Nobel laureate José Saramago discusses his politics with Stephanie Merritt.
[T]he image of the venerable novelist shut away in his island retreat, disengaged from the world, could not be further from the truth. Saramago is about to leave Lanzarote for two months of travelling, as he does most years, in part to promote the new novel, but mainly to speak at conferences and presentations on politics and sociology. ‘Most of it doesn’t have much to do with literature,’ he explains, ‘but this is a part of my life that I consider very important, not to limit myself to literary work; I try to be involved in the world to the best of my strengths and abilities.’ Still a member of the Communist party, Saramago is a vocal opponent of globalisation and many of his best known novels have taken the form of political allegory. Does he believe that the artist is obliged to take on a political role? ‘It isn’t a role,’ he says, almost sharply.
‘The painter paints, the musician makes music, the novelist writes novels. But I believe that we all have some influence, not because of the fact that one is an artist, but because we are citizens. As citizens, we all have an obligation to intervene and become involved, it’s the citizen who changes things. I can’t imagine myself outside any kind of social or political involvement. Yes, I’m a writer, but I live in this world and my writing doesn’t exist on a separate level. And if people know who I am and read my books, well, good; that way, if I have something more to say, then everyone benefits.’