13 abril 2006

Ora nunca é de mais

José Saramago has a taste for alternative realities, for the use of fiction as a form of speculation. In one of his novels (The Stone Raft, 1986), the Iberian Peninsula breaks off physically from the rest of Europe and floats away into the Atlantic. In another (The Gospel According to Jesus Christ, 1991), we read a detailed account of Christ's inmost thoughts. In yet another (Blindness, 1995), a sudden affliction unknown to science robs a whole population of its sight. There is a political edge to all these stories, and more than a hint of allegory. But none of them is as openly political as Seeing, Saramago's new novel, first published in Portuguese in 2004. In the other works things inexplicably happen to people; in this one people are what happen to a whole country, and especially to its capital.

The novel opens with an elegant deception, a form of bluff. There is terrible weather in the city on election day; no one is showing up at the polling booths. Perhaps no one will come at all, and this will be the country's first election with absolutely no votes cast. But the weather clears up, and people start voting even in the rain. Absence is not the problem. The problem is the votes themselves: 13 percent for the party on the right, 9 percent for the party in the middle and, 2.5 percent for the party on the left. The rest of the votes, more than 70 percent, are blank. The government, in consternation but still clinging to the constitution, has the mandatory second election the following week. This time 83 percent of the votes are blank. The people of the city have not abstained from voting, and they have not spoiled their ballots. They have not written in candidates. They have democratically objected to the particular form of democracy on offer.

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