Before I leave off discussion of Pessoa’s The Book of Disquiet, I thought I’d attempt to summarize Tabucchi’s brief treatment of this work in La nostalgie du possible: sur Pessoa (The Nostalgia of the Possible: On Pessoa), one of Tabucchi’s two books of essays on the writer. There may be more insightful works on Pessoa, but I’ve singled out this one due to my appreciation of Tabucchi and because the book is both unavailable in English and difficult to track down in French. La nostalgie du possible consists of four lectures Tabucchi presented in Paris in 1994 along with a handy guide to Pessoa’s principal heteronyms, those alter egos he created as authors of his poetry and prose. The first lecture addresses philosophical concepts in the entirety of Pessoa’s work. Another compares Pessoa to Leopardi. In a third (for me the highlight of the collection, though not the subject of this post) Tabucchi literally unpacks – like Harpo Marx emptying his pockets – the diverse and surprising belongings of the Pessoan heteronym Alvaro de Campos, commencing with a list of all the physical objects mentioned in de Campos’ poems, and incorporating a wonderful bit about the automobile in modernist literature that begins with Proust’s “Ruskinian adventures” in visiting France’s cathedrals using a car’s headlights to illuminate their facades and ends with discussion of a wayward tire floating in the middle of the de Campos poem, “Maritime Ode.”
The short lecture Tabucchi devotes to The Book of Disquiet is entitled, “L’infinie dysphorique du Bernardo Soares” (“The Dysphoric Infinity of Bernado Soares”). Tabucchi views Soares as a being whose primary mode of interacting with the world is a “disquiet” feeling of nostalgia, not for the past, or even the present, but for those things that might have been. Soares’ life is unusually marked by insignificance and troubled by the day-to-day. Out of the vast and dense universe of the quotidian described in these 450 pages of meditations by Soares, Tabucchi pulls out a particularly interesting episode: the fright Soares experiences when a group photo is taken at a holiday party at his office (fragment 56 in the Richard Zenith translation), a photo that causes Soares to suffer “the truth on seeing myself there” and that prompts him to wonder who he is, exactly, among this “lifeless tide of faces.” In effect, it’s a scene that clearly identifies Soares as depressive and dysphoric. And while as Tabucchi points out, the origins of this depression beg for a psychoanalytic interpretation he’s unqualified to provide, one must also point out that Soares is a fictional character, his book a “phenomenological” one (with a kinship to Rilke’s The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge). Soares’ depression is not just the “black mood” of the ancients, but a dysphoric rupture with reality, a frustration with not being able to find in the exterior world a correlation for the grandeur of his emotions and sensations, those great and small alike. His interior world is simply too expansive to fit the crude limitations of his commonplace reality. A commonplace person, he turns of necessity to “his little daily universe, his pocket universe,” (I love this phrase – “pocket universe”), the ordinariness of the world, constructing of it a new kind of infinity, a new kind of metaphysics through which the mysteries of the universe are revealed via the quotidian and banal. One result of this attempt to invest the outside, commonplace world with the tumultuous interior world of Soares’ emotions is the richness with which, in his daily journal, Soares is able to imbue the most insignificant of things and magnify the world through them (through descriptions Tabucchi compares to the “word-paintings” of Ruskin). As Tabucchi concludes, Soares’ writing – his pinning down the impressions of a day and etching his reflections on his tenuous existence – is the dysphoric stroke of a pendulum that finds a correlating euphoric expression in Pessoa’s other poet heteronyms, together representing an almost compulsory attempt to fill the void by trying to write “all possible books…incessantly multiplying oneself as though the world were made of writing.”
“…as though the world were made of writing.”
I look forward to tracking down Tabucchi’s other book of essays on Pessoa.