Allegory in Epidemic: The White Light in Saramago’s Blindness
If perception is reality, the loss of perception is nothing short of an existential crisis. But it is inevitably more than that, it is an entirely new reality of heightened sense, an uncovering what was so often overlooked or ignored.
So when an entire city in Portugal goes blind – an epidemic of sorts, the country fears – what is uncovered? What new city rests darkened underneath the lights of the old? Enter the world of José Saramago’s Blindness, a neutered apocalypse, a plague without name, as simple in its onset, as it is devastating and meticulous in its effect.
The novel, in which the blindness experienced by many is not the absence of light but an all shrouding whiteness, feels like a sci fi tale reeling from a paucity of fantasy —it is terrifyingly positioned squarely within the bounds of possible, but so far from everyday imagination that it tugs at the foundations of being.
The story starts out with a simple enough car accident and slowly beings to weave together a hodgepodge of characters— the ophthalmologist, the prostitute, the car thief, the dog of tears — around an connected fate.. And soon too, the blindness spreads to the reader.
There are no breaks or syntax unique to each character’s speech in Saramago’s prose. Dialogue flows in and out of the runaway paragraphs with no discerning attributes to identify speakers other than its content—its sound. But reader makes do much easier than characters, for whom each cacophony is an expanding maze, to be painstakingly bartered inch by inch.
The survival tale is raw, it is disturbing, but you do not turn your head and look away, because you already know what comes next. Blindness contains no new insights about human nature, it just more clearly defines the indelible contours of our limits, our strengths, our weaknesses. It works as a reminder that we still too intimately know the depths and heights of our most primordial instincts even if we do our best to mute them, to forget them.
Where Blindness’ allegorical brilliance succeeds, modern humanity and society spectacularly fail. And what is left, what is stripped away, is a sight to see.