Authors: Fernando Pessoa
The Book of Disquiet
‘A Modernist touchstone… no one has explored alternative selves with Pessoa’s mixture of determination and abandon… In a time which celebrates fame, success, stupidity, convenience and noise, here is the perfect antidote, a hymn of praise to obscurity, failure, intelligence, difficulty and silence’ John Lanchester,Daily Telegraph
‘His prose masterpiece… Richard Zenith has done an heroic job in producing the best English-language version we are likely to see for a long time, if ever’ Nicholas Lezard,Guardian
‘The Book of Disquietwas left in a trunk which might never have been opened. The gods must be thanked that it was. I love this strange work of fiction and I love the inventive, hard-drinking, modest man who wrote it in obscurity’ Paul Bailey,Independent
‘Fascinating, even gripping stuff… a strangely addictive pleasure’ Kevin Jackson,Sunday Times
‘Must rank as the supreme assault on authorship in modern European literature… readers of Zenith’s edition will find it supersedes all others in its delicacy of style, rigorous scholarship and sympathy for Pessoa’s fractured sensibility… the self-revelation of a disoriented and half-disintegrated soul that is all the more compelling because the author himself is an invention… Long before postmodernism became an academic industry, Pessoa lived deconstruction’ John Gray,New Statesman
‘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
‘Pessoa’s rapid prose, snatched in flight and restlessly suggestive, remains haunting, often startling, like the touch of a vibrating wire, elusive and persistent like the poetry… there is nobody like him’ W. S. Merwin,New York Review of Books
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Fernanco Pessoa was born in Lisbon in 1888 and was brought up in Durban, South Africa. In 1905 he returned to Lisbon to enrol at the university, but soon dropped out, preferring to study on his own. He made a modest living translating the foreign correspondence of various commercial firms, and wrote obsessively – in English, Portuguese and French. He self-published several chapbooks of his English poems in 1918 and 1922, and regularly contributed his Portuguese poems to literary journals such asOrpheuandPortugal Futurista.Mensagem, a collection of poems on patriotic themes, won a consolation prize in a national competition in 1934. Pessoa wrote much of his greatest poetry under three main ‘heteronyms’, Alberto Caeiro, Alvaro de Campos and Ricardo Reis, whose fully fleshed biographies he invented, giving them different writing styles and points of view. He created dozens of other writerly personas, including the assistant bookkeeper Bernardo Soares, fictional author ofThe Book of Disquiet. Although Pessoa was acknowledged as an intellectual and a poet, his literary genius went largely unrecognized until after his death in 1935.
Richard Zenith lives in Lisbon, where he works as a freelance writer, translator and critic. His translations include Galician–Portuguese troubadour poetry, novels by António Lobo Antunes andFernando Pessoa and Co. – Selected Poems, which won the 1999 American PEN Award for Poetry in Translation.
FERNANDO PESSOAThe Book of Disquiet
Edited and translated by Richard Zenith
Published by the Penguin GroupPenguin Books Ltd, 80 Strand, LondonWC2R 0RL, EnglandPenguin Putnam Inc., 375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014, USAPenguin Books Australia Ltd, 250 Camberwell Road, Camberwell, Victoria 3124, AustraliaPenguin Books Canada Ltd, 10 Alcorn Avenue, Toronto, Ontario, CanadaM4V 3B2Penguin Books India (P) Ltd, 11, Community Centre, Panchsheel Park, New Delhi – 110 017, IndiaPenguin Books (NZ) Ltd, Cnr Rosedale and Airborne Roads, Albany, Auckland, New ZealandPenguin Books (South Africa) (Pty) Ltd, 24 Sturdee Avenue, Rosebank 2196, South Africa
Penguin Books Ltd, Registered Offices: 80 Strand, LondonWC2R 0RL, England
First published in Portuguese asLivro do Desassossegoby Assírio & Alvim 1998This translation first published in Great Britain by Allen Lane The Penguin Press 2001Published in Penguin Classics 20021
Original text copyright © Assírio & Alvim and Fernando Pessoa’s heirs, 1998Editorial matter, selection and translation copyright © Richard Zenith, 2001All rights reserved.
The moral right of the translator has been asserted
Except in the United States of America, this book is sold subjectto the condition that it shall not, by way of trade or otherwise, be lent,re-sold, hired out, or otherwise circulated without the publisher’sprior consent in any form of binding or cover other than that inwhich it is published and without a similar condition including thiscondition being imposed on the subsequent purchaserContents
Notes on the Text and Translation
The Book of Disquiet
Preface by Fernando Pessoa
A Factless Autobiography
A Disquiet Anthology
Appendix I: Texts Citing the Name of Vicente Guedes
Appendix II: Two Letters
Appendix III: Reflections onThe Book of Disquietfrom Pessoa’s Writings
Table of HeteronymsIntroduction
I’m astounded whenever I finish something. Astounded and distressed. My perfectionist instinct should inhibit me from finishing; it should inhibit me from even beginning. But I get distracted and start doing something. What I achieve is not the product of an act of my will but of my will’s surrender. I begin because I don’t have the strength to think; I finish because I don’t have the courage to quit. This book is my cowardice. (Text 152)
Fernando António Nogueira Pessoa was born in Lisbon in 1888, died there in 1935, and did not often leave the city as an adult, but he spent nine of his childhood years in the British-governed town of Durban, South Africa, where his stepfather was the Portuguese consul. Pessoa, who was five years old when his natural father died of tuberculosis, developed into a shy and highly imaginative boy, and a brilliant student. Shortly after his seventeenth birthday, he returned to Lisbon to enrol in the university but soon dropped out, preferring to study on his own at the National Library, where he systematically read major works of philosophy, history, sociology and literature (especially Portuguese) in order to complement and extend the traditional English education he had received in South Africa. His production of poetry and prose in English during this period was intense, and by 1910 he was also writing extensively in Portuguese. He published his first essay in literary criticism in 1912, his first piece of creative prose (a passage fromThe Book of Disquiet) in 1913, and his first poems in 1914.
Living sometimes with relatives, sometimes in rented rooms, Pessoa supported himself by doing occasional translations and by drafting letters in English and French for Portuguese firms that did businessabroad. Although solitary by nature, with a limited social life and almost no love life, he was an active leader of Portugal’s Modernist movement in the 1910s, and he invented several of his own movements, including a Cubist-inspired ‘Intersectionism’ and a strident, quasi-Futurist ‘Sensationism’. Pessoa stood outside the limelight, however, exerting influence through his writings and in his conversations with more conspicuous literary figures. Respected in Lisbon as an intellectual and a poet, he regularly published his work in magazines, several of which he helped to found and run, but his literary genius went largely unrecognized until after his death. Pessoa was convinced of his own genius, however, and he lived for the sake of his writing. Although he was in no hurry to publish, he had grandiose plans for Portuguese and English editions of his complete works, and he seems to have held on to most of what he wrote.
Pessoa’s legacy consisted of a large trunk full of poetry, prose, plays, philosophy, criticism, translations, linguistic theory, political writings, horoscopes and assorted other texts, variously typed, handwritten or illegibly scrawled in Portuguese, English and French. He wrote in notebooks, on loose sheets, on the backs of letters, advertisements and handbills, on stationery from the firms he worked for and from the cafés he frequented, on envelopes, on paper scraps, and in the margins of his own earlier texts. To compound the confusion, he wrote under dozens of names, a practice – or compulsion – that began in his childhood. He called his most important personas ‘heteronyms’, endowing them with their own biographies, physiques, personalities, political views, religious attitudes and literary pursuits (see Table of Heteronyms,pp. 505–9). Some of Pessoa’s most memorable work in Portuguese was attributed to the three main poetic heteronyms – Alberto Caeiro, Ricardo Reis and Álvaro de Campos – and to the ‘semi-heteronym’ called Bernardo Soares, while his vast output of English poetry and prose was in large part credited to heteronyms Alexander Search and Charles Robert Anon, and his writings in French to the lonely Jean Seul. The many other alter egos included translators, short-story writers, an English literary critic, an astrologer, a philosopher and an unhappy nobleman who committed suicide. There was even a female persona: the hunchbacked and helplessly lovesick Maria José. At the turn of the century, sixty-five years after Pessoa’s death,his vast written world had still not been completely charted by researchers, and a significant part of his writings was still waiting to be published.
‘Fernando Pessoa, strictly speaking, doesn’t exist.’ So claimed Álvaro de Campos, one of the characters invented by Pessoa to spare himself the trouble of living real life. And to spare himself the trouble of organizing and publishing the richest part of his prose, Pessoa inventedThe Book of Disquiet, which never existed, strictly speaking, and can never exist. What we have here isn’t a book but its subversion and negation: the ingredients for a book whose recipe is to keep sifting, the mutant germ of a book and its weirdly lush ramifications, the rooms and windows to build a book but no floor plan and no floor, a compendium of many potential books and many others already in ruins. What we have in these pages is an anti-literature, a kind of primitive, verbal CAT scan of one man’s anguished soul.
Long before the deconstructionists began to apply their sledgehammers to the conceptual edifice that sheltered our Cartesian sense of personal identity, Pessoa had already self-deconstructed, and without any hammer. Pessoa never set out to destroy himself or anything else. He didn’t attack, like Derrida, the assumption that language has the power to mean, and he didn’t take apart history and our systems of thought, in the manner of Foucault. He just looked squarely at himself in the mirror, and saw us all:
Each of us is several, is many, is a profusion of selves. So that the self who disdains his surroundings is not the same as the self who suffers or takes joy in them. In the vast colony of our being there are many species of people who think and feel in different ways. (Text 396)
The problem withCogito, ergo sum, for Pessoa, wasn’t in the philosophical principle but in the grammatical subject. ‘Be what I think? But I think of being so many things!’ cried heteronym Álvaro de Campos in ‘The Tobacco Shop’, and those myriad thoughts and potential selves suggested anything but a unified I. Much more than a literary ploy, heteronymy was how Pessoa – in the absence of a stable and centred ego – could exist. ‘We think, therefore we are’ is what, in effect, he says. And even this form of self-affirmation is chancy, for inhis moments of greatest doubt and detachment, Pessoa looks within and whispers, with horror: ‘They think, therefore they are.’
Doubt and hesitation are the absurd twin energies that powered Pessoa’s inner universe and informedThe Book of Disquiet, which was its piecemeal map. He explained his trouble and that of his book to a poet friend, Armando Cortes-Rodrigues, in a letter dated 19 November 1914: ‘My state of mind compels me to work hard, against my will, onThe Book of Disquiet. But it’s all fragments, fragments, fragments.’ And in a letter written the previous month to the same friend, he spoke of a ‘deep and calm depression’ that allowed him to write only ‘little things’ and ‘broken, disconnected pieces ofThe Book of Disquiet’. In this respect, that of perpetual fragmentation, the author and hisBookwere forever faithful to their principles. If Pessoa split himself into dozens of literary characters who contradicted each other and even themselves,The Book of Disquietlikewise multiplied without ceasing, being first one book and then another, told by this voice then that voice, then another, still others, all swirling and uncertain, like the cigarette smoke through which Pessoa, sitting in a café or next to his window, watched life go by.
Pessoa’s three major poetic heteronyms – the Zennish shepherd called Alberto Caeiro, the classicist Ricardo Reis, and world traveller Álvaro de Campos – burst on to the stage of Pessoa’s life together, in 1914.The Book of Disquietwas born one year before that, with the publication of Pessoa’s first piece of creative writing, called ‘In the Forest of Estrangement’, where the ‘[h]alf awake and half asleep’ narrator, stagnating ‘in a lucid, heavily immaterial torpor, in a dream that is a shadow of dreaming’, reports on his imaginary stroll with his unreal female double:
And what a refreshing and happy horror that there was nobody there! Not even we, who walked there, were there… For we were nobody. We were nothing at all… We had no life for Death to have to kill. We were so tenuous and slight that the wind’s passing left us prostrate, and time’s passage caressed us like a breeze grazing the top of a palm.
Written under his own name, this long and languid prose text was presented in a literary magazine as an excerpt ‘fromThe Book of Disquiet, in preparation’. Pessoa worked on this book for the rest ofhis life, but the more he ‘prepared’ it, the more unfinished it became. Unfinished and unfinishable. Without a plot or plan to follow, but as disquiet as a literary work can be, it kept growing even as its borders became ever more indefinite and its existence as a book ever less viable – like the existence of Fernando Pessoa as a citizen in this world.
By the early part of the 1920s the directionlessBookseems to have drifted into the doldrums, but at the end of that decade – when little more was to be heard from Alberto Caeiro (or from his ghost, since the shepherd supposedly died of TB in 1915) and nothing at all novel from Ricardo Reis (stuck in his role as a ‘Greek Horace who writes in Portuguese’) – Pessoa brought new life to the work in the person of Bernardo Soares, its ultimate fictional author. Over half ofThe Book of Disquietwas written in the last six years of Pessoa’s life, competing for his attention, and we may even say affection, with the irrepressible Álvaro de Campos, the poet-persona who grew old with Pessoa and held a privileged place in his inventor’s heart. Soares the assistant bookkeeper and Campos the naval engineer never met in the pen-and-paper drama of Pessoa’s heteronyms, who were frequently pitted against one another, but the two writer-characters were spiritual brothers, even if their worldly occupations were at odds. Campos wrote prose as well as poetry, and much of it reads as if it came, so to speak, from the hand of Soares. Pessoa was often unsure who was writing when he wrote, and it’s curious that the very first item among the more than 25,000 pieces that make up his archives in the National Library of Lisbon bears the headingA. de C. (?) or B. of D. (or something else).
Bernardo Soares was so close to Pessoa – closer even than Campos – that he couldn’t be considered an autonomous heteronym. ‘He’s a semi-heteronym,’ Pessoa wrote in the last year of his life, ‘because his personality, although not my own, doesn’t differ from my own but is a mere mutilation of it.’ Many of Soares’s aesthetic and existential reflections would no doubt be part of Pessoa’s autobiography, had he written one, but we shouldn’t confound the creature with his creator. Soares was not a replica of Pessoa, not even in miniature, but a mutilated Pessoa, with missing parts. Soares had irony but not much of a sense of humour; Pessoa was endowed with large measures ofboth. Though shy and withdrawn, Pessoa wouldn’t say he felt ‘like one of those damp rags used for house-cleaning that are taken to the window to dry but are forgotten, balled up, on the sill where they slowly leave a stain’ (Text 29). Like his semi-heteronym, Pessoa was an office worker in the Baixa, Lisbon’s old commercial district, and for a time he regularly dined at a restaurant on the Rua dos Douradores, the site of Soares’s rented room and of Vasques & Co., the firm where he worked. But whereas Soares was condemned to the drudgery of filling in ledgers with the prices and quantities of fabric sold, Pessoa had a comparatively prestigious job writing business letters in English and French, for firms that did business abroad. He came and went pretty much as he wanted, never being obliged to work set hours.
As for their respective inner lives, Soares takes his progenitor’s as a model: ‘I’ve created various personalities within… I’ve so externalized myself on the inside that I don’t exist there except externally. I’m the empty stage where various actors act out various plays’ (Text 299). Coming from Soares, this is a strange declaration. Are we supposed to believe that the assistant bookkeeper, one of the actors who played on the stage of Pessoa’s life, had his own troupe of heteronyms? If so, should we then suppose that these subheteronyms had sub-subheteronyms? The notion of an endless heteronymic lineage might have amused Pessoa, but the reason for his alter egos was to explain and express himself, and perhaps to provide a bit of reflective company. Soares, in the passage cited, is describing Pessoa’s own dramatic method of survival. And whatever he may be saying about himself, Soares is clearly speaking for Pessoa in the passage that begins ‘Only once was I truly loved’ (Text 235), written in the 1930s, not long after Pessoa broke up with Ophelia Queiroz, his one and only paramour. Surely it is Pessoa who believes, or wants to believe, that ‘Literature is the most agreeable way of ignoring life’ (Text 116). And isn’t it he, after all, who one day happened to look at his neighbour’s window and identified with a crumpled rag left on the sill?
Soares had no inner life of his own, and the full-fledged heteronyms hardly had more. A novelist’s characters are often based on friends or family members, but all of Pessoa’s characters were carved out of his own soul – of what he really was (in the case of Soares) or of what hewanted to be (in the case of the early, adventurous Campos) – and they each received only a piece of him. When we read Soares or Campos, we get lost in their universes and forget about their author, but theyarePessoa, or parts of Pessoa, who made himself into nothing so that he could become everything, and everyone. Pessoa was the first one to forget Pessoa.
If Bernardo Soares does not measure up to the full Pessoa, neither are his reflections and reveries the sum total ofThe Book of Disquiet, to which he was after all a Johnny-come-lately. The book went through various permutations before the bookkeeper arrived with his well-wrought but emotionally direct style of prose, and even the word ‘disquiet’ changed meaning over time.
In its early daysThe Book of Disquiet, attributed to Pessoa himself, consisted largely of post-Symbolist texts cast in the rarefied register of ‘In the Forest of Estrangement’ but usually without the shimmery finish, and some of them weren’t finished at all. This did not necessarily make them less beautiful, but it was an understandable frustration for their author. ‘Fragments, fragments, fragments,’ Pessoa wrote to his friend Cortes-Rodrigues, because certain texts abounded in blank spaces for words or phrases or whole paragraphs to be inserted later (but they rarely were), while other ‘texts’ were no more than sketches or notations for prose pieces that never materialized.The Book of Disquietalways remained – as if this were a condition for its existence – a work that was still waiting to happen, that needed to be written in large part, rewritten in other parts, then articulated and fine-tuned, or was it time to rethink the whole project? Pessoa was never sure.
The initial idea was a book of texts with titles, for which he left various lists. Certain titles, such as ‘Dolorous Interlude’ and ‘Rainy Landscape’, became generic designations, applied to various texts that shared the announced theme or atmosphere but remained autonomous. Other titles, such as ‘Our Lady of Silence’, denoted ambitious works in progress, made up of passages written at different times and varying in length from a few scribbled sentences to several pages crammed with tiny letters. And there are titles for which no texts have been found, perhaps because they were never written. (Pessoa’s archives contain dozens of lists with titles for non-existent poems,stories, treatises and entire books. Had he even halfway realized all his literary projects, the tomes would fill up a respectable library.The Book of Disquiet, a non-book in the non-library, is emblematic of the capricious author’s difficulty.) These early texts attempted to elucidate a psychic state or mood via a deliberately archaic use of gothic and romantic themes. Lush descriptions of court life, of sexless women, of strange weather and unreal landscapes prevail. The underlying psyche belongs to Pessoa but is abstracted. The writing is impersonal and the narrative voice ethereal, with the things and the words that name things all seeming to hover in a yellowish space. The word ‘disquiet’ refers not so much to an existential trouble in man as to the restlessness and uncertainty everywhere present and now distilled in the rhetorical narrator. But other forms of disquiet start to impinge on the work, which takes unexpected turns.
Not so unexpected, perhaps, was the theoretical and pedagogical dimension that emerged here as it did almost everywhere in Pessoa’sœuvre. It was only natural, even inevitable, that the oneiric texts ofDisquietwould lead to expository texts that set forth the why and how of dreams, with the four passages titled ‘The Art of Effective Dreaming’ constituting a veritable manual for dreamers at all levels, from beginner to advanced. ‘Sentimental Education’, in much the same way, serves as a kind of primer to accompany the many ‘Sensationist’ texts.
It was likewise in this didactic spirit, but with a rather bizarre result, that Pessoa wrote his ‘Advice to Unhappily Married Women’, in which he teaches dissatisfied wives how to cheat on their husbands by ‘imagining an orgasm with man A while copulating with man B’, a practice that yields best results ‘in the days immediately preceding menstruation’.
Pessoa’s sexual abstinence (it is probable, though not provable, that he died a virgin) was by his own account a conscious choice, which he apparently sought to justify inThe Book of Disquiet, with passages insisting on the impossibility of possessing another body, on the superiority of love in two dimensions (enjoyed by couples that inhabit paintings, stained-glass windows and Chinese teacups), and on the virtues of renunciation and asceticism.The Book, indeed, is rife with religious vocabulary, although the mysticism preached by Pessoahallowed no god, except perhaps himself (‘God is me,’ he concludes in ‘The Art of Effective Dreaming for Metaphysical Minds’).
But more than anything else, it was existential concerns – operating on both a general and personal level – that subverted the initial project ofThe Book of Disquiet. On a general level, sinceThe Book’s author belonged ‘to a generation that inherited disbelief in the Christian faith and created in itself a disbelief in all other faiths’. And since ‘we were left, each man to himself, in the desolation of feeling ourselves live’, the generational sense of lostness quickly became a personal struggle for identity and meaning (Text 306). Pessoa’s inner life – registered in ‘Fragments of an Autobiography’, ‘Apocalyptic Feeling’ and similar texts, with and without titles – invaded the pages of what had begun as a very different kind of book. Pessoa realized that the project had slipped out of his hand (if in fact he’d ever firmly grasped it), for in yet another letter to Cortes-Rodrigues he wrote thatThe Book of Disquiet, ‘that pathological production’, was going ‘complexly and tortuously forward’, as if of its own accord.
And so Pessoa let the book go, scribblingB. of D.at the head of all sorts of texts, sometimes as an afterthought, or with a question mark indicating doubt.The Book of Disquiet– forever tentative, indefinite and in transition – is one of those rare works in whichformeandfondperfectly reflect each other. Always with the intention of revising and assembling the variously handwritten and typed passages, but never with the courage or patience to take up the task, Pessoa kept adding material, and the parameters of the already unwieldy work kept expanding. Besides his post-Symbolist flights and diary-like musings, Pessoa included maxims, sociological observations, aesthetic credos, theological reflections and cultural analyses. He even put theB. of D.trademark on the copy of a letter to his mother (in Appendix II).
Though Pessoa hatched dozens of publication plans for his works, he saw only one real book,Mensagem(Message), make it into print, the year before he died. (He self-published several chap-books of his English poems.) Pessoa was so addicted to writing and scheming – and the schemes included unlikely business ventures as well as the publication of hisœuvre– that he had no time or energy left over to get thatœuvreinto publishable shape. Or perhaps it was just tootedious to think about. Nothing better illustrates the problem thanThe Book of Disquiet, a micro-chaos within the larger chaos of Pessoa’s written universe. But that consummate disorder is what givesThe Bookits peculiar greatness. It is like a treasure chest of both polished and uncut gems, which can be arranged and rearranged in infinite combinations, thanks precisely to the lack of a pre-established order.
No other work of Pessoa interacted so intensely with the rest of his universe. If Bernardo Soares says that his heart ‘drains out… like a broken bucket’ (Text 154) or that his mental life is ‘a bucket that got knocked over’ (Text 442), Álvaro de Campos declares ‘My heart is a poured-out bucket’ (in ‘The Tobacco Shop’) and compares his thinking to ‘an overturned bucket’ (in a poem dated 16 August 1934). If Soares thinks that ‘Nothing is more oppressive than the affection of others’ (Text 348), a Ricardo Reis ode (dated 1 November 1930) maintains that ‘The same love by which we’re loved/Oppresses us with its wanting.’ And when the assistant bookkeeper longs to ‘notice everything for the first time… as direct manifestations of Reality’, we can’t help but think of Alberto Caeiro, whose verses are a continual hymn to the direct, unmediated vision of things.
We can leaf throughThe Book of Disquietas through a lifelong sketchbook revealing the artist in all his heteronymic variety. Or we may read it as a travel journal, a ‘book of random impressions’ (Text 442), Pessoa’s faithful companion throughout his literary odyssey that never left Lisbon. Or we may see it as the ‘factless autobiography’ (Text 12) of a man who dedicated his life to not living, who cultivated ‘hatred of action like a greenhouse flower’ (Text 103).
The Book of Disquiet, which took different forms, also knew different authors. As long asThe Bookwas just one book, consisting of post-Symbolist texts with titles, the announced author was Fernando Pessoa, but when it mutated to accommodate diaristic passages, inevitably more intimate and revealing, Pessoa followed his usual custom of hiding behind other names, the first of which was Vicente Guedes. In fact Guedes was initially responsible only for the diary (or diaries) that pushed its (or their) way intoThe Book of Disquiet. The ‘autobiography of a man who never existed’ is how Pessoa, in a passageintended for a Preface, described Guedes’s ‘gentle book’, which is referred to in another passage as theDiary, as if this were its actual title. Pessoa, in his publication plans, began to cite Vicente Guedes as the fictional author ofThe Book of Disquiet, which suggests that it and the ‘gentle’Diarywere one and the same book. On the other hand, the archives contain a fragmentary passage from a ‘Diary of Vicente Guedes’, dated 22 August 1914, which pokes fun at a second-rate Portuguese writer and surely does not belong inDisquiet. Diaries usually have dates, but almost no dated material enteredThe Book of Disquietuntil 1929, when Vicente Guedes had already been given his walking papers. Whatever intentions Pessoa may have one day had, the earlyBook of Disquietnever boiled down to a diary, though it did encompassa ‘Random Diary’ and a ‘Lucid Diary’ – or single entries from projected diaries with these names – as well as the a forecited ‘Fragments of an Autobiography’, all of which date (according to manuscript and stylistic evidence) from 1915 to 1920, when Guedes was active.
Vicente Guedes was one of Pessoa’s busiest and most versatile collaborators in the 1910 s. Besides his diary writings, Guedes translated, or was supposed to translate, plays and poems by the likes of Aeschylus, Shelley and Byron, as well as ‘A Very Original Dinner’, a mystery story penned by Alexander Search, the most prolific of the English-language heteronyms. Though he shirked his duties as a translator, Guedes ‘really’ wrote a few poems, a number of short stories and several mystical tales. In one of these tales, ‘The Ascetic’, the title character tells his interlocutor that paradises and nirvanas are ‘illusions inside other illusions. If you dream you’re dreaming, is the dream you dream less real than the dream you dream you’re dreaming?’ This sort of musing is vaguely reminiscent ofDisquietin its formative phase, which may be why Pessoa decided to entrust it to Guedes, whose wide-ranging literary talents made him a potentially excellent author-administrator of such a capacious work.
The manuscript identifying Vicente Guedes as the author of aDiarythat was supposed to be part (or perhaps all) of the earlyBook of Disquietalso includes a passage titled ‘Games of Solitaire’ (Text 351), which evokes the evenings that the narrator spent as a child with his elderly aunts in a country house. The passage is preceded by this notation:
A section entitled:Games of Solitaire(includeIn the Forest of Estrangement?)
In its language and tone, ‘Forest of Estrangement’ has absolutely nothing in common with the passage about old aunts playing solitaire while their sleepy maid brews tea. Perhaps this was conceived as a mere port of entry to the section that would have the same name and whose ‘games of solitaire’ would be exercises in daydreamy prose such as ‘Estrangement’, written by Pessoa for the same reason we play cards: to pass the time. Whatever the case,The Bookwas in trouble. Pessoa didn’t know what to do with the early texts that wafted in the misty atmosphere of the strange forest, and perhaps he considered excluding them altogether. What place could they have in a diary? Or even next to a diary?
More than ten years later, Bernardo Soares would reformulate the games of solitaire (Text 12):
I make landscapes out of what I feel. I make holidays of my sensations… My elderly aunt would play solitaire throughout the endless evening. These confessions of what I feel are my solitaire. I don’t interpret them like those who read cards to tell the future. I don’t probe them, because in solitaire the cards don’t have any special significance.
In the same passage, Soares compares his mental and literary activity to another domestic pastime, crochet, as Álvaro de Campos also does in a poem dated 9 August 1934:
I also have my crochet.It dates from when I began to think.Stitch on stitch forming a whole without a whole…A cloth, and I don’t know if it’s for a garment or for nothing.A soul, and I don’t know if it’s for feeling or living.
What’s highly significant about the assistant bookkeeper’s crochet is that ‘between one and another plunge’ of the hooked needle, ‘all enchanted princes can stroll in their parks’. This observation would seem odd or just plain weird, were it not for the royal dreams and reveries that filled up many pages ofDisquietin its early days. InSoares, as we shall see, Pessoa managed to conciliate (though never to his full satisfaction) the sumptuous, imperial dreams ofThe Book’s first phase with the concerns of a modest, twentieth-century office clerk. Vicente Guedes, who was also an assistant bookkeeper, seems to have been groomed for the same conciliatory role, but in spite of his several mystical tales, Guedes was too coldly rational in his diary entries to be believable as a writer of wispy post-Symbolist texts, and Pessoa never directly named him as their author. But Guedes held the title of general author ofThe Book of Disquietfor at least five years and perhaps as long as ten, for whatever it’s worth, since the manuscript evidence suggests that most of the 1920s was (as indicated earlier) a fallow period forThe Book.
It was probably in 1928 that Pessoa, now wearing the mask of Bernardo Soares, returned toThe Book of Disquiet, which became a resolutely confirmed diary, as acutely personal as it was objective – as if the world around and inside the diarist were all the same film that he stared at intently, sometimes listened to, but never touched. Many of the passages were dated, though this practice was never systematic and seems to have been only gradually adopted. It’s curious that the first passage from this period with a date, 22 March 1929 (Text 19), is post-Symbolist in flavour, with drums, bugles and ‘princesses from other people’s dreams’ but with no mention of the assistant bookkeeper, whose fiction was perhaps still hazy and needed to be fleshed out. It was only in 1930 that Pessoa began to date a large number of the passages destined forThe Book of Disquiet, which had finally found its street: the Rua dos Douradores, where Soares worked in an office and where he also lived, in a humble rented room, writing in his spare time. And so Art, notes Soares, resides ‘on the very same street as Life, but in a different place… Yes, for me the Rua dos Douradores contains the meaning of everything and the answer to all riddles, except for the riddle of why riddles exist, which can never be answered’ (Text 9).
We know almost nothing about Bernardo Soares before he moved to the Rua dos Douradores. His name heads a list of ten stories in one of Pessoa’s notebooks, where we also find a rather extensive publication programme for Pessoa’sœuvre, with Soares identified onlyas a short-story writer.The Book of Disquiet, listed in the same programme, isn’t attributed to any author. Had Vicente Guedes already been sacked? Perhaps not yet. But once Soares assumedThe Book’s authorship, he also assumed, more or less, the old author’s biography. More accurately, Vicente Guedes, who died young (it was Pessoa who was to publish and present his manuscript to the public), was apparently reincarnated in Bernardo Soares, who had the very same profession, who also lived in a fourth-floor room in Lisbon’s Baixa district (only the name of the street changed), and who was also a highly motivated diarist. To judge by his elderly aunt who spent long evenings playing solitaire, Soares even inherited Guedes’s childhood.
Though not identical to Guedes, Soares came to replace him, and since Pessoa could move his pawns forwards and backwards, this replacement was able to have retroactive effect. The eleven excerpts fromDisquietpublished in magazines between 1929 and 1934 were naturally attributed to Bernardo Soares, but Pessoa also credited him (in a typed inventory of Soares’s literary production) with the only previously published excerpt, namely ‘Forest of Estrangement’, dating from long before Soares was ever conceived. In Pessoa’s notes and extensive correspondence from the 1930s, in which he discussed in detail the heteronymic enterprise, Guedes never merits the slightest reference, and the threeDisquietpassages from the teens that mention him by name were left out of the large envelope in which Pessoa, some time before his death, gathered material for the book. That same envelope includes a typed ‘note’ (in Appendix III) explaining that the earlier passages would have to be revised to conform with the ‘true psychology’ of Bernardo Soares. It may be argued that since Pessoa never actually brought off this revision, the early passages retain Vicente Guedes’s style and tone – more analytical, less emotionally impressionable than Soares – and therefore his authorship. But this is to take the game even further than Pessoa did. What is actually happening? The narrator – whether his name is Guedes or Soares – ages as the creating and informing spirit of Pessoa ages, and so the voice naturally changes, but not as strikingly as the voice of Álvaro de Campos, whose short and melancholy poems of the 1930 s were vastly different from the loud ‘Sensationist’ odes of the 1910s.
Yet another disquieted persona, the Baron of Teive, was vaguely orpotentially connected toThe Book of Disquiet, not as its author but as a contributor. Pessoa gave birth to aristocratic Teive in 1928, probably the same year that Bernardo Soares went from being a minor short-story writer to the author of Pessoa’s major prose work. Like Soares, Teive also suffered from tedium (one of the most oft-occurring words inThe Book), also found life stupidly meaningless, and was also sceptical to the point of no return, no salvation. His ‘only manuscript’, written on the eve of his suicide and titledThe Education of the Stoic, was found in the drawer of a hotel room, presumably by Pessoa, who compared the Baron with the bookkeeper in a fragmentary Preface (seeAppendix III). Their Portuguese, wrote Pessoa, is the same, but whereas the aristocrat ‘thinks clearly, writes clearly, and controls his emotions, though not his feelings, the bookkeeper controls neither emotions nor feelings, and what he thinks depends on what he feels’. Pessoa himself was not always certain of this subtle distinction, for he labelled one passage (Text 207)B. of D. (or Teive?), and there were a handful of other passages clearly labelledTeivethat he subsequently placed in the large envelope withDisquietmaterial. Was he thinking of pillaging parts of the Baron’s ‘only manuscript’ for the benefit of Bernardo Soares? Quite possibly so, since Teive’s opus, contrary to what its ‘only’ designation suggests, was a hodgepodge of unassembled and fragmentary pieces that Pessoa had perhaps despaired of ever pulling together and cleaning up.The Book of Disquiet, much vaster, was that much more unorganized, but Pessoa loved it too dearly to ever dream of giving up on it.
Besides threatening the Baron’s intellectual property, the ostensibly unassuming bookkeeper almost took over a large chunk of poetry signed by Pessoa himself. The above-mentioned inventory of Bernardo Soares’s literary output includes not only the poetic prose texts ofThe Book’s inaugural period but also ‘Slanting Rain’ (written in 1914, published in 1915), ‘Stations of the Cross’ (written in 1914–15, published in 1916) and other poems by Pessoa founded on ‘ultra-Sensationist experiences’. These poems are nearly contemporaneous with ‘Forest of Estrangement’ and drink from the same post-Symbolist waters, so Pessoa thought – for a moment – that they might as well live under the same roof, on the Rua dos Douradores, which is cited at the top of the inventory. In fact the inventory is probably both ac.v. for Soaresanda Table of Contents forThe Book of Disquiet. And at the bottom of the page we find this strange observation: ‘Soares is not a poet. In his poetry he falls short; it isn’t sustained like his prose. His poems are the refuse of his prose, the sawdust of his first-rate work.’
Pessoa, in the late 1920s, felt ambivalent about the Intersectionist and ultra-Sensationist poems he had written under his own name almost fifteen years previous. Reassigning them toThe Book of Disquietwould not only save Pessoa’s name from the momentary embarrassment he may have felt for being their author; it could also help redeem them, by providing an enhancing context. But it was a short lived idea. In a follow-up note (seeAppendix III) written on the same typewriter as the inventory, we read:
Collect later on, in a separate book, the various poems I had mistakenly thought to include inThe Book of Disquiet; this book of poems should have a title indicating that it contains something like refuse or marginalia – something suggestive of detachment.
Pessoa, forever indecisive, just like his semi-heteronym, had gone back to his original plan: a book of prose, in elegant and even poetic Portuguese, but still and always prose. What had ever given him the idea of bringing poetry into it?
The Book of Disquiethad become one of Pessoa’s pet projects, and he desperately, if somewhat ineptly, tried to make its disparate parts cohere. The prose that had made its way intoThe Bookwas so heterogeneous that its new agent of cohesion, Bernardo Soares, would have to be much more than a diarist. To make Soares a believable author of such a multifaceted work, Pessoa decided to widen his literary horizons in a big way, making him even a poet. If Álvaro de Campos and Ricardo Reis, fundamentally poets, also wrote prose, why shouldn’t Bernardo Soares write verses? But no: this would have only complicated matters. Pessoa realized this and backed down, repossessing the poems he had passed on to Soares, as we can deduce from a letter, written in 1935, which cites ‘Slanting Rain’ as an ‘orthonymic’ work (attributed to Pessoa himself). Soares retained possession of the poetic prose he had inherited, however, and he legitimated that inheritance by his own practice, admirably demonstratedin the excerpt (Text 386) he wrote on 28 November 1932, an obvious sequel to ‘In the Forest of Estrangement’. And in another text (420), Soares ingeniously brings the ‘Funeral March of Ludwig II, King of Bavaria’ to the Rua dos Douradores. Fighting his incurable tendency to creative and intellectual entropy, Pessoa sought at least a relative unity for hisBook of Disquiet, ‘without giving up the dreaminess and logical disjointedness of its intimate expression’ (from the cited ‘note’ in Appendix III).
In Bernardo Soares – a prose writer who poetizes, a dreamer who thinks, a mystic who doesn’t believe, a decadent who doesn’t indulge – Pessoa invented the best author possible (and who was just a mutilated copy of himself) to provide unity to a book which, by nature, couldn’t have one. The semi-fiction called Soares, more than a justification or handy solution for this scatteredBook, is an implied model for whoever has difficulty adapting to real, normal, everyday life. The only way to survive in this world is by keeping alive our dream, without ever fulfilling it, since the fulfilment never measures up to what we imagine – this was the closest thing to a message that Pessoa left, and he gave us Bernardo Soares to show us how it’s done.
How is it done? By not doing. By dreaming insistently. By performing our daily duties butliving, simultaneously, in the imagination. Travelling far and wide, in the geography of our minds. Conquering like Caesar, amid the blaring trumpets of our reverie. Experiencing intense sexual pleasure, in the privacy of our fantasy. Feeling everything in every way, not in the flesh, which always tires, but in the imagination.
To dream, for example, that I’m simultaneously, separately, severally the man and the woman on a stroll that a man and woman are taking along the river. To see myself – at the same time, in the same way, with equal precision and without overlap, being equally but separately integrated into both things – as a conscious ship in a South Sea and a printed page from an old book. How absurd this seems! But everything is absurd, and dreaming least of all. (Text 157)
To dream one’s life and to live one’s dreams, feeling what’s dreamed and what’s lived with an intensity so extreme it makes the distinction between the two meaningless – this credo echoed in nearly every reachof Pessoa’s universe, but Soares was its most practical example. While the other heteronymic starstalkabout dreaming and feeling everything, Bernardo Soares actually has vivid, splendorous dreams and feels each tiny circumstance of his workaday life on the Rua dos Douradores. The post-Symbolist texts with misty forests, lakes, kings and palaces are crucial, for they are the imaginary substance, the very dreams of Soares, put into words. And the various ‘Rainy Landscapes’, with their excruciating descriptions of storms and winds, are illustrations of how to reallyfeelthe weather and, by extension, all of nature and the life that surrounds us.
Pessoa was keenly aware that ‘Nature is parts without a whole’ (from Caeiro’sThe Keeper of Sheep, XLVII) and that the notion of unity is always an illusion. Well, not quite. A relative, provisional, fleeting unity, a unity which doesn’t pretend to be smooth and absolute or even unambiguously singular, which is built around an imagination, a fiction, a writing instrument – this was the unity that Fernando Pessoa, in Bernardo Soares, was betting on. And he won his bet.The Book of Disquiet, whose ultimate ambition was to reflect the jagged thoughts and fractured emotions that can inhabit one man, achieved this modest but genuine unity. There was perhaps, in the twentieth century, no other book as honest as thisBook, which can hardly claim to be one.
Honesty. It went unmentioned until now, and it’s what most distinguishesThe Book of Disquiet. It is probably fair to call honesty the pre-eminent virtue of great writers, for whom the most personal things become, through the alchemy of truth, universal. Strangely or not, it was precisely in his faking, in his self-othering – a profoundly personal process – that Pessoa was astonishingly true and honest to himself. By being so who he was, and so very Portuguese, he succeeded in being the most foreign and universal of writers. ‘My nation is the Portuguese language,’ he declared through Bernardo Soares (Text 259), but he also said: ‘I don’t write in Portuguese. I write my own self.’ And immediately before these words he exclaims: ‘What Hells and Purgatories and Heavens I have inside me! But who sees me do anything that disagrees with life – me, so calm and peaceful?’ (Text 443).
In the lucidly felt prose of Bernardo Soares, Pessoa wrote himself, wrote his century, and wrote us – down to the hells and heavens weharbour, even if we’re unbelievers, like Pessoa. Soares called this implausible book his ‘confessions’, but they have nothing to do with the religious or literary variety. In these pages there is no hope or even desire for remission or salvation. There is also no self-pity, and no attempt to aestheticize the narrator’s irremediably human condition. Bernardo Soares doesn’t confess except in the sense of ‘recognize’, and the object of that recognition is of no great consequence. He describes his own self, because it is the landscape that is closest and most real, the one he can describe best. And what was flesh became word. Here is the assistant bookkeeper’s confession:
I am, in large measure, the selfsame prose I write… I’ve made myself into the character of a book, a life one reads. Whatever I feel is felt (against my will) so that I can write that I felt it. Whatever I think is promptly put into words, mixed with images that undo it, cast into rhythms that are something else altogether. From so much self-revising, I’ve destroyed myself. From so much self-thinking, I’m now my thoughts and not I. I plumbed myself and dropped the plumb; I spend my life wondering if I’m deep or not, with no remaining plumb except my gaze that shows me – blackly vivid in the mirror at the bottom of the well – my own face that observes me observing it.
(Text 193, dated 2 September 1931)
No other writer ever achieved such a direct transference of self to paper.The Book of Disquietis the world’s strangest photograph, made out of words, the only material capable of capturing the recesses of the soul it exposes.
Richard Zenith, 2001NOTES
It is in hisNotes for the Memory of my Master Caeirothat Álvaro de Campos apprises us of Pessoa’s non-existence. Reis was described as ‘a Greek Horace who writes in Portuguese’ in a letter Pessoa wrote to an Englishman on 31 October 1924. The fragmentary passage titled ‘Diary of Vicente Guedes’ was transcribed by Teresa Rita Lopes for herPessoa por Conhecer(Lisbon: Estampa, 1990), where a list specifying Guedes’s translating duties was alsopublished. Guedes’s unpublished ‘O Asceta’ (‘The Ascetic’) is catalogued in the Pessoa Archives under the number 2720V3/1. The translated excerpt of the Campos poem dated 9 August 1934 is taken fromFernando Pessoa & Co. – Selected Poems(New York: Grove Press, 1998). The list of ten short stories attributed to Bernardo Soares is catalogued under 144 G/29, the publication programme that identifies Soares as a short-story writer under 144 G/38. The typed inventory of Soares’s literary production, on the Rua dos Douradores, is reproduced in my Introduction to theLivro do Desassossego. The Afterword to my edition of Teive’sA Educação do Estóico(The Education of the Stoic) (Lisbon: Assírio & Alvim, 1999) undertakes a thorough comparison of the Baron and Bernardo Soares.Notes on the Text and Translation
Had Pessoa prepared hisLivro do Desassossego(The Book of Disquiet) for publication, it would have been a smaller book. He planned to make a ‘rigorous’ selection from among all the texts he had written, to adapt the older ones to the ‘true psychology’ of Bernardo Soares, and to undertake ‘an overall revision of the style’ (see the ‘note’ in Appendix III). This operation would have resulted in a smooth, polished book with perhaps half as many pages, and perhaps half as much genius. Purged of whatever was fragmentary and incomplete, the book would have gained novelistic virtues such as plot and dramatic tension, but it would have run the risk of becoming just another book, instead of what it remains: a monument as wondrous as it is impossible.
Pessoa published twelve excerpts fromThe Book of Disquietin literary magazines and left, in the famous trunk that contained his extravagant written life, about 450 additional texts markedL. do D.and/or included in a large envelope labelledLivro do Desassossego. Most of this material was incorporated in the first edition of the work, published only in 1982, forty-seven years after Pessoa’s death. It was a heroic effort, since Pessoa’s archives are notoriously labyrinthine and his handwriting often virtually illegible, and it was doomed – for these very reasons – to be seriously flawed. A new edition, published in 1990–91 (the first volume of which was republished, with extensive revisions, in 1997), presented improved readings and over one hundred previously unpublished texts, most of which were not explicitly identified withThe Book of Disquiet, although the majority of them could have been penned or typed with Bernardo Soares in mind.
My own edition of theLivro do Desassossego(Lisbon: Assírio & Alvim, 1998) – which is the source text for this translation – makes further improvements in the readings, filling in most of the remaininglacunas and correcting several hundred errors in previous transcriptions. I was more cautious about embracing material not specifically marked or set aside by Pessoa for inclusion. The borders of this work are fuzzy, but they exist. They exclude, for instance, the reams of political theory written by Pessoa. Nor is there a place for his writings in pure philosophy and literary criticism. But there are a number of stray and unidentified texts – my edition includes about fifty – that do seem to belong here. Seem to me, that is. It is impossible to avoid subjectivity when editing and publishing such a fragmentaryœuvreas Pessoa’s.
This subjectivity tends to sheer arbitrariness when it comes to organizing this book, whose passages were scattered across the years and pages of Pessoa’s adult life. Chronological order? About a hundred passages written between 1929 and 1934 are dated, but only five during the first sixteen years ofDisquiet’s existence. To attempt a chronology for the undated texts on the basis of stylistic or thematic affinities is treacherous or even foolhardy, as we can understand by looking at several dated texts, such as the aforementioned ‘sequel’ to ‘In the Forest of Estrangement’, which we would confidently situate in 1913 or 1914, if we didn’t know it was written on 28 November 1932. Text 429, conversely, is dated 18 September 1917 but reads exactly like Soares from the 1930s. An exhaustive analysis of paper and ink types and of Pessoa’s handwriting would probably yield a reasonably chronological order, but would that be a good way to publish the material? Pessoa had a few ideas on how to organizeThe Book, but chronological order wasn’t one he ever mentioned. It is true that many passages from the final phase were dated, but even then not the majority, and Pessoa never suggested that these be published as a group apart, separately from the older material.
What Pessoa did suggest shows only what a loss he was at to organize hisBook. ‘Alternate passages like this with the long ones?’ he asked himself at the top of a passage (Text 201) that isn’t particularly short. Another passage (Text 124) carries the heading (written in English)Chapter on Indifference or something like that, suggesting a thematic organization. In the ‘note’ already cited, Pessoa mulled over whether it was better to publish ‘Funeral March for Ludwig II’ in a separate book, with other ‘Large Texts’ that had titles, or to leave it ‘as it is’.And how was it? Mixed up with hundreds of other texts, large and small, like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle without a discernible picture or pattern. Perhaps this would be the best way to go: an edition of loose pieces, orderable according to each reader’s fancy, or according to how they happen to fall.
Since a loose-leaf edition is impractical, and since every established order is the wrong order, the mere circumstance of publication entails a kind of original sin. Every editor of thisBook, automatically guilty, should (and I hereby do) (1) apologize for tampering with the original non-order, (2) emphasize that the order presented can claim no special validity, and (3) recommend that readers invent their own order or, better yet, read the work’s many parts in absolutely random order.
In this edition, the dated passages from the last phase (1929–34) serve as a skeleton – an infallibly Soaresian skeleton – for articulating the body of the text. The hope is that the older passages, interspersed among the later ones, will be at least superficially coloured by the ‘true psychology’ of Bernardo Soares. I saw no reason to disrupt the chronological order of the passages forming the skeleton, as this makes for a certain objectivity in this otherwise subjective arrangement, but I relegated the dates to the Notes, lest readers who skip this paragraph suppose that the passages falling between the dated ones are contemporaneous. Some of them are, but others go back to the 1910s. As explained in the opening essay, the post-Symbolist texts (mostly from the teens) are the evidence – the visible,dreameddreams – that the dreamer talks about in his ‘confessions’, and so it makes sense for the two kinds of texts to rub shoulders. They complement each other.
But the ‘Large Texts’, as Pessoa denominated the early prose pieces that weren’t always that long but were large in their ambitions and sometimes had ‘grandiose titles’, have been placed in a separate section, called ‘A Disquiet Anthology’. Pessoa himself recognized that they did not easily fit into Soares’s ‘Factless Autobiography’ (one of various self-descriptive epithets found in the assistant bookkeeper’s scattered journal of thoughts), which is why he considered taking the even more radical step of removing them to a separate book.
For no other reason than to facilitate consultation and referral, I have assigned numbers to the passages in the first section (most ofwhich are untitled), and arranged the texts from the second section by their titles, alphabetically. Pessoa left over six hundred alternate words or phrasings in the margins and between the lines of the manuscripts that constituteThe Book of Disquiet. For the purposes of this translation, I have usually preferred the first word or phrasing. Only those few alternate wordings that might interest a general reader are recorded in the Notes, which also provide archival references, composition and publication dates, and explanations of the cultural, historical and literary references. My edition of the original text,Livro do Desassossego, offers more detailed information about the editorial procedures followed (with regard to the transcriptions, for example) and includes, in an Appendix, some fragmentary material not found here.
Many of the manuscripts that Pessoa labelled for inclusion inThe Book of Disquietwere really just notes or sketches for longer, polished pieces that he never finally wrote. This is especially evident in passages where the paragraphs are separated by spaces, as in Text 14 or Text 18. Even fluent, well-articulated passages are sometimes pocked, as it were, by blank spaces for words or phrases that Pessoa never got around to supplying. Often these lacunas correspond to a missing adjective or non-essential connective and could be smoothed over in a translation – made to disappear, that is – without being unfaithful to the meaning of the original sentence. But this ‘smoothing’ would entail an unfaithfulness to the book’s general spirit of fragmentation and disconnectedness. The text presented here reflects the blips and roughness of the original but aims, at the same time, to be reader-friendly. This explains the presence of two different symbols to indicate lacunas left by the author in the original manuscripts; the five-dot ellipsis is the ‘friendlier’, less obtrusive symbol, but is used only where it will not induce the reader to make a false bridge between the words that precede and follow it, as if it stood for a mere rhythmic pause. In a few cases, where the basic sense of the missing word(s) seems obvious to the point of being inevitable, a word (or two) with that sense has been inserted in square brackets.
Verbal repetition is part of Pessoa’s style and has been respected, except where the effect seems too mannered for English to bear. The translation is also generally faithful to the use (or not) of capital letters in the original. This usage is noticeably erratic when it comes to the‘gods’ or ‘Gods’, with the two forms sometimes coexisting in the same passage, as in Text 87.
The translated edition of this work that I published in 1991 asThe Book of Disquietude(Carcanet Press) informs important aspects of the Portuguese edition I produced in 1998 and of this revised, reorganized and expanded English edition. Some of the discrepancies between this and other English translations (including my first effort) are due to the rather different source text that has emerged as I and other researchers have re-examined the original manuscripts.SYMBOLS USED IN THE TEXT
– blank space left by the author for one or more words within a sentence
.…. – place where a sentence breaks off, space left for an unwritten sentence or paragraph, or blank space inside a sentence where the hiatus does not interrupt a phrasal unit
[?] – translation based on a conjectural reading of the author’s handwriting
[…] – illegible word or phrase
[ ] – word(s) added by translator
* – find note at the back of the volume, under the appropriate Text number or title.Acknowledgements
I’m grateful to Maria Aliete Galhoz for having broken the ground, with her patient work in the Pessoa archives; to José Blanco for his enthusiasm, support and friendship; to Michael Schmidt for believing in Pessoa when few had heard of him; to Hermínio Monteiro and Lú cia Pinho e Melo for their good work and encouragement; to Jennifer Hengen and Simon Winder for having, in a certain way, gone out on a limb; to Ellah Allfrey and Sarah Coward for their inspired suggestions; and to the staff workers at the National Library of Lisbon and the Casa Fernando Pessoa for their gracious assistance.
I especially thank Teresa Rita Lopes and Manuela Parreira da Silva for their generous help in deciphering the original manuscripts; Manuela Neves and Manuela Rocha for their similar generosity in helping me interpret difficult passages; and Martin Earl for his insightful critique of my Introduction.The Book of Disquiet
by Bernardo Soares,assistant bookkeeper in the city of LisbonPreface
Lisbon has a certain number of eating establishments in which, on top of a respectable-looking tavern, there’s a regular dining room with the solid and homey air of a restaurant in a small trainless town. In these first-floor dining rooms, fairly empty except on Sundays, one often comes across odd sorts, unremarkable faces, a series of asides in life.
There was a time in my life when a limited budget and the desire for quiet made me a regular patron of one of these first-floor restaurants. And it happened that whenever I ate dinner there around seven o’clock, I nearly always saw a certain man who didn’t interest me at first, but then began to.
Fairly tall and thin, he must have been about thirty years old. He hunched over terribly when sitting down but less so standing up, and he dressed with a carelessness that wasn’t entirely careless. In his pale, uninteresting face there was a look of suffering that didn’t add any interest, and it was difficult to say just what kind of suffering this look suggested. It seemed to suggest various kinds: hardships, anxieties, and the suffering born of the indifference that comes from having already suffered a lot.
He always ate a small dinner, followed by cigarettes that he rolled himself. He conspicuously observed the other patrons, not suspiciously but with more than ordinary interest. He didn’t observe them with a spirit of scrutiny but seemed interested in them without caring to analyse their outward behaviour or to register their physical appearance. It was this peculiar trait that first got me interested in him.
I began to look at him more closely. I noticed that a certain air of intelligence animated his features in a certain uncertain way. But dejection – the stagnation of cold anguish – so consistently covered his face that it was hard to discern any of his other traits.
I happened to learn from a waiter in the restaurant that the man worked in an office near by.
One day there was an incident in the street down below – a fist fight between two men. Everyone in the first-floor restaurant ran to the windows, including me and the man I’ve been describing. I made a casual remark to him and he replied in like manner. His voice washesitant and colourless, as in those who hope for nothing because it’s perfectly useless to hope. But perhaps it was absurd to see this in my supper-time peer.
I don’t know why, but from that day on we always greeted each other. And then one day, perhaps drawn together by the stupid coincidence that we both arrived for dinner at nine-thirty, we struck up a conversation. At a certain point he asked me if I wrote. I said that I did. I told him about the literary reviewOrpheu,*which had just recently come out. He praised it, he praised it highly, and I was taken aback. I told him I was surprised, for the art of those who write inOrpheuspeaks only to a few. He said that perhaps he was one of the few. Furthermore, he added, this art wasn’t exactly a novelty for him, and he shyly observed that, having nowhere to go and nothing to do, nor friends to visit, nor any interest in reading books, he usually spent his nights at home, in his rented room, likewise writing.
He had furnished his two rooms with a semblance of luxury, no doubt at the expense of certain basic items. He had taken particular pains with the armchairs, which were soft and well-padded, and with the drapes and rugs. He explained that with this kind of an interior he could ‘maintain the dignity of tedium’. In rooms decorated in the modern style, tedium becomes a discomfort, a physical distress.
Nothing had ever obliged him to do anything. He had spent his childhood alone. He never joined any group. He never pursued a course of study. He never belonged to a crowd. The circumstances of his life were marked by that strange but rather common phenomenon – perhaps, in fact, it’s true for all lives – of being tailored to the image and likeness of his instincts, which tended towards inertia and withdrawal.
He never had to face the demands of society or of the state. He even evaded the demands of his own instincts. Nothing ever prompted him to have friends or lovers. I was the only one who was in some way his intimate. But even if I always felt that I was relating to an assumed personality and that he didn’t really consider me his friend, I realizedfrom the beginning that he needed someone to whom he could leave the book that he left. This troubled me at first, but I’m glad to say that I was able to see the matter from a psychologist’s point of view, and I remained just as much his friend, devoted to the end for which he’d drawn me to himself – the publication of this book.
Even in this respect circumstances were strangely favourable to him, for they brought him somebody of my character, who could be of use to him.A Factless Autobiography
In these random impressions, and with no desire to be other than random, I indifferently narrate my factless autobiography, my lifeless history. These are my Confessions, and if in them I say nothing, it’s because I have nothing to say.
– Text 121
I was born in a time when the majority of young people had lost faith in God, for the same reason their elders had had it – without knowing why. And since the human spirit naturally tends to make judgements based on feeling instead of reason, most of these young people chose Humanity to replace God. I, however, am the sort of person who is always on the fringe of what he belongs to, seeing not only the multitude he’s a part of but also the wide-open spaces around it. That’s why I didn’t give up God as completely as they did, and I never accepted Humanity. I reasoned that God, while improbable, might exist, in which case he should be worshipped; whereas Humanity, being a mere biological idea and signifying nothing more than the animal species we belong to, was no more deserving of worship than any other animal species. The cult of Humanity, with its rites of Freedom and Equality, always struck me as a revival of those ancient cults in which gods were like animals or had animal heads.
And so, not knowing how to believe in God and unable to believe in an aggregate of animals, I, along with other people on the fringe, kept a distance from things, a distance commonly called Decadence. Decadence is the total loss of unconsciousness, which is the very basis of life. Could it think, the heart would stop beating.
For those few like me who live without knowing how to have life, what’s left but renunciation as our way and contemplation as our destiny? Not knowing nor able to know what religious life is, since faith isn’t acquired through reason, and unable to have faith in or even react to the abstract notion of man, we’re left with the aesthetic contemplation of life as our reason for having a soul. Impassive to the solemnity of any and all worlds, indifferent to the divine, and disdainers of what is human, we uselessly surrender ourselves to pointlesssensation, cultivated in a refined Epicureanism, as befits our cerebral nerves.
Retaining from science only its fundamental precept – that everything is subject to fatal laws, which we cannot freely react to since the laws themselves determine all reactions – and seeing how this precept concurs with the more ancient one of the divine fatality of things, we abdicate from every effort like the weak-bodied from athletic endeavours, and we hunch over the book of sensations like scrupulous scholars of feeling.
Taking nothing seriously and recognizing our sensations as the only reality we have for certain, we take refuge there, exploring them like large unknown countries. And if we apply ourselves diligently not only to aesthetic contemplation but also to the expression of its methods and results, it’s because the poetry or prose we write – devoid of any desire to move anyone else’s will or to mould anyone’s understanding – is merely like when a reader reads out loud to fully objectify the subjective pleasure of reading.
We’re well aware that every creative work is imperfect and that our most dubious aesthetic contemplation will be the one whose object is what we write. But everything is imperfect. There’s no sunset so lovely it couldn’t be yet lovelier, no gentle breeze bringing us sleep that couldn’t bring a yet sounder sleep. And so, contemplators of statues and mountains alike, enjoying both books and the passing days, and dreaming all things so as to transform them into our own substance, we will also write down descriptions and analyses which, when they’re finished, will become extraneous things that we can enjoy as if they happened along one day.
This isn’t the viewpoint of pessimists like Vigny,* for whom life was a prison in which he wove straw to keep busy and forget. To be a pessimist is to see everything tragically, an attitude that’s both excessive and uncomfortable. While it’s true that we ascribe no value to the work we produce and that we produce it to keep busy, we’re not like the prisoner who busily weaves straw to forget about his fate; we’re like the girl who embroiders pillows for no other reason than to keep busy.
I see life as a roadside inn where I have to stay until the coach from the abyss pulls up. I don’t know where it will take me, because I don’tknow anything. I could see this inn as a prison, for I’m compelled to wait in it; I could see it as a social centre, for it’s here that I meet others. But I’m neither impatient nor common. I leave who will to stay shut up in their rooms, sprawled out on beds where they sleeplessly wait, and I leave who will to chat in the parlours, from where their songs and voices conveniently drift out here to me. I’m sitting at the door, feasting my eyes and ears on the colours and sounds of the landscape, and I softly sing – for myself alone – wispy songs I compose while waiting.
Night will fall on us all and the coach will pull up. I enjoy the breeze I’m given and the soul I was given to enjoy it with, and I no longer question or seek. If what I write in the book of travellers can, when read by others at some future date, also entertain them on their journey, then fine. If they don’t read it, or are not entertained, that’s fine too.2
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.3
I love the stillness of early summer evenings downtown, and especially the stillness made more still by contrast, on the streets that seethe with activity by day. Rua do Arsenal, Rua da Alfândega, the sad streets extending eastward from where the Rua da Alfândega ends, the entire stretch along the quiet docks – all of this comforts me with sadness when on these evenings I enter the solitude of their ensemble. I slip into an era prior to the one I’m living in; I enjoy feeling that I’m acontemporary of Cesário Verde,* and that in me I have, not verses like his, but the identical substance of the verses that were his.
Walking on these streets, until the night falls, my life feels to me like the life they have. By day they’re full of meaningless activity; by night they’re full of a meaningless lack of it. By day I am nothing, and by night I am I. There is no difference between me and these streets, save they being streets and I a soul, which perhaps is irrelevant when we consider the essence of things. There is an equal, abstract destiny for men and for things; both have an equally indifferent designation in the algebra of the world’s mystery.
But there’s something else… In these languid and empty hours, a sadness felt by my entire being rises from my soul to my mind – a bitter awareness that everything is a sensation of mine and at the same time something external, something not in my power to change. Ah, how often my own dreams have raised up before me as things, not to replace reality but to declare themselves its equals, in so far as I scorn them and they exist apart from me, like the tram now turning the corner at the end of the street, or like the voice of an evening crier, crying I don’t know what but with a sound that stands out – an Arabian chant like the sudden patter of a fountain – against the monotony of twilight!
Future married couples pass by, chatting seamstresses pass by, young men in a hurry for pleasure pass by, those who have retired from everything smoke on their habitual stroll, and at one or another doorway a shopkeeper stands like an idle vagabond, hardly noticing a thing. Army recruits – some of them brawny, others slight – slowly drift along in noisy and worse-than-noisy clusters. Occasionally someone quite ordinary goes by. Cars at that time of day are rare, and their noise is musical. In my heart there’s a peaceful anguish, and my calm is made of resignation.
All of this passes, and none of it means anything to me. It’s all foreign to my fate, and even to fate as a whole. It’s just unconsciousness, curses of protest when chance hurls stones, echoes of unknown voices – a collective mishmash of life.4
… and from the majestic heights of my dreams, I return to being an assistant bookkeeper in the city of Lisbon.
But the contrast doesn’t overwhelm me, it frees me. And its irony is my blood. What should theoretically humiliate me is what I unfurl as my flag; and the laughter I should be using to laugh at myself is a bugle I blow to herald – and to create – a dawn into which I’m transformed.
The nocturnal glory of being great without being anything! The sombre majesty of splendours no one knows… And I suddenly experience the sublime feeling of a monk in the wilderness or of a hermit in his retreat, acquainted with the substance of Christ in the sands and in the caves of withdrawal from the world.
And at this table in my absurd room, I, a pathetic and anonymous office clerk, write words as if they were the soul’s salvation, and I gild myself with the impossible sunset of high and vast hills in the distance, with the statue I received in exchange for life’s pleasures, and with the ring of renunciation on my evangelical finger, the stagnant jewel of my ecstatic disdain.5
I have before me, on the slanted surface of the old desk, the two large pages of the ledger, from which I lift my tired eyes and an even more tired soul. Beyond the nothing that this represents, there’s the warehouse with its uniform rows of shelves, uniform employees, human order, and tranquil banality – all the way to the wall that fronts the Rua dos Douradores. Through the window the sound of another reality arrives, and the sound is banal, like the tranquillity around the shelves.
I lower new eyes to the two white pages, on which my careful numbers have entered the firm’s results. And smiling to myself I remember that life, which contains these pages with fabric types, prices and sales, blank spaces, letters and ruled lines, also includes the greatnavigators, the great saints, and the poets of every age, not one of whom enters the books – a vast progeny banished from those who determine the world’s worth.
In the very act of entering the name of an unfamiliar cloth, the doors of the Indus and of Samarkand open up, and Persian poetry (which is from yet another place), with its quatrains whose third lines don’t rhyme, is a distant anchor for me in my disquiet. But I make no mistake: I write, I add, and the bookkeeping goes on, performed as usual by an employee of this office.6
I asked for very little from life, and even this little was denied me. A nearby field, a ray of sunlight, a little bit of calm along with a bit of bread, not to feel oppressed by the knowledge that I exist, not to demand anything from others, and not to have others demand anything from me – this was denied me, like the spare change we might deny a beggar not because we’re mean-hearted but because we don’t feel like unbuttoning our coat.
Sadly I write in my quiet room, alone as I have always been, alone as I will always be. And I wonder if my apparently negligible voice might not embody the essence of thousands of voices, the longing for self-expression of thousands of lives, the patience of millions of souls resigned like my own to their daily lot, their useless dreams, and their hopeless hopes. In these moments my heart beats faster because I’m conscious of it. I live more because I live on high. I feel a religious force within me, a species of prayer, a kind of public outcry. But my mind quickly puts me in my place… I remember that I’m on the fourth floor of the Rua dos Douradores, and I take a drowsy look at myself. I glance up from this half-written page at life, futile and without beauty, and at the cheap cigarette I’m about to extinguish in the ashtray beyond the fraying blotter. Me in this fourth-floor room, interrogating life!, saying what souls feel!, writing prose like a genius or a famous author! Me, here, a genius!…7
Today, in one of the pointless and worthless daydreams that constitute a large part of my inner life, I imagined being forever free from the Rua dos Douradores, from Vasques my boss, from Moreira the head bookkeeper, from all the employees, from the delivery boy, the office boy and the cat. In my dream I experienced freedom, as if the South Seas had offered me marvellous islands to be discovered. It would all be repose, artistic achievement, the intellectual fulfilment of my being.
But even as I was imagining this, during my miniature midday holiday in a café, an unpleasant thought assaulted my dream: I realized I would feel regret. Yes, I say it as if confronted by the actual circumstance: I would feel regret. Vasques my boss, Moreira the head bookkeeper, Borges the cashier, all the young men, the cheerful boy who takes letters to the post office, the boy who makes deliveries, the gentle cat – all this has become part of my life. And I wouldn’t be able to leave it without crying, without feeling that – like it or not – it was a part of me which would remain with all of them, and that to separate myself from them would be a partial death.
Besides, if tomorrow I were to bid them all farewell and take off my Rua dos Douradores suit, what other activity would I end up doing (for I would have to do something), or what other suit would I end up wearing (for I would have to wear some other suit)?
We all have a Vasques who’s the boss – visible for some of us, invisible for others. My Vasques goes by that very name, and he’s a hale and pleasant man, occasionally short-tempered but never two-faced, self-interested but basically fair, with a sense of justice that’s lacking in many great geniuses and human marvels of civilization, right and left. Other people answer to vanity, or to the lure of wealth, glory, immortality. For my boss I prefer the man named Vasques, who in difficult moments is easier to deal with than all the abstract bosses in the world.
Deeming that I earn too little, a friend of mine who’s a partner in a successful firm that does a lot of business with the government said the other day: ‘You’re being exploited, Soares.’ And I remembered that indeed I am. But since in life we must all be exploited, I wonder ifit’s any worse to be exploited by Vasques and his fabrics than by vanity, by glory, by resentment, by envy or by the impossible.
Some are exploited by God himself, and they are prophets and saints in this vacuous world.
And in the same way that others return to their homes, I retreat to my non-home: the large office on the Rua dos Douradores. I arrive at my desk as at a bulwark against life. I have a tender spot – tender to the point of tears – for my ledgers in which I keep other people’s accounts, for the old inkstand I use, for the hunched back of Sérgio, who draws up invoices a little beyond where I sit. I love all this, perhaps because I have nothing else to love, and perhaps also because nothing is worth a human soul’s love, and so it’s all the same – should we feel the urge to give it – whether the recipient be the diminutive form of my inkstand or the vast indifference of the stars.8
Vasques – the boss. At times I’m inexplicably hypnotized by Senhor Vasques. What is this man to me besides an occasional obstacle, as the owner of my time, in the daylight hours of my life? He treats me well and is polite when he talks to me, except on his grumpy days, when he’s fretting about something and isn’t polite to anyone. But why does he occupy my thoughts? Is he a symbol? A cause? What is he?
Vasques – the boss. I already remember him in the future with the nostalgia I know I’m bound to feel. I’ll be peacefully ensconced in a small house on the outskirts of somewhere or other, enjoying a tranquillity in which I won’t write the works I don’t write now, and to keep on not writing them I’ll come up with even better excuses than the ones I use today to elude myself. Or I’ll be in an institution for paupers, happy in my utter defeat, mixed up with the rabble of would-be geniuses who were no more than beggars with dreams, thrown in with the anonymous throng of those who didn’t have strength enough to conquer nor renunciation enough to conquer by not competing. Wherever I may be, I’ll miss Senhor Vasques and the office on the Rua dos Douradores, and the monotony of my daily lifewill be like the remembrance of the loves that never came my way and the triumphs that weren’t to be mine.
Vasques – the boss. I see him today from that future as I see him today from right here: medium height, stocky, a bit coarse but affectionate, frank and savvy, brusque and affable, a boss not only in his handling of money but also in his unhurried hands, in their thick hair and veins that look like small coloured muscles, in his full but not fat neck, and in his ruddy and taut cheeks with their dark, always close-shaven whiskers. I see him, I see his energetically deliberate gestures, his eyes thinking within about things outside. It displeases me when I’ve somehow displeased him, and my soul rejoices when he smiles, with his broad and human smile, like an applauding crowd.
Perhaps the lack of some more distinguished figure in my immediate world explains why Senor Vasques, a common and even brutish man, sometimes gets so enmeshed in my thoughts that I forget myself. I believe there’s a symbol here. I believe or almost believe that somewhere, in a remote life, this man was something much more important to me than he is today.
Ah, I understand! Vasques my boss is Life – monotonous and necessary, imperious and inscrutable Life. This banal man represents the banality of Life. For me he is everything, externally speaking, because for me Life is whatever is external.
And if the office on the Rua dos Douradores represents life for me, the fourth-floor room* where I live, on this same Rua dos Douradores, represents Art for me. Yes, Art, residing on the very same street as Life, but in a different place. Art, which gives me relief from life without relieving me of living, being as monotonous as life itself, only in a different place. Yes, for me the Rua dos Douradores contains the meaning of everything and the answer to all riddles, except for the riddle of why riddles exist, which can never be answered.10
Futile and sensitive, I’m capable of violent and consuming impulses – both good and bad, noble and vile – but never of a sentiment that endures, never of an emotion that continues, entering into the substance of my soul. Everything in me tends to go on to become something else. My soul is impatient with itself, as with a bothersome child; its restlessness keeps growing and is forever the same. Everything interests me, but nothing holds me. I attend to everything, dreaming all the while. I note the slightest facial movements of the person I’m talking with, I record the subtlest inflections of his utterances; but I hear without listening, I’m thinking of something else, and what I least catch in the conversation is the sense of what was said, by me or by him. And so I often repeat to someone what I’ve already repeated, or ask him again what he’s already answered. But I’m able to describe, in four photographic words, the facial muscles he used to say what I don’t recall, or the way he listened with his eyes to the words I don’t remember telling him. I’m two, and both keep their distance – Siamese twins that aren’t attached.11LITANY
We never know self-realization.
We are two abysses – a well staring at the sky.12
I envy – but I’m not sure that I envy – those for whom a biography could be written, or who could write their own. In these random impressions, and with no desire to be other than random, I indifferentlynarrate my factless autobiography, my lifeless history. These are my Confessions, and if in them I say nothing, it’s because I have nothing to say.
What is there to confess that’s worthwhile or useful? What has happened to us has happened to everyone or only to us; if to everyone, then it’s no novelty, and if only to us, then it won’t be understood. If I write what I feel, it’s to reduce the fever of feeling. What I confess is unimportant, because everything is unimportant. I make landscapes out of what I feel. I make holidays of my sensations. I can easily understand women who embroider out of sorrow or who crochet because life exists. My elderly aunt would play solitaire throughout the endless evening. These confessions of what I feel are my solitaire. I don’t interpret them like those who read cards to tell the future. I don’t probe them, because in solitaire the cards don’t have any special significance. I unwind myself like a multicoloured skein, or I make string figures of myself, like those woven on spread fingers and passed from child to child. I take care only that my thumb not miss its loop. Then I turn over my hand and the figure changes. And I start over.
To live is to crochet according to a pattern we were given. But while doing it the mind is at liberty, and all enchanted princes can stroll in their parks between one and another plunge of the hooked ivory needle. Needlework of things… Intervals… Nothing…
Besides, what can I expect from myself? My sensations in all their horrible acuity, and a profound awareness of feeling… A sharp mind that only destroys me, and an unusual capacity for dreaming to keep me entertained… A dead will and a reflection that cradles it, like a living child… Yes, crochet…13
My deplorable condition isn’t in the least affected by these words I join together to form, little by little, my haphazard book of musings. My worthless self lives on at the bottom of every expression, like an indissoluble residue at the bottom of a glass from which only water was drunk. I write my literature as I write my ledger entries – carefully andindifferently. Next to the vast starry sky and the enigma of so many souls, the night of the unknown abyss and the chaos of nothing making sense – next to all this, what I write in the ledger and what I write on this paper that tells my soul are equally confined to the Rua dos Douradores, woefully little in the face of the universe’s millionaire expanses.
All of this is dream and phantasmagoria, and it matters little whether the dream be of ledger entries or of well-crafted prose. Does dreaming of princesses serve a better purpose than dreaming of the front door to the office? All that we know is our own impression, and all that we are is an exterior impression, a melodrama in which we, the self-aware actors, are also our own spectators, our own gods by permission of some department or other at City Hall.14
We may know that the work we continue to put off doing will be bad. Worse, however, is the work we never do. A work that’s finished is at least finished. It may be poor, but it exists, like the miserable plant in the lone flowerpot of my neighbour who’s crippled. That plant is her happiness, and sometimes it’s even mine. What I write, bad as it is, may provide some hurt or sad soul a few moments of distraction from something worse. That’s enough for me, or it isn’t enough, but it serves some purpose, and so it is with all of life.
A tedium that includes the expectation of nothing but more tedium; a regret, right now, for the regret I’ll have tomorrow for having felt regret today – huge confusions with no point and no truth, huge confusions…
…where, curled up on a bench in a railway station, my contempt dozes in the cloak of my discouragement…
…the world of dreamed images which are the sum of my knowledge as well as of my life…
To heed the present moment isn’t a great or lasting concern of mine. I crave time in all its duration, and I want to be myself unconditionally.15
Inch by inch I conquered the inner terrain I was born with. Bit by bit I reclaimed the swamp in which I’d languished. I gave birth to my infinite being, but I had to wrench myself out of me with forceps.16
I daydream between Cascais* and Lisbon. I went to Cascais to pay a property tax for my boss, Senhor Vasques, on a house he owns in Estoril.* I took anticipated pleasure in the trip, an hour each way in which to enjoy the forever changing views of the wide river and its Atlantic estuary. But on actually going out there, I lost myself in abstract contemplations, seeing but not seeing the riverscapes I’d looked forward to seeing, while on the way back I lost myself in mentally nailing down those sensations. I wouldn’t be able to describe the slightest detail of the trip, the slightest scrap of what there was to see. What I got out of it are these pages, the fruit of contradiction and forgetting. I don’t know if this is better or worse than the contrary, nor do I know what the contrary is.
The train slows down, we’re at Cais do Sodré.* I’ve arrived at Lisbon, but not at a conclusion.17
Perhaps it’s finally time for me to make this one effort: to take a good look at my life. I see myself in the midst of a vast desert. I tell what I literarily was yesterday, and I try to explain to myself how I got here.18
With merely a kind of smile in my soul, I passively consider the definitive confinement of my life to the Rua dos Douradores, to this office, to the people who surround me. An income sufficient for food and drink, a roof over my head, and a little free time in which to dream and write, to sleep – what more can I ask of the Gods or expect from Destiny?
I’ve had great ambitions and boundless dreams, but so has the delivery boy* or the seamstress, because everyone has dreams. What distinguishes certain of us is our capacity for fulfilling them, or our destiny that they be fulfilled.
In dreams I am equal to the delivery boy and the seamstress. I differ from them only in knowing how to write. Yes, writing is an act, a personal circumstance that distinguishes me from them. But in my soul I’m their equal.
I realize that there are islands to the South and great cosmopolitan attractions and.....
If I had the world in my hand, I’m quite sure I would trade it for a ticket to Rua dos Douradores.
Perhaps my destiny is to remain forever a bookkeeper, with poetry or literature as a butterfly that alights on my head, making me look ridiculous to the extent it looks beautiful.
I’ll miss Moreira, but what’s that next to a glorious promotion?
I know that the day I become head bookkeeper of Vasques & Co. will be one of the great days of my life. I know it with foretasted bitterness and irony, but also with the intellectual advantage of certainty.19
In the cove on the seashore, among the woods and meadows that fronted the beach, the fickleness of inflamed desire rose out of the uncertainty of the blank abyss. To choose the wheat or to choose the many [sic] was all the same, and the distance kept going, through cypress trees.
The magic power of words in isolation, or joined together on the basis of sound, with inner reverberations and divergent meanings even as they converge, the splendour of phrases inserted between the meanings of other phrases, the virulence of vestiges, the hope of the woods, and the absolute peacefulness of the ponds on the farms of my childhood of ruses… And so, within the high walls of absurd audacity, in the rows of trees and in the startled tremors of what withers, someone other than me would hear from sad lips the confession denied to more insistent parties. Never again, not even if the knights were to come back on the road that was visible from the top of the wall, would there be peace in the Castle of the Last Souls, where lances jangled in the unseen courtyard, nor would any other name on this side of the road be remembered but the one which at night would enchant, like the Moorish ladies of folklore,* the child who later died to life and to wonder.
Over the furrows in the grass, like remembrances of what was to come, the treading of the last lost men sounded ever so lightly, their dragging steps opening nothings in the restless greenery. Those who would come were bound to be old, and only the young would never arrive. The drums rumbled on the roadside, and the bugles hung uselessly from exhausted arms that would have dropped them if they still had strength enough to drop something.
But when the illusion was over, the dead clamour sounded yet again, and the dogs could be seen nervously hesitating on the tree-lined paths. It was all absurd, like mourning the dead, and princesses from other people’s dreams strolled about freely and indefinitely.20
Whenever I’ve tried to free my life from a set of the circumstances that continuously oppress it, I’ve been instantly surrounded by other circumstances of the same order, as if the inscrutable web of creation were irrevocably at odds with me. I yank from my neck a hand that was choking me, and I see that my own hand is tied to a noose that fell around my neck when I freed it from the stranger’s hand. When I gingerly remove the noose, it’s with my own hands that I nearly strangle myself.21
Whether or not they exist, we’re slaves to the gods.22
The image of myself I saw in mirrors is the same one I hold against the bosom of my soul. I could never be anything but frail and hunched over, even in my thoughts.
Everything about me belongs to a glossy prince pasted, along with other decals, in the old album of a little boy who died long ago.
To love myself is to feel sorry for myself. Perhaps one day, towards the end of the future, someone will write a poem about me, and I’ll begin to reign in my Kingdom.
God is the fact that we exist and that’s not all.23ABSURDITY
Let’s act like sphinxes, however falsely, until we reach the point of no longer knowing who we are. For we are, in fact, false sphinxes, with no idea of what we are in reality. The only way to be in agreement with life is to disagree with ourselves. Absurdity is divine.
Let’s develop theories, patiently and honestly thinking them out, in order to promptly act against them – acting and justifying our actions with new theories that condemn them. Let’s cut a path in life and then go immediately against that path. Let’s adopt all the poses and gestures of something we aren’t and don’t wish to be, and don’t even wish to be taken for being.
Let’s buy books so as not to read them; let’s go to concerts without caring to hear the music or to see who’s there; let’s take long walks because we’re sick of walking; and let’s spend whole days in the country, just because it bores us.24
Today, feeling almost physically ill because of that age-old anxiety which sometimes wells up, I ate and drank rather less than usual in the first-floor dining room of the restaurant responsible for perpetuating my existence. And as I was leaving, the waiter, having noted that the bottle of wine was still half full, turned to me and said: ‘So long, Senhor Soares, and I hope you feel better.’
The trumpet blast of this simple phrase relieved my soul like a sudden wind clearing the sky of clouds. And I realized something I had never really thought about: with these café and restaurant waiters, with barbers and with the delivery boys on street corners I enjoy a natural, spontaneous rapport that I can’t say I have with those I supposedly know more intimately.
Camaraderie has its subtleties.
Some govern the world, others are the world. Between an American millionaire, a Caesar or Napoleon, or Lenin, and the Socialist leader of a small town, there’s a difference in quantity but not of quality. Below them there’s us, the unnoticed: the reckless playwright William Shakespeare, John Milton the schoolteacher, Dante Alighieri the tramp, the delivery boy who ran an errand for me yesterday, the barber who tells me jokes, and the waiter who just now demonstrated his camaraderie by wishing me well, after noticing I’d drunk only half the wine.
It’s a hopelessly bad lithograph. I stare at it without knowing if I see it. It’s one among others in the shop window – in the middle of the window under the steps.
She holds Spring against her breast and stares at me with sad eyes. Her smile shines, because the paper’s glossy, and her cheeks are red. The sky behind her is the colour of light blue cloth. She has a sculpted, almost tiny mouth, and above its postcard expression her eyes keep staring at me with an enormous sorrow. The arm holding the flowers reminds me of someone else’s. Her dress or blouse has a low neck that reveals one shoulder. Her eyes are genuinely sad: they stare at me from the depth of the lithographic reality with a truth of some sort. She came with Spring. Her eyes are large, but that’s not what makes them sad. I tear myself from the window with violent steps. I cross the street and turn around with impotent indignation. She still holds the Spring she was given, and her eyes are sad like all the things in life I’ve missed out on. Seen from a distance, the lithograph turns out to be more colourful. The figure’s hair is tied at the top by a pinker than pink ribbon; I hadn’t noticed. In human eyes, even in lithographic ones, there’s something terrible: the inevitable warning of consciousness, the silent shout that there’s a soul there. With a huge effort I pull out of the sleep in which I was steeped, and like a dog I shake off the drops of dark fog. Oblivious to my departure, as if bidding farewell to something else, those sad eyes of the whole of life – of this metaphysicallithograph that we observe from a distance – stare at me as if I knew something of God. The print, which has a calendar at the bottom, is framed above and below by two flatly curved, badly painted black strips. Within these upper and lower limits, above 1929 and an outmoded calligraphic vignette adorning the inevitable 1st of January, the sad eyes ironically smile at me.
Funny where I knew that figure from. In the corner at the back of the office there’s an identical calendar which I’ve seen countless times, but due to some lithographic mystery, or some mystery of my own, the eyes of the office copy express no sorrow. It’s just a lithograph. (Printed on glossy paper, it sleeps away its subdued life above the head of left-handed Alves.)
All of this makes me want to smile, but I feel a profound anxiety. I feel the chill of a sudden sickness in my soul. I don’t have the strength to balk at this absurdity. What window overlooking what secret of God am I confronting against my will? Where does the window under the stairs lead to? What eyes stared at me from out of the lithograph? I’m practically trembling. I involuntarily raise my eyes to the far corner of the office where the real lithograph is. I keep raising my eyes to that corner of the office where the real lithograph is. I keep raising my eyes to that corner.26
To give each emotion a personality, a heart to each state of the heart!
The girls came around the bend in a large group. They sang as they walked, and the sound of their voices was happy. I don’t know who or what they might be. I listened to them for a time from afar, without a feeling of my own, but a feeling of sorrow for them impressed itself on my heart.
For their future? For their unconsciousness?
Not directly for them, and perhaps, after all, only for me.27
Literature – which is art married to thought, and realization untainted by reality – seems to me the end towards which all human effort would have to strive, if it were truly human and not just a welling up of our animal self. To express something is to conserve its virtue and take away its terror. Fields are greener in their description than in their actual greenness. Flowers, if described with phrases that define them in the air of the imagination, will have colours with a durability not found in cellular life.
What moves lives. What is said endures. There’s nothing in life that’s less real for having been well described. Small-minded critics point out that such-and-such poem, with its protracted cadences, in the end says merely that it’s a nice day. But to say it’s a nice day is difficult, and the nice day itself passes on. It’s up to us to conserve the nice day in a wordy, florid memory, sprinkling new flowers and new stars over the fields and skies of the empty, fleeting outer world.
Everything is what we are, and everything will be, for those who come after us in the diversity of time, what we will have intensely imagined – what we, that is, by embodying our imagination, will have actually been. The grand, tarnished panorama of History amounts, as I see it, to a flow of interpretations, a confused consensus of unreliable eyewitness accounts. The novelist is all of us, and we narrate whenever we see, because seeing is complex like everything.
Right now I have so many fundamental thoughts, so many truly metaphysical things to say that I suddenly feel tired, and I’ve decided to write no more, think no more. I’ll let the fever of saying put me to sleep instead, and with closed eyes I’ll stroke, as if petting a cat, all that I might have said.28
A breath of music or of a dream, of something that would make me almost feel, something that would make me not think.29
After the last drops of rain began to fall more slowly from the rooftops and the sky’s blue began to spread over the street’s paving-stones, then the vehicles sang a different song, louder and happier, and windows could be heard opening up to the no longer forgetful sun. From the narrow street at the end of the next block came the loud invitation of the first seller of lottery tickets, and nails being nailed into crates in the shop opposite reverberated in the limpid space.
It was an ambiguous holiday, official but not strictly observed. Work and repose coexisted, and I had nothing to do. I’d woken up early, and I took a long time getting ready to exist. I paced from one side of the room to the other, dreaming out loud incoherent and impossible things – deeds I’d forgotten to do, hopeless ambitions haphazardly realized, fluid and lively conversations which, were they to be, would already have been. And in this reverie without grandeur or calm, in this hopeless and endless dallying, I paced away my free morning, and my words – said out loud in a low voice – multiplied in the echoing cloister of my inglorious isolation.
Seen from the outside, my human figure was ridiculous like everything human in its intimacy. Over the pyjamas of my abandoned sleep I’d put on an old overcoat, habitually employed for these morning vigils. My old slippers were falling apart, especially the left one. And with my hands in the pockets of my posthumous coat, I strolled down the avenue of my small room in broad and decisive steps, playing out in my useless reverie a dream no different from anybody else’s.
Through the open coolness of my only window, thick drops of leftover rain could still be heard falling from the rooftops. It was still somewhat moist and cool from having rained. The sky, however, was triumphantly blue, and the clouds that remained from the defeated or tired rain retreated behind the Castle, surrendering to the sky its rightful paths.
It was an occasion to be happy. But something weighed on me, some inscrutable yearning, an indefinable and perhaps even noble desire. Perhaps it was just taking me a long time to feel alive. And when I leaned out my high window, looking down at the street I couldn’t see,I suddenly felt like one of those damp rags used for house-cleaning that are taken to the window to dry but are forgotten, balled up, on the sill where they slowly leave a stain.30
Sadly, or perhaps not, I recognize that I have an arid heart. An adjective matters more to me than the real weeping of a human soul. My master Vieira*.....
But sometimes I’m different. Sometimes I have the warm tears of those who don’t have and never had a mother; and the eyes that burn with these dead tears burn inside my heart.
I don’t remember my mother. She died when I was one year old. My distracted and callous sensibility comes from the lack of that warmth and from my useless longing after kisses I don’t remember. I’m artificial. It was always against strange breasts that I woke up, cuddled as if by proxy.
Ah, it’s my longing for whom I might have been that distracts and torments me! Who would I be now if I’d received the affection that comes from the womb and is placed, through kisses, on a baby’s face?
Perhaps my regret for having never been a son plays a large role in my emotional indifference. Whoever held me as a child against her face couldn’t hold me against her heart. Only she who was far away, in a tomb, could have done that – she who would have belonged to me, had Fate willed it.
They told me later on that my mother was pretty, and they say that, when they told me, I made no comment. I was already fit in body and soul, but ignorant about emotions, and people’s speech was not yet news from other, hard-to-imagine pages.
My father, who lived far away, killed himself when I was three, and so I never met him. I still don’t know why he lived far away. I never cared to find out. I remember his death as a grave silence during the first meals we ate after learning about it. I remember that the others would occasionally look at me. And I would look back, dumblycomprehending. Then I’d eat with more concentration, since they might, when I wasn’t looking, still be looking at me.
I’m all of these things, like it or not, in the confused depths of my fatal sensibility.31
The clock in the back of the deserted house (everyone’s sleeping) slowly lets the clear quadruple sound of four o’clock in the morning fall. I still haven’t fallen asleep, and I don’t expect to. There’s nothing on my mind to keep me from sleeping and no physical pain to prevent me from relaxing, but the dull silence of my strange body just lies there in the darkness, made even more desolate by the feeble moonlight of the street lamps. I’m so sleepy I can’t even think, so sleepless I can’t feel.
Everything around me is the naked, abstract universe, consisting of nocturnal negations. Divided between tired and restless, I succeed in touching – with the awareness of my body – a metaphysical knowledge of the mystery of things. Sometimes my soul starts fading, and then the random details of daily life float on the surface of consciousness, and I find myself entering amounts while floundering in sleeplessness. At other times I wake up from the half-sleep I’d fallen into, and hazy images with poetical and unpredictable colours play out their silent show to my inattention. My eyes aren’t completely closed. My faint vision is fringed by a light from far away; it’s from the street lamps that border the deserted street down below.
To cease, to sleep, to replace this intermittent consciousness with better, melancholy things, whispered in secret to someone who doesn’t know me!… To cease, to be the ebb and flow of a vast sea, fluidly skirting real shores, on a night in which one really sleeps!… To cease, to be unknown and external, a swaying of branches in distant rows of trees, a gentle falling of leaves, their sound noted more than their fall, the ocean spray of far-off fountains, and all the uncertainty of parks at night, lost in endless tangles, natural labyrinths of darkness!… To cease, to end at last, but surviving as something else: the page of abook, a tuft of dishevelled hair, the quiver of the creeping plant next to a half-open window, the irrelevant footsteps in the gravel of the bend, the last smoke to rise from the village going to sleep, the wagoner’s whip left on the early morning roadside… Absurdity, confusion, oblivion – everything that isn’t life…
In my own way I sleep, without slumber or repose, this vegetative life of imagining, and the distant reflection of the silent street lamps, like the quiet foam of a dirty sea, hovers behind my restless eyebrows.
I sleep and unsleep.
Behind me, on the other side of where I’m lying down, the silence of the house touches infinity. I hear time fall, drop by drop, and not one drop that falls can be heard. My physical heart is physically oppressed by the almost forgotten memory of all that has been or that I’ve been. I feel my head materially supported by the pillow in which it makes a valley. My skin and the skin of the pillowcase are like two people touching in the shadows. Even the ear on which I’m lying mathematically engraves itself on my brain. I blink with fatigue, and my eyelashes make an infinitesimal, inaudible sound against the felt whiteness of the pillow’s slope. I breathe, sighing, and my breathing happens – it isn’t mine. I suffer without feeling or thinking. The house’s clock, definitely located in the midst of the infinite, strikes the half hour, dry and void. Everything is so full, so deep, so black and so cold!
I pass times, I pass silences; formless worlds pass by me.
Like a child of Mystery, a cock suddenly crows, unaware that it’s night-time. I can sleep, for it’s morning in me. And I feel my mouth smile, slightly displacing the soft pleats of the pillowcase pressed against my face. I can surrender to life, I can sleep, I can forget myself… And as incipient slumber wraps me in darkness, either I remember the cock that crowed, or it is the cock itself that crows a second time.32SYMPHONY OF ARESTLESSNIGHT
Everything was sleeping as if the universe were a mistake. The wind, blowing uncertainly, was a formless flag unfurled over a non-existent army post. High, strong gusts ripped through nothing at all, and the window-frames shook their panes to make the edges rattle. Underlying everything, the hushed night was the tomb of God* (and my soul felt sorry for God).
Suddenly a new order of universal things acted on the city, the wind whistled in its lulls, and there was a slumbering awareness of countless agitations on high. Then the night closed like a trapdoor, and a vast calm made me wish I’d been sleeping.33
During the first days of Autumn when nightfall arrives suddenly, as if prematurely, and it seems we took longer to do our day’s work, I enjoy, while still working, the thought of not working which the darkness brings, for the darkness is night, and night means sleep, home, freedom. When the lights come on, dispelling darkness from the large office, and we continue our day’s work in the beginning of night, I feel a comfort that’s absurd, like a remembrance belonging to someone else, and I’m at peace with the numbers I write, as if I were reading while waiting to fall asleep.
We’re all slaves of external circumstances. A sunny day transports us from a café on a narrow side street to wide-open fields; an overcast sky in the country makes us close up, taking shelter as best we can in the house without doors of our own self; the onset of night, even in the midst of daytime activities, enlarges – like a slowly opening fan – our awareness that we ought to rest.
But the work doesn’t slow down; it gets livelier. We no longer work; we amuse ourselves with the labour to which we’re condemned. Andall of a sudden, across the huge columned sheet of my numerary destiny, the old house of my elderly aunts, shut off from the world, shelters the drowsy ten o’clock tea, and the kerosene lamp of my lost childhood, glowing only on the linen-covered table, blinds me to the sight of Moreira, illuminated by a black electricity infinities away from me. The maid, who is even older than my aunts, brings in the tea, along with the vestiges of her interrupted nap and the affectionately patient grumpiness of old-time servants, and across all my dead past I enter items and totals without a single mistake. I retreat into myself, get lost in myself, forget myself in far-away nights uncontaminated by duty and the world, undefiled by mystery and the future.
And so gentle is the sensation that estranges me from debits and credits that if by chance I’m asked a question, I answer in a soft voice, as if my being were hollow, as if it were nothing more than a typewriter I carry around with me – portable, opened and ready. It doesn’t faze me when my dreams are interrupted; they’re so gentle that I keep dreaming them as I speak, write, answer, or even discuss. And through it all the long-lost tea finishes, the office is going to close… From the ledger which I slowly shut I raise my eyes, sore from the tears they didn’t shed, and with confused feelings I accept, because I must, that with the closing of my office my dream also closes; that as my hand shuts the ledger it also pulls a veil over my irretrievable past; that I’m going to life’s bed wide awake, unaccompanied and without peace, in the ebb and flow of my confused consciousness, like two tides in the black night where the destinies of nostalgia and desolation meet.34
Sometimes I think I’ll never leave the Rua dos Douradores. And having written this, it seems to me eternity.
Not pleasure, not glory, not power… Freedom, only freedom.
To go from the phantoms of faith to the ghosts of reason is merely to change cells. Art, if it frees us from the abstract idols of old, shouldalso free us from magnanimous ideas and social concerns, which are likewise idols.
To find our personality by losing it – faith itself endorses this destiny.35
… and a deep and weary disdain for all those who work for mankind, for all those who fight for their country and give their lives so that civilization may continue…
… a disdain full of disgust for those who don’t realize that the only reality is each man’s soul, and that everything else – the exterior world and other people – is but an unaesthetic nightmare, like the result, in dreams, of a mental indigestion.
My aversion to effort becomes an almost writhing horror before all forms of violent effort. War, energetic and productive labour, helping others – all this strikes me as the product of an impertinence.....
Everything useful and external tastes frivolous and trivial in the light of my soul’s supreme reality and next to the pure sovereign splendour of my more original and frequent dreams. These, for me, are more real.36
It’s not the cracked walls of my rented room, nor the shabby desks in the office where I work, nor the poverty of the same old downtown streets in between, which I’ve crossed and recrossed so many times they seem to have assumed the immobility of the irreparable – none of that is responsible for my frequent feeling of nausea over the squalor of daily life. It’s the people who habitually surround me, the souls who know me through conversation and daily contact without knowing me at all – they’re the ones who cause a salivary knot of physical disgust to form in my throat. It’s the sordid monotony of their lives,outwardly parallel to my own, and their keen awareness that I’m their fellow man – that is what dresses me in a convict’s clothes, places me in a jail cell, and makes me apocryphal and beggarly.
There are times when each detail of the ordinary interests me for its own sake, and I feel a fondness for things, because I can read them clearly. Then I see – as Vieira* said that Sousa,* in his descriptions, saw – the ordinary in its singularity, and I have the poetic soul that inspired the intellectual age of poetry among the Greeks. But there are also moments, such as the one that oppresses me now, when I feel my own self far more than I feel external things, and everything transforms into a night of rain and mud where, lost in the solitude of an out-of-the-way station, I wait interminably for the next third-class train.
Yes, my particular virtue of being very often objective, and thus sidetracked from thinking about myself, suffers lapses of affirmation, as do all virtues and even all vices. And I start to wonder how I’m able to go on, how I dare have the faint-heartedness to be here among these people, exactly like them, in true conformity to their shoddy illusion. Like flashes from a distant lighthouse, I see all the solutions offered by the imagination’s female side: flight, suicide, renunciation, grandiose acts of our aristocratic self-awareness, the swashbuckling novel of existences without balconies.
But the ideal Juliet of the best possible reality closed the high window of the literary encounter on the fictitious Romeo of my blood. She obeys her father; he obeys his. The feud between the Montagues and the Capulets continues, the curtain falls on what didn’t happen, and I go on home – to my rented room where I loathe the landlady who isn’t home, her children I hardly ever see, and the people from the office that I’ll see only tomorrow – with the collar of a clerk’s coat turned up without astonishment over the neck of a poet, with my boots (always purchased in the same shop) automatically avoiding the puddles of cold rain, and with a bit of mixed concern, for having once more forgotten my umbrella and the dignity of my soul.*37DOLOROUSINTERLUDE
An object tossed into a corner, a rag that fell on to the road, my contemptible being feigns to the world.38
I envy all people, because I’m not them. Since this always seemed to me like the most impossible of all impossibilities, it’s what I yearned for every day, and despaired of in every sad moment.
A dull blast of grim sunlight burned my eyes’ physical sensation of seeing. A hot yellow languished in the black green of the trees. The torpor .....39
All of a sudden, as if a surgical hand of destiny had operated on a long-standing blindness with immediate and sensational results, I lift my gaze from my anonymous life to the clear recognition of how I live. And I see that everything I’ve done, thought or been is a species of delusion or madness. I’m amazed by what I managed not to see. I marvel at all that I was and that I now see I’m not.
I look at my past life as at a field lit up by the sun when it breaks through the clouds, and I note with metaphysical astonishment how my most deliberate acts, my clearest ideas and my most logical intentions were after all no more than congenital drunkenness, inherent madness and huge ignorance. I didn’t even act anything out. I was the role that got acted. At most, I was the actor’s motions.
All that I’ve done, thought or been is a series of submissions, either to a false self that I assumed belonged to me because I expressed myselfthrough it to the outside, or to a weight of circumstances that I supposed was the air I breathed. In this moment of seeing, I suddenly find myself isolated, an exile where I’d always thought I was a citizen. At the heart of my thoughts I wasn’t I.
I’m dazed by a sarcastic terror of life, a despondency that exceeds the limits of my conscious being. I realize that I was all error and deviation, that I never lived, that I existed only in so far as I filled time with consciousness and thought. I feel, in this moment, like a man who wakes up after a slumber full of real dreams, or like a man freed by an earthquake from the dim light of the prison he’d grown used to.
This sudden awareness of my true being, of this being that has always sleepily wandered between what it feels and what it sees, weighs on me like an untold sentence to serve.
It’s so hard to describe what I feel when I feel I really exist and my soul is a real entity that I don’t know what human words could define it. I don’t know if I have a fever, as I feel I do, or if I’ve stopped having the fever of sleeping through life. Yes, I repeat, I’m like a traveller who suddenly finds himself in a strange town, without knowing how he got there, which makes me think of those who lose their memory and for a long time are not themselves but someone else. I was someone else for a long time – since birth and consciousness – and suddenly I’ve woken up in the middle of a bridge, leaning over the river and knowing that I exist more solidly than the person I was up till now. But the city is unknown to me, the streets are new, and the trouble has no cure. And so, leaning over the bridge, I wait for the truth to go away and let me return to being fictitious and non-existent, intelligent and natural.
It was just a brief moment, and it’s already over. Once more I see the furniture all around me, the pattern on the old wallpaper, and the sun through the dusty panes. I saw the truth for a moment. For a moment I was consciously what great men are their entire lives. I recall their words and deeds and wonder if they were also successfully tempted by the Demon of Reality. To know nothing about yourself is to live. To know yourself badly is to think. To know yourself in a flash, as I did in this moment, is to have a fleeting notion of the intimate monad, the soul’s magic word. But that sudden light scorches everything, consumes everything. It strips us naked of even ourselves.
It was just a moment, and I saw myself. I can no longer even saywhat I was. And now I’m sleepy, because I think – I don’t know why – that the meaning of it all is to sleep.40
Sometimes I feel, I’m not sure why, a touch of foretold death… Perhaps it’s an indefinite sickness which, because it doesn’t materialize in pain, tends to become spiritualized in nothingness, the end. Or perhaps it’s a weariness that needs a slumber far deeper than sleeping affords. All I know is that I feel like a sick man who has been getting steadily worse, until at last he calmly and without regret extends his feeble hands over the bedspread he had been clutching.
And then I wonder what this thing is that we call death. I don’t mean the mystery of death, which I can’t begin to fathom, but the physical sensation of ceasing to live. Humanity is afraid of death, but indecisively. The normal man makes a good soldier in combat; the normal man, when sick or old, rarely looks with horror at the abyss of nothing, though he admits its nothingness. This is because he lacks imagination. And nothing is less worthy of a thinking man than to see death as a slumber. Why a slumber, if death doesn’t resemble sleep? Basic to sleep is the fact we wake up from it, as we presumably do not from death. If death resembles sleep, we should suppose that we wake up from it, but this is not what the normal man imagines; he imagines death as a slumber no one wakes up from, which means nothing. Death doesn’t resemble slumber, I said, since in slumber one is alive and sleeping, and I don’t know how death can resemble anything at all for us, since we have no experience of it, nor anything to compare it to.
Whenever I see a dead body, death seems to me a departure. The corpse looks to me like a suit that was left behind. Someone went away and didn’t need to take the one and only outfit he’d worn.41
Silence emerges from the sound of the rain and spreads in a crescendo of grey monotony over the narrow street I contemplate. I’m sleeping while awake, standing by the window, leaning against it as against everything. I search in myself for the sensations I feel before these falling threads of darkly luminous water that stand out from the grimy building façades and especially from the open windows. And I don’t know what I feel or what I want to feel. I don’t know what to think or what I am.
All the pent-up bitterness of my life removes, before my sensationless eyes, the suit of natural happiness it wears in the random events that fill up each day. I realize that, while often happy and often cheerful, I’m always sad. And the part of me that realizes this is behind me, as if bent over my leaning self at the window, as if looking over my shoulder or even over my head to contemplate, with eyes more intimate than my own, the slow and now wavy rain which filigrees the grey and inclement air.
To shrug off all duties, even those not assigned to us, to repudiate all homes, even those that weren’t ours, to live off vestiges and the ill-defined, in grand purple robes of madness and in counterfeit laces of dreamed majesties… To be something, anything, that doesn’t feel the weight of the rain outside, nor the anguish of inner emptiness… To wander without thought or soul – sensation without sensation – along mountain roads and through valleys hidden between steep slopes, into the far distance, irrevocably immersed… To be lost in landscapes like paintings… A coloured non-existence in the background…
A light gust of wind, which I can’t feel on this side of the window, breaks the even fall of rain into aerial discrepancies. A part of the sky hidden from view is clearing. I notice this because I can now make out the calendar on the wall through the less than clean window that faces my own.
I forget. I don’t see. I don’t think.
The rain stops, and for a moment a fine dust of miniature diamonds hangs in the air, like tiny crumbs from an enormous tablecloth bluelyshaken on high. I can feel that part of the sky has cleared. I can see more distinctly the calendar through the window opposite. It has a woman’s face, and the rest is easy because I remember it, and the toothpaste is the brand everyone knows.
But what was I thinking about before I got lost in seeing? I don’t know. Effort? Will? Life? A huge onslaught of light reveals a now almost entirely blue sky. But there is no peace – ah, there will never be! – at the bottom of my heart, an old well in a corner of the farm that was sold, a dust-coated memory of childhood shut up in the attic of someone else’s house. I have no peace, nor even – alas! – the desire to have it…42
Only as a lack of personal hygiene can I understand my wallowing in this flat, invariable life I lead, this dust or filth stuck on the surface of never changing.*
We should wash our destiny the way we wash our body, and change life the way we change clothes – not to preserve life, as when we eat and sleep, but out of objective respect for ourselves, which is what personal hygiene is all about.
There are many people whose lack of hygiene is not a chosen condition but a shrugging of the intellect’s shoulders. And there are many whose dullness and sameness of life is not what they wanted for their life, nor the result of not having wanted any life, but just a dulling of their own self-awareness, a spontaneous irony of the intellect.
There are pigs repelled by their own filth that don’t draw away from it because the feeling of repulsion is so strong it paralyses, as when a frightened man freezes instead of fleeing the danger. There are pigs like me that wallow in their destiny, not drawing away from the banality of daily life because they’re enthralled by their own impotence. They’re like birds captivated by the thought of the snake, like flies that hover around branches without seeing a thing, until they’re within the sticky reach of the chameleon’s tongue.
In a similar sort of way, I promenade my conscious unconsciousnessalong my tree branch of the usual. I promenade my destiny that goes forward, though I don’t go anywhere, and my time that advances, though I stay put. And the only thing that alleviates my monotony are these brief commentaries I make with respect to it. I’m grateful that my cell has windows inside the bars, and on the dust of the necessary that covers the panes I write my name in capital letters, my daily signature on my covenant with death.
With death? No, not even with death. Whoever lives like me doesn’t die: he terminates, wilts, devegetates. The place where he was remains without him being there; the street where he walked remains without him being seen on it; the house where he lived is inhabited by not-him. That’s all, and we call it nothing; but not even this tragedy of negation can be staged to applause, for we don’t even know for sure if it’s nothing, we, these vegetable manifestations of both truth and life, dust on both the outside and the inside of the panes, grandchildren of Destiny and stepchildren of God, who married Eternal Night when she was widowed by the Chaos that fathered us.
To depart from the Rua dos Douradores for the Impossible… To leave my desk for the Unknown… But with this journey intersected by Reason – the Great Book that says we existed.43
The abstract intelligence produces a fatigue that’s the worst of all fatigues. It doesn’t weigh on us like bodily fatigue, nor disconcert like the fatigue of emotional experience. It’s the weight of our consciousness of the world, a shortness of breath in our soul.
Then, as if they were wind-blown clouds, all of the ideas in which we’ve felt life and all the ambitions and plans on which we’ve based our hopes for the future tear apart and scatter like ashes of fog, tatters of what wasn’t nor could ever be. And behind this disastrous rout, the black and implacable solitude of the desolate starry sky appears.
The mystery of life distresses and frightens us in many ways. Sometimes it comes upon us like a formless phantom, and the soul trembleswith the worst of fears – that of the monstrous incarnation of non-being. At other times it’s behind us, visible only as long as we don’t turn around to look at it, and it’s the truth in its profound horror of our never being able to know it.
But the horror that’s destroying me today is less noble and more corrosive. It’s a longing to be free of wanting to have thoughts, a desire to never have been anything, a conscious despair in every cell of my body and soul. It’s the sudden feeling of being imprisoned in an infinite cell. Where can one think of fleeing, if the cell is everything?
And then I feel an overwhelming, absurd desire for a kind of Satanism before Satan, a desire that one day – a day without time or substance – an escape leading outside of God will be discovered, and our deepest selves will somehow cease participating in being and non-being.44
There’s a sleepiness of our conscious attention that I can’t explain but that often attacks me, if something so hazy can be said to attack. I’ll be walking down a street as if I were sitting down, and my attention, although alert to everything, will have the inertia of a body completely at rest. I would be incapable of deliberately stepping aside for an approaching passer-by. I would be incapable of responding with words, or even with thoughts inside my mind, to a question asked me by a random stranger who happened to cross paths with my random presence. I would be incapable of having a desire, a hope, or anything at all representing a movement of my general will or even – if I may so speak – of the partial will belonging to each of my component parts. I would be incapable of thinking, of feeling, of wanting. And I walk, I roam, I keep going. Nothing in my movements (I notice by what others don’t notice) transmits my state of stagnation to the observable plane. And this spiritless state, which would be natural and therefore comfortable in someone lying down or reclining, is singularly uncomfortable, even painful, in a man walking down the street.
It’s like being intoxicated with inertia, drunk but with no enjoymentin the drinking or in the drunkenness. It’s a sickness with no hope of recovery. It’s a lively death.45
To live a dispassionate and cultured life in the open air of ideas, reading, dreaming and thinking of writing – a life so slow it constantly verges on tedium, but pondered enough never to find itself there. To live this life far from emotions and thought, living it only in the thought of emotions and in the emotion of thoughts. To goldenly stagnate in the sun, like a murky pond surrounded by flowers. To possess, in the shade, that nobility of spirit that makes no demands on life. To be in the whirl of the worlds like dust of flowers, sailing through the afternoon air on an unknown wind and falling, in the torpor of dusk, wherever it falls, lost among larger things. To be this with a sure understanding, neither happy nor sad, grateful to the sun for its brilliance and to the stars for their remoteness. To be no more, have no more, want no more… The music of the hungry beggar, the song of the blind man, the relic of the unknown wayfarer, the tracks in the desert of the camel without burden or destination…46
I experience a feeling of inspiration and liberation as I passively reread those simple lines by Caeiro* that tell what naturally results from the smallness of his village. Since it is small, he says, there one can see more of the world than in the city, and so his village is larger than the city…
Because I’m the size of what I seeAnd not the size of my stature.
Lines like these, which seem to spring into being on their own, independently of whoever says them, cleanse me of all the metaphysicsthat I automatically tack on to life. After reading them, I step over to my window overlooking the narrow street, I look at the immense sky and the countless stars, and I’m free, with a winged splendour whose fluttering sends a shiver throughout my body.
‘I’m the size of what I see!’ Each time I think on this phrase with all my nerves, the more it seems destined to redesign the whole starry universe. ‘I’m the size of what I see!’ How large are the mind’s riches, ranging from the well of profound emotions to the distant stars that are reflected in it and so in some sense are there!
And since now I know I can see, I look upon the vast objective metaphysics of all the heavens with a certainty that makes me want to die singing. ‘I’m the size of what I see!’ And the vague moonlight, entirely mine, begins to mar with vagueness the blackish blue horizon.
I want to raise my arms and shout wild and strange things, to speak to the lofty mysteries, to affirm a new and vast personality to the boundless expanses of empty matter.
But I control myself and calm down. ‘I’m the size of what I see!’ And the phrase becomes my entire soul, I rest all my emotions on it, and over me, on the inside, as over the city on the outside, there descends an indecipherable peace from the hard moonlight that broadly begins to shine as the night falls.47
…in the sad disarray of my confused emotions…
A twilight sadness made of fatigue and false renunciations, a tedium of feeling anything at all, a pain as of a choked sob or a discovered truth… A landscape of abdications unfolds in my oblivious soul: walkways lined by abandoned gestures, high flower beds of dreams that weren’t even well dreamed, incongruities like hedges separating deserted paths, suppositions like old pools whose fountains are broken. It all gets entangled and squalidly looms in the sad disarray of my confused sensations.48
To understand, I destroyed myself. To understand is to forget about loving. I know nothing more simultaneously false and telling than the statement by Leonardo da Vinci that we cannot love or hate something until we’ve understood it.
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.49
Isolation has carved me in its image and likeness. The presence of another person – of any person whatsoever – instantly slows down my thinking, and while for a normal man contact with others is a stimulus to spoken expression and wit, for me it is a counterstimulus, if this compound word be linguistically permissible. When all by myself, I can think of all kinds of clever remarks, quick comebacks to what no one said, and flashes of witty sociability with nobody. But all of this vanishes when I face someone in the flesh: I lose my intelligence, I can no longer speak, and after half an hour I just feel tired. Yes, talking to people makes me feel like sleeping. Only my ghostly and imaginary friends, only the conversations I have in my dreams, are genuinely real and substantial, and in them intelligence gleams like an image in a mirror.
The mere thought of having to enter into contact with someone else makes me nervous. A simple invitation to have dinner with a friend produces an anguish in me that’s hard to define. The idea of any social obligation whatsoever – attending a funeral, dealing with someone about an office matter, going to the station to wait for someone I know or don’t know – the very idea disturbs my thoughts for an entire day, and sometimes I even start worrying the night before, so that I sleepbadly. When it takes place, the dreaded encounter is utterly insignificant, justifying none of my anxiety, but the next time is no different: I never learn to learn.
‘My habits are of solitude, not of men.’ I don’t know if it was Rousseau or Senancour who said this. But it was some mind of my species, it being perhaps too much to say of my race.50
A firefly flashes forward at regular intervals. Around me the dark countryside is a huge lack of sound that almost smells pleasant. The peace of all this is painful and oppressive. An amorphous tedium smothers me.
I rarely go to the country, and almost never for a whole day or to spend the night. But since the friend in whose house I’m staying wouldn’t let me turn down his invitation, today I came out here, feeling all embarrassed, like a bashful person going to a big party. I arrived here in good spirits, I’ve enjoyed the fresh air and wide-open landscape, I ate a good lunch and supper, and now, late at night, in my unlit room, the uncertain surroundings fill me with anxiety.
The window of the room where I’m to sleep looks out on to the open field, on to an indefinite field that is all fields, on to the vast and vaguely starry night, in which a breeze that cannot be heard is felt. Sitting next to the window, I contemplate with my senses the nothingness of the universal life outside. There is, at this hour, a disquieting harmony, extending from the visible invisibility of everything to the slightly rough wood of the white sill, where my left hand rests sideways on the old, cracked paint.
And yet how often I’ve longingly envisioned this peace that I would almost flee, if I could do so easily and gracefully! How often back home, among the tall buildings and narrow streets, I’ve supposed that peace, prose and definitive reality would be here among natural things rather than there, where the tablecloth of civilization makes us forget the already painted pine it covers! And now that I’m here, feeling healthy and tired after a good long day, I’m restless, I feel trapped, I’m homesick.
I don’t know if it happens only to me or to everyone who, through civilization, has been born a second time. But for me, and perhaps for other people like me, it seems that what’s artificial has become natural, and what’s natural is now strange. Or rather, it’s not that what’s artificial has become natural; it’s simply that what’s natural has changed. I have no use for motor vehicles. I have no use for the products of science – telephones, telegraphs – which make life easy, nor for its fanciful by-products – phonographs, radios – which make life amusing for those who are amused by such things.
None of that interests me, none of it appeals. But I love the Tagus because of the big city along its shore. I delight in the sky because I see it from the fourth floor on a downtown street. Nothing nature or the country can give me compares with the jagged majesty of the tranquil, moonlit city as seen from Graça or São Pedro de Alcântara.* There are no flowers for me like the variegated colouring of Lisbon on a sunny day.
The beauty of a naked body is only appreciated by cultures that use clothing. Modesty is important for sensuality like resistance for energy.
Artificiality is the best way to enjoy what’s natural. Whatever I’ve enjoyed in these vast fields I’ve enjoyed because I don’t live here. One who has never lived under constraints doesn’t know what freedom is.
Civilization is an education in nature. Artificiality is the path for appreciating what’s natural. We should never, however, take the artificial for the natural.
It’s the harmony between the natural and the artificial that constitutes the natural state of the superior human soul.51
The black sky to the south of the Tagus was an evil-looking black in contrast to the vividly white wings of the gulls that flew around restlessly. But the storm had passed. The huge dark mass that threatened rain had moved to the far shore, and the downtown, still damp from the drizzle that had fallen, smiled from the ground to a sky whosenorthern reaches began to be blue instead of white. The cool spring air felt almost cold.
At empty and imponderable times like this, I like to employ my thoughts in a meditation that’s nothing at all but that captures, in its void transparency, something of the desolate chill in the cleared-up day, with the black sky in the background, and certain intuitions – like seagulls – which evoke by way of contrast the mystery of everything shrouded in darkness.
But suddenly, and contrary to my literary intention, the black depths of the southern sky – by a true or false recollection – evoke for me another sky, perhaps seen in another life, in a North traversed by a smaller river, with sad rushes and no city. I don’t know how, but a landscape made for wild ducks unrolls across my imagination, and with the graphic clarity of a bizarre dream I feel I’m right next to the scene I imagine.
A landscape for hunters and anxieties, with rushes growing along rivers whose jagged banks jut like miniature muddy capes into the lead-yellow waters, then re-enter to form slimy bays for toy-like boats, swampy recesses where water glistens over the sludge that’s hidden between the black-green stalks of rushes too thick to walk through…
The desolation is of a lifeless grey sky, here and there crumpled into clouds with more black in their grey. I don’t feel the wind but it’s there, and the opposite shore turns out to be a long island behind which – great and abandoned river! – the true shore can be glimpsed, lying in the depthless distance.
No one has been there or will ever go there. Even if I could go backwards in time and space, fleeing the world for that landscape, no one would ever join me there. I would wait in vain for what I didn’t know I was waiting for, and in the end there would be nothing but a slow falling of night, with the whole of space gradually turning the colour of the darkest clouds, which little by little would vanish into the abolished mass of sky.
And suddenly, here, I feel the cold from over there. It comes from my bones and makes my flesh shiver. I gasp and wake up. The man who passes me under the arcade by the Stock Exchange stares at me warily, without knowing why. And the black sky, closing in, pressed even lower over the southern shore.52
The wind was rising… First it was like the voice of a vacuum, a sucking of space into a hole, an absence in the air’s silence. Then there was a sobbing, a sobbing from the world’s depths, the realization that the panes were rattling and that it really was the wind. Then it sounded louder, a deafening howl, a disembodied weeping before the deepening night, a screeching of things, a falling of fragments, an atom from the end of the world.
And then it seemed.....53
When Christianity passed over souls like a storm that rages all night until morning, the havoc it had invisibly wreaked could be felt, but only after it had passed did the actual damage become clear. Some thought that the damage resulted from Christianity’s departure, but this was just what revealed the damage, not what caused it.
And so our world of souls was left with this visible damage, this glaring affliction, without the darkness to cloak it with its false affection. Souls were seen for what they were.
In recent times, souls contracted a sickness known as Romanticism, which is Christianity without illusions or myths, stripped to its withered and diseased essence.
The fundamental error of Romanticism is to confuse what we need with what we desire. We all need certain basic things for life’s preservation and continuance; we all desire a more perfect life, complete happiness, the fulfilment of our dreams and .....
It’s human to want what we need, and it’s human to desire what we don’t need but find desirable. Sickness occurs when we desire what we need and what’s desirable with equal intensity, suffering our lack of perfection as if we were suffering for lack of bread. The Romantic malady is to want the moon as if it could actually be obtained.
‘You can’t have your cake and eat it too.’
Whether in the base realm of politics or in the private sanctuary of each man’s soul, the malady is the same.
The pagan didn’t know, in the real world, this sickly dimension of things and of himself. Being human, he also desired the impossible, but he didn’tcraveit. His religion wasand only in the inner sanctum of mystery, only to the initiated, far from the common people and the, was it given to know the transcendental things of religions that fill the soul with the world’s emptiness.54
In my dreams I’ve sometimes tried to be the unique and imposing individual that the Romantics envisaged in themselves, and I always end up laughing out loud at the very idea. The ultimate man exists in the dreams of all ordinary men, and Romanticism is merely the turning inside out of the empire we normally carry around inside us. Nearly all men dream, deep down, of their own mighty imperialism: the subjection of all men, the surrender of all women, the adoration of all peoples and – for the noblest dreamers – of all eras. Few men devoted, like me, to dreaming are lucid enough to laugh at the aesthetic possibility of dreaming of themselves in this way.
The gravest accusation against Romanticism has still not been made: that it plays out the inner truth of human nature. Its excesses, its absurdities and its ability to seduce and move hearts all come from its being the outer representation of what’s deepest in the soul – a concrete, visible representation that would even be possible, if human possibility depended on something besides Fate.
Even I, who laugh at these seductions that play on the mind, very often catch myself thinking how nice it would be to be famous, how pleasant to be doted on, how colourful to be triumphant! But I’m unable to envision myself in these lofty roles without a hearty snicker from the other I that’s always near by, like a downtown street. See myself famous? What I see is a famous bookkeeper. Feel myself raisedto the thrones of renown? It happens in the office on the Rua dos Douradores, and my colleagues ruin the scene. Hear myself cheered by swarming crowds? The cheering reaches me in my rented room on the fourth floor and collides with the shabby furniture and the banality that humiliates me from the kitchen to my dreams. I didn’t even have castles in Spain, like the Spanish grandees of all illusions. My castles were made of old, grubby playing cards from an incomplete deck that could never be used to play anything; they didn’t even fall but had to be knocked down by the impatient hand of the old maid, who wanted to put back the tablecloth that had been pulled to one side, because the hour for tea had struck like a curse from Fate. But even this vision is flawed, for I have neither the house in the country nor the elderly aunts, at whose table I might sip a relaxing cup of tea at the end of an evening with the family. My dream even failed in its metaphors and depictions. My empire didn’t even happen among the old playing cards. My march of triumph didn’t get as far as a teapot or an old cat. I’ll die as I’ve lived, amid all the junk on the outskirts, sold by weight among the postscripts of the broken.
May I at least carry, to the boundless possibility contained in the abyss of everything, the glory of my disillusion like that of a great dream, and the splendour of not believing like a banner of defeat: a banner in feeble hands, but still and all a banner, dragged through mud and the blood of the weak but raised high for who knows what reason – whether in defiance, or as a challenge, or in mere desperation – as we vanish into quicksand. No one knows for what reason, because no one knows anything, and the sand swallows those with banners as it swallows those without. And the sand covers everything: my life, my prose, my eternity.
I carry my awareness of defeat like a banner of victory.55
However much my soul may be descended from the Romantics, I can find no peace of mind except in reading classical authors. The very sparseness by which their clarity is expressed comforts me in some strange way. From them I get a joyful sense of expansive life that contemplates large open spaces without actually travelling through them. Even the pagan gods take a rest from the unknown.
The obsessive analysis of our sensations (sometimes of merely imagined sensations), the identification of our heart with the landscape, the anatomic exposure of all our nerves, the substitution of desire for the will and of longing for thinking – all these things are far too familiar to be of interest to me or to give me peace when expressed by another. Whenever I feel them, and precisely because I feel them, I wish I were feeling something else. And when I read a classical author, that something else is given to me.
I frankly and unblushingly admit it: there’s not a passage of Chateaubriand or a canto of Lamartine – passages that often seem to be the voice of my own thoughts, cantos that often seem to have been written for me to know myself – that transports and uplifts me like a passage of Vieira’s prose,* or like certain odes by one of our few classical writers who truly followed Horace.
I read and am liberated. I acquire objectivity. I cease being myself and so scattered. And what I read, instead of being like a nearly invisible suit that sometimes oppresses me, is the external world’s tremendous and remarkable clarity, the sun that sees everyone, the moon that splotches the still earth with shadows, the wide expanses that end in the sea, the blackly solid trees whose tops greenly wave, the steady peace of ponds on farms, the terraced slopes with their paths overgrown by grape-vines.
I read as one who abdicates. And since the royal crown and robe are never as grand as when the departing king leaves them on the ground, I lay all my trophies of tedium and dreaming on the tiled floor of my antechambers, then climb the staircase with no other nobility but that of seeing.
I read as one who’s passing through. And it’s in classical writers, inthe calm-spirited, in those who if they suffer don’t mention it, that I feel like a holy transient, an anointed pilgrim, a contemplator for no reason of a world with no purpose, Prince of the Great Exile, who as he was leaving gave the last beggar the ultimate alms of his desolation.56
The firm’s monied partner, chronically afflicted by a vague illness, decided on a whim during one of his healthy respites to have a group portrait made of the office personnel. And so the day before yesterday a cheerful photographer lined us all up against the grimy white partition, made of flimsy wood, that divides the main office from the private one of Senhor Vasques. In the middle was Vasques himself; flanking him in a definite, then indefinite, ranking by category were the other human souls that daily come together here as one body to accomplish small tasks whose ultimate objective is the secret of the Gods.
Today when I arrived at the office, a little late and having quite forgotten the static event of the twice-taken photograph, I found Moreira (unusually early for him) and one of the sales representatives furtively leaning over some blackish sheets, which I recognized with a start as the first proofs of the photographs. In fact they were two proofs of the same shot, the one that had turned out better.
I suffered the truth on seeing myself there, since my face was of course the first one I looked for. I’ve never had a flattering notion of my physical appearance, but I never felt it to be more insignificant than there, next to the familiar faces of my colleagues, in that line-up of daily expressions. I look like a nondescript Jesuit. My gaunt and inexpressive face has no intelligence or intensity or anything else to raise it out of that lifeless tide of faces. Lifeless, no. There are some truly expressive physiognomies there. Senhor Vasques looks just like himself – broad, cheerful face with hard features and a steady gaze, completed by his stiff moustache. The man’s shrewdness and energy – banal enough, and recurring in thousands of men throughout the world – are nevertheless inscribed on that photograph as on a psychological passport. The two travelling salesmen look sharp, and the local salesrepresentative turned out well, though he’s half hidden by Moreira’s shoulder. And Moreira! Moreira, my supervisor, the epitome of monotonous constancy, looks much more alive than I! Even the office boy (and here I’m unable to repress a feeling that I tell myself isn’t envy) has a forthrightness of expression that is smiles away from my blank effacement, reminiscent of a sphinx from the stationer’s.*
What does this mean? What is this truth that film doesn’t mistake? What is this certainty that a cold lens documents? Who am I, that I should look like that? Anyway… And the insult of the whole ensemble?
‘You came out really well,’ Moreira said suddenly. And then, turning to the sales representative: ‘It’s his spitting image – don’t you think?’ And the sales representative agreed with a happy affability that tossed me into the rubbish bin.57
And today, thinking about what my life has been, I feel like some sort of animal that’s being carried in a basket under a curved arm between two suburban train stations. The image is stupid, but the life it defines is even more stupid. These baskets usually have two lids, like half ovals, that lift up at one end or the other should the animal squirm. But the arm of the one carrying it, resting a bit on the hinges in the middle, won’t allow such a weak thing to do more than slightly and uselessly raise the lids, like tired wings of a butterfly.
I forgot that I was talking about me in the description of the basket. I clearly see it, along with the fat, sunburned arm of the maid carrying it. I can’t see any more of the maid than her arm and its down. I can’t get comfortable unless – All of a sudden a breezy coolness [passes through] those white rods and strips which baskets are made of and inside of which I squirm, an animal aware that it’s going from one station to another. I’m resting on what seems to be a long seat, and I hear people talking outside my basket. All is calm and so I sleep, until I’m lifted up again at the station.58
The environment is the soul of things. Each thing has its own expression and this expression comes from outside it. Each thing is the intersection of three lines, and these three lines form the thing: a certain quantity of material, the way in which we interpret it, and the environment it’s in. This table on which I’m writing is a block of wood, it’s the table, and it’s a piece of furniture among others in the room. My impression of this table, if I wish to transcribe it, will be composed of the notions that it is made of wood, that I call it a table and attribute certain uses to it, and that it receives, reflects and is transformed by the objects placed on top of it, in whose juxtaposition it has an external soul. And its very colour, the fading of that colour, its spots and cracks – all came from outside it, and this (more than its wooden essence) is what gives it its soul. And the core of that soul, its being a table, also came from the outside, which is its personality.
I consider it neither a human nor a literary error to attribute a soul to the things we call inanimate. To be a thing is to be the object of an attribution. It may be erroneous to say that a tree feels, that a river runs, that a sunset is sad or that the calm ocean (blue from the sky it doesn’t have) smiles (from the sun outside it). But it’s every bit as erroneous to attribute beauty to things. It’s every bit as erroneous to say that things possess colour, form, perhaps even being. This ocean is saltwater. This sunset is the initial diminishing of sunlight in this particular latitude and longitude. This little boy playing next to me is an intellectual mass of cells – better yet, he’s a clockwork of subatomic movements, a strange electrical conglomeration of millions of solar systems in miniature.
Everything comes from outside, and the human soul itself may be no more than the ray of sunlight that shines and isolates from the soil the pile of dung that’s the body.
In these considerations there may be an entire philosophy for someone with the strength to draw conclusions. It won’t be me. Lucid vague thoughts and logical possibilities occur to me, but they all dim in the vision of a ray of sunlight that gilds a pile of dung like wetly squished dark straw, on the almost black soil next to a stone wall.
That’s how I am. When I want to think, I look. When I want to descend into my soul, I suddenly freeze, oblivious, at the top of the long spiral staircase, looking through the upper-storey window at the sun that bathes the sprawling mass of rooftops in a tawny farewell.59
Whenever my ambition, influenced by my dreams, raised up above the everyday level of my life, so that for a moment I seemed to soar, like a child on a swing, I always – like the child – had to come down to the public garden and face my defeat, with no flags to wave in battle and no sword I was strong enough to unsheathe.
I suppose that most of the people I chance to pass in the street also feel – I notice it in their silently moving lips and in their eyes’ vague uncertainty, or in the sometimes raised voice of their joint mumbling – like a flagless army fighting a hopeless war. And probably all of them – I turn around to see their slumping, defeated-looking shoulders – share with me this sense of salesmanly squalor, of being no more than humiliatingly vanquished stragglers amid reeds and scum, with no moonlight over the shores or poetry in the marshes.
Like me, they have an exalted and sad heart. I know them all. Some are shop assistants, others are office workers, and still others are small businessmen. Then there are the conquerors from the bars and cafés, unwittingly sublime in the ecstasy of their self-centred chatter, or content to remain self-centredly silent, with no need to defend what they’re too stingy to say. But they’re all poets, poor devils, who drag past my eyes, as I drag past theirs, the same sorry sight of our common incongruity. They all have, like me, their future in the past.
At this very moment, idle and alone in the office, because everyone else went to lunch, I’m staring through the grimy window at an old man who’s slowly teetering down the other side of the street. He’s not drunk; he’s dreaming. He’s attentive to what doesn’t exist. Perhaps he still hopes. If there’s any justice in the Gods’ injustice, then may they let us keep our dreams, even when they’re impossible, and may our dreams be happy, even when they’re trivial. Today, because I’m stillyoung, I can dream of South Sea islands and impossible Indias. Tomorrow perhaps the same Gods will make me dream of owning a small tobacco shop, or of retiring to a house in the suburbs. Every dream is the same dream, for they’re all dreams. Let the Gods change my dreams, but not my gift for dreaming.
While thinking about this, I forgot about the old man. Now I don’t see him. I open the window to get a better look, but he’s not there. He left. For me he had the visual mission of a symbol; having finished his mission, he turned the corner. If I were told that he’d turned the absolute corner and was never here, I would accept it with the same gesture I’m about to employ to close the window.
Poor salesmanly demigods who conquer empires with lofty words and intentions but need to scrounge up money for food and the rent! They’re like the troops of a disbanded army whose commanders had a glorious dream, which in them – now trudging through the scum of marshes – has been reduced to a vague notion of grandeur, the consciousness of having belonged to an army, and the vacuity of not even knowing what the commander they never saw had ever done.
Each of them, for a moment, has dreamed he’s the commander of the army whose rear guard he deserted. Each of them, from the sludge of streams, has hailed the victory which no one could win and which left only crumbs on the stained tablecloth that nobody remembered to shake.
They fill in the cracks of daily activity like dust in the cracks of badly dusted furniture. In normal, ordinary daylight they shine like grey worms against the reddish mahogany. They can be removed with a thin nail, but no one has the patience to bother.
My hapless peers with their lofty dreams – how I envy and despise them! I’m with the others, with the even more hapless, who have no one but themselves to whom they can tell their dreams and show what would be verses if they wrote them. I’m with these poor slobs who have no books to show, who have no literature besides their own soul, and who are suffocating to death due to the fact they exist without having taken that mysterious, transcendental exam that makes one eligible to live.
Some are heroes who flattened five men on a street corner just yesterday. Others are seducers to whom even non-existent women have surrendered. They believe these things when they tell them, and perhaps they tell them so as to believe. Others ..... For them the world’s conquerors, whoever they may be, are everyday people.
And like eels in a wooden tub, they slither under and over each other, without ever leaving the tub. Sometimes they’re mentioned in the newspapers. Some of them are mentioned rather often. But they never become famous.
These people are happy, for they’ve been given the enchanted dream of stupidity. But those, like me, who’ve been given dreams without illusions .....60DOLOROUSINTERLUDE
Should you ask me if I’m happy, I’ll answer that I’m not.61
It’s noble to be timid, illustrious to fail to act, sublime to be inept at living.
Only Tedium, which is a withdrawal, and Art, which is a disdain, gild with a semblance of contentment our .....
The will-o’-the-wisps generated by our rotting lives are at least a light in our darkness.
Only unhappiness is elevating, and only the tedium that comes from unhappiness is heraldic like the descendants of ancient heroes.
I’m a well of gestures that haven’t even all been traced in my mind, of words I haven’t even thought to form on my lips, of dreams I forgot to dream to the end.
I’m the ruins of buildings that were never more than ruins, whosebuilder, halfway through, got tired of thinking about what he was building.
Let’s not forget to hate those who enjoy, just because they enjoy, and to despise those who are happy, because we didn’t know how to be happy like them. This false disdain and feeble hatred are merely the plinth – rough-hewn and dirtied by the soil where it stands – for the unique and haughty statue of our Tedium, a dark figure whose inscrutable smile gives its face a vague aura of mystery.
Blessed are those who entrust their lives to no one.62
I’m physically nauseated by commonplace humanity, which is the only kind there is. And sometimes I wilfully aggravate the nausea, like someone who induces vomiting to be relieved of the urge to vomit.
One of my favourite strolls, on mornings when I dread the banality of the approaching day as if I were dreading jail, is to walk slowly past the still unopened shops and stores, listening to the scraps of conversation that groups of young women or young men, or women with men, let fall – like ironic alms – in the invisible school of my open-air meditation.
And it’s always the same succession of the same old phrases… ‘And then she said…,’ and the tone foreshadows the intrigue to follow. ‘If it wasn’t him, it was you…,’ and the voice that answers bristles in a protest already out of my hearing range. ‘You said it, yes sir, I heard you…,’ and the seamstress’s shrill voice declares ‘My mother says she’s not interested…’ ‘Me?’, and the astonishment of the fellow carrying a lunch wrapped in white paper doesn’t convince me, and probably not the dirty blonde either. ‘It must have been…,’ and the giggling of three of the four girls drowns out the obscenity that ..... ‘And then I walked straight up to the guy, and right in his face, but I mean right in his face, José, just imagine…,’ and the poor devil is lying, because the office supervisor – I can tell by the voice that the other contender was the supervisor of the office in question – wouldn’treceive the straw gladiator’s challenge in the arena surrounded by desks. ‘And then I went and smoked in the bathroom…’ laughs the little boy with dark patches on his trouser-seat.
Others, passing by singly or together, don’t speak, or they speak and I don’t hear, but I can discern their voices, transparent to my penetrating intuition. I dare not say – not even to myself in writing, even though I could rip it up instantly – what I have seen in casually glancing eyes, in their involuntary lowering, in their sordid shifting. I dare not say, because when vomiting is induced, one heave is enough.
‘The guy was so soused he couldn’t even see the stairs.’ I raise my head. At least this young man describes. These people are more bearable when they describe, since in describing they forget themselves. My nausea subsides. I see the guy. I see him photographically. Even the innocuous slang heartens me. Blessed breeze across my forehead – the guy so soused he couldn’t see the steps of the staircase – perhaps the staircase where humanity stumbles, gropes and shoves its way up the corrugated illusion which only a wall separates from the sharp drop behind the building.
Intrigue, gossip, the loud boasting over what one didn’t have the guts to do, the contentment of each miserable creature dressed in the unconscious consciousness of his own soul, sweaty and smelly sexuality, the jokes they tell like monkeys tickling each other, their appalling ignorance of their utter unimportance… All of this leaves me with the impression of a monstrous and vile animal created in the chaos of dreams, out of desires’ soggy crusts, out of sensations’ chewed-up leftovers.63
The entire life of the human soul is mere motions in the shadows. We live in a twilight of consciousness, never in accord with whom we are or think we are. Everyone harbours some kind of vanity, and there’s an error whose degree we can’t determine. We’re something that goes on during the show’s intermission; sometimes, through certain doors,we catch a glimpse of what may be no more than scenery. The world is one big confusion, like voices in the night.
I’ve just reread these pages on which I write with a lucidity that endures only in them, and I ask myself: What is this, and what good is it? Who am I when I feel? What in me dies when I am?
Like someone on a hill who tries to make out the people in the valley, I look down at myself from on high, and I’m a hazy and confused landscape, along with everything else.
In these times when an abyss opens up in my soul, the tiniest detail distresses me like a letter of farewell. I feel as if I’m always on the verge of waking up. I’m oppressed by the very self that encases me, asphyxiated by conclusions, and I’d gladly scream if my voice could reach somewhere. But there’s this heavy slumber that moves from one group of my sensations to another, like drifting clouds that make the half-shaded grass of sprawling fields turn various colours of sun and green.
I’m like someone searching at random, not knowing what object he’s looking for nor where it was hidden. We play hide-and-seek with no one. There’s a transcendent trick in all of this, a fluid divinity we can only hear.
Yes, I reread these pages that represent worthless hours, brief illusions or moments of calm, large hopes channelled into the landscape, sorrows like closed rooms, certain voices, a huge weariness, the unwritten gospel.
We all have our vanity, and that vanity is our way of forgetting that there are other people with a soul like our own. My vanity consists of a few pages, passages, doubts…
I reread? A lie! I don’t dare reread. I can’t reread. What good would it do me to reread? The person in the writing is someone else. I no longer understand a thing…64
I weep over my imperfect pages, but if future generations read them, they will be more touched by my weeping than by any perfection I might have achieved, since perfection would have kept me from weeping and, therefore, from writing. Perfection never materializes. The saint weeps, and is human. God is silent. That is why we can love the saint but cannot love God.65
That noble and divine timidity which guardsthe soul’s treasures and regalia…
How I’d love to infect at least one soul with some kind of poison, worry or disquiet! This would console me a little for my chronic failure to take action. My life’s purpose would be to pervert. But do my words ring in anyone else’s soul? Does anyone hear them besides me?66WITH ASHRUG
We generally colour our ideas of the unknown with our notions of the known. If we call death a sleep, it’s because it seems like sleep on the outside; if we call death a new life, it’s because it seems like something different from life. With slight misconceptions of reality we fabricate our hopes and beliefs, and we live off crusts that we call cakes, like poor children who make believe they’re happy.
But that’s how all life is, or at least that particular system of life generally known as civilization. Civilization consists in giving something a name that doesn’t belong to it and then dreaming over the result. And the false name joined to the true dream does create a newreality. The object does change into something else, because we make it change. We manufacture realities. The raw material remains the same, but our art gives it a form that makes it into something not the same. A pinewood table is still pinewood, but it’s also a table. We sit at the table, not at the pinewood. Although love is a sexual instinct, it’s not with sexual instinct that we love but with the conjecture of some other feeling. And that conjecture is already some other feeling.
I don’t know what subtle effect of light, or vague noise, or memory of a fragrance or melody, intoned by some inscrutable external influence, prompted these divagations when I was walking down the street and which now, seated in a café, I leisurely and distractedly record. I don’t know where I was going with my thoughts, nor where I would wish to go. Today there’s a light, warm and humid fog, sad with no threats, monotonous for no reason. I’m grieved by a feeling that I can’t place; I’m lacking an argument apropos I don’t know what; I have no willpower in my nerves. Beneath my consciousness I’m sad. And I write these carelessly written lines not to say this and not to say anything, but to give my distraction something to do. I slowly cover, with the soft strokes of a dull pencil (I’m not sentimental enough to sharpen it), the white sandwich paper that they gave me in this café, for it suits me just fine, as would any other paper, as long as it was white. And I feel satisfied. I lean back. The afternoon comes to a monotonous and rainless close, in an uncertain and despondent tone of light. And I stop writing because I stop writing.67
Often enough the surface and illusion catch me, their prey, and I feel like a man. Then I’m happy to be in the world, and my life is transparent. I float. And it gives me pleasure to get my pay-cheque and go home. I feel the weather without seeing it, and there’s some organic sensation that pleases me. If I contemplate, I don’t think. On these days I’m particularly fond of gardens.
There’s something strange and pathetic in the very substance of public gardens that I’m only really aware of when I’m not very awareof myself. A garden is a synopsis of civilization – an anonymous modification of nature. There are plants there, but also streets – yes, streets. Trees grow, but there are benches beneath their shade. On the broad walkways facing the four sides of the city, the benches are larger and are almost always occupied.
I don’t mind seeing flowers in orderly rows, but I hate the public use of flowers. If the rows of flowers were in closed parks, if the trees shaded feudal retreats, if the benches were vacant, then my useless contemplation of gardens could console me. But gardens in cities, useful as well as ordered, are for me like cages, in which the coloured spontaneities of the trees and flowers have only enough room to have one, space enough not to escape, and beauty all alone, without the life that belongs to beauty.
But there are days when this is the landscape that belongs to me, and I enter it like an actor in a tragicomedy. On these days I’m in error, but at least in a certain way I’m happier. When I’m distracted, I start imagining that I really have a house or home to return to. When I forget, I become a normal man, reserved for some purpose, and I brush down another suit and read the newspaper from front to back.
But the illusion never lasts long, partly because it doesn’t last and partly because night arrives. And the colours of the flowers, the shade of the trees, the geometry of streets and flower beds – it all fades and shrinks. Above this error in which I feel like a man, the enormous stage setting of stars suddenly appears, as if daylight had been a curtain hiding it from view. And then my eyes forget the amorphous audience, and I wait for the first performers with the excitement of a child at the circus.
I’m liberated and lost.
I feel. I shiver with fever. I’m I.68
The weariness caused by all illusions and all that they entail – our losing them, the uselessness of our having them, the pre-weariness of having to have them in order to lose them, the regret of having hadthem, the intellectual chagrin of having had them while knowing full well they would end.
The consciousness of life’s unconsciousness is the oldest tax levied on the intelligence. There are unconscious forms of intelligence – flashes of wit, waves of understanding, mysteries and philosophies – that are like bodily reflexes, that operate as automatically as the liver or kidneys handle their secretions.69
It’s raining hard, harder, still harder… It’s as if something were going to collapse in the blackness outside…
The city’s uneven, mountainous mass looks to me today like a plain, a plain covered by rain. All around, as far as my gaze reaches, everything is the pale black colour of rain.
I’m full of odd sensations, all of them cold. Right now it seems to me that the landscape is all a fog, and that the buildings are the fog that hides it.
A pre-neurosis born of what I’ll be when I no longer am grips my body and soul. An absurd remembrance of my future death sends a shiver down my spine. In the fog of my intuition, I feel like dead matter fallen in the rain and mourned by the howling wind. And the chill of what I won’t feel gnaws at my present heart.70
If I have no other virtue, I at least have the permanent novelty of free, uninhibited sensation.
Today, walking down the Rua Nova do Almada, I happened to gaze at the back of the man walking ahead of me. It was the ordinary back of an ordinary man, a simple sports coat on the shoulders of an incidental pedestrian. He carried an old briefcase under his left arm,and his right hand held the curved handle of a rolled-up umbrella, which he tapped on the ground to the rhythm of his walking.
I suddenly felt something like tenderness for that man. I felt the tenderness one feels for common human banality, for the daily routine of the family breadwinner going to work, for his humble and happy home, for the happy and sad pleasures that necessarily make up his life, for the innocence of living without analysing, for the animal naturalness of that coat-covered back.
My eyes returned to the man’s back, the window through which I saw these thoughts.
I had the same sensation as when we watch someone sleep. When asleep we all become children again. Perhaps because in the state of slumber we can do no wrong and are unconscious of life, the greatest criminal and the most self-absorbed egotist are holy, by a natural magic, as long as they’re sleeping. For me there’s no discernible difference between killing a child and killing a sleeping man.
This man’s back is sleeping. His entire person, walking ahead of me at the very same speed, is sleeping. He walks unconsciously, lives unconsciously. He sleeps, for we all sleep. All life is a dream. No one knows what he’s doing, no one knows what he wants, no one knows what he knows. We sleep our lives, eternal children of Destiny. That’s why, whenever this sensation rules my thoughts, I feel an enormous tenderness that encompasses the whole of childish humanity, the whole of sleeping society, everyone, everything.
It’s an immediate humanitarianism, without aims or conclusions, that overwhelms me right now. I feel a tenderness as if I were seeing with the eyes of a god. I see everyone as if moved by the compassion of the world’s only conscious being. Poor hapless men, poor hapless humanity! What are they all doing here?
I see all the actions and goals of life, from the simple life of lungs to the building of cities and the marking off of empires, as a drowsiness, as involuntary dreams or respites in the gap between one reality and another, between one and another day of the Absolute. And like an abstractly maternal being, I lean at night over both the good and bad children, equal when they sleep and are mine. I feel for them with an infinite capacity for tenderness.
I tear my gaze from the back of the man ahead of me and look at all the other people walking down this street, and I embrace each and every one of them with the same cold, absurd tenderness that came to me from the back of the unconscious man I’m following. The whole lot is just like him: the girls chatting on their way to the workshop, the young men laughing on their way to the office, the big-bosomed maids returning with their heavy purchases, the delivery boys running their first errands – all of this is one and the same unconsciousness, diversified among different faces and bodies, like marionettes moved by strings leading to the same fingers of an invisible hand. They go on their way with all the manners and gestures that define consciousness, and they’re conscious of nothing, for they’re not conscious of being conscious. Whether clever or stupid, they’re all equally stupid. Whether old or young, they’re all the same age. Whether men or women, all are of the same sex that doesn’t exist.71
The cause of my profound sense of incompatibility with others is, I believe, that most people think with their feelings, whereas I feel with my thoughts.
For the ordinary man, to feel is to live, and to think is to know how to live. For me, to think is to live, and to feel is merely food for thought.
It’s curious that what little capacity I have for enthusiasm is aroused by those most unlike me in temperament. I admire no one in literature more than the classical writers, who are the ones I least resemble. Forced to choose between reading only Chateaubriand or Vieira,* I would choose Vieira without a moment’s hesitation.
The more a man differs from me, the more real he seems, for he depends that much less on my subjectivity. And that’s why the object of my close and constant study is the same common humanity that I loathe and stay away from. I love it because I hate it. I like to look at it because I hate to feel it. The landscape, admirable as a picture, rarely makes a comfortable bed.72
Amiel* said that a landscape is a state of emotion, but the phrase is a flawed gem of a feeble dreamer. As soon as the landscape is a landscape, it ceases to be a state of emotion. To objectify is to create, and no one would say that a finished poem is a state of thinking about writing one. Seeing is perhaps a form of dreaming, but if we call it seeing instead of dreaming, it’s so we can distinguish between the two.
But what good are these speculations in linguistic psychology? Independently of me the grass grows, the rain falls on the grass that grows, and the sun shines on the patch of grass that grew or will grow; the hills have been there for ages, and the wind blows in the same way as when Homer heard it, even if he didn’t exist. It would be better to say that a state of emotion is a landscape, for the phrase would contain not the lie of a theory but the truth of a metaphor.
These incidental words were dictated to me by the panorama of the city as seen from the look-out of São Pedro de Alcântara,* under the universal light of the sun. Every time I contemplate a wide panorama, forgetting the five feet six inches of height and the one hundred and thirty-five pounds in which I physically consist, I smile a supremely metaphysical smile for those who dream that dreaming is a dream, and I love the truth of the absolutely external with a noble purity of understanding.
The Tagus in the background is a blue lake, and the hills of the far shore are a flattened Switzerland. A small ship – a black cargo steamer – departs from Poço do Bispo* in the direction of the estuary, which I can’t see. May the Gods all preserve for me (until my present form ceases) this clear and sunlit view of external reality, the instinctive awareness of my unimportance, the cosiness of being small, and the solace of being able to imagine myself happy.73
On arriving at the solitary summits of natural elevations, we experience a feeling of privilege; with our own added height, we’re higher than the summits themselves. Nature’s utmost, at least in that place, is beneath our own two feet. Our position makes us kings of the visible world. Everything around us is lower: life is a descending slope or a low-lying plain next to the elevation and pinnacle we’ve become.
Everything we are is due to chance and trickery, and this height we boast isn’t ours; we’re no taller on the summit than our normal height. The hill on which we tread elevates us; it’s the height we’re at that makes us higher.
A rich man breathes easier; a famous man is freer; a title of nobility is itself a small hill. Everything is artifice, but not even the artifice is ours. We climb it, or were brought to it, or we were born in the house on the hill.
Great, however, is the man who realizes that the difference in distance from the valley to the sky and from the hill to the sky makes no difference. Should the flood waters rise, we’re better off in the hills. But when God curses us as Jupiter, with lightning bolts, or as Aeolus, with high winds, then the best cover will be to have remained in the valley, and the best defence to lie low.
Wise is the man who has the potential for height in his muscles but who renounces climbing in his consciousness. By virtue of his gaze, he has all hills, and by virtue of his position, all valleys. The sun that gilds the summits will gild them more for him than for someone at the top who must endure the bright light; and the palace perched high in the woods will be more beautiful for those who see it from the valley than for those who, imprisoned in its rooms, forget it.
I take comfort in these reflections, since I can’t take comfort in life. And the symbol merges with reality when, as a transient body and soul in these low-lying streets that lead to the Tagus, I see the luminous heights of the city glowing, like a glory from beyond, with the various lights of a sun that has already set.74THUNDERSTORM
The blue of the sky showing between the still clouds was smudged with transparent white.
The boy at the back of the office suspended for a moment the cord going round the eternal package.
‘I can only remember one other like this,’ he statistically remarked.
A cold silence. The sounds from the street seemed to be cut by a knife. Then there was a long, cosmically held breath, a kind of generalized dread. The entire universe had stopped dead. Moments, moments, moments… Silence blackened the darkness.
All of a sudden, live steel .....
How human the metallic peal of the trams! How happy the landscape of simple rain falling on the street resurrected from the chasm!
Oh Lisbon, my home!75
I don’t need fast cars or express trains to feel the delight and terror of speed. All I require is a tram and my gift for abstraction, which I’ve developed to an astonishing degree.
On a tram in motion I’m able, through my constant and instantaneous analysis, to separate the idea of the tram from the idea of speed, separating them so completely that they’re distinct things-inreality. Then I can feel myself riding not inside the tram but inside its Mere Speed. And should I get bored and want the delirium of excessive speed, I can transfer the idea to the Pure Imitation of Speed, increasing or decreasing it at will, extending it beyond the fastest possible speeds of trains.
I abhor running real risks, but it’s not because I’m afraid of feeling too intensely. It’s because they break my perfect focus on my sensations, and this disturbs and depersonalizes me.
I never go where there’s risk. I fear the tedium of dangers.
A sunset is an intellectual phenomenon.76
I sometimes enjoy (in split fashion) thinking about the possibility of a future geography of our self-awareness. I believe that the future historian of his own sensations may be able to make a precise science out of the attitude he takes towards his self-awareness. We’re only in the beginnings of this difficult art – at this point just an art: the chemistry of sensations in its as yet alchemical stage. This scientist of tomorrow will pay special attention to his own inner life, subjecting it to analysis with a precision instrument created out of himself. I see no inherent obstacle to making, out of steels and bronzes of thought, a precision instrument for self-analysis. I mean steels and bronzes that are really steels and bronzes, but of the mind. Perhaps that’s the only way it can be made. Perhaps it will be necessary to formulate the idea of a precision instrument, concretely visualizing it, in order to undertake a rigorous inner analysis. And it will surely be necessary to reduce the mind to some kind of real matter with a space for it to exist in. All of this depends on an extreme refinement of our inner sensations, which, when taken as far as they can go, will doubtless reveal or create in us a space just as real as the space that’s occupied by material things and that, come to think of it, has no reality.
For all I know, this inner space may just be a new dimension of the other one. Perhaps scientific research will eventually discover that everything is dimensions of the same space, which is neither physical nor spiritual, so that in one dimension we live as bodies, and in another as souls. And perhaps there are other dimensions where we live other, equally real facets of ourselves. Sometimes I enjoy getting lost in the useless meditation of just how far this research might take us.
Perhaps it will be discovered that what we call God, so obviously on a plane beyond logic and space-time reality, is one of our modes of existence, a sensation of ourselves in another dimension of being.This seems to me perfectly possible. Perhaps dreams are yet another dimension in which we live, or perhaps they’re a cross between two dimensions. As our body lives in length, in breadth and in height, it may be that our dreams live in the ideal, in the ego and in space – in space through their visible representation, in the ideal through their non-material essence, and in the ego through their personal dimension as something intimately ours. The ego itself, the I in each one of us, is perhaps a divine dimension. All of this is complex and will no doubt be determined in its time. Today’s dreamers are perhaps the great precursors of the ultimate science of the future. Of course I don’t believe in an ultimate science of the future, but that’s beside the point.
I periodically formulate metaphysics such as these, with the serious concentration of someone who’s truly at work to forge science. And it’s possible I may actually be forging it. I have to be careful not to take too much pride in this, since pride can undermine the strict impartiality of scientific objectivity.77
There’s no pastime like the use of science, or things that smack of science, for futile ends, and so I often pass the time by intently studying my psyche as others see it. The pleasure I get from this sterile artifice is sometimes sad, sometimes painful.
I carefully study the overall impression I make on others, from which I then draw conclusions. I’m a fellow most people like, and they even have a vague and curious respect for me. But I don’t arouse ardent emotions. No one will ever passionately be my friend. That’s why so many are able to respect me.78
Certain sensations are slumbers that fill up our mind like a fog and prevent us from thinking, from acting, from clearly and simply being. As if we hadn’t slept, something of our undreamed dreams lingers in us, and the torpor of the new day’s sun warms the stagnant surface of our senses. We’re drunk on not being anything, and our will is a bucket poured out on to the yard by the listless movement of a passing foot.
We look but don’t see. The long street bustling with clothed animals is like a flat-lying signboard whose letters move around and make no sense. The buildings are just buildings. We’re no longer able to give meaning to what we see, though we see perfectly well what’s there.
The banging of the crate-maker’s hammer reverberates close by, yet remotely. Each blow makes a distinctly separate sound, with an echo and without any point. The wagons creak as they do on days when storms threaten. Voices emerge from the air, not from throats. The river in the background is tired.
It’s not tedium that we feel. Nor is it grief. It’s a desire to sleep with another personality, to be able to forget everything with a pay increase. We feel nothing, unless maybe an automatism down below, which makes the legs we possess strike the feet inside our shoes against the ground, in the oblivious act of walking. Perhaps we don’t even feel that. There’s a squeezing in our head around the eyes, and as if fingers were plugging our ears.
It’s like a head-cold of the soul. And this literary image of being sick makes us wish that life were a convalescence, obliging us to stay off our feet. And the idea of convalescence makes us think of villas on the outskirts of town – not the gardens that surround them but their cosy interiors, far from the road and the turning wheels. No, we don’t feel anything. We consciously pass through the door we have to enter, and the fact we have to enter it is enough to put us to sleep. We pass through everything. Where’s your tambourine, O bear that just stands there?79
Faint, like something just beginning, the low-tide smell wafted over the Tagus and putridly spread over the streets near the shore. The stench was crisply nauseating, with a cold torpor of lukewarm sea. I felt life in my stomach, and my sense of smell shifted to behind my eyes. Tall, sparse bundles of clouds alighted on nothing, their greyness disintegrating into a pseudo-white. A cowardly sky threatened the atmosphere, as if with inaudible thunder, made only of air.
There was even stagnation in the flight of the gulls; they seemed to be lighter than air, left there by someone. Nothing oppressed. The late afternoon disquiet was my own; a cool breeze intermittently blew.
My ill-starred hopes, born of the life I’ve been forced to live! They’re like this hour and this air, fogless fogs, unravelled basting of a false storm. I feel like screaming, to put an end to this landscape and my meditation. But the stench of ocean imbues my intent, and the low tide inside me has exposed the sludgy blackness that’s somewhere out there, though I can see it only by its smell.
All this stupid insistence on being self-sufficient! All this cynical awareness of pretended sensations! All this imbroglio of my soul with these sensations, of my thoughts with the air and the river – all just to say that life smells bad and hurts me in my consciousness. All for not knowing how to say, as in that simple and all-embracing phrase from the Book of Job, ‘My soul is weary of my life!’80DOLOROUSINTERLUDE
Everything wearies me, including what doesn’t weary me. My happiness is as painful as my pain.
If only I could be a child sailing paper boats in a cistern on the farm, with a rustic canopy of criss-crossing trellis vines projecting chequersof sunlight and green shade on the shiny dark surface of the shallow water.
There’s a thin sheet of glass between me and life. However clearly I see and understand life, I can’t touch it.
Rationalize my sadness? What for, if rationalization takes effort? Sad people can’t make an effort.
I can’t even renounce those banal acts of life that I so abhor. To renounce is an effort, and I don’t have it in me to make any effort.
How often I regret not being the driver of that car or the coachman of that carriage! Or any imaginary banal Other whose life, because it’s not mine, deliciously fills me with desire for it and fills me with its otherness! If I were one of them, I wouldn’t dread life like a Thing, and the thought of life as a Whole wouldn’t crush the shoulders of my thinking.
My dreams are a stupid shelter, like an umbrella against lightning.
I’m so listless, so pathetic, so short on gestures and acts.
However deeply I delve into myself, all of my dreams’ paths lead to clearings of anxiety.
There are times when dreaming eludes even me, an obsessive dreamer, and then I see things in vivid detail. The mist in which I take refuge dissipates. And every visible edge cuts the skin of my soul. Every harsh thing I see wounds the part of me that recognizes its harshness. Every object’s visible weight weighs heavy inside my soul.
It’s as if my life amounted to being thrashed by it.81
The carts in the street purr slow, distinct sounds in seeming accord with my drowsiness. It’s lunchtime but I’ve stayed in the office. It’s a warm day, a bit overcast. And the sounds, for some reason, which might be my drowsiness, are exactly like the day.82
The fitful evening breeze blows I don’t know what vague caress (and the less it’s a caress, the gentler it is) across my forehead and my understanding. I know only that the tedium I suffer shifts and gives me a moment’s relief, as when a piece of clothing stops rubbing against a sore.
Pathetic sensibility that depends on a slight movement of air to achieve what little tranquillity it knows! But so is all human sensibility, and I doubt that the arrival of unexpected cash or an unexpected smile counts any more for other people than a briefly passing breeze counts for me.
I can think about sleeping. I can dream of dreaming. I see more clearly the objectivity of everything. The outer feeling of life is more agreeable to me. And all of this because a slight shift in the breeze delights the surface of my skin as I approach the street corner.
All that we love or lose – things, human beings, meanings – rubs our skin and so reaches the soul, and in the eyes of God the event is no more than this breeze that brought me nothing besides an imaginary relief, the propitious moment, and the wherewithal to lose everything splendidly.
Whirls, whirlpools, in life’s fluid futility! In this large downtown square, the soberly multicoloured flow of people passes by, changes course, forms pools, divides into streams, converges into brooks. While my eyes distractedly watch, I inwardly fashion this aquatic image which is more suitable than any other (in part because I thought it would rain) for this random movements.
As I wrote this last sentence, which for me says exactly what it means, I thought it might be useful to put at the end of my book, when I finally publish it, a few ‘Non-Errata’ after the ‘Errata’, and to note:the phrase ‘this random movements’ on page so-and-so, is correct asis, with the noun in the plural and the demonstrative in the singular. But what does this have to do with what I was thinking? Nothing, which is why I let myself think it.
Around the square the streetcars grumble and clang. They look like giant yellow mobile matchboxes, in which a child stuck a slanted used match to serve as a mast. When jerking into motion, they loudly and ironly screech. Around the statue in the middle, the pigeons are like black crumbs that flit about as if they were being scattered by the wind. The plump creatures take tiny steps with their tiny feet.
And they are shadows, shadows…
Seen from up close, people are monotonously diverse. Vieira* said that Frei Luís de Sousa* wrote about ‘the common with singularity’. These people are singular with commonality, contrary to the style ofThe Life of the Archbishop. It seems to me a pity, though I’m indifferent to it all. I ended up here for no reason, like everything in life.
Towards the east, only partially visible, the city rises almost straight up in a static assault on the Castle. The pallid sun, hidden from view by the sudden outcrop of houses, bathes them in a blurry halo. The sky is a damply whitish blue. Perhaps a gentler version of yesterday’s rain will return today. The wind seems to be easterly, perhaps because it smells vaguely ripe and green, like the adjacent market. There are more out-of-towners on the eastern than the western side of the square. With a racket like carpeted gun reports, the corrugated metal blinds of the market lower upwards; I don’t know why, but that’s the motion the sound suggests to me – perhaps because they usually make this sound when lowered, but now they’re being raised. Everything has an explanation.
Suddenly I’m all alone in the world. I see all this from the summit of a mental rooftop. I’m alone in the world. To see is to be distant. To see clearly is to halt. To analyse is to be foreign. No one who passes by touches me. Around me there is only air. I’m so isolated I can feel the distance between me and my suit. I’m a child in a nightshirt carrying a dimly lit candle and traversing a huge empty house. Living shadows surround me – only shadows, offspring of the stiff furniture* and of the light I carry. Here in the sunlight they surround me but are people.84
Today, during a break from feeling, I reflected on the style of my prose. Exactly how do I write? I had, like many others, the perverted desire to adopt a system and a norm. It’s true that I wrote before having the norm and the system, but so did everyone else.
Analysing myself this afternoon, I’ve discovered that my stylistic system is based on two principles, and in the best tradition of the best classical writers I immediately uphold these two principles as general foundations of all good style: 1) to express what one feels exactly as it is felt – clearly, if it is clear; obscurely, if obscure; confusedly, if confused – and 2) to understand that grammar is an instrument and not a law.
Let’s suppose there’s a girl with masculine gestures. An ordinary human creature will say, ‘That girl acts like a boy.’ Another ordinary human creature, with some awareness that to speak is to tell, will say, ‘That girl is a boy.’ Yet another, equally aware of the duties of expression, but inspired by a fondness for concision (which is the sensual delight of thought), will say, ‘That boy.’ I’ll say, ‘She’s a boy’, violating one of the basic rules of grammar – that pronouns must agree in gender and number with the nouns they refer to. And I’ll have spoken correctly; I’ll have spoken absolutely, photographically, outside the norm, the accepted, the insipid. I won’t have spoken, I’ll have told.
In establishing usage, grammar makes valid and invalid divisions. For example, it divides verbs into transitive and intransitive. But a man who knows how to say what he says must sometimes make a transitive verb intransitive so as to photograph what he feels instead of seeing it in the dark, like the common lot of human animals. If I want to say I exist, I’ll say, ‘I am.’ If I want to say I exist as a separate entity, I’ll say, ‘I am myself.’ But if I want to say I exist as an entity that addresses and acts on itself, exercising the divine function of self-creation, then I’ll maketo beinto a transitive verb. Triumphantly and anti-grammatically supreme, I’ll speak of ‘amming myself’. I’ll have stated a philosophy in just two words. Isn’t this infinitely preferable to saying nothing in forty sentences? What more can we demand from philosophy and diction?
Let grammar rule the man who doesn’t know how to think what he feels. Let it serve those who are in command when they express themselves. It is told of Sigismund, King of Rome,* that when someone pointed out a grammatical mistake he had made in a speech, he answered, ‘I am King of Rome, and above all grammar.’ And he went down in history as Sigismundsuper-grammaticam. A marvellous symbol! Every man who knows how to say what he has to say is, in his way, King of Rome. The title is royal, and the reason for it is imperial.*85
When I consider all the people I know or have heard of who write prolifically or who at least produce lengthy and finished works, I feel an ambivalent envy, a disdainful admiration, an incoherent mixture of mixed feelings.
The creation of something complete and whole, be it good or bad – and if it’s never entirely good, it’s very often not all bad – yes, the creation of something complete seems to stir in me above all a feeling of envy. A completed thing is like a child; although imperfect like everything human, it belongs to us like our own children.
And I, whose self-critical spirit allows me only to see my lapses and defects, I, who dare write only passages, fragments, excerpts of the non-existent, I myself – in the little that I write – am also imperfect.
Better either the complete work, which is in any case a work, even if it’s bad, or the absence of words, the unbroken silence of the soul that knows it is incapable of acting.86
Perhaps everything in life is the degeneration of something else. Perhaps existence is always an approximation – an advent, or surroundings.
Just as Christianity was but the prophetic degeneration of a debasedNeo-Platonism, the Romanization of Hellenism through Judaism,* so our age – senile and carcinogenic* – is the multiple deviation of all great goals, concordant or conflicting, whose defeat gave rise to all the negations we use to affirm ourselves.*
We live an intermission with band music.
But what do I, in this fourth-floor room, have to do with sociologies such as these?* They are all a dream to me, like Babylonian princesses, and to occupy ourselves with humanity is a futile enterprise – an archaeology of the present.
I’ll disappear in the fog as a foreigner to all life, as a human island detached from the dream of the sea, as a uselessly existing ship that floats on the surface of everything.87
Metaphysics has always struck me as a prolonged form of latent insanity. If we knew the truth, we’d see it; everything else is systems and approximations. The inscrutability of the universe is quite enough for us to think about; to want to actually understand it is to be less than human, since to be human is to realize it can’t be understood.
I’m handed faith like a sealed package on a strange-looking platter and am expected to accept it without opening it. I’m handed science, like a knife on a plate, to cut the folios of a book whose pages are blank. I’m handed doubt, like dust inside a box – but why give me a box if all it contains is dust?
I write because I don’t know, and I use whatever abstract and lofty term for Truth a given emotion requires. If the emotion is clear and decisive, then I naturally speak of the gods, thereby framing it in a consciousness of the world’s multiplicity. If the emotion is profound, then I naturally speak of God, thereby placing it in a unified consciousness. If the emotion is a thought, I naturally speak of Fate, thereby shoving it up against the wall.*
Sometimes the mere rhythm of a sentence will require God insteadof the Gods; at other times the two syllables of ‘the Gods’ will be necessary, and I’ll verbally change universe; on still other occasions what will matter is an internal rhyme, a metrical displacement, or a burst of emotion, and polytheism or monotheism will prevail accordingly. The Gods are contingent on style.88
Where is God, even if he doesn’t exist? I want to pray and to weep, to repent of crimes I didn’t commit, to enjoy the feeling of forgiveness like a caress that’s more than maternal.
A lap in which to weep, but a huge and shapeless lap, spacious like a summer evening, and yet cosy, warm, feminine, next to a fireplace… To be able to weep in that lap over inconceivable things, failures I can’t remember, poignant things that don’t exist, and huge shuddering doubts concerning I don’t know what future…
A second childhood, an old nursemaid like I used to have, and a tiny bed where I’d be lulled to sleep by tales of adventure that my flagging attention would hardly even follow – stories that once ran through infant hair as blond as wheat… And all of this enormous and eternal, guaranteed for ever and having God’s lofty stature, there in the sad, drowsy depths of the ultimate reality of Things…
A lap or a cradle or a warm arm around my neck… A softly singing voice that seems to want to make me cry… A fire crackling in the fireplace… Heat in the winter… My consciousness listlessly wandering… And then a peaceful, soundless dream in a huge space, like a moon whirling among the stars…
When I put away my artifices and lovingly arrange in a corner all my toys, words, images and phrases, so dear to me I feel like kissing them, then I become so small and innocuous, so alone in a room so large and sad, so profoundly sad!
Who am I, finally, when I’m not playing? A poor orphan left out in the cold among sensations, shivering on the street corners of Reality, forced to sleep on the steps of Sadness and to eat the bread offered byFantasy. I was told that my father, whom I never knew, is called God, but the name means nothing to me. Sometimes at night, when I’m feeling lonely, I call out to him with tears and form an idea of him I can love. But then it occurs to me that I don’t know him, that perhaps he’s not how I imagine, that perhaps this figure has never been the father of my soul…
When will all this end – these streets where I drag my misery, these steps where I coldly crouch and feel the night running its hands through my tatters? If only God would one day come and take me to his house and give me warmth and affection… Sometimes I think about this and weep with joy just because I can think about it. But the wind blows down the street, and the leaves fall on the pavement. I lift my eyes and look at the stars, which make no sense at all. And all that remains of this is I, a poor abandoned child that no Love wanted as its adopted son and no Friendship accepted as its playmate.
I’m so cold, so weary in my abandonment. Go and find my Mother, O Wind. Take me in the Night to the house I never knew. Give me back my nursemaid, O vast Silence, and my crib and the lullaby that used to put me to sleep.89
The only attitude worthy of a superior man is to persist in an activity he recognizes is useless, to observe a discipline he knows is sterile, and to apply certain norms of philosophical and metaphysical thought that he considers utterly inconsequential.90
To recognize reality as a form of illusion and illusion as a form of reality is equally necessary and equally useless. The contemplative life, to exist at all, must see real-life accidents as the scattered premises of an unattainable conclusion, but it must also consider the contingenciesof dreams as in some sense worthy of the attention we give them, since this attention is what makes us contemplatives.
Anything and everything, depending on how one sees it, is a marvel or a hindrance, an all or a nothing, a path or a problem. To see something in constantly new ways is to renew and multiply it. That is why the contemplative person, without ever leaving his village, will nevertheless have the whole universe at his disposal. There’s infinity in a cell or a desert. One can sleep cosmically against a rock.
But there are times in our meditation – and they come to all who meditate – when everything is suddenly worn-out, old, seen and reseen, even though we have yet to see it. Because no matter how much we meditate on something, and through meditation transform it, whatever we transform it into can only be the substance of meditation. At a certain point we are overwhelmed by a yearning for life, by a desire to know without the intellect, to meditate with only our senses, to think in a tactile or sensory mode, from inside the object of our thought, as if it were a sponge and we were water. And so we also have our night, and the profound weariness produced by emotions becomes even more profound, since in this case the emotions come from thought. But it’s a night without slumber or moon or stars, a night as if all had been turned inside out – infinity internalized and ready to burst, and the day converted into the black lining of an unfamiliar suit.
Yes, it’s always better to be the human slug that loves what it doesn’t know, the leech that’s unaware of how repugnant it is. To ignore so as to live! To feel in order to forget! Ah, and all the events lost in the green-white wake of age-old ships, like a cold spit off the tall rudder that served as a nose under the eyes of the ancient cabins!
A glimpse of open country above a stone wall on the outskirts of town is more liberating for me than an entire journey would be for someone else. Every point of view is the apex of an inverted pyramid, whose base is indeterminate.
There was a time when I was irritated by certain things that today make me smile. And one of those things, which I’m reminded of nearly every day, is the way men who are active in day-to-day life smile at poets and artists. They don’t always do it, as the intellectuals who write in newspapers suppose, with an air of superiority. Often they do it with affection. But it’s as if they were showing affection to a child, someone with no notion of life’s certainty and exactness.
This used to irritate me, because I naïvely assumed that this outward smile directed at dreaming and self-expression sprang from an inner conviction of superiority. In fact it’s only a reaction to something that’s different. While I once took this smile as an insult, because it seemed to imply a superior attitude, today I see it as the sign of an unconscious doubt. Just as adults often recognize in children a quick-wittedness they don’t have, so the smilers recognize in us, who are devoted to dreaming and expressing, something different that makes them suspicious, just because it’s unfamiliar. I like to think that the smartest among them sometimes detect our superiority, and then smile in a superior way to hide the fact.
But our superiority is not the kind that many dreamers have imagined we have. The dreamer isn’t superior to the active man because dreaming is superior to reality. The dreamer’s superiority is due to the fact that dreaming is much more practical than living, and the dreamer gets far greater and more varied pleasure out of life than the man of action. In other and plainer words, the dreamer is the true man of action.
Life being fundamentally a mental state, and all that we do or think valid to the extent we consider it valid, the valuation depends on us. The dreamer is an issuer of banknotes, and the notes he issues circulate in the city of his mind just like real notes in the world outside. Why should I care if the currency of my soul will never be convertible to gold, when there is no gold in life’s factitious alchemy? After us all comes the deluge, but only after us all. Better and happier those who, recognizing that everything is fictitious, write the novel before someone writes it for them and, like Machiavelli, don courtly garments to write in secret.92
I’ve never done anything but dream. This, and this alone, has been the meaning of my life. My only real concern has been my inner life.* My worst sorrows have evaporated when I’ve opened the window on to the street of my dreams* and forgotten myself in what I saw there.
I’ve never aspired to be more than a dreamer. I paid no attention to those who spoke to me of living. I’ve always belonged to what isn’t where I am and to what I could never be. Whatever isn’t mine, no matter how base, has always had poetry for me. The only thing I’ve loved is nothing at all. The only thing I’ve desired is what I couldn’t even imagine. All I asked of life is that it go on by without my feeling it. All I demanded of love is that it never stop being a distant dream. In my own inner landscapes, all of them unreal, I’ve always been attracted to what’s in the distance, and the hazy aqueducts – almost out of sight in my dreamed landscapes – had a dreamy sweetness in relation to the rest of the landscape, a sweetness that enabled me to love them.
I am still obsessed with creating a false world, and will be until I die. Today I don’t line up spools of thread and chess pawns (with an occasional bishop or knight sticking out) in the drawers of my chest, but I regret that I don’t, and in my imagination I line up the characters – so alive and dependable! – who occupy my inner life, and this makes me feel cosy, like sitting by a warm fire in winter. I have a world of friends inside me, with their own real, individual, imperfect lives.
Some of them are full of problems, while others live the humble and picturesque life of bohemians. Others are travelling salesmen. (To be able to imagine myself as a travelling salesman has always been one of my great ambitions – unattainable, alas!) Others live in the rural towns and villages of a Portugal inside me; they come to the city, where I sometimes run into them, and I open wide my arms with emotion. And when I dream this, pacing in my room, talking out loud, gesticulating – when I dream this and picture myself running into them, then I rejoice, I’m fulfilled, I jump up and down, my eyes water, I throw open my arms and feel a genuine, enormous happiness.
Ah, no nostalgia hurts as much as nostalgia for things that never existed! The longing I feel when I think of the past I’ve lived in real time, when I weep over the corpse of my childhood life – this can’t compare to the fervour of my trembling grief as I weep over the non-reality of my dreams’ humble characters, even the minor ones I recall having seen just once in my pseudo-life, while turning a corner in my envisioned world, or while passing through a doorway on a street that I walked up and down in the same dream.
My bitterness over nostalgia’s impotence to revive and resurrect becomes a tearful rage against God, who created impossibilities, when I think about how the friends of my dreams – with whom I’ve shared so much in a make-believe life and with whom I’ve had so many stimulating conversations in imaginary cafés – have never had a space of their own where they could truly exist, independent of my consciousness of them!
Oh, the dead past that survives in me and that has never been anywhere but in me! The flowers from the garden of the little country house that never existed except in me! The pine grove, orchards and vegetable plots of the farm that was only a dream of mine! My imaginary excursions, my outings in a countryside that never existed! The trees along the roadside, the pathways, the stones, the rural folk passing by – all of this, which was never more than a dream, is recorded in my memory, where it hurts, and I, who spent so many hours dreaming these things, now spend hours remembering having dreamed them, and it’s a genuine nostalgia that I feel, an actual past that I mourn, a real-life corpse that I stare at, lying there solemnly in its coffin.
Then there are the landscapes and lives that weren’t exclusively internal. Certain paintings without great artistic merit and certain prints on walls I saw every day became realities in me. My sensation in these cases was different – sadder and more poignant. It grieved me that I couldn’t be there too, whether or not the scenes were real. That I couldn’t at least be an inconspicuous figure drawn in at the foot of those moonlit woods I saw on a small print in a room where I once slept – and this was after my childhood was quite finished! That I couldn’t imagine being hidden there, in the woods next to the river,bathed by the eternal (though poorly rendered) moonlight, watching the man going by in a boat beneath the branches of a willow tree. In these cases I was grieved by my inability to dream completely. My nostalgia exhibited other features. The gestures of my despair were different. The impossibility that tortured me resulted in a different kind of anxiety. Ah, if all of this at least had a meaning in God, a fulfilment in accord with the tenor of my desires, fulfilled I don’t know where, in a vertical time, consubstantial with the direction of my nostalgias and reveries! If there could at least be a paradise made of all this, even if only for me! If I could at least meet the friends I’ve dreamed of, walk along the streets I’ve created, wake up amid the racket of roosters and hens and the early morning rustling in the country house where I pictured myself – and all of this more perfectly arranged by God, placed in the right order for it to exist, in the form needed for me to possess it, which is something not even my dreams can achieve, for there’s always at least one dimension missing in the inward space that harbours these hapless realities.
I raise my head from the sheet of paper where I’m writing… It’s early still. It’s just past noon on a Sunday. Life’s basic malady, that of being conscious, begins with my body and discomfits me. To have no islands where those of us who are uncomfortable could go, no ancient garden paths reserved for those who’ve retreated into dreaming! To have to live and to act, however little; to have to physically touch because there are other, equally real people in life! To have to be here writing this, because my soul needs it, and not to be able to just dream it all, to express it without words, without so much as consciousness, through a construction of myself in music and diffuseness, such that tears would well in my eyes as soon as I felt like expressing myself, and I would flow like an enchanted river across gentle slopes of my own self, ever further into unconsciousness and the Far-away, to no end but God.93
The intensity of my sensations has always been less than the intensity of my awareness of them. I’ve always suffered more from my consciousness that I was suffering than from the suffering of which I was conscious.
The life of my emotions moved early on to the chambers of thought, and that’s where I’ve most fully lived my emotional experience of life.
And since thought, when it shelters emotion, is more demanding than emotion by itself, the regime of consciousness in which I began to live what I felt made how I felt more down-to-earth, more physical, more titillating.
By thinking so much, I became echo and abyss. By delving within, I made myself into many. The slightest incident – a change in the light, the tumbling of a dry leaf, the faded petal that falls from a flower, the voice speaking on the other side of the stone wall, the steps of the speaker next to those of the listener, the half-open gate of the old country estate, the courtyard with an arch and houses clustered around it in the moonlight – all these things, although not mine, grab hold of my sensory attention with the chains of longing and emotional resonance. In each of these sensations I am someone else, painfully renewed in each indefinite impression.
I live off impressions that aren’t mine. I’m a squanderer of renunciations, someone else in the way I’m I.94
To live is to be other. It’s not even possible to feel, if one feels today what he felt yesterday. To feel today what one felt yesterday isn’t to feel – it’s to remember today what was felt yesterday, to be today’s living corpse of what yesterday was lived and lost.
To erase everything from the slate from one day to the next, to be new with each new morning, in a perpetual revival of our emotionalvirginity – this, and only this, is worth being or having, to be or have what we imperfectly are.
This dawn is the first dawn of the world. Never did this pink colour yellowing to a warm white so tinge, towards the west, the face of the buildings whose windowpane eyes gaze upon the silence brought by the growing light. There was never this hour, nor this light, nor this person that’s me. What will be tomorrow will be something else, and what I see will be seen by reconstituted eyes, full of a new vision.
High city hills! Great marvels of architecture that the steep slopes secure and make even greater, motley chaos of heaped up buildings that the daylight weaves together with bright spots and shadows – you are today, you are me, because I see you, you are what [I’ll be] tomorrow, and I love you from the deck rail as when two ships pass, and there’s a mysterious longing and regret in their passing.95
I lived inscrutable hours, a succession of disconnected moments, in my night-time walk to the lonely shore of the sea. All the thoughts that have made men live and all their emotions that have died passed through my mind, like a dark summary of history, in my meditation that went to the seashore.
I suffered in me, with me, the aspirations of all eras, and every disquietude of every age walked with me to the whispering shore of the sea. What men wanted and didn’t achieve, what they killed in order to achieve, and all that souls have secretly been – all of this filled the feeling soul with which I walked to the seashore. What lovers found strange in those they love, what the wife never revealed to her husband, what the mother imagines about the son she didn’t have, what only had form in a smile or opportunity, in a time that wasn’t the right time or in an emotion that was missing – all of this went to the seashore with me and with me returned, and the waves grandly churned their music that made me live it all in slumber.
We are who we’re not, and life is quick and sad. The sound of the waves at night is a sound of the night, and how many have heard it intheir own soul, like the perpetual hope that dissolves in the darkness with a faint plash of distant foam! What tears were shed by those who achieved, what tears lost by those who succeeded! And all this, in my walk to the seashore, was a secret told me by the night and the abyss. How many we are! How many of us fool ourselves! What seas crash in us, in the night when we exist, along the beaches that we feel ourselves to be, inundated by emotion! All that was lost, all that should have been sought, all that was obtained and fulfilled by mistake, all that we loved and lost and then, after losing it and loving it for having lost it, realized we never loved; all that we believed we were thinking when we were feeling; all the memories we took for emotions; and the entire ocean, noisy and cool, rolling in from the depths of the vast night to ripple over the beach, during my nocturnal walk to the seashore…
Who even knows what he thinks or wants? Who knows what he is to himself? How many things music suggests, and we’re glad they can never be! How many things the night recalls, and we weep, and they never even were! As if a long, horizontal peace had raised its voice, the risen wave crashes and then calms, and a dribbling can be heard up and down the invisible beach.
How much I die if I feel for everything! How much I feel if I meander this way, bodiless and human, with my heart as still as a beach, and the entire sea of all things beating loud and derisive, then becoming calm, on the night that we live, on my eternal nocturnal walk to the seashore.96
I see dreamed landscapes as plainly as real ones. If I lean out over my dreams, I’m leaning out over something. If I see life go by, my dream is of something.
Somebody said about somebody else that for him the figures of dreams had the same shape and substance as the figures of life. Although I can see why somebody might say the same thing about me, I wouldn’t agree. For me, the figures of dreams aren’t identical to thoseof life. They’re parallel. Each life – that of dreams and that of the world – has a reality all its own that’s just as valid as the other, but different. Like things near versus things far away. The figures of dreams are nearer to me, but .....97
The truly wise man is the one who can keep external events from changing him in any way. To do this, he covers himself with an armour of realities closer to him than the world’s facts and through which the facts, modified accordingly, reach him.98
Today I woke up very early, with a sudden and confused start, and I slowly got out of bed, suffocating from an inexplicable tedium. No dream had caused it; no reality could have created it. It was a complete and absolute tedium, but founded on something. The obscure depths of my soul had been the battleground where unknown forces had invisibly waged war, and I shook all over from the hidden conflict. A physical nausea, prompted by all of life, was born in the moment I woke up. A horror at the prospect of having to live got up with me out of bed. Everything seemed hollow, and I had the chilling impression that there is no solution for whatever the problem may be.
An extreme nervousness made my slightest gestures tremble. I was afraid I might go mad – not from insanity but from simply being there. My body was a latent shout. My heart pounded as if it were talking.
Taking wide, false steps that I vainly tried to take differently, I walked barefoot across the short length of the room and diagonally through the emptiness of the inner room, where in a corner there’s a door to the hallway. With jerky and incoherent movements I hit the brushes on top of the dresser, I knocked a chair out of place, and at a certain point my swinging hand struck one of the hard iron posts ofmy English bed. I lit a cigarette, which I smoked subconsciously, and only when I saw that ashes had fallen on the headboard – how, if I hadn’t leaned against it? – did I understand that I was possessed, or something of the sort, in fact if not in name, and that my normal, everyday self-awareness had intermingled with the abyss.
I received the announcement of morning – the cold faint light that confers a vague whitish blue on the unveiled horizon – like a grateful kiss from creation. Because this light, this true day, freed me – freed me from I don’t know what. It gave an arm to my as-yet-unrevealed old age, it cuddled my false childhood, it helped my overwrought sensibility find the repose it was desperately begging for.
Ah, what a morning this is, awakening me to life’s stupidity, and to its great tenderness! I almost cry when I see the old narrow street come into view down below, and when the shutters of the corner grocer reveal their dirty brown in the slowly growing light, my heart is soothed, as if by a real-life fairy tale, and it begins to have the security of not feeling itself.
What a morning this grief is! And what shadows are retreating? What mysteries have taken place? None. There’s just the sound of the first tram, like a match to light up the soul’s darkness, and the loud steps of my first pedestrian, which are concrete reality telling me in a friendly voice not to be this way.99
There are times when everything wearies us, including what we would normally find restful. Wearisome things weary us by definition, restful things by the wearying thought of procuring them. There are dejections of the soul past all anxiety and all pain; I believe they’re known only by those who elude human pains and anxieties and are sufficiently diplomatic with themselves to avoid even tedium. Reduced, in this way, to beings armoured against the world, it’s no wonder that at a certain point in their self-awareness the whole set of armour should suddenly weigh on them and life become an inverted anxiety, a pain not suffered.
I am at one of those points, and I write these lines as if to prove that I’m at least alive. All day long I’ve worked as if in a half-sleep, doing my sums the way things are done in dreams, writing left to right across my torpor. All day long I’ve felt life weighing on my eyes and against my temples – sleep in my eyes, pressure from inside my temples, the consciousness of all this in my stomach, nausea, despondency.
To live strikes me as a metaphysical mistake of matter, a dereliction of inaction. I refuse to look at the day to find out what it can offer that might distract me and that, being recorded here in writing, might cover up the empty cup of my not wanting myself. I refuse to look at the day, and with my shoulders hunched forward I ignore whether the sun is present or absent outside in the subjectively sad street, in the deserted street where the sound of people passes by. I ignore everything, and my chest hurts. I’ve stopped working and don’t feel like budging. I’m looking at the grimy white blotting paper, tacked down at the corners and spread out over the advanced age of the slanted desk top. I examine the crossed out scribbles of concentration and distraction. There are various instances of my signature, upside down and turned around. A few numbers here and there, wherever. A few confused sketches, sketched by my absent-mindedness. I look at all this as if I’d never seen a blotter, like a fascinated bumpkin looking at some newfangled thing, while my entire brain lies idle behind the cerebral centres that control vision.
I feel more inner fatigue than will fit in me. And there’s nothing I want, nothing I prefer, nothing to flee.100
I always live in the present. I don’t know the future and no longer have the past. The former oppresses me as the possibility of everything, the latter as the reality of nothing. I have no hopes and no nostalgia. Knowing what my life has been up till now – so often and so completely the opposite of what I wanted –, what can I assume about my life tomorrow, except that it will be what I don’t assume, what I don’t want, what happens to me from the outside, reaching me even via mywill? There’s nothing from my past that I recall with the futile wish to repeat it. I was never more than my own vestige or simulacrum. My past is everything I failed to be. I don’t even miss the feelings I had back then, because what is felt requires the present moment – once this has passed, there’s a turning of the page and the story continues, but with a different text.
Brief dark shadow of a downtown tree, light sound of water falling into the sad pool, green of the trimmed lawn – public garden shortly before twilight: you are in this moment the whole universe for me, for you are the full content of my conscious sensation. All I want from life is to feel it being lost in these unexpected evenings, to the sound of strange children playing in gardens like this one, fenced in by the melancholy of the surrounding streets and topped, beyond the trees’ tallest branches, by the old sky where the stars are again coming out.101
If our life were an eternal standing by the window, if we could remain there for ever, like hovering smoke, with the same moment of twilight forever paining the curve of the hills… If we could remain that way for beyond for ever! If at least on this side of the impossible we could thus continue, without committing an action, without our pallid lips sinning another word!
Look how it’s getting dark!… The positive quietude of everything fills me with rage, with something that’s a bitterness in the air I breathe. My soul aches… A slow wisp of smoke rises and dissipates in the distance… A restless tedium makes me think no more of you…
All so superfluous! We and the world and the mystery of both.102
Life is whatever we conceive it to be. For the farmer who considers his field to be everything, the field is an empire. For a Caesar whose empire is still not enough, the empire is a field. The poor man possesses an empire, the great man a field. All that we truly possess are our own sensations; it is in them, rather than in what they sense, that we must base our life’s reality.
This has nothing to do with anything.
I’ve dreamed a great deal. I’m tired from having dreamed but not tired of dreaming. No one tires of dreaming, because dreaming is forgetting, and forgetting doesn’t weigh a thing; it’s a dreamless sleep in which we’re awake. In dreams I’ve done everything. I’ve also woken up, but so what? How many Caesars I’ve been! And the great men of history – how mean-spirited! Caesar, after his life was spared by a merciful pirate, ordered a search to find the pirate, who was then crucified. Napoleon, in the will he wrote in Saint Helena, made a bequest to a common criminal who tried to assassinate Wellington. O greatness of spirit no greater than that of the squint-eyed neighbour lady! O great men of another world’s cook! How many Caesars I’ve been and still dream of being.
How many Caesars I’ve been, but not the real ones. I’ve been truly imperial while dreaming, and that’s why I’ve never been anything. My armies were defeated, but the defeat was fluffy, and no one died. I lost no flags. My dream didn’t get as far as the army; my flags never turned the corner into full dreamed view. How many Caesars I’ve been, right here, on the Rua dos Douradores. And the Caesars I’ve been still live in my imagination; but the Caesars that were are dead, and the Rua dos Douradores – Reality, that is – cannot know them.
I throw an empty matchbox towards the abyss that’s the street beyond the sill of my high window without balcony. I sit up in my chair and listen. Distinctly, as if it meant something, the empty matchbox resounds on the street, declaring to me its desertedness. Not another sound can be heard, except the sounds of the whole city. Yes, thesounds of the city on this long Sunday – so many, all at odds, and all of them right.
How little, from the real world, forms the support of the best reflections: the fact of arriving late for lunch, of running out of matches, of personally, individually throwing the matchbox out the window, of feeling out of sorts for having eaten late, the fact it’s Sunday virtually guaranteeing a lousy sunset, the fact I’m nobody in the world, and all metaphysics.
But how many Caesars I’ve been!103
I cultivate hatred of action like a greenhouse flower. I dissent from life and am proud of it.104
No intelligent idea can gain general acceptance unless some stupidity is mixed in with it. Collective thought is stupid because it’s collective. Nothing passes into the realm of the collective without leaving at the border – like a toll – most of the intelligence it contained.
In youth we’re twofold. Our innate intelligence, which may be considerable, coexists with the stupidity of our inexperience, which forms a second, lesser intelligence. Only later on do the two unite. That’s why youth always blunders – not because of its inexperience, but because of its non-unity.
Today the only course left for the man of superior intelligence is abdication.105AESTHETICS OFABDICATION
To conform is to submit, and to conquer is to conform, to be conquered. Thus every victory is a debasement. The conqueror inevitably loses all the virtues born of frustration with thestatus quothat led him to the fight that brought victory. He becomes satisfied, and only those who conform – who lack the conqueror’s mentality – are satisfied. Only the man who never achieves his goal conquers. Only the man who is forever discouraged is strong. The best and most regal course is to abdicate. The supreme empire belongs to the emperor who abdicates from all normal life and from other men, for the preservation of his supremacy won’t weigh on him like a load of jewels.106
Sometimes, when I lift my dazed head from the books where I record other people’s accounts and the absence of a life I can call my own, I feel a physical nausea, which might be from hunching over, but which transcends the numbers and my disillusion. I find life distasteful, like a useless medicine. And that’s when I feel, and can clearly picture, how easy it would be to get rid of this tedium, if I had the simple strength of will to really want to get rid of it.
We live by action – by acting on desire. Those of us who don’t know how to want – whether geniuses or beggars – are related by impotence. What’s the point of calling myself a genius, if I’m after all an assistant bookkeeper? When Cesário Verde* made sure the doctor knew that he was not Senhor Verde, an office worker, but Cesário Verde the poet, he used one of those self-important terms that reek of vanity. What he always was, poor man, was Senhor Verde, an office worker. The poet was born after he died, for it was only then that he was appreciated as a poet.
To act – that is true wisdom. I can be what I want to be, but I haveto want whatever it is. Success consists in being successful, not in having the potential for success. Any wide piece of ground is the potential site of a palace, but there’s no palace until it’s built.
My pride was stoned by blind men, my disillusion trampled on by beggars.
‘I want you only to dream of you,’ they tell the beloved woman in verses they never send – they who dare not tell her anything. This ‘I want you only to dream of you’ is a verse from an old poem of mine. I record the memory with a smile, and don’t even comment on the smile.107
I’m one of those souls women say they love but never recognize when they meet us – one of those souls that they would never recognize, even if they recognized us. I endure the sensitivity of my feelings with an attitude of disdain. I have all the qualities for which romantic poets are admired, and even the lack of those qualities, which makes one a true romantic poet. I find myself partially described in novels as the protagonist of various plots, but the essence of my life and soul is never to be a protagonist.
I don’t have any idea of myself, not even the kind that consists in the lack of an idea of myself. I’m a nomad in my self-awareness. The herds of my inner riches scattered during the first watch.
The only tragedy is not being able to conceive of ourselves as tragic. I’ve always clearly seen that I coexist with the world. I’ve never clearly felt that I needed to coexist with it. That’s why I’ve never been normal.
To act is to rest.
All problems are insoluble. The essence of there being a problem is that there’s no solution. To go looking for a fact means the fact doesn’t exist. To think is to not know how to be.
Sometimes I spend hours at the Terreiro do Paço,* next to the river,meditating in vain. My impatience keeps trying to tear me away from that peace, and my inertia keeps holding me there. And in this state of bodily torpor that suggests sensuality only in the way the wind’s whispering recalls voices, I meditate on the eternal insatiability of my vague desires, on the permanent fickleness of my impossible yearnings. I suffer mainly from the malady of being able to suffer. I’m missing something I don’t really want, and I suffer because this isn’t true suffering.
The wharf, the afternoon and the smell of ocean all enter, together, into the composition of my anxiety. The flutes of impossible shepherds are no sweeter than the absence of flutes that right now reminds me of them. The distant idylls alongside streams grieve me in this inwardly analogous moment .....108
It’s possible to feel life as a sickness in the stomach, the very existence of one’s soul as a muscular discomfort. Desolation of spirit, when sharply felt, stirs distant tides in the body, where it suffers pain by proxy.
I’m conscious of myself on a day when the pain of being conscious is, as the poet* says,
and agonizing desire.109(storm)
Dark silence lividly teems. Above the occasional creaking of a fast-moving cart, a nearby truck produces a thundering sound – a ridiculous mechanical echo of what’s really happening in the closely distant skies.
Again, without warning, magnetic light gushes forth, flickering. My heart beats with a gulp. A glass dome shatters on high into large bits. A new sheet of ruthless rain strikes the sound of the ground.
(Senhor Vasques) His wan face is an unnatural and befuddled green. I watch him take his laboured breaths with the kinship of knowing I’ll be no different.110
After I’ve slept many dreams, I go out to the street with eyes wide open but still with the aura and assurance of my dreams. And I’m astonished by my automatism, which prevents others from really knowing me. For I go through daily life still holding the hand of my astral nursemaid; my steps are in perfect accord with the obscure designs of my sleeping mind. And I walk in the right direction; I don’t stagger; I react well; I exist.
But in the respites when I don’t have to watch where I’m going to avoid vehicles or oncoming pedestrians, when I don’t have to speak to anyone or enter a door up ahead, then I launch once more like a paper boat on to the waters of sleep, and once more I return to the fading illusion that cuddles my hazy consciousness of the morning now emerging amid the sounds of the vegetable carts.
And it is then, in the middle of life’s bustle, that my dream becomes a marvellous film. I walk along an unreal downtown street, and the reality of its non-existent lives affectionately wraps my head in a white cloth of false memories. I’m a navigator engaged in unknowing myself. I’ve overcome everything where I’ve never been. And this somnolence that allows me to walk, bent forward in a march over the impossible, feels like a fresh breeze.
Everyone has his alcohol. To exist is alcohol enough for me. Drunk from feeling, I wander as I walk straight ahead. When it’s time, I show up at the office like everyone else. When it’s not time, I go to the river to gaze at the river, like everyone else. I’m no different. And behind all this, O sky my sky, I secretly constellate and have my infinity.111
Every man of today, unless his moral stature and intellectual level are that of a pygmy or a churl, loves with romantic love when he loves. Romantic love is a rarefied product of century after century of Christian influence, and everything about its substance and development can be explained to the unenlightened by comparing it to a suit fashioned by the soul or the imagination and used to clothe those whom the mind thinks it fits, when they happen to come along.
But every suit, since it isn’t eternal, lasts as long as it lasts; and soon, under the fraying clothes of the ideal we’ve formed, the real body of the person we dressed it in shows through.
Romantic love is thus a path to disillusion, unless this disillusion, accepted from the start, decides to vary the ideal constantly, constantly sewing new suits in the soul’s workshops so as to constantly renew the appearance of the person they clothe.112
We never love anyone. What we love is the idea we have of someone. It’s our own concept – our own selves – that we love.
This is true in the whole gamut of love. In sexual love we seek our own pleasure via another body. In non-sexual love, we seek our own pleasure via our own idea. The masturbator may be abject, but in point of fact he’s the perfect logical expression of the lover. He’s the only one who doesn’t feign and doesn’t fool himself.
The relations between one soul and another, expressed through such uncertain and variable things as shared words and proffered gestures, are deceptively complex. The very act of meeting each other is a non-meeting. Two people say ‘I love you’ or mutually think it and feel it, and each has in mind a different idea, a different life, perhaps even a different colour or fragrance, in the abstract sum of impressions that constitute the soul’s activity.
Today I’m lucid as if I didn’t exist. My thinking is as naked as askeleton, without the fleshly tatters of the illusion of expression. And these considerations that I forge and abandon weren’t born from anything – at least not from anything in the front rows of my consciousness. Perhaps it was the sales representative’s disillusion with his girlfriend, perhaps a sentence I read in one of the romantic tales that our newspapers reprint from the foreign press, or perhaps just a vague nausea for which I can think of no physical cause…
The scholiast who annotated Virgil was wrong. Understanding is what wearies us most of all. To live is to not think.113
Two or three days like the beginning of love…
The value of this for the aesthete is in the feelings it produces. To go further would be to enter the realm of jealousy, suffering and anxiety. In this antechamber of emotion there’s all the sweetness of love – hints of pleasure, whiffs of passion – without any of its depth. If this means giving up the grandeur of tragic love, we must remember that tragedies, for the aesthete, are interesting to observe but unpleasant to experience. The cultivation of life hinders that of the imagination. It is the aloof, uncommon man who rules.
No doubt this theory would satisfy me, if I could convince myself that it’s not what it is: a complicated jabber to fill the ears of my intelligence, to make it almost forget that at heart I’m just timid, with no aptitude for life.114AESTHETICS OFARTIFICIALITY
Life hinders the expression of life. If I actually lived a great love, I would never be able to describe it.
Not even I know if this I that I’m disclosing to you, in thesemeandering pages, actually exists or is but a fictitious, aesthetic concept I’ve made of myself. Yes, that’s right. I live aesthetically as someone else. I’ve sculpted my life like a statue made of matter that’s foreign to my being. Having employed my self-awareness in such a purely artistic way, and having become so completely external to myself, I sometimes no longer recognize myself. Who am I behind this unreality? I don’t know. I must be someone. And if I avoid living, acting and feeling, then believe me, it’s so as not to tamper with the contours of my invented personality. I want to be exactly like what I wanted to be and am not. If I were to give in to life, I’d be destroyed. I want to be a work of art, at least in my soul, since I can’t be one in my body. That’s why I’ve sculpted myself in quiet isolation and have placed myself in a hothouse, cut off from fresh air and direct light – where the absurd flower of my artificiality can blossom in secluded beauty.
Sometimes I muse about how wonderful it would be if I could string all my dreams together into one continuous life, a life consisting of entire days full of imaginary companions and created people, a false life which I could live and suffer and enjoy. Misfortune would sometimes strike me there, and there I would also experience great joys. And nothing about me would be real. But everything would have a sublime logic; it would all pulse to a rhythm of sensual falseness, taking place in a city built out of my soul and extending all the way to the platform next to an idle train, far away in the distance within me… And it would all be vivid and inevitable, as in the outer life, but with an aesthetics of the Dying Sun.115
To organize our life in such a way that it becomes a mystery to others, that those who are closest to us will only be closer to not knowing us. That is how I’ve shaped my life, almost without thinking about it, but I did it with so much instinctive art that even to myself I’ve become a not entirely clear and definite individual.116
To write is to forget. Literature is the most agreeable way of ignoring life. Music soothes, the visual arts exhilarate, and the performing arts (such as acting and dance) entertain. Literature, however, retreats from life by turning it into a slumber. The other arts make no such retreat – some because they use visible and hence vital formulas, others because they live from human life itself.
This isn’t the case with literature. Literature simulates life. A novel is a story of what never was, and a play is a novel without narration. A poem is the expression of ideas or feelings in a language no one uses, because no one talks in verse.117
Most people are afflicted by an inability to say what they see or think. They say there’s nothing more difficult than to define a spiral in words; they claim it’s necessary to use the unliterary hand, twirling it in a steadily upward direction, so that human eyes will perceive the abstract figure immanent in a wire spring and a certain type of staircase. But if we remember that to say is to renew, we will have no trouble defining a spiral: it’s a circle that rises without ever closing. I realize that most people would never dare define it this way, for they suppose that defining is to say what others want us to say rather than what’s required for the definition. I’ll say it more accurately: a spiral is a potential circle that winds round as it rises, without ever completing itself. But no, the definition is still abstract. I’ll resort to the concrete, and all will become clear: a spiral is a snake without a snake, vertically wound around nothing.
All literature is an attempt to make life real. As all of us know, even when we don’t act on what we know, life is absolutely unreal in its directly real form; the country, the city and our ideas are all absolutely fictitious things, the offspring of our complex sensation of our own selves. Impressions are incommunicable unless we make them literary.Children are particularly literary, for they say what they feel and not what someone has taught them to feel. Once I heard a child, who wished to say that he was on the verge of tears, say not ‘I feel like crying,’ which is what an adult, i.e. an idiot, would say, but rather, ‘I feel like tears.’ And this phrase – so literary it would seem affected in a well-known poet, if he could ever invent it – decisively refers to the warm presence of tears about to burst from eyelids that feel the liquid bitterness. ‘I feel like tears’! That small child aptly defined his spiral.
To say! To know how to say! To know how to exist via the written voice and the intellectual image! This is all that matters in life; the rest is men and women, imagined loves and factitious vanities, the wiles of our digestion and forgetfulness, people squirming – like worms when a rock is lifted – under the huge abstract boulder of the meaningless blue sky.118
Why should I care that no one reads what I write? I write to forget about life, and I publish because that’s one of the rules of the game. If tomorrow all my writings were lost, I’d be sorry, but I doubt I’d be violently and frantically sorry, as one might expect, given that with my writings would go my entire life. I would probably be like the mother who loses her son but is back to normal in a few months’ time. The great earth that cares for the hills would also, in a less motherly fashion, take care of the pages I’ve written. Nothing matters, and I’m sure there have been people who, looking at life, didn’t have much patience for this child that was still awake, when all they wanted was the peace that would come once the child went to bed.119
It has always disappointed me to read the allusions in Amiel’s diary* to the fact that he published books. That’s where he falls down. How great he would be otherwise!
Amiel’s diary has always grieved me on my own account. When I came to the passage where he says that Scherer* described the fruit of the mind as ‘the consciousness of consciousness’, I felt it as a direct reference to my soul.120
That obscure and almost imponderable malice that gladdens every human heart when confronted by the pain and discomfort of others has been redirected, in me, to my own pains, so that I can actually take pleasure in feeling ridiculous or contemptible, as if it were someone else in my place. By a strange and fantastic transformation of sentiments, I don’t feel that malicious and all-too-human gladness when faced with other people’s pain and embarrassment. When others are in difficulty, what I feel isn’t sorrow but an aesthetic discomfort and a sinuous irritation. This isn’t due to compassion but to the fact that whoever looks ridiculous looks that way to others and not just to me, and it irritates me when someone looks ridiculous to others; it grieves me that any animal of the human species should laugh at the expense of another when he has no right to. I don’t care if others laugh at my expense, for I have the advantage of an armoured contempt towards whatever’s outside me.
I’ve surrounded the garden of my being with high iron gratings – more imposing than any stone wall – in such a way that I can perfectly see others while perfectly excluding them, keeping them in their place as others.
To discover ways of not acting has been my main concern in life.
I refuse to submit to the state or to men; I passively resist. The state can only want me for some sort of action. As long as I don’t act,there’s nothing it can get from me. Since capital punishment has been abolished, the most it can do is harass me; were this to occur, I would have to armour my soul even more, and live even deeper inside my dreams. But this hasn’t happened yet. The state has never bothered me. Fate, it seems, has looked out for me.121
Like all men endowed with great mental mobility, I have an irrevocable, organic love of settledness. I abhor new ways of life and unfamiliar places.122
The idea of travelling nauseates me.
I’ve already seen what I’ve never seen.
I’ve already seen what I have yet to see.
The tedium of the forever new, the tedium of discovering – behind the specious differences of things and ideas – the unrelenting sameness of everything, the absolute similarity of a mosque and a temple and a church, the exact equivalence of a cabin and a castle, the same physical body for a king in robes and for a naked savage, the eternal concordance of life with itself, the stagnation of everything I live, all of it equally condemned to change*…
Landscapes are repetitions. On a simple train ride I uselessly and restlessly waver between my inattention to the landscape and my inattention to the book that would amuse me if I were someone else. Life makes me feel a vague nausea, and any kind of movement aggravates it.
Only landscapes that don’t exist and books I’ll never read aren’t tedious. Life, for me, is a drowsiness that never reaches the brain. This I keep free, so that I can be sad there.
Ah, let those who don’t exist travel! For someone who isn’t anything, like a river, forward motion is no doubt life. But for those who are alert, who think and feel, the horrendous hysteria of trains, cars and ships makes it impossible to sleep or to wake up.
From any trip, even a short one, I return as from a slumber full of dreams – in a dazed confusion, with one sensation stuck to another, feeling drunk from what I saw.
I can’t rest for lack of good health in my soul. I can’t move because of something lacking between my body and soul; it’s not movement that I’m missing, but the very desire to move.
Often enough I’ve wanted to cross the river – those ten minutes from the Terreiro do Paço to Cacilhas.* And I’ve always felt intimidated by so many people, by myself, and by my intention. Once or twice I’ve made the trip, nervous the whole way, setting my foot on dry land only after I’d returned.
When one feels too intensely, the Tagus is an endless Atlantic, and Cacilhas another continent, or even another universe.123
Renunciation is liberation. Not wanting is power.
What can China give me that my soul hasn’t already given me? And if my soul can’t give it to me, how will China give it to me? For it’s with my soul that I’ll see China, if I ever see it. I could go and seek riches in the Orient, but not the riches of the soul, because I am my soul’s riches, and I am where I am, with or without the Orient.
Travel is for those who cannot feel. That’s why travel books are always so unsatisfying as books of experience. They’re worth only as much as the imagination of the one who writes them, and if the writer has imagination, he can as easily enchant us with the detailed, photographic description – down to each tiny coloured pennant – of scenes he imagined as he can with the necessarily less detailed description of the scenes he thought he saw. All of us are near-sighted, except on the inside. Only the eyes we use for dreaming truly see.
There are basically only two things in our earthly experience: the universal and the particular. To describe the universal is to describe what is common to all human souls and to all human experience – the broad sky, with day and night occurring in it and by it; the flowing of rivers, all with the same fresh and nunnish water; the vast waving mountains known as oceans, which hold the majesty of height in the secret of their depths; the fields, the seasons, houses, faces, gestures; clothes and smiles; love and wars; gods both finite and infinite; the formless Night, mother of the world’s origin; Fate, the intellectual monster that is everything… Describing these or any other universals, my soul speaks the primitive and divine language, the Adamic tongue that everyone understands. But what splintered, Babelish language would I use to describe the Santa Justa Lift,* the Reims Cathedral, the breeches worn by the Zouaves, or the way Portuguese is pronounced in the province of Trás-os-Montes? These are surface differences, the ground’s unevenness, which we can feel by walking but not by our abstract feeling. What’s universal in the Santa Justa Lift is the mechanical technology that makes life easier. What’s true in the Reims Cathedral is neither Reims nor the Cathedral but the religious splendour of buildings dedicated to understanding the human soul’s depths. What’s eternal in the Zouaves’ breeches is the colourful fiction of clothes, a human language whose social simplicity is, in a certain way, a new nakedness. What’s universal in local accents is the homely tone of voice in those who live spontaneously, the diversity within groups, the multicoloured parade of customs, the differences between peoples, and the immense variety of nations.
Eternal tourists of ourselves, there is no landscape but what we are. We possess nothing, for we don’t even possess ourselves. We have nothing because we are nothing. What hand will I reach out, and to what universe? The universe isn’t mine: it’s me.124(Chapter on Indifference or something like that)
Every soul worthy of itself desires to live life in the Extreme. To be satisfied with what one is given is for slaves. To ask for more is for children. To conquer more is for madmen, because every conquest is .....
To live life in the Extreme means to live it to the limit, but there are three ways of doing this, and it’s up to the superior soul to choose one of the ways. The first way to live life in the extreme is by possessing it to an extreme degree, via a Ulyssean journey through all experiential sensations, through all forms of externalized energy. Few people, however, in all the ages of the world, have been able to shut their eyes with a fatigue that’s the sum of all fatigues, having possessed everything in every way.
Indeed few can get life to yield to them completely, body and soul, making them so sure of its love that jealous thoughts become impossible. But this must surely be the desire of every superior, strong-willed soul. When this soul, however, realizes that it can never accomplish such a feat, that it lacks the strength to conquer all parts of the Whole, then there are two other roads it can follow. One is total renunciation, formal and complete abstention, whereby it transfers to the sensible sphere whatever cannot be wholly possessed in the sphere of activity and energy; better to supremely not act than to act spottily, inadequately and in vain, like the superfluous, inane, vast majority of men. The other road is that of perfect equilibrium, the search for the Limit in Absolute Proportion, whereby the longing for the Extreme passes from the will and emotion to the Intelligence, one’s entire ambition being not to live all life or to feel all life but to organize all life, to consummate it in intelligent Harmony and Coordination.
The longing to understand, which in noble souls often replaces the longing to act, belongs to the sphere of sensibility. To replace energy with the Intelligence, to break the link between will and emotion, stripping the material life’s gestures of any and all interest – this, ifachieved, is worth more than life, which is so hard to possess in its entirety and so sad when possessed only in part.
The argonauts said* that it wasn’t necessary to live, only to sail. We, argonauts of our pathological sensibility, say that it’s not necessary to live, only to feel.125
Your ships, Lord, didn’t make a greater voyage than the one made by my thought, in the disaster of this book. They rounded no cape and sighted no far-flung beach – beyond what daring men had dared and what minds had dreamed – to equal the capes I rounded with my imagination and the beaches where I landed with my .....
Thanks to your initiative, Lord, the Real World was discovered. The Intellectual World will be discovered thanks to mine.
Your argonauts* grappled with monsters and fears. In the voyage of my thought, I also had monsters and fears to contend with. On the path to the abstract chasm that lies in the depths of things there are horrors that the world’s men don’t imagine and fears to endure that human experience doesn’t know. The cape of the common sea beyond which all is mystery is perhaps more human than the abstract path to the world’s void.
Separated from their native soil, banished from the path leading back to their homes, forever widowed from the tranquillity of life being the same, your emissaries finally arrived, when you were already dead, at the oceanic end of the Earth. They saw, materially, a new sky and new earth.
I, far away from the paths to myself, blind to the vision of the life I love,..... I too have finally arrived at the vacant end of things, at the imponderable edge of creation’s limit, at the port-in-no-place of the World’s abstract chasm.
I have entered, Lord, that Port. I have wandered, Lord, over that sea. I have gazed, Lord, at that invisible chasm.
I dedicate this work of supreme Discovery to the memory of your Portuguese name, creator of argonauts.126
I have times of great stagnation. It’s not, as happens to everyone, that I let days and days go by without sending a postcard in response to the urgent letter I received. It’s not, as happens to no one, that I indefinitely postpone what’s easy and would be useful, or what’s useful and would be pleasurable. There’s more subtlety in my self-contradiction. I stagnate in my very soul. My will, emotions and thought stop functioning, and this suspension lasts for days on end; only the vegetative life of my soul – words, gestures, habits – expresses me to others and, through them, to myself.
In these periods of shadowy subsistence, I’m unable to think, feel or want. I can’t write more than numbers and scribbles. I don’t feel, and the death of a loved one would strike me as having happened in a foreign language. I’m helpless. It’s as if I were sleeping and my gestures, words and deliberate acts were no more than a peripheral respiration, the rhythmic instinct of some organism.
Thus the days keep passing, and if I added them all up, who knows how much of my life they would amount to? It sometimes occurs to me, when I shake off this state of suspension, that perhaps I’m not as naked as I suppose, that perhaps there are still intangible clothes covering the eternal absence of my true soul. It occurs to me that thinking, feeling and wanting can also be stagnations, on the threshold of a more intimate thinking, a feeling that’s more mine, a will lost somewhere in the labyrinth of who I really am.
However it may be, I’ll let it be. And to whatever god or gods that be, I’ll let go of who I am, according as luck and chance determine, faithful to a forgotten pledge.127
I don’t get indignant, because indignation is for the strong; I’m not resigned, because resignation is for the noble; I don’t hold my peace, because silence is for the great. And I’m neither strong, nor noble, nor great. I suffer and I dream. I complain because I’m weak. And since I’m an artist, I amuse myself by making my complaints musical and by arranging my dreams according to my idea of what makes them beautiful.
I only regret not being a child, since then I could believe in my dreams, and not being a madman, since then I could keep everyone around me from getting close to my soul .....
Taking dreams for reality, living too intensely what I dream, has given this thorn to the false rose of my dreamed life: that not even dreams cheer me, because I see their defects.
Not even by colourfully painting my window can I block out the noise of the life outside, which doesn’t know I’m observing it.
Happy the creators of pessimistic systems! Besides taking refuge in the fact of having made something, they can exult in their explanation of universal suffering, and include themselves in it.
I don’t complain about the world. I don’t protest in the name of the universe. I’m not a pessimist. I suffer and complain, but I don’t know if suffering is the norm, nor do I know if it’s human to suffer. Why should I care to know?
I suffer, without knowing if I deserve to. (A hunted doe.)
I’m not a pessimist. I’m sad.128
I’ve always rejected being understood. To be understood is to prostitute oneself. I prefer to be taken seriously for what I’m not, remaining humanly unknown, with naturalness and all due respect.
Nothing would bother me more than if they found me strange at the office. I like to revel in the irony that they don’t find me at all strange. I like the hair shirt of being regarded by them as their equal. I like the crucifixion of being considered no different. There are martyrdoms more subtle than those recorded for the saints and hermits. There are torments of our mental awareness as there are of the body and of desire. And in the former, as in the latter, there’s a certain sensuality .....129
The office boy was tying up the day’s packages in the twilight coolness of the empty office. ‘What a thunderclap!’ the cruel bandit said to no one, in the loud voice of a ‘Good morning!’ My heart started beating again. The apocalypse had passed. There was a respite.
And with what relief – a flashing light, a pause, the hard clap – did this now near, then retreating thunder relieve us of what had been. God had ceased. My lungs breathed heavily. I realized it was stuffy in the office. I noticed that there were other people besides the office boy. They had all been silent. I heard something crisp and tremulous: it was one of the Ledger’s large and heavy pages that Moreira, checking something, had abruptly turned.
I often wonder what I would be like if, shielded from the winds of fate by the screen of wealth, I’d never been brought by the dutiful hand of my uncle to an office in Lisbon, nor risen from it to other offices, all the way up to this paltry pinnacle as a competent assistant bookkeeper, with a job that’s like a siesta and a salary that I can live on.
I realize that if I’d had this imagined past, I wouldn’t now be able to write these pages, which are at least something, and therefore better than all the pages I would only have dreamed of writing in better circumstances. For banality is a form of intelligence, and reality –especially if stupid or crude – is a natural complement of the soul.
My job as a bookkeeper is responsible for a large part of what I’m able to feel and think, since this occurs as a denial and evasion of that selfsame job.
If I had to list, in the blank space of a questionnaire, the main literary influences on my intellectual development, I would immediately jot down the name of Cesário Verde,* but I would also write in the names of Senhor Vasques my boss, of Moreira the head bookkeeper, of Vieira the local sales representative, and of António the office boy. And as the crucial address of them all I would write LISBON in big letters.
The fact is that not only Cesário Verde, but also my co-workers, have served as correction coefficients for my vision of the world. I think that’s the term (whose exact meaning I obviously don’t know) for the treatment given by engineers to mathematics so that it can be applied to life. If it is the right term, then that’s what I meant. If it isn’t, then let’s imagine it could be, the intention substituting for the failed metaphor.
And if I think, with all the lucidity I can muster, about what my life has apparently been, I see it as a coloured thing – a chocolate wrapper or a cigar band – swept from the dirty tablecloth by the brisk brush of the housemaid (who’s listening overhead) and landing in the dustpan with the crumbs and the crusts of reality proper. It stands out from other things with a similar destiny by its privilege of getting to ride in the dustpan as well. And above the maid’s brushing the gods continue their conversation, indifferent to the affairs of the world’s servants.
Yes, if I’d been wealthy, shielded, spruce, ornamental, I wouldn’t even have been this brief episode of pretty paper among crumbs; I would have remained on a lucky dish – ‘Thank you but no’ – and have retreated to the sideboard to grow old. This way, rejected after my useful substance has been eaten, I go to the rubbish bin with the dust of what’s left of Christ’s body, and I can’t imagine what will follow and among what stars, but something – inevitably – will follow.131
Since I have nothing to do and nothing to think about doing, I’m going to describe my ideal on this sheet of paper –
The sensibility of Mallarmé in the style of Vieira;* to dream like Verlaine in the body of Horace; to be Homer in the moonlight.
To feel everything in every way; to be able to think with the emotions and feel with the mind; not to desire much except with the imagination; to suffer with haughtiness; to see clearly so as to write accurately; to know oneself through diplomacy and dissimulation; to become naturalized as a different person, with all the necessary documents; in short, to use all sensations but only on the inside, peeling them all down to God and then wrapping everything up again and putting it back in the shop window like the sales assistant I can see from here with the small tins of a new brand of shoe polish.
All these ideals, possible or impossible, now end. Now I face reality, which isn’t even the sales assistant (whom I don’t see), only his hand, the absurd tentacle of a soul with a family and a fate, and it twists like a spider without a web while putting back tins of polish in the window.
And one of the tins fell, like the Fate of us all.*132
The more I contemplate the spectacle of the world and the ever-changing state of things, the more profoundly I’m convinced of the inherent fiction of everything, of the false importance exhibited by all realities. And in this contemplation (which has occurred to all thinking souls at one time or another), the colourful parade of customs and fashions, the complex path of civilizations and progress, the grandiose commotion of empires and cultures – all of this strikes me as a myth and a fiction, dreamed among shadows and ruins. But I’m not surewhether the supreme resolution of all these dead intentions – dead even when achieved – lies in the ecstatic resignation of the Buddha, who, once he understood the emptiness of things, stood up from his ecstasy saying, ‘Now I know everything’, or in the jaded indifference of the emperor Severus: ‘Omnia fui, nihil expedit – I’ve been everything, nothing’s worth the trouble.’133
…the world – a dunghill of instinctive forces that nevertheless shines in the sun with pale shades of light and dark gold.
The way I see it, plagues, storms and wars are products of the same blind force, sometimes operating through unconscious microbes, sometimes through unconscious waters and thunderbolts, and sometimes through unconscious men. For me, the difference between an earthquake and a massacre is like the difference between murdering with a knife and murdering with a dagger. The monster immanent in things, for the sake of his own good or his own evil, which are apparently indifferent to him, is equally served by the shifting of a rock on a hilltop or by the stirring of envy or greed in a heart. The rock falls and kills a man; greed or envy prompts an arm, and the arm kills a man. Such is the world – a dunghill of instinctive forces that nevertheless shines in the sun with pale shades of light and dark gold.
To oppose the brutal indifference that constitutes the manifest essence of things, the mystics discovered it was best to renounce. To deny the world, to turn our backs on it as on a swamp at whose edge we suddenly find ourselves standing. To deny, like the Buddha, its absolute reality; to deny, like Christ, its relative reality; to deny .....
All I asked of life is that it ask nothing of me. At the door of the cottage I never had, I sat in the sunlight that never fell there, and I enjoyed the future old age of my tired reality (glad that I hadn’t arrived there yet). To still not have died is enough for life’s wretches, and to still have hope .....
..... satisfied with dreams only when I’m not dreaming, satisfied with the world only when I’m dreaming far away from it. A swinging pendulum, back and forth, forever moving to arrive nowhere, eternally captive to the twin fatality of a centre and a useless motion.134
I seek and don’t find myself. I belong to chrysanthemum hours, neatly lined up in flowerpots. God made my soul to be a decorative object.
I don’t know what overly pompous and selective details define my temperament. If I love the ornamental, it must be because I sense something there that’s identical to the substance of my soul.135
The simplest, truly simplest things, which nothing can make semi-simple, become complex when I live them. To wish someone a good day sometimes intimidates me. My voice gets caught, as if there were a strange audacity in saying these words out loud. It’s a kind of squeamishness about existing – there’s no other way to put it!
The constant analysis of our sensations creates a new way of feeling, which seems artificial to those who only analyse with the intellect, and not with sensation itself.
All my life I’ve been metaphysically glib, serious at playing around. I haven’t done anything seriously, however much I may have wanted to. A mischievous Destiny had fun with me.
To have emotions made of chintz, or of silk, or of brocade! To have emotions that could be described like that! To have describable emotions!
I feel in my soul a divine regret for everything, a choked and sobbing grief for the condemnation of dreams in the flesh of those who dreamedthem. And I hate without hatred all the poets who wrote verses, all the idealists who saw their ideals take shape, all those who obtained what they wanted.
I haphazardly roam the calm streets, walking until my body is as tired as my soul, grieved to the point of that old and familiar grief that likes to be felt, pitying itself with an indefinable, maternal compassion set to music.
Sleep! To fall asleep! To have peace! To be an abstract consciousness that’s conscious only of breathing peacefully, without a world, without heavens, without a soul – a dead sea of emotion reflecting an absence of stars!136
The burden of feeling! The burden of having to feel!137
… the hypersensitivity of my feelings, or perhaps merely of their expression, or perhaps, more accurately, of the intelligence which lies between the former and the latter and which forms, from my wish to express, the fictitious emotion that exists only to be expressed. (Perhaps it’s just the machine in me that reveals who I’m not.)138
There’s an erudition of acquired knowledge, which is erudition in the narrowest sense, and there’s an erudition of understanding, which we call culture. But there’s also an erudition of the sensibility.
Erudition of the sensibility has nothing to do with the experience oflife. The experience of life teaches nothing, just as history teaches nothing. True experience comes from restricting our contract with reality while increasing our analysis of that contact. In this way our sensibility becomes broader and deeper, because everything is in us – all we need to do is look for it and know how to look.
What’s travel and what good is it? Any sunset is the sunset; one doesn’t have to go to Constantinople to see it. The sensation of freedom that travel brings? I can have it by going from Lisbon to Benfica,* and have it more intensely than one who goes from Lisbon to China, because if the freedom isn’t in me, then I won’t have it no matter where I go. ‘Any road,’ said Carlyle,* ‘this simple Entepfuhl road, will lead you to the end of the World.’ But the Entepfuhl road, if it is followed all the way to the end, returns to Entepfuhl; so that Entepfuhl, where we already were, is the same end of the world we set out to find.
Condillac begins his celebrated book* with: ‘No matter how high we climb or how low we descend, we never escape our sensations.’ We never disembark from ourselves. We never attain another existence unless we other ourselves by actively, vividly imagining who we are. The true landscapes are those that we ourselves create since, being their gods, we see them as they truly are, which is however we created them. None of the four corners of the world is the one that interests me and that I can truly see; it’s the fifth corner that I travel in, and it belongs to me.
Whoever has crossed all the seas has crossed only the monotony of himself. I’ve crossed more seas than anyone. I’ve seen more mountains than there are on earth. I’ve passed through more cities than exist, and the great rivers of non-worlds have flown sovereignly under my watching eyes. If I were to travel, I’d find a poor copy of what I’ve already seen without taking one step.
In the countries that others go to, they go as anonymous foreigners. In the countries I’ve visited, I’ve been not only the secret pleasure of the unknown traveller, but also the majesty of the reigning king, the indigenous people and their culture, and the entire history of the nation and its neighbours. I saw every landscape and every house because they were me, made in God from the substance of my imagination.139
For a long time now I haven’t written. Months have gone by in which I haven’t lived, just endured, between the office and physiology, in an inward stagnation of thinking and feeling. Unfortunately, this isn’t even restful, since in rotting there’s fermentation.
For a long time now I haven’t written and haven’t even existed. I hardly even seem to be dreaming. The streets for me are just streets. I do my office work conscious only of it, though I can’t say without distraction: in the back of my mind I’m sleeping instead of meditating (which is what I usually do), but I still have a different existence behind my work.
For a long time now I haven’t existed. I’m utterly calm. No one distinguishes me from who I am. I just felt myself breathe as if I’d done something new, or done it late. I’m beginning to be conscious of being conscious. Perhaps tomorrow I’ll wake up to myself and resume the course of my own existence. I don’t know if that will make me more happy or less. I don’t know anything. I lift my pedestrian’s head and see that, on the hill of the Castle, the sunset’s reflection is burning in dozens of windows, in a lofty brilliance of cold fire. Around these hard-flamed eyes, the entire hillside has the softness of day’s end. I’m able at least to feel sad, and to be conscious that my sadness was just now crossed – I saw it with my ears – by the sudden sound of a passing tram, by the casual voices of young people, and by the forgotten murmur of the living city.
For a long time now I haven’t been I.140
It sometimes happens, more or less suddenly, that in the midst of my sensations I’m overwhelmed by such a terrible weariness of life that I can’t even conceive of any act that might relieve it. Suicide seems a dubious remedy, and natural death – even assuming it brings unconsciousness – an insufficient one. Rather than the cessation of myexistence, which may or may not be possible, this weariness makes me long for something far more horrifying and profound: never to have existed at all, which is definitely impossible.
Now and then I seem to discern, in the generally confused speculations of the Indians, something of this longing that’s even more negative than nothingness. But either they lack the keenness of sensation to communicate what they think, or they lack the acuity of thought to really feel what they feel. The fact is that what I discern in them I don’t clearly see. The fact is that I think I’m the first to express in words the sinister absurdity of this incurable sensation.
And yet I do cure it, by writing about it. Yes, for every truly profound desolation, one that’s not pure feeling but has some intelligence mixed in with it, there’s always the ironic remedy of expressing it. If literature has no other usefulness, it at least has this one, though it serves only a few.
The ailments of our intelligence unfortunately hurt less than those of our feelings, and those of our feelings unfortunately less than those of the body. I say ‘unfortunately’ because human dignity would require it to be the other way around. There is no mental anguishvis-à-visthe unknown that can hurt us like love or jealousy or nostalgia, that can overwhelm us like intense physical fear, or that can transform us like anger or ambition. But neither can any pain that ravishes the soul be as genuinely painful as a toothache, a stomach-ache, or the pain (I imagine) of childbirth.
We’re made in such a way that the same intelligence that ennobles certain emotions or sensations, elevating them above others, also humbles them, when it extends its analysis to a comparison among them all.
I write as if sleeping, and my entire life is an unsigned receipt.
Inside the coop where he’ll stay until he’s killed, the rooster sings anthems to liberty because he was given two roosts.141RAINYLANDSCAPE
Each drop of rain is my failed life weeping in nature. There’s something of my disquiet in the endless drizzle, then shower, then drizzle, then shower, through which the day’s sorrow uselessly pours itself out over the earth.
It rains and keeps raining. My soul is damp from hearing it. So much rain… My flesh is watery around my physical sensation of it.
An anguished cold holds my poor heart in its icy hands. The greyhours get longer, flattening out in time; the moments drag.
So much rain!
The gutters spew out little torrents of sudden water. A troubling noise of falling rain falls through my awareness that there are downspouts. The rain groans as it listlessly batters the panes .....
A cold hand squeezes my throat and prevents me from breathing life.
Everything is dying in me, even the knowledge that I can dream! I can’t get physically comfortable. Every soft thing I lean against hurts my soul with sharp edges. All eyes I gaze into are terribly dark in this impoverished daylight, propitious for dying without pain.142
The most contemptible thing about dreams is that everyone has them. The delivery boy who dozes against the lamppost in between deliveries is thinking about something in his darkened mind. I know what he’s thinking about: the very same things into which I plummet, between one and another ledger entry, in the summer tedium of the stock-still office.143
I pity those who dream the probable, the reasonable and the accessible more than those who fantasize about the extraordinary and remote. Those who have grandiose dreams are either lunatics who believe in what they dream and are happy, or they’re mere daydreamers whose reveries are like the soul’s music, lulling them and meaning nothing. But those who dream the possible will, very possibly, suffer real disillusion. I can’t be too disappointed over not having become a Roman emperor, but I can sorely regret never once having spoken to the seamstress who at the street corner turns right at about nine o’clock every morning. The dream that promises us the impossible denies us access to it from the start, but the dream that promises the possible interferes with our normal life, relying on it for its fulfilment. The one kind of dream lives by itself, independently, while the other is contingent on what may or may not happen.
That’s why I love impossible landscapes and the vast empty stretches of plains I’ll never see. The historical ages of the past are sheer wonder, because I know from the outset that I can’t be part of them. I sleep when I dream of what doesn’t exist; dreaming of what might exist wakes me up.
It’s midday in the deserted office, and I lean out one of the balcony windows overlooking the street down below. My distraction, aware of the movement of people in my eyes, is too steeped in its meditation to see them. I sleep on my elbows propped painfully on the railing and feel a great promise in knowing nothing. With mental detachment I look at the arrested street full of hurrying people, and I make out the details: the crates piled up on a cart, the sacks at the door of the other warehouse, and, in the farthest window of the grocery on the corner, the glint of those bottles of Port wine that I imagine no one can afford to buy. My spirit abandons the material dimension. I investigate with my imagination. The people passing by on the street are always the same ones who passed by a while ago, always a group of floating figures, patches of motion, uncertain voices, things that pass by and never quite happen.
To take note, not with my senses, but with the awareness of my senses… The possibility of other things… And suddenly, from behind me, I hear the metaphysically abrupt arrival of the office boy. I feel like I could kill him for barging in on what I wasn’t thinking. I turn around and look at him with a silence full of hatred, tense with latent homicide, my mind already hearing the voice he’ll use to tell me something or other. He smiles from the other side of the room and says ‘Good afternoon’ in a loud voice. I hate him like the universe. My eyes are sore from imagining.144
After many days of rain, the sky brings back its hidden blue to the vast expanses on high. Between the streets, whose puddles sleep like country ponds, and the clear and chilly gladness overhead, there’s a contrast that makes the dirty streets congenial and the dreary winter sky spring-like. It’s Sunday and I have nothing to do. It’s such a nice day that I don’t even feel like dreaming. I enjoy it with all the sincerity of my senses, to which my intelligence bows. I walk like a liberated shop assistant. I feel old, just so I can have the pleasure of feeling myself being rejuvenated.
In the large Sunday square there’s a solemn flurry of a different sort of day. People are coming out of Mass at the church of São Domingos, and another one is about to begin. I see those who are leaving and those who still haven’t entered, because they’re waiting for people who aren’t there watching who’s coming out.
None of these things are important. They are, like everything in the ordinary world, a slumber of mysteries and battlements, and like a herald who has just arrived, I gaze at the open plain of my meditation.
When I was a child, I used to go to this Mass, or perhaps another one, but I think it was this one. I wore my only good suit, out of respect, and enjoyed every minute, even when there was nothing special to enjoy. I lived externally, and the suit was clean and new. What more can one want, when he’s going to die and doesn’t know it, led by a mother’s hand?
I used to enjoy all of this, but only now do I realize how much I enjoyed it. I would enter Mass as into a great mystery, and come out at the end as into a clearing. And that’s how it really was, and how it still really is. It’s only the self who no longer believes and is now an adult, with a soul that remembers and weeps – only this self is fiction and confusion, anguish and the grave.
Yes, what I am would be unbearable if I couldn’t remember what I’ve been. And this crowd of strangers who are still leaving Mass, and the beginning of the potential crowd arriving for the next Mass, are like boats passing by on a slow river, beneath the open windows of my house on the bank.
Memories, Sundays, Masses, the pleasure of having been, the miracle of time having remained because it already went by, and since it was mine it will never be forgotten… Absurd diagonal of my normal sensations, sudden sound of an old carriage around the square, creaking its wheels in the depths of the cars’ noisy silences and somehow or other, by a maternal paradox of time, subsisting today, right here, between what I am and what I’ve lost, in my backward gaze that is me…145
The higher a man rises, the more things he must do without. There’s no room on the pinnacle except for the man himself. The more perfect he is, the more complete; and the more complete, the less other.
These thoughts occurred to me after reading a newspaper article about the great and multifaceted life of a celebrity – an American millionaire who had been everything. He had achieved all that he’d aspired to – money, love, friendship, recognition, travels, collections. Money can’t buy everything, but the personal magnetism that enables a man to make lots of money can, indeed, obtain most things.
As I laid the paper down on the restaurant table, I was already thinking how a similar article, narrowing the focus, could have been written about the firm’s sales representative, more or less my acquaintance, who’s eating lunch at the table in the back corner, as he does every day. All that the millionaire had, this man has – in smallermeasure, to be sure, but abundantly for his stature. Both men have had equal success, and there isn’t even a difference in their fame, for here too we must see each man in his particular context. There’s no one in the world who doesn’t know the name of the American millionaire, but there’s no one in Lisbon’s commercial district who doesn’t know the name of the man eating lunch in the corner.
These men obtained all that their hand could grasp within arm’s reach. What varied in them was the length of their arm; they were identical in other respects. I’ve never been able to envy this sort of person. I’ve always felt that virtue lay in obtaining what was out of one’s reach, in living where one isn’t, in being more alive after death than during life, in achieving something impossible, something absurd, in overcoming – like an obstacle – the world’s very reality.
Should someone point out that the pleasure of enduring is nil after one ceases to exist, I would first of all respond that I’m not sure if it is, because I don’t know the truth about human survival. Secondly, the pleasure of future fame is a present pleasure – the fame is what’s future. And it’s the pleasure of feeling proud, equal to no pleasure that material wealth can bring. It may be illusory, but it is in any case far greater than the pleasure of enjoying only what’s here. The American millionaire can’t believe that posterity will appreciate his poems, given that he didn’t write any. The sales representative can’t imagine that the future will admire his pictures, since he never painted any.
I, however, who in this transitory life am nothing, can enjoy the thought of the future reading this very page, since I do actually write it; I can take pride – like a father in his son – in the fame I will have, since at least I have something that could bring me fame. And as I think this, rising from the table, my invisible and inwardly majestic stature rises above Detroit, Michigan, and over all the commercial district of Lisbon.
It was not, however, with these reflections that I began to reflect. What I initially thought about was how little a man must be in this life in order to live beyond it. One reflection is as good as another, for they are the same. Glory isn’t a medal but a coin: on one side the head, on the other a stated value. For the larger values there are no coins, just paper, whose value is never much.
With metaphysical psychologies such as these, humble people like me console themselves.146
Some have a great dream in life that they never accomplish. Others have no dream, and likewise never accomplish it.147
Every struggle, no matter what its goal, is forced by life to make adjustments; it becomes a different struggle, serves different ends, and sometimes accomplishes the very opposite of what it set out to do. Only slight goals are worth pursuing, because only a slight goal can be entirely fulfilled. If I struggle to make a fortune, I can make it in a certain way; the goal is slight, like all quantitative goals, personal or otherwise, and it’s attainable, verifiable. But how shall I fulfil the intention of serving my country, or of enriching human culture, or of improving humanity? I can’t be certain of the right course of action, nor verify whether the goals have been achieved .....148
The perfect man, for the pagans, was the perfection of the man that exists; for Christians, the perfection of the man that does not exist; and for Buddhists, the perfection of no man existing.
Nature is the difference between the soul and God.
Everything stated or expressed by man is a note in the margin of a completely erased text. From what’s in the note we can extract the gistof what must have been in the text, but there’s always a doubt, and the possible meanings are many.149
Many people have defined man, and in general they’ve defined him in contrast with animals. That’s why definitions of man often take the form, ‘Man is a such-and-such animal’, or ‘Man is an animal that…’, and then we’re told what. ‘Man is a sick animal,’ said Rousseau, and that’s partly true. ‘Man is a rational animal,’ says the Church, and that’s partly true. ‘Man is a tool-using animal,’ says Carlyle, and that’s partly true. But these definitions, and others like them, are always somewhat off the mark. And the reason is quite simple: it’s not easy to distinguish man from animals, for there’s no reliable criterion for making the distinction. Human lives run their course with the same inherent unconsciousness as animal lives. The same fundamental laws that rule animal instincts likewise rule human intelligence, which appears to be no more than an instinct in the formative stage, as unconscious as any instinct, and less perfect since still not fully formed.
‘All that exists comes from unreason,’ says The Greek Anthology. And everything, indeed, comes from unreason. Since it deals only with dead numbers and empty formulas, mathematics can be perfectly logical, but the rest of science is no more than child’s play at dusk, an attempt to catch birds’ shadows and to stop the shadows of windblown grass.
The funny thing is that, while it’s difficult to formulate a definition that truly distinguishes man from animals, it’s easy to differentiate between the superior man and the common man.
I’ve never forgotten that phrase from Haeckel,* the biologist, whom I read in the childhood of my intelligence, that period when we’re attracted to popular science and writings that attack religion. The phrase is more or less the following: The distance between the superior man (a Kant or a Goethe, I believe he says) and the common man is much greater than the distance between the common man and the ape. I’ve never forgotten the phrase, because it’s true. Between me, whoserank is low among thinking men, and a farmer from Loures,* there is undoubtedly a greater distance than between the farmer and, I won’t say a monkey, but a cat or dog. None of us, from the cat on up to me, is really in charge of the life imposed on us or of the destiny we’ve been given; we are all equally derived from no one knows what; we’re shadows of gestures performed by someone else, embodied effects, consequences that feel. But between me and the farmer there’s a difference of quality, due to the presence in me of abstract thought and disinterested emotion; whereas between him and the cat, intellectually and psychologically, there is only a difference of degree.
The superior man differs from the inferior man and his animal brothers by the simple trait of irony. Irony is the first sign that our consciousness has become conscious, and it passes through two stages: the one represented by Socrates, when he says, ‘All I know is that I know nothing,’ and the other represented by Sanches,* when he says, ‘I don’t even know if I know nothing.’ In the first stage we dogmatically doubt ourselves, and every superior man arrives there. In the second stage we come to doubt not only ourselves but also our own doubt, and few men have reached that point in the already so long yet short span of time that the human race has beheld the sun and night over the earth’s variegated surface.
To know oneself is to err, and the oracle that said ‘Know thyself’ proposed a task more difficult than the labours of Hercules and a riddle murkier than the Sphinx’s. To consciously not know ourselves – that’s the way! And to conscientiously not know ourselves is the active task of irony. I know nothing greater, nor more worthy of the truly great man, than the patient and expressive analysis of the ways in which we don’t know ourselves, the conscious recording of the unconsciousness of our conscious states, the metaphysics of autonomous shadows, the poetry of the twilight of disillusion.
But something always eludes us, some analysis or other always gets muddled, and the truth – even if false – is always beyond the next corner. And this is what tires us even more than life (when life tires us) and more than the knowledge and contemplation of life (which always tire us).
I stand up from the chair where, propped distractedly against the table, I’ve entertained myself with the narration of these strangeimpressions. I stand up, propping my body on itself, and walk to the window, higher than the surrounding rooftops, and I watch the city going to sleep in a slow beginning of silence. The large and whitely white moon sadly clarifies the terraced differences in the buildings opposite. The moonlight seems to illuminate icily all the world’s mystery. It seems to reveal everything, and everything is shadows with admixtures of faint light, false and unevenly absurd gaps, inconsistencies of the visible. There’s no breeze, and the mystery seems to loom larger. I feel queasy in my abstract thought. I’ll never write a page that sheds light on me or that sheds light on anything. A wispy cloud hovers hazily over the moon, like a coverture. I’m ignorant, like these rooftops. I’ve failed, like all of nature.150
The persistence of instinctive life in the guise of human intelligence is one of my most constant and profound contemplations. The artificial disguise of consciousness only highlights for me the unconsciousness it doesn’t succeed in disguising.
From birth to death, man is the slave of the same external dimension that rules animals. Throughout his life he doesn’t live, he vegetatively thrives, with greater intensity and complexity than an animal. He’s guided by norms without knowing that they guide him or even that they exist, and all his ideas, feelings and acts are unconscious – not because there’s no consciousness in them but because there aren’t two consciousnesses.
Flashes of awareness that we live an illusion – that, and no more, is what distinguishes the greatest of men.
With a wandering mind I consider the common history of common men. I see how in everything they are slaves of a subconscious temperament, of extraneous circumstances, and of the social and anti-social impulses in which, with which and over which they clash like petty objects.
How often I’ve heard people say the same old phrase that symbolizes all the absurdity, all the nothingness, all the verbalized ignorance oftheir lives. It’s the phrase they use in reference to any material pleasure: ‘This is what we take away from life…’ Take where? take how? take why? It would be sad to wake them out of their darkness with questions like that… Only a materialist can utter such a phrase, because everyone who utters such a phrase is, whether he knows it or not, a materialist. What does he plan to take from life, and how? Where will he take his pork chops and red wine and lady friend? To what heaven that he doesn’t believe in? To what earth, where he’ll take only the rottenness that was the latent essence of his whole life? I can think of no phrase that’s more tragic, or that reveals more about human humanity. That’s what plants would say if they could know that they enjoy the sun. That’s what animals would say about their somnambulant pleasures, were their power of self-expression not inferior to man’s. And perhaps even I, while writing these words with a vague impression that they might endure, imagine that my memory of having written them is what I ‘take away from life’. And just as a common corpse is lowered into the common ground, so the equally useless corpse of the prose I wrote while waiting will be lowered into common oblivion. A man’s pork chops, his wine, his lady friend – who am I to make fun of them?
Brothers in our common ignorance, different expressions of the same blood, diverse forms of the same heredity – which of us can deny the other? A wife can be denied, but not mother, not father, not brother.151
Outside, in the slow moonlit night, the wind slowly shakes things that cast fluttering shadows. Perhaps it’s just hanging laundry from the floor above, but the shadows don’t know they’re from shirts, and they impalpably flutter in hushed harmony with everything else.
I left the shutters open so as to wake up early, but so far I haven’t succeeded in falling asleep or even in staying wide awake, and the night’s already so old that not a sound can be heard. There’s moonlight beyond the shadows of my room, but it doesn’t come through thewindow. It exists like a day of hollow silver, and the roof of the building opposite, which I can see from my bed, is liquid with a blackish whiteness. In the moon’s hard light there’s a sad peace, like lofty congratulations to someone who can’t hear them.
And without seeing, without thinking, my eyes now closed on my non-existent slumber, I meditate on what words can truly describe moonlight. The ancients would say that it is silvery or white. But this supposed whiteness actually consists of many colours. Were I to get out of bed and look past the cold panes, I know I would see that in the high lonely air the moonlight is greyish white, blued by a subdued yellow; that over the various, unequally dark rooftops it bathes the submissive buildings with a black white and floods the red brown of the highest clay tiles with a colourless colour. At the end of the street – a placid abyss where the naked cobblestones are unevenly rounded – it has no colour other than a blue which perhaps comes from the grey of the stones. In the depths of the horizon it must be almost dark blue, different from the black blue in the depths of the sky. On the windows where it strikes, the moonlight is a black yellow.
From here in my bed, if I open my eyes, heavy with the sleep I cannot find, it looks like snow turned into colour, with floating threads of warm nacre. And if I think with what I feel, it’s a tedium turned into white shadow, darkening as if eyes were closing on this hazy whiteness.152
I’m astounded whenever I finish something. Astounded and distressed. My perfectionist instinct should inhibit me from finishing; it should inhibit me from even beginning. But I get distracted and start doing something. What I achieve is not the product of an act of my will but of my will’s surrender. I begin because I don’t have the strength to think; I finish because I don’t have the courage to quit. This book is my cowardice.
If I often interrupt a thought with a scenic description that in some way fits into the real or imagined scheme of my impressions, it’s because the scenery is a door through which I flee from my awarenessof my creative impotence. In the middle of the conversations with myself that form the words of this book, I’ll feel the sudden need to talk to someone else, and so I’ll address the light which hovers, as now, over rooftops that glow as if they were damp, or I’ll turn to the urban hillside with its tall and gently swaying trees that seem strangely close and on the verge of silently collapsing, or to the steep houses that overlap like posters, with windows for letters, and the dying sun gilding their moist glue.
Why do I write, if I can’t write any better? But what would become of me if I didn’t write what I can, however inferior it may be to what I am? In my ambitions I’m a plebeian, because I try to achieve; like someone afraid of a dark room, I’m afraid to be silent. I’m like those who prize the medal more than the struggle to get it, and savour glory in a fur-lined cape.
For me, to write is self-deprecating, and yet I can’t quit doing it. Writing is like the drug I abhor and keep taking, the addiction I despise and depend on. There are necessary poisons, and some are extremely subtle, composed of ingredients from the soul, herbs collected from among the ruins of dreams, black poppies found next to the graves of our intentions, the long leaves of obscene trees whose branches sway on the echoing banks of the soul’s infernal rivers.
To write is to lose myself, yes, but everyone loses himself, because everything gets lost. I, however, lose myself without any joy – not like the river flowing into the sea for which it was secretly born, but like the puddle left on the beach by the high tide, its stranded water never returning to the ocean but merely sinking into the sand.153
I stand up from my chair with a monstrous effort, but I have the impression that I carry it with me and that it’s heavier, for it’s the chair of subjectivity.154
Who am I to myself? Just one of my sensations.
My heart drains out helplessly, like a broken bucket. Think? Feel? How everything wearies when it’s defined!155
Just as some people work because they’re bored, I sometimes write because I have nothing to say. Daydreaming, which occurs naturally to people when they’re not thinking, in me takes written form, for I know how to dream in prose. And there are many sincere feelings and much genuine emotion that I extract from not feeling.
There are moments when the emptiness of feeling oneself live attains the consistency of a positive thing. In the great men of action, namely the saints, who act with all of their emotion and not just part of it, this sense of life’s nothingness leads to the infinite. They crown themselves with night and the stars, and anoint themselves with silence and solitude. In the great men of inaction, to whose number I humbly belong, the same feeling leads to the infinitesimal; sensations are stretched, like rubber bands, to reveal the pores of their slack, false continuity.
And in these moments both types of men love sleep, as much as the common man who doesn’t act and doesn’t not act, being a mere reflection of the generic existence of the human species. Sleep is fusion with God, Nirvana, however it be called. Sleep is the slow analysis of sensations, whether used as an atomic science of the soul or left to doze like a music of our will, a slow anagram of monotony.
In my writing I linger over the words, as before shop windows I don’t really look at, and what remains are half-meanings and quasi-expressions, like the colours of fabrics that I didn’t actually see, harmonious displays composed of I don’t know what objects. In writing I rock myself, like a crazed mother her dead child.
One day, I don’t know which, I found myself in this world, having lived unfeelingly from the time I was evidently born until then. When I asked where I was, everyone misled me, and they contradicted each other. When I asked them to tell me what I should do, they all spoke falsely, and each one said something different. When in bewilderment I stopped on the road, everyone was shocked that I didn’t keep going to no one knew where, or else turn back – I, who’d woken up at the crossroads and didn’t know where I’d come from. I saw that I was on stage and didn’t know the part that everyone else recited straight off, also without knowing it. I saw that I was dressed as a page, but they didn’t give me the queen, and blamed me for not having her. I saw that I had a message in my hand to deliver, and when I told them that the sheet of paper was blank, they laughed at me. And I still don’t know if they laughed because all sheets are blank, or because all messages are to be guessed.
Finally I sat down on the rock at the crossroads as before the fireplace I never had. And I began, all by myself, to make paper boats with the lie they’d given me. No one would believe in me, not even as a liar, and there was no lake where I could try out my truth.
Lost and idle words, random metaphors, chained to shadows by a vague anxiety… Remnants of better times, spent on I don’t know what garden paths… Extinguished lamp whose gold gleams in the dark, in memory of the dead light… Words tossed not to the wind but to the ground, dropped from limp fingers, like dried leaves that had fallen on them from an invisibly infinite tree… Nostalgia for the pools of unknown farms… Heartfelt affection for what never happened…
To live! To live! And at least the hope that I might sleep soundly in Proserpina’s bed.156
What imperious queen, standing by her ponds, holds on to the memory of my broken life? I was the pageboy of tree-lined paths that weren’t enough for the soaring moments of my blue peace. Ships in the distancecompleted the sea that lapped my terraces, and in the clouds towards the south I lost my soul, like an oar dropped in the water.157
To create in myself a nation with its own politics, parties and revolutions, and to be all of it, everything, to be God in the real pantheism of this people-I, to be the substance and movement of their bodies and their souls, of the very ground they tread and the acts they perform! To be everything, to be them and not them! Ah, this is one of the dreams I’m still far from realizing. And if I realized it, perhaps I would die. I’m not sure why, but it seems one couldn’t live after committing such a great sacrilege against God, after usurping the divine power of being everything.
What pleasure it would give me to create a Jesuitry of sensations!
There are metaphors more real than the people who walk in the street. There are images tucked away in books that live more vividly than many men and women. There are phrases from literary works that have a positively human personality. There are passages from my own writings that chill me with fright, so distinctly do I feel them as people, so sharply outlined do they appear against the walls of my room, at night, in the shadows ..... I’ve written sentences whose sound, read out loud or silently (impossible to hide their sound), can only be of something that has acquired absolute exteriority and a full-fledged soul.
Why do I sometimes set forth contradictory and irreconcilable methods of dreaming and of learning to dream? Probably because I’m so used to feeling what’s false as true, and what I dream as vividly as what I see, that I’ve lost the human distinction – false, I believe – between truth and falsehood.
For me it’s enough to perceive something clearly, with my eyesight or my hearing or any of my other senses, in order to feel that it’s real. It can even happen that I simultaneously feel two things that can’t logically coexist. No matter.
There are people who spend long hours suffering because they can’tbe a figure in a painting or in one of the suits from a deck of cards. There are souls who suffer not being able to live today in the Middle Ages as if this were a divine curse. I used to experience this kind of suffering, but no longer. I’ve moved beyond that level. But it does sadden me that I can’t dream of myself as, say, two kings in different kingdoms that belong to universes with different kinds of space and time. Not to be able to achieve this truly makes me grieve. It smacks to me of going hungry.
To visualize the inconceivable in dreams is one of the great triumphs that I, as advanced a dreamer as I am, only rarely attain. To dream, for example, that I’m simultaneously, separately, severally the man and the woman on a stroll that a man and woman are taking along the river. To see myself – at the same time, in the same way, with equal precision and without overlap, being equally but separately integrated into both things – as a conscious ship in a South Sea and a printed page from an old book. How absurd this seems! But everything is absurd, and dreaming least of all.158
For a man who has ravished Proserpina like Dis, even if only in his dreams, how can the love of an earthly woman be anything but a dream?
Like Shelley, I loved the Absolute Woman before time was; temporal loves were flat to my taste, all reminding me of what I’d lost.159
Twice in my adolescence – which I feel so remotely it seems like someone else’s story that I read or was told – I enjoyed the humiliating grief of being in love. From my present vantage point, looking back to that past which I can no longer designate as ‘long ago’ or ‘recent’, I think it was good that this experience of disillusion happened to me so early.
Nothing happened, except in what I felt. Outwardly speaking, legions of men have suffered the same inner torments. But .....
Through an experience that simultaneously involved my sensibility and intelligence, I realized early on that the imaginative life, however morbid it might seem, is the one that suits temperaments like mine. The fictions of my imagination (as it later developed) may weary me, but they don’t hurt or humiliate. Impossible lovers can’t possibly cheat on us, or smile at us falsely, or be calculating in their caresses. They never forsake us, and they don’t die or disappear.
Our soul’s great anxieties are always cosmic cataclysms, upsetting the stars all around us and making the sun veer off course. In all souls that feel, Fate sooner or later plays out an apocalypse of anxiety, with all heavens and worlds raining down over their disconsolation.
To feel that you’re superior and to be treated by Fate as supremely and incurably inferior – who in such a plight can boast about being a man?
Were I ever granted a flash of expressive power so great that it concentrated all art in me, I would write a eulogy to sleep. I know no greater pleasure in life than that of being able to sleep. The total snuffing out of life and the soul, the complete banishment of all beings and people, the night without memory or illusion, the absence of past and future .....160
The entire day, in all the desolation of its scattered and dull clouds, was filled with the news of revolution. Such reports, true or false, always fill me with a peculiar discomfort, a mixture of disdain and physical nausea. It galls my intelligence when someone imagines that things will change by shaking them up. Violence of whatever sort has always been, for me, a flagrant form of human stupidity. All revolutionaries, for that matter, are stupid, as are all reformers to a lesser extent – lesser because they’re less troublesome.
Revolutionary or reformer – the error is the same. Unable to dominateand reform his own attitude towards life, which is everything, or his own being, which is almost everything, he flees, devoting himself to modifying others and the outside world. Every revolutionary and reformer is a fugitive. To fight for change is to be incapable of changing oneself. To reform is to be beyond repair.*
A sensitive and honest-minded man, if he’s concerned about evil and injustice in the world, will naturally begin his campaign against them by eliminating them at their nearest source: his own person. This task will take his entire life.
Everything, for us, is in our concept of the world. To modify our concept of the world is to modify the world for us, or simply to modify the world, since it will never be, for us, anything but what it is for us. That inner justice we summon to write a fluent and beautiful page, that true reformation of enlivening our dead sensibility – these things are the truth, our truth, the only truth. Everything else in the world is scenery, picture frames for our feelings, book bindings for our thoughts. And this is true whether it be the colourful scenery of beings and things – fields, houses, posters, clothes – or the colourless scenery of monotonous souls that periodically rise to the surface with hackneyed words and gestures, then sink back down into the fundamental stupidity of human expression.
Revolution? Change? What I really want, with all my heart, is for the atonic clouds to stop greyly lathering the sky. What I want is to see the blue emerge, a truth that is clear and sure because it is nothing and wants nothing.161
Nothing irks me more than the vocabulary of social responsibility. The very word ‘duty’ is unpleasant to me, like an unwanted guest. But the terms ‘civic duty’, ‘solidarity’, ‘humanitarianism’ and others of the same ilk disgust me like rubbish dumped out of a window right on top of me. I’m offended by the implicit assumption that these expressions pertain to me, that I should find them worthwhile and even meaningful.
I recently saw in a toy-shop window some objects that reminded meexactly of what these expressions are: make-believe dishes filled with make-believe tidbits for the miniature table of a doll. For the real, sensual, vain and selfish man, the friend of others because he has the gift of speech and the enemy of others because he has the gift of life, what is there to gain from playing with the dolls of hollow and meaningless words?
Government is based on two things: restraint and deception. The problem with those glittering expressions is that they neither restrain nor deceive. At most they intoxicate, which is something else again.
If there’s one thing I hate, it’s a reformer. A reformer is a man who sees the world’s superficial ills and sets out to cure them by aggravating the more basic ills. A doctor tries to bring a sick body into conformity with a normal, healthy body, but we don’t know what’s healthy or sick in the social sphere.
I see humanity as merely one of Nature’s latest schools of decorative painting. I don’t distinguish in any fundamental way between a man and a tree, and I naturally prefer whichever is more decorative, whichever interests my thinking eyes. If the tree is more interesting to me than the man, I’m sorrier to see the tree felled than to see the man die. There are departing sunsets that grieve me more than the deaths of children. I keep my own feelings out of everything, in order to be able to feel.
I almost reproach myself for writing these sketchy reflections in this moment when a light breeze, rising from the afternoon’s depths, begins to take on colour. In fact it’s not the breeze that takes on colour but the air through which it hesitantly glides. I feel, however, as if the breeze were being coloured, so that’s what I say, for I have to say what I feel, given that I’m I.162
All of life’s unpleasant experiences – when we make fools of ourselves, act thoughtlessly, or lapse in our observance of some virtue – should be regarded as mere external accidents which can’t affect the substance of our soul. We should see them as toothaches or calluses of life, asthings that bother us but remain outside us (even though they’re ours), or that only our organic existence need consider and our vital functions worry about.
When we achieve this attitude, which in essence is that of the mystics, we’re protected not only from the world but also from ourselves, for we’ve conquered what is foreign in us, contrary and external to us, and therefore our enemy.
Horace said* that the just man will remain undaunted, even if the world crumbles all around him. Although the image is absurd, the point is valid. Even if what we pretend to be (because we coexist with others) crumbles around us, we should remain undaunted – not because we’re just, but because we’re ourselves, and to be ourselves means having nothing to do with external things that crumble, even if they crumble right on top of what for them we are.
For superior men, life should be a dream that spurns confrontations.163
Direct experience is an evasion, or hiding place, for those without any imagination. Reading about the risks incurred by a man who hunts tigers, I feel all the risks worth feeling, save the actual physical risk, which wasn’t really worth feeling, for it vanished without a trace.
Men of action are the involuntary slaves of the men of reason. The worth of things depends on their interpretation. Certain men make things which other men invest with meaning, bringing them to life. To narrate is to create, while to live is merely to be lived.164
Inaction makes up for everything. Not acting gives us everything. To imagine is everything, as long as it doesn’t tend towards action. No one can be king of the world except in dreams. And every one of us who really knows himself wants to be king of the world.
To imagine, without being, is the throne. To desire, without wanting, is the crown. We have what we renounce, for we conserve it eternally intact in our dreams, by the light of the sun that isn’t, or of the moon that cannot be.165
Whether I like it or not, everything that isn’t my soul is no more for me than scenery and decoration. Through rational thought I can recognize that a man is a living being just like me, but for my true, involuntary self he has always had less importance than a tree, if the tree is more beautiful. That’s why I’ve always seen human events – the great collective tragedies of history or of what we make of history – as colourful friezes, with no soul in the figures that appear there. I’ve never thought twice about anything tragic that has happened in China. It’s just scenery in the distance, even if painted with blood and disease.
With ironic sadness I remember a workers’ demonstration, carried out with I don’t know how much sincerity (for I find it hard to admit sincerity in collective endeavours, given that the individual, all by himself, is the only entity capable of feeling). It was a teeming and rowdy group of animated idiots, who passed by my outsider’s indifference shouting various things. I instantly felt disgusted. They weren’t even sufficiently dirty. Those who truly suffer don’t form a group or go around as a mob. Those who suffer, suffer alone.
What a pathetic group! What a lack of humanity and true pain! They were real and therefore unbelievable. No one could ever use them for the scene of a novel or a descriptive backdrop. They went by like rubbish in a river, in the river of life, and to see them go by made me sick to my stomach and profoundly sleepy.166
If I carefully consider the life men lead, I find nothing to distinguish it from the life of animals. Both man and animal are hurled unconsciously through things and the world; both have their leisure moments; both complete the same organic cycle day after day; both think nothing beyond what they think, nor live beyond what they live. A cat wallows in the sun and goes to sleep. Man wallows in life, with all of its complexities, and goes to sleep. Neither one escapes the fatal law of being what he is. Neither one tries to shake off the weight of being. The greatest among men love glory, but not the glory of a personal immortality, just an abstract immortality, in which they don’t necessarily participate.
These considerations, which occur to me frequently, prompt an admiration in me for a kind of person that by nature I abhor. I mean the mystics and ascetics – the recluses of all Tibets, the Simeon Stylites of all columns. These men, albeit by absurd means, do indeed try to escape the animal law. These men, although they act madly, do indeed reject the law of life by which others wallow in the sun and wait for death without thinking about it. They really seek, even if on top of a column; they yearn, even if in an unlit cell; they long for what they don’t know, even if in the suffering and martyrdom they’re condemned to.
The rest of us, living animal lives of varying complexity, cross the stage as walk-ons who don’t speak, satisfied by the pompous solemnity of the crossing. Dogs and men, cats and heroes, fleas and geniuses – we all play at existing without thinking about it (the most advanced of us thinking only about thinking) under the vast stillness of the stars. The others – the mystics of pain and sacrifice – at least feel, in their body and their daily lives, the magic presence of mystery. They have escaped, for they reject the visible sun; they know plenitude, for they’ve emptied themselves of the world’s nothingness.
Speaking about them, I almost feel like a mystic myself, though I know I could never be more than these words written whenever the whim hits me. I will always belong to the Rua dos Douradores, like all of humanity. I will always be, in verse or prose, an office employee.I will always be, with or without mysticism, local and submissive, a servant of my feelings and of the moments when they occur. I will always be, under the large blue canopy of the silent sky, a pageboy in an unintelligible rite, dressed in life for the occasion, executing steps, gestures, stances and expressions without knowing why, until the feast – or my role in it – ends and I can treat myself to tidbits in the large tents I’ve been told are down below, at the back of the garden.167
It’s one of those days when the monotony of everything oppresses me like being thrown into jail. The monotony of everything is merely the monotony of myself, however. Each face, even if seen just yesterday, is different today, because today isn’t yesterday. Each day is the day it is, and there was never another one like it in the world. Only our soul makes the identification – a genuinely felt but erroneous identification – by which everything becomes similar and simplified. The world is a set of distinct things with varied edges, but if we’re near-sighted, it’s a continual and indecipherable fog.
I feel like fleeing. Like fleeing from what I know, fleeing from what’s mine, fleeing from what I love. I want to depart, not for impossible Indias or for the great islands south of everything, but for any place at all – village or wilderness – that isn’t this place. I want to stop seeing these unchanging faces, this routine, these days. I want to rest, far removed, from my inveterate feigning. I want to feel sleep come to me as life, not as rest. A cabin on the seashore or even a cave in a rocky mountainside could give me this, but my will, unfortunately, cannot.
Slavery is the law of life, and it is the only law, for it must be observed: there is no revolt possible, no way to escape it. Some are born slaves, others become slaves, and still others are forced to accept slavery. Our faint-hearted love of freedom – which, if we had it, we would all reject, unable to get used to it – is proof of how ingrained our slavery is. I myself, having just said that I’d like a cabin or a cave where I could be free from the monotony of everything, which is the monotony of me – would I dare set out for this cabin or cave, knowingfrom experience that the monotony, since it stems from me, will always be with me? I myself, suffocating from where I am and because I am – where would I breathe easier, if the sickness is in my lungs rather than in the things that surround me? I myself, who long for pure sunlight and open country, for the ocean in plain view and the unbroken horizon – could I get used to my new bed, the food, not having to descend eight flights of stairs to the street, not entering the tobacco shop on the corner, not saying good-morning to the barber standing outside his shop?
Everything that surrounds us becomes part of us, infiltrating our physical sensations and our feeling of life, and like spittle of the great Spider it subtly binds us to whatever is close, tucking us into a soft bed of slow death which is rocked by the wind. Everything is us, and we are everything, but what good is this, if everything is nothing? A ray of sunlight, a cloud whose shadow tells us it is passing, a breeze that rises, the silence that follows when it ceases, one or another face, a few voices, the incidental laughter of the girls who are talking, and then night with the meaningless, fractured hieroglyphs of the stars.168
… And I, who timidly hate life, fear death with fascination.* I fear this nothingness that could be something else, and I fear it as nothing and as something else simultaneously, as if gross horror and nonexistence could coincide there, as if my coffin could entrap the eternal breathing of a bodily soul, as if immortality could be tormented by confinement. The idea of hell, which only a satanic soul could have invented, seems to me to have derived from this sort of confusion – a mixture of two different fears that contradict and contaminate each other.169
Page by page I slowly and lucidly reread everything I’ve written, and I find that it’s all worthless and should have been left unwritten. The things we achieve, whether empires or sentences, have (because they’ve been achieved) the worst aspect of real things: the fact they’re perishable. But that’s not what worries or grieves me about these pages as I reread them now, in these idle moments. What grieves me is that it wasn’t worth my trouble to write them, and the time I spent doing it earned me nothing but the illusion, now shattered, that it was worth doing.
Whatever we pursue, we pursue for the sake of an ambition, but either we never realize the ambition, and we’re poor, or we think we’ve realized it, and we’re 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. It belies the notion of inner as well as of outer perfection; it falls short not only of the standard it should meet but also of the standard we thought it could meet. We’re hollow on the inside as well as on the outside, pariahs in our expectations and in our realizations.
With what power of the solitary human soul I produced page after reclusive page, living syllable by syllable the false magic, not of what I wrote, but of what I thought I was writing! As if under an ironic sorcerer’s spell, I imagined myself the poet of my prose, in the winged moments when it welled up in me – swifter than the strokes of my pen – like an illusory revenge against the insults of life! And today, rereading, I see my dolls bursting, the straw coming out of their torn seams, eviscerated without ever having been…170
After the last rains went south, leaving only the wind that had chased them away, then the gladness of the sure sun returned to the city’s hills, and hanging white laundry began to appear, flapping on the cords stretched across sticks outside the high windows of buildings of all colours.
I also felt happy, because I exist. I left my rented room with a great goal in mind, which was simply to get to the office on time. But on this particular day the compulsion to live participated in that other good compulsion which makes the sun come up at the times shown in the almanac, according to the latitude and longitude of each place on earth. I felt happy because I couldn’t feel unhappy. I walked down the street without a care, full of certainty, because the office I work at and the people who work with me are, after all, certainties. It’s no wonder that I felt free, without knowing from what. In the baskets along the pavement of the Rua da Prata, the bananas for sale were tremendously yellow in the sunlight.
It really takes very little to satisfy me: the rain having stopped, there being a bright sun in this happy South, bananas that are yellower for having black splotches, the voices of the people who sell them, the pavement of the Rua da Prata, the Tagus at the end of it, blue with a green-gold tint, this entire familiar corner of the universe.
The day will come when I see no more of this, when I’ll be survived by the bananas lining the pavement, by the voices of the shrewd saleswomen, and by the daily papers that the boy has set out on the opposite corner of the street. I’m well aware that the bananas will be others, that the saleswomen will be others, and that the newspapers will show – to those who bend down to look at them – a different date from today’s. But they, because they don’t live, endure, although as others. I, because I live, pass on, although the same.
I could easily memorialize this moment by buying bananas, for the whole of today’s sun seems to be focused on them like a searchlight without a source. But I’m embarrassed by rituals, by symbols, by buying in the street. They might not wrap the bananas the right way. They might not sell them to me as they should be sold, since I don’tknow how to buy them as they should be bought. They might find my voice strange when I ask the price. Better to write than to dare live, even if living means merely to buy bananas in the sunlight, as long as the sun lasts and there are bananas for sale.
Later, perhaps… Yes, later… Another, perhaps… Or perhaps not…171
Only one thing astonishes me more than the stupidity with which most people live their lives, and that’s the intelligence of this stupidity.
On the face of it, the monotony of ordinary lives is horrifying. In this simple restaurant where I’m eating lunch, I look at the figure of the cook behind the counter and at the old waiter, near my table, who serves me and who I believe has been a waiter here for thirty years. What kind of lives do these men lead? For forty years that figure of a man has spent most of every day in a kitchen; he doesn’t get much time off; he sleeps relatively little; he occasionally goes to his home town, returning without hesitation or regret; he slowly saves his slowly earned money, which he has no plans to spend; he would get ill if he had to retire for good from his kitchen to the piece of land he bought in Galicia; he has been in Lisbon for forty years and has never yet gone to the Rotunda* or to a theatre, and just once to the circus at the Coliseum, whose clowns still inhabit his life’s inner vestiges. He married – I don’t know how or why – and has four sons and a daughter, and his smile, as he leans over the counter in my direction, expresses a tremendous, solemn, satisfied happiness. And he’s not pretending, nor would he have reason to pretend. If he feels happy, it’s because he really is.
And what of the old waiter who serves me and who has just set before me what must be the millionth coffee he’s set on a customer’s table? He has the same life as the cook, the only difference being the fifteen or twenty feet between the dining area and the kitchen, where they carry out their respective functions. As for the rest, the waiter has only two sons, goes more often to Galicia, has seen more of Lisbonthan the cook, knows Oporto, where he spent four years, and is equally happy.
It shocks me to consider the panorama of these lives, but before I can feel horror, pity and indignation on their account, it occurs to me that those who feel no horror or pity or indignation are the very ones who would have every right to – namely, the people who live these lives. It’s the central error of the literary imagination: to suppose that others are like us and must feel as we do. Fortunately for humanity, each man is just who he is, it being given only to the genius to be a few others as well.
What’s given, in fact, always depends on the person or thing it’s given to. A minor incident in the street brings the cook to the door and entertains him more than I would be entertained by contemplating the most original idea, by reading the greatest book, or by having the most gratifying of useless dreams. If life is basically monotony, he has escaped it more than I. And he escapes it more easily than I. The truth isn’t with him or with me, because it isn’t with anyone, but happiness does belong to him.
Wise is the man who monotonizes his existence, for then each minor incident seems a marvel. A hunter of lions feels no adventure after the third lion. For my monotonous cook, a fist-fight on the street always has something of a modest apocalypse. One who has never been outside Lisbon travels to the infinite in the tram to Benfica,* and should he ever go to Sintra,* he’ll feel as though he’s been to Mars. The man who has journeyed all over the world can’t find any novelty in five thousand miles, for he finds only new things – yet another novelty, the old routine of the forever new – while his abstract concept of novelty got lost at sea after the second new thing he saw.
A man of true wisdom, with nothing but his senses and a soul that’s never sad, can enjoy the entire spectacle of the world from a chair, without knowing how to read and without talking to anyone.
Monotonizing existence, so that it won’t be monotonous. Making daily life anodyne, so that the littlest thing will amuse. My days at the office, where I always do the very same dull and useless work, are punctuated by visions of me escaping, by dreamed remnants of faraway islands, by feasts in the promenades of parks from other eras, by other landscapes, other feelings, another I. But I realize, between twoledger entries, that if I had all this, none of it would be mine. Better, after all, to have Vasques my boss than the kings of my dreams; better, after all, the office on Rua dos Douradores than the grand promenades of impossible parks. Having Vasques as my boss, I can enjoy dreaming of kings; having the office on Rua dos Douradores, I can enjoy the inner vision of non-existent landscapes. But if I had the kings of my dreams, what would I have left to dream? If I had impossible landscapes, what other impossibilities would remain for me to imagine?
Give me monotony – the dull repetition of the same old days, today an exact copy of yesterday – while my observant soul enjoys the fly that flits past my eyes and distracts me, the laughter that drifts up from I’m not sure which street, the liberation I feel when it’s time to close the office, and the infinite repose of a day off.