Fernando Pessoa

Subtitle
Portuguese writer, 1888-1935, 73 alter-egos
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Oct 22, 2021 4:34 PM

Currently reading

  • "The Book of Disquiet" (Nov '21) It's a collection of 500 writings assembled after his death. Each one ranges from a paragraph to 1.5 pages. It's great to have around and pick up for a quick shot of inspiration.

Overview

Pessoa wrote with over 73 pen-names throughout his life. These alter-egos weren't meant to conceal his identity, but to explore "identity." Each alter-ego captured the essence of a unique writer, with it's own voice, biography, and world-views. I'm fascinated by Pessoa because he goes against a core premise that underpins so much of our society: "the self."

From my essay, Chameleon:

Cloaked in shyness, and often lost in a plume of smoke, he always refused to have his photo taken. He would've been a natural on SnapChat. Legend says his face would disappear when he looked into mirrors. Imagine a real-life Inspector Gadget, with a thousand exotic pens in the inner-lining of his trench-coat, each one enabling him to twist like a chameleon into any writer he dreamed of. The man was a shape-shifter, and his output was delirious.

Like a secret-agent seeping acid into the town water supply, he puzzled the locals. As he walked down the streets, paper scraps would spray out his bag, travel through wind, and find their ways to different parts of town. Normal folks would bend over, pick up a page, and without expecting it, get ransacked by the glowing musings of an unnamed madman. Lisbon was suddenly littered with gold. The streets were lined with invented languages, bizarre ramblings, critiques of local governors, detailed descriptions of clouds, and fake journal entries from historic writers. Has Walt Whitman been resurrected, or is there a new literary movement bursting out?

Some readings on Pessoa:

Quotes:

"Being happy is not a fatality of destiny, but an achievement for those who can travel within themselves. To be happy is to stop feeling like a victim and become your destiny’s author. It is to cross deserts, yet to be able to find an oasis in the depths of our soul."
"Woe who is one and never two."

The occult

There's a dimension of Pessoa that I'm not diving deep on in my Chameleon essay: the occult. I'm currently reading a Carl Jung book on paranormal encounters. I'm fascinated by this idea of "automatic writing as supernatural." The concept was a main tennant of the Beat Generation, but void of that flavor of mysticism. Could be the root of another essay.

  • Theosophists
  • "In addition, Pessoa translated into Portuguese some books by the leading theosophists Helena BlavatskyCharles Webster LeadbeaterAnnie Besant, and Mabel Collins." Pessoa's interest in spiritualism was truly awakened in the second half of 1915, while translating theosophist books.
  • Automatic Writings
  • This was further deepened in the end of March 1916, when he suddenly started having experiences where he believed he became a medium, having experimented with automatic writing...[31] Mediumship exerted a strong influence in Pessoa's writings, who felt "sometimes suddenly being owned by something else" or having a "very curious sensation" in the right arm, which was "lifted into the air" without his will.
  • Vision & Hallucinations
  • Besides automatic writing, Pessoa stated also that he had "astral" or "etherial visions" and was able to see "magnetic auras" similar to radiographic images ... Looking in the mirror, Pessoa saw several times what appeared to be the heteronyms: his "face fading out" and being replaced by the one of "a bearded man", or another one, four men in total.[34]
  • On the public's perception
  • He felt "more curiosity than fear", but was respectful towards this phenomenon and asked secrecy, because "there is no advantage, but many disadvantages" in speaking about this.