- Birthday, Books, Quotes, Reading, Writing

“Perhaps it is the language that chooses the writers it needs, making use of them so that each might express a tiny part of what it is.”


Happy birthday, José Saramago! Here are some quotes from the author.


“Deep down, I don’t create anything. I’m just someone who simply lifts a rock and exposes what’s beneath it. It’s not my fault that monsters come out sometimes.”


“I write to try to understand, and because I have nothing better to do.”


“A writer is a man like any other: he dreams.”


“Every novel is like this, desperation, a frustrated attempt to save something of the past. Except that it still has not been established whether it is the novel that prevents man from forgetting himself or the impossibility of forgetfulness that makes him write novels.”


“Sometimes I say that writing a novel is the same as constructing a chair: a person must be able to sit in it, to be balanced on it. If I can produce a great chair, even better. But above all I have to make sure that it has four stable feet.”


“The possibility of the impossible, dreams and illusions, are the subject of my novels.”


“If you can see, look. If you can look, observe.”


“Creating is always so much more stimulating than destroying.”


“We have an odd relationship with words. We learn a few when we are small, throughout our lives we collect others through education, conversation, our contact with books, and yet, in comparison, there are only a tiny number about whose meaning, sense, and denotation we would have absolutely no doubts if, one day, we were to ask ourselves seriously what they meant. Thus we affirm and deny, thus we convince and are convinced, thus we argue, deduce, and conclude, wandering fearlessly over the surface of concepts about which we have only the vaguest of ideas, and, despite the false air of confidence that we generally affect as we feel our way along the road in the verbal darkness, we manage, more or less, to understand each other and even, sometimes, to find each other.”


“We would know far more about life’s complexities if we applied ourselves to the close study of its contradictions instead of wasting so much time on similarities and connections, which should anyway, be self-explanatory.”


“A human being is a being who is constantly ‘under construction,’ but also, in a parallel fashion, always in a state of constant destruction.”


“The difficult thing isn’t living with other people, it’s understanding them.”


“Our biggest tragedy is not knowing what to do with our lives.”


“We humans are, at bottom, carriers of the time, because we take it with us, we use it, sometimes we waste it, and sometimes something remains, though everything is doomed to oblivion.”


“So often we need a whole lifetime in order to change our life; we think a great deal, weigh things up and vacillate, then we go back to the beginning, we think and think, we displace ourselves on the tracks of time with a circular movement, like those clouds of dust, dead leaves, debris, that have no strength for anything more; better by far that we should live in a land of hurricanes.”


“Nobody performs her or his duties. Governments do not, because they do not know, they are not able or they do not wish, or because they are not permitted by those who effectively govern the world: The multinational and pluricontinental companies whose power—absolutely non-democratic—reduce to next to nothing what is left of the ideal of democracy. We citizens are not fulfilling our duties either. Let us think that no human rights will exist without symmetry of the duties that correspond to them. It is not to be expected that governments in the next 50 years will do it. Let us common citizens therefore speak up. With the same vehemence as when we demanded our rights, let us demand responsibility over our duties. Perhaps the world could turn a little better.”


“Authoritarian, paralyzing, circular, occasionally elliptical, stock phrases, also jocularly referred to as nuggets of wisdom, are malignant plague, one of the very worst ever to ravage the earth. We say to the confused, Know thyself, as if knowing yourself was not the fifth and most difficult of human arithmetical operations, we say to the apathetic, Where there’s a will, there’s a way, as if the brute realities of the world did not amuse themselves each day by turning that phrase on its head, we say to the indecisive, Begin at the beginning, as if that beginning were the clearly visible point of a loosely wound thread and that all we had to do was to keep pulling until we reached the other end, and as if, between the former and the latter, we had held in our hands a smooth, continuous thread with no knots to untie, no snarled to untangle, a complete impossibility in the life of a skein, or indeed, if we may be permitted one more stock phrase, in the skein of life…These are the delusions of the pure and unprepared, the beginning is never the clear, precise end of a thread, the beginning is a long, painfully slow process that requires time and patience in order to find out in which direction it is heading, a process that feels its way along the path ahead like a blind man the beginning is just the beginning, what came before is nigh on worthless.”


“Now we live in the empire of oil and money—the rest is disguise.”


“Globalization is a form of totalitarianism…It is the rich who rule, and the poor live as they can.”


“It is not pornography that is obscene, it is hunger that is obscene.”


“The human being should be the absolute priority. It seems it is more important to reach the planet Mars than prevent 13 million Africans dying of hunger. Why would I want to know if there is water on Mars if we are polluting the water here on Earth, or doing nothing to avoid it? Priorities need to be redefined, but there is no chance of this, if we don’t confront the need to know what democracy is.”


“Everything is discussed in this world, except for one thing: democracy. Democracy is not discussed. Democracy is there, as a kind of saint, from whom no miracles are expected, but that is there as a reference: ‘the democracy’; and we don’t notice that the democracy in which we live in is a kidnapped, conditioned, and amputated one, because the power of the citizen, the power of each one of us, is limited, in the political sphere, I repeat, in the political sphere, to removing a government that we don’t like and replacing it by another one that we might come to like. Nothing else. But the important decisions are made in another sphere, and we all know which one it is. The great international financial organizations, the IMFs, the World Trade Organizations, the World Banks, the OECD, all of these…None of these institutions is democratic, so how can we continue to talk about democracy, if those who actually govern the world are not democratically elected by the people? Who chooses the countries’ representatives in those institutions? Their respective peoples? No. So where is the democracy?”


“There is nothing that is truly free nor democratic enough. Make no mistake, the internet did not come to save the world.”


“I’m not pessimistic. It is the world that is terrible. How can we be optimistic in the face of a planet where people live so badly, nature is being destroyed, and the dominant empire is money?”


“Death is the inventor of God.”


“God, the devil, good, evil, it’s all in our heads, not in Heaven or Hell, which we also invented. We do not realize that, having invented God, we immediately became his slaves.”


“God is the silence of the universe, and man is the cry that gives meaning to that silence.”


“No religion, without exception, will ever serve to bring men together and reconcile them. They have been and will continue to be a cause of unspeakable sufferings, of carnage, or monstrous physical and spiritual acts of violence that constitute one of the darkest chapters in human history.”


“Deep down, the problem is not a God that does not exist, but the religion that proclaims Him. I denounce religions, all religions, as harmful to Humankind. These are harsh words, but one must say them.”


“Yes [death has become a taboo]. Today people want to avoid the subject and hide the deaths that happen around them. It is as if the world were a hotel where the dead usually disappear at night, without any guest being able to notice their presence. While movies and television address death, they do not touch the fundamental point of finitude. The deaths are false, the good guys get shot and come back to life. It’s another way of treating death as unreal.”


“I’m not able to fear death. We will all turn skeletons and everything shall end. The skeleton becomes, therefore, the most radical form of nudity.”


  • John Madera is the author of Nervosities (Anti-Oedipus Press, 2024). His other fiction is published in Conjunctions, Salt Hill, The &Now Awards 2: The Best Innovative Writing, and many other journals. His nonfiction is published in American Book Review, Bookforum, The Review of Contemporary Fiction, Rain Taxi: Review of Books, The Believer, The Brooklyn Rail, and many other venues. Recipient of an M.F.A. in Literary Arts from Brown University, New York State Council on the Arts awardee John Madera lives in New York City, Rhizomatic and manages and edits Big Other.

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