'The Book of Disquiet' by Fernando Pessoa (1935)

Fernando Pessoa in 1929.

"Sad, in my quiet room, alone as I have always been and as I always will be, I sit writing. And I wonder if that seemingly feeble thing, my voice, does not perhaps embody the substance of thousands of voices, the hunger to speak out of thousands of lives, the patience of millions of souls who, like me, have submitted in their daily lives to vain dreams and evanescent hopes."

The Book of Disquiet is a book that may never have been published. The material which makes up the Book was discovered after Pessoa's death in a large trunk, mixed with other published and unpublished material,
"variously typed, handwritten or illegibly scrawled in Portuguese, English and French." Written "in notebooks, on loose sheets, on the backs of letters, advertisements and handbills, on stationery from the firms he worked for and from the caf├ęs he frequented, on envelopes, on paper scraps, and in the margins of his own earlier texts." All that sets the Book apart from all the other scraps of paper in the trunk were the words 'L. do D.' [i.e., 'B of D'] written on it, indicating that it was intended for inclusion in the final work.

Pessoa began work on the book as early as 1910 and continued right up to his death in 1935. He mentions the work in progress in several surviving letters written to friends. He says that he chose the title because "restlessness and uncertainty are the dominate note." In one letter he speaks of its progress as going "complexly and torturously forward," and in another he says that it is all "fragments, fragments, fragments."
As Pessoa never organized these fragments into a book form, it has fallen to others to impose some order upon the material. The first Portugese edition of the book did not appear until 1982. The Book has been translated twice into English, the first by Margaret Jull Costa, based on a selection and arrangement made by Maria Jose de Lancastre for an Italian edition, published by Serpent's Tail; and the second, a more complete version of the text with additional material in an Appendix,
by Richard Zenith for Penguine. Although the latter is more complete than the former abridgement, its arrangement is less cohesive, and the former is generally regarded as a superior translation to the latter.

In making a selection from the fragments which comprise this unfinished book, we will draw upon both available translations, and for the most part follow Maria Jose de Lancastre's arrangement, complimenting it with some additional material found in Richard Zenith's more complete version of the text.  


"It was in the silence of my disquiet,... that I raised up this strange book like the open doors of an abandoned house."

Lisbin shop, 1920's.


Sometimes I think I will never leave Rua dos Douradores. Once written down, that seems to me like eternity.

Today, during one of those periods of daydreaming which, though devoid of either purpose or dignity, still constitute the greater part of the spiritual substance of my life, I imagined myself free forever of Rua dos Douradores, of my boss Vasques, of Moreira the book-keeper, of all the other employers, the errand boy, the post boy, even the cat.

But suddenly, even as I imagined this (during the brief holiday afforded by my lunch break), a feeling of displeasure erupted into the dream: I would be sad. Yes, I say it quite seriously: I would be sad. For my boss Vasques, Moreira the book keeper, Borges the cashier, all the lads, the cheery boy who takes the letters to the post office, the errand boy, the friendly cat-- they have all become part of my life.

Moreover, if I left them all tomorrow and discarded this Rua dos Douradores suit of clothes I wear, what else would I do?


With the soul's equivalent of a wry smile, I calmly confront the prospect that my life will consist of nothing more than being shut up for ever in Rua dos Douradores, in this office, surrounded by these people.

I had great ambitions and extravagant dreams, but so did the errand boy and the seamstress, for everyone has dreams... .

Perhaps it's my destiny to remain a book-keeper for ever and for poetry and literature to remain simply butterflies that alight on my head and merely underline my own ridiculousness by their very beauty.

I know that the day I'm made chief book-keeper to Vasques & Co. will be one of the greatest days of my life. I know it with a prescient bitterness and irony but I know it with all the finality that certainty can bring.

Senhor Vasques. I remember him now as I will in the future with the nostalgia I know I will feel for him then. I'll be living quietly in a little house somewhere in the suburbs, enjoying a peaceful existence not writing the book I'm not writing now and, so as to continue not doing so, I will come up with different excuses from the ones I use now to avoid actually confronting myself. Or else I'll be interned in a poorhouse, content with my utter failure, mingling with the riffraff who believed they were geniuses when in fact they were just beggars with dreams, mixing with the anonymous mass of people who had neither the strength or triumph nor the power to turn their defeats into victories. Wherever I am, I will think nostalgically of my boss Senhor Vasques and the office in Rua dos Douradores, and for me the monotony of my daily life will be like the memory of loves that never came my way and of triumphs that were never to be mine.

Tomorrow I too will disappear from Rua da Prata, Rua dos Douradores, Rua dos Fanqueiros. Tomorrow I too-- this feeling and thinking soul, the universe I am to myself-- yes, tomorrow I too will be someone who no longer walks these streets, someone others will evoke with a vague: 'I wonder what's become of him?' And everything I do, everything I feel, everything I experience, will be just one less passer-by on the daily streets of some city or other.

Today, when I arrived at the office, a little late and having in fact completely forgotten about the frozen moment captured by the photographer, I found Moreira... and one of the clerks pouring over some blackish objects that I recognized with a start as being the first prints of the photographs.

I experienced the pain of truth when I saw myself there, because, inevitably, it was my face I looked for first. I have never had a very high opinion of my physical appearance but never before have I felt such a nonentity as I did then, comparing myself with the other faces, so familiar to me, in that line-up of my daily companions. I look like a rather dull Jesuit. My thin, inexpressive face betrays no intelligence, no intensity, nothing whatever to make it stand out from the stagnant tide of the other faces. But they're not a stagnant tide. There are some really expressive faces there. Senhor Vasques is exactly as he is in real life- the firm, likable face, the steady gaze, all set off by the stiff moustache. The energy and intelligence of the man- qualities which are after all utterly banal and to be found in thousands of other men all over the world- are stamped on that photograph as if it were a psychological passpart. The two travelling salesmen look superb; the clerk has come out well but he's half hidden behind Moreira. And Moreira! My immediate superior Moreira, the embodiment of monotony and routine, looks much more human than I do! Even the errand boy - I detect in myself, without being able to suppress it, a feeling that I hope is not envy- has a directness in his smile that far outshines the insignificant dullness of my face, of me, the sphinx of the stationary cupboard.
What does all this mean? Is it true that the camera never lies? What is this truth documented by a cold lens? Who am I that I possess such a face? Honestly... And then to add insult to injury... Moreira suddenly said to me: 'It's a really good one of you.' And then, turning to the clerk, 'It's the absolute image of him, isn't it?' The clerk's happy and companionable agreement signalled my final relegation to the rubbish heap.

My soul is a hidden orchaestra... . 

Today, suddenly, I reached an absurd but unerring conclusion. In a moment of enlightenment, I realized that I'm nobody, absolutely nobody. When the lightening flashed, I saw that what I had thought to be a city was in fact a deserted plain and, in the same sinister light that revealed me to myself, there seemed to be no sky above it.

I am the outskirts of some non-existent town, the long-winded prologue to an unwritten book. I'm nobody, nobody. I don't know how to feel or think or love. I'm a character in a novel as yet unwritten, hovering in the air and undone before I've even existed, amongst the dreams of someone who never quite managed to breathe life into me.
I'm always thinking, always feeling, but my thoughts lack all reason, my emotions all feeling. I'm falling through a trapdoor, through infinite, infinitous space, in a directionless, empty fall. My soul is a black maelstrom, a great madness spinning about a vacuum, the swirling of a vast ocean around a hole in the void, and in the waters, more like whirlwinds than waters, float images of all I ever saw or heard in the world: houses, faces, books, boxes, snatches of music and fragments of voices, all caught up in a sinister, bottomless whirlpool.
And I, I myself, am the centre that exists only because the geometry of the abyss demands it; I am the nothing around which all this spins, I exist so that it can spin, I am a centre that exists only because every circle has one. I, I myself, am the well in which the walls have fallen away to leave only viscous slime. I am the centre of everything surrounded by the great nothing.

My mother died very young; I never knew her...

Today is one of those days when the monotony of everything closes about me as if I had just entered a prison. That monotony, however, is just the monotony of being me.

I'd like to run away, to flee from what I know... . I want to set off, not for some impossible Indies or for the great islands that lie far to the south of all other lands, but for anywhere, be it village or desert, that has the virtue of not being here. What I want is not to see these faces, this daily round of days. I want a rest from, to be other than, my habitual pretending.

Slavery is the only law of life, there is no other, because this law must be obeyed; there is no possible rebellion against it or refuge from it. Some are born slaves, some become slaves, some have slavery thrust upon them. The cowardly love we all have of freedom- which if it were given to us we would all repudiate as being too new and strange- is the irrefutable proof of how our slavery weighs upon us. Even I, who have just expressed my desire to have a hut or a cave where I could be free from the monotony of everything, that is to say from the monotony of being myself, would really dare to go off to this hut or cave, knowing and understanding that, since the monotony exists in me alone, I would never be free of it? Suffocating where I am and because I am where I am, would I breathe any better there when it is my lungs that are diseased and not the air about me? Who is to say that I, longing out loud for the pure sun and the open fields, for the bright sea and the wide horizon, would not miss my bed, or my meals, or having to go down eight flights of stairs to the street, or dropping in at the tobacconist's on the corner, or saying good morning to the barber standing idly by?

I often wonder what kind of person I would be if I had been protected from the cold wind of fate by the screen of wealth... .

I know that had that non-existent past existed, I would not now be capable of writing these pages, which, though few, are at least better than all the pages I would undoubtedly have only day-dreamed about given more comfortable circumstances.

Much of what I feel and think I owe to my work as a book-keeper since the former exists as a negation of and flight from the latter.

When I consider, with all the clarity I can muster, what my life has apparently been, I imagine it as some brightly coloured scrap of litter-- a chocolate wrapper or a cigar ring-- that the eavesdropping waitress brushes lightly from the soiled tablecloth into the dustpan, amongst the crumbs and crusts of reality itself. It stands out from those things whose fate it shares by virtue of a privalege that is also destined for the dustpan. The gods continue their conversation above the sweeping, indifferent to these incidents in the world below.

I've come to the realization that I'm always thinking and listening to two things at once. [...] ...the two realities I attend to have equal weight.

I write carefully, bent over the book in which I measure out in balance sheets the futile history of an obscure company and, at the same time and with equal attention, my thoughts follow the route of an imaginary ship through oriental landscapes that have never existed. The two things are equally clear, equally visible to me: the ruled page on which I meticulously write the lines of the epic commercial poem that is Vasques & Vo. and the deck where, a little to one side of the lines made by the tarred spaces between the planks, I watch intently the rows of deckchairs and the stretched out legs of people relaxing on the voyage.

Each of us is more than one person, many people, a proliferation of our one self. That's why the same person who scorns his surroundings is different from the person who is gladdened or made to suffer by them. In the vast colony of our being there are many different kinds of people, all thinking and feeling differently. Today, as I note down these few impressions in a legitimate break brought about by a shortage of work, I am the person carefully transcribing them, the person who is pleased not to have to work just now. [...] ... like a diverse but compact multitude, this whole world of mine, composed as it is of different people, projects but a single shadow, that of this calm figure who writes, leaning against Borges's high desk where I have come to find the blotter he borrowed from me.

.... ships that pass in the night and neither acknowledge nor recognize one another... .

As with all tragedies, the real tragedy of my life is just an irony of Fate. I reject life because it is a prison sentence, I reject dreams as being a vulgar form of escape. Yet I live the most sordid and ordinary of real lives and the most intense and constant of dream lives. I'm like a slave who gets drunk during his rest hour- two miseries inhabiting one body.

With the clarity afforded by the lightning flashes of reason that pick out from the thick blackness of life the immediate objects it is composed of, I see with utter lucidity all that is base, flaccid, neglected and factitious in this Rua dos Douradores that makes up my entire life: the squalid office whose squalor seeps into the very marrow of its inhabitants' bones, the room, rented by the month, in which nothing happens except the living death of its occupant, the grocer's shop on the corner whose owner I know only in the casual way people do know each other, the boys standing at the door of the old tavern, the laborious futility of each identical day, the same characters constantly rehersing their roles, like a drama consisting only of scenery and in which even that scenery is facing the wrong way... .
But I also see that in order to flee from all this I must either master it or repudiate it. I do not master it because I cannot rise above reality and I do not repudiate it because, whatever I may dream, I always remain exactly where I am.
And what of my dreams? That shameful flight into myself, the cowardice of mistaking for life the rubbish tip of a soul that others only visit in their sleep, in that semblance of death through which they snore, in that calm state in which, more than anything, they look like highly evolved vegetables! Unable to make a single noble gesture other than to myself, or to have one vain desire that was not utterly vain!

And so I drag myself along, doing things I don't want to do and dreaming of what I cannot have [...] as pointless as a public clock that's stopped... .

In the midst of my day-to-day work, dull, repetitive and pointless, visions of escape surface in me, vestiges of dreams of far-off islands,... different landscapes, different feelings, a different me. But, between balance sheets, I realize that if I had all that, none of it would be mine. ...because I have the office in Rua dos Douradores I can enjoy my inner visions of non-existent landscapes. But... if I possessed the impossible landscapes, what would remain of the impossible.

Because I am nothing, I can imagine myself to be anything. If I were somebody, I wouldn't be able to. An assistant book-keeper can imagine himself to be a Roman emperor; the King of England can't do that, because the King of England has lost the ability in his dreams to be any other king than the one he is.

I suddenly remember as a child seeing, as I can no longer see it, day breaking over the city. The sun did not rise for me then, it rose for all of life, because I (still an unconscious being) was life. I saw the morning and I was happy; today I see the morning and I am first happy, then sad. The  child in me is still there but has fallen silent. I see as I used to see but from behind my eyes I see myself seeing and that one fact darkens the sun, dulls the green of the trees and withers the flowers before they even appear. Yes, once I belonged here; today, however new a landscape might be to me, I return from my first sight of it a foreigner, a guest and a wanderer, a stranger to all I see and hear, old man that I am.

Through these deliberately unconnected impressions I am the indifferent narrator of my autiobiography without events, of my history without a life. These are my confessions and if I say nothing in them it's because I have nothing to say.

I write down what I feel in order to lower the fever of feeling. [...] I make landscapes out of what I feel. I make a holiday of sensation. I understand women who embroider out of grief and those who crochet because life is what it is.

Living is like crocheting patterns to someone else's design. But while one works, one's thoughts are free and, as the ivory hook dives in and out amongst the wool, all the enchanted princes that ever existed are free to stroll through their parks.

...what qualities can I count on in myself? [...] A defunct will and a reflective spirit in which to cradle it like a living child... In short, crochet...

I've done nothing nor will I ever do anything useful to justify my existence.


For minutes on end I observed the imperceptible effect of the sun penetrating into the still office... Prison pastimes! Only the imprisoned, with the fascination of someone watching ants, would pay such attention to one shifting ray of sunlight.

I don't often go to the country, I hardly ever spend a day there or stay overnight. But today, because the friend in whose house I'm staying would not hear of me declining his invitation, I came, full of misgivings, like the shy man on his way to a big party.

The window of the room where I'll sleep gives onto the open countryside, onto an indefinite countryside, which is all countrysides, onto the great, vaguely starry night where I can feel a silent breeze stirring. Sitting at the window I contemplate with my senses the nothingness of the universal life out there.

How often, though, have my eyes longed for this peace from which now, were it easy or polite, I would flee! How often, down there amongst the narrow streets of tall houses, have I thought I believed that peace, prose and certainty could be found here, amongst natural things, rather than where the tablecloth of civilization makes one forget the varnished pine it rests on! And now, here, feeling healthy and healthily tired, I am ill at ease, trapped and homesick.
I don't know if it's only to me that this happens or to everyone for whom civilization has meant being reborn. But it seems that for me, or for people who feel as I do, the artificial has come to seem natural and the natural strange. [...] I detest and could happily do without cars and the other products of science-- telephones and telegrams-- that make life easy, or the by products of fantasy-- gramophones and radios-- which, to those who like them, make it fun.
I'm not interested in any of that; I want none of it. But I love the Tagus because of the great city on its banks. I enjoy the sky because I see it from a fourth floor window in a street in the Baixa. [...] For me no flowers can match the endlessly varied colours of Lisbon in the sunlight.
Only people who wear clothes find the naked body beautiful. [...] What I enjoyed about these vast fields I enjoyed because I don't live here. Someone who has never known constraint can have no concept of freedom.

A glimps of countryside over a suburban wall gives me a more intense sense of freedom than a whole journey might to another person.

I write, or rather scribble, these lines not in order to say anything in particular but to give my distraction something to do. With the soft marks made by a blunt pencil I haven't the heart to sharpen, I slowly fill the white paper the cafe uses to wrap up sandwiches... . And I stop writing just because I stop writing.

...all dreamers, even if they don't do their dreaming in an office in the Baixa, or in front of a balance sheet for a textile company, each one of them has an account book open before them... .

All of us, we who dream and think, are book-keepers and assistant book-keepers in a textile company or dealing in some other merchandise in some other Baixa.

Sometimes when I raise my heavy head from the books in which I keep track of other people's accounts and of the absence of a life of my own, I feel a physical nausea.

What's the point of calling myself a genius when in fact I'm just an assistant book-keeper? When Cesario Verde had himself announced to the doctor not as Senhor Verde, commercial clerk, but Cesario Verde, poet, he was using one of those expressions of futile pride that stink of vanity. Poor man, he was never anything but Senhor Verde, commercial clerk. The poet was born only after he died, because it was only after his death that his poetry came to be appreciated.

Success means being successful, not just having the potential for success.

Phrases I will never write and landscapes I will never be able to describe: with what clarity I dictate them... and describe them in my meditations when, reclining in a chair, I have only the remotest ties with life. I carve out whole sentences, word perfect, complete dramas plot themselves in my mind, in every word I sense the verbal and metric movement of great poems... But if I move one step away from the chair in which I sit nurturing these almost finished feelings, and make a move towards the table in order to write them down, the words flee, the dramas die, and all that remains of the vital nexus that drew together these rhythmic murmurings is a distant longing... .

I was more of a genius in dreams than in life. That is my tragedy.

I have the impression that, in this formless homeland called the universe, I live beneath a political tyranny which, although it does not oppress me directly, still offends some hidden principle of my soul. And then slowly, secretly, there grows within me the anticipated nostalgia of an impossible exile.

In the dark depths of my soul, invisible unknown forces engaged in battle in which my being was the battleground, and the whole of me was shaken by this secret struggle. With my waking was born a physical nausea for all of life. A horror at having to live awoke and sat up with me in bed.


The absence of a true God is become the empty corpse of the vast sky and the closed soul. Infinite prison...

My great nostalgia is for nothing at all, is itself nothing, like the sky above, which I do not see and which I gaze at impersonally.

Whatever it was, the whole landscape was pervaded by a muddy disquiet, composed of forgetting and unreality. [...] It was as if something, which could be sensed in everything, was about to happen and for that reason the visible world drew a veil about itself.

Nothing was definite, not even the indifinite.

...a suggestion... of something about to be seen, as if what was about to be revealed hesitated to appear.

Oh, to have another world, full of other things, another soul with which to feel them, and other thoughts... ! Anything else, even tedium, but not this melding together of soul and world, not the bluish desolation of this all-pervading lack of definition.

Each day that I hear the dawn, from the bed on which I lie empty of knowledge, seems to me the day of some great event in my life that I will lack the courage to confront. [...] And the eternal condemned man in me clings to the bed as if to the lost mother... .

Another type of day stirs solemnly in the great Sunday square. At the church of Sao Domingos people are coming out from one mass and another is about to begin.
Years ago, when I was a child, I used to go to mass here... .
For me going to mass was like penetrating a great mystery and leaving it like stepping out into a clearing in the woods.

It's not in broad fields or large gardens that I first notice the spring arrive. It's in the few pathetic trees growing in a small city square.

I love these solitary squares that are dotted amongst quiet streets and are themselves just as quiet and free of traffic. They are things that wait, useless clearings amidst distant tumults. They are remnants of village life surviving in the heart of the city.

Everything I've lived through I've forgotten as if it were something I had only vaguely overheard.

Tedium is not a sickness brought on by the boredom of having nothing to do but the worse sickness of feeling that nothing is worth doing. And thus, the more one has to do the worse the tedium.

I don't know why- I've only just noticed it- but I'm alone in the office.

...finding ourselves alone in a house that is normally full of people and noise... we suddenly have a feeling of absolute possession, of any easy, generous mastery, an ample sense- as I said- of relief and peace.
How good to be all alone! To be able to talk out loud to ourselves, to walk about with nobody's eyes on us, to lean back and daydream with no interruptions! Every house becomes a meadow, every room takes on the amplitude of a country villa.
All the sounds one hears seem to come from somewhere else, as if they belonged to a nearby but independent universe. We are, at last, kings.

Ah, but in the footstep on the stair, the approach of someone unknown, I recognize the person who will interrupt my enjoyable solitude. My undeclared empire is about to be invaded by barbarians.

Sad, in my quiet room, alone as I have always been and as I always will be, I sit writing. And I wonder if that seemingly feeble thing, my voice, does not perhaps embody the substance of thousands of voices, the hunger to speak out of thousands of lives, the patience of millions of souls who, like me, have submitted in their daily lives to vain dreams and evanescent hopes.

I never wanted to be understood by other people.

Nothing would displease me more than to have my colleagues in the office think me different. i want to savour the irony of their not doing so. I want the penance of having them think me the same as them. I want the crucifixion of their not thinking me any different. There are more subtle martyrdoms than those recorded among saints and hermits. There are torments of the intellect just as there are of the body and of desire.

Normality is like a home to us and everyday life a mother. After a long incursion into great poetry, into the mountains of sublime aspiration, the cliffs of the transcendent and the occult, it is the sweetest thing, savouring of all that is warm in life, to return to the inn where the happy fools laugh and joke, to join with them in their drinking, as foolish as they are, just as God made us, content with the universe that was given us, and to leave the rest to those who climb mountains and do nothing when they reach the top.

109 [from the Penguine translation]

Dreaming itself has become a torture. I’ve acquired such lucidity in my dreams that I see all dreamed things as real. And so all the value that they had as mere dreams has been lost.
Do I dream of being famous? Then I feel all the public exposure that comes with glory, the total loss of privacy and anonymity that makes glory painful.

115 [from the Penguine translation]
It’s not the cracked walls of my rented room, nor the shabby desks in the office where I work, nor the poverty of the same old downtown streets in between, which I’ve crossed and recrossed so many times they seem to have assumed the immobility of the irreparable – none of that is responsible for my frequent feeling of nausea over the squalor of daily life. It’s the people who habitually surround me, the souls who know me through conversation and daily contact without knowing me at all – they’re the ones who cause a salivary knot of physical disgust to form in my throat. It’s the sordid monotony of their lives, outwardly parallel to my own, and their keen awareness that I’m their fellow man – that is what dresses me in a convict’s clothes, places me in a jail cell, and makes me apocryphal and beggarly.

I don't honestly know if tedium is just the waking equivalent of the somnolence of the inveterate idler or something altogether nobler than that particular form of listlessness.

To say that it is a metaphysical anguish in disguise... or something similar, might lend colour to the tedium, the way a child draws something then clumsily colours it in, blurring the edges, but to me it's just words echoing around the cellars of thought.

Tedium... [...] ...it is as if the drawbridge over the moat around the soul's castle had been pulled up, leaving us with but one power, that of gazing impotently out at the surrounding lands, never again to set foot there.

I am like the man who sold his shadow or, rather, like the shadow of the man who sold it.

Tedium... [...] ...sometimes, right in the middle of work or leisure... I feel weary, not of work or leirsure, but of myself.
But why weary of myself, if I wasn't even thinking about myself? What else would I be thinking about? The mystery of the universe descending upon me while I toil over accounts or recline in a chair?

Tedium... No one with a god to believe in will ever suffer from tedium. Tedium is the lack of a mythology.

To feel oneself superior and yet find oneself treated by Fate as inferior to the least significant of beings-- who can feel proud to be a man in such circumstances?

There is such a thing as a weariness of the abstract intelligence, which is the most terrible of all weariness.

...someone afflicted by tedium feels himself the prisoner of a futile freedom, in a cell of infinite size. [...] But the walls of an infinite cell cannot crumble and bury us, since they do not exist, nor can we claim as proof of our existence the pain caused by handcuffs no one has placed round our wrists.

Ah, but in that and only that lies tedium. It's the fact that in all this- sky, earth, world- there is never anything but myself!

What I feel above all else is weariness and the disquiet that is the twin of weariness when it has no other reason to exist than the fact of existence itself.

I've reached the point where tedium has become a person, the fiction made flesh of my life with myself.

Though I walked amongst them a stranger, no one noticed. [...] Everyone took me for a relative, no one knew that I had been switched at birth. Thus I was like yet unlike the others, everyone's brother but never one of the family.

No one imagined that there was always another by my side, the real me.

Having seen with what lucidity and logical coherence certain madmen (with method in their madness) justify their crazed ideas to themselves and to others, I have lost for ever any real confidence in the lucidity of my own lucidity.

I don't remember my mother. She died when I was only one year old. If there is anything harsh or disjointed about my sensibility, it has its roots in that absence of warmth and in a vain nostalgia for kisses I cannot even recall.

Ah, it's the longing for the other person I could have been that unsettles and troubles me. Who would I be now had I but received the affection that wells up naturally from the womb to be bestowed as kisses on a baby's face?

Perhaps the nostalgia that comes from never having been someone's son has contributed to my emotion indifference [emotion of indifference/emotional indifference?].

[note, from the Penguine translation]
I've witnessed, incognito, the gradual collapse of my life, the slow foundering of all that I wanted to be. [...] It would even seem that Fate has always tried to make me love or want things just so that it could show me, on the very next day, that I didn't have and could never have them.
But as an ironic spectator of myself, I've never lost interest in seeing what life brings. And since I now know beforehand that every vague hope will end in disillusion, I have the special delight of already enjoying the disillusion with the hope... . I'm a sullen strategist who, having never won a battle, has learned to derive pleasure from mapping out the details of his inevitable retreat on the eve of each new engagement.

My destiny, which has pursued me like a malevolent creature, is to be able to desire only what I know I'll never get. [...] A romantic would make a tragedy out of this; a stranger to the situation would see it as a comedy; I, however, mix the two things, since I'm romantic in myself and a stranger to myself, and I turn the page to yet another irony.

For me... life is simply an external picture that includes me and that I look at, like a show without a plot, made only to please the eye... .

I am, in large measure, the selfsame prose I write. I unroll myself in sentences and paragraphs, I punctuate myself. In my arranging and rearranging of images I'm like a child using newspaper to dress up as a king, and in the way I create rhythm with a series of words I'm like a lunatic adorning my hair with dried flowers that are still alive in my dreams.

I've made myself into a character of a book, a life one reads. Whatever I feel is felt (against my will) so that I can write that I felt it. Whatever I think is promptly put into words, mixed with images that undo it, cast into rhythms that are something else altogether. From so much self-revising, I've destroyed myself. From so much self-thinking, I'm now my thoughts and not I. I plumbed myself and dropped the plumb;... with no remaining plumb except my gaze that shows me-- blackly vivid in the mirror at the bottom of the well-- my own face that observes me observing it.

And so, describing myself in image after image-- not without truth, but with lies mixed in-- I end up more in the images than in me, stating myself until I no longer exist, writing with my soul for ink, useful for nothing except writing. [...] The fiction follows me, like my shadow. And what I want is to sleep.

Time! The past! [...] WHat I was and will never be again! What I had and will never have again! The Dead! The dead who loved me when I was a child. When I remember them my whole soul grows cold and I feel myself to be an exile from every heart, alone in the night of my own self, crying like a beggar at the closed silence of every door. 

Day by day, in my deep but ignoble soul I record the impressions that form the external substance of my consciousness of myself. I put them into errant words that desert me as soon as they're written and wander off independently... .

I set them down in a torpor of feeling, like a cat in the sun, and re-read them at times with a dull, belated pang, as if remembering something I had always previously forgotten.

I lost my ancient castle even before I was born. The tapestries of my ancestral palace were all sold before I even came into being.

My self-imposed exclusion..., my self-imposed rupture with any contact with things, led me precisely to what I was trying to flee. [...] ...in avoiding that contact, I isolated myself and, in isolating myself, exacerbated my already excessive sensibility, for which the best thing, were it possible, would be to end all contact with anything. But such total isolation is not possible. [...] And thus, with my sensibility heightened by isolation, I find that the tiniest things, which before would have had no effect even on me, buffet and bruise me like the worst catastrophe.

I never considered suicide a solution, because I only hate life out of love for it.

By analysing my will, I killed it. What I'd give to go back to my childhood before I learned how to analyse, even to the time before I had a will!

Sweet longing sliding slowly into forgetting, if only I could recover the pain with which I dreamed you.

In those occasional moments of detachment in which we become aware of ourselves as individuals whom other people perceive as other, it has always bothered me to imagine the sort of moral and physical figure I must cut in front of those who see and talk to me whether daily or from time to time.
We are all accustomed to think of ourselves as essentially mental realities and of others as merely physical realities; because of the way others respond to us, we do vaguely think of ourselves as physical beings; we vaguely think of other people as mental beings, but only when we find ourselves in love or conflict with another do we really take in the fact that others have a soul just as we do.

That's why I sometimes lose myself in futile imaginings about the kind of person I am for those who see me, what my voice sounds like, what kind of impression I leave on the involuntary memory of others, how my gestures, my words, my outward life engrave themselves on the retina of other people's interpretations. I've never managed to see myself from outside. THere is no mirror that can show us to ourselves as exteriors, because no mirror can take us outside ourselves. We would need another soul, another way of looking and thinking. IF I were an actor captured on film or coul record my speaking voice on disc I'm sure that I would still be a long way from knowing how I seem from outside because, whether I loke it or not, record what I will of myself, I remain stuck here inside the high-walled garden of my consciousness of me. 

Solitude torments me; company oppresses me. The presence of another person distracts me from my thoughts; I dream their presence in a peculiarly abstracted way... .


The presence of another person-- one person is all it takes-- immediately slows down my thinking and, just as in a normal person contact with others acts as a stimulus to expression and speech, in me that contact acts as a counter-stimulus, if such a word exists. When I'm alone I can come up with endless bon mots, acerbic ripostes to remarks no one has made, sociable flashes of wit exchanged with no one; but all this disappears when I'm confronted by another human being. I lose all my intellegence, I lose the power of speech and after a while all I feel like doing is sleeping. [...] Only my spectral and imagined friends, only the conversations I have in dreams, have reality and substance and in them the spirit is present like an image in a mirror.
The whole idea of being forced into contact with someone oppresses me. A simple invitation to supper from a friend produces in me an anguish difficult to put into words. The idea of any social obligation-- going to a funeral, discussing something with someone at the office, going to meet someone... at the station-- the mere idea blocks that whole day's thoughts and sometimes I even worry about it the night before and sleep badly because of it. Yet the reality, when it comes, is utterly insignificant, and certainly doesn't justify so much fuss, yet it happens again and again and I never learn.

155 [note, from the Penguine translation]
The cause of my profound sense of incompatibility with others is, I believe, that most people think with their feelings, whereas I feel with my thoughts.
For the ordinary man, to feel is to live, and to think is to know how to live. For me, to think is to live, and to feel is merely food for thoughts.


In this world we're all travellers on the same ship that has set sail from one uknown port en route to another equally foreign to us; we should treat each other therefore with the friendliness due to fellow travellers.

I consider myself fortunate no longer to have any relatives, for I am thus free of the obligation, which would inevitably weigh on me, of having to love someone.

I belong to nothing, I desire nothing, I am nothing except an abstract centre of impersonal sensations, a sentient mirror fallen from the wall but still turned to reflect the diversity of the world.


My life: a tragedy booed off the stage by the gods after only the first act.

One needs a certain intellectual courage to recgonize unflinchingly that one is no more than a scrap of humanity, a living abortion, a madman not yet crazy enough to be locked up; but, having recognized that, one needs even more spiritual courage to adapt oneself perfectly to one's destiny, to accept without rebellion, without resignation, without a single gesture or attempt at a gesture of protest, the elemental curse Nature has laid upon one.

My misfortune-- a misfortune for my own happiness-- lay in my imagining myself from outside. I saw myself as others saw me and I began to despise myself, not because I recognized in myself qualities deserving of scorn, but because I saw myself as others saw me and felt the kind of scorn they would feel for me. I suffered the humiliation of knowing myself. Since this was a calvary lacking in all nobility and was not to be followed some days later by a resurrection, all I could do was suffer with the ignobility of it all.
I understood then that only someone lacking all aesthetic sense could possibly love me and if they did, I would despise them for it. Even liking me could be no more than the caprice born of another's indifference.
To see clearly into ourselves and into how others see us! To see this truth face to face! Thence comes the final cry of Christ on the cross when he saw, face to face, his truth: My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?

Everywhere I have been in my life, in every situation, wherever I've lived and worked alongside people, I've always been considered by everyone to be an intruder or, at the least, a stranger. Amongst my relatives as amongst acquintances, I've always been considered an outsider. Not that even once have I been treated like that consciously, but the spontaneous response of others to me ensured that I was.
Everone everywhere has always treated me kindly. Very few people, I think, have had so few raise their voice against them, or been so little frowned at, so infrequently the object of someone else's arrogance or irritability. But the kindness with which I was treated was always devoid of affection.  For those who would naturally be closest to me, I was always a guest who, as such, was well treated but only with the attentiveness due to a stranger and the lack of affection which is the lot of the intruder.
I'm sure that all this, I mean other people's attitudes towards me, lies principally in some obscure intrinsic flaw in my own temprament. Perhaps I communicate a coldness that unwittingly obliges others to reflect back my own lack of feeling.
I get to know people quickly. It doesn't take long for people to grow to like me. But I never gain their affection. I've never experienced devotion. To be loved has always seemed to me an impossibliity, as unlikely as a complete stranger suddenly addressing me as familiarly as 'tu' [Portuguese. Familiar second-person pronoun].
I dont know if this makes me suffer or if I simply accept it as my indifferent fate, and to which questions of suffering or acceptence do not enter.
I always wanted to please. It always hurt me that people should be indifferent towards me. As an orphan of Fortune I have, like all orphans, a need to be the object of someone's affection. I've always been starved of the realization of that need. I've grown so accustomed to this vain hunger that, at times, I'm not even sure I still feel the need to eat.
With or without it life still hurts me.
Others have someone who is devoted to them. I've never had anyone who even considered devoting themselves to me. That is for others: me, they just treat decently.
I recognize in myself the capacity to arouse respect but not affection. Unfortunately I've done nothing that in itself justifies that initial respect and so no one has ever managed fully to respect me either.
I sometimes think that I enjoy suffering. But the truth is I would prefer something else.

The sublimation of love illuminates the phenomena of love much more clearly than the actual experience of it. There are some very wise virgins in the world. Action has its compensations but it confuses the issue. To possess is to be possessed and therefore to lose oneself.

Woman is a rich source of dreams. Never touch her.

I was only ever truly loved once.

The love of being loved no doubt surfaced in me. I probably felt flattered that someone had taken the time to consider my existence and conclude that it was that of a potentially lovable being. But apart from that brief moment of pride- and I'm still not entirely sure that astonishment did not outweigh pride- the feeling that welled up in me was one of humiliation. I felt as if I had been given a prize intended for soneone else, a prize of great worth to the person who truly deserved it.

Just as some people work because they're bored, I sometimes write because I have nothing to say. My writing is just like the reverie in which someone avoiding thought would naturally immerse himself with the difference that I am able to dream in prose.

Amongst the saints... this sense of the nothingness of life leads to the infinite. They garland themselves in night and stars, anoint themselves with silence and solitude. Amongst the great men of inaction, to whose ranks I humbly belong, the same feeling leads to the infinitesimal... .

...I re-read some of the pages which, when put together, will make up my book of random impressions. And there rises from them, like a familiar smell, an arid sense of monotony. I feel that in describing all my different moods, I always use the same words; I feel that I am more like myself than I would like to think... .

I address what remains of me and ask what is the point of these useless pages, destined for the rubbish heap and for ruin, lost even before they come into being... . 

When we live constantly in the abstract- whether it be abstractness of thought or of feelings one has thought- it soon comes about that contrary to our own feelings and our own will the things in real life which, according to us, we should feel most deeply turn into phantasms.

After years of wrestling with shadows, I've become one myself.

One of the great tragedies of my life- though it is one of those tragedies that take place amidst shadows and subterfuge- is that of being unable to feel anything naturally.

You can feel life like a sickness in the pit of the stomach, the existence of your own soul like a muscular cramp.

I feel intimidated sometimes by having to say good morning to someone. My voice dries up, as if to pronounce the words out loud were an act of extraordinary audacity. It's a kind of embarrassment at my own existence- there are no other words for it.

The most painful feelings, the most piercing emotions are also the most absurd ones - the longing for impossible things precisely because they are impossible, the nostalgia for what never was, the desire for what might have been, one's bitterness that one is not someone else, or one's dissatisfaction with the very existence of the world.

I don't know if these feelings are some slow madness brought on by hopelessness, if they are recollections of some other world in which we've lived - confused, jumbled memories, like things glimpsed in dreams, absurd as we see them now but not in their origin if we but knew what that was. I don't know if we once were other beings, whose greater completeness we sense only incompletely today, being mere shadows of what they were, beings that have lost their solidity in our feeble two-dimensional imaginings of them amongst the shadows we inhabit.

The impossibility of imagining something they might correspond to, the impossibility of finding some substitute for what in visions they embrace, all this weighs on one like a judgement given one knows not where, by whom, or why.

Ever part of me is a vague nostalgia neither for the past nor for the future: the whole of me is a nostalgia for the anonymous, prolix, unfathomable present.

Lucidly, slowly, piece by piece, I re-read everything I have written. And I find it all worthless and feel it would have been better never to have written it. [...] What hurts me is that it wasn't worth doing, and that all I gained from the time I wasted is the now shattered illusion that it was worth doing.

Where did I find the strength in my solitary soul to write page after lonely page, to live out syllable by syllable the false magic not of what I was writing but of what I imagined I was writing? What spell of ironic witchery led me to believe myself the poet of my own prose, in the winged moment in which it was born in me, faster than my pen could write, like a sly revenge on life's insults! And re-reading it today I watch my precious dolls ripped apart, see the straw burst out of them and see them scattered without ever having been...

My conscious mind is filled by a drowsiness that I can't explain but which frequently attacks me, if something so shadowy can be said to attack. I walk along a street as if I were in fact still seated in an armchair and my attentive mind, though alert to everything, is still filled by the inertia of a body in repose. [...] I would be unable to respond in words, or even formulate an answer in my head, to a question put to me by some casual passer-by taking advantage of my chance presence in the street. [...] And this lack of soul which would be comfortable, even correct, in someone lying down or recumbent, is singularly uncomfortable, even painful, in a man walking down a street.

In me, the inability to act was always an affliction that had its origins in metaphysics. According to my way of experiencing things, any gesture always implied a perturbation, a fragmentation, of the external world; I always feared that any movement on my part would dislodge the stars or alter the skies. That's why the metaphysical importance of even the smallest gesture rapidly took on an extraordinary importance for me.


...I decided to abstain from everything, to go nowhere, to reduce action to the minimum, to avoid as far as possible meeting either men or events, to perfect abstinence and cultivate renunciation. That's how much living frightens and torments me.

That is how I experience life, as apocalypse and cataclysm.

The presence of others- always such an unexpected event for the soul- grows daily more painful and distressing.

I am constanly on the defensive. Life and other people bruise me. I can't look reality in the eye. The sun itself leaves me feeling discouraged and desolate. Only at night, by myself, alone, forgoetten and lost- with no links with reality, no need to participate in anything useful- only then can I find and comfort myself.

I am the great defeat of the final army that sustained the final empire. I taste of the fall of some ancient master civilization. I am alone and abandoned, I who was accustomed to give orders to others. I am without a friend, without a guide, I whose path was always smoothed by others.

Man should not be able to see his own face. Nothing is more terrible than that.

The creator of the mirror poisoned the human soul.

More than once, whilst out strolling in the evening, the strange presence of things and the way they are organized in the world has often struck my soul with sudden, surprising violence. It's not so much the natural things that affect me, that communicate that feeling so powerfully, it's rather the arrangement of the streets, shop signs, the people talking to one another, their clothes, jobs, newspapers, the intelligence underlying everything. Or rather it's the fact of the very existence of streets, shop signs, jobs, men and society, all getting on together, following familiar routes and setting out along new ones.
I look hard at man and I see that he is as unconscious as a cat or a dog... . But then, beyond the existence of organisms, beyond the existence of rigid, intellectual and physical laws, what is revealed to me in a blaze of light is the intelligence that creates and impregnates the world.
Whenever I feel that, the old phrase of a Scholastic, whose name I've forgotten, immediately springs to mind: Deus est anima brutorum. God is the soul of the beasts. That was how the author of this marvellous sentence tried to explain the certainty with which instincts guides the lower animals in whom one sees no sign- or at best only a glimmer- of intelligence [note: see Galen on the Demierge, which employs desires and unconscious actors to accomplish her plan].

I have never understood how anyone, having once intuited the great fact of this universal timepiece, could deny the watchmaker in whom not even Voltaire could disbelieve. [...] ...to deny the existence of that intelligence, of God, strikes me as just one of those foolish whims that so often afflict one part of the intelligence of men who, in every other respect, are quite superior... .

'Man is a sick animal,' said Rousseau and in part it's true. 'Man is a tool-using animal,' says Carlyle and in part that's true too. But these definitions, and others like them, are always imperfect and onesided. And the reason is very simple: it's not easy to distinquish man from the animals... . Human lives pass by in the same profound unconsciousness as the lives of animals. The same deeprooted laws that rule from without the instincts of the animals rule the intelligence of man... .

According to the Greek rationalists: 'Everything has its source in the unreason.'

To know oneself is to err... . To consciously unknow oneself, that is the right path to follow. 

258 [from the Penguine translation]

It sometimes occurs to me, with sad delight, that if one day (in a future to which I won't belong) the sentences I write are read and admired, then at last I'll have my own kin, people who 'understand' me, my true family in which to be born and loved. But far from being born into it, I'll have already died long ago. I'll be understood only in effigy, when affection can no longer compensate for the indifference that was the dead man's lot in life.
Perhaps one day they'll understand that I fulfilled, like no one else, my instinctive duty to interpret a portion of our century; and when they've understood that, they'll write that in my time I was misunderstood, that the people around me were unfortunately indifferent and insensitive to my work, and that it was a pity this happened to me. And whoever writes this will fail to understand my literary counterpart in that future time, just as my contemporaries don't understand me. Because men learn only what would be of use to their great-grandparents. The right way to live is something we can teach only the dead.

[The following is from the Penguine ed.]


Ah, how often my own dreams have raised up before me as things, not to replace reality but to declare themselves its equals... .

… and from the majestic heights of my dreams, I return to being an assistant bookkeeper in the city of Lisbon.
But the contrast doesn’t overwhelm me, it frees me. And its irony is my blood. 

The nocturnal glory of being great without being anything! The sombre majesty of splendours no one knows… And I suddenly experience the sublime feeling of a monk in the wilderness or of a hermit in his retreat, acquainted with the substance of Christ in the sands and in the caves of withdrawal from the world.


Let's act like sphinxes, however falsely, until we reach the point of no longer knowing who we are. For we are, in fact, false sphinxes, with no idea of what we are in reality. The only way to be in agreement with life is to disagree with ourselves. Absurdity is divine.

Let's adopt all the poses and gestures of something we aren't and don't wish to be, and don't even wish to be taken for being.


I'm physically nauseated by commonplace humanity, which is the only kind there is. And sometimes I wilfully aggravate the nausea, like someone who induces vomiting to be relieved of the urge to vomit.


A terrible weariness fills the soul of my heart. I feel sad because of whom I never was, and I don't know with what kind of nostalgia I miss him.


The disasters of novels are always beautiful, because the blood in them insn't real blood and those who die in them don't rot, nor is rottenness rotten in novels.

Perhaps the novel is a more perfect life and reality, which God creates through us. Perhaps we live only to create it. It seems that civilization exists only to produce art and literature; words are what speak for it and remain. How do we know that these extra-human figures aren't truly real? It tortures my mind to think this might be the case...


We were born into a world that has suffered from a century and a half of renunciation and violence-- the renunciation of superior men and the violence of inferior men, which is their victory.
No superior trait can assert itself in the modern age, whether in action or in thought, in the political sphere or in the theoretical sphere.
The downfall of aristocratic influence has created an atmosphere of brutality and indifference towards the arts, such that a refined sensibility has nowhere to take refuge. Contact with life is ever more painful for the soul, and all efforts are ever more arduous, because the outer conditions for making an effort are forever more odious. 


I can't read, for my hypercritical sensibility notices only flaws, imperfections, things that could be improved. I can't dream, for my dreams are so vivid that I compare them with reality and quickly realize they're unreal, hence without value.

...here lies my life, a conscious ghost of a paradise I never knew, a stillborn corpse of my unrealized hopes.



First I was engrossed in metaphysical speculations, then in scientific ideas. Finally I was attracted to sociological theories. But in none of these stages of my search for truth did I find relief or reassurance. I didn’t read much in these various fields, but what I did read was enough to make me weary of so many contradictory theories, all equally based on elaborate rationales, all equally probable and in accord with a selection of the facts that always gave the impression of being all the facts.

After studying metaphysics and sciences, I went on to mental occupations that were more threatening to my nervous equilibrium. I spent frightful nights hunched over tomes by mystics and cabbalists which I never had the patience to read except intermittently, trembling and ..... The rites and mysteries of the Rosicrucians, the symbolism of the Cabbala and the Templars ..... – all of this oppressed me for a long time. My feverish days were filled with pernicious speculations based on the demonic logic of metaphysics – magic, alchemy – and I derived a false vital stimulus from the painful and quasi-psychic sensation of being always on the verge of discovering a supreme mystery. I lost myself in the delirious subsystems of metaphysics, systems full of disturbing analogies and pitfalls for lucid thought, vast enigmatic landscapes where glimmers of the supernatural arouse mysteries on the fringes.

Too much thinking wore me out. My life became a metaphysical fever, always searching for the occult meanings of things, playing with the fire of mysterious analogies, denigrating [?life?] itself by putting off full lucidity and normal synthesis. I fell into a complex state of mental indiscipline and general indifference. Where did I take refuge? My impression is that I didn’t take refuge anywhere. I abandoned myself to I don’t know what.


Journey in the Mind

From my fourth-floor room overlooking infinity, in the viable intimacy of the falling evening, at the window before the emerging stars, my dreams – in rhythmic accord with the visible distance – are of journeys to unknown, imagined, or simply impossible countries.

The blond light of the golden moon shines out of the east. The shimmer it forms on the wider river opens into snakes on the sea.

In lavish satins and puzzled purples the empires proceeded towards death under exotic flags flanking wide roads and luxurious canopies at the stopping-places. Baldachins passed by. Roads now drab, now spruce, let the processions come through. The weapons coldly flashed in the excruciatingly slow, pointless marches. The gardens on the outskirts were forgotten, and the fountains’ water was merely the continuation of what had been left behind, a distant laughter falling among memories of lights, which is not to say that the statues along the paths talked, nor did the succession of yellows stifle the autumn colours that embellished the tombs. The halberds were corners around which lay splendorous ages dressed in green-black, faded purple and garnet-coloured robes. Behind all the evasions, the squares lay empty, and never again would the flower beds where we stroll be visited by the shadows that had abandoned the aqueducts.
The drums, like thunder, drummed the tremulous hour.

Every day things happen in the world that can’t be explained by any law of things we know. Every day they’re mentioned and forgotten, and the same mystery that brought them takes them away, transforming their secret into oblivion.
Such is the law by which things that can’t be explained must be forgotten. The visible world goes on as usual in the broad daylight. Otherness watches us from the shadows.

To think of our greatest anxiety as an insignificant event, not only in the life of the universe but also in the life of our own soul, is the beginning of wisdom. To think this way right in the midst of our anxiety is the height of wisdom.