Wednesday, August 7, 2013

All the Names

Senhor Jose is a clerk at the Central Registry, an establishment headed by the inscrutable and incontestable Head Register. Jose, like all the other employees who work at the Registry, is tasked with the job of "transforming life and death into mere paper;" of recording the date of births, marriages and deaths of all citizens.

With a myriad of files at his disposal, Jose begins a dangerously unconventional hobby - collecting the files containing the information of famous people. Then, he makes the discovery of the file of an 'unknown woman' that changes his life and puts his career at risk.

A recurring theme in Jose Saramago's novels is that of the unbreakable union of life and death; although this theme is definitely portrayed in All the Names, what I found most enlightening was the idea of order(almost Big Brother-esque)that is encapsulated in the workings of the registry. Everything follows orderly processions and unquestioned regulations - perhaps the most magical moment of the novel is when Saramago abruptly switches to the first person narrative, right after Jose 'spills the beans.' It is only in the wake of his emotional dispatch, one compressed for years, that Jose may become an individual only fugaciously free from the bonds of the Registry.

"In order to die, you need only be alive." It is not an amalgamation of life and death that Saramago suggests, but rather the inevitable nature of their non-mutually-exclusiveness. The dialogue, free of quotation marks, may send readers down a path as tortuous as that of the Registry's archives, but perhaps quotation marks are too 'lively' for this sinister novel.

...I really need to start reading novels that have likable protagonists.

As a result of a fall he might have lost his life, which would doubtless have a certain importance from a statistical and personal point of view, but what, we ask, if that life were instead to remain biologically the same, that is, the same being, the same cells, the same features, the same stature, the same apparent way of looking, seeing and noticing, and, without the change even being registered statistically, what if that life became another life, and that person a different person.
Fame, alas, is a breeze that both comes and goes, it is a weather vane that turns both to the north and to the south, and just as a person might pass from anonymity to celebrity without ever understanding why, it is equally common for that person, after preening himself in the warm public glow, to end up not even knowing his own name.
When we announce the beginning of something, we always speak of the first day, when one should really speak of the first night, the night is a condition of the day, night would be eternal if there were no night.
There are, after all, so many coincidences in life, for one cannot see any close or immediate relationship between that fact and a sudden need for secrecy, but it is well known that the human mind very often makes decisions for reasons it clearly does not know, presumably because it does so after having travelled the paths of the mind at such speed that, afterwards, it cannot recognize those paths, let alone find them again.
There are people like Senhor José everywhere, who fill their time, or what they believe to be their spare time, by collecting stamps, coins, medals, vases, postcards, matchboxes, books, clocks, sport shirts, autographs, stones, clay figurines, empty beverage cans, little angels, cacti, opera programmes, lighters, pens, owls, music boxes, bottles, bonsai trees, paintings, mugs, pipes, glass obelisks, ceramic ducks, old toys, carnival masks, and they probably do so out of something that we might call metaphysical angst, perhaps because they cannot bear the idea of chaos being the one ruler of the universe, which is why, using their limited powers and with no divine help, they attempt to impose some order on the world, and for a short while they manage it, but only as long as they are there to defend their collection, because when the day comes when it must be dispersed, and that day always comes, either with their death or when the collector grows weary, everything goes back to its beginnings, everything returns to chaos.
It has long been known that death, either through innate incompetence or a duplicity acquired through experience, does not choose its victim according to length of life, a fact which, moreover, let it be said in passing, and if one is to believe the words of the inumerable philosophical and religious authorities who have pronounced on the subject, has, indirectly and by different and sometimes contradictory routes, had a paradoxical effect on human beings, and has produced in them an intellectual sublimation of their natural fear of dying.

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