Pontifícia Universidade Católica do Rio Grande do Sul







A fighter for José Saramago’s causes

In an exclusive interview, Pilar del Río talks about the complex nature of Saramago

12/07/2019 - 09h01


Photo: Bruno Colaço 4SEE

Photo: Bruno Colaço 4SEE

Spanish journalist, novelist and translator Pilar del Río, a self-proclaimed fighter for the causes Saramago fought for, dedicates her life to Fundação José Saramago. In an exclusive interview to PUCRS, Pilar, who was married to the Portuguese novelist from 1988 until the day he died, in 2010, shared her perception about “someone so complex to write Blindness and not be blinded by the fame and stardom he gained”. She also mentioned that he went to Stockholm to receive the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1998, and spoke about his illiterate grandfather. “He could be Mexican in Mexico, Brazilian in Brazil and in Timor or Mozambique, he could feel the needs of the locals from those places.”

The University and TAG – Experiências Literárias welcomed Pilar del Río and Portuguese novelist José Luís Peixoto for an event on the life, work and legacy of Saramago, on Jul 5. The activity was mediated by School of Humanities’ professor Dr Paulo Ricardo Kralik and marked the release of the book Autobiografia, written by Peixoto.

Pilar has translated more than ten books written by her husband into Spanish. In addition, she has written the books Los Andaluces and Sobre la Traducción. Peixoto met Saramago in 2001, when he received the eponymous award for the novel Nenhum Olhar. In Saramago’s view, Peixoto is “one of the most surprising breakthrough artists in Portuguese literature. He is a man who knows how to write and who will be as successful as other great novelists. ”

Find out out more about Pilar’s perspectives as a translator, activist and journalist. The following questions were asked by the Director of the Institute of Culture of PUCRS, Dr Ricardo Barberena.

The Brazilian poet and translator Haroldo de Campos defined translation as a process of transcreation. How do you see that? What was your biggest challenge in translating José Saramago’s works?

To translate Portuguese music into Spanish. To translate is to recreate with respect and love. If there is no empathy with the text, the spirit of the original can be lost.

Could you comment on the possible meanings of the novel A Viagem do Elefante? How did this idea of making the documentary José e Pilar out of a novel come up?

It was such a casual coincidence. Once we finished shooting, the director noticed that he had something unique in his hands: the life of a writer (and his near death) that had been developed over the course of several years. Miguel Gonçalves Mendes, the film director, realized how important finishing this novel it was for José Saramago. He knew how to handle it. That is why the documentary is so important. For José Saramago, since the very beginning of the writing process, the book was a reflection on the meaning of life.

Photo: Bruno Colaço 4SEE

Photo: Bruno Colaço 4SEE

In a recent interview for the Portuguese newspaper Expresso, you mentioned that José Saramago was a curse because you don’t like to be behind a great man. How do you deal with “this curse”?

It was a joke, a funny response. José Saramago was a curse for those who hate plurality, freedom, social justice and harmony between people. The way I see it, as I am not in this group, it was a blessing that I am so thankful for.

As a journalist, how do you see the press today?

Sometimes I think the press and the media are pornographic, obscene. Not because they portray naked people in extravagant positions, but because they make interventions in society in view of their own interests with an alleged professional and impartial narrative. They have the right to do so, as long as they take on an editorial perspective: we are here to stand up for capitalism, rather than anything else. If that is the case, that’s fine, they have every right to do so.

In Brazil, an important movement of activist writers is taking place. Do you see something similar in Portugal?

In Portugal there are women writers – I won’t say they are part of a group – who are aware of human values. I’m not sure it is reductive to say that they are “activist writers”. I think they are writers and that activism is a value associated with civic consciousness, which they may or may not use. However, writers such as Lídia Jorge, Inês Pedrosa, Dulce Maria Cardoso or Ana Margarida Carvalho make a call for policies that get us to take a step further as members of society. Or as human beings, if we do not want to be so ambitious.

What is the relevance of a cultural institution in times when human relations are so ephemeral, immediate and tough?

To promote the development of ideas through discussions; to promote the celebration of cultures, the need for the ethics of responsibility.

2019_07_03-pilar_saramago(reproducao)How much of your daily life do you devote to the legacy left by Saramago in your work and political engagement to the defense of human rights?

Every day, every moment, but in different ways. It’s not a job, it’s a fight. And when you do it, you do it all the time, not only during the day.

In an interview, you mentioned you married one of the most complete men of the 20th century. Can you share somethings about José Saramago that not many people know of?

Someone so complex to write Essay on Blindness and not be blinded by the fame and stardom he gained. The man who went to Stockholm and talked about his illiterate grandfather. The one who could be Mexican in Mexico, Brazilian in Brazil and, in Timor or Mozambique, feel the needs of the locals from those places.” In Washington, he felt at home by the forces of empire. In Paris, he spoke of the importance of cultures. He shared his admiration for French culture, about which he worked for so many years translating either French authors or materials written in French. At that time, that was a language popular for everyone.

Did the 1998 Nobel Prize change your life? To what extent?

Nothing changed: we got out of our beds at the same time we used to before he won it, we kept the friends we had before. An award does not change people, it may change the outside circumstances, such as the visibility or popularity of your books or words. In any way, José Saramago was an internationally-recognized powerhouse. The only thing the Nobel Prize did was to recognize that. He went on working the way he used to work. You can see that if you just look at the books he wrote after he won the award and the things he said.

Have you read Jose Luis Peixoto’s new book? How did you like it? Do you see yourself there?

I did and I like it. The plot is about two writers, a young man and an old one. The rest is the rest…