There are sores which slowly erode the mind like a canker
The slobber of idiot Destiny, dripping on my soul’s consciousness
—Bernardo Soares [p 160]
There is no doubt that I’m being unfair to Bernardo Soares.
Let no one take these Monday notes as an objective account of The Book of Disquiet.
I really must balance my urge to advise the reader of what Mr. Webster says about the word “disquiet”:
noun: uneasiness; restlessness; lack of tranquility; disturbance; anxiety.
synonyms: unrest, fermentation, turmoil.
verb: to disturb; to deprive of peace, rest or tranquility; to make anxious, uneasy or restless; to vex the mind of.
synonyms: agitate, alarm, bother, derail, discomfort, discompose, dismay, disturb, distress, perturb, undo, unhinge.
—I must balance this urge with a reminder that the text we know as The Book of Disquiet was written, fragment by fragment, over a period of many years, left unfinished and unpublished. It’s as full of contradictions as a human being. I, coming now across it as pieced together and published by the scholar Richard Zenith, react to it as I read it, fragment by fragment, as a man of my time and milieu—a regular guy, for sure, in most ways, but a singular character in my own way as well. These notes must of necessity be as much about me as the book; I can hardly avoid it.
I find myself envying Mr. Pessoa for coming up with this device—inventing Mr. Soares. Could he pile up his despair in the deep envelope and folders that became Bernardo Soares’ opus, shoring it away for some future self-assessment endlessly deferred in the present concerns of that other man? Is it true that he became everyone else to avoid being Pessoa? Yet what does it mean that Zenith claims honesty is “what most distinguishes The Book of Disquiet”? Indeed, that “no other writer achieved such a direct transference of self to paper.” [pp xxiv-v] How does he know?
I’ve wondered the same thing when I’ve seen readers praise a blog post for its honesty, even declaring that such presumed honesty is courageous. Why? Readers used to say such things about Chris (the person to whom this series is dedicated), and I’d wonder, how do they know he’s being honest? Then another part of my mind would wish they’d come to my blog and say the same of me.
But the reader does not know the despair I keep hidden, does not know the contemptible ambition that eats me like cancer. Someone famous said there’s no smell more odious than a pile of unpublished manuscripts. But there is. I know it. It’s the ambition to publish. Rather, it’s ambition that lends those manuscripts their stench. And the odor of self-pity is even worse.
I write nonetheless, as Pessoa did, but I do not have the benefit of a Bernardo Soares to proclaim his saint-like indifference to the marketplace of aesthetic objects. Soares may have told the truth, but did Pessoa? Or is it contradiction itself that always looks so much like honesty?
I feel like I’m confronting ghosts with this book. It’s not just the apparition of Pessoa emerging from and disappearing behind Soares. To some extent such apparitions appear with any reading. The Book of Disquiet emphasizes the paradox of the solitary writer and his imaginary reader. It’s also friends who have gone Chris and Lee, the former a great reader I miss every day, the latter a mirror to match myself against. To reflect on The Book of Disquiet is to draw lines on a map never to be completed to a world forever parallel and other. The dead and the never born. Well then, you’ve read another opus, what say you?