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“The cause of my profound sense of incompatibility with others is, I believe, that most people think with their feelings, whereas I feel with my thoughts. For the ordinary man, to feel is to live, and to think is to know how to live. For me, to think is to live, and to feel is merely food for thought.” –Fernando Pessoa

Guests in town, unable to write anything too thoughtful but realized I never posted a whole thing about Fernando Pessoa despite constantly citing him.

Unfinished Pessoa: “The monotony of everything is merely the monotony of myself”

No plot, unfinished, beautiful observations, ramblings and self-conscious passages filled with self-doubt and aching humanity. Even unfinished and unpolished, the aimlessness of his work strikes a chord. I’ve never found anything that amounts to the internal ramblings of an introvert to be particularly readable, but in Pessoa, I’ve found the exception.

Has anything come so close to describing such a range of human feelings – the deepest sense of understanding the world and its nothingness and our nothingness within it at the same time as embracing a strange, but sad, soulfulness? (He might disagree, were he able.) Pessoa’s unfinished and scattered The Book of Disquiet reminded me of myself and my own scattered thinking, reminded me so much of others and their even more scattered thinking (and battles with self-esteem despite the bulwark of their formidable intellects). The sense of inner disquiet, the sense of always wanting to flee but not knowing from what (Anna Swir’s – paraphrasing here – “I envy you – you can leave me any time but I can’t leave myself):

“…envy everybody for not being me. Since this always seemed to me like the most impossible of all impossibilities, it’s what I yearned for every day, and despaired of in every sad moment.” (Again like Swir: you are not only not me – you can also leave me!)

But also knowing leaving yourself is futile because no place in the world will be able to give you what your own soul cannot:

“What can China give me that my soul hasn’t already given me? And if my soul can’t give it to me, how will China give it to me? For it’s with my soul that I’ll see China, if I ever see it. I could go and seek riches in the Orient, but not the riches of the soul, because I am my soul’s riches, and I am where I am, with or without the Orient. Travel is for those who cannot feel.”

“There are basically only two things in our earthly experience: the universal and the particular. To describe the universal is to describe what is common to all human souls and to all human experience”

“Eternal tourists of ourselves, there is no landscape but what we are. We possess nothing, for we don’t even possess ourselves. We have nothing because we are nothing. What hand will I reach out, and to what universe? The universe isn’t mine: it’s me.”

He observes; he complains/criticizes; he lets his dreaming soar but reins it in, finding it tiresome; he complains some more – strikingly bold in his prose but timid in existing in the world outside his own mind and words. Everyone else is stupid but happy, and he can’t help but revile and envy it at once while also knowing this is the multiplicity of one’s own being:

“Only one thing astonishes me more than the stupidity with which most people live their lives, and that’s the intelligence of this stupidity.” “Wise is the man who monotonizes his existence, for then each minor incident seems a marvel.”

“Monotonizing existence, so that it won’t be monotonous. Making daily life anodyne, so that the littlest thing will amuse.”

“Each of us is several, is many, is a profusion of selves. So that the self who disdains his surroundings is not the same as the self who suffers or takes joy in them. In the vast colony of our being there are many species of people who think and feel in different ways.”

“To live is to crochet according to a pattern we were given. But while doing it the mind is at liberty, and all prince charmings can stroll in their parks between one and another plunge of the hooked ivory needle. Needlework of things … Intervals … Nothing …”

“Life’s basic malady, that of being conscious, enters my body and makes me uneasy. To have no islands where those of us who are uncomfortable could go, no ancient garden paths reserved for those who’ve retreated into dreaming! To have to live and to act, however little; to have to physically touch because there are other, equally real people in life!”

“The intensity of my sensations has always been less than the intensity of my awareness of them. I’ve always suffered more from my consciousness that I was suffering than from the suffering of which I was conscious.”

Pessoa makes statements that our own ‘shadow selves’ might utter with some shame, and never in the wrong company, but he is unapologetic:

“I see humanity as merely one of Nature’s latest schools of decorative painting. I don’t distinguish in any fundamental way between a man and a tree, and I naturally prefer whichever is more decorative, whichever interests my thinking eyes. If the tree is more interesting to me than the man, I’m sorrier to see the tree felled than to see the man die. There are departing sunsets that grieve me more than the deaths of children. If I’m unfeeling, it’s so that I can feel.”

These words, devoid of sentimentality, nevertheless collide directly with my recent readings on creating one’s own reality, thoughts being things, the oneness of everything. How, indeed, is the tree – or the loss of it – any different from the loss of the man? Would we be somehow poorer for, say, wishing a swift death or karmic justice on American frat boys visiting Mexico chanting, “Build that wall!” while standing on the Mexican side, soaking in the Mexican sun and hospitality? (I realize I bring more ire to this argument than Pessoa’s dispassionate expression of preference. But, in relating this tale to someone, I offered similar disenchanted but detached twinned apathy-hope that these frat-asses might ‘disappear’ in Mexico. Can you be apathetic and hopeful at the same time?)

“Life is whatever we conceive it to be. For the farmer who considers his field to be everything, the field is an empire. For a Caesar whose empire is still not enough, the empire is a field.”

“How many Caesars I’ve been, but not the real ones. I’ve been truly imperial while dreaming, and that’s why I’ve never been anything.”

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