Pessoa’s demons

I have to confess I’ve been remiss in reading the Book of Disquiet straight through. But I did randomly dip into pages from Pessoa’s book, and soon formed an opinion.

This preliminary assessment was also based on everything I was reading about his life, including his obsession with a younger woman:  that he broke up their nascent affair, due to the real world interdiction of one of his fictional alter egos only confirmed my suspicions of this writer. Fernando Pessoa, like one of his grandmothers, was insane; which is perhaps why he drifted into the alcoholism that killed him at 47.

I have always been attracted to the work of introverted writers, such as Samuel Beckett, et al, who drank too much, lived tortured, solitary lives, and, yes, produced literary masterpieces.

So I grouped Pessoa into that bucket; why did I have to read him, when I already was familiar, albeit at a genius remove, with what he was going to say?  When I have already felt what he is talking about? My confirmed indolence had little trouble inventing excuses to delay reading Disquiet.

But then there was this other thing.

As the cartoonish spectacle of the relentless Trumpian self-dealing plutocracy in Washington recedes into meaningless noise, I find myself thinking of things that are completely dissociated from my here and now in Fla.

In particular, I find myself once again thinking about the nature of isolation, and the meaning of salvation: is such a thing possible?

I have also obsessed over the years about the concept of a Second Death.  Lately, I’ve been thinking about it as taking place in a sort of airport lounge.  In this lounge, I’ve envisioned a group of passengers waiting to board the plane to paradise.

There is an attendant who’s engrossed by a small screen at the ticket counter by the boarding gate.

Suddenly, the attendant looks up, leans into a mike, and announces the first group that’s going to be allowed to board the plane to heaven.

These are the innocent, the children who died in accidents or in wars, or the elderly who have led blameless lives, but no one else.

After they all board, which takes some time, the attendant announces the next group.  These are the ones who sinned in this life, but not egregiously so.  They would have to wait for a bit, before boarding.  In an darkening airport lounge where the air conditioning has stopped working.


Time passes.  The room temperature in the lounge becomes increasingly uncomfortable.

Everyone begins to sweat, except for the ticket attendant, who goes back to looking at the small screen behind her counter.

After an increasingly tense 30 minutes, a few passengers sigh with relief.

The ticket attendant is again approaching the microphone.

She announces that the group who only did only a few truly shitty things in life will now be allowed to board the plane.

Shouts of joy are heard in the lounge.  There are secret little smiles on the faces of the chosen ones.

The announcer looks at the remaining group of travellers.

Unfortunately, she says, most of the passengers on the flight to paradise will have to wait a little longer.

The airport lounge is now becoming almost unbearably hot and loud.

As the group of milder sinners go through the boarding gate, a few people faint; no one brings them water, or comes to their.aid.

The attendant looks on impassively.

Everyone is thinking about themselves now, as they somberly wait for her to allow the next group on.

Panic is in the air.

The temperature ticks up relentlessly.

It is now well over 50 degrees Celsius in the lounge.

More passengers pass out.

The lounge is beginning to look like a refugee camp

Hours pass.

Finally the attendant approaches the microphone.

Will all the passengers who spent much their lives doing major bad ass things in life please approach the gate? You must have your boarding passes ready, she adds, which proves that you are not completely evil.

The group of predominanty malevolent passengers, most of them red-faced, unsteady on their feet, and sweating profusely, drag their carry-on luggage to the gate and push their way past one another, as they hand their boarding passes to the ticket attendant.

What about us? yell a group of totally evil sinners, standing nearby. When do we get to board the plane to paradise?

The ticket attendant glares at them, which causes the restive gaggle of irredeemables to shut up, and calmly resumes checking in the mostly, but not entirely sinful travelers.

When she’s done, she turns to the damned.

Unfortunately, you will not be allowed to board the aircraft at this time, the attendant finally says.

In fact, you will never be allowed to board this flight. However, your souls will still be allowed to live on in the lounge area. I advise you to repent, pointless though it may be.

A big cry goes up, but the ticket attendant remains impassive.

Water! Water!

Let us board, please, we beg you!

But she remains unmoved.

As this is going on, a small group of  scruffy, barely noticeable, bookish-looking unbelievers huddle together.

They are standing meekly apart from the larger group of hopelessly evil sinners.

Their faces are blank, and none of them are carrying any luggage.

The attendant glances up at them, but without pity.

As for travelers in Group Z, she says, unfortunately I have some worse news. You shall neither be allowed to board the plane nor remain in the airport lounge.

The ones standing in Group Z look momentarily stunned, but say nothing. They remain completely silent, for they realize the irrevocable nature of what just happened to them.

It was as if a side door had swung open in an empty place of worship, letting in a swirling draft that extinguished a candle, tucked away in some hidden alcove, where it had flickered for years but never petered out.

And when the door slammed back shut, it was as if that candle had never been lit at all.


Perhaps it is this sort of pessimistic outlook on life that animated writers such as Fernando Pessoa and Samuel Becket, and many others like them, as they contemplated their looming oblivion. They were not only the walking dead in their own lifetimes, often sufferers of some tragedy that turned them into alcoholic zombies, but in fact were worse off than that, for they sensed that they might be snuffed out a second time in the afterlife, a more horrible death even than their first one, a Second Death, as it is known in Scripture, the death that forever wipes souls clean off the face of eternity.

And why?

What sin had these human beings committed to deserve this?


Allahu a’lam, as they say in Egypt: God only knows. No doubt a deeper reading of Disquiet will prove revelatory.

As long as Pessoa doesn’t get too carried away.

When life gives you lamoun

A slice of lemon, or, if you prefer, lamoun

It’s official.

I am preparing myself to read the Book of Disquiet.

This book — I hesitate to apply the term “novel” — was written by a self-effacing Portuguese poet named Fernando Pessoa.  He is a giant literary figure in Lisbon. Despite having been to Lisbon, albeit under the enlightened rule of Santos Costa, I have never heard of him, let alone read this book.  To filch from one of the greatest revenge films of all time, that is a situation that shall now be “remedied.”

Dead at 47 from cirrhosis, same age as Malc Lowry

After cycling through quotes and pastiches about Disquiet in various and sundry WP blogs, as well as aperçus such as this, or this, or even this (despite its agenda), the pre reveal is that Pessoa’s a book to be read in bandersnatches, perhaps while in, say, the bathroom, or waiting for bad news in a doctor’s office, or while sitting alone under a thundercloud at a bus stop in Faro: it appears to consist mainly of aphorisms, that one must ruminate over with reverent consideration, and is framed in some complicated way by one or more of the literary schizoid alter egos that Pessoa liked to use.

Though I am not personally fond of stunts, when it comes to fiction, I am enamored by aphorisms, since practically anyone can write these on the fly, in particular me, which validates, briefly, my pointless existence.

So, to delay the burdensome chore of actually reading the Book of Disquiet, I shall now waste some of the little time that is left to me in this miserable life by composing some of my own aphorisms.  I intend these to be bitter, melancholic, choleric, and random, yet full of the sweet and patient wisdom that old age blessedly confers.

Here’s one.

No more Mr. Nasty. They’ll just peg you as an embittered cunt, and you will not be promoted; nor will you get to dance with the queen of the bal. This does not apply to anyone cynical enough to be a politician. In such cases, lies, insults, falso smiles and scowls will work best.

Here’s more:

If someone pretends not to hear you when you are talking directly to them at a table full of people, slap them hard in the face, get up, and walk away without saying a word to them ever again.

Never masturbate on Fridays.  

Obsessed with this woman, Ophelia

Always remember that your clandestine lovers have moved on. They have lives apart from you: wives, girlfriends, boyfriends, jobs, illicit secrets; even if they are as lost as you are, in, as the lemon phrase goes, a cold, cruel and uncaring world. They just fake it better, and would not consider in a million years doing the Aaron Hernandez in the confined little cell that defines their slimy existence

Donald Trump, Ivanka, and the rest of it are completely irrelevant. to you, as you are to them. The sooner you grasp this, the happier you shall be.

Never feel sorry for yourself. No one else does.

Do not keep a blog.  Not only are blogs, particularly erudite ones, completely yesterday, but they reveal too much to the world about you. The whole idea in life is to be as secretive as possible, while appearing to be open, so that you can pretend that you are more mysterious than you really are. The scope of your true imagination is yours alone to enjoy.

Yalla beena, let’s read Disquiet already

If there is a God, he is capricious and cruel, but never indifferent.

In the end, what really matters is whether you are living your life on your terms.  To do this, you must study Adorno for at least a decade, and write abstruse philosophical tracts that you keep in a trunk in your study, and burn when you decide to move to some remote Indonesian island for the rest of your life.

They say if you want a friend, get a dog.  They are wrong. Dogs die. That is not the act of a friend.

Your primary goal in life should be confirmed long-term indolence.

Here is the final one:

By the time you reach my age, if you are lucky to get that far, you may in one blindingly lucid moment, realize that you have to completely and inexorably write off the last 50 years of your life. You shall exhibit no pity, no weakness, no mercy, no soft spot, nor shall you give in to the tug of nostalgia. You have seen through it all for years anyway. Now you shall act, before it is too late. You shall leave it all behind you; it means nothing anyway. Only then will you finally be free of every last illusion, and lead whatever is left of your wretched life on your terms. The trick is not to be a dick about it; and never deliberately harm anyone in any way, if at all possible.


I’m turning off the aphorism generator.

I’m taking a shower now, then will settle down in the dead of night and let Pessoa give me a run for the money.

He’s most likely better at this than I.

PS As a bonus, this highly literate blogger recommended Antonio Tabucchi’s Pereira Maintains, as a companion to Disquiet.  Given that Mohsin Hamid also extols this book (according to some Amazon reviewer), though no doubt reluctantly, I shall Kindle this, and read it on the beach in Gouna this Fall. And since I will be passing through France,  Mathias Énard‘s Zone (because of the Malcolm Lowry connection, mostly) or the newer Compas seem like equally good bets.