In Search of A/The Point of Life


Há muito tempo que não sou eu. – Fernando Pessoa, A Factless Autobiography, edited by Richard Zenith, Lisbon, 2006, p. 143


A phrase like ‘face-value’ would have been more than a double-entendre when it comes to describing someone like Portuguese poet /writer Fernando António Nogueira Pessoa (1888- 1935), who invented ‘at least 72 identities[i] in a self-mythologising ‘theatre’ of himself[ii]. This is all the more intriguing given that the author is nearly unknown in his own country, and that his work is only discovered and published posthumously. It is from the mountains of fragments – of some 25,000+ manuscripts written by the Pessoa under a multitude of pseudonyms – that one can begin to attempt to re-construct one, or a few, re-presentations of Pessoa(s).


The rather wonderful Richard Zenith elucidates the Pessoa’s craft:

The fragmentary state of the archives is emblematic of the author’s literary project of depersonalization. “Be plural like the universe!” wrote Pessoa with a flourish on a scrap of paper left in his famous trunk of manuscripts, and he set the example, multiplying himself into three major “heteronyms”-Alberto Caeiro, Ricardo Reis, and Alvaro de Campos- along with dozens of lesser “dramatis personae” who wrote poetry, stories, essays and criticism, very often about each other. Teresa Rita Lopes, one of Portugal’s most knowledgeable and astute Pessoa scholars, convincingly argues that the universe of Pessoa was a vast and ongoing theatre of himself, and she cites the protean poet’s own words as evidence. He wrote, for example, that the heteronyms “should be considered as distinct from their author. Each one forms a drama of sorts; and together they form another drama…. The works of these three poets constitute a dramatic ensemble, with careful attention having been paid to their intellectual and personal interaction. … It is a drama in people, instead of in acts.” [iii]


Zenith writes a most brilliantly eloquent forward in Pessoa’s Book of Disquiet, which I strongly urge you, my dear reader, to read, and, of course, the book itself, which is nicely structured as aphorisms which you can dive into from any page, in a non-linear fashion, which is my kind of book, being a restless time-&-space-traveller with a highly challenged attention-span myself. Some of them are reproduced here, for you to have a bit of a taster. I scanned them with my best little friend, the lovely 6-year-old Renee, just before I ended my last life, and whom I do miss quite a bit from my previous life.

[i] John Gray, “Assault on authorship.” New Statesman, 2001. <> [accessed 9 July 2009]

[ii] Richard Zenith, “Fernando Pessoa and the Theatre of His Self,” Performing Arts Journal, 15 (1993), 47-49. I am responsible for highlighting the text in bold.

[iii] Zenith, p. 48.

2 Responses Subscribe to comments

  1. Pere

    I invite you to visit two artists’ books in tribute to Fernando Pessoa:

    In this link you will see a series of collages that I made and titled “Against Pessoa”

    I hope you like them.



    Mar 04, 2011 @ 16:03

  2. 3rdlifekaidie

    THANK YOU Pere so much for sharing yoru works! We are so sorry for coming back to you this late. The collages are lovely, and we wish we could see them in real life, as well as understand Portuguese! The many responses – for, against Pessoa creates a lively lovely dialogue do they not, a lovely intertextual cacophony, that keeps Pessoa’s legacy alive. Thank you for sharing, Pere!
    Warmest regards

    Apr 01, 2011 @ 16:14


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