages criticism,” he asserts, though he also notes that he is the only Portuguese-language writer to have won the Nobel Prize (1998), meaning he is not just representative. In Portugal, but in all Portuguese-speaking countries. “That means maybe he has to be another consensus writer, and Saramago never wanted to be.” But this can happen to any already deceased public figure. Let’s say it’s less dangerous,” he concludes.
Source: El Diario