Friday, December 12, 2014

Book quotes: The Book of Disquiet by Fernando Pessoa

As promised, here are a selection of quotes from this magical, one-of-a-kind book.
 


From "The Book of Disquiet" by Fernando Pessoa:

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I'll be living quietly in a house somewhere in the suburbs, enjoying a peaceful existence not writing the book I'm not writing now and , so as to continue not doing so, I will come up with different excuses from the ones I use now to avoid actually confronting myself. Or else I'll be interned in a poorhouse, content with my utter failure, mingling with the riffraff who believed they were geniuses when in fact they were just beggars with dreams, mixing with the anonymous mass of people who had neither the strength to triumph nor the power to turn their defeats into victories.

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"What has become of those people who, just because I saw them day after day, became part of my life? Tomorrow I too will disappear from Rua da Prata, .... Tomorrow I too - this feeling and thinking soul, the universe I am to myself - yes, tomorrow I too will become someone who no longer walks these streets, someone who others will evoke with a vague: 'I wonder what's become of him?' And everything I do, everything I feel, everything I feel, everything I experience, will be just one less passer-by on the daily streets of some city or other. "

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Today, suddenly, I reached an absurd but unerring conclusion. In a moment of enlightenment, I realized that I'm nobody, absolutely nobody. When the lightning flashed, I saw that what I had thought to be a city was in fact a deserted plain and, in the same sinister light that revealed me to myself, there seemed to be no sky above it. I was robbed of any possibility of having existed before the world. If I was ever reincarnated, I must have done so without myself, without a self to reincarnate.

I am the outskirts of some non-existent town, the long-winded prologue to an unwritten book. I'm nobody, nobody. I don't know how to feel or think or love. I'm a character in a novel as yet unwritten, hovering in the air and undone before I've even existed, amongst the dreams of someone who never quite managed to breathe life into me.

I'm always thinking, always feeling, but my thoughts lack all reason, my emotions all feeling. I'm falling through a trapdoor, through infinite, infinitous space, in a directionless, empty fall. My soul is a black maelstrom, a great madness spinning about a vacuum, the swirling of a vast ocean around a hole in the void, and in the waters, more like whirlwinds than waters, float images of all I ever saw or heard in the world: houses, faces, books, boxes, snatches of music and fragments of voices, all caught up in a sinister, bottomless whirlpool.

And I, I myself, am the centre that exists only because the geometry of the abyss demands it; I am the nothing around which all this spins, I exist so that it can spin...

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Everything that surrounds us becomes part of us...

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I want a rest from, to be other than, my habitual pretending.

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After his third lion, the lion hunter loses interest in the hunt.

 


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Everything that was ours, simply because it was once ours, even those things we merely chanced to live with or see on a daily basis, becomes part of us. It was not the office boy who left today for some part in Galicia unknown to me, it was a part, vital because both visual and human, of the very substance of my life. Today I am diminished, no longer quite the same. The office boy left today.

Everything that happens in the world we live in, happens in us. Anything that ceases to exist in the world we see around us, ceases to exist in us. Everything that was, assuming we noticed it when it was there, is torn from us when it leaves. The office boy left today.


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No one likes us when we've slept badly. The sleep we missed carried off with it whatever it was that made us human. ... All day I've dragged my feet and this great weariness around the streets. My soul has shrunk to the size of tangled ball of wool and what I am and was, what is me, has forgotten its name.

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There are some deep-seated griefs so subtle and pervasive that it is difficult to grasp whether they belong to our soul or to our body, whether they come from a malaise brought on by pondering on the futility of life, or whether they are caused rather by an indisposition in some chasm within ourselves - the stomach, liver or brain. How often my ordinary consciousness of myself is obscured by the dark sediment stirred up in some stagnant part of me. How often existence wounds me to the point that I feel a nausea so indefinable that I can’t tell if it’s just tedium or an indication that I’m actually about to be sick! How often…

My soul today is sad to the very marrow of its bones. Everything hurts me - memory, eyes, arms. It’s like having rheumatism in every part of my being. The limpid brightness of the day, the great pure blue sky, the steady tide of diffuse light, none of this touches my being. I remain unmoved by the autumnal breeze, that still bears a trace of the forgotten summer and lends colour to the air. Nothing means anything to me. I’m sad, but not with a definite or indefinite sadness. My sadness is out there, in the street strewn with boxes.

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Sometimes when I raise my heavy head from the books in which I keep track of other people's accounts and of the absence of a life of my own, I feel a physical nausea.
We live through action, that is, through the will...What's the point of calling myself a genius when in fact I'm just an assistant book-keeper? When Cesario Verde had himself announced to the doctor not as Senhor Verde, commercial clerk, but Cesario Verde, poet, he was using one of those expressions of futile pride that stink of vanity. Poor man, he was never anything but Senhor Verde, commercial clerk.

The poet was born only after he died, because it was only after his death that his poetry came to be appreciated.

To act, that is true intelligence. ...Success means being successful, not just having the potential for success. Any large area has the potential to be a palace, but where's the palace if no one builds there?

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Condillac begins his famous book with the words: 'However high we climb and however low we fall we never escape our feelings.' We can never disembark from ourselves.

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It is a rule of life that we can and must learn from everyone. There are serious matters in life to be learned from charlatans and bandits, there are philosophies to be gleaned from fools, real lessons of fortitude that come to us by chance and from those who depend on chance. Everything contains everything else.

 

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I deliberately seek out the longest distance between two points. I've never had a talent of the active life. I always bungled the gestures no one else gets wrong; what others were born to do. I always want to achieve what others achieved almost casually. Between myself and life there have always been panes of opaque glass, undetectable to me by sight or touch; I never actually lived life according to a plan, I was the daydream of what I wanted to be...

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No one imagined that there was always another by my side, the real me. They never doubted my identity with myself.

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I look for myself but find no one.

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I'm playing a card that belongs to some ancient and unknown suit, the only remnant of a lost pack. I have no meaning, I do not know my value, I have nothing to compare myself with in order to find myself...

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I isolated myself and, in isolating myself, exacerbated my already excessive sensibility. ...And thus, with my sensibility heightened by isolation, I find that the tiniest things, which before would have no effect on me, buffet and bruise me like the worst catastrophe. I chose the wrong method of flight. I took an awkward short-cut that led me right back to where I was, compounding the horror of living there with the exhaustion of the journey.

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I've never managed to see myself from the outside. There is no mirror that can show us to ourselves as exteriors, because no mirror can take us outside ourselves. We would need another soul, another way of looking and thinking. If I were an actor captured on film or could record my speaking voice on disc I'm sure that I would still be a long way from knowing how I seem from the outside because, whether I like it or not, record what I will of myself, I remain stuck here inside the high-walled garden of my consciousness of me.

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Since life is essentially a mental state and everything we do or think is only as valuable as we think it is, it depends on us for any value it may have. The dreamer is a distributor of banknotes and these banknotes are passed around the city of his spirit just as they would be in reality. What does it matter to me if this paper money of my soul can never be converted in to gold, since there is no gold in the factitious alchemy of life?

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Direct experience is the subterfuge, the hiding place of those devoid of imagination.
...Things only acquire value once they are interpreted. Some men, then, create things in order that others, by giving them meaning, make them live. To narrate is to create, whilst to live is merely to be lived.
To belong to something - that's banal. Creed, ideal, wide or profession; we would not feel so proud of it if we realised that it is just the string we're tugged along by. No, no ties, not even ourselves!

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Happiness exists outside itself.
There is no happiness without knowledge. But the knowledge of happiness brings unhappiness, because to know one is happy is to know that is passing through happiness and is, therefore, soon obliged to leave it behind. In happiness, as in everything, happiness kills. Not to know, however, is not to exist.

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That is what I believe, this afternoon. Tomorrow morning it will be different, because tomorrow morning I will be different. What kind of believer will I be tomorrow? I don't know, because to know that I would already have to be there. Tomorrow or today not even the eternal God I believe in now will know, because today I'm me and tomorrow he perhaps may never have existed.

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Happy the man who demands no more from life than what life spontaneously gives him and guides himself with the instinct of cats who seek the sun where there is sun and, when there is no sun, find what warmth they can.  ....Happy the man who renounces everything and from whom, therefore, nothing can added or subtracted.

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I feel I am always on the eve of awakening. Beneath a suffocating welter of conclusions I struggle with an outer covering that is me. I would cry out if I though anyone could hear. ...I'm like someone engaged in a random search for an object no one has yet described to him. We play hide-and-seek alone.

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Did I say I re-read these pages? I lied. I daren't re-read them. I can't. What good would it do me? It's some other person there. I no longer understand any of it...

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I have so completely divested myself of my own being that to exist is to clothe myself. Only disguised am I myself.

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Sometimes amidst the accumulated banality of my literary work stored randomly in various desk drawers, I come across things I wrote ten or even fifteen or more years ago. And many of them seem to have been written by a stranger; I don't recognise myself in them. Someone wrote them and it was me. It was me who felt them, but in another life from which I have awoken as if from another's dream.

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Alone I am hemmed in by multitudes. I have nowhere to flee to, unless I were to flee to myself.


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If there is one thing life gives us, apart from life itself, and for which we must thank the gods, it is the gift of not knowing ourselves and of not knowing one another. The human soul is an abyss of viscous darkness, a well whose depths are rarely plumbed from the surface of the world. No one would love themselves if they really knew themselves and thus, without vanity, which is the lifeblood of the spirit, our soul would die of anaemia. No one knows anyone else and it's just as well, for if we did, be they mother, wife, or son, we would find lurking in each of them our deep, metaphysical enemy.

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In the masked ball that is our life, we're content to put on the lovely clothes that are, after all, what matters in the dance. We are the slaves of lights and colours, we launch ourselves into the dance as if it were truth itself...

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Fate gave me only two things: some account books and the gift of dreaming.

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There are ships sailing to many ports, but not a single one goes where life is not painful.

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I'd woken up early, and I took a long time getting ready to exist.

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Everything around me is evaporating. My whole life, my memories, my imagination and its contents, my personality - it's all evaporating. I continuously feel that I was someone else, that I felt something else, that I thought something else. What I'm attending here is a show with another set. And the show I'm attending is myself.

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I wasn’t meant for reality, but life came and found me.


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