Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Fernando Pessoa

From The Book of Disquiet [link], by Fernando Pessoa:
I have to choose what I detest – either dreaming, which my intelligence hates, or action, which my sensibility loathes; either action, for which I wasn’t born, or dreaming, for which no one was born.

Detesting both, I choose neither; but since I must on occasion either dream or act, I mix the two things together.

George Steiner describes The Book of Disquiet [link] with style:
[...] The fragmentary, the incomplete is of the essence of Pessoa's spirit. The very kaleidoscope of voices within him, the breadth of his culture, the catholicity of his ironic sympathies - wonderfully echoed in Saramago's great novel about Ricardo Reis - inhibited the monumentalities, the self-satisfaction of completion. Hence the vast torso of Pessoa's Faust on which he laboured much of his life. Hence the fragmentary condition of The Book of Disquiet which contains material that predates 1913 and which Pessoa left open-ended at his death. As Adorno famously said, the finished work is, in our times and climate of anguish, a lie.  
It was to Bernardo Soares that Pessoa ascribed his Book of Disquiet, first made available in English in a briefer version by Richard Zenith in 1991. The translation is at once penetrating and delicately observant of Pessoa's astute melancholy. What is this Livro do Desassossego ? Neither 'commonplace book', nor 'sketchbook', nor 'florilegium' will do. Imagine a fusion of Coleridge's notebooks and marginalia, of Valery's philosophic diary and of Robert Musil's voluminous journal. Yet even such a hybrid does not correspond to the singularity of Pessoa's chronicle. Nor do we know what parts thereof, if any, he ever intended for publication in some revised format. 
What we have is a haunting mosaic of dreams, psychological notations, autobiographical vignettes, shards of literary theory and criticism and maxims. 'A Letter not to Post', an 'Aesthetics of Indifference', 'A Factless Autobiography' and manual of welcomed failure (only a writer wholly innocent of success and public acclaim invites serious examination).
If there is a common thread, it is that of unsparing introspection. Over and over, Pessoa asks of himself and of the living mirrors which he has created, 'Who am I?', 'What makes me write?', 'To whom shall I turn?' The metaphysical sharpness, the wealth of self-scrutiny are, in modern literature, matched only by Valery or Musil or, in a register often uncannily similar, by Wittgenstein. 'Solitude devastates me; company oppresses me. The presence of another person derails my thoughts; I dream of the other's presence with a strange absent-mindedness that no amount of my analytical scrutiny can define.' This very scrutiny, moreover, is fraught with danger: 'To understand, I destroyed myself. To understand is to forget about loving.' These findings arise out of a uniquely spectral yet memorable landscape: 'A firefly flashes forward at regular intervals. Around me the dark countryside is a huge lack of sound that almost smells pleasant.'[...]


  1. Fernando Pessoa is a genius. But it's no way to live a life.

  2. Quite so, although I doubt he felt he had much choice in the matter...

  3. Fernando Pessoa is one of Portugal’s greatest writers. His life-long search for meaning, stemming from a continual sense of disquiet and despair, from an ever-present experience of longing and lament, gives us a template from which to better understand the redemptive nature of disquiet and longing for our changing world.

    We cannot give into despair; yet we cannot move forward without acknowledging it. To continuously recreate our world, to survive, we must learn how to live within the tensions of paradox: peace is always the partner of disquiet; if we want to learn about wholeness, we must invite that for which we long; without time for lament, our happiness becomes frenetic, empty. In Pessoa’s writing, we find clues to holding the tension of these opposing energies. At turn after turn he reveals interior landscapes, showing us a view toward their uneasy resolution. His life was in constant tension. He was often in torment. But that he searched and endured and wrote as he did was itself a resolution. He did not turn away from despair; paradoxically, he recreated himself within it.

    Pessoa had an open account with the unconscious, forever venturing in deeper waters. In many of Pessoa’s verses,he recalls Jung’s understanding of the psyche. In Psychology and Alchemy Jung wrote, “The secret is that only that which can destroy itself is truly alive.” The ego dies to the greater wisdom of the unconscious, of deeper waters, again and again.

    Portugal acknowledges Pessoa as one of its greatest artists, a national treasure. He is buried in the famous Monastery of São Jeronimo in Lisbon along with Vasco de Gama, the pioneering and fearless oceanic explorer from Portugal’s Age of Discovery. Pessoa was also a fearless explorer, of inner worlds. The fact that this quality of fearlessness is also recognized as greatness pays tribute not only to Pessoa, but also to the culture and people of Portugal. In this light, it may be the hour for the lesser known dimensions of Portugal’s culture to be more fully recognized. It may be the hour for the further instatement of a depth-psychological quality that is often shunned, but sorely needed within our changing world: the ability to hold the paradox of disquiet and peace, longing and fulfillment, in exquisite and poetic balance.


  4. I could not agree more with the statement above- Bravo! In my life and for always Pessoa will be the friend on all my travels real or otherwise. His spirit lives in all who wish to have him.