The Book of Disquiet
Fernando Pessoa | Adapted by Michel van der Aa
-1-
Overture
-2-
I’ve never done anything but dream. T...
And should I get bored and want the delirium of excessive speed, I can transfer the idea to
the Pure Imitation of Speed, i...
The tilted urn of twilight pours out on us an oil in which the hours, like rose petals,
separately float.
I fix my attenti...
BS2
It's always one of my dreams, which I momentarily embody, that thinks, speaks and
acts for me. I open my mouth, but it...
Vincente
Por isso me esculpi em calma e alheamento e me pus em estufa, longe dos ares
frescos e das luzes francas – onde a...
BS
My soul is a black whirlpool, a vast vertigo circling a void, the racing of an infinite ocean
around a hole in nothing....
BS
How much I've lived without having lived!
Vincente
Trago comigo as feridas de todas as batalhas que evitei.
(I bear the...
BS
I live of impressions that aren't mine.
Retired Major (from video)
Pessimista – eu não o sou
(I'm not a pessimist.)
Vin...
-7-
It was the most peaceful moment of my life. You calmly came down the wide stretch of road,
a graceful herdswoman with ...
only once dreaming has become perfectly mentalized.
In the third stage all sensation becomes mental. The body no longer fe...
as they should be bought.
Later, perhaps… Yes, later…. Another, perhaps….
Or perhaps not……
I was a foreigner in their mids...
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The book of disquiet fernando pessoa

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I’ve never done anything but dream. This, and this alone, has been the meaning of my life.
My worst sorrows have evaporated when I’ve opened the window on to the street of my dreams and forgotten myself in what I saw there.
What I basically do is convert other people into my dreams. I take up their opinions, which I develop through my reason and intuition in order to make them my own, turning their personalities into things that have an affinity with my dreams.

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The book of disquiet fernando pessoa

  1. 1. The Book of Disquiet Fernando Pessoa | Adapted by Michel van der Aa -1- Overture -2- I’ve never done anything but dream. This, and this alone, has been the meaning of my life. My worst sorrows have evaporated when I’ve opened the window on to the street of my dreams and forgotten myself in what I saw there. What I basically do is convert other people into my dreams. I take up their opinions, which I develop through my reason and intuition in order to make them my own, turning their personalities into things that have an affinity with my dreams. My life inhabits the shells of their personalities. I reproduce their footsteps in my spirit’s clay, absorbing them so thoroughly into my consciousness that I, in the end, have taken their steps and walked in their paths even more than they. I have a world of friends inside me, with their own real, individual, imperfect lives. Some of them are full of problems, while others live the humble and picturesque life of bohemians. Others are traveling salesman. (To be able to imagine myself as a traveling salesman has always been one of my great ambitions – unattainable, alas!) Others live in the rural towns and villages of a Portugal inside me; they come to the city, where I sometimes run into them, and I open wide my arms with emotion. And when I dream this, pacing in my room, talking out loud, gesticulating – when I dream this and picture myself running into them, then I rejoice, I’m fulfilled, I jump up and down, my eyes water, I throw open my arms and feel a genuine, enormous happiness. Ah, nostalgia never hurts as much as it does for things that never existed! -3- The idea of traveling nauseates me. What can China give me that my soul hasn't already given me? Travel is for those who cannot feel. Eternal tourists of ourselves, there is no landscape but what we are. I don’t need fast cars or express trains to feel the delight and terror of speed. All I require is a tram and my gift for abstraction, which I’ve developed to an astonishing degree. On a tram in motion I am able, through my constant and instantaneous analysis, to separate the idea of the tram from the idea of speed, separating them so completely that they’re distinct entities. I can feel myself riding not inside the tram but inside its Mere Speed.
  2. 2. And should I get bored and want the delirium of excessive speed, I can transfer the idea to the Pure Imitation of Speed, increasing or decreasing it at will, till it becomes faster than any train possible. I abhor running real risks, but it’s not because I’m afraid of feeling too intensely. It’s because they break my prefect focus on my sensations, and this disturbs and depersonalizes me. I never go where there’s risk. I fear the tedium of dangers. A glimpse of open country above a stone wall on the outskirts of town is more liberating for me than an entire journey would be for someone else. Every landscape is located nowhere. -4- I ask myself who you are, you this figure who traverses all my languid visions of unknown landscapes and ancient interiors and splendid pageants of silence. In all of my dreams you appear, in dream form, or you accompany me as a false reality. With you I visit regions that are perhaps dreams of yours, lands that are perhaps your bodies of absence and inhumanity, your essential body dissolved into the shape of a tranquil plain and a stark hill on the grounds of some secret place. Perhaps I have no dream but you. Perhaps it is in your eyes, when my face leans into yours, that I read these impossible landscapes, these unreal tediums, these feelings that inhabit the shadows of my weariness and the caves of my disquiet. Perhaps the landscapes of my dreams are my way of not dreaming about you. How do I know that you’re not a part of me, perhaps the real and essential part? And how do I know it’s not I who am the dream and you the reality, I who am your dream instead of you being mine? -5- We cannot love. To love is to possess. And what does a lover possess? The body? To possess it we would have to incorporate it, to eat it, to make its substance our own. Do we posses the soul? No, we don't. Not even our own soul is ours. And how could a soul ever be possessed? What do we possess? Our sensations, at least? We don't even possess our own sensations. Listen to me, keep listening. Listen and don't look out the window at the river's far shore, so flat and smooth, nor at the twilight, nor towards the train whistle cutting the empty distance. We do not possess our sensations and through them we cannot possess ourselves.
  3. 3. The tilted urn of twilight pours out on us an oil in which the hours, like rose petals, separately float. I fix my attention on a beautiful or attractive or otherwise lovable figure, and that figure captivates, obsesses, possesses me. But I only want to see it, and nothing would horrify me more than the prospect of meeting and speaking to the real person whom the figure visibly manifests. All I want from myself is to observe life. There's a glass sheet between me and it. I want the glass to be perfectly clear, so that it will in no way hinder my examination of what's behind it, but I always want the glass. -6- Everyone everywhere has always treated me kindly. Rare is the man like me, I suspect, who has caused so few to raise their voice, wrinkle their brow, or speak angrily or askance. But the kindness I’ve been shown has always been devoid of affection. For those who are closest to me I’ve always been a guest, and as such treated well, but always with the kind of attention accorded to a stranger and with the lack of affection that’s normal for an intruder. The logical reward of my detachment from life is the incapacity I’ve created in others to feel anything for me. There’s an aureole of indifference, an icy halo, that surrounds me and repels others. Friends: not one. Just a few acquaintances who imagine they feel something for me and who might be sorry if a train ran over me and the funeral was on a rainy day. Isolation has carved me in its image and likeness. By myself, I can think of all kinds of clever remarks, quick comebacks to what no one said, and flashes of witty sociability with nobody. But all of this vanishes when I face someone in the flesh: I lose my intelligence, I can no longer speak, and after half an hour I just feel tired. 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. Bernardo Soares 2 (from video) When others are in difficulty, what I feel isn't sorrow but an aesthetic discomfort and a sinuous irritation. Bernardo Soares (live) Having never discovered qualities in myself that might attract someone else, I could never believe that anyone felt attracted to me. I can’t even imagine receiving affection out of pity.
  4. 4. BS2 It's always one of my dreams, which I momentarily embody, that thinks, speaks and acts for me. I open my mouth, but it's another I who speaks. BS I don’t have the qualities of a leader or a follower. Other people, less intelligent than I, are stronger. They’re better at carving out their place in life; they manage their intelligence more effectively. I have all the qualities it takes to exert influence except for the knack of actually doing it, or even the will to want to do it. Vincente Guedes (from video) Sou dois, e ambos têm a distância – irmãos siameses que não estão pegados. (I’m two, and both keep their distance – Siamese twins that aren’t attached.) BS2 Why should I look at twilights if I have within me thousands of diverse twilights? BS I hear without listening, I’m thinking of something else, and what I least catch in the conversation is the sense of what was said, by me or by him. And so I often repeat to someone what I’ve already repeated, or ask him again what he’s already answered. But I’m able to describe, in four photographic words, the facial muscles he used to say what I don’t recall, or the way he listened with his eyes to the words I don’t remember telling him. BS2 I’ve never had anyone I could call ‘Master’. No Christ died for me. No Buddha showed me the way. Even in my loftiest dreams, no Apollo or Athena ever appeared to enlighten my soul. Vincente A metafísica pareceu-me sempre uma forma prolongada da loucura latente. (Metaphysics has always struck me as a prolonged form of latent insanity.) BS I realized, in an inner flash, that I’m no one. Absolutely no one. If I was reincarnated, it was without myself, without my I. BS2 I've sculpted my life like a statue out of foreign matter.
  5. 5. Vincente Por isso me esculpi em calma e alheamento e me pus em estufa, longe dos ares frescos e das luzes francas – onde a minha artificialidade, flor absurda, floresça em afastada beleza. (I've sculpted myself in quiet isolation and have placed myself in a hothouse, cut off from fresh air and direct light - where the absurd flower of my artificiality can blossom in secluded beauty.) BS I’m no one, no one at all. I don’t know how to feel, how to think, how to want. I’m the character of an unwritten novel, wafting in the air, dispersed without ever having been, among the dreams of someone who didn’t know how to complete me. Assistant bookkeeper (from video) Uma das grandes tragédias da minha vida é a de não poder sentir qualquer coisa naturalmente. (One of my life's greatest tragedies is my inability to feel anything naturally.) BS2 I'm a widowed house, cloistered in itself, haunted by shy and furtive ghosts. I'm always in the next room, or they are and the trees loudly rustle all around me. Vincente Sou o intervalo entre o que sou e o que não sou, entre o que sonho o que a vida fez de mim. (I'm the gap between what I am and what I am not, between what I dream and what life has made of me..) BS I’ve created various personalities within. I constantly create personalities. To create, I’ve destroyed myself. Vincente Repudiei sempre que me compreendessem. Ser compreendido é prostituir-se. (I always rejected being understood. To be understood is to prostitute oneself.) BS2 If only I had been the Madame of a harem! What a pity this didn't happen to me!
  6. 6. BS My soul is a black whirlpool, a vast vertigo circling a void, the racing of an infinite ocean around a hole in nothing. And in these waters which are more a churning than actual waters float the images of all I’ve seen and heard in the world – houses, faces, books, boxes, snatches of music and syllables of voices all moving in a sinister and bottomless swirl. Vincente Entre mim e a vida há um vidro ténue. (There's a thin sheet of glass between me and life.) BS2 However clearly I can see and understand life, I can't touch it. Retired Major (from video) Sou uma casa viúva, claustral de si mesma (I'm a widowed house, cloistered in itself BS And amid all this confusion I, what’s truly I, am the centre that exists only in the geometry of the abyss: I’m the nothing around which everything spins, existing only so that it can spin, being a centre only because every circle has one. I, what’s truly I, am a well without walls but with the walls’ viscosity, the centre of everything with nothing around it. BS2 I'm the bridge between what I don't have and what I don't want. Vincente Mas eu quero crer que a vida seja meio-luz meio-sombras. (I like to think of life as half light, half darkness.) BS I always think, I always feel, but there’s no logic in my thought, no emotions in my emotion. Streetsweeper (from video) Ter emoções de chita, ou de seda, ou de brocado! Ter emoções descritíveis assim! (To have emotions made of chintz, or of silk, or of brocade! To have emotions that could be described like that!) Vincente Ter emoções descritíveis! (To have describable emotions!)
  7. 7. BS How much I've lived without having lived! Vincente Trago comigo as feridas de todas as batalhas que evitei. (I bear the wounds of all the battles I avoided.) BS2 Clear things console me, BS and sunlit things console me. Vincente Sou navegador num desconhecimento de mim. (I'm a navigator engaged in unknowing myself.) Street sweeper No alto dos meus sonhos nenhum Apolo ou Atena me apareceu, para que me iluminasse a alma. (Even in my loftiest dreams, no Apollo or Athena ever appeared to enlighten my soul.) BS I've overcome everything where I've never been. BS2 I'm suffering from a headache and the universe. Vincente Durmo e desdurmo. (I sleep and unsleep.) Bookkeeper Não ter sido Madame de harém! (If only I had been the Madame of a harem!)
  8. 8. BS I live of impressions that aren't mine. Retired Major (from video) Pessimista – eu não o sou (I'm not a pessimist.) Vincente Os meus hábitos são da solidão, que não dos homens. (My habits are of solitude, not of men.) BS How many am I? Vincente Quem é eu? (Who is I?) Bookkeeper A coisas nítidas confortam, (Clear things console me) BS2 What is this gap between me and myself? Street sweeper Doem-me a cabeça e o universo. (I'm suffering from a headache and the universe.) BS For a long time I haven't been I. Vincente Porque eu sou do tamanho do que vejo. E não do tamanho da minha altura. (Because I'm the size of what I see. And not the size of what I am.) BS2 Because I'm the size of what I see. And not the size of what I am. BS Because I'm the size of what I see. And not the size of what I am.
  9. 9. -7- It was the most peaceful moment of my life. You calmly came down the wide stretch of road, a graceful herdswoman with a huge, gentle ox. I remember seeing you from afar, and you came towards me and passed on by. You didn’t seem to notice me. You walked slowly and unmindful of the large ox. Your gaze had forgotten all memory, and it revealed a vast clearing in your inner life: your consciousness of self had abandoned you. Seeing you, I remembered that cities change but the fields are eternal. If we call rocks and mountains ‘biblical’, it’s because they’re surely just like the ones from biblical times. It’s in the fleeting image of your anonymous figure that I place all that the country evokes for me, and all the peace that I’ve never known fills my soul when I think of you. You walked with a light swing, a vague swaying. Your silence was the song of the last shepherd, forever a wandering silhouette in the fields. It’s possible you were smiling – to yourself, to your soul, seeing yourself smile in your mind - but your lips were as still as the outline of the mountains, and the gesture (which I don’t remember) of your rustic hands was garlanded with flowers from the fields. Yes, it was in a picture that I saw you. But where did I get this idea that I saw you approach and pass by me while I just kept going, never once turning around, since I could still see you, then and always? Time suddenly stops to let you pass, and I get you all wrong when I try to put you into life, or into its semblance. -8- The art of effective dreaming; The best way to start dreaming is through books. Novels are especially helpful for the beginner. Learn to give in completely to your reading, to live totally with the characters of a novel. You’ll know you’re making progress when your own family and its troubles seem insipid and loathsome by comparison. Strangely enough, detective novels are what I instinctively read. I was never able to read romantic novels in any sustained way, but this is for personal reasons, I being romantically disinclined even in my dreams. When the dreamer experiences physical sensation – when a novel about combat, flights and battles leaves his body really exhausted and his legs worn out – then he has passed beyond the first stage of dreaming. The second stage is to construct novels for your own enjoyment. This should be attempted
  10. 10. only once dreaming has become perfectly mentalized. In the third stage all sensation becomes mental. The body no longer feels anything; instead of weary limbs, it’s our mind, will and emotions that become slack and sluggish…. Having arrived this far, it’s time to advance to the supreme stage of dreaming. Once our imagination has been trained, it will fashion dreams all by itself whenever we want. At this point there’s hardly even any mental fatigue. The dissolution of personality is total. Complete and autonomous plays can unfold in us line by line. We may no longer have the energy to write them, but that won’t be necessary. We’ll be able to create second-hand; we can imagine one poet writing in us in one way, while another poet will write in a different way. I, having refined this skill to a considerable degree, can write in countlessly different ways, all of them original. The highest stage of dreaming is when, having created a picture with various figures whose lives we live all at the same time, we are jointly and interactively all of those souls. This leads to an incredible degree of depersonalization and the reduction of our spirit to ashes, and it is hard, I admit, not to feel a general weariness throughout one’s entire being. But what a triumph! This is the only final asceticism. It’s an asceticism without faith, and without any God. God am I. -9- In the baskets along the pavement of the Rua da Prata, the bananas for sale were tremendously yellow in the sunlight. It really takes very little to satisfy me: the rain having stopped, there being a bright sun in this happy South, bananas that are yellower for having black splotches, the voices of the people who sell them, the pavement of the Rua da Prata, the Tagus at the end of it, blue with a green-gold tint, this entire familiar corner of the universe. The day will come when I see no more of this, when I’ll be survived by the bananas lining the pavement, by the voices of the shrewd saleswomen, and by the daily papers that the boy has set out on the opposite corner of the street. I’m well aware that the bananas will be others, that the saleswomen will be others, and that the newspapers will show – to those who bend down to look at them – a different date from today’s. But they, because they don’t live, endure, although as others. I, because I live, pass on, although the same. I could easily memorialize this moment by buying bananas, for the whole of today’s sun seems to be focused on them like a searchlight without a source. But I’m embarrassed by rituals, by symbols, by buying in the street. They might not wrap the bananas the right way. They might not sell them to me as they should be sold, since I don’t know how to buy them
  11. 11. as they should be bought. Later, perhaps… Yes, later…. Another, perhaps…. Or perhaps not…… I was a foreigner in their midst, but no one realized it. I lived among them as a spy and no one, not even I, suspected it. They all took me for a relative; no one knew I’d been swapped at birth. I had come from wondrous lands, from landscapes more enchanting than life, but only to myself did I ever mention these lands, and I said nothing about the landscapes which I saw in dreams. My feet stepped like theirs over the floorboards and the flagstones, but my heart was far away, even if it beat close by, false master of an estranged and exiled body. No one knew me under the mask of similarity, nor ever knew that I had a mask, because no one knew that there are masked people in the world. No one imagined that at my side there was always another, who was in fact I. They always supposed I was identical to myself. Their houses sheltered me, their hands shook mine, and they saw me walk down the street as if I were there; but the I that I am was never in their living rooms, the I whose life I live has no hands for others to shake, and the I that I know walks down no streets, unless the streets are all streets, nor is seen in them by others, unless he himself is all the others. -10- All around my dreamed mansion the trees were yellow with autumn. This circular landscape is my soul's crown of thorns. The happiest moments of my life were dreams, and dreams of sorrow, and I saw myself in their ponds like a blind Narcissus who enjoyed the coolness as he bent over the water, aware of his reflection to his abstract emotions and maternally adored in the recesses of his imagination. Peace, yes, peace. A great calm, gentle like something superfluous, descends on me to the depths of my being. The pages I read, the tasks I complete, the motions and vicissitudes of life – for me everything has become a faint penumbra, a scarcely visible halo circling something tranquil I can’t identify. Peace at last. I’m alone and calm. I feel free, as if I’d ceased to exist and were conscious of that fact. END

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