THE BOOK OF DISQUIET reviewed by Jeffrey Herrmann

Book Reviews
THE BOOK OF DISQUIET reviewed by Jeffrey Herrmann
Dec 1, 1995, 12:55


THE BOOK OF DISQUIET by Fernando Pessoa; Serpents Tail, 1991

Book of Disquiet is a collection of ruminations by Pessoa, a Portuguese poet who was under-published in his lifetime (1888-1935) but is now considered to be one of the great European writers of the twentieth century. Writing in the form of a diary, Pessoa peers over the shoulder of a man, taking notes as he watches him compulsively pick and scratch at the thoughts inside his head. This man, Bernardo Soares, is by day a lowly clerk in a legal office and by night a self-professed dreamer. Utterly romantic, he spends the first half of the book rationalizing that dreaming, fantasizing, and the analyzing of life are higher aspirations than experiencing reality. Paralyzed by thought, Soares is a solitary figure with no desires or ambition. All he aspires to do is sleep and dream. Intellectually he's no idler, however, as his modestly developed thoughts are based on the same ideas which ended up inspiring entire movements in twentieth century philosophy, linguistics and theology.Â

Three quarters of the way through the book Soares enters a different state of mind, realizing the futility and stupidity of his flailing over-sensitivity and begins thinking with an edge that is more pragmatic. He concludes that mentally induced pains are only as serious and important as their bearer pretends them to be. Of course he continues to take himself to task as he spends the remaining pages wrestling with mankind's noble effort to be higher beings rather than the merely stupid animals we are. Like the Surrealists, Pessoa finds solace in the uncertainty of dreams and illusions and the absolute absurdity to be found in the ironies of life.

The disgusting contrast between the loftiness of Soares's feelings and the mundane life he lived, prompt this reader to compromise his advice and find a tenuous balance between experience and imagination.

-Jeffrey Herrmann

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