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Saturday, 28 June 2014

Fernando Pessoa: The falling of leaves that one senses without hearing them fall


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Parque das Caldas da Rainha, Portugal. Landscape architecture by Francisco Caldeira Cabral (1908-1992): photo by Manuel Silveira Ramos, 2003 (Biblioteca de Arte / Art Library Fundaçao Calouste Gulbenkian)


The further we advance in life, the more we become convinced of two contradictory truths. The first is that, confronted by the reality of life, all the fictions of literature and art pale into insignificance… They are just dreams from which one awakens, not memories or nostalgic longings with which we might later live a second life.

The second is this: every noble soul wishes to live life to the full, to experience everything and every feeling, to know every corner of the earth and, given that this is impossible, life can only be lived to the full subjectively, only lived in its entirety once renounced.

These two truths are mutually irreducible…

Nothing satisfies me, nothing consoles me, everything -- whether or not it has ever existed -- satiates me. I neither want my soul nor wish to renounce it. I desire what I do not desire and renounce what I do not have. I can be neither nothing nor everything: I’m just the bridge between what I do not have and what I do not want.




Parque das Caldas da Rainha, Portugal. Landscape architecture by Francisco Caldeira Cabral (1908-1992): photo by Manuel Silveira Ramos, 2003 (Biblioteca de Arte / Art Library Fundaçao Calouste Gulbenkian)

To cease, to be unknown and external, the stirring of branches in remote avenues, the tenuous falling of leaves that one senses without hearing them fall, the subtle sea of distant fountains, and the whole indistinct world of gardens at night, lost in endless complexities, the natural labyrinths of the dark!

To cease, to end once and for all, yet to survive in another form, as the page of a book, a loose lock of hair, a swaying creeper outside a half-open window, insignificant footsteps on the fine gravel curve of a path, the last twist of smoke high above a village as it falls asleep, the idle whip of the waggoner stopped by the road in the morning... Absurdity, confusion, extinction -- anything but life...




Parque das Caldas da Rainha, Portugal. Landscape architecture by Francisco Caldeira Cabral (1908-1992): photo by Manuel Silveira Ramos, 2003 (Biblioteca de Arte / Art Library Fundaçao Calouste Gulbenkian)

Every day things happen in the world that can’t be explained by any law of things we know. Every day they’re mentioned and forgotten, and the same mystery that brought them takes them away, transforming their secret into oblivion.

Such is the law by which things that can’t be explained must be forgotten. The visible world goes on as usual in the broad daylight. Otherness watches us from the shadows.



Parque das Caldas da Rainha, Portugal. Landscape architecture by Francisco Caldeira Cabral (1908-1992): photo by Manuel Silveira Ramos, 2003 (Biblioteca de Arte / Art Library Fundaçao Calouste Gulbenkian)

Knowing clearly that who we are has nothing to do with us, that what we think or feel is always in translation, that perhaps what we want we never wanted -- to know this every moment, to feel this in every feeling, is not this what it means to be a stranger in one’s own soul, an exile from one’s own feelings?



Parque das Caldas da Rainha, Portugal. Landscape architecture by Francisco Caldeira Cabral (1908-1992): photo by Manuel Silveira Ramos, 2003 (Biblioteca de Arte / Art Library Fundaçao Calouste Gulbenkian)


The most painful feelings, the most piercing emotions are also the most absurd ones -- the longing for impossible things precisely because they are impossible, the nostalgia for what never was, the desire for what might have been, one's bitterness that one is not someone else, or one's dissatisfaction with the very existence of the world.

I don't know if these feelings are some slow madness brought on by hopelessness, if they are recollections of some other world in which we've lived -- confused, jumbled memories, like things glimpsed in dreams, absurd as we see them now but not in their origin if we but knew what that was. I don't know if we once were other beings, whose greater completeness we sense only incompletely today, being mere shadows of what they were, beings that have lost their solidity in our feeble two-dimensional imaginings of them amongst the shadows we inhabit.

The impossibility of imagining something they might correspond to, the impossibility of finding some substitute for what in visions they embrace, all this weighs on one like a judgement given one knows not where, by whom, or why.



Parque das Caldas da Rainha, Portugal. Landscape architecture by Francisco Caldeira Cabral (1908-1992): photo by Manuel Silveira Ramos, 2003 (Biblioteca de Arte / Art Library Fundaçao Calouste Gulbenkian)


Everywhere I have been in my life, in every situation, wherever I've lived and worked alongside people, I've always been considered by everyone to be an intruder or, at the least, a stranger. Amongst my relatives as amongst acquaintances, I've always been considered an outsider. Not that even once have I been treated like that consciously, but the spontaneous response of others to me ensured that I was.

Everyone everywhere has always treated me kindly. Very few people, I think, have had so few raise their voice against them, or been so little frowned at, so infrequently the object of someone else's arrogance or irritability. But the kindness with which I was treated was always devoid of affection.  For those who would naturally be closest to me, I was always a guest who, as such, was well treated but only with the attentiveness due to a stranger and the lack of affection which is the lot of the intruder.

I'm sure that all this, I mean other people's attitudes towards me, lies principally in some obscure intrinsic flaw in my own temperament. Perhaps I communicate a coldness that unwittingly obliges others to reflect back my own lack of feeling.

I get to know people quickly. It doesn't take long for people to grow to like me. But I never gain their affection. I've never experienced devotion. To be loved has always seemed to me an impossibility, as unlikely as a complete stranger suddenly addressing me as familiarly as 'tu' [Portuguese. Familiar second-person pronoun].

I don't know if this makes me suffer or if I simply accept it as my indifferent fate, and to which questions of suffering or acceptance do not enter.

I always wanted to please. It always hurt me that people should be indifferent towards me. As an orphan of Fortune I have, like all orphans, a need to be the object of someone's affection. I've always been starved of the realization of that need. I've grown so accustomed to this vain hunger that, at times, I'm not even sure I still feel the need to eat.

With or without it life still hurts me.

Others have someone who is devoted to them. I've never had anyone who even considered devoting themselves to me. That is for others: me, they just treat decently.

I recognize in myself the capacity to arouse respect but not affection. Unfortunately I've done nothing that in itself justifies that initial respect and so no one has ever managed fully to respect me either.

I sometimes think that I enjoy suffering. But the truth is I would prefer something else.
 

Fernando Pessoa (1888-1935): from The Book of Disquiet (O Livro do Desassossego), first published in Portuguese 1982, English translation by Margaret Jull Costa, 1991



Parque das Caldas da Rainha, Portugal. Landscape architecture by Francisco Caldeira Cabral (1908-1992): photo by Manuel Silveira Ramos. 2003 (Biblioteca de Arte / Art Library Fundaçao Calouste Gulbenkian)

11 comments:

Poet Red Shuttleworth said...

Lush, verdant photographs duly honor Pessoa. That great poet led an unenviable existence. Well... that misery must have been sufficient to feed him. Oh, but what lovely, soft park/photographs. Yet... now, thinking of Portugal, a land I dream of in old age, what I want is a sunny, crowded with bikini-clad girls, beach... in Figueira da Foz... and then... and then a couple of iced beers at that local cafe/bar with a name close to my gunslinger/shootist/pistolero heart: Johnny Ringo's... with its stunningly beautiful barmaids.

TC said...

Red, no one ever got more mileage out of moping than the mysterious Mr P. A brilliant creative equation, really -- dining on one's own obscure misery, biting the hand that feeds by refusing to make a drama out of it, then leaving a dubious posterity to pick up the tab. No, don't give it a thought, our pleasure, sir.

I spent a part of the summer of 1964 in Portugal. The authoritarian regime was still in power. Even coming from Franco's Spain, the relative political chill was still quite noticeable. I had been hitchhiking all round the continent, staying in youth hostels. You get to know the people a bit that way. But in Portugal everybody was afraid to say a word to a foreigner. Attempts at political conversation flopped like dying tuna on the deck. The south of the country was very poor. You could fill a bota with viño verde for less than a nickel. The girls on the beach in the Algarve might have been blonde and German, but a bikini would definitely have been a risk. From dark cool bars beneath street level in Lisbon and Porto the dolorous strains of fado seeped through the grates. In one hostel, located in a schoolhouse, the guests grew restless after a few botas and one fellow, for a prank, tipped upside-down the photo of Salazar that hung above the blackboard in the school classroom. Pretty funny... for about 30 seconds, until the custodian came in, cast one look upon the scene, instantly blanched to a ghostly pallor, ordered everybody out, switched off all the lights, crossed himself and implored the ceiling not to tell a soul what had happened.

Up north, the lovely university town of Coimbra and the Oregonesque forested reaches round toward the Spanish border where, in those days, rumour had it there were still stubborn pockets of Republican survivors holding out, clinging to that slim glimmer of hope...

vazambam (Vassilis Zambaras) said...

The ever elusive Pessoa elucidating his myserious character--but which one?

Sandra said...

Hello Tom ! wonderful piece !

Sandra said...

I think he is answering your question here :
"I'm sure that all this, I mean other people's attitudes towards me, lies principally in some obscure intrinsic flaw in my own temperament. Perhaps I communicate a coldness that unwittingly obliges others to reflect back my own lack of feeling. "
(this author reminds me of Cioran but Pessoa is poetic)

TC said...

Vassilis and Sandra, I think it's we who have been lured into the strange involving webs of Pessoa's writings -- all the products of one mind, and the mind of a great literary stylist at that -- who are repeatedly tempted into these wonderings... the appropriate response, I think.

"One final matter complicates this strange, non-linear text," writes Jessica Sequeira. "Though it is born of Pessoa’s mind, he himself does not claim authorship. The writer of the diary, according to Pessoa, is instead one Bernardo Soares, a tall hunched man with a penchant for cheap tobacco, whom he encounters on the upper floor of a Lisbon café. Soares is one of Pessoa’s literary personalities, which he calls 'heteronyms' -- alternate personae with different biographies and philosophies, all coexisting within his fertile imagination, of whom we today count more than seventy-two. In his work they interact, reading one another’s writings, producing critiques, even penning obituaries. A poignant addition, for if imaginary characters seem to me easily created, then their deaths are all the more painful, a first killing of consciousness that precedes their second demise when, inevitably, the page is turned.

"The major psychiatric breakthrough of the twentieth century came in the realization that what was traditionally considered pathological, the shattering of perception found in victims of dissociative identity disorder, in fact allows for a clearer, more comprehensive experience of reality. Writers began to develop literary alter egos: Pound had Mauberley, Rilke had Malte Laurids Brigge, Valéry had Monsieur Teste. But Pessoa outstripped them all in the sheer number and detail of his alternate selves. He even impersonated a therapist, writing to old teachers and schoolmates to ask for their opinions on his patient 'Fernando Pessoa' in an attempt to learn what they truly thought of him."

There is of course the possibility that Pessoa was simply impersonating himself in the act of impersonating himself, in every word he wrote. And further that, in doing so, he was also impersonating the way each of us does actually write, and for that matter think, most of the time.

Be the BQE said...

Tom,
The text and photographs together create a walk in the park with Pessoa (or one of Pessoa's characters). I can almost hear his voice and feel a slight, slight breeze.
-David

TC said...

Yes. Time seems to stand still for him there in the park, for a moment, as he passes through on the way to the tobacconist. There is a feeling of seasons changing in the air, a sense of the shadows beginning inevitably to deepen. It is to this we might attribute his odd languid melancholy -- had we not, that is, learned all too well over this curious stretch of narrative recaptured that he was oddly melancholy all the time anyway.

Wooden Boy said...

He was a one (in that he wasn't). There's a good streak of humour here - something akin to Kafka. All those paths turning in on themselves.

If you take him too seriously you don't take him seriously at all.

I love the plainness of that last line: betraying the game.

Wooden Boy said...

Almost.

TC said...

Yes, well -- passive suffering of the sort this anomalous text proposes as the state of things may be a kind of elastic or (anyway) flexible medium, in which the misery is always allowed its comic aspect (the one avenue of escape), if only for the pseudo-diversion of itself, and to help the time go by.