on November 7, 2001
This book is full of genius and madness, which are nearly indistinguishable from one another. Like Kafka, Pessoa stands above his peers for his profound sense of humanity. He is also as singular as Kafka. Pessoa is a mystery, and his notes and letters further illustrate this. I am sorry that he died before the world would honor him as one of the Twentieth Century's greatest writers. However, Pessoa was well aware of his genius and the admiration of the world would have done nothing to convince him of his worth. He was already convinced!
Pessoa published little during his lifetime, but it was because he never submitted much of his work for publication. Apparetnly, the Portugese publishers still haven't published all of his works, either, and that is a shame.
One thing that stands out about this book is that Pessoa does not engage in any of the posturing that one might find in the works of other writers convinced of their genius. One senses that Pessoa considers his genius not in boast, but as if it were as unavoidable as his own face. It is fact to him; he cannot change it. His is a sad genius, not a violent genius. But do not pity him; he knew what he was doing. Pessoa was a man who knew what it meant to be a writer (that is, a perpetual other, an individual who can describe the world because he stands apart from it).
Pessoa is a wonder. Buy this book. I only wish it were the "Collected Prose" of Pessoa rather than the "Selected Prose."
One more note, if you are interested in Portugese literature you must read Anotnio Lobo Antunes, also published by Grove Press. A few of his works have been also translated by Richard Zenith (to whom I am grateful for his translations). If you like madness, madness in the Faulknerian sense, then you will love Lobo Antunes.
on August 23, 2001
Richard Zenith is my favourite translator of Pessoa; in this collection, he brings the insight and perspective he brought to his transcendant "Pessoa & Co." and "Book of Disquietude." The puckish nature of Pessoa's heteronym project is put into sharp relief: those who know only Pessoa/Soares may have thought the subsumption into heteronymology a sad affaire.
This collection complicates and deepens that perspective, with selections ranging from the whole of Pessoa's life, from the childhood Alexander Search to the elderly and Stoic Baron of Tieve, yet remains (as Pessoa remains) wholly delightful and charming. A Maria José even appears, in a letter "From A Hunchbacked Girl To A Metalworker" (a heartbreaking letter, I may add). Pessoa's possibly affected eccentricities are in full evidence here: witness the "Riddle Of The Stars," a kind of proto-"Changing Light At Sandover," wherein Pessoa receives otherworldly communiqués via automatic writing and the spirits exhort him repeatedly to lose his virginity. Other kicks: his "static drama" "O Marinhero" and Alvaro de Campos' "Ultimatum," where he personally attacks everyone responsible for World War I (and I mean, _everyone_).
Zenith's notes are indispensable (though he peculiarly abandons his "Disquietude" for "Disquiet," and chooses American English as his idiom). All in all, a welcome addition to the Pessoan archive in English, and a breathtaking array of further complications.
on October 30, 2013
His eyes fell back on the first page of Pessoa’s 'Factless Autobiography' and its unfurled lines streaming like black veins:
"…I, along with other people on the fringe, kept a distance from things, a distance commonly called Decadence. Decadence is the total loss of unconsciousness, which is the very basis of life. Could it think, the heart would stop beating…"
Faïk felt as if he had lost a brother he never had. With Pessoa still under his armpit and Wallace smiling dead, he felt as if he were chosen to continue on a carousel riding rocking horses in wild excitement and full circles, never to go forward.
He went back, to where it all started. The letter “M.”
Before that he went to “P” and put Pessoa back where he belonged:
"I could see this inn as a prison, for I’m compelled to wait in it; I could see it as a social center, for it’s here that I meet others. But I’m neither impatient nor common."