Category Archives: Pessoa


We worship perfection because we can’t have it; if we had it, we would reject it. Perfection is inhuman, because humanity is imperfect.
   To achieve perfection would require a coldness foreign to man, and he would lose the human heart that makes him love perfection.
   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.
   How tragic to believe in human perfectibility!
   How tragic not to believe in it!

— Pessoa, The Book of Disquiet (trans. R. Zenith)

To think of our greatest anxiety as an insignificant event

To think of our greatest anxiety as an insignificant event, not only in the life of the universe but also in the life of our own soul, is the beginning of wisdom. While we’re actually suffering, our human pain seems infinite. But human pain isn’t infinite, because nothing human is infinite, and our pain has no value beyond its being a pain we feel.
   How often, oppressed by a tedium that seems like insanity or by an anxiety that seems to surpass it, I stop, hesitating, before I revolt, I hesitate, stopping, before I deify myself. From among the pains there are — the pain of not grasping the mystery of the world, the pain of not being loved, the pain of being treated unjustly, the pain of life oppressing us, suffocating and restraining us, the pain of a toothache, the pain of shoes that pinch — who can say which is the worse for himself, let alone for someone else, or for the generality of those who exist?

— Pessoa, The Book of Disquiet (trans. R. Zenith)


And I don’t dream, I don’t live; I dream real life. All ships are dreamed ships if we have the power to dream them. What kills the dreamer is to not live while he dreams; what hurts the man of action is to not dream while he lives. I fused the beauty of dreaming and the reality of life into a single, blissful colour.

— Pessoa


This idea — the opposition of imagination to reality, which is also of course the opposition of art to politics — is of great importance, because it reminds us that we are not helpless; that to dream is to have power… Unreality is the only weapon with which reality can be smashed, so that it may subsequently be reconstructed.

— Salman Rushdie


Reality can be dreamed away.

— William Burroughs


The great Taoist master Chuang Tzu once dreamt that he was a butterfly fluttering here and there. In the dream he had no awareness of his individuality as a person. He was only a butterfly. Suddenly, he awoke and found himself laying there, a person once again. But then he thought to himself, ‘Was I before a man who dreamt about being a butterfly, or am I now a butterfly who dreams about being a man?’

Zen Stories

Shipwrecks of our understanding

Have you ever considered, beloved Other, how invisible we all are to each other? Have you ever thought about how little we know each other? We look at each other without seeing. We listen to each other and hear only a voice inside ourself.
   The words of others are mistakes of our hearing, shipwrecks of our understanding. How confidently we believe in our meanings of other people’s words. We hear death in words they speak to express sensual bliss. We read sensuality and life in words they drop from their lips without the slightest intention of being profound.
   The voice of brooks that you interpret, pure explicator… The voice of trees whose rustling means what we say it means… Ah, my unknown love, this is all just us and our fantasies, all ash, trickling down the bars of our cell!

— Pessoa, The Book of Disquiet (trans. R. Zenith)

On the fringe

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. And since the human spirit naturally tends to make judgements based on feelings instead of reason, most of these young people chose Humanity to replace God. I, however, am the sort of person who is always on the fringe of what he belongs to, seeing not only the multitude he’s a part of but also the wide-open spaces around it. That’s why I didn’t give up God as completely as they did, and I never accepted Humanity. I reasoned that God, while improbable, might exist, in which case he should be worshipped; whereas Humanity, being a mere biological idea and signifying nothing more than the animal species we belong to, was no more deserving of worship than any other animal species. The cult of Humanity, with its rites of Freedom and Equality, always struck me as a revival of those ancient cults in which gods were like animals or had animal heads.

— Pessoa, The Book of Disquiet (trans. R. Zenith)