That man's back sleeps.
The title for this blog, ‘My eyelids sleep but I do not’, is a phrase from The Book of Disquiet by Fernando Pessoa. Because of this, and because it is one of the most beautiful, profound things I have read in a long time, some more phrases from this book:
Each face, even if it belongs to someone we saw only yesterday, is different today simply because today is not yesterday. Each day is the day it is, and there will never be another like it in the world.
I’d like to run away, to flee from what I know, from what is mine, from what I love. I want to set off, not for some impossible Indies or for the great islands that lie far to the south of all other lands, but for anywhere, be it village or desert, that has the virtue of not being here.
I remember thinking once, when I was buying some cigarettes from him, that he would probably prematurely go bald. In the event, he didn’t have time to go bald. But that’s just a memory I have of him. But what other memory is likely to remain of him, if my memory is not in fact of him but of a thought I had?
If only one had not learned, from birth onwards, to give certain meanings to everything, but instead was able to see the meaning inherent in each thing rather than that imposed on it from without.
I feel closer ties and more intimate bonds with certain characters in books, with certain images I’ve seen in engravings, than with many supposedly real people, with that metaphysical absurdity known as ‘flesh and blood’.
That man’s back sleeps. Every part of the man walking ahead of me, at the same speed as me, is asleep. He moves unconsciously. He lives unconsciously. He sleeps just as we all sleep.
That is the central error of the literary imagination: the idea that other people are like us and must therefore feel like us. Fortunately for humanity, each man is only himself and only the genius is given the ability to be others as well.
Many would argue that Fernando Pessoa was such a genius. He definitely tried to be ‘others as well’; he invented at least 72 ‘heteronyms’, other identities under the names of whom Pessoa published poems and writings, who had their own styles, personalities and biographies, as if they really were distinct individuals who were born, lived and died apart from their creator. When Pessoa died in 1935 the material for The Book of Disquiet was found in a chest full of countless sheets of paper, some handwritten, some typed, many undatable, some illegible.