Fernando Pessoa
By: Anthony Miller | Categories: HiLo Heroes, Literature

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What do self-taught bucolic poet Alberto Caeiro, physician and classicist Ricardo Reis, monocle-wearing dandy Álvaro de Campos, and assistant bookkeeper Bernardo Soares have in common? All these writers were inventions of FERNANDO PESSOA (1888–1935), who created a menagerie of personae he dubbed “heteronyms,” each with their own poetic oeuvres and personal obsessions. Pessoa was a creature of multitudinous consciousness, a solitary, dapper, buttoned-down man with the turbulent soul of a modernist. He occupied a quiet place as a commercial translator and writer for small literary magazines while haunting the cafés of Lisbon, smoking eighty cigarettes a day, and scribbling away in notebooks. Fascinated by horoscopes and the occult, he struck up a correspondence with Aleister Crowley after sending him a correction to his natal horoscope in Crowley’s Confessions. After Pessoa’s death, a trunk was discovered containing poems and the assorted diaristic scraps that would be published in 1982 in Portugal as Livro do deassossego (The Book of Disquiet), a collection of haunting, inexhaustible meditations on the monotonies and mysteries of existence. Attributed to Bernardo Soares, the “semi-heteronym” Pessoa called “me minus reason and affectivity,” The Book of Disquiet provides a fractured guidebook to this supreme daydreamer’s world. Pessoa, who published only one book of poems under his own name, emerged as the 20th Century’s finest Iberian poet. Writing allowed him an interrogation into identity as well as an escape from it: As Pessoa writes as Soares in The Book of Disquiet, “Literature is the pleasantest way of ignoring life.”

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On his or her birthday, HiLobrow irregularly pays tribute to one of our high-, low-, no-, or hilobrow heroes. Also born this date: Dorothy L. Sayers, William Butler Yeats, Basil Rathbone, Steve-O.

READ MORE about members of the Modernist Generation (1884–93).

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Anthony Miller is a writer, critic, independent scholar, and editor-at-large of the literary journal Black Clock. His writing has also appeared in Bookforum, LA Weekly, Los Angeles CityBeat, Poets & Writers, and other publications. He is at work on a novel and a book about encyclopedic fictions and secret histories.