Reading The Book of Disquiet

Pessoa’s The Book of Disquiet is one of those books I keep coming back to. When I first bought it I sat down and read it straight through and I have found that over the years I will, from time to time, pick it up and either flip through it reading random passages or get lost in the aphorisms and burn through the whole text all over again. It’s an autobiography in the form of journal entries by Pessoa’s “semiheteronym” Bernardo Soares, because as Pessoa describes it, “his personality is not different from mine, rather a simple mutilation of it.” I don’t know what grabbed me early on, perhaps the musings of the everyday (“the quotidian is maternal”), the utter and hopeless solitude, and the periodic fits of frustration and failure that mark many of the pages. Or maybe its the moments of what seems to be a series of transforming realizations that Pessoa dutifully reports throughout. Yet, most of all is the constant wrestling with what Benjamin Kunkel calls–in an excellent reflection about reading The Book of Disquiet— “a kudzu Cartesianism: a crazy interior multiplication of egos, each thought or feeling producing a separate spectator self, a subject then made into the object of a brand new subject, and so on indefinitely.” It is this seductive solitariness, the complete withdrawal into dream life and at other times, more mildly, a vacillation between waking and dream life that always jumped out at me. Regardless, this passage caught my eye this evening, having picked up the book on a complete whim:

We should arrange our lives so that for others they are a mystery, so that the people who know us best don’t know us from closer range than the rest. I shaped my life that way, almost without thinking of it, but I put so much instinctive art into doing it that for myself I have become a no to all my clear and sharp individuality.

Kunkel’s article in The Believer is well worth taking a look at. [There, that should fulfill my pretentious post quota for the month, and not a day too soon!] Aces…

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