Fernando Pessoa – The Book of Disquiet,1988

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“Since perhaps not everything is false, may nothing cure us, my love, of the almost ecstatic pleasure of lying.

Ultimate subtlety! Supreme perversion! The absurd lie has all the charm of the perverse with Fernando Pessoa. The Book of Disquiet,the even greater, ultimate charm of being innocent. The deliberately innocent perversion – who can go beyond this supreme subtlety? The perversion that doesn’t even aspire to give us pleasure and that lacks the fury to cause us pain, falling to the ground between pleasure and pain, useless and absurd, like a shoddy toy with which an adult tries to amuse himself!

Don’t you know, exquisite one, the pleasure of buying things you don’t need? Don’t you know the delight of roads which, when we’re distracted, we take by mistake? What human act has a colour as lovely as a spurious one… . . which lies to its own nature and contradicts its own intention?

How sublime to waste a life that could have been useful, never to execute a work of art that was certain to be beautiful, to abandon midway a sure road to victory!

Ah, my love, the glory of works which have been lost forever, of treatises which today are mere titles, of libraries which burned down, of statues which were demolished!

How blessed with absurdity are the artists who set fire to a beautiful work! Or the artists who could have made a beautiful work but deliberately made it ordinary! Or the great poets of silence who, knowing they were capable of writing an absolutely perfect work, preferred to crown it with the decision never to write it.

How much more beautiful the Mona Lisa would be if we couldn’t see it! And if someone were to rob it just to burn it, what an artist he would be, even greater than the one who painted it! Why is art beautiful? Because it’s useless. Why is life ugly? Because it’s all aims, objectives and intentions. All of its roads are for going from one point to another. If only we could have a road connecting a place no one ever leaves from to a place where no one goes! If only someone would devote his life to building a road from the middle of one field to the middle of another – a road that would be useful if extended at each end, but that would sublimely remain as only the middle stretch of a road!

The beauty of ruins? That they’re no longer good for anything.

The sweetness of the past? Our memory of it, since to remember is to make it present, and it isn’t present nor ever can be – absurdity, my love, absurdity.

And I who am saying all this – why am I writing this book? Because I realise it’s imperfect. Dreamed, it would be perfection; written, it becomes imperfect; that’s why I’m writing it. And above all else, to myself, to be unfaithful to my own theory. And the supreme glory of all this, my love, is to think that perhaps none of it is true and that I don’t even believe it’s true.

And when lying begins to bring us pleasure, let’s give it the lie by telling the truth. And when lying causes us anxiety, let’s stop so that the suffering can’t become even perversely pleasurable.”

Fernando Pessoa,1888-1935. Livro do Desassossego, 1998 The Book of Disquiet, 2001. translated by Richard Zenith, 2001

 Image 1: Café A Brasileira, Lisbon, 1911. Photograph: Joshua Benoliel. Image 2. Café A Brasileira, Lisbon, Art Deco

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Author: jeh

Jeremy Hunt is Director of the AAJ Press (Art & Architecture Journal / Press) – a writer and consultant on art and public space - creator of art projects - writer on art

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