The Book of Disquiet

The Book of Disquiet by Fernando Pessoa

Introduced by David Hughes of Hay Cinema Bookshop

An author who wrote standing up most of the time, using small discarded pieces of paper, envelopes, fluttering tufts of inspiration. Posthumously unearthed from a trunk, a vast assorted array of work seemed to have been destined to be collated as a whole, though no one can be certain as to the exactness of how this would come to be. These sometimes aphoristic pieces over time have become, evolved into, The Book of Disquiet.

There is a faint thread of intent obvious, a haunting wistful chance encounter of details. Memories and reflections that can be read straight forward or randomly. From these shards we can see the poet Pessoa as well as the prose writer, given open expression. Indeed, Pessoa had over 70 heteronyms to his name, as it were. Not simply pseudonyms but fully fledged entities with their own biographies given distinct voices. One such semi-heteronym occupies the book of Disquiet with ruminations, meditations, contemplations and so forth. But this doesn’t mean that the book, made of disparate elements, is merely vague or banal. There is a sadness often to the existential pondering, yet at no point are we dragged down with the weight of words. This bears a similarity to the most deft economic use of allusive words by Robert Walser.

I appreciated firstly Pessoa’s neat, poignant poetry, sometimes written not only in rounded portuguese, elegant in translation, but also in english in which he was adept. The Book of Disquiet though is more than poetic, more than prose, greater than the sum of it’s parts.  Though clearly post-modern in design, Pessoa’s style here is not some arduous task of experimental novel, nor Joyce’s parade of intellect. In both the whole & the part, hologrammatic as it seemed to me, this book reminded me most of Zen Buddhism. An independence of thought, a time-less or less time orientated solidity to his phrases and thinking. Simply ‘is’, thus.

Importantly, to leaven what could have been too serious or too exacting a discourse of the passing minutiae of existence, the style was actually freeing, floating, yet distinct, vivid & pleasant whilst fleeting- perhaps due to Pessoa having a sense of humour, often limited in many philosophically minded individuals.

Lisbon &  Portugal may inform the substance but there is a universal clarity to the contents, to the apparent random pattern of this book. Chaos or order can be chosen at will, or on a whim, as the reader sees fit. There are a number of translations available now with a varying volume of collated material portraying The Book of Disquiet. Any of them spontaneously inspiring.


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