Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Fernando Pessoa, The Book of Disquiet

The Book of Disquiet
Fernando Pessoa (as Bernardo Soares)
Edited and translated by Richard Zenith
Penguin, 2003

In India there are bitter vegetables people eat for their health -- to ward off diabetes and counter the effects of a diet over-high in refined sugars.  When I first lived in India, I hated those vegetables.  Now I like them best of all.  “Bitter” is not always a negative adjective.  It may also restore life.  It can serve as an antidote.  There is something similar about The Book of Disquiet -- a book about failure, tedium and disconnection that is repeatedly beautiful and compelling, even life-giving.

Please excuse me for quoting a blurb.  It seems to me exactly right.  John Lancaster wrote, “In a time which celebrates fame, success, stupidity, convenience and noise, here is the perfect antidote, a hymn of praise to obscurity, failure, intelligence, difficulty and silence.”  If you, too, are spooked or nauseated by a world in which people go around trumpeting their own busyness and importance, reciting what appear to be advertisements for themselves, then this book may well feel like an antidote -- as well as a drastically more honest assessment of life, the way it actually feels, as opposed to how it is supposed to feel.

If I may give advice, I strongly recommend using this book as a “tincture”, just a few pages at a time.  I do not believe Pessoa would be offended even if you set it in the bathroom to accompany intestinal disquiets.  As Zenith points out in his introduction, reading at random is actually ideal.  I read this book over six months and was glad of its company -- but I think, if I’d sat down and tried to read through it in a week, I might have found it insufferable.  You could O.D. on ennui.  Taken slowly in small doses however, it is brilliant bitter company.

1 comment:

Metta said...

There was a group of workers who always sat in one place in the corner. They didn’t talk to anyone. They just stared out in to space. They were obviously out of contact. So I said to some of the old guys, “What’s going on?” and one said, “Oh, they’re from the House of Butterflies... http://www.publichealthreports.org/issueopen.cfm?articleID=1479