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Archive for November, 2008

Ensaio sobre a Cegueira — Essay on Blindness

Posted by Peder on 24 November 2008

Blindness, the bookI recently finished reading the novel Blindness by José Saramago, a Nobel laureate in literature.  It was a very captivating book and I’m glad to use it as the basis for this, my first review on this blog.

The book tells the story of a blindness epidemic which sweeps a city and a nation.  Reacting to the outbreak, the unnamed government attempts to quarantine those affected, but as the disease spreads to every last individual, anarchy ensues.  We first see this breakdown in the abandoned asylum set aside for those early victims.  As the military forces charged with the monitoring and care for those inside abandon their posts over fears of becoming blind themselves, the food deposits upon which the blind inside rely are no longer delivered.  Within the walls those with weapons, power and the constitution to use them to their benefit hoard the food and demand payment for anyone else who wants to eat.  Faced with tyrannical treatment from inside as well as out, the quarantined riot and burn the place down in what can reasonably be seen as an essay on the predictable destruction of a society — or maybe I’m just a closet-anarchist.

Those few who are able to get out walk blindly into a world they no longer recognize.  Not only has their disease painted their entire world white, but the entire society from which they were hidden has deconstructed in their absence.  Governance, law and order are no more.  Food is scarce.  Filth and the remains of the dead pile up on every street and city plaza.

Most of the story is told through the eyes of the one person who has retained her sight.  Simply called “the doctor’s wife” — her husband is an ophthalmologist — the reluctant heroine leads a ragtag group of the earliest victims through the horrors of their new world, and takes upon herself the great burden of taking care of those who cannot take care of themselves in a world devoid of order.  Interestingly, there are many mentions of morality and appropriate behavior throughout the story, particularly regarding the role of family and deference to government and order.  Very often they come across as overly old-fashioned and I wondered if I simply did not have the same values as a European author born in 1922.  But as I reflected, I realized they appeared tiresome and out-dated because they represented an effort to apply traditional values to a now-valueless world.  So much of our own societies are built upon the rule of law and the strength of family, and this story was premised on the sudden retraction of those institutions.

As the book moves on, and the characters’ lives continued to devolve I kept wondering how this story could possibly resolve itself.  But Señor Saramago takes a clue from the late, great H.G. Wells and ends the story with an anti-climax.  In War of the Worlds, the planet was in great peril and could not seem to find a way to defeat its alien invaders.  So H.G. Wells simply introduced the concept of viral infection — that the aliens couldn’t handle the cellular “bugs” for which we’ve grown immunity, and *tada!* the aliens die off and order is restored.  (When the story was turned it into a movie a few years back I remember hearing movie-goers groan at how simplistically that Happy Ending was reached.  Little did they know that Steven Spielberg actually followed the original story for once!)  Sadly, in a similar nod to what I sarcastically guess is an I’m-done-writing-now-let’s-just-finish-this-book attitude, Saramago spends about a page and a half explaining how, just as curiously as people lost their sight, they suddenly gained it back.  Hooray!  THE END.

Boo.  And this guy won the Nobel Prize for Literature 10 years ago.  Double-boo.

But I suspect the point of writing the book was not to find some unique twist that saves the day.  Rather it was to show the systematic breakdown of society and the chaotic reaction of the human organism to such unfathomable horror.  For that, this book did a good job; throughout much of the book it is surprisingly difficult to put down.  But again, that’s not for lack of trying by Señor Saramago.  His writing style is without quotation marks, has few sentence breaks and even fewer paragraph breaks.  It can be very difficult to read, as your eyes move so quickly over a text without stop or yield signs it can be very easy to lose track of who’s talking or what they’re talking about.  However, in counter point, the style does provide an added effect of confusion and disarray during the story’s many chaotic scenes.  At first I thought that was the intended effect, but then I read on Wikipedia that the author is known for this style and he uses it a lot.  Adding to the challenge of its reading, the book has been translated from its native Portuguese, which naturally added a couple hiccups as a second language can never capture the intended effect of a story’s original text.  Well, I guess you can’t have it all, can you?

Blindness, the filmYou might be already familiar with the story line as it was turned into a major motion picture, set to be released in the US sometime this fall.  I’m having difficulty determining whether the film has already had its run in theaters, or if it’s still on the horizon, but in either case I’m determined to see it, whether that means I rent the video or buy a ticket.  Take a look at the trailer below.  Very exciting!

Lastly, a note on the book’s title, the original Portuguese name means “essay on blindness,” for which Saramago has written a sequel called Ensaio sobre a Lucidez meaning “essay on lucidity,” translated in English as Seeing.  The story involves many of the same characters and takes on a political “epidemic” of non-vote ballots cast by a populace.  I have a variety of other books on my To Read list, and I’ll need a break from Señor Saramago’s style, but I look forward to reading his take on a different kind of societal degradation.


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Posted by Peder on 20 November 2008

A quiet nightscape
The soft wind ruffles my hair
Alone in my world

Evening in the winter forest, originally posted by Tatters 🙂

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Haiku FAIL

Posted by Peder on 19 November 2008

For showing us the mistakes
we don’t think we make.


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And Thus Render I Thee Obsolete

Posted by Peder on 19 November 2008

nosce te ipsum

nosce te ipsum

I’ve been talking with my dad lately about his desire to upgrade his cell phone.  A champion of “late adopter” principles (or better, “Colonist” principles applied to mobile tech), he doesn’t take on new technology very often, and when he does it’s only after it has become apparent that the technology will help him do his job better.  Or his golf game.

So I recently found and forwarded to him these two posts from a Wired blog to him showing all the gadgets that modern mobile “phones” are rendering obsolete.  My favorite:  MP3 players.  Not only is that technology only seven years old, but it’s a great example of market cannibalization as the iPhone pulls away some iPod customers.  Not that anyone at Apple would or should care.

It really is a crazy world out there of handheld-mobile-computing-unit-daily-planner-communication-life-aides.  So much so that Sprint has found an advertising niche promising to explain it to you. (Guess the racket was just looking too sweet for college-bound kids and the office IT geeks to have all to themselves.)

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Reminiscing Cabs of Yore

Posted by Peder on 14 November 2008

Taxi!I was clicking through some of the stats and incoming links associated with this blog and was reminded of this story, as told by my friend Brittney.  Just had to link to it to keep the memory alive through my own blog, as she’s done so well on hers.

“We all sat dumbfounded. Some guy hailed a cab then proceeded to rob banks and use it as his getaway car? This was not your average taxi driver chit chat.”

This was a great driver; he had some of the best taxi stories I ever heard.  Totally beats the story of my old roommate paying off a Shanghai cop who had pulled over his cab on the way to work.  This was crazy stuff, reminding me of the details that lead to this piece of fiction.

Thanks B for writing it down and capturing that jaw-dropping, eye-popping look into the life of a San Franciscan cabbie!

Read Brittney’s story here.

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Posted by Peder on 12 November 2008

The snow has fallen,
Temperatures are dropping,
Winter is here. Crap.

Snow Smile

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Chinese Paramilitary

Posted by Peder on 11 November 2008

I wish this were true, cuz then it’d be real.

Segway to the Chinese Paramilitary

Hold On Tight

Courtesy of J. Orlin Grabbe and wherever he/they got it from.

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