Gavin's Reviews > The Book of Disquiet

The Book of Disquiet by Fernando Pessoa
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it was amazing
bookshelves: favorites, insight-full, novel

In one sentence: Eventless autobiographical sketches about working a shit job in a shit town, and but the beauty of self-obsession.
To be read when: unable to sleep; e.g. at 3am or when travelling for more than 15 hours.
I asked very little from life, and even this little was denied me. A nearby field, a ray of sunlight, a little bit of calm along with a bit of bread, not to feel oppressed by the knowledge that I exist, not to demand anything from others, and not to have others demand anything from me - this was denied me, like the spare change we might deny a beggar not because we're mean-hearted but because we don't feel like unbuttoning our coat.

Pessoa's uniqueness was invisible during his life; this is a shining, astonishing instance of what we now call neuroatypicality and of the everyday sublime. He's obsessed with cute fatalism, with his own inadequacy, with nothingness and loneliness, but almost every passage is wise or funny or beautiful. I catch no despair off him. Turning shite to gold. Like Larkin if Larkin were likeable; like Montaigne if terser and darker.

And at this table in my absurd room, I, a pathetic and anonymous office clerk, write words as if they were the soul's salvation, and I gild myself with the impossible sunset of high and vast hills in the distance, with the statue I received in exchange for life's pleasures, and with the ring of renunciation on my evangelical finger, the stagnant jewel of my ecstatic disdain.

Floreat inertia! the worker-poet distinctive and supreme. I first read this on a 22-hour international journey, unsleeping, undrinking, unreal; I prescribe the same conditions for you when you read him.

I feel love for all this, perhaps because I have nothing else to love... even though nothing truly merits the love of any soul, if, out of sentiment, we must give it, I might as well lavish it on the smallness of an inkwell as on the grand indifference of the stars.

This paperback is a super-slim selection of the full chaotic archive he left behind; only a tenth of the full Desassossego archive has been translated in to English; this is a great temptation towards a language I presently have no other reason to learn.


Galef type:
Data 1 - a window onto an interesting piece of the world, &
Value 3 - written from a holistic value structure, letting you experience that value structure from the inside, &
Style 2 - from which you can learn a style of thinking by studying the author’s approach to the world.




One of my constant preoccupations is trying to understand how it is that other people exist, how it is that there are souls other than mine and consciousnesses not my own, which, because it is a consciousness, seems to me unique. I understand perfectly that the man before me uttering words similar to mine and making the same gestures I make, or could make, is in some way my fellow creature. However, I feel just the same about the people in illustrations I dream up, about the characters I see in novels or the dramatis personae on the stage who speak through the actors representing them.

I suppose no one truly admits the existence of another person. One might concede that the other person is alive and feels and thinks like oneself, but there will always be an element of difference, a perceptible discrepancy, that one cannot quite put one's finger on. There are figures from times past, fantasy-images in books that seem more real to us than these specimens of indifference-made-flesh who speak to us across the counters of bars, or catch our eye in trams, or brush past us in the empty randomness of the streets. The others are just part of the landscape for us, usually the invisible landscape of the familiar.

I feel closer ties and more intimate bonds with certain characters in books, with certain images I've seen in engravings, that with many supposedly real people, with that metaphysical absurdity known as 'flesh and blood'. In fact 'flesh and blood' describes them very well: they resemble cuts of meat laid on the butcher's marble slab, dead creatures bleeding as though still alive, the sirloin steaks and cutlets of Fate.

I'm not ashamed to feel this way because I know it's how everyone feels. The lack of respect between men, the indifference that allows them to kill others without compunction (as murderers do) or without thinking (as soldiers do), comes from the fact that no one pays due attention to the apparently abstruse idea that other people have souls too.
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Reading Progress

Started Reading
September 1, 2015 – Finished Reading
June 4, 2018 – Shelved as: favorites
June 4, 2018 – Shelved
July 15, 2018 – Shelved as: insight-full
October 26, 2018 – Shelved as: novel

Comments Showing 1-1 of 1 (1 new)

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Gavin In his review, MJ Nicholls comments:
The Book of Disquiet is a LiveJournal blog as written by E.M. Cioran or Albert Camus.


This is exactly right; I just view this as an excellent prospect, where he sees it as a dire insult.


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