JOSÉ SARAMAGO interviewed in MAGAZINE LITTÉRAIRE, March 2010
The March 2010 issue of ‘Le Magazine Littéraire’ (Paris) carries a long interview with José Saramago, on the occasion of the publication of the French translation of ‘Cadernos’ (‘Notebooks’ or ‘Le cahier’), his collection of a year’s worth of blog posts: ‘J’ai passé ma vie à proclamer que le narrateur n’existait pas”’ [“José Saramago: ‘I’ve spent my life proclaiming the non-existence of the narrator”’], interview with Aliette Amiel, No 495, March 2010, pp. 96-100).
The Portuguese Nobel speaks on his most recent novel, “Caim” (“Cain”) and the controversy around it, once more declaring himself ‘profondément athée’ (‘deeply atheistic’) and stating that he is highly curious as to how the book will be received when it comes out in Italy in April or May (100) (the magazine adds in an insert that ‘Cadernos’ will not be appearing in that country at all thanks to its criticisms of Silvio Berlusconi – 98). He also states that his writing is simultaneously local/Portuguese and universal, and reiterates his oft-affirmed position that his novels can be read as essays in narrative form (“J’écris des romans parce que je ne sais pas écrire des essais” – “I write novels because I don’t know how to write essays”, 99).
Particularly interesting are Saramago’s narratological observations. Explicitly rejecting Roland Barthes’ arch-influential notion of the ‘death of the author’, he declares: ‘J’ai passé ma vie à proclamer que le narrateur n’existait pas”’ (‘I’ve spent my life proclaiming the non-existence of the narrator”’), relating his experience at a conference in Edmonton, Canada, where he encountered ‘le mot narrateur des dizaines de fois, mais jamais le mot auteur (…): pour des centaines de professeurs de littérature venus de tous les continents, l’auteur avait cessé d’exister” (‘the word narrator [appeared] scores of times, but never the word author (…): for hundreds of professors of literature from every continent, the author had ceased to exist” (99). Without here entering into the controversy, we may note that Saramago in his novels almost always employs an omniscient third-person narrator (not a first-person narrator-character), and suggest that criticism should at least be aware of his opinion that this narrative voice in his novels is not a construct of the text but his own. Therein may lie a conference paper …
NOTE added 2 March 2010:
This piece was taken up by the Albuquerque Contemporary Literature Examiner on 1 March 2010, in an article by Peter Kelton (to whom my thanks), entitled:
"Lively Nobel Laureate José Saramago, 88, writes his way; doesn’t fit Barthes’ critical theory" –