I do not intend to dwell on the problem of anteriority…. it is worth noting that the transition [from animal to man] seems to have occurred all at once…. The operation may have taken centuries…. we will never be able to prove…. we will never be able to speak of the various phases of the transition…. Man is always given whole, in an image of his creation that he cannot situate in time’s passing…. We no longer have to cross the distance separating animals from man…, but this much remains clear: since that time, humanity has never had a more astounding, more glorious moment. We doubt this, for to the extent that we take part in being human, we want to have something to do with a more important and more fascinating moment than any other before it…. it is as if life might be nothing more, in sum, than a continual re-creation…. it seems that man lives only from renewed creation, that the result of creation wears out, that…. humanity sags, falls asleep, and it is necessary to emerge once more from darkness.
—Georges Bataille, The History of Eroticism, pp 72-74, Zone Books.
The totality is truly alien to ordinary reflection in that it includes at the same time objective reality and the subject who perceives the objective reality. Neither the object nor the subject can form by themselves a totality that involves the whole. Ibid, p 116
I’m convinced that one cannot read The Book of Disquiet like other books, that is as some sort of coherent whole, certainly not like a linear narrative or an organic poem. The parts don’t add up. What he says on page 150 he states the near or complete opposite of 25 pages later. And yet, reminding ourselves yet again that the book grew over time as a pile of fragments that Pessoa never found a final form for, neither is it a logical or even a philosophical system. However, even when we compare contradictory passages they don’t cease to ring true. I’m reminded of what our (we American poets) broad-minded father, Walt Whitman said: Very well, I have contradicted myself. I contain multitudes.
As we know, Pessoa, even writing as Bernardo Soares, contained multitudes. Indeed, he used Soares to meditate on this condition. It would stand to reason that there would be a whole range of emotional responses to the self-aware condition of containing multitudes. And yet we can’t help it, as we read on we find this disquieting. Is it because we hope to encounter the comfort of order when we read, even if it is an illusion, rather than a mere reflection (that we can’t stand to face) of the disorder of our inner selves?
It’s getting to be a bad habit, my use of the word “we”. I’ll try and stop it. So I’ll shift gears a little and take a look at section 196:
The feelings that hurt most…. the longing for impossible things…. nostalgia for what never was…. regret over not being someone else; dissatisfaction with the world’s existence…. create in us a painful landscape, an eternal sunset of what we are…. I don’t know if these feelings are a slow madness born of disconsolation or if they’re reminiscences of some other world in which we’ve lived—jumbled, criss-crossing remembrances, like things seen in dreams…. I don’t know if we weren’t in fact other beings, whose greater completeness we can sense today, incompletely, forming at best a sketchy notion of their lost solidity in the two dimensions of our present lives, mere shadows of what they were…. all of this weighs like a harsh sentence handed down no one knows where, or by whom, or why…. All gods die a death greater than death…. The world has slipped away….
—Fernando Pessoa, The Book of Disquiet, pp 171-2.
Here Pessoa’s thinking is very close to Bataille’s. I can’t help but notice a similar correlation to religious feeling—specifically the origin of the feeling—which Bataille, that other Master of the Undone, never failed to draw into such meditations. But whereas Bataille focused on Christianity, Pessoa brings in reincarnation. The point is, in both cases the feeling is tied to a perturbing inability to escape the sense of a lost wholeness. For Bataille the time when, indistinguishable from the other animals, the world of man was silent and immanent, indistinguishable from the greater world. For Pessoa, the sense that our consciousness is troubled by broken memories of a complete world, compared to which this one seems insubstantial, even though it is real. Elsewhere he wrote, most chillingly, that perhaps his fictions were more real than he himself. And knowing not simply that one of his fictions “wrote” this, but that without the brilliance of that writing Pessoa would be nothing to me and would, in effect, not exist, I get a shiver up my spine.
And now suddenly I remember what Melville wrote to Hawthorne: The Godhead is broken. We are the pieces.
I cannot honestly say I think about this. Thought has a direction and a pattern. Thought evolves and this idea about origins is static. I don’t know how to manipulate it with thought or conversely how to use it as an engine of thought. It sits like a pebble in the pool of my mind as thoughts course around it. But somehow it fuels my hunger. I feel it. I have swelled with the need to write this down, afraid I will be distracted by some practical matter calling for my attention. But this serves no purpose, and now that it’s done I can have dinner and know that the process will be repeated all over again tomorrow or the next day. It’s just another Monday.