How did Blindness win a Pulitzer?
August 7, 2006 12:16 PM   Subscribe

Can someone explain to me why Blindness by Jose Saramago won a Pulitzer?

At the risk of violating the chatfilter rules, I've been puzzling this one over and thought I'd ask. The book has come up a bunch of times in AskMe, so I thought this would be a good place to get some answers. The book frustrated me to no end because it has such an amazingly simple, beautifully devastating concept, and very competent storytelling.

But my issue was the actual writing. I thought I could get into it, but it just didn't happen. I quite frankly thought the writing was beyond clumsy - it was poor. I generally love simplitic writing (Carver, for example), but this was too much. I frequently felt like this was written by someone just discovering commas.

Did anyone else have this problem, or am I nuts? Would I not have thought this way if I could read it in Portuguese?
posted by ORthey to Writing & Language (12 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Jose Saramago is one of my favorite authors. Have you read any of his other works? I'd suggest that you read a few others to get accustomed to his writing style and you could see the beauty in it.

Blindness isn't my favorite of his books -- I prefer the Gospel According to Jesus Christ.
posted by k8t at 12:18 PM on August 7, 2006

Uh, Blindness didn't win a Pulitzer. You have to be American to win the Pulitzer. Saramago won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1998 and the citation read "who with parables sustained by imagination, compassion and irony continually enables us once again to apprehend an elusory reality."
posted by mattbucher at 12:23 PM on August 7, 2006

Though he does the same thing in his other works, I thought it was well-suited for Blindness because it's so disorienting. It's hard, sometimes, to figure out who's actually speaking. It's like the novel becomes a whole series of things heard out of context.

In hopes of finding a real answer, I looked at the Nobel Prize website (which you might have seen), and the wording of his Prize itself: José Saramago, ""who with parables sustained by imagination, compassion and irony continually enables us once again to apprehend an elusory reality".

I think his writing style is part of the "elusory" aspect.
posted by sixacross at 12:23 PM on August 7, 2006

From the press release: "Saramago's idiosyncratic development of his own resonant style of fiction gives him a high standing." I guess the Swedish Academy dug his style. (I do, too.)
posted by amro at 12:43 PM on August 7, 2006

idiosyncratic development of his own resonant style of fiction

Note to self: Make shit up, if only for the sake of making shit up.
posted by frogan at 12:57 PM on August 7, 2006

Nobel Prizes in Literature, unlike Pulitzers are usually given for a body of work, and not a specific work. Pulitzers are given for specific works (my employer administers them).
posted by jivadravya at 1:07 PM on August 7, 2006

I have not read Blindness, but my experiences with History of the Siege of Lisbon and As Intermitências da Morte could be useful to your question:

In English, I found his writing to be ridiculously difficult to parse, enjoy, or deal with. Maybe it was a bad translation? Maybe it's too easy to read through English quickly, and therefore easy to miss the beauty of his work? I gave up halfway through and left History on a plane for some other poor soul, and I really wanted to like it and almost never give up on books.

Intermitências on the other hand, I read in Portuguese. I could not put it down, and it was one of those books that I wanted to copy down every part of, to be a part that I would remember after I had finished the book. It felt like a much more natural read, and the style was much more compelling.

(FWIW though, the excerpt of Blindness that is available at Amazon reads a lot like Intermitências.)
posted by whatzit at 1:39 PM on August 7, 2006

i had the same reaction--i never finished it and was very disappointed after hearing such wonderful things about it.

i blamed the lack of readability on poor translation. i thought it was supposed to be disorienting (like what was happening to the characters). and i suspected that the purposeless repetition in the language was supposed to mimic a blind groping, but instead of finding it evocative (like say, the confusing deterioration of syntax in womack's random acts of senseless violence), i found it irritating and impeding.
posted by crush-onastick at 1:41 PM on August 7, 2006

Response by poster: Oops - Nobel prize. Sorry.

Maybe I'll give another one of his a try...
posted by ORthey at 2:16 PM on August 7, 2006

If you try another one, another of my friends recommends Gospel, as k8t did up top. In another couple of years, Intermitências should be in English, and that would be another excellent choice.
posted by whatzit at 2:42 PM on August 7, 2006

In a random coincidence, my friend was telling my about 'Blindness' the other day. She said she started reading the story and found it very depressing and hopeless. Then three-quarters of the way in, it turned around, and even the simplest of events seemed to be better. Word choice, structure, and tone all changed. She said as she approached the end that it was odd... she would expect that sort of switch in emotion right at the end, where it was more appropriate.

She was reading an e-book version of this, and as she hit the last page read what would have been a back cover blurb. It described how the translator was dying of some horrible painful disease while working, and then three quarters of the way through passed away.The translation was then picked up by a younger, healthier, and I'm guessing more positive individual.

It made a lot more sense after that.
posted by billy_the_punk at 3:37 PM on August 7, 2006 [1 favorite]

I'm going to second "lousy translation. I tried to read it in English, gave up after a few chapters, and picked up a French translation years later. It was absolutely great.
posted by honeydew at 11:06 AM on August 8, 2006

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