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Review of Ricardo Viel, ‘Um país levantado em alegria’ (20 anos do Prémio Nobel de Literatura a José Saramago)

Ricardo Viel, ‘Um país levantado em alegria’ (20 anos do Prémio Nobel de Literatura a José Saramago)

Porto: Porto Editora, 2018 – ISBN 978-972-0-03132-7, 177 pp.

**

The international conference held in Portugal at the University of Coimbra in October 2018 to commemorate the twentieth anniversary of José Saramago’s Nobel Prize for Literature was also the launchpad for two new books, both published by Porto Editora with the support of the Fundação José Saramago, the official foundation dedicated to the late author’s work  (cf. entries on this blog for 19 October and 20 December 2018). One of those books was a Saramago original, ‘Último caderno de Lanzarote’, the sixth and final volume in the series of the writer’s diaries known as the Cadernos de Lanzarote, covering the period of the Nobel; the other is the volume here under review, ‘Um país levantado em alegria: 20 anos do Prémio Nobel de Literatura a José Saramago’ (in English, roughly, ‘A nation rises up in joy: 20 years of José Saramago’s Nobel Prize for Literature’). The book is compiled, edited and introduced by Ricardo Viel, Brazilian journalist and director of communications at the Fundação José Saramago, and prefaced by the Portuguese author Eduardo Lourenço and the Nicaraguan writer Sergio Ramírez. A Spanish-language version of the volume also exists, translated by Saramago’s widow Pilar del Río (‘Un país levantado en alegría’, Madrid: Alfaguara, 2018).

Saramago’s Nobel was a major cultural event, the first (and so far only) time that the world’s most prestigious literary award fell to a Portuguese-language writer. It was perceived across the Lusophone world as both a glorious triumph and a just reward for a language spoken by over 200 million people, whose literary tradition spans centuries and continents and includes writers of the stature of Portugal’s Luis de Camões and Fernando Pessoa, Brazil’s Machado de Assis and Clarice Lispector or Mozambique’s Mia Couto.

Ricardo Viel takes his cue for the title from a commemorative speech delivered in Saramago’s presence in Porto shortly after the Nobel, by the late doyen of Portuguese letters Eduardo Prado Coelho. The Portuguese critic declared that in the days that followed the epoch-making announcement, literature had ‘subido à rua’ (‘risen up to the street’), and further explained: ‘É possível, como se viu nesta semana, que um país se levante em alegria porque alguém ganhou um prémio de literatura. É possível que um escritor invente uma energia nova para a palavra “levantar”. É possivel que durante alguns dias a literatura tenha, como disse, subido à rua. Mas Saramago deu-nos a explicação: há momentos em que tudo parece possível, este é um desses’ (‘It is possible, as we saw this week, for a nation to rise up in rejoicing because someone won a literature prize. It is possible for a writer to invent a new energy for the words “rise up”. It is possible for literature, for a number of days, to have, as I said, risen up to the street. But Saramago has given us the explanation: there are moments when everything seems to be possible, and this is one of those moments’) (53). To this speech – and beyond it, ultimately to Saramago’s own novel title ‘Levantado do chão’ (‘Raised from the Ground’) – we may trace the title of Ricardo Viel’s study.

The author opens his narration with the great transformational moment on 8 October 1988, its prime mover being José Saramago, Portuguese novelist born in 1922, living on Lanzarote in the Canary Islands, married to the Spanish journalist Pilar del Río and author of a string of distinguished novels including ‘Memorial do Convento’ (‘Baltasar and Blimunda’), ‘O Ano da Morte de Ricardo Reis’ (‘The Year of the Death of Ricardo Reis’) and ‘Ensaio sobre a Cegueira’ (‘Blindness’). The new Nobel learnt of his award at Frankfurt airport, when just about to fly back home after attending the German city’s famous book fair. We retrace with Saramago his steps as he returned to the fair for the inevitable presentations and celebrations, with Pilar braced to attend the endless inquiries in Lanzarote. There is also a blow-by-blow account of the subsequent commemorations and celebrations, in Lisbon and then in Stockholm, and the Nobel ceremony itself: Saramago’s Nobel speech (previously published as a pamphlet by the Fundação José Saramago and also reproduced in ‘Último caderno de Lanzarote’) appears here in full. The book ends with a moving sequence of entries from the diary kept by Pilar del Río in Stockholm, testifying on a more personal level to the grandeur of the events.

Ample space is also devoted to chronicling the multiple tributes received by the Portuguese laureate, from the most exalted of fellow writers to the common reader. Recurrent is the theme of the Portuguese cultural sphere and the sensation that this is not merely Saramago’s prize but that of a whole nation, and beyond that, an entire literature, and beyond that again, a language of global reach: in his Nobel speech, Saramago reaches out to those who stand behind him, ‘aos escritores portugueses e da língua portuguesa, aos do passado e aos de agora’ (‘to the Portuguese writers and the writers in the Portuguese language, those of the past and those of today’), and recalls that ‘eu sou apenas mais um’ (‘I am just one more’) (163). Numerous letters and messages (emails or faxes), from Portugal, Brazil, Italy, Spain or Hispanoamerica, are cited in full, translated into Portuguese where necessary; photos of a selection of the messages, as well as of numerous newspaper front pages, appear as illustrations.

Ricardo Viel allows us to see in graphic detail, through verbatim quotations, how the literary and cultural establishment lined up to congratulate the new Nobel. Among those sending delighted messages were distinguished figures of a diversity of provenances, from the journalist José Luis Cebrián, founder of ‘El País’, to Jorge Luis Borges’ widow Maria Kodama, through to icons of Portuguese folk music such as Manuel Freire or Sérgio Godinho. For Brazil’s Jorge Amado the award was ‘esta vitória, sua pessoal e da literatura de língua portuguesa’ (‘your personal triumph and the triumph of literature in Portuguese’) (108); for Gabriel García Márquez, Saramago’s Nobel and the ecstatic reaction in the Spanish-speaking world confirmed his belief that ‘a literatura ibero-americana é só uma’ (‘Iberoamerican literature is a single whole’) (113); and from Mexico, Marisol Schulz, director of the Guadalajara Book Fair, declared it was ‘um prémio … para a literatura e para as causas mais justas da humanidade’ (‘a prize for literature and for the most just causes of humanity’) (114).

Other messages flowed in from the most varied sources: as Saramago himself put it in a collective reply, from ‘instituições do Estado, câmaras municipais, escolas, universidades, bibliotecas, meios de comunicação social e leitores em geral’ (‘institutions of the state, municipal councils, schools, universities, libraries, media organs and readers in general’) (81). There were also multitudes of more humble missives sent out in message-in-a-bottle fashion by admirers of Saramago’s work from whatever walk of life. Representative here is the secondary school teacher from São João da Madeira, a small town south of Porto, who confessed in her letter: ‘Hoje, agora que acabei de receber a notícia, ouso escrever-lhe sem sequer saber para onde endereçar a carta, sem saber se será lida’ (‘Today, now that I know the news, I dare write to you without even knowing where to address the letter, without knowing if it will be read’), yet also ventured to share with the Nobel himself how she had learnt the news in school, when a colleague knocked on her door (128). Her letter did arrve, as did others sent out into the blue, addressed only to, say, ‘Sr. D. José Saramago – Escritor [writer] – Lanzarote’ (85), which nonetheless miraculously reached their destination.

The atmosphere of celebration and national rejoicing that these pages evoke is contagious. More than one of Saramago’s readers even compare the Nobel moment to the 25th of April, the date of the revolution of 1974 that has become a national symbol: such were the sensations of the writer Luísa Ducla Soares: ‘De certa forma, lembrou-me aquela alegria total e espontânea do 25 de Abril’ (‘In a certain way it reminded me of the total and spontaneous joy of the 25th of April’) (97), and of the singer Carlos Mendes: ‘Aconteceu um novo 25 de Abril!’ (‘A new 25th of April has happened!’) (99).

Ricardo Viel affirms in his introduction that José Saramago’s Nobel has the status of ‘um galardão que foi recebido e celebrado como um bem comum’ (‘an award which was received and celebrated as a common good’), going on to declare: ‘Foi o Nobel da língua portuguesa, o Nobel de milhões de leitores de Saramago espalhados pelos cinco continentes. E também o Nobel de aqueles que, não tendo lido um só livro do autor, se reconheciam nas suas origens e forma de ver o mundo’ (‘It was the Nobel of the Portuguese language, the Nobel of millions of Saramago’s readers scattered across the five continents; and also the Nobel of those who, even without having read a single one of his books, recognised themselves in his origins and his way of seeing the world’) (16).

Saramago himself said in Stockholm, in response to a journalist’s questions after the ceremony, that among those whom he would wish to feel beside him at that moment were ‘os levantados do chão, aqueles que ficaram lá atrás na história’ (‘those raised from the ground, those who remained behind in history’) (69), implicitly connecting his own humble origins, and his characters of such origins like Baltasar and Blimunda from ‘Memorial do Convento’, with the wider popular struggle. This excellent volume, both informative and passionate, may be considered as a valuable contribution to the continuing study of a writer whose international recognition bears witness to his tireless commitment to the cause of literature and the wider causes of humanity.

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‘BORGES’ POE”: Emron Esplin’s ground-breaking intercultural study reviewed

Now published in: ES Review: Spanish Journal of English Studies (Valladolid, Spain), No 39, 2018, pp. 307-311 (on-line at: https://doi.org/10.24197/ersjes.39.2018.307-311)

is my review of:

Emron Esplin, Borges’s  Poe:  The  Influence  and  Reinvention  of  Edgar Allan Poe in Spanish America, The New Southern Studies, University of Georgia Press, 2016, pp. xi+239, ISBN: 9780820349053.

This is a fascinating and groundbreaking study of the convergence of two of the Americas’ most important writers in the fantastic, detective and essayistic genres, and brings together in one place information on Borges’ readings of Poe that was previously available only in dispersed or summary form.

Extract:

Jorge Luis Borges famously wrote, speaking of Franz Kafka, that writers are the creators of their precursors, and certainly it is all but impossible today for anyone who has read Borges to read Edgar Allan Poe without the looming shadow of the great Argentinian. Poe’s presence in Borges is at the same time but a part of a wider phenomenon of the US author’s influence in Spanish America, extending to other celebrated writers such as Rubén Darío, Julio Cortázar and Carlos Fuentes. Equally, the Borges-Poe link is of a strength and solidity sufficient to justify the appearance, in the shape of the volume under review, of a book-length study.

The relationship between the two writers has been the subject of critical attention over time, the academic state of play as at the end of last century being summarised in a contribution by Graciela E. Tissera to the multi-author work Poe Abroad, edited by Lois Davis Vines and published in 1999. The extension and detail of Emron Esplin’s study reflect the multidirectionality of existing and potential Poe-Borges scholarship, in the light of the ceaseless revisits to Poe made by Borges across his writing career. The author is more than qualified for such a task, as coeditor of the collective volume of 2014, Translated Poe, which, as its title suggests, takes the internationalisation of Poe as its watchword.

There are multiple obvious similarities between the respective literary productions of Poe and Borges. Shared characteristics that might come to mind include: a cerebral and rational fascination with the bizarre and the fantastic; an emphasis on the literary work as made object or construct; and a career-long preference for brevity, for the short poem, the short story, the short nonfictional text (essay, prologue, review). At the same time, Borges’s comments on and use of Poe exhibit a marked selectivity. His interest in the American writer focuses primarily on three aspects: Poe’s detective fiction; his novel The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket; and his texts of literary theory, notably “The Philosophy of Composition.” (…)

In a caged world – reflections on Suzanne Bier’s film BIRD BOX

Bird Box by Suzanne Bier – Netflix film, 2018, with Sandra Bullock

Suzanne Bier’s film Bird Box shows us the collapse of civilisation into human-made chaos and the possibility of a return to more natural ways of being. It begins with the spread of a collective psychosis which begins in Romania and spreads to Russia and then via Alaska to the US. Those touched by the psychosis become suicidal and self-destructive, as symbolised by multiple car crashes.

The US President decrees a state of emergency, closes the borders and advises not using social networks. At one point a character declares: ‘Let’s make the end of the world great again’. These are virtually the only ‘political’ references in the film. It is in no way a direct allegory of Trump’s America, but it does symbolise dangerous tendencies in the contemporary world as a whole. The internet is not present and is scarcely mentioned in the film, and indeed the social networks are not used. Eventually the internet goes down altogether. Mobile phones appear only to witness failed communications. There is no-one at the other end of the phone.

The collective psychosis is not a stand-in for the internet as such, nor should it be seen other than superficially as something external or non-human evil. We can see it as representing the current trend to irrationality which manifests itself across the globe in different forms of fanaticism and extremism – political, religious or around group identity.

The caged birds appear first when found in a supermarket; until the end they seem more a symbol than a part of the plot. Finally when they are released we can see them as emblems of the spirit of freedom that is blocked by the psychosis and can only express itself if humanity once again becomes closer to nature. The return to nature is symbolised by water (the river; crossing the rapids reminds us of the difficulty of the challenge), by the children (whose anonymity as ‘boy’ and ‘girl’ signifies that only on the other side can they fully become themselves), and by the calm space, surrounded by nature, of the school for the blind, in which paradoxically it is possible to see what those who appeared to see have been blind to.

In this film we see humanity tearing itself apart in demented self-harm, in a process to which technology is not the solution. Only through the eyes of a child or of a blind person can the return be glimpsed to more natural and less destructive forms of human communication.

JOSÉ SARAMAGO, MIGUEL DE CERVANTES AND FERNANDO PESSOA: THE LAST NOTEBOOK OF LANZAROTE

José Saramago, ‘Último caderno de Lanzarote: O diário do ano do Nobel’, Porto: Porto Editora, 2018, 269 pp., ISBN 978-972-0-03128-0

The International José Saramago Conference held in Coimbra (Portugal) from 8 to 10 October 2018 (see entry on this blog for 19 October) also saw the launch of ‘Último caderno de Lanzarote’, the sixth and final volume in the series of Saramago’s diaries known as the Cadernos de Lanzarote, covering the year 1998 and part of 1999 and with an introduction by his widow, Pilar del Río. This material has been released only now, eight years after the novelist’s death, in the wake of its surprise discovery on Saramago’s home computer.

1998, as the book’s subtitle reminds us, was the year of Saramago’s Nobel Prize for Literature, and the book reflects this by including his Nobel lecture and acceptance speech, which had earlier been published together as ‘Discursos de Estocolmo’ (Lisbon: Fundação José Saramago, 1998). Curiously there is virtually no entry for the moment at Frankfurt airport on 8 October 1998 when Saramago was apprised of the honour, only the laconic jotting ‘Aeropuerto de Frankfurt. Prémio Nobel’.

The entries as a whole vary from one-liners through occasional pieces to reproductions of full-length articles and speeches from across 1998, including Saramago’s important addresses to the Guadalajara book fair in Mexico (on democracy in crisis) and to the Colegio de México (organised by Carlos Fuentes, on the author vs. narrator issue in literature).

Out of this rich and diverse material, I draw the reader’s attention to a piece whose existence I was not aware of and which I believe deserves to be better known. It appears between pages 112 and 118 as an entry for 31 May 1998, with no title and unsourced, and it is therefore not clear if it was given as a lecture and where it was published. In it, Saramago delineates an analogy between two giants of Iberian literature, Miguel de Cervantes and Fernando Pessoa, suggesting that despite one being Spanish from the 17th century and the other Portuguese from the 20th, key similarities bind them in their respective treatments of human identity.

Cervantes’ character Alonso Quijano metamorphoses into Don Quixote, a person with a different life-history and character traits. The historical Fernando Pessoa morphs into Alberto Caeiro, Álvaro de Campos, Ricardo Reis and Bernardo Soares, heteronyms whose biography and literary predilections are not those of their poet-creator, the orthonymic Pessoa. As Saramago puts it, ‘Conhecemos tudo da vida de Don Quijote de La Mancha, porém nada sabemos da vida de Alonso Quijano’ (‘We know all about the life of Don Quijote de La Mancha, but about the life of Alonso Quijano we know nothing’), until ’em um dia da sua insignificante vida Alonso Quijano decidiu ser outra pessoa‘ (‘one day in his insignificant life, Alonso Quijano decided to be another person‘) (114). In parallel, Saramago reads Fernando Pessoa’s ‘multipersonalização sucessiva’ as the poet ‘tornando … a ser alguém, na medida em que pôde tornar-se outro’ (‘becoming someone once again, to the extent that he could become someone else’) (116). He concludes that between Cervantes and Pessoa, if there are clear similarities in the search for the other, the outcomes are different, as, if ‘Pessoa dispersou-se noutros, e nessa dispersão, porventura, se reencontrou’ (‘Pessoa dispersed himself in others, and in that dispersal, it may be, he found himself again’), ‘Quijano substituiu-se a si mesmo por outro enquanto a morte não chegava para fazer voltar tudo ao princípio’ (‘Quijano substituted himself with another, until death arrived to send everything back to the beginning’) (118).

The complexities of the similarity/difference axis between the two Iberian icons are densely and carefully handled by Saramago in this piece. It is an article which the American critic (and great Saramaguian) Harold Bloom could have written, but to my knowledge Bloom has not ventured this particular comparison. There is a wealth of material in ‘Último caderno de Lanzarote’ of interest to students of Saramago and of literature, but this particular rescued gem is arguably the most interesting element of all, as it enshrines the appreciation of two essential figures of Iberian literature, Cervantes and Pessoa, at the hands of a third, none other than Saramago.

BLOOD ON 86 TRACKS: 6-CD SET CHARTS MAKING OF BOB DYLAN’S MASTERPIECE

The appearance of the 6-CD box set ‘More Blood, More Tracks’ as Vol. 14 in ‘The Bootleg Series’, Bob Dylan’s ongoing mega-collection of archive releases, is a landmark moment for his followers, as it charts the making of 1975’s ‘Blood on the Tracks’, considered by many if not most to be the best of all his albums.

It has already generated some excellent writing, by Alex Ross in the New Yorker (13 Nov 2018):
https://www.newyorker.com/culture/cultural-comment/bob-dylans-masterpiece-is-still-hard-to-find
(‘Bob Dylan’s Masterpiece Is Still Hard to Find’)
and Greil Marcus in Rolling Stone (25 Oct 2018):
https://www.rollingstone.com/music/music-features/real-life-rock-top-ten-746600/ ;
and in France, in the magazine Rock&Folk (No 616, Dec 2018), a review by Nicolas Ungemit (p. 81) and an article (‘Bob Dylan’) by Charles Figat (pp. 46-50).

Details of the release are:
‘Bob Dylan, More Blood, More Tracks – The Bootleg Series Vol. 14, Deluxe Edition’ (Columbia Records, 2018): 6 CDs with book/disc case with introduction by Ben Rollins, notes by Jeff Slate and detailed track listing; plus ‘Stories in the Press: Photographs, Writings and Memorabilia’, souvenir illustrated book with introduction by Ben Rollins, including reproduction of Dylan’s notebook for the songs.

My own take follows, in which I will concentrate mostly on the song canon and lyrical aspects of this release.

**
Bob Dylan’s never-ending Bootleg Series marches on, and with this release reaches its Vol. 14 (actually the twelfth release, since Vols. 1 to 3 appeared as a single package). Since Vol. 8 the presentation of the releases has become distinctly postmodern, with multiple variants and permutations and only the most comprehensive (and expensive) avatars having definitive status for Dylan completists (if in our times of information overload that category of person still exists). This latest offering is available in an abbreviated 1-CD version and a full ‘deluxe’ 6-CD version (the latter accompanied by two souvenir books). The full version breaks new ground in being marketed as the series’ first limited-edition issue, the Dylan community having been warned that once the current run of pressings has been exhausted, it will not be reissued. This review will concentrate on the full version, given that the 1-CD release, even if it is the version that will remain on the market, offers but a highly incomplete selection.

The deluxe ‘More Blood, More Tracks’ won itself immediate special status among Dylan fans, even before release, for the irrefutable reason that it charts the complete recording sessions for ‘‘Blood on the Tracks’’, the album near-universally hailed by the singer-songwriter’s acolytes as his unsurpassed masterpiece. Michael Gray, already with a quarter-century’s hindsight, called it in 2000 ‘an album of genius’, ‘triumphantly showing more subtlety and nuance than anything he’d ever done’ (‘Song and Dance Man III: The Art of Bob Dylan’, London: Cassell, 2000, p. 8), indeed declaring: ‘This album is almost certainly his best’ (p. 181) – a judgment which later decades have vindicated.

This addition to the Bootleg Series thus joins 2015’s vol. 12, ‘The Cutting Edge’, which similarly gathered, in its 18-disc maximum variant, Dylan’s complete recording sessions for his other indisputable peak period, namely 1965-1966. Thus, what we already had for ‘Bringing It All Back Home’, ‘Highway 61 Revisited’ and ‘Blonde on Blonde’, we now also have for ‘Blood on the Tracks’.

All 86 tracks were laid down in 1974-1975, and with one exception all relate to ‘Blood on the Tracks’, the studio album finally released in January 1975. The exception is yet another recording (on my count Dylan’s fifth to have official release) of the folk standard ‘Spanish is the Loving Tongue’, which, while pleasant enough, feels like an intruder. The remaining 85 tracks consists of variants on a total of 12 songs – the ten that appeared on the 1975 album, plus two that surfaced later, ‘Call Letter Blues’ and ‘Up to Me’.

For all that Dylan’s listeners know them so well, it is useful to recall the ten remarkable songs which graced the finished ‘Blood on the Tracks’ that appeared on the world’s delighted markets in January 1975: five in versions emanating from the New York sessions of September 1974, namely ‘Simple Twist of Fate’, ‘You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go’, ‘Meet Me in the Morning’, ‘Shelter from the Storm’ and ‘Buckets of Rain’; and five re-recorded in Minneapolis in December 1974, i.e. ‘Tangled Up in Blue’, ‘You’re a Big Girl Now’, ‘Idiot Wind’, ‘Lily, Rosemary and the Jack of Hearts’ and ‘If You See Her, Say Hello’. ‘Call Letter Blues’ and ‘Up to Me’ were omitted, most likely as being too similar respectively to ‘Meet Me in the Morning’ and ‘Shelter from the Storm’.

The fascination exerted by the new compilation is despite the fact that the six discs do not really contain any brand-new revelations. There are no previously unknown songs, and no undiscovered significant lyrical variations. The notes to the first of the two souvenir books outline in all requisite detail the 86 tracks’ origins and, where relevant, previous release(s).

It is worth mapping the tracks that had official release between the 1975 album and today, appearing on compilations, soundtracks or B-sides, not least because several feature alternate lyrics and highly different performances. The earliest are ‘You’re A Big Girl Now’ (17 Sept 1974, Take 2, remake) and ‘Up To Me’ (19 Sept 1974, Take 2, remake 3,) which surfaced in 1985 on the 3-disc compilation ‘Biograph’, the latter song coming as a surprise to most listeners. Then in 1991, on ‘The Bootleg Series vols. 1-3’, came ‘If You See Her, Say Hello’ (16 Sept 1974, Take 2), ‘Idiot Wind’ (19 Sept 1974, Take 4, remake), ‘Tangled Up in Blue’ (19 Sept 1974, Take 3, remake 2), plus Take 2 from 16 Sept 1974 of the previously unknown ‘Call Letter Blues’; the first three all offered significant lyrical variants. Later, a version of ‘Shelter from the Storm’, similar but (see below) not identical to Take 1 of that song from 17 Sept 1974 saw the light of day, first on the film soundtrack ‘Jerry Maguire’ (1996) and subsequently on the 1997 compilation ‘The Best of Bob Dylan’; and finally, Take 1, remake from 19 Sept 1974 of ‘Meet Me in the Morning’ had surfaced in 2012 as the B-side to a single fronted by ‘Duquesne Whistle’. The years between 1985 and 2012, then, saw the official release of six of the ten ‘Blood on the Tracks’ songs in alternate versions, plus the two songs dropped from the album. The four songs of which no official alternate takes existed till now were ‘Simple Twist of Fate’, ‘You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go’, ‘Lily, Rosemary and the Jack of Hearts’ and ‘Buckets of Rain’.

 

    

 

Lyric differences are an obvious issue when one evaluates different recordings of the same song, but in the case of this release absolute novelties are conspicuous by their absence: indeed, in live performance over the years Dylan has rehandled the words of both ‘Tangled Up in Blue’ and ‘Simple Twist of Fate’ far more radically than anything that emerges as genuinely new on this release. There are lyrical divergences between New York and Minneapolis for ‘Tangled Up in Blue’, ‘Idiot Wind’, ‘If You See Her, Say Hello’ and ‘Lily, Rosemary and the Jack of Hearts’, but for the three first-named the differences concern versions that appeared on ‘The Bootleg Series vols. 1-3’ and thus entered Dylan lore decades back. The New York sessions themselves meanwhile throw up surprisingly few lyrical variants of any significance: the only ones worth writing home about are for ‘Meet Me in the Morning’ and ‘Shelter From the Storm’. Nonetheless, what is new is that we now and for the first time have all the recorded lyric variants, outtake or finished version, together in one place.

For ‘Lily, Rosemary and the Jack of Hearts’, ‘Shelter from the Storm’ and ‘Meet Me in the Morning’, what we have by comparison with the released album is, in each case, an extra stanza. In the first-named, an additional (sixteenth) stanza coming between stanzas 11 and 12 of the released version, we have the privilege of extra data on three of this complex song’s protagonists:

‘Lily’s arms were locked around the man that she dearly loved to touch
She forgot all about the man she couldn’t stand who hounded her so much
I’ve missed you so, she said to him, and he felt she was sincere
But just behind the door he felt jealousy and fear
It was just another night in the life of the Jack of Hearts’.

This stanza was, however, known to the more assiduous among Dylan’s followers, having appeared in the official lyrics books since ‘Lyrics 1962-1985’ in 1988 (the Christopher Ricks variorum edition of 2014 includes it as an ‘unsung verse’). It was also sung by Joan Baez in her performance of the song on her 1976 live album, ‘From Every Stage’.

The box set offers four versions of ‘Shelter from the Storm’, all from 16 September 1974. One (Take 3) is incomplete; of the remaining three, Take 4 is the ‘Blood on the Tracks’ version, Take 2 is very similar, and the only version with substantive lyrical variation from the standard release is Take 1, which the track listing claims to have been ‘previously released on the Jerry McGuire [sic] original soundtrack’ (‘More Blood, More Tracks’, Rollins/Slate book/disc case, p. 52). In fact it is not exactly that version: it has the same vocal and guitar tracks but also features piano and bass parts which have been edited out of the Maguire take (which incidentally – in a reissue not mentioned in the ‘More Blood, More Tracks’ print material – had a second release in 1997 on an obscure compilation that was not released in all markets (and not in the US), ‘The Best of Bob Dylan’, where the notes credited it to the film. Curiously, Slate’s detailed notes on the songs tell a different story from the track listing, admitting that ‘it’s this version, without bass and piano [my italics] that is used in the film Jerry Maguire’ (book/disc case, p. 29). The Maguire/Best Of version thus both is and is not present here. What it and Take 1 do share is an extra stanza, coming in as sixth and bringing the song’s stanza count up to eleven. Attentive Dylan listeners may recognise it, but it appears in no published lyrics book, not even the Ricks variorum. On Take 1, the standard stanza 6 (‘Now there’s a wall between us’) becomes stanza 8; standard 7 stays in its place; and standard 8 to 10 become 9 to 11. The additional stanza reads:

‘Now the bonds are broken, but they can be retied
By one more journey to the woods, the holes where spirits hide
It’s a never-ending battle for a peace that’s always torn
Come in, she said, I’ll give you
Shelter from the storm’

Finally, ‘Meet Me in the Morning’ appears on this compilation in a version earlier released only on a Dylan rarity, namely as the B-side to the single featuring ‘Duquesne Whistle’ which appeared in 2012 to promote Dylan’s album ‘Tempest’. This differs from the standard ‘Blood on the Tracks’ version by including an extra stanza: otherwise it is the same take. The ‘new’ material comprises an extra fourth stanza between standard stanzas 3 and 4, with standard 4 and 5 thus becoming 5 and 6. The edited, 5-stanza version which appeared on ‘Blood on the Tracks’ is not included in the box set. The extra stanza had, though, been included in the various lyrics books, with the variorum edition again noting it as ‘unsung’. It runs:

‘The birds are flyin’ low, babe, honey I feel so exposed
The birds are flyin’ low, babe, honey I feel so exposed
Well, I ain’t got any matches and the station doors are closed’

The three ‘missing’ stanzas are all of quality, and detailed analysis would show that all three add something to their respective songs. Also important, though hardly a new discovery, are the substantial lyric variations between New York and Minneapolis affecting ‘Tangled Up in Blue’, ‘Idiot Wind’ and to a lesser extent ‘If You See Her, Say Hello’. Thanks to The Bootleg Series vols. 1-3, these lyrical differences have been well enough known for almost three decades, but it may be as well to suggest here that there is no question of superiority/inferiority as regards Dylan’s rewriting of these songs. For ‘Tangled Up in Blue’ it may be regrettable that Minneapolis eliminates the third-to-first-person modulation in favour of first person throughout, but Dylan used the same technique on the released version of ‘Simple Twist of Fate’, and employing it twice on the same record could have looked like overkill. By contrast, Minneapolis improves on New York in stanza 3 by shifting the scene of the drifter-narrator’s second job from L.A., ‘loading cargo onto a truck’, to the more atmospheric New Orleans, ‘on the fishing boats / Just outside of Delacroix’. In stanza 6 too, Minneapolis scores over New York by replacing the rather thin lines beginning ‘He was always in a hurry …’ by a more precise location in time and place, on Montague Street and with ‘revolution in the air’. In the case of ‘Idiot Wind’, New York and Minneapolis have completely different musical backgrounds inviting head-to-head comparison. New York has a reference to the I Ching, a gesture towards Chinese spirituality unparalleled in Dylan, while Minneapolis replaces the Chinese text by a more mundane ‘fortune-teller’. On the other hand, it is Minneapolis, not New York, that has the killer lines: ‘Idiot wind / Blowin’ like a circle around my skull / From the Grand Coulee Dam to the Capitol’, triumphantly replacing the less expressive ‘Blowin’ like a circle around my jaw / From the Grand Coulee Dam to the Mardi Gras; in a stroke of genius, Dylan traces a west-east line across a United States no longer of carnival but where something is rotten in the heart of government. Meanwhile on ‘If You See Her, Say Hello,’ the changes, though confined to one stanza, got Pete Hamill’s sleevenotes pulled from later pressings of the album, as he had quoted lines (‘If you’re makin’ love to her / Kiss her for the kid …’) from the song’s New York avatar that did not correspond to what Dylan sang on the album. Also worth mentioning is the presence in the box set (in multiple takes but with no important lyric variations) of a neglected song, ‘Up To Me’ – which includes lyrical gems like ‘I was just too stubborn to ever be governed by enforced insanity’ and ‘Was I a fool or not to protect your real identity?’, but despite being available since 1985 via ‘Biograph’ has never fully received its due, the likes of Michael Gray, Christopher Ricks and Stephen Scobie mentioning it but in passing.

The packaging includes, in the second book (‘Stories in the Press’), material of relevance to the lyrical aspect. Pete Hamill’s ill-fated sleevenotes appear, though as a screenshot-type full-page facsimile, not as text, and thus not in user-friendly from. There is also the intriguing reproduction of pages from a notebook of Dylan’s that maps parts of the songs’ composition, containing manuscript lyrics for seven of the songs from the released album plus ‘Up To Me’ (including the extra stanzas for ‘Lily, Rosemary and the Jack of Hearts’ and ‘Shelter From the Storm’) – together with, intriguingly, another nine songs which never made it to the sessions, let alone the album, and which if I mistake not were hitherto totally unknown and will no doubt be providing Dylanologists with fresh woods and pastures new to explore. The compilers committed an error in the marketed version of the box, leaving out four pages corresponding to an eighth ‘Blood on the Tracks’ song, ‘You’re a Big Girl Now’, plus part of ‘Tangled Up in Blue’. However, diligent fans spotted the omission and informed the record company, who apologised and made the missing pages available (and downloadable for free) via Dylan’s official site at: http://www.bobdylan.com/news/missing-notebook-pages/.

It is of course part of Dylan mythology that, for the half of the album’s songs concerned, the New York recordings (or those hitherto known) are preferable to their Minneapolis equivalents, and that in some universe of Platonic forms the ideal ‘‘Blood on the Tracks’’ would therefore consist of ten triumphant New York numbers, with Minneapolis defenestrated. Thus, for Alex Ross, ‘Blood on the Tracks’ is the ‘greatest, darkest album of [Dylan’s] career’, but the released album, while he admits it has ‘eloquent defenders’, is to his ears not as good as the New York ‘masterpiece of melancholy’ and ‘cuts out much of the complexity’. Greil Marcus, by contrast, argues that aspects of ‘Blood on the Tracks’, notably the New York sessions, have been ‘overpraised and overfetichised’ over the years. From a different point of view, Charles Figat asks: ‘Pourquoi cet album est-il si important?’ (‘Why is this album so important?’) and answers: ‘Peut-être parce que le chanteur y atteint un sommet d’écriture et s’y livre comme jamais auparavant’ (‘Perhaps because on it the singer reaches a peak in his writing and gives of his all like never before’) (Figat, p. 46), thus praising Dylan’s achievement without privileging a given variant.

Alex Ross notes that it is now possible to ‘assemble the original “Blood on the Tracks” from [the contents of] “More Blood, More Tracks”‘ and even lists the track sequence for doing so. This is indeed the case, but curiously what cannot be done is to assemble the released ‘Blood on the Tracks’ from this collection, thanks to the discrepancy between the edited and unedited takes of ‘Meet Me in the Morning’. Postmodernist once again, this capacious box set fails to hold within it the full ‘authentic’ components of the ‘Blood on the Tracks’ that everybody knows. It could have included a remastered version of the released album, as was done earlier in the Bootleg Series for ‘Self Portrait’, but if ever there was such an idea it was dropped.

All in all, I would prefer to avoid sterile argument about ‘what’s real and what is not’, and suggest that now that we have all the recordings at our fingertips, to promote or prefer one ‘Blood on the Tracks’ over another, New York over Minneapolis or vice versa, is simply unnecessary: each listener can choose. ‘More Blood, More Tracks’ as a whole confirms ‘Blood on the Tracks’ as Dylan’s best album, his ‘Sergeant Pepper’ or ‘”Heroes”‘, and allows us an unforgettable glimpse into the work-in-progress of a Bob Dylan at the height of his powers.

Conference: José Saramago, 20 Years of the Nobel – Coimbra (Portugal), October 2018

From 8 to 10 October 2018 I had the pleasure of attending the international conference ‘José Saramago: 20 Anos com o Prémio Nobel’ (José Saramago, 20 Years of the Nobel), held at the Convento de São Francisco conference centre in Coimbra to mark the 20th anniversary of the award in 1998 of the Nobel Prize for Literature to José Saramago (1922-2010), novelist, dramatist, essayist and more and the first Portuguese-language writer to receive that honour. The conference, whose official pages are at:
https://www.uc.pt/fluc/clp/cijs
and https://www.josesaramago.org/congresso-internacional-jose-saramago-20-anos-premio-nobel-coimbra-8-10-outubro/
was co-sponsored by a number of entities, notably the Centre for Portuguese Studies of the University of Coimbra’s Faculty of Letters and the Fundação José Saramago. The opening ceremony was attended by, among others, the President of the Republic and Saramago’s widow, Pilar del Río. The co-organisers were Professor Carlos Reis and Professor Ana Paula Arnaut, both of the Faculty of Letters.

Presented at the conference was the hitherto unpublished final volume of Saramago’s ongoing notebook ‘Cadernos de Lanzarote’, corresponding to the time of his Nobel.

The plenary lectures, panels and presentation sessions encompassed a vast range of topics related to the life’s work of the Portuguese Nobel, from perspectives ranging from the literary and the political/journalistic through to the theological, and the atmosphere was at all times both welcoming and intellectually stimulating. The proceedings concluded with a lecture by Carlos Reis on character and allegory in Saramago, a moving address by Pilar del Río, and an excellent theatrical adaptation of the novel O Ano da Morte de Ricardo Reis.

Summaries of the papers can be found at:
https://www.uc.pt/fluc/clp/cijs/cijs_res,
and the text of my own paper, ‘The reception of José Saramago’s O Ano da Morte de Ricardo Reis in the Anglophone world: translation and criticism’, is on-line at: http://www.yatrarollason.info/files/SaramagotranslationRicardoReisPAPER.pdf

(Photos: Scenes in Lisbon associated with O Ano da Morte de Ricardo Reis)

 

Bringing together a multitude of specialists and attended by some 200 people, this memorable event will indeed serve to further broaden and deepen research and dialogue at global level in the ever-fecund field of Saramago studies. Participation was a pleasure, and post-conference debate will be eagerly awaited!

JOSÉ SARAMAGO AND PORTUGUESE LITERATURE AND LANGUAGE: ON-LINE RESEARCH RESOURCES

My current research activity on Portuguese literature in general, and José Saramago in particular, has unearthed the existence of a wealth of invaluable research material in the field (and also on Portuguese language matters), which I now share. I am pleased to add that everything listed here is open access and free of charge!

PORTUGUESE LITERATURE IN GENERAL

Instituto Camões: Revista ‘Camões’ – on-line collection:

http://cvc.instituto-camoes.pt/conhecer/biblioteca-digital-camoes/revistas-e-periodicos/revista-camoes

FERNANDO PESSOA AND HETERONYMS

Virtually the complete works, at: Arquivo Pessoa – Lisboa: Obra Aberta CRL, 2008 – http://arquivopessoa.net

JOSÉ SARAMAGO

Biblioteca Nacional de Portugal – a wealth of archive material, to be explored at:

http://purl.pt

Notably, the original typescript, with corrections, of Saramago’s ‘O Ano da Morte de Ricardo Reis’: http://purl.pt/13872

Fundação José Saramago:

https://www.josesaramago.org/

  • Bibliography of works by and on Saramago:

https://www.josesaramago.org/bibliografia-ativa-de-jose-saramago/

https://www.josesaramago.org/bibliografia-passiva-de-jose-saramago/

  • Revista digital ‘Blimunda’ – on-line collection:

https://www.josesaramago.org/revista-digital-blimunda-i/

  • Revista de Estudos Saramaguianos – on-line collection:

https://estudossaramaguianos.com/

**

PORTUGUESE LANGUAGE

http://www.portaldalinguaportuguesa.org/main.html

and on the 1994 spelling reform:

http://voc.cplp.org/

**

The compilers of this material, and Portugal’s academic, literary and cultural milieux in general are to be congratulated on making so much useful material available, in user-friendly form and free of charge. A luta continua!