“All of this is dream and phantasmagoria, and it matters little whether the dream be of ledger entries or of well-crafted prose. Does dreaming of princesses serve a better purpose than dreaming of the front door to the office? All that we know is our own impression, and all that we are is an exterior impression, a melodrama in which we, the self-aware actors, are also our own spectators, our own gods by permission of some department or other at City Hall.” p. 22
“What I write, bad as it is, may provide some hurt or sad soul a few moments of distraction from something worse. That’s enough for me, or it isn’t enough, but it serves some purpose, and so it is with all of life.” p. 22
Fernando Pessoa, The Book of Disquiet
“What is there to confess that’s worthwhile or useful? What has happened to us has happened to everyone or only to us; if to everyone, then it’s no novelty, and if only to us, then it won’t be understood. If I write what I feel it’s to reduce the fever of feeling. What I confess is unimportant because everything is unimportant.”
Fernando Pessoa, The Book of Disquiet, (trans. Richard Zenith). Penguin, 2002.
There is much worth contemplating in Lars Iyer’s responses to these questions on Full Stop, beyond the title: The Situation in American Writing, particularly this point, which is arguably hyperbolic but contains many truths.
As for the audience for serious American writing — I don’t know anyone who reads it, really. America seems to be everywhere; we are living in an American reality. Which makes me want to read anything but American fiction, however ignorant this sounds. I admit to having very little interest in British fiction, either. It seems to me that everything that is alive in fiction today comes via translation.
This idea that it is the omnipresence of American lifestyle that ends up subverting our appetite for American intellectual achievements is recognisable, and compelling.
This excerpt also gave me much pleasure:
You ask whether online criticism has made literature into a more or less isolated cult. Not really. I think literature itself was already becoming an isolated cult. Bernardo Soares, Pessoa’s heteronym in The Book of Disquiet, writes, ‘I am today an ascetic in my own religion. A cup of coffee, a cigarette, and my dreams can easily replace the sky and its stars, work, love and even the beauty of glory. I have, so to speak, no need of stimulants. My opium I find in my soul’. When it comes to literature, many of us have their own cult, their own religion, their own literary sky and stars. But there is a sadness to this, I think. Our stars are toy stars, like the ones which glow on a child’s bedroom ceiling. We are isolated; we read on separate islands. And reading, for us, is a hobby, a pastime, and little more than that, even if it once meant much more than that.
It’s a close-run competition but London’s finest bookshop is John Sandoe in Chelsea. Tucked away on a side street to the ghastly blandness that is the Kings Road, this is literary heaven. The stock is impeccable, featuring a fine and serious selection including a spread imported books from the US. The staff are erudite and immensely helpful. The ethos is to recommend and suggest books based upon an acquired knowledge of your literary taste.
The spoils of today’s raid on Sandoes:
Michael Foucault – The Order of Things
Cyril Connolly – Enemies of Promise
Terry Eagleton – Literary Theory
J.M.G. Le Clézio – The Flood
Fernando Pessoa – A Centenary Pessoa
Thomas Pynchon – Against The Day
I have been intrigued for a while with Fernando Pessoa’s The Book Of Disquiet. The title has drawn me in each time I have seen it on the shelf at the London Review Bookshop. Today I began reading it whilst commuting but have concluded that it is not a book to be read in hour long chunks.
The themes change frequently and, it seems to me, that is is a book to be read every now and again, almost at random. It appears a wonderful, challenging book that merits a slow, discursive approach. I shall use it as my bedside book capturing my final twenty minutes before sleep. It has a dreamlike quality that seems appropriate.There are scents, so far, of Kierkegaard, particularly Either/Or and the beginnings of the theme of existential angst that Sartre was to develop.