Thursday, April 5, 2012

I play with everything I could have said - writing against disquiet

Friday is a holiday, so this will be the end of my wrassling with The Book of Disquiet.  I do not write anything for Wuthering Expectations when I have a day off.  Why I let my arbitrary work schedule determine my writing schedule is a mystery, but why I write anything at all is the greater mystery, the one to solve first.

Bernardo Soares and Fernando Pessoa take on the question in The Book of Disquiet.  As I read more of the novel, the central puzzle of the book moves from “Why do I exist?” to “Why does this book exist?”  The questions answer each other.  Soares exists to write his journal.  The journal exists so that Soares may exist.  Soares deflects his anxiety about meaninglessness by writing, by creating his own meaning.  His writing is – Jenny reminds me that Soares anticipates Albert Camus – Soares’s unending Sisyphean task, intensely purposeful even if otherwise empty.

I cure it [the “sinister absurdity” of the fear of “ceasing to exist”] by writing it down.  Yes, there is no desolation – if it is really profound and not just pure emotion – without the intelligence having some part in it, for which there exists the ironic remedy of saying it doesn’t exist.  If literature had no other purpose, it would have this one, if only for a few people …  I write the way others sleep…  (168, p. 151)

Writing is thus not creation but negation, or negation of negation:  “sometimes I write because I have nothing to say” (223, p. 209).  The word “because” is the Pessoan signature.  Writing leads not to anything of lasting value, or even to feeling, but to a “dream in prose.”  Soares, rereads “everything I have written” only to “find that all of it is worthless, that it would have been better off if I hadn’t done it” (241, p. 229).  Yet he continues, ending this passage with a grim metaphor:  “rereading, I see my dolls burst, the straw stuffing pouring through their torn sides, emptying without having existed.”  The metaphor in the earlier passage is even more nightmarish:

I write lingering over the words, as if they were shopwindows I can’t see through and which stand as half-meanings, quasi-expressions, like the colors of a cloth I never saw, harmonies made of I don’t know what objects.  I write lulling myself, like an insane mother lulling a dead child.  (223, p. 209)

Hmmm.  I will say that this is not exactly how I feel about Wuthering Expectations, although there have been times – well.

The end of the novel returns to writing.  “If I man only writes well when drunk, I would tell him: Get drunk” (274, p. 268), even at the price of liver disease – “the poems you write live forever.”  The Pickwick Papers and jolly, amiable Mr. Pickwick are suggested as models.  Literature is “the goal to which every human effort ought to strive” – every human effort!   “The novelist is all of us.”  In the last line, Soares writes like a cat – “I play with everything I could have said” (276, p. 270)

Now that in fact does exactly describe Wuthering Expectations.


  1. That's such great comment about the last line, that Soares plays "like a cat" with what he could have said. It fits well with the overall amorphousness of the book, which can almost be seen as a vast collection of efforts to play with saying the same thing a different way (it occurs to me now, like Arturo Belano's observation in The Savage Detectives about the novel being written in The Shining, endless variations on the same idea?). Soares, the non-actor, does engage in at least one concrete activity: writing. And thus The Book of Disquiet.

  2. Just going by his outward personality, writing Disquiet is just what Soares is least likely to do. So I began to focus on the writing as central, helped along by Soares's incessant circling of the subject of writing.