Archive for January, 2006

José Saramago, ‘AS INTERMITÊNCIAS DA MORTE”: first impressions of a death- and genre-defying novel

José Saramago’s latest novel, whose multilingual launch – which did not include the yet-to-come English version – I have mentioned earlier in this blog (14 November 2005), is ‘As Intermitências da Morte’ (Lisbon: Caminho, 2005; possible translation, ‘Death’s intervals’). Here are my first impressions. ** 1. This is an altogether ‘lighter’ and more hopeful production than its immediate predecessors. It begins with the strange occurrence of the suspension of death in an unnamed country: ‘No dia seguinte ninguém morreu’ (‘On the next day nobody died’), and though the first half consists of social and political satire which might seem to reflect on the real-life problems of a greying population and top-heavy age pyramid, the second half shifts into a metaphysical mode, with Death herself (yes, herself) appearing as a character, and an ambivalent, yet by no means pessimistic, ending. Death herself confronts a young cellist, in an exploration of music as protest against mortality which might recall the German Romantics (E.T.A. Hoffmann’s ‘Councillor Krespel’ or ‘Don Juan’) or, in our day, Vikram Seth’s ‘An Equal Music’. I am not aware of any other Saramago novel that so radically shifts register halfway through – indeed, the only novel I can think of to compare in this connection is R.K. Narayan’s ‘The English Teacher’, which suddenly mutates from the social-realist to the mystical. ** 2. The unnamed country of this novel can no longer be identified as Portugal (as was still the case in Saramago’s previous five novels) – it is somewhere in central Europe, has a king and no coastline, and is 100% invented. ** 3. Intertextuality, as always, is strongly present, with multiple allusions to the literary tradition (Montaigne, Malherbe, Camões …). As always too, there is intertextual reference to Saramago’s own earlier work: here it is essentially to ‘Todos os Nomes’/’All The Names’ and that novel’s Kafkaesque bureaucratic world (the function of registry officer and even the phrase ‘todos os nomes’ appear on p. 165). There is also a meta- or intra-textual reference on p. 180 to the novel’s own cover and the death’s-head moth that graces it. The conceit with which the book begins – immortality without rejuvenation – recalls the classical myth of Tithonus, who was granted his wish of eternal life but did not get eternal youth to go with it and went on eternally shrivelling and ageing. ** 4. How successful this novel is, where it should be placed in Saramago’s canon and how well the genre shift within it works, are matters open to debate – a debate which I hope will be lively. The interesting thing is that an ageing Saramago, no doubt struggling with the idea of death himself, has produced a work of art that defies mortality rather than surrendering to it.


NOTE added 28 Jan 2009: The English translation (by Margaret Jull Costa – London: Harvill Secker. 2008) turns out in fact to be entitled DEATH AT INTERVALS.



El periódico boliviano LA PRENSA (La Paz) eligió para uno de los titulares de la primera plana de su suplemento EL FONDO NEGRO del
15 de enero de 2006, una foto de Bob Dylan (sacada de la portada de ‘The Bootleg Series volumes 1-3’) y la leyenda: SEPA PORQUÉ BOB DYLAN PUEDE GANAR EL NOBEL DE LITERATURA.
En la pág. 7 – URL:
apareció el artículo siguiente:
"¿Puede ganar Dylan el Nobel?: Mirada a un coloquio mundial sobre el
Resulta ser la versión castellana (algo recortada) de mi informe sobre "Bob Dylan’s Peformance Artistry", coloquio celebrado en la Universidad de Caen (Francia), de 10 a 12 de marzo de 2005. Ya fueron publicadas en forma impresa otras versiones de dicho informe, en inglés en THE
BRIDGE (Inglaterra ) y en castellano en FANZIMMER (Pamplona, España) y SAN MARCOS SEMANAL (Lima).
El texto completo en castellano se puede consultar en:ÁCULO
(sitio Bob Dylan Critical Corner).
Véase también mi mensaje del 30 de septiembre de 2005 en esta bitácora.
Me alegra un montón saber que no sólo mi texo sino el concepto de Dylan como candidato al Nobel han sido retomados de este modo por los medios de comunicación – aún mas tratándose de Bolivia, país donde Dylan nunca ha dado un concierto y cuya conexión con los estudios dylanianos yo desconocía totalmente hasta la fecha de hoy …
Foto: portada de LA PRENSA, suplemento

Bolivian press asks (15 January 2006): Can Bob Dylan win the Nobel?

The Bolivian newspaper LA PRENSA (published in the capital, La Paz)
right-side-headed the front page of its supplement EL FONDO NEGRO for
15 Jan 06 with a photo of Bob Dylan (taken from the cover of ‘The Bootleg Series 1-3’) and the
On p. 7 – URL:
appeared an article entitled:
"¿Puede ganar Dylan el Nobel?: Mirada a un coloquio mundial sobre el
("Can Dylan win the Nobel? We look at a world conference on the
The proves to be a (slightly shortened) Spanish-language version of my
report on "’Bob Dylan’s Peformance Artistry", the colloquium held at
the University of Caen (France), from 10 to 12 March 2005. Versions
of this report have already been published in print, in English in THE
BRIDGE (UK) and in Spanish in FANZIMMER (Spain) and SAN MARCOS SEMANAL
The English text is on-line at:
(Bob Dylan Critical Corner site).
See also my entry on this blog for 30 September 2005.
I am delighted that not only my text but the concept of Dylan as Nobel
candidate has been taken up like this by the press – even more so in
Bolivia, a country where he has never toured and which until this very
day I had not associated with Dylan studies at all!


Según el (excelente) sitio de la Universidad Jaume I de Castellón (Comunidad Valenciana, Estado español):
el Ayuntamiento de Morella (provincia de Castellón) pronto repartirá 397 ejemplares del QUIJOTE a l@s ancian@s de la localidad. ¡Felicito esta muy loable iniciativa cultural, además de la ingeniosidad de l@s hidalg@s castellonenses que muy generosamente la han ideado! *************

According to the (excellent) site of the Universidad Jaume I de Castellón (Valencia region, Spain):
the town council of Morella (Castellón province) will soon be distributing 397 copies of DON QUIXOTE to the locality’s pensioners. Congratulations to Morella on this praiseworthy cultural initiative, which is of an inventiveness, generosity and imaginativeness worthy of the Man of La Mamcha himself!