God and Creation
At the Kiln

Note from the Editor:
José Saramago writes distinctly, but eschews such devices as open or close quotes and paragraphing. This makes him somewhat difficult to read on-line. We would suggest that you print this one out to savor it. It may take more time, and use a little paper, but it is worth it.

We have already mentioned the fact that many anthropogenic myths made use of day in the creation of man, and anyone moderately interested in the subject can find out more in know-it-all almanacs and know-it-almost-all encyclopedias. Generally speaking, this is not the case with the followers of different religions, since it is through the organs of the church to which they belong that they receive this and other information of equal or similar importance. There is, however, one case, at least one, in which the day had to be fired in the kiln for the work to be considered finished. And then only after various attempts. This singular creator, whose name we forget, probably did not know about or else did not have sufficient confidence in the thaumaturgic efficacy of blowing air into the nostrils as another creator did before or would do later, indeed, as Cipriano Algor did in our own time, although with the very modest intention of cleaning the ashes from the face of [his pottery figure of the] nurse. To return to the creator who had to fire his man in the kiln, we give below a description of events, and there you will see that the failed attempts referred to above were a result of the said creator's lack of knowledge as regards the correct firing temperatures. He started out by making a human figure out of day, whether male or female is of no importance, placed it in the kiln and lit the fire. After what seemed to him the right length of time, he took the figure out and, oh dear, his heart sank. The figure had come out pitch black, nothing like his idea of how a man should look. However, perhaps because he was only in the early stages of this venture, he could not face destroying the failed product of his own ineptitude. He gave him life, apparently by flicking him on the head, and sent him away. He made another figure, placed it in the kiln, and this time took great care to keep the fire low. He succeeded in this, but the temperature was too low this time, for the figure turned out whiter than the very whitest of white things. It still wasn't what he wanted. Despite this new failure, though, he did not lose patience, he must have thought kindly, Poor thing, it's not his fault, and so he gave him life too and sent him off. So there was already a black man and a white man in the world, but the left-handed creator had still not achieved the creature he had hoped for. He set to work again, and another human figure took up his place in the kiln, the problem, even without a pyrometer, should be easier to solve now, that is, the secret was to heat the kiln not too much and not too little, neither too hot nor too cold, and by that rule of thumb, things should finally work out. They did not. The new figure was not black, but neither was it white, it was, oh heavens, yellow. Anyone else would perhaps have given up, would have hurriedly despatched a flood to finish off the black man and the white man, and broken the yellow man's neck, indeed, one might even think this the logical conclusion of the thought that went through the creator's mind in the form of a question. If I myself don't know how to make a proper man, how will I ever be able to call him to account for his mistakes. For a few days, our amateur potter could not get up the courage to go back into the pottery, but then, as they say, the creative bug bit him again and, after a few hours, the fourth figure was ready to go into the kiln. Assuming that there was at the time another creator above this creator, it is very likely that the lesser sent up to the greater a prayer, an entreaty, a supplication, or some such thing. Please, don't let me make a mess of it. Finally, with anxious hands, he placed the day figure in the kiln, then he carefully chose and weighed what seemed to him the correct amount of firewood, eliminated any that was too green or too dry, removed one piece that was burning badly and clumsily, added another that produced a cheerful flame, calculated approximately the time and intensity of the heat, and, repeating that plea, Please, don't let me make a mess of it, he put a match to the fuel. We modern-day human beings, who have experienced so many moments of anxiety, taking a difficult exam, being stood up by a lover, waiting for a child to come home, not getting a job, can imagine what this creator must have gone through as he waited for the result of his fourth attempt, the sweat which, but for the proximity of the kiln, would doubtless have been ice-cold, the fingernails bitten down to the quick, every minute that passed taking with it ten years of life, for the first time in the history of various creations of the universe, the creator himself felt the torments that await us in eternal life, because it is eternal, not because it is life. But it was worth it. When our creator opened the door of the kiln and saw what was inside, he fell to his knees, amazed. This time the man was not black or white or yellow, he was red, yes, as red as the red of sunrises and sunsets, as red as the molten lava from volcanoes, as red as the fire that had made him red, as red as the blood that was already flowing in his veins, for with this human figure, because he was the one the creator had wanted to create, there was no need to give him a flick on the head, he merely had to say, Come, and the figure stepped out of the kiln of its own accord. Anyone who does not know what happened in later ages will say that, despite all the errors and anxieties or, given the instructive, educational nature of the experiment, precisely because of them, the story had a happy ending. As with all things in this world, and doubtless in all other worlds too, that judgment will depend on the point of view of the observer. Those whom the creator rejected, those whom, albeit with praiseworthy benevolence, he sent away, that is, those with black, white, and yellow skins, grew in number and multiplied, they cover, so to speak, the whole globe, while those with red skins, those who cost the creator so much effort and for whom he suffered such pain and anxiety, they are now the impotent proof of how a triumph can, in time, become the disappointing prelude to a defeat. The fourth and last attempt by the first creator of men to place his creatures in a kiln, the one that apparently brought him a definitive victory, turned out to be a rout. Cipriano Algor, an assiduous reader of know-it-all or know-it-almost-all almanacs and encyclopedias, had read this story when he was a boy and, though he had forgotten many things in his life, for some reason he had not forgotten this. It was a legend that came from the American Indians, the so-called redskins, to be exact, by which the distant creators of the myth must have set out to prove the superiority of their race over all others, including those of whose actual existence they knew nothing at the time. This last point is bound to provoke the objection, the vain and futile argument that, since they had no knowledge of other races, they could not possibly have imagined them white or black or yellow or, even, iridescent. A great mistake. Anyone putting forward such an argument would only be demonstrating their ignorance of the fact that we are dealing here with a people who are potters, as well as hunters, who, in the difficult work of transforming day into a dish or an idol, would have learned that all kinds of things can happen inside a kiln, the disastrous and the glorious, the perfect and the botched, the sublime and the grotesque. How often, over and over, generation after generation, they must have removed from the kiln pieces that were distorted, cracked, scorched, unbaked, or half-baked, all of them useless. Indeed, there is not much difference between what happens inside a kiln and what happens inside a bread oven. Bread dough is just a different sort of clay, made from flour, yeast, and water, and just like clay, it can emerge from the oven undercooked or burned. There may not be much difference inside, Cipriano Algor admitted, but once out of the oven, I can tell you that I would give anything to be a baker. The days and nights passed, as did the afternoons and the mornings. According to books and to life, the labors of men have always taken longer and been more backbreaking than those of the gods...
--- From The Cave
José Saramago
©2003 Harcourt Publishers
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