I envy – but I’m not sure that I envy – those for whom a biography could be written, or who could write their own. In these random impressions, and with no desire to be other than random, I indifferently narrate my factless autobiography, my lifeless history. These are my Confessions, and if in them I say nothing, it’s because I have nothing to say.
What is there to confess that’s worthwhile or useful? What has happened to us has happened to everyone or only to us; if to everyone, then it’s no novelty, and if only to us, then it won’t be understood. If I write what I feel, it’s to reduce the fever of feeling. What I confess is unimportant, because everything is unimportant. I make landscapes out of what I feel. I make holidays of my sensations. I can easily understand women who embroider out of sorrow or who crochet because life exists. My elderly aunt would play solitaire throughout the endless evening. These confessions of what I feel are my solitaire. I don’t interpret them like those who read cards to tell the future. I don’t probe them, because in solitaire the cards don’t have any special significance. I unwind myself like a multicoloured skein, or I make string figures of myself, like those woven on spread fingers and passed from child to child. I take care only that my thumb not miss its loop. Then I turn over my hand and the figure changes. And I start over.
To live is to crochet according to a pattern we were given. But while doing it the mind is at liberty, and all enchanted princes can stroll in their parks between one and another plunge of the hooked ivory needle. Needlework of things… Intervals… Nothing…
Besides, what can I expect from myself? My sensations in all their horrible acuity, and a profound awareness of feeling… A sharp mind that only destroys me, and an unusual capacity for dreaming to keep me entertained… A dead will and a reflection that cradles it, like a living child… Yes, crochet…
My deplorable condition isn’t in the least affected by these words I join together to form, little by little, my haphazard book of musings. My worthless self lives on at the bottom of every expression, like an indissoluble residue at the bottom of a glass from which only water was drunk. I write my literature as I write my ledger entries – carefully and indifferently. Next to the vast starry sky and the enigma of so many souls, the night of the unknown abyss and the chaos of nothing making sense – next to all this, what I write in the ledger and what I write on this paper that tells my soul are equally confined to the Rua dos Douradores, woefully little in the face of the universe’s millionaire expanses.
All of this is dream and phantasmagoria, and it matters little whether the dream be of ledger entries or of well-crafted prose. Does dreaming of princesses serve a better purpose than dreaming of the front door to the office? All that we know is our own impression, and all that we are is an exterior impression, a melodrama in which we, the self-aware actors, are also our own spectators, our own gods by permission of some department or other at City Hall.
We may know that the work we continue to put off doing will be bad. Worse, however, is the work we never do. A work that’s finished is at least finished. It may be poor, but it exists, like the miserable plant in the lone flowerpot of my neighbour who’s crippled. That plant is her happiness, and sometimes it’s even mine. What I write, bad as it is, may provide some hurt or sad soul a few moments of distraction from something worse. That’s enough for me, or it isn’t enough, but it serves some purpose, and so it is with all of life.
A tedium that includes the expectation of nothing but more tedium; a regret, right now, for the regret I’ll have tomorrow for having felt regret today – huge confusions with no point and no truth, huge confusions…
…where, curled up on a bench in a railway station, my contempt dozes in the cloak of my discouragement…
…the world of dreamed images which are the sum of my knowledge as well as of my life…
To heed the present moment isn’t a great or lasting concern of mine. I crave time in all its duration, and I want to be myself unconditionally.
Inch by inch I conquered the inner terrain I was born with. Bit by bit I reclaimed the swamp in which I’d languished. I gave birth to my infinite being, but I had to wrench myself out of me with forceps.
I daydream between Cascais* and Lisbon. I went to Cascais to pay a property tax for my boss, Senhor Vasques, on a house he owns in Estoril.* I took anticipated pleasure in the trip, an hour each way in which to enjoy the forever changing views of the wide river and its Atlantic estuary. But on actually going out there, I lost myself in abstract contemplations, seeing but not seeing the riverscapes I’d looked forward to seeing, while on the way back I lost myself in mentally nailing down those sensations. I wouldn’t be able to describe the slightest detail of the trip, the slightest scrap of what there was to see. What I got out of it are these pages, the fruit of contradiction and forgetting. I don’t know if this is better or worse than the contrary, nor do I know what the contrary is.
The train slows down, we’re at Cais do Sodré.* I’ve arrived at Lisbon, but not at a conclusion.
Perhaps it’s finally time for me to make this one effort: to take a good look at my life. I see myself in the midst of a vast desert. I tell what I literarily was yesterday, and I try to explain to myself how I got here.
With merely a kind of smile in my soul, I passively consider the definitive confinement of my life to the Rua dos Douradores, to this office, to the people who surround me. An income sufficient for food and drink, a roof over my head, and a little free time in which to dream and write, to sleep – what more can I ask of the Gods or expect from Destiny?
I’ve had great ambitions and boundless dreams, but so has the delivery boy* or the seamstress, because everyone has dreams. What distinguishes certain of us is our capacity for fulfilling them, or our destiny that they be fulfilled.
In dreams I am equal to the delivery boy and the seamstress. I differ from them only in knowing how to write. Yes, writing is an act, a personal circumstance that distinguishes me from them. But in my soul I’m their equal.
I realize that there are islands to the South and great cosmopolitan attractions and…..
If I had the world in my hand, I’m quite sure I would trade it for a ticket to Rua dos Douradores.
Perhaps my destiny is to remain forever a bookkeeper, with poetry or literature as a butterfly that alights on my head, making me look ridiculous to the extent it looks beautiful.
I’ll miss Moreira, but what’s that next to a glorious promotion?
I know that the day I become head bookkeeper of Vasques & Co. will be one of the great days of my life. I know it with foretasted bitterness and irony, but also with the intellectual advantage of certainty.
In the cove on the seashore, among the woods and meadows that fronted the beach, the fickleness of inflamed desire rose out of the uncertainty of the blank abyss. To choose the wheat or to choose the many [sic] was all the same, and the distance kept going, through cypress trees.
The magic power of words in isolation, or joined together on the basis of sound, with inner reverberations and divergent meanings even as they converge, the splendour of phrases inserted between the meanings of other phrases, the virulence of vestiges, the hope of the woods, and the absolute peacefulness of the ponds on the farms of my childhood of ruses… And so, within the high walls of absurd audacity, in the rows of trees and in the startled tremors of what withers, someone other than me would hear from sad lips the confession denied to more insistent parties. Never again, not even if the knights were to come back on the road that was visible from the top of the wall, would there be peace in the Castle of the Last Souls, where lances jangled in the unseen courtyard, nor would any other name on this side of the road be remembered but the one which at night would enchant, like the Moorish ladies of folklore,* the child who later died to life and to wonder.
Over the furrows in the grass, like remembrances of what was to come, the treading of the last lost men sounded ever so lightly, their dragging steps opening nothings in the restless greenery. Those who would come were bound to be old, and only the young would never arrive. The drums rumbled on the roadside, and the bugles hung uselessly from exhausted arms that would have dropped them if they still had strength enough to drop something.
But when the illusion was over, the dead clamour sounded yet again, and the dogs could be seen nervously hesitating on the tree-lined paths. It was all absurd, like mourning the dead, and princesses from other people’s dreams strolled about freely and indefinitely.
Whenever I’ve tried to free my life from a set of the circumstances that continuously oppress it, I’ve been instantly surrounded by other circumstances of the same order, as if the inscrutable web of creation were irrevocably at odds with me. I yank from my neck a hand that was choking me, and I see that my own hand is tied to a noose that fell around my neck when I freed it from the stranger’s hand. When I gingerly remove the noose, it’s with my own hands that I nearly strangle myself.
Whether or not they exist, we’re slaves to the gods.
The image of myself I saw in mirrors is the same one I hold against the bosom of my soul. I could never be anything but frail and hunched over, even in my thoughts.
Everything about me belongs to a glossy prince pasted, along with other decals, in the old album of a little boy who died long ago.
To love myself is to feel sorry for myself. Perhaps one day, towards the end of the future, someone will write a poem about me, and I’ll begin to reign in my Kingdom.
God is the fact that we exist and that’s not all.
Let’s act like sphinxes, however falsely, until we reach the point of no longer knowing who we are. For we are, in fact, false sphinxes, with no idea of what we are in reality. The only way to be in agreement with life is to disagree with ourselves. Absurdity is divine.
Let’s develop theories, patiently and honestly thinking them out, in order to promptly act against them – acting and justifying our actions with new theories that condemn them. Let’s cut a path in life and then go immediately against that path. Let’s adopt all the poses and gestures of something we aren’t and don’t wish to be, and don’t even wish to be taken for being.
Let’s buy books so as not to read them; let’s go to concerts without caring to hear the music or to see who’s there; let’s take long walks because we’re sick of walking; and let’s spend whole days in the country, just because it bores us.
Today, feeling almost physically ill because of that age-old anxiety which sometimes wells up, I ate and drank rather less than usual in the first-floor dining room of the restaurant responsible for perpetuating my existence. And as I was leaving, the waiter, having noted that the bottle of wine was still half full, turned to me and said: ‘So long, Senhor Soares, and I hope you feel better.’
The trumpet blast of this simple phrase relieved my soul like a sudden wind clearing the sky of clouds. And I realized something I had never really thought about: with these café and restaurant waiters, with barbers and with the delivery boys on street corners I enjoy a natural, spontaneous rapport that I can’t say I have with those I supposedly know more intimately.
Camaraderie has its subtleties.
Some govern the world, others are the world. Between an American millionaire, a Caesar or Napoleon, or Lenin, and the Socialist leader of a small town, there’s a difference in quantity but not of quality. Below them there’s us, the unnoticed: the reckless playwright William Shakespeare, John Milton the schoolteacher, Dante Alighieri the tramp, the delivery boy who ran an errand for me yesterday, the barber who tells me jokes, and the waiter who just now demonstrated his camaraderie by wishing me well, after noticing I’d drunk only half the wine.
It’s a hopelessly bad lithograph. I stare at it without knowing if I see it. It’s one among others in the shop window – in the middle of the window under the steps.
She holds Spring against her breast and stares at me with sad eyes. Her smile shines, because the paper’s glossy, and her cheeks are red. The sky behind her is the colour of light blue cloth. She has a sculpted, almost tiny mouth, and above its postcard expression her eyes keep staring at me with an enormous sorrow. The arm holding the flowers reminds me of someone else’s. Her dress or blouse has a low neck that reveals one shoulder. Her eyes are genuinely sad: they stare at me from the depth of the lithographic reality with a truth of some sort. She came with Spring. Her eyes are large, but that’s not what makes them sad. I tear myself from the window with violent steps. I cross the street and turn around with impotent indignation. She still holds the Spring she was given, and her eyes are sad like all the things in life I’ve missed out on. Seen from a distance, the lithograph turns out to be more colourful. The figure’s hair is tied at the top by a pinker than pink ribbon; I hadn’t noticed. In human eyes, even in lithographic ones, there’s something terrible: the inevitable warning of consciousness, the silent shout that there’s a soul there. With a huge effort I pull out of the sleep in which I was steeped, and like a dog I shake off the drops of dark fog. Oblivious to my departure, as if bidding farewell to something else, those sad eyes of the whole of life – of this metaphysical lithograph that we observe from a distance – stare at me as if I knew something of God. The print, which has a calendar at the bottom, is framed above and below by two flatly curved, badly painted black strips. Within these upper and lower limits, above 1929 and an outmoded calligraphic vignette adorning the inevitable 1st of January, the sad eyes ironically smile at me.
Funny where I knew that figure from. In the corner at the back of the office there’s an identical calendar which I’ve seen countless times, but due to some lithographic mystery, or some mystery of my own, the eyes of the office copy express no sorrow. It’s just a lithograph. (Printed on glossy paper, it sleeps away its subdued life above the head of left-handed Alves.)
All of this makes me want to smile, but I feel a profound anxiety. I feel the chill of a sudden sickness in my soul. I don’t have the strength to balk at this absurdity. What window overlooking what secret of God am I confronting against my will? Where does the window under the stairs lead to? What eyes stared at me from out of the lithograph? I’m practically trembling. I involuntarily raise my eyes to the far corner of the office where the real lithograph is. I keep raising my eyes to that corner of the office where the real lithograph is. I keep raising my eyes to that corner.
To give each emotion a personality, a heart to each state of the heart!
The girls came around the bend in a large group. They sang as they walked, and the sound of their voices was happy. I don’t know who or what they might be. I listened to them for a time from afar, without a feeling of my own, but a feeling of sorrow for them impressed itself on my heart.
For their future? For their unconsciousness?
Not directly for them, and perhaps, after all, only for me.
Literature – which is art married to thought, and realization untainted by reality – seems to me the end towards which all human effort would have to strive, if it were truly human and not just a welling up of our animal self. To express something is to conserve its virtue and take away its terror. Fields are greener in their description than in their actual greenness. Flowers, if described with phrases that define them in the air of the imagination, will have colours with a durability not found in cellular life.
What moves lives. What is said endures. There’s nothing in life that’s less real for having been well described. Small-minded critics point out that such-and-such poem, with its protracted cadences, in the end says merely that it’s a nice day. But to say it’s a nice day is difficult, and the nice day itself passes on. It’s up to us to conserve the nice day in a wordy, florid memory, sprinkling new flowers and new stars over the fields and skies of the empty, fleeting outer world.
Everything is what we are, and everything will be, for those who come after us in the diversity of time, what we will have intensely imagined – what we, that is, by embodying our imagination, will have actually been. The grand, tarnished panorama of History amounts, as I see it, to a flow of interpretations, a confused consensus of unreliable eyewitness accounts. The novelist is all of us, and we narrate whenever we see, because seeing is complex like everything.
Right now I have so many fundamental thoughts, so many truly metaphysical things to say that I suddenly feel tired, and I’ve decided to write no more, think no more. I’ll let the fever of saying put me to sleep instead, and with closed eyes I’ll stroke, as if petting a cat, all that I might have said.
A breath of music or of a dream, of something that would make me almost feel, something that would make me not think.