The horror of the epidemic also lies in the deprivation of human rights

No issue is more important but also more fragile than the guarantee of “human rights”


Saramago’s “Blindness” is a classic in doomsday fables. The novel fictionalizes an epidemic. People infected with “white eye disease” will become blind in both eyes, and then be locked in a mental hospital for isolation. The novel coronavirus broke out in 2020, and the control of the epidemic has not yet ended. At this time and place, we read this novel with even more pain, not only because the novel’s superb skills make people immersed in it, but also because it allows us to further see the truth of life. .
The dark truth that novels let us experience, as pointed out in this review of Professor Xu Zhiqiang’s book shared today, is that “no issue is more important but also more fragile than the protection of ‘human rights'”. The “blind people” in the isolation center cannot even meet the basic needs of food, drink, and Lhasa, and suffer from external restrictions and internal struggles, and cannot live like humans. Whether the disease can be cured is a question, and “Blindness” raises another question that is usually ignored by grand narratives, whether people can live after the deprivation and loss of rights.
Is this inhuman condition of human beings caused by sudden epidemics? This book review reveals another point by interpreting the biblical elements in it. The “pre-intellectual kingdom” has not left modern society, but the epidemic has only made it visible. Saramago used his novels to provide his own way of redemption, “emphasizing the struggle and significance of rational thinking and moral behavior in the absurd world”. Maybe a little hope will come because of our watching, criticizing and persevering as “unblind people”.

“We are another kind of dog”

——Comment on “Blindness”

Written by: Xu Zhiqiang


Portuguese writer Saramago’s novel “Blindness” (1995), tells the story of a “white eye disease” sweeping a city, causing people to fall into blindness and turmoil, and encounter an unimaginable fate. This idea resembles a science fiction fable.

Reading this article at different times will have different feelings. In the “peace” era, it was a story full of absurdities, with imaginary and cautionary significance. In European and American literature, there are quite a few creations of this type, such as doomsday fable novels, cataclysm novels, “post-apocalypse” novels, etc., all of which are “inferring from the present, imagining the possible development state in the future, and giving an idea of ​​where the author is. the imminent crisis of the times” (James Wood), that is to say, an allegorical creation. “Blindness” belongs to this category of creations. Reading this kind of book “requires courage, but also requires strong nerves” (Chen Jiaqi’s words), but it also makes people feel fortunate: Fortunately, I did not encounter the kind of disaster described in the book.

Then, in an era of global epidemics, reading this book feels different. Everything seems real, and it hurts the skin. It’s not a “science fiction fable”, it’s a novel that calmly depicts reality, as if it were directly drawn from the current life. Moreover, there is no doubt that readers in future generations will have such awareness and experience. The power of this chapter lies in its high simulacrum, the effect of implanting nightmares into the skin; once it is born, it is included in the catalogue, and it will not be erased. Not only because it pierces the false self-confidence of civilization, after piercing the picture can never be restored to its original state, but also because it makes the structure of irony alive, it is parallel to the current reality, and it exchanges with reality. The real and thought-provoking internal mechanism has been revealed, and its revealing and warning are very sharp. In other words, it lays out a wayward allegory into a grandiose warning.


“Blindness” has seventeen chapters, which can be divided into three parts according to the plot. Chapters 1 to 3 describe the suddenness and spread of blindness, which is the prelude to the story; Chapters 4 to 12 describe how blind patients are locked in a mental hospital for isolation, which is the main part of the story. Chapters thirteen to seventeen are the end of the story, explaining that the patients in the isolation center wandered in the city after the release of the ban, regained their sight one after another and gained a new life. The three parts are chronologically progressive and coherent, telling the story of the infected who eventually become survivors in a coherent rhythm; this is a tragicomedy.

The title of the novel is “Manji”, that is, “Miscellaneous Notes”. The style of this chronicle refers to the record of the whole process of a certain process, emphasizing the details and personal experience of the event, which is different from ordinary news reports. We know that one of the functions of news reporting is to place the tragedies of similar deaths at an appropriate distance for people to read and consume. Otherwise, how can people browse the news while drinking tea and eating? However, reading “Blindness”, no matter what age, before or after the epidemic, will not make people feel like consuming a story. The reader is so nervous that he wants to withdraw at any time, take a sigh of relief, touch his eyes, and wonder if he will also be blind. Why is this happening?

Because this book is a novel and not a report. Modern novels, by their fictional nature, tend to sharpen consciousness, deepen crises, and intensify anxiety, rather than provide disintegrating diversions. It wants us to see the truth of our daily life. It is based on the assumption that we are blind and therefore need to see through the artist’s work. “Blindness” is such a work of art, and its paradox is that it wrote a group of blind people; it is a work about blindness, and it wants us to follow the blind to “see” the world.

In other words, those of us who are sighted are going to experience the kind of “darkness” that the characters in the book experience, becoming the same disabled, dysfunctional, dysfunctional, feeble and panicky as they are. This abnormal experience is real, and therefore cruel, it greatly deprives us of our sense of security, as if the foundation of existence has been dug away, and it makes us feel that even the most awake The knowledge of darkness cannot add the slightest light to the darkness, and there is no other knowledge than the knowledge of darkness. Darkness has no measure and texture, no direction and reflection, but an extension of a blind spot. It can be said that darkness is the greatest misfortune experienced by “free people”, which makes people lose their right to be human. Saramago makes us read such a work, tormenting and testing us. The novel is not long, with 269 pages in the Chinese translation, but the feeling of reading it is like experiencing a long and painful Odyssey journey, and it does not have the soothing and bright of classical. Purely modern, it is the epitome of modern urban life, with the hustle and bustle of its clusters, which outlines the darkness of the age.


The narrative of “Blindness” focuses on a basic modern humanistic notion that no issue is more important but also more fragile than the guarantee of “human rights”. Effective protection of rights such as survival, privacy, property, identity, and dignity is the premise for the maintenance of individual well-being, which is the essence of civilized life. Driving a private car waiting for traffic at a traffic light intersection, a girl wearing sunglasses having a tryst in a hotel, a patient waiting in line at an eye clinic, etc., these ordinary life behaviors are all supported by the fine rules defined by the group. However, the sudden outbreak of the epidemic has disrupted everything, the order of life has collapsed, identity and privacy have been lost, followed by the insult of personality and the trampling of rights, making people fall into the same abyss of disaster. We see that the characters in the book come together, like a comic coincidence, to share a common sense of this tragic catastrophe, and the bond of common sense is anything but blind. Behind the phenomenon of blindness lies a more urgent fact, that of deprivation and loss of rights. The drama of this story, its repression and tension, are based on a series of observations and reflections triggered by the sense of entitlement.


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The seven main characters in the book, men and women, old people and children, and an ophthalmologist (ironically!), all share a feeling of helplessness – “Can I be cured?” questions no one could answer. When the government quarantines the infected and sends them to a mental hospital, the question is no longer whether they can be cured, but whether they can survive, because the isolation center has become a prison, guarded by soldiers with guns, and the loudspeaker has issued ten Five injunctions, telling patients, “Leaving the building without prior permission means immediate death”, “If there is a disease or a riot or fight inside, the occupant should not expect any intervention from the outside”, “If someone dies, regardless of the cause of death, the resident will bury the body by the fence”, etc. Mandatory isolation is to avoid the spread of the epidemic, a practice handed down from the era of cholera and yellow fever, and there is usually no definite period for lifting the ban, which means that the temporary residence is likely to be a permanent residence, and the patient becomes a prisoner in custody, Those who died tragically did not die from blindness, but from the consequences and injuries of enforced isolation.

The description in the middle of the novel (Chapters 13 to 17), about the quarantine, constitutes the most shocking part of the article. Of course, from a humane perspective, it is shocking. From another perspective, such a conclusion may not be drawn; for example, from the perspective of the teleological logic of a grand narrative, any partial sacrifice is unavoidable, or even beneficial to the overall interests. “When the worm dies, the venom is finished.” That’s what it means. The instruction issued by the loudspeaker expresses its intention very clearly: deal with extraordinary times, accept your fate!

There is no doubt that the story of the quarantine is an allegory depicting human survival in extreme situations. Life and death, good and evil, courage and cowardice, sympathy and struggle, etc., these binary opposition propositions have obtained a highly concentrated expression, because in the place where the “blind” group gathers, even basic needs such as food, drink and Lazarus are met. Create tension and friction, expose the narrow philistine nature and the collective unconscious of the group’s “blindness”. We see that in this place surrounded by barbed wire, limited food rations, and increasingly cramped space (the isolation center is constantly receiving new patients), the right to live is undoubtedly the core of all problems, the only realistic proposition that concerns the group of “blind people”. ” of self-help and collaboration, emotion and dignity, in this starving, overcrowded, and stinking captivity, the rights that people can acquire are very meager. Confinement and resistance are felt everywhere, giving the tiny cells of everyday events a dense density.


The movie “Blindness Flu” (adapted from “Blindness”)

The right to exist in the deprived situation is particularly humble, indicating that it is not impossible for human beings to be reduced to beasts. What a humiliating and helpless situation to be denied the right to live in front of a pile of feces!

Look at the novel’s description of hygiene. Since there is not enough water in the bathroom to flush the excrement, the excrement piled up and had to step on the overflowing excrement to release it. Some people found a roll of paper after unloading their hands, “he touched the wall behind him, there might be a roll of paper there. The shelf, without which there might have been a nail, and a few pieces of paper stuck in it. Nothing. He hunched his legs, holding on to his trousers that were dragging on the disgusting floor, feeling a pang of sadness, there was no misfortune in the world. More than that, blind man, blind man, blind man, he could no longer control himself and began to cry quietly”.

Readers will be impressed by the details of the excretion. Similar depictions are rarely seen in other novels. The description of the novel is shocking, this is a typical example. When the right to exist is denied, every detail of the everyday picture provides shocking material, presented as a naked degradation and humiliation of human nature. This is Saramago’s novel’s definition of the word “shocked.”


It can be said that the criterion for measuring reality in modern novels is still the concept of humanitarianism, including the various manifestations of variation and degrading of this concept; novels since Gogol have paid special attention to the inhumane attributes of variation and degrading, and treat the “bad and evil”. ” material (“dark food” in today’s parlance) into art, deepening the objective expression of art, and transforming the humanitarian “shock” into an important aesthetic concept (different from Benjamin’s concept of “shock”). ), that is, the poetic treatment of metamorphosis and variation. Characters can be referred to by symbols, or simply not named. This is also a method of nakedly exposing the mutated form, placing the objectification of the self in the overall situation to examine and reveal it profoundly. In Marx’s terms, this is a heightened concern for “alienation.”

There is a passage in “Blindness” that makes it very clear –

“What does a name do to us, what does it do, no dog recognizes another dog by the name people give it, but by smell and by other dogs, here we It’s another kind of dog that knows each other by barking and talking.”

We see that petit-bourgeois fantasies of “subjectivity” are questioned in this passage; the absence of a name does not imply the uncertainty of identity (implying the rich possibilities of self-play), on the contrary, its properties are certain – “We are another kind of dog”. This is an analysis of the essence. Whether it is a real or a figurative analysis, a sociological or a semantic analysis, it is an analysis of the inhuman nature of the human condition, which is the unshakable basis for the “shock”.

It can be said that the significance of Saramago’s “Fable of Doomsday” is not to add a masterpiece to this type of literature, but to provide a kind of violent cleansing, to cleanse us from stagnation. Stinking epistemology, our tortuous dreams and delirium. With the bitterness and grimness of an atheist, the author crucified the alienated image of man—the shameful, obedient victim, the dog crucified. He’s not the first writer to do this, he’s crafting this imagery, once again helping us to identify the “blind” and enslaved condition of the crowd. And it is confirmed on a general level, so that the novel, which has no chronology and no character names, has a broader meaning; that is, no chronology can cover different eras, and no name can refer to “all names” (This is the title of another Saramago novel).


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Reality is condensed into pictures: barking, sniffing, groping and hurting each other. In the book, a blind man with a gun uses force to control survival resources (food resources and sexual resources), organize gangs, and force blind women to provide sexual services. This kind of hurtful plot brings the narrative to a climax.

The question is not how a patient can be admitted to an isolation facility with a weapon (it’s not impossible). The problem lies in the certain inevitability of the formation of violent organizations. There are always people who try to monopolize power and exercise the will to power in one way or another, while groups that are held hostage by violence can usually only express compromise and accept enslavement in exchange for peace. This plot itself is not new, but its appearance gives the story a new connotation: the isolation center was originally equivalent to a refugee camp, and the inhabitants were all outcasts, who were huddled together in helplessness and despair to keep warm, and now it has become a refugee camp. The violent unit of the organization, the blind group is oppressed both internally and externally, and its survival can only be described by the word dire straits.


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Some people will question: For the blind, their stories are undoubtedly darker than those of ordinary people, and it is also because the darkness lacks witnesses. So, who is the witness in this space? Is this narrative true?

The novel arranges for the ophthalmologist’s wife to be the witness, the only sighted person in the “blind” group in the isolation center, who coordinates the actions of the blind and kills the gang leader. The ophthalmologist’s wife is the “eye” of the narrative, but it cannot be said that she is the only witness. The so-called witness depends on the presence of a sense of entitlement, on the individual (even the disabled individual) to discern the inhumane situation.

The narrator said, “All stories are like Genesis, where no one was there, but everyone knew what was going on.”

In fact, apart from the dead, those who survived can tell what happened. People may offer different versions of the narrative, but they will not deny the common experience, the misery, the stench and the darkness smeared on the skin.


The movie “Blind Flu”


“Blindness” is an inspirational work; it has wise insights, vivid vision, and concise structure. It can be regarded as Saramago’s masterpiece, and it can also be called a doomsday fable (or a catastrophe novel). ‘s masterpiece.

Saramago combines game brush and ink with precise realistic style, which is a kind of inheritance of the “epidemic” period entity literature (“Plague Year Chronicle”, etc.) created by Defoe and others, and combines the magic contained in it. The spirit of realism flourished. This spirit is compassionate, humorous, and enlightening. And, as typical magical realist literature shows, it’s also a biblical echo. That is, the story is portrayed from a Genesis or meta-narrative standpoint. Some excerpts from the book can give this impression.

For example, after the quarantine was destroyed by a fire, the blind people escaped and flooded into the city. This episode is like “Exodus”, bursting out with the collective cry of the oppressed. The survivors of the seven main characters who roamed the desolate and ruined cities, like the flood survivors of “Noah’s Ark”, whose group composition seems to be a kind of choice, there are men, women, old people, Children, and a dog. In Saramago’s other novel “The Stone Raft”, there is also such a group of standard characters, man, woman and dog. In the ruins of the street market and the pile of dead people, isn’t that loyal dog that “drinks people’s tears” the best doomsday companion?

In Saramago’s writings, the use of biblical elements is either implicit or explicit, and has never been interrupted. Generally speaking, the use of this chapter is the most expressive, and the apocalyptic scene is the most striking. In the final analysis, it is due to the great catastrophe. The prehistoric scene lends itself to a Genesis-esque image. We see that the survivor squad roaming in the abandoned city is a kind of breakout against the wind, like a tour to the original world (forgotten land); the storm that blows from the ruins of civilization is also blowing from the swamp of generations The storm of the blind will engulf the world of the blind. The brilliance of these chapters is beyond words!


The movie “Blind Flu”

It should be pointed out that the biblical style of “Blindness” has no religious connotations. Rather, it is a means used to reveal the attributes of creation, a kind of point and outline, and the appearance of the original world and the survivors. The gesture is outlined. The so-called primordial world, in Benjamin’s words, is that “pre-intellectual realm” that has always existed, threatening the two traditional human qualities of rational thinking and moral behavior. Therefore, when the posture of the survivor is expressed as the posture of human regression, the shadow of the original world is deeply shrouded in the narrative of the story, and this narrative is in essence throughout the whole book, not limited to the ending chapters. It tells us that cataclysm is just a developing agent that summons the primordial world; cataclysm is not the cause of human regressive behavior, but an opportunity, through which we can see that the existence of the “pre-intellectual state” is more than we expected. Being vast and chaotic, it threatens our rational thinking and moral behavior, and the inherent qualities of human nature, whether before, during, or after a disaster.

Saramago did not want to interpret the theological significance of catastrophe on the basis of biblical reference, but resorted to traditional modes of revelation to suggest the path to redemption. He emphasizes the struggle and significance of rational thinking and moral behavior in the absurd world. There is no doubt that this is an atheistic eschatological tendency, an existential perspective that examines rights in absurd situations.

The seventeenth chapter of the novel has a detail, saying that the gods in the church were blindfolded by cloth strips, and all the gods had their eyes covered, the son, the saint, the saint, etc., including the saint whose eyes were gouged out. Rukia. This horrific detail pushes the ending narrative to another climax.

Who did this? Why do this? Witnesses envisioned a number of possibilities, the most exciting of which was that a church priest did it. In the eyes of the ophthalmologist’s wife, the assumption that the priest made it was “the only one that really makes sense” and that “it can give some importance to our miserable situation.”

She explained: “This priest is probably the biggest blasphemer of all times, of all religions, the most just blasphemer, the most radically human blasphemer, and he’s here to finally announce , God is not worth seeing.”

Wife of ophthalmologist who murdered gang leader, she represents the most disobedient member of the group. She said “God is not worth seeing,” sounding arrogant, blasphemous and angry. If she said this, she would probably lead to retort: ​​”What is this?” “Who are you?”

However, juxtaposing this statement with the following statement, it seems to be equally sensible and modest. This passage appears at the end of the novel and is also said by the doctor’s wife–

“Why are we all blind; don’t know”; why are we seeing again? “I don’t know, maybe one day the cause will be found out”; “Would you like to hear my thoughts…I think we are now blind, blind who can see; blind who can see but can’t see”.

In other words, blind people who can see should be held responsible for the current state of this miserable world. “Blind” is a historical metaphor, alluding to a moment when sighted people are bound to suffer because of their intellectual poverty. We (readers) are all in this moment, tightly wrapped by its dirty water-like meaning; the tragicomedy we experience is undeniably scripted by the blind, with the blind as the protagonist; it is more like It’s a twisted and absurd drama featuring “blind people who can see but can’t see”, while the idols lined up in the background are blindfolded.

This is a dim and spectacular stage play, comparable to that of Beckett and Ionesco; its possible historical and theological implications are quite memorable. Readers who are interested may wish to discuss it.

In his essay on Kafka, Benjamin hinted that no one would dare to assert that God was completely hidden in the long night of history, sealing the hope of “redemption” in hopelessness; Wake up at all times, and enter this world through an extremely unlikely tiny portal.


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Indeed, no one dares to assert that “God is not worth seeing”. It’s just that compared to our shame and poverty, this kind of gaze is too weak to stretch, like a distant “forgotten land”, immersed in the dense fog of the world. And this, in the final analysis, is not Kafka’s logic?

Comparing Saramago’s work with Kafka’s work should have a lot to do. The creation of “Blindness” shows that the author is a descendant of Kafka’s art. Its cold, fiery language, its hypothetical narrative framework, its humorous semantic interpretation of “white eye disease”, etc., reflect the characteristics of Kafka’s high-fidelity fantasy narrative. The passage of church idols has an echo of Chapter IX “In the Cathedral” of the Proceedings. Also, “We are another kind of dog”, a phrase reminiscent of the end of The Proceedings, where the two executioners said after K. was executed with knives: “It’s really like a dog!” The narrator believes that this The meaning of the sentence is, “His shame shall be left in the world”.

August 26, 2022, West of Hangzhou


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