There’s no happiness without knowledge. But the knowledge of happiness brings unhappiness, because to know that you’re happy is to realize that you’re experiencing a happy moment and will soon have to leave it behind. To know is to kill, in happiness as in everything else. Not to know, on the other hand, is not to exist.—Fernando Pessoa (translated by Richard Zenith), The Book of Disquiet
This line has been revolving around my head all day. Sometimes I can make sense of it. Sometimes not. Maybe if it would just stand still for a second? If I don't know what it means will I ever be happy?
Bonus: Thomas Swick. "Wandering Through Literary Lisbon in Search of Pessoa’s Disquiet". Literary Hub (2020-06-24)
Don’t apologize, and don’t pay any attention to what we’re talking about… Every good conversation should be a two-way monologue… We should ultimately be unable to tell whether we really talked with someone or simply imagined the conversation…—Fernando Pessoa. The Book of Disquiet.
I'm still winding through The Book of Disquiet—and perhaps always will be—and it's hard to categorize it, hard to say what it is. Talk of dreams. Talk of doing nothing. Interminable logics, painstakingly built up. And occasionally these cutting insights like the one above about the brief feelings we feel in the briefest passing-by moments of life. On its face, sure, it is nonsensical, but taken ironically it's like so many interactions that we have—which I suppose means it's not ironic at all.
From fragment 356 in The Book of Disquiet:
I don’t trust masters who can’t be down-to-earth. For me they’re like those eccentric poets who can’t write like everybody else. I accept that they’re eccentric, but I’d like them to show me that it’s because they’re superior to the norm rather than incapable of it.
Or maybe in the words of Del The Funky Homosapien ("Check It Ooout"):
I love to peep a rhyme / First of all I'm seein' if my man can keep the time / If he go off beat, and it's on purpose / He gotta come back on beat / Or the effort is worthless
Either way—it's not genius just because it's different. It has to be better.
The human soul is so inevitably the victim of pain that is suffers the pain of the painful surprise even with things it should have expected. A man who has always spoken of fickleness and unfaithfulness as perfectly normal behaviour in women will feel all the devastation of the sad surprise when he discovers that his sweetheart has been cheating on him, exactly as if he’d always held up female fidelity and constancy as a dogma or a rightful expectation. Another man, convinced that everything is hollow and empty, will feel like he’s been struck by lightning when he learns that what he writes is considered worthless, or that his efforts to educate people are in vain, or that it’s impossible to communicate his emotion.—Fernando Pessoa. "245". The Book of Disquiet. Translated by Richard Zenith.
Offhandedly it seems like a rupture in personal logic—to be surprised by the thing you were ostensibly expecting. But that makes an assumption: that you were really expecting that difficult or bad thing to happen.
I think, at least sometimes, that expected pain is a talisman to ward against the pain coming—like taking an umbrella not to keep the rain off your head, but to keep the rain in the cloud. Maybe the right word or thought or action will keep the bad things away.
Probably not, but it's worth a shot.
I've been reading Fernando Pessoa's The Book of Disquiet (Richard Zenith translation) off and on for a few months. I'm not sure what to think of it.
I feel like it ought to be a fine book to read while cooped up during the pandemic. Or a horrible one to read. I could conclude either way at this point a third of the way through. (A third of the way through the book, not the pandemic, I hope.) Nothing... happens in the book. Each chapter (fragment) is just a line or a postcard worth of inwardly-directed observation of some kind, often a description of some tedium or dream detail. It's the most thorough treatment of ennui I've ever encountered, for good or ill.
I don't recommend reading through it from front to back, although that is what I'm doing. I'm only reading like this because it's the only convenient way to approach an ebook. And I feel a compulsion to read although the way through each book that I start. I feel like it should be flipped to a chapter at random, have a few chapters consumed, and then be put down for a while.
The entire life of the human soul is mere motions in the shadows. We live in a twilight of consciousness, never in accord with whom we are or think we are.
A final thought about the book. It's not that nothing happens, it's that what does happens—what is described, at least, because really nothing happens—is all very local, very compressed. Most of the book is in the narrator's head. Most of the rest occurs in his apartment or office—again, nothing happening in those places, just a location for the inward walkabouts to be set. This many pages with such a small (external) geography— that is some feat, I suppose.
I need help understanding what I'm reading. (A side note, it has taken me this long in my life to believe that I need help reading.) A few links found along the way:
Currently reading The Book of Disquiet by Fernando Pessoa—this from fragment 66 in Richard Zenith's translation:
Civilization consists in giving something a name that doesn’t belong to it and then dreaming over the result. And the false name joined to the true dream does create a new reality. The object does change into something else, because we make it change. We manufacture realities.
This is the opposite of giving things the right name, no?
The right name is for building tangible things, measuring them, verifying their results against our expectations. But the right name is the right name only because we believe it is the right name. It's what it is—without a name, whatever it is essentially—and it is the result of the name that we give it, and it is the story that we build (bind) around it.
This page is nothing but paper or a screen. And the words, individually, are ideas that don't mean much individually. Then I put them together on the page, and give it all a name, and wish it into a new existence.
Every new beginning is an open field, and the turbid past follows at a distance until you slow down enough and it eddies turbulently ahead, burying the grass that was once greener in sediment. Why not pause, and give it a fresh name anyway? A new name doesn't wash anything clean, but it might be that name which allows you to believe in the world under the sediment, a false name that isn't what it is, not apparently at least, and get on to the next day, day after day, perhaps even restoring the place instead of pushing onward without rest.