Fernando Pessoa appears to be Lisbon’s largest tourist attraction. In front of the Café Brasileira, pictured above, sits a statue of Pessoa in front of one of the most popular restaurants in the Chiado where tourists and university students flock to get their pictures taken seated next to the man whose writings they have likely never read.
In my last post I mentioned Pessoa’s amazing “The Book of Disquiet.” It is remarkable that Pessoa only published one book (“Mensagem”) during his lifetime. When he died he left behind a trunk filled with his unpublished and unfinished manuscripts, some of which became the basis for “The Book of Disquiet,” published 50 years after his death. By clicking here you can access one person’s selections of pithy quotes from that book (though many of my favorites are more humorous). I guarantee if you buy this book and can get through the first 50 pages or so (I always find it starts a bit slowly) you may find yourself richly rewarded with your own list of discoveries!
“The Book of Disquiet” was “written by” Bernardo Soares, one of Pessoa’s “semi-heteronyms.” Pessoa wrote under numerous heteronyms. According to the ever-authoritative Wikipedia, “heteronyms differ from noms de plume . . . in that the latter are just false names, while the former are characters having their own supposed physiques, biographies and writing styles.”
My favorite heteronym is Alberto Caeiro, about whom Pessoa claimed “Alberto Caeiro was born in 1889 and died in 1915; he was born in Lisbon, but lived almost all his life in the country. He had neither profession nor any sort of education.” (From a letter to Adolfo Casais Monteiro, January 13, 1935.) As Alvaro de Campos, another of Pessoa’s heteronyms and himself a disciple of Caeiro, once observed, “My master Caeiro wasn’t a pagan: he was paganism. Ricardo Reis is a pagan, Antonio Mora is a pagan, I am a pagan, Fernando Pessoa himself would be a pagan if he weren’t a ball of yarn rolled up inside himself.”
I highly recommend Edwin Honig and Susan M. Brown’s “Poems of Fernando Pessoa” (though it may no longer be in print). Below is a short stanza from Alberto Caeiro’s “Keeper Of Sheep” (and here is someone’s more extensive compendium of selections from that work):”
When I sit down to write a poem
Or when ambling along the main roads and bypaths,
I write lines on the paper of my thoughts,
I feel the staff in my hands
And glimpse an outline of myself
On top of some low-lying hill,
Watching over my flock and seeing my ideas,
Or watching over my ideas and seeing flock,
And smiling vaguely like one who doesn’t understand what’s said
And likes to pretend he does.
During my Lisbon trip I was reading Jose Saramago’s “The Year Of The Death Of Ricardo Reis,” a book based upon the life of one of Pessoa’s heteronyms — a fiction balanced on top of another fiction. Bravo! After Saramago died, Portugal declared two days of mourning and billboards like the one below appeared along the boulevards:
What makes Portugal so proud of its writers? Saramago won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1998, but were there public outpourings like that here when Nobel Prize winner William Faulkner died in 1962?
I was primarily raised in Bloomington, Illinois. In its airport there is a seated bronze — more or less just like the one of Pessoa in Lisboa — of Adlai Stevenson, who hailed from there and was certainly a remarkable man.
Taking nothing away from Stevenson, I’d love to think there will someday be a bronze outside some cafe of David Foster Wallace, who lived and wrote in Bloomington for many years before moving to California. Now that he is dead people make pilgrimages to his office, which, ironically, was in Stevenson Hall. Oh well…”The World was not made for us to think about…” (Pessoa, “The Keeper of Sheep”)
PS: Here are a couple of cool links to the syllabi Wallace was using during those days: http://flavorwire.com/373519/learn-from-the-best-10-course-syllabi-by-famous-authors/view-all; http://www.hrc.utexas.edu/press/releases/2010/dfw/teaching/