The Book of Disquiet – Fernando Pessoa (1991)

10 [28] 1.12.1931

Today, suddenly, I reached an absurd but unerring conclusion. In a moment of enlightenment, I realized that I’m nobody, absolutely nobody. When the lightning flashed, I saw that what I had thought to be a city was in fact a deserted plain and, in the same sinister light that revealed me to myself, there seemed to be no sky above it. I was robbed of any possibility of having existed before the world. If I was ever reincarnated, I must have done so without myself, without a self to reincarnate. I am the outskirts of some non-existent town, the long-winded prologue to an unwritten book. I’m nobody, nobody. I don’t know how to feel or think or love. I’m a character in a novel as yet unwritten, hovering in the air and undone before I’ve even existed, amongst the dreams of someone who never quite managed to breathe life into me. I’m always thinking, always feeling, but my thoughts lack all reason, my emotions all feeling. I’m falling through a trapdoor, through infinite, infinitous* space, in a directionless, empty fall. My soul is a black maelstrom, a great madness spinning about a vacuum, the swirling of a vast ocean around a hole in the void, and in the waters, more like whirlwinds than waters, float images of all I ever saw or heard in the world: houses, faces, books, boxes, snatches of music and fragments of voices, all caught up in a sinister, bottomless whirlpool. And I, I myself, am the centre that exists only because the geometry of the abyss demands it; I am the nothing around which all this spins, I exist so that it can spin, I am a centre that exists only because every circle has one. I, I myself, am the well in which the walls have fallen away to leave only viscous slime. I am the centre of everything surrounded by the great nothing. And it is as if hell itself were laughing within me but, instead of the human touch of diabolical laughter, there’s the mad croak of the dead universe, the circling cadaver of physical space, the end of all worlds drifting blackly in the wind, misshapen, anachronistic, without the God who created it, without God himself who spins in the dark of darks, impossible, unique, everything. If only I could think! If only I could feel! My mother died very young; I never knew her…


The reference to 1.12.1931 is a significant date in Pessoa’s home country, Portugal, known as the Restoration of Independence, which marks the end of the Restoration War against its bordering country, Spain. Arguably, the passage itself is a restoration of independence, in which the narrator, through deciphering his own soul’s disquiet, reached ‘enlightenment’. The passage is essentially a recollection of that moment, what he was thinking and feeling, rather than doing. The passage depicts an existential crisis or awakening and explores the abstract concept of the soul through physically available sensations such as: sight, touch, and sounds, creating a surreal, dreamlike experience, which ultimately becomes a nightmare of ‘sinister light’ and ‘diabolical laughter’. The war against the self has induced a state of psychosis in the narrator, who is arguably an allegory for Mankind. He sees himself as ‘nobody’ and he is emotionally dead. But, he is not completely in despair; he is free. Although he does not know where he came from, and the novel, which is life, will remain unfinished and incomplete, his rational mind reminds him of the viscous slime mankind grew out of. This is the only thing that remains once the walls of deception have fallen, but through this he is able to contemplate the origins of his own existence.

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