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The Book of Disquietby Fernando Pessoa
Everyone loves the writing of Samuel Beckett (they claim to anyway), but few people have read Fernando Pessoa (let alone heard of him). Pessoa was a Portuguese poet who lived in the early part of the 20th century and can be credited for helping develop modernism in his homeland. He wrote under the "heteronyms" Ricardo Reis, Alvaro Campos, and Alberto Caeiro. What's remarkable is that each of these personas' styles and ideologies is distinct: Reis is a doctor and writes in classical forms; Caeiro is a shepherd who writes in free verse. In addition to writing their own discrete poems, these figures would comment on and critique each other's work. Pessoa, himself, was a translator. He lived and died in relative obscurity, and from what I've read he wanted it this way. The Book of Disquiet takes the form of a diary. It, too, was written by a "heteronym." This one Bernardo Soares, an assistant bookkeeper who takes as his theme contradiction between the intensity of his feelings and the banal reality of his daily life. Like Molloy who only has his inner thoughts to sustain him, so too does Soares. Yet both are utterly aware of the futility of even this last vestige of meaning. Soares: "I write down what I feel in order to lower the fever of feeling. What I confess is of no importance because nothing is of any importance." Molloy: "And truly it little matters what I say, this, this or that or any other thing." Like any Beckett book, The Book of Disquiet helps one savor a melancholy mood.
Synopses & Reviews
The discovery in the 1990s of the Portuguese writer Fernando Pessoa (1888-1935) is reminiscent of the discovery of Kafka in the 1950s. Like Kafka, Pessoa left his work in disarray, much of it to be published posthumously. And throughout Europe, Pessoa has already become a literary icon of postmodernism, as Kafka was of modernism. He is portrayed on postcards and bookmarks, and in Portugal he is even on the 100 escudo bill. This season, both Grove Press and City Lights are publishing volumes of his poetry, and these should, in combination with Exact Change's republication of his major prose work, The Book of Disquiet, help ignite a similarly intense interest in North America.
Much of Pessoa's mystique comes from his unique practice of writing under different "heteronyms". These heteronyms generated radically different texts, and Pessoa supplied them with distinct biographies, life spans, and even horoscopes. In The Book of Disquiet, Pessoa came as close as he would to autobiography. But the book is, like everything about Pessoa, an object of mystery. Left on disordered scraps of paper in a trunk discovered after the author's death, the fragments that make up The Book of Disquiet have no fixed sequence, and therefore every reader must make out of it a different text. It is the ultimate postmodern novel: hypertext perfected long before the advent of the internet.
Each translation of The Book of Disquiet is thus remarkably distinct. Alfred Mac Adam's translation, published in hardcover by Pantheon in 1991, is the only one to originate in America, and has been widely reviewed as the most accurate and vivid. The New York Times Book Review called it "splendid", The New York Review of Books"fluent and resourceful", and the VLS said it is "the most doggedly precise", adding that "the other translations... miss the crucial air of formality".
This mysterious book may become as important to our time as The Castle was a generation ago.
The eternal mystique of Portuguese writer Fernando Pessoa (1888-1935) stems largely from his practice of writing under heteronyms. More than just nom de plumes, Pessoa's heteronyms came with distinct biographies, careers, life spans, even horoscopes. In The Book of Disquiet, Pessoa came as close as he ever would to autobiography. Left on disordered scraps of paper in a trunk, the fragments that make up The Book of Disquiet record in disjunct entries a vast interior landscape and daily minutiae, making for a discontinuous, gently unhinged monologue in daybook form.
Includes bibliographical references (p. -276).
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