The point Clive James makes in his discussion of Sartre is this: the theorists who inflicted on us the idea that everything is relative and nothing is completely real collaborated with the Nazis and wanted that to not be noticed.
And today, we are sitting here, watching documentaries about trans-toddlers because of a bunch of Nazi collaborators who bamboozled us into believing their self-serving crap.
James’s Cultural Amnesia is about the devastating effect of Nazism on the entire Western civilization and he doesn’t mince words in the book.
I expected James to detest Sartre and Heidegger but he also really does a number on Jose Saramago, the Portuguese novelist and the Nobel Prize winner. Saramago was an avowed Communist, which for James is a peg lower than even a Nazi sympathizer.
Saramago is a charming diarist, but his political stance has nothing to it beyond a formidable inbuilt capacity to gloss over its own consequences. Europe might have taught him Euroscepticism. There was a whole ruined world that should have taught him to be sceptical about communism. He never got the point. As a diehard believer who had refused to give up his faith even in the face of limitless evidence that it was a pack of lies whose first victims were the people it claimed to benefit, Saramago was reminiscent of Pablo Neruda and Nicolás Guillén: he had to be taken seriously because there was no other way to take him. Beyond the ludicrous, the scale of the preposterous starts coming back in the other direction, so that we return to the point where a mind can be granted a kind of dignity for its persistence in folly.
I will never be able to read another line by Saramago without remembering that “beyond the ludicrous, the scale of the preposterous starts coming back…”