This week sees the U.S. release of Jose Saramago’s blog-turned-book, The Notebook.
It’s published by Verso, and had already garnered some coverage.
A number of reflections on art and literature, along with some travelogue pieces, interleave the bulletins of “news that burns”. While these entries are more meditative and subtle, they generally echo, rather than muffle, the strident political commentary. The Notebook will doubtless disappoint Saramago fans who regard him as a sort of Portuguese Borges – aloof, erudite, aesthetic. It will be welcomed, however, by readers who see an intimate (although not necessarily straightforward) relationship between literature and politics. Saramago’s trenchant blogging in no way resembles his capacious fiction, yet his novels affirm cultural, aesthetic and moral values utterly at odds with the neo-liberal ethos denounced in The Notebook.
Actually, this blog, a record running from September 2008 to the last day of August 2009, is not, as its author admits, what is usually considered to be a “real blog”. It doesn’t contain any links and “I don’t have a dialogue with my readers” and “don’t interact with the rest of the blogosphere”. The Notebook is therefore best thought of as just that, a series of daily jottings which happens to have been first published on the internet, but which might just as well have appeared as a daily newspaper column.
It is old-fashioned in manner, tone and outlook. This is not surprising because Saramago is now well advanced into his ninth decade. This makes his range of interests and capacity for indignation the more remarkable and admirable.
The question is prompted by the arrival of José Saramago’s latest effort, “The Notebook,” which collects a series of blog posts that Saramago, the Portuguese Nobelist, wrote from September 2008 to August 2009 at the urging of his wife and friends. True to the form, his posts are mini-essays, many of them shorter than a newspaper column, in which he tackles subjects from politics (“George Bush expelled truth from the world, establishing the age of lies that now flourishes in its place”) to publishing (“Voltaire had no literary agent”) to the nature of blogging itself (“Is this the closest thing we have to citizen power? Are we more companionable when we write on the Internet?”). They’re fascinating and smart and provocative, and a lot of fun to dip into. But they strike me as too topical and too fleeting to count as literature, and they reinforce my impression, expressed elsewhere on this site, that blogs are by their nature part journalism, part journal.