September 20th, 2010 / 1:30 am

“Please, sir, I want Pessoa.”

I was sick with flu and fever for a few days. In my state I hallucinated a tiny antique piano being fixed by a giant; his fingers were enormous pillows and he used them very delicately. The piano could be mine for fifty bucks. There was also a cartoon faucet that wouldn’t turn off. I wasn’t able to read or watch TV. When the grueling thing left my body, I sipped some mothermade gruel and convalesced not for the first time in The Book of Disquiet:

I’m tired. I had a long day full of idiotic work in this almost deserted office. Two employees are out sick and the others aren’t here. I’m alone, except for the office boy in the back. I miss the future when I’ll be able to look back and miss all of this, however absurdly.


In the faint shadows cast by the last light before the evening gives way to night, I like to roam unthinkingly through what the city is changing into, and I walk as if nothing had a cure. I carry with me a vague sadness that’s pleasant to my imagination, less so to my senses. As my feet wander I inwardly skim, without reading, a book of text interspersed with swift images, from which I leisurely form an idea that’s never completed.


Another life, of the city at nightfall. Another soul, of one who watches the night. I walk uncertainly and allegorically, unreally sentient. I’m like a story that someone told, and so well was it told that I took on just a hint of flesh at the beginning of one of the chapters of this novel that’s the world: ‘At that moment a man could be seen walking slowly down So-and-so Street.’

What do I have to do with life?


I bowed out of life before it began, for not even in dreams did I find it attractive. Dreams themselves wearied me, and this brought me a false, external sensation, as of having come to the end of an infinite road. I overflowed from myself to end up I don’t know where, and that’s where I’ve uselessly stagnated. I’m something that I used to be. I’m never where I feel I am, and if I seek myself, I don’t know who’s seeking me. My boredom with everything has numbed me. I feel banished from my soul.


Today I’m lucid as if I didn’t exist. My thinking is as naked as a skeleton, without the fleshly tatters of the illusion of expression…The scholiast who annotated Virgil was wrong. Understanding is what wearies us most of all. To live is to not think.

So nauseatingly “I.” So obsessed with the liminal. So perfect when you’re bed-addled and weak.

Who comforts you when you’re unwell?

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  1. deadgod

      Who comforts you when you’re unwell?

      Anyone who can tell me what’s not “liminal”.

  2. lily hoang

      Thanks, Kristen. I plowed through Book of Disquietude last year, loved it, I wasn’t sick as in ill, per se, more just sick as in under-read. I read like I was sick, which was both good and bad.

  3. michael

      I love the idea of this book, but reading it is excruciating.

  4. jereme

      pessoa was a dragon

  5. robert

      “I have neither hopes for the future nor longings for what was. Knowing what my life has been up till now – so often so contrary to the way I wished it to be – what assumptions can I make about my life except that it will be neither what I presume now what I want it to be, that it will be something that happens to me from outside, even against my own will?”

  6. Owen Kaelin

      Stop it, you’re scaring me.

  7. Owen Kaelin

      This is one of those many books that I’ve been meaning to read for the longest time but still have yet to get around to reading.

      If Matter is everything that keeps you from reading, then unread books (and literary journals) are Dark Matter. The more space you make for reading the books you want to read: the more books push themselves in, wanting to be read.

      Since Matter cannot be destroyed: each unread book, when it becomes a read book, immediately turns out to be yet another unread book; it just goes on being Dark Matter.

      When I die, there’ll be many times more books I want to read than books I’ve read.

      Maybe I’ll order Pessoa’s book from my library tonight.

  8. Guest

      this book has cool parts, though it can be hard to read

      i recommend it to sad ppl and ppl who are afraid of dying

  9. Owen Kaelin

      It appears to be one of those books that are best absorbed when read quickly?

  10. Sa0efi

      That book is Amazing…

      And I heartily agree with deadgod: ‘liminal’ is such a useless theory word. It denotes everything, and therefore nothing.

  11. Pemulis

      Nah…I think the general consensus (and I tend to agree) is it’s a bit like a literary gobstopper; you don’t have to read it all at once; it’s not required; just pull it out, dust it off, and suck on its pleasures every once in awhile, when in need of refreshment.

  12. Iskandrian

      Hm, maybe. But Pessoa, also, denotes everything, and nothing.

      And there is his frequent fixation on the farthest reaches of the thing, before the thing gives over and becomes another thing: summer into fall, evening into night. Etc.

  13. deadgod

      SaOefi, I don’t think “liminal” is a completely “useless” term.

      It’s true that everything can, and eventually will, be argued to be “liminal” – and ‘transgressive’, and ‘shimmering between disclosure and concealment’, and ‘linguistically/culturally/historically mediated’, and . . .

      But since borders, distinctions, phase changes are ubiquitous, it’s worth talking well about things in terms of ‘liminality’, like it’s worth talking well about things in terms of ‘transgression’ or ‘mediation’ – similarly paradoxically omnipresent. I think Kristen (?) does this here – or begins to – by putting the limina actually in Pessoa into thematic focus.

      It would be dangerously comforting to know that something is not “liminal”.

  14. Kristen Iskandrian

      Hi deadgod, your exasperation is a little puzzling…I think that there are many things in the universe that are probably not associated, generally speaking, with liminality, and I’m willing to bet that there are people who find comfort in them. Soap operas, for instance. Henry James. Lifestyle magazines. Soft porn. Graham crackers. Etc. We could perhaps argue for the liminality of everything, but I delineated Pessoa’s work as being obsessive about it, in some of the ways named above–seasons, times of day, moods. In this lit milieu, I’d venture to guess that most of us here demand liminality from the work we read, to the point that we take it for granted. But in the wider sphere of, well, everything–everything that could possibly bring anyone comfort, particularly in a vulnerable moment–I don’t think it’s a fixed idea.

  15. Kristen Iskandrian

      Yes, it’s Kristen.

  16. deadgod

      And, Kristen, I’m puzzled by your having seen “exasperation” in that back-pedaling post of mine!

      I said that it’s worth talking about “liminality” if the presentation is done “well”. I also pointed out that I think you start – I mean: in the scope of one sentence – to speak well about the “liminality” of Pessoa, by being specific about what ‘borders’ Pessoa intricates in his writing. See? – no “exasperation”, but rather agreeing that you used the word reasonably and even usefully in your blogicle.

      I meant by “dangerously comforting” to indicate that a completely non-liminal . . . thing would be something that stood over against everything that exists, a ‘boundless’ thing: god, a purely boundary-less infusiveness throughout reality. A ‘comforting’ idea? A ‘dangerous’ commitment?

      To play the ‘living =on= b/o/r/d/e/r-l-i-n-e-s’ game (sometimes a fun game):

      soap operas: between escape and social commentary
      Henry James: between New World and Old; between exposition and occlusion
      lifestyle magazines: between information and palliation for being uninformed
      soft porn: between pleasure and utility
      graham crackers: between staple (cracker) and sweet (sugary dough)

  17. Kristen Iskandrian

      Haha, deadgod, I say ‘uncle.’ I guess anything can be a ‘between’–even god. But I was thinking more in terms, with the above list, of a certain ‘edgelessness,’ which becomes in some ways a matter of taste, which was, from the start, the point. And it was in your first comment that I thought I detected exasperation, but of course tone is a wily thing online. Apologies if I got it wrong.

  18. Pemulis

      Good grief. I dunno…’liminal’ is one of those stones smoothed by so many disciplines, it is itself a liminal thing. Ha.

      Though I didn’t mean to suggest this post was thoughtless; on the contrary, it seems like the starting point of a very good essay (with examples! lots of examples!)

      *’Sa0efi’ was me by the way. Still having tuff timez with teh new layout, I guess…