Monday, April 25, 2011

Fernando Pessoa on my brain

I usually attempt to eschew quotations in my writings aside from the occasional epigram or quotational exclamation point to something I've just said (occasionally sneaking an "appeal to authority" logical fallacy in to see if anyone notices.)  I'll spare you my finger wagging reasons why.  Suffice it to say, I feel better in my writing when quotation is a tool used infrequently.

Having said that, I just came across this passage by the incomparable Fernando Pessoa from  The Book of Disquiet (Penguin Classics)
which, through its high accuracy, struck me to the quick.  Pessoa, along with being one of the greatest writers in history, is clearly a time traveler and a mind reader.  The quote below is a fine illustration of about 1/3rd of the existential dilemma I've been writing about of late.  I think about this all the time and, perhaps if you do too, you may at the very least find a modicum of consolation in the articulation of the existential dread.  You may even feel slightly less lonely.

Lacking the time to formulate an original post for the next day or two, I thought I would post it here to share it, but also to have a place of easy reference for myself (by the way, I hadn't announced it on this blog yet, but I am now officially writing another play.  More on that soon.)  Here's Pessoa:

“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 flaw 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 feats—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.”


  1. My God... I feel as if I should just leave a comment of three exclamation marks. (or three bangs -- I like this name for them)

    From what was this quote taken?

  2. Oops, I see you tell us earlier... Sorry. Now I must go and find it.