The Evil of Banality

William Flesch in the Los Angeles Review of Books:

1341014686“I’m blind, I’m blind”: this is the “inevitable cry” of the suddenly stricken in José Saramago’s great novel Blindness, as a strange milky-white opacity spreads among all (or nearly), rich and poor, young and old, good and evil, selfish and selfless. “I’m blind” the ophthalmologist attempting to cure the blindness of others has to admit, though he tries to keep it to himself. “I’m blind” the already quarantined victims hear the announcer suddenly declare on the radio, which is their only source of information about the outside world. “I’m blind, I’m blind” cry lecturers stricken in mid-sentence at emergency medical conferences convened to discuss the plague. There is no one better than Saramago to narrate this terrible fate with the dispassionate and paradoxical clearsightedness that is always the hallmark of his style:

The crowd outside continued shouting furiously, but suddenly their cries became lamentations and tears, I’m blind, I’m blind, they were all saying and asking, Where is the door, there was a door here and now it’s gone.

This passage isn’t from Blindness but from Saramago’s last novel, Cain, which retells a lot of the stories of morally inexplicable suffering and slaughter in the Old Testament, in this case the story of the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah.

If you’re not recently or well versed in Genesis, you won’t recognize the moment. This sudden blindness was the Sodomites’ first, almost casual, punishment, to be followed the next day by the fire and brimstone rained down upon the cities of the plain.

More here.