The course “Iberian Dialogues. José Saramago: A minute, a Century” delves into the influence of the writer on the culture and thought of Spain, Portugal and the Latin American and African countries

The course “Iberian Dialogues. José Saramago: A minute, a Century”, which has been organised by the European and Ibero-American Academy of Yuste Foundation and the Office for Cross-Border Initiatives, opened today with a speech given by the Director General of External Action of the Regional Government of Extremadura and President of the Executive Committee of Yuste Foundation, Rosa Balas. (27/06/2022)

She pointed out that in the present year – when a hundred years since the Portuguese writer’s birth have passed – “Extremadura could not miss the deserved tribute”, and the best way to remember him is by “expanding and delving into knowledge about his figure, about his work and about the enormous influence that his personality has left in the culture and thought of Portugal, Spain and the countries where Portuguese and Spanish are spoken”.

Yuste Foundation and José Saramago have “the Iberian, European, Ibero-American and universal spirit” in common, said Balas, adding that “we must approach the south because it is a way of feeling and understanding the world”, and in this sense, “from Extremadura, from Yuste, we are committed to strengthening that role as a bridge between continents so that, through Portugal and Spain, it becomes possible for Europe to increasingly turn its gaze towards the countries of America and Africa which we are linked to by historical, cultural and linguistic ties”, she said.

In turn, the director of Yuste Foundation, Juan Carlos Moreno, recalled that José Saramago was appointed a member of the European and Ibero-American Academy of Yuste on 25 June 1998 and since then, “his participation was very committed – as he himself used to be – and he attended in person in different activities, as in the case of Yuste Academy’s meetings”, he said. In this sense, he added that Saramago “will be present among us these days because if Pilar del Río is here, so is Saramago”.

Then the professor of the University of Évora and co-director of the course, Antonio Sáez Delgado, took the floor. During his speech, he explained that the objective of this course is “to read, to think and to reflect on José Saramago again; it is to return to his literary and social legacy in order to place him in this global world and to know what part of his essence we can recover and update in 2022”. During these three days, he said, “we will reflect on the peninsula and its relationship with America and on that South that to many of us is our goal”.

Sáez explained that the design of the course programme is based on two fundamental principles. One of them is to encourage dialogue between Spain, Portugal and America. “A trans-Iberist idea, as Saramago said, of a thought that articulates the coexistence of peoples and the peninsula with those on the other side of the Atlantic and Africa where Spanish and Portuguese is also spoken”. The co-director of the course explained that they were very interested in having a multidisciplinary perspective that “could enlighten us on how to read Saramago and where to find him today in the different points of the current scenario”. The second axis of the course “is to find and rediscover Saramago from different viewpoints, hence we have included teachers, writers, journalists, specialists in the work of Saramago, editors, translators”, he concluded.

The professor of the University of Extremadura and also co-director of the course, Miguel Ángel Lama, alluded to the period in which the Portuguese writer, already a Nobel Prize winner, was linked to Extremadura not only through the Academy of Yuste, “but also with the university and cultural sphere accepting the proposal to be president of the Extremadura Creation Awards and supporting the candidacy proposal since 2000 of Eugénio Andrade, Juan Marsé and Juan Goytisolo”, among others.

The president of the José Saramago Foundation, journalist and translator Pilar del Río, who described the Monastery of Yuste as a place of emperors but also one that is “Saramaginian”, also participated in the opening of the course. During her speech, she claimed that although Saramago was Portuguese, he was also Iberian, “and as a consequence, he had a foot set in Extremadura”. In addition, she explained that at the meetings held by the Academy of Yuste where Saramago attended, “the academics reflected on what was ephemeral and permanent; on the physical and poetic journeys; on Europe, America and the colonial empires; on the autochthonous, on the continents; on the value of culture, of religion; on civility, on democracy”, she explained.

The mayor of Cuacos de Yuste, José María Hernández, in turn, claimed that more talk about Ibero-America is needed to empower that part of the world.

The opening of the course continued with a speech given by the rector of the University of Évora, Hermínia Vilar, who recalled that in her time as a student it was not mandatory to read Saramago; a writer who she later discovered and who contributed in some way to developing her critical and thoughtful spirit. At the same time, she welcomed the fact that the work of the Portuguese writer is currently being read, which allows us to discover what unites Spain and Portugal.

The rector of the University of Extremadura, Antonio Hidalgo García, closed the opening session of the course explaining that this course is one of the results of the Chair of Iberian Studies of the University of Extremadura. Hidalgo expressed his desire to join the social commitment that José Saramago always showed. “He understood that his position as a writer and as an intellectual forced him to manifest those things which he saw as incorrect and unjust, not necessarily from the perspective of the possession of truth, and that personal and literary honesty is a good example for everyone and I think that it should be more widely spread”, he concluded.

The course “Iberian Dialogues. José Saramago: A minute, a Century” is part of the official programme of commemorations that celebrate the centenary of the birth of Nobel Prize José Saramago, and has counted with the collaboration of the University of Extremadura, the University of Évora, National Heritage and the Councils of Cáceres and Badajoz, as well as support from the European Regional Development Fund Interreg Spain-Portugal.

Until Wednesday, the Nicaraguan writer and recipient of the 2017 Cervantes Prize, Sergio Ramírez; the Colombian writer Laura Restrepo; the journalist Javier Rodríguez Marcos; the professors of the University of Extremadura and the University of Huelva, Luisa Leal and Diego Mesa, respectively, and the writer Manuel Vilas, will attend the course at the Monastery of Yuste, among others.