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Sunday, 2 January 2011

Fernando Pessoa: A Shrug of the Shoulders


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http://www.chain.to/userpics/1267974977.jpg

Fernando Pessoa: José de Almada Negreiros, c. 1915


We generally give to our ideas about the unknown the color of our notions about what we do know: If we call death a sleep it's because it has the appearance of sleep; if we call death a new life, it's because it seems different from life. We build our beliefs and hopes out of these small misunderstandings with reality and live off husks of bread we call cakes, the way poor children play at being happy.

But that's how all life is; at least that's how the particular way of life generally known as civilization is. Civilization consists in giving an inappropriate name to something and then dreaming what results from that. And in fact the false name and the true dream do create a new reality. The object really does become other, because we have made it so. We manufacture realities. We use the raw materials we always used but the form lent it by art effectively prevents it from remaining the same. A table made out of pinewood is a pinetree but it is also a table. We sit down at the table not at the pinetree.



Fernando Pessoa (1888-1935): A Shrug of the Shoulders, from The Book of Disquiet

6 comments:

Julia said...

Thanks for this text, Tom.
I specially like these ideas:

"Civilization consists in giving an inappropriate name to something and then dreaming what results from that. And in fact the false name and the true dream do create a new reality."

That's wonderful and an interesting issue to meditate about.

¡Saludos!

TC said...

Yes, that's such a polite (an accurate) way of saying that what we call civilization is actually the sum total of century after century of human error and accident -- including art and dreaming.

Julia said...

May be, but it isn't so negative, I believe. That's why I like the second sentence: "...the false name and the true dream DO CREATE A NEW REALITY."

Error, inappropriate and dreams, could turn out to be positive and constructive things.

TC said...

Yes, exactly -- that's precisely how I understand the term "history" (not quite the same thing as "progress", perhaps).

Pessoa: "My hapless peers with their lofty dreams -- how I envy and despise them! I'm with the others, with the even more hapless, who have no one but themselves to whom they can tell their dreams and show what would be verses if they wrote them."

(from The Book of Disquiet)

curtisroberts said...

This is memorable, rings true and is incredibly lucid. A new subject for me also (Pessoa) and a new beginning. Happy New Year.

TC said...

Thanks, Curtis, and of course, the same best new year's wishes, once again, and never too often, to you.

Pessoa, I find, is well worth the trouble. Fascinating, various, inexhaustible.