The Book of Disquiet could use – I could use – an index. If I were to do something more thoughtful with the book, my first step would be to make my own, to create a typology for the entries.
There are, for example, the thunderstorm passages:
New light of a rapid yellow shrouds the mute blackness, but now there was a possible breath before the fist of tremulous sound quickly echoed from the other point; like an angry farewell, the thunder began not to be here… A sudden amazing light splinters. […] Everything froze where it stood. Hearts stopped for a moment. They are all very sensitive. The silence is frightening, as if death itself were present. The sound of the rain growing stronger is a relief, like the tears of the everything. It’s like lead. (33, pp. 29-30)
The storms recur, and are also used metaphorically. I detect the hand of the poet in this passage. Soares, and Pessoa, are especially good with colors, with light. That is another category: descriptions of Lisbon, of people, streets, sunsets, the river. Sometimes descriptive passages lead Soares in philosophical directions, and other times the passages stand on their own.
The assistant bookkeeper writes well about office life, bosses, co-workers, so that’s another category:
I don’t know why – I suddenly realize it – I’m alone in the office. Just now I sensed it vaguely. There was in some aspect of my awareness of myself an expansion of relief, a deeper breathing with other lungs. (137, p. 123)
Soares riffs on the pleasures of being the only person at work, but soon enough footsteps approach and Soares’s “implicit empire is going to be invaded by barbarians.”
Sleep and dreams. Childhood and memory. Reading, writing. A long section about love comes towards the end. Whether the love is directed at an actual or imaginary person is a matter of interpretation*, but “I” switches to “we” for long stretches (The Book of Disquiet uses the word “I” more than any text I have read recently aside from The Collected Wuthering Expectations).
Some passages are directly philosophical, working on fundamental questions of existence and knowledge. Why do I exist, how am I different than other people, how do they see the world – big questions. Some are metaphorical, moving from prose to prose poem, like 248, the “Funeral March for King Ludwig II of Bavaria,” which begins “Today, more slowly than ever, Death came to my doorstep to sell things” and ends “Flowers of the abyss, black roses, moonlight-colored carnations, poppies of a red that has light” (pp. 237 & 241)
Many passages contain aphoristic ideas that are ready, or nearly so, to be pulled from context. I am terrible at remembering or even identifying these lines. Levi Stahl has done better, featuring a couple of good paradoxes of perfection:
We worship perfection because we can't have it; if we had it, we would reject it. Perfection is inhuman, because humanity is imperfect.
I should have used this one last week:
Reading the classics, which do not talk about sunsets, has made many sunsets, in all their colors, intelligible to me. (6, p. 8)
One could read The Book of Disquiet just for its well-phrased wisdom or anti-wisdom, for its wry understanding of human nature, without ever worrying so much about the puzzling fellow who is supposedly writing the whole thing. That line about classics and sunsets makes Soares sound quite a bit sweeter than he really is. I guess I am more interested in him than in his wisdom, so that is where I will go next.
* "My horror of real women endowed with a sex is the road that led me to find you" (199, p. 186). I have my guess.