The Book of Disquiet begins with instructions: how to organize The Book of Disquiet. Instructions to an editor, presumably, not the reader:
The final organization of The Book of Disquiet should be based on a most rigid selection of the passages that exist in various forms, adapting the oldest, which do not contain Bernardo Soares’s psychology, as that true psychology is now pouring out. Aside from that, a general revision of the style will have to be made, taking care that it not lose, in its intimacy, the rambling manner and the disconnected logic that characterizes it. (Entry 1, p. 3)
A strange way to begin any book, since the bound text I have been reading has already been organized, in this case into 276 numbered entries or passages, some just a line or two, some several pages long. An Appendix keys the numbers to a different text, the 1982 Portuguese edition of the book which has at least 520 entries, and is thus less rigidly selected.
Your version of The Book of Disquiet, if it is not the 1991 Alfred Mac Adam translation (or, actually, the 1998 Exact Change edition), likely begins differently, its contents selected by differently rigid principles.
Who is supposed to adapt older passages? Who is supposed to revise the style? This note is actually from Pessoa to himself. At the end of his life, he was preparing – or planning to prepare – a number of books for publication, including this one. Who knows what decisions he might have made.
Or I could assume that even the first paragraph is part of the fiction of The Book of Disquiet, that despite the mention of Bernardo Soares it is in fact (in fictional fact) written by Soares, that it is a note from Soares to himself about how to organize his “real” journal, which then doubles as a real note by the real Pessoa about this novel he wrote, a novel in the form of a fictional journal.
For the next few days, I believe I will simply call this book a novel and its narrator a character. The novel is a character study, without ordinary plot or story, arranged just as that first paragraph describes, not without logic but with disconnected logic. The character, Soares, is “an assistant bookkeeper in the city of Lisbon” who does little but work, eat in the same café, wander the city, sleep, and write this journal. – “[t]hese pages are the scribbles of my intellectual unawareness of myself” (177, p. 158). He is suffering from some sort of crisis of identity, but if the crisis is permanent is it still a crisis or rather a condition of existence?
A question of interpretation: is Soares an extreme case who highlights some important psychological feature of the modern personality, or is he an ordinary or representative man who expresses himself with unusual force:
Everything around me is evaporating. My whole life, my memories, my imagination and its contents, my personality – it’s all evaporating. I continuously feel that I was someone else, that I felt something else, that I thought something else. What I’m attending here is a show with another set. And the show I’m attending is myself. (12, p. 15)
Or Soares is nuts and it’s all a bunch of hooey. I do not plan to follow that path, although it has the advantage of clear and accurate signage. Instead, I will spend a few days making notes on Pessoa’s oddly organized, oddly argued, oddly compelling Book of Disquiet.