For Our Time of Disquiet


Looking for a feel-good read? Something with strong characters you’ll want to identify with? A story that has you rapidly turning the pages to find out what comes next? I’m sure there are many titles out there that will easily smooth-out your anxieties in this time of corona virus and the triumph of science over voodoo politics, but don’t look to Fernando Pessoa for it.

The Book of Disquiet by the Portuguese writer Fernando Pessoa is aptly named: it is a book and it is chock-a-block with anxiousness, discomposure, and agita. It also gives the reader something to think about on almost every pages. However, even though it might be considered a novel, it certainly is an example of a novel which, with only a few instances, has no plot, no characters, no background, and no dialogue.

I am reminded of David Markson who collected interesting facts, observations, and thoughts on small slips of paper which eventually were ordered into his excellent works such as Reader’s Block or This Is Not a Novel. Ronald Firbank also comes to mind. Firbank wrote several controversial short novels while living from hotel to hotel and composing his prose on the backs of hotel postcards. Both authors as well as Pessoa are recommended reading for those who are open to different approaches to the novel.

Here is what Pessoa says about his own work (taken from the 476th chapter of The Book of Disquiet):

It will seem to many that my diary, written just for me, is too artificial. But it’s only natural for me to be artificial. How else can I amuse myself except by carefully recording these mental notes? Though I’m not very careful about how I record them. In fact I jot them down in no particular order and with no special care. The refined language of my prose is the language in which I naturally think.

For me the outer world is an inner reality. I feel this not in some metaphysical way but with the senses normally used to grasp reality.

This one surely requires multiple readings and a barn full of head scratching.


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