Belfast Black granite
Weight: 1 ton
Book of the Disquiet
A relief sculpture that may be exhibited against a wall or on the floor
Inscriptions taken from Fernando Pessoa’s The Book of Disquiet are sandblasted on the granite
Inscription 1. on the left-hand side of the granite slab (text 152)
I am astounded whenever I finish something. Astounded and distressed. My perfectionist instinct should inhibit me from finishing; it should inhibit me from even beginning. But I get distracted and start doing something. What I achieve is not the product of my will but of my will’s surrender. I begin because I don’t have the strength to think; I finish because I don’t have the courage to quit. This book is my cowardice.
Inscription 2. on the right-hand side of the granite slab (text 12)
Everything stated or expressed by man is a note in the margin of a completely erased text. From what’s in the note we can extract the gist of what we must have been in the text, but there is always a doubt, and the possible meanings are many.
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 is because I have nothing to say.
My relief sculpture, BOOK OF THE DISQUIET brings homage to Fernando Pessoa (1888-1935). He is, by all accounts, one of the most significant authors of the 20th century. Because of his inspired use of heteronyms linked to characters of his own invention, it is often said that the four greatest Portuguese poets of modern times are Fernando Pessoa.
Apart from being absolutely hooked on Pessoa’s astonishing writings, there are a few other things about the man that I hold in high regard.
The first is that he was shaped by Africa. He lived in Durban for more than a third of his life – he died at the age of 47. His stepfather, João Miguel dos Santos Rosa, a military officer, was the Portuguese consul in Durban and Pessoa spent his formative puberty years (11-14) during the Anglo-Boer War. Even though his ‘English/Portuguese’ status meant that he had no real part in the war, it impacted heavily upon his young mind. He attended the Durban High School school where he received his education in English, at the same time remaining true to his home language of Portuguese. This bilingual quandary often sets a challenge for the innovative thinker who has to be careful to employ the correct turn of phrase when having to ‘translate’ cogitation and writing into the alternative language. In some of my work, for example Abamfusa Lawula and Circle of Knowledge, this linguistic preponderance is a key factor. In Noli Turbare Circulos Meos I bring homage to Archimedes who spoke Greek, but uttered his last words in Latin.
Pessoa’s English skills were considerable, because, in his final year at school, he was awarded the Queen Victoria Memorial Prize for the best paper in English in South Africa.
The second aspect I find remarkable is Pessoa’s disregard for acclaim and excellence. He was a most unassuming man who kept to himself. He shunned societies, clubs and associations. He believed than life was at best an indecipherable and vain affair that provided superficial and dubious accomplishments. His deprecating manner resulted in him dying a virtually unknown writer. His anonymity is rivalled by Constantin Cavafy, the most celebrated Greek poet of the 20th century, who, like Pessoa, lived in Africa for much of his life and who died in obscurity in Alexandria, in Egypt. I bring homage to Constantin Cavavy in a relief sculpture entitle Cavafi’s Circle.
I have my crochet.
It dates from when I began to think.
Stitch on stitch forming a whole without a whole . . .
A cloth, and I don’t know if it’s for a garment or for nothing.
A soul, and I dont know if it’s for feeling or living
The Book of Disquiet, also called The Book Of Disquietude (Livro do Desassossego in Portuguese), published 50 years after his death, is one of the greatest works by Fernando Pessoa and embodies his view of the insignificance of life. This book, signed under the heteronym Bernardo Soares is a fragmentary lifetime project, left unedited by the author, who introduced it as a “factless autobiography.” Pessoa wrote under many heteronyms, personalities who pose as alternate selves of Pessoa himself. He seldom wrote under the orthonym Fernando Pessoa, his own correct name.
I chose a dense black granite, the most permanent material I could find, to venerate Pessoa’s view that life in general is overrated, transient and trivial, a clumsily written marginal note on a piece of paper destined for the refuse heap. I want to cast in stone that there is nothing to glamour and gloat about. With Pessoa “I wish to say nothing” in granite, “… because I have nothing to say.”