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
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.
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.
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.