Thursday, September 21, 2017

Fernando Pessoa's The Book of Disquiet

Pessoa's The Book of Disquiet is a book I just want to copy out passages from:
It's human to desire 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 it were a lack of bread. The Romantic malady is to want the moon as if it could actually be obtained.
I left my 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.
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 that it looks beautiful. 
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 flowerpot of my neighbour who's crippled. The 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.
These are my Confessions, and if in them I say nothing, it's because I have nothing to say.
I could have copied out an entirely different set of passages, and in fact the passages selected changed from the ones I noted in the back of my book as I went to look them up for this post and began rereading at random. I expect -- I would hope -- the next time I read the book, I would be struck by an entirely different set of passages.

Fernando Pessoa was a Portuguese writer who died in 1935. He wasn't entirely unknown during his life, but he was primarily known then as a poet; at his death he left a trunk full of other poems plus prose pieces. One group of the prose was marked for inclusion in a project called The Book of Disquiet. This book was never completed, but there was enough that looked like it should belong to produce the 450 page volume that I read.

Pessoa often composed his poems and prose in the voices of imagined characters. He called them heteronyms. These heteronyms were generally given their own biography, more or less developed. The Book of Disquiet was to have been written by Bernardo Soares, an assistant bookkeeper, who wrote not very successful short stories, and there are places where the entries reflect that biography.

The edition I read was the Penguin, translated by Richard Zenith in 2001. There's a new translation by Margaret Jull Costa as well that came out just this year. One interesting distinction is that Zenith chose to arrange the sections thematically; the new translation arranges them by date of composition. Either arrangement involves guesswork: the thematic choices are obviously Zenith's, but not all the pieces are dated. Jull Costa seems to me a wonderful translator (she translates Javier Marias among others) and her edition has the advantage of being able to use the most recent Portuguese edition and scholarship. I do think I'd like the thematic arrangement better. But still  I now want to read her translation as well.

My Reader's Block Mount TBR Challenge

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