The all-seeing stylist

Ben Naparstek – The Financial Times

Copyright The Financial Times
From a review of Jonse Saramago’s Death at Intervals.
Published: January 25 2008
The first half of Death at Intervals has little plot and considers the social and political consequences of death’s departure. The state ponders how future generations will support a burgeoning population on old-age and disability pensions. Insurance companies seek loopholes to relinquish payments to the permanently undying. Republicans agitate for a presidential system with fixed mandates rather than a monarch subsisting in a vegetative state. People euthanise their living-dead family members by transporting them across the frontier where death remains active. The undertaking industry is reduced to arranging funerals for animals.
This is obviously a satire on human vanity, with its yearning for immortality. But Saramago doesn’t have the science-fiction writer’s impulse to explain his scenario: why people continue to die outside the country’s borders, and death still happens to animals and plants. In fact, he deliberately refuses to dwell on the logic of the situation: “We confess that we are unable to provide explanations that will satisfy those demanding them.”
The octogenarian author has never reached for the consolations of an afterlife. His old-fashioned atheism is most clear in Gospel, which depicted a megalomaniac God who engineered the martyrdom of Jesus to expand his following beyond the Jews. Saramago’s new book again thumps his message home: despairing of the paradox whereby the cessation of death also spells the death of god, the clergy feverishly spin new myths to keep their straying flock within the fold.
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