Sunday, August 20, 2006
The Book of Disquiet
For my English readers, the magnificent translation by Richard Zenith of Fernando Pessoa'sThe Book of Disquiet.
Considered by critics a unique masterpiece :
" Portugal's greatest modern poet...deals with the only important question in the world, not less important because it is unanswerable: What am I ?". Anthony Burgess ( Observer )
" ...A haunting mosaic of dreams, autobiographical vignettes, shards of literary theory...Wherever you deep, there are 'rich hours' and teasing depths " . George Steiner ( Observer )
" One of the defining texts of the modern world ". Nicholas Lezard ( Guardian )
Let me add Pessoa has been the most influential author read in Portugal, co-founder of the Modernist movement,mainly through the poetry of his heteronym Álvaro de Campos, writing at the same time the poetry of Alberto Caeiro, the heteronymic "Master" of the others, such as Ricardo Reis orAntónio Mora or even Pessoa himself.While intending to build a neo-pagan system, as he called it, he studied and meditated upon hermetical, messianic matters, the "fashion" of those times. He read, translated and met the Magus Crowley in Lisbon and was very much interested in his Golden Dawn doctrines.But at a certain time he put an end to their correspondance, as if he were aware of the danger related to (black) magic.
Most astonishing, when it was discovered and published, was THE BOOK OF DISQUIET ( LIVRO DO DESASSOSSEGO ) as a sort of diary of another heteronym, Bernardo Soares : reflecting on the daily routines of the poet and his passionate but not always easy surrender to a literary , philosophical, quite lonely destiny. He died 1935,at the age of 43. How much could he have written had he lived longer is a futile question. He wrote all the time, he wrote about everything he wanted to, he left almost everything unpublished. As he told in a letter to a friend, he would like to center once more in himself as Fernando Pessoa all the poetry ascribed to the heteronyms and then publish a book that would be read as a whole.That never happened.
So here we are reading the heteronyms as if each one was a different person, a different friend to whom we can resort to, according to our mood, our need for more substantial literature and thought.
THE BOOK OF DISQUIET (transl. RICHARD ZENITH)
Whatever we pursue, we pursue for the sake of ambition, but either we never realize that ambition, and we are poor, or we think we've realized it, and we are rich fools.
What grieves me is that my best is no good, and that another whom I dream of, if he existed, would have done it better. Everything we do, in art or in life,is the imperfect copy of what we thought of doing.
...We're hollow on the inside as well as on the outside, pariahs in our expectations and in our realizations.