Open Thinkering


Tag: Fernando Pessoa

Walkways lined by abandoned gestures

Tiled wall with wall and cement revealed

I can’t remember when I first came across it, but The Book of Disquiet is an incredible read. It seems to peer almost directly into the soul of its author, who himself is a heteronym of the Portuguese writer Fernando Pessoa. It was published decades after Pessoa’s death from unedited scraps of paper found in a trunk. He called it a “factless autobiography”.

There are inevitable disagreements about the order in which the fragments should be placed, but to give a flavour, my translated version (Penguin Classics) includes the following in Chapter 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 fa├žades 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, not 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.

It continues, flirting with, but never falling into bathos. Instead, for me at least, it describes a certain part of the human condition in a more precise way than I’ve read anywhere else. I recommend this episode of BBC’s In Our Time podcast about Pessoa for those wanting to find out more.

I came across a blog post yesterday about someone I have interacted with a few times over the last decade. They’re going through, and have gone through, what sounds like a hellish time. They’re being open and candid about it. Most people keep much smaller things than these to themselves.

It made me realise that many people around me at the moment are going through some serious stuff right now. Mental health issues, losing loved ones, physical injuries, bullying, insomnia, to name but a few. Some of this is pandemic-related, but much of it isn’t.

Much of life involves pain and suffering of one type or another, and so people respond to this in different ways. For me, there is a delicate dance to be performed at the border of despair and ignorance, and too often I fall one way or another, having to pick myself up and start again.

Image by Natalia Y. The title of this post is also a quotation from the book.