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The Book of Disquiet by Fernando Pessoa

The Book of Disquiet (1982)

by Fernando Pessoa

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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Showing 1-5 of 25 (next | show all)
Jim Amaral's favorite author and book.
  susanaberth | Jun 23, 2016 |
belle langue en traduction française, classique et simple...j'ai lu une partie du livre que je trouve intéressant mais pas passionnant, c'est le genre de livre qui peut etre suivi sur plusieurs mois a petite dose...Il me laisse l'impression de lire le journal d'un dépressif.
Je reprendrai sa lecture plus tard. ( )
  Gerardlionel | Apr 2, 2016 |
I felt sad when it ended, but glad I finished it. This is a lovely book for exposing one's interior, but I feel that almost anyone thoughtful enough could have written it. It is a book for all "like minds" to enjoy being friends with. And to my dismay there was really nothing new here under the sun. After completing two books of poems and now this, my study of Fernando Pessoa is over. ( )
1 vote MSarki | Jan 24, 2015 |
The book has got an interesting origin story. Pessoa wrote it in bits and pieces, on scraps of paper, over years. It is the diary of sorts of one of his alter egos, Bernardo Soares, who lives and works in places very similar to Pessoa. The book wasn't published in his lifetime, but instead after his death people collected the scraps, assembled them in the order they felt made sense, and published them. Later, some Pessoa scholars came through, rearranged them and published them again in a new order.

No section in the book is more than a few pages long. Some are only a sentence. Soares is an isolated, depressed, contemplative man who is convinced he'll never amount to much. The book is best read as a sort of devotional, I think (or anti-devotional, maybe) - a few pages a day, or opening to a random page and reading the part you're faced with. Under the circumstances of its existence, it can hardly matter if you don't read it in order.

The Portuguese have a word, saudade, which is roughly nostalgia, but really deeper and more profound than that. It implies a sense of loss that goes beyond simple nostalgia - it's possible to feel it for things that aren't gone yet, simply because you know that they will be. Pessoa's writing is full of saudade. He is nostalgic for the world of his dreams, which has never existed and never will. He is nostalgic for the sunset he is watching, because although there will be others, there will never be this one again. He is nostalgic for the childhood he didn't have.

Beautiful, but not to be rushed through. This mind is not one to spend too much time inside.

Recommended for: romantics, city-dwellers, lovers of Lisbon

Quote: "Dawn in the countryside just exists; dawn in the city overflows with promise. One makes you live, the other makes you think. And, along with all the other great unfortunates, I've always believed it better to think than to live." ( )
3 vote ursula | Jan 17, 2015 |
The Book of Disquiet should be read slowly and thoughtfully, savored and sipped like fine wine. It’s a groundbreaking work of Modernist experimentation that consists of a collection of writings found on disorganized scraps of paper in a chest found in the author’s home after his death. These scraps were assembled into a book for the first time in the 1960s. Pessoa, who was Portuguese, wrote the segments over the course of the last twenty years of his life, which ended in 1935.

Pessoa invented multiple personas for himself that he called heteronyms, and each of his novels or collections of poetry was written from the perspective of an alter ego. He essentially invented multiple authors and wrote from their perspective. It’s a distinct approach from having a character narrate a novel, especially when it comes to writing a collection of poetry, but even in this “novel” because there is no plot to speak of, only an internal landscape. Pessoa makes no effort to distinguish his own critique of the “author’s opinions,” he merely embodies them. In other words, there is no authorial distance, no “unreliable narrator” theme, there is only the narrator. It is as if Pessoa had a multiple personality disorder in artistic form. The collection of writings in this book are measures of the interior life of one Bernardo Soares, which Pessoa described as being a “mutilated version” of himself, but perhaps the closest to his own beliefs of all his heteronyms. He describes Soares as rather like “himself minus the affection.”

Indeed, Soares comes across as so purely intellectual (although he does have the occasional overwhelming emotional response to small occurrences) that he is rather distant and cold—completely self-absorbed and narcissistic, in fact. Soares lives a life that is almost entirely metaphysical. In one of the 276 segments in the book, he refers to this collection as a “book of disconnected impressions.” Some might say that this isn’t a novel! But in the case of what is important to Soares (or to Pessoa), intellectual thought is apparently the only process that sustains his life. It is the story of his life, which was very little but intellectual.

We get glimpses of this persona at work, as an accountant poring over ledgers (which is what Pessoa did as well), and walking the streets of Lisbon, but for the most part, nothing ever happens. Soares lives a life only in his mind and in his daydreams. He is scared and reluctant to say hello or even shake hands with others. It is too shocking, too much for him. Much like Proust who wrote an entire series of book triggered by the taste of a single Madeleine cookie, Soares believes that an artist must be able to wring the greatest emotional effect out of the smallest incidents. So why write of large incidents when small ones suffice?

What subjects does Soares ponder as we make our way through this book? What is the book about? Walking and weather. Fame and ambition, rain and dreams. Banality, the banality of existence. Change or the lack there of. Dreams, especially dreams. Work. God. Writing and art. Identity and being.

At times he can seem quite humble, or more precisely, assured of his own inadequacy and contemptuous of himself, believing that everything he writes is worthless and a failure, railing at his own—and by proxy, every writers’—inability to truly represent ideas or thoughts in words (this being quite reminiscent of Wittgenstein’s view that language mediates our understanding of reality). Yet other times he can seem utterly arrogant in his narcissism. Other people are merely props for his internal dreams and thinking, and in fact he boldly declares at one point, “… of what importance is to me what life is to other people?” Because, he would say, we can only live life from our own perspective and to attempt “empathy” is a delusion. Other people aren’t even real to any of us—except as dreams.* Sometimes this seems almost Buddhist—we are dreaming life and because all is change, nothing is real and all there is is nothing. “The self is nothing more than all it is thinking in the moment.” Other times, it comes across as clearly Nietzschean, which would seem close to Pessoa's own ideology because he was a royalist of sorts. Soares believes that humans want to be enslaved not free. He has certain fascist tendencies that peek through his primarily apolitical musings. For example, he declares himself both anti-revolutionary and anti-reformist. Much like Nietzsche who sought to create amoral übermen, he is anti-social and believes that pursuing matters of social justice are not only a waste of time, but also a false presumption of pride and ambition in the self, to shape society. Furthermore, such actions support the premise that other people are “real” when in fact they are only dreams.** And then on the flipside of this, humans are unimportant and vulgar animals anyway: "Life disgusts me."

When he talks about work, he seems to say that work (not artist work, but paid commercial work) is an opportunity to become nothing—a mere tool, a non-thing—and to Soares, this is good, this is the enslavement that people want. The more the self can vanish as meaningless, the better. He criticizes ambition to “do something better” as pure vanity.

How can I give this book four stars when there are such disagreeable elements? Well, firstly, one doesn’t have to agree with everything in a book philosophically to find it a great book. Sometimes, finding a point of view that one can disagree with is just as valuable. And secondarily, he spends most of the book pondering apolitical questions of the nature of perception, emotion, and identity revealing brilliant bon mots that remind me of Montaigne such as, “There is nothing that shows poverty of mind more quickly than not knowing how to be witty except at the expense of others.” Admittedly, I did feel at times as though I were slogging through an ambiguous fog that didn’t quite make sense, but then I would come to a burst of insight like a spotlight that illuminates the way. In the end, these insights (whether they be about life in general, or whether they gave me insights into certain types of people with tendencies like the narrator), were often profound enough to elevate this book to quite a high status.

All in all, this book will only appeal to those readers comfortable with deep thoughts lacking a plot, and willing to persevere, but the rewards can be great.

*I counter this by noting that if everything is a dream and everyone is a dream then all that matters is dreams and empathy for dreams is just as valid as non-empathy for dreams.

**It’s important to recognize that someone is always shaping society—those who are already in power. Therefore, in fact, passively supporting the status quo is just as much a political action as resisting the status quo. It’s merely the path of least resistance…that is, until your freedom or means of self-survival are stake. ( )
2 vote David_David_Katzman | Nov 26, 2013 |
Showing 1-5 of 25 (next | show all)
Pessoa was mostly a poet and The Book of Disquiet can be read, if you wish, as a series of notes for poems as yet unwritten; or prose poems, of a kind, themselves. If all this sounds rather vague then that is because Pessoa wished it so. To read and then contemplate him is to be lifted a little bit above the earth in a floating bubble. One becomes both of the world and not of it. There's no one like him, apart from all of us.
added by kidzdoc | editThe Guardian, Nicholas Lezard (May 22, 2010)
Here in the famously striving city I’d been infected by a book whose credo, if it has one, is that “Inaction is our consolation for everything, not acting our one great provider.” ... Reading a page or two a day, I would find myself curiously preoccupied along certain lines for a week or more—weird: in the sunlight I’d been thinking constantly of rain—and then the topic would change and, like a spell of weather, move on.

» Add other authors (63 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Fernando Pessoaprimary authorall editionscalculated
Adam, Alfred J. MacTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Crespo, AngelTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Laye, FrançoiseTraductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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First words
I'm writing to you out of sentimental necessity - I have an anguished, painful need to speak with you. It's easy to see that I have nothing to tell you. Just this: that I find myself today at the bottom of a bottomless depression. The absurdity of the sentence speaks for me.
I was born in a time when the majority of young people had lost faith in God, for the same reason their elders had had it—without knowing why. (Penguin Classics ed., trans. Zenith, skipping the Preface.)
To write is to forget. Literature is the most agreeable way of ignoring life.
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Book description
"Il libro di Soares è certamente un romanzo. O meglio, è un romanzo doppio, perché Pessoa ha inventato un personaggio di nome Bemardo Soares e gli ha delegato il compito di scrivere un diario. Soares è cioè un personaggio di finzione che adopera la sottile finzione letteraria dell'autobiografia. In questa autobiografia senza fatti di un personaggio inesistente consiste l'unica grande opera narrativa che Pessoa ci abbia lasciato: il suo romanzo."
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0141183047, Paperback)

Fernando Pessoa was many writers in one. He attributed his prolific writings to a wide range of alternate selves, each of which had a distinct biography, ideology. and horoscope. When he died in 935, Pessoa left behind a trunk filled with unfinished and unpublished writings, among which were the remarkable pages that make up his posthumous masterpiece, The Book of Disquiet, an astonishing work that, in George Steiner's words, "gives to Lisbon the haunting spell of Joyce's Dublin or Kafka's Prague."

Published for the first time some fifty years after his death, this unique collection of short, aphoristic paragraphs comprises the "autobiography" of Bernardo Soares, one of Pessoa's alternate selves. Part intimate diary, part prose poetry, part descriptive narrative, captivatingly translated by Richard Zenith, The Book of Disquiet is one of the greatest works of the twentieth century.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:21:27 -0400)

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