Pessoa the Philosophies Embodied in Essay

Excerpt from Essay :

" (Gibbs 226) Alvardo de Campos is a naval engineer by profession and while his earlier writings are positive, his work develops characteristics of existential angst. Furthermore, what is intriguing is that all of these fictive authors created by Pessoa interact with one another and even translate each other's works. (Gibbs 226)

One critic notes that "Fernando Pessoa invented at least 72 fictive identities. "His jostling aliases...expressed his belief that the individual subject -- the core of European thought -- is an illusion." (Gray 52) This view goes to the heart of the matter, as will be discussed in the following sections of this paper; namely that the creation of these fictive identities emphasizes and highlights the modern crisis of identity and the existential and postmodern view that the self as a coherent and continuous entity is an illusion. The following extract emphasizes this central point and also allows for reflection on the deconstruction of identity in terms of the uncertainty of authorship.

"Fernando Pessoa, strictly speaking, doesn't exist." These words were written by Alvaro de Campos, naval engineer, opium-eater, absinthe-drinker, dandy and futurist -- and one of at least 72 "heteronyms," fictive identities through the medium of which Pessoa produced some of the most remarkable poetry and prose of the 20th century. (Gray 52) in other words, the effect of the creation of the fictive characters in the work of Pessoa points to a cardinal issue -- that the author himself as an existent 'self' is questioned and may not in fact exist - except through the creation of his fictive characters. This relates to the postmodern deconstruction of the author or authorial authority in literature. It also leads to the questioning of the modes of normative reality that construct the social and individual world. This is an aspect that will be discussed in more detail in the following section.

The extent to which these characters assume their own life can be seen in one of the central characters that Pessoa developed. Alberto Caeiro is the pagan author of a work entitled the Keeper of Sheep. This work is a "… poetic critique of language and metaphysics as subtle and forceful as anything to be found in Wittgenstein…" (Gray 52) This character and his writings embody the uncertainty and discontinuity of the postmodern condition (Gray 52) and stress the view that there is no individual with a stable and fixed or cohesive self or identity.

As has been briefly referred to, there are a number of differing theories as to the underlying reasons for the creation of these characters. As one critic notes: "Pessoa's grip on his own self was so tenuous that at one point he took to writing to his old teachers and schoolmates in Durban, posing as the psychiatrist Faustino Antunes, asking for their opinion on the mental state of his patient, Fernando Pessoa who, depending on the letter, had either committed suicide or was under restraint at an asylum. Having no idea who he was, Pessoa hoped to gain some insight from those who knew him." (Lachman, para. 4)

This would suggest that he was psychotic and consequently a psychological interpretation is applicable to the understanding of his word. However, as will be discussed in the following section, the view is taken in this paper that far from being a 'psychological aberration' the construction of the characters and their works in Pessoa's oeuvre is a subtle and intense critique of the modern mind and the state of modern humanity. It will be suggested that this writer was fully aware of the causes and direction of his creations. It is perhaps pertinent at this stage to review a brief extract from his writing in order to throw more light on the subject. The following quotation by Pessoa, part of which has already been cited, serves to illustrate the point that he was highly aware and conscious of the creative artistic process in shaping his characters and their work. This passage is quoted at length as it serves as a platform for further insight into the significance of his artistic process in the creation of the heteronyms:

"I've made myself into the 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
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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; I spend my life wondering if I'm deep or not, 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."

(Pessoa, pp. 169-170)

The first sentence of the above quotation - "I've made myself into the character of a book, a life one reads" - shows his concern for the process of depersonalization and the existential fracturing of the individual sense of identity or self. The second sentence of the above also reinforces this sense of emptiness or meaninglessness at the core of being. The author states that what he feels is felt against his will. In other words this suggests that he had no direction or control over his life or even over the feelings and thoughts that he experiences. This perception leads to the creation of the heteronyms but at the same time it also reflects the existential angst and despair at achieving any sense of meaning in life. Life is nothing but a series of experiences that are seemingly arbitrary and out of our control. This relates to the postmodern concern with the lack of any real centrality or sense of reality to life -- all is a construction to be deconstructed. The only life that the author has is the artistic development of word and images, as he so clearly expresses in the above quotation, but over which he has no control. This is made clear by the following lines:

"I plumbed myself and dropped the plumb; I spend my life wondering if I'm deep or not, 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."

(Pessoa, pp. 169-170)

Taking the above into account, one should not make the mistake of thinking that the heteronyms were a simple and convenient artistic device. As one critic notes, "Pessoa seems never to have tired of games of impersonation such as the ones that filled the pages of his childhood newspapers. But the heteronyms were not simply a game; they were a highly intellectualized "construction" that occupied his entire adult life." (Sadlier 75)

The construction of other characters was therefore much more than an expressive artistic device for Pessoa. They were the outcome and the reality of a deeply felt philosophical appraisal of existence. However, from a literary point-of-view the creation of the heteronyms did "...enable him to exhibit mastery over a range of styles and traditions and to experiment with different aesthetic positions." (Sadlier 75) in this respect it is perhaps useful at this point to explore the way that Pessoa created his heteronyms. When he attempted to write pagan or nature poems he found that he was unsuccessful when he wrote in his own voice and from his conscious perceptions. This changed with the 'invention' of the character of Alberto Caeiro. This character 'arrived' as it were to write these types of poems. Pessoa describes this process as follows:

"On the day when I finally desisted - it was the 8th of March, 1914 - I went over to a high desk and, taking a sheet of paper, began to write, standing, as I always write when I can. And I wrote thirty-odd poems straight off, in a kind of ecstasy whose nature I cannot define. It was the triumphal day of my life, and I shall never have another like it. I started with a title - 'The Keeper of Sheep'. And what followed was the apparition of somebody in me, to whom I at once gave the name Alberto Caeiro. Forgive me the absurdity of the phrase: my master had appeared in me. This was the immediate sensation I had."

(Pessoa, 2001, 256)

What becomes clear from the above is that Pessoa did not consider his heteronyms to be consciously constructed or contrived to suit a particular artistic role or function in any way. On the contrary the heteronyms "emerge" or appear in a kind of visionary state of ecstasy in which the author is transformed into another identity or self. It is important to realize and not underestimate the extent to which the heteronyms are actually transformations of consciousness for the writer and not just a convenient device to…

Sources Used in Documents:


Cravens, Gwyneth. "Past Present." The Nation 13 Nov. 1989: 574+. Questia. Web. 22 July 2012.

Cullenberg, Stephen, Jack Amariglio, and David F. Ruccio. Postmodernism, Economics and Knowledge. London: Routledge, 2001.

Gabriel, Markus. "The Art of Skepticism and the Skepticism of Art." Philosophy Today 53.1 (2009): 58+. Questia. Web. 22 July 2012.

Gibbs, Raymond W. Intentions in the Experience of Meaning. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1999.

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