The Book of Disquiet

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The Book of Disquiet (1982) is a novel by Portuguese author Fernando Pessoa, published posthumously, using the heteronym Bernardo Soares.


  • In these random impressions, 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. - Text 12
  • I was born in a time when the majority of young people had lost faith in God, for the same reason their elders had had it — without knowing why.(1)
  • I have to choose what I detest - either dreaming, which my intelligence hates, or action, which my sensibility loathes; either action, for which I wasn't born, or dreaming, for which no one was born. Detesting both, I choose neither; but since I must on occasion either dream or act, I mix the two things together.(2)
  • And at this table in my absured room, I, a pathetic and anonymous office clerk, write words as if they were the soul's salvation, and I glid myself with the impossible sunset of high and vast hills in the distance, with the statue I received in exchange for life's pleasures, and with the ring of renunciation on my evangelical finger, the stagnant jewel of my ecstatic disdain.(4)
  • We never know self-realization. We are two abysses - a well staring at the sky.(11)
  • I saw the truth for a moment. For a moment I was consciously what great men are their entire lives. I recall their words and deeds and wonder if they were also successfully tempted by the Demon of Reality.(39)
  • And then I wonder what this thing is that we call death. I don't mean the mystery of death, which I can't begin to fathom, but the physical sensation of ceasing to live. Humanity is afraid of death, but indecisively.(40)
  • To understand, I destroyed myself.(48)
  • Should you ask me if I'm happy, I'll answer that I'm not.(60)
  • I have no other virtue, I at least have the permanent novelty of free, uninhibited sensation.(70)
  • Let grammar rule the man who doesn't know how to think what he feels.(84)
  • Where is God, even if he doesn't exist? I want to pray and to weep, to repent of crimes I didn't commit, to enjoy the feeling of forgiveness like a caress that's more than maternal.(88)
  • Who even knows what he thinks or wants? Who knows what he is to himself?(95)
  • To write is to forget. Literature is the most agreeable way of ignoring life.(116)
  • Renunciation is liberation. Not wanting is power.(123)
  • The longing to understand, which in noble souls often replaces the longing to act, belongs to the sphere of sensibility. To replace energy with the Intelligence, to break the link between will and emotion, stripping the material life's gestures of any and all interest - this, if achieved, is worth more than life, which is so hard to possess in its entirety and so sad when possessed only in part.(124)
  • The generation I belong to was born into a world where those with a brain as well as a heart couldn't find any support.(175)
  • The feelings that hurt most, the emotions that sting most are those that are absurd:(196)
  • I never learned how to exist.(215)
  • To read is to dream, guided by someone else's hand. To read carelessly and distractedly is to let go of that hand.(229)
  • Life is a ball of yarn that someone got all tangled. It would make sense if it were rolled up tight, or if it were unrolled and completely stretched out. But such as it is, life is a problem without shape, a confusion of yarn leading nowhere. (235)
  • If there's one thing life grants us for which we should thank the Gods, besides thanking them for life itself, it's the gift of not knowing: of not knowing ourselves and of not knowing each other.(255)
  • The life we live is a flexible, fluid misunderstanding, a happy mean between the greatness that doesn't exist and the happiness that can't exist.(255)
  • One of another man, liberated or cursed, suddenly sees - but even this man sees rarely - that all we are is what we aren't, that we fool ourselves about what's true and are wrong about what we conclude is right. And this man, who in a flash sees the universe naked, creates a philosophy or dreams up a religion; and the philosophy spreads and the religion propagates, and those who believe in the philosophy begin to wear it as a suit they don't see, and those who believe in the religion put it on as a mask they soon forget.(255)
  • It offends my intelligence that a man can master the Devil without being able to master the Portuguese language. Why should dealing with demons be easier than dealing with grammar?(256)
  • To have touched the feet of Christ is no excuse for mistakes in punctuation.(256)
  • Art consists in making others feel what we feel, in freeing them from themselves by offering them our own personality.(260)
  • Lying is simply the soul's ideal language. Just as we use words, which are sounds articulated in an absurd way, to translate into real language the most private and subtle shifts of our thoughts and emotions(which words on their own would never be able to translate), so we make use of lies and fiction to promote understanding among ourselves, something that the truth- personal and incommunicable - could never accomplish.(260)
  • Art lies because it is social. And there are two great forms of art: one that speaks to our deepest soul, the other to our attentive soul. The first is poetry, the second is the novel. The first begins to lie in its very structure; the second in its very intention. One purports to give us the truth through lines that keep strict metres, thus lying against the nature of speech; the other purports to give us the truth by means of a reality that we all know never existed.(260)
  • Christ is a form of emotion(272)
  • Nothing is ever sure in history. There are periods of order when everything is contemptible and periods of disorder in which all is lofty. Decadent eras bound in mental vitality, mighty eras in intellectual weakness. Everything mixes and criss-crosses, and truth exists only in so far as it is presumed.(273)
  • We worship perfection because we can't have it; if we had it, we would reject it. Perfection is inhuman, because humanity is imperfect.

In awe we worship the impulse to perfection of great artists. We love their approximation to perfection, but we love it because it is only an approximation.(287)

  • To write a masterpiece large enough to be great and perfect enough to be sublime is a task no one has had the fortune or divine capacity to accomplish. Whatever can't be done in a single burst suffers from the unevenness of our spirit.(289)
  • The world belongs to those who don't feel. The essential condition for being a practical man is the absence of sensibility. The chief requisite for the practical expression of life is will, since this leads to action.(303)
  • Faith is the instinct of action.(304)
  • I belong to a generation that inherited disbelief in the Christian faith and created in itself a disbelief in all other faiths. Our fathers still had the believing impulse, which they transferred from Christianity to other forms of illusion. Some were champions of social equality, others were wholly enamoured of beauty, still others had faith in science and its achievements, and there were some who became even more Christian, resorting to various Easts and Wests in search of new religious forms to entertain their otherwise hollow consciousness of merely living.(306)
  • Since we can't extract beauty from life, let's at least try to extract beauty from not being able to extract beauty from life.(307)
  • I called my incapacity for living genius, and I dressed up my cowardice by calling it refinement. I placed myself - God gilded with false gold on an altar of cardboard painted to look like marble. But I didn't succeed in fooling myself, nor ... my self-delusion.(308)
  • Every effort is a crime, because every gesture is a dead dream.(310)
  • All of us, in some part or other, are loathsome. We all harbour a crime we've committed, or a crime our soul is begging us to commit.(316)
  • I know I've failed. I enjoy the vague voluptuosity of failure like one who, in his exhaustion, aprreciates the fever that laid him up.(319)
  • Opportunity is like money, which, come to think of it, is nothing but an opportunity.(321)
  • Every gesture, however simple, violates an inner secret. Every gesture is a revolutionary act; an exile, perhaps, from the true ... of our intentions. Action is a disease of thought, a cancer of imagination. Action is self-exile. Every action is incomplete and flawed.(322)
  • And why should anyone express himself? What little he may say would be better left unsaid.(328)
  • If I could really convince myself that renunciation is beautiful, how dolefully happy I would always be!(328)
  • The countryside is always where we aren't.(375)
  • Life is the hesitation between an exclamation and a question. Doubt is resolved by a period.(375)
  • The Gods are the incarnation of what we can never be.(375)
  • The greater the sensibility and the subtler its capacity for feeling, the more absurdly it shivers and shudders over small things.(460)
  • I killed my will by analysing it. If only I could return to my childhood before analysis, even if it would have to be before I had a will!(462)
  • Great melancholies and sorrows full of tedium can exist only in an atmosphere of comfort and solemn luxury.(464)
  • When we constantly live in the abstract, be it the abstraction of thought itself or of thought sensations, then quite against our own sentiment or will the things of the real world soon become phantoms - even those things which, given our particular personality, we should feel most keenly.(468)
  • When we live by the imagination, we exhaust our capacity for imagining, and especially for imagining what's real. Mentally living off what doesn't and can never exist, we lose our ability to ponder what can exist.(468)
  • I suffer from not suffering,from not knowing how to suffer.(468)
  • Even writing has lost its appeal. To express emotions in words and to produce well-wrought sentences has become so banal it's like eating or drinking, something I do with greater or lesser interest but always with a certain detachment, and without real enthusiasm or brilliance.(469)
  • To attain the satisfaction of the mystic state without having to endure its rigours; to be the ecstatic followers of no god, the mystic or epopt with no initiation; to pass the days meditating on a paradise you don't believe in - all of this tastes good to the soul that knows it knows nothing.(472)
  • Man shouldn't be able to see his own face - there's nothing more sinister. The inventor of the mirror poisoned the human heart.(466)
  • Every sound mind believes in God. No sound mind believes in a definite God.(473)
  • Nostalgia! I even feel it for people and things that were nothing to me, because time's fleeing is for me an anguish, and life's mystery is a torture. Faces I habitually see on my habitual streets - if I stop seeing them I become sad. And they were nothing to me, except perhaps the symbol of all of life.(481)

A Disquiet Anthology[edit]

  • I'm talking metaphysics? But all of life is a metaphysics in the darkness, with a vague murmur of the gods and only one way to follow, which is our ignorance of the right way.(The River of Possession)
  • What does all this amount to but the search for happiness? And does anyone search for anything else? (self examination)
  • Has this attitude brought me something new? Not even this consolation is mine. Everything was already said long ago, by Heraclitus and Ecclesiastes: Life Life is a child's game in the sand... vanity and vexation of spirit... And in that single phrase of poor Job: My soul is weary of my life. (self examination)
  • I feel so sick inside, and without even a little originality in my sickness... I do what others have done before me... I suffer what's old and hackneyed... Why do I even think these things, when so many have already thought and suffered them?...(self examination)

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