📙 The Book of Disquiet
Author: Fernando Pessoa
Full Title: The Book of Disquiet
My consciousness of the city is, at its core, my consciousness of myself.
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.
Impassive to the solemnity of any and all worlds, indifferent to the divine, and disdainers of what is human, we uselessly surrender ourselves to pointless sensation, 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.
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’t know anything.
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.
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.
We never know self-realization. We are two abysses – a well staring at the sky.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
If I have no other Virtue, I at least have the permanent novelty of free, uninhibited sensation.
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 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.’
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.
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 emotional virginity – this, and only this, is worth being or having, to be or have what we imperfectly are.
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.
I cultivate hatred of action like a greenhouse flower. I dissent from life and am proud of it.
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.
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.
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.
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.
To discover ways of not acting has been my main concern in life.
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!
No empire justifies breaking a child’s doll. No ideal is worth the sacrifice of a toy train.