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In Solomon's mind, not wanting and not knowing form part of a much larger question about the world in which he finds himself.

José Saramago


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Friday, July 11th, 2008

The poet is a liar

I just found a interesting article by Margaret Jull Costa, who is Saramago's translator, on Translating Pessoa, with an exercise in translating a passage from his Book of Disquiet.

Fernando Pessoa is a 20th-Century Portuguese poet who assumed a number of different identities in his poetry and prose writing. Another interesting exercise is here: Thirteen ways of looking at "Autopsicografia".

posted morning of July 11th, 2008: 2 responses
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Tuesday, August 19th, 2008

Disjointed genius

Counter to prediction, I did not finish The Year of the Death of Ricardo Reis this weekend. I am however moving a bit closer to writing a summing-up post. My thoughts are moving in this kind of a direction: the book is beautiful and full of powerful original thought; but I have two complaints. First is a complaint with myself; I am not equipt to understand this book. Specifically I don't know Pessoa's poetry more than a little bit; I know hardly anything about Portuguese history, classical nor modern (I didn't know until I started reading this book, that "Lusitanian" means "Portuguese", nor until I looked it up just now that that is because Lusitania was the province of the Roman empire which included modern Portugal -- this just by way of example); and I don't know enough about the history of Europe in the years leading up to the second World War. A full understanding of this book seems like it would require pretty close acquaintance with these three fields.

But insofar as I do understand the book: it seems to lack the focus and intensity of Saramago's later fiction. He spends a lot of time on Reis' character but it is still cryptic to me; Reis' self-absorption seems pretty reprehensible but I don't have any window on how he justifies it to himself. And his relationships with Lydia and with Marcenda are not touching me.

So but anyway: Still reading it, still loving it, with caveats. Later on this evening I will post some of the meaningful bits I've been reading and thinking about this weekend.

posted afternoon of August 19th, 2008: Respond
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Wednesday, August 20th, 2008

Picture (from Wikipædia) is the statue of Adamastor in Lisbon -- it is on the bench across from here that our hero Ricardo Reis spends much of his time sitting. How lovely! Man, I could look at that for a long time.

Adamastor is a god from the poem Os Lusíades by Camões, which is Portugal's national epic .

Adamastor also appears in Pessoa's poem "O Mostrengo" ("The Monster"), which is online here with a translation I can't vouch for*, and which inspired an animation you can watch on MeFeedia. "O Mostrengo" was the inspiration for D.S. Maguni's "O Gigante Adamastor", written for the Mozambiquan rebel cause in the 1970's.

Another view of the statue is at Flickr. (Or possibly the Wiki pic is a cropped detail of that graphic -- they certainly look very similar layouts.)

* The translator says, "This page is solely intended to entice the students of Portuguese who may, through it, be tempted to have a go at Mensagem." The page has links to the full text of Mensagem and notes.

posted evening of August 20th, 2008: Respond
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Saturday, February 14th, 2009

I Love When That Happens!

An experience that I've had many times: I am browsing in a bookstore (usually by the shelves marked "Fiction" or as the case may be, "Classics"), pulling down titles that intrigue me, looking at quotes on the back jacket or the inside front cover, first sentences, etc. After a little while of this I get into a rhythm, the browsing is what I'm doing, I melt into the bookstore a little... and then some new book that I've never heard of before pops into my hand, and it suddenly seems like just the right thing for me to read.

Today I was looking in the new bookstore in Maplewood and found a book which I had never heard of, and which seems like just the right thing. It is Night Train to Lisbon, by Pascal Mercier (a Swiss author with a French name, who writes in German) -- the three epigraphes are from Jorge Manrique, Michel Montaigne, Fernando Pessoa. (The Montaigne quote is especially to my tastes -- "We are all patchwork," it begins, and ends, "There is as much difference between us and ourselves as between us and others.") The initial sentence has a slightly formulaic whiff about it: "The day that ended with everything different in the life of Raimund Gregorius began like countless other days." -- But it is a formula that has worked on me many times, and I have high hopes for this time.

posted afternoon of February 14th, 2009: Respond
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Thursday, February 19th, 2009

Portuguese Lit

Fields are greener in their description than in their actual greenness.

Fernando Pessoa, Book of Disquiet

It makes me kind of happy, as Gregorius is browsing through Simões' bookshop (in Chapter 8 of Night Train to Lisbon), to see how many of the titles and authors I recognize -- this is starting from slightly more than a year ago, when José Saramago was broadly speaking, the first Portuguese author I had ever heard of. The amount of reading I've done in this literature is still pretty sparse; but I've gotten a chance to familiarize myself with the names and identities of a lot of the important touchstones, it looks like.

I said before that I was not really identifying with Gregorius, and that's still true -- I was thinking tonight though, it's funny I don't -- some aspects of his situation have parallels to aspects of my own life, I think; seems like if I tried, I ought to be able to put myself in his shoes. And curious -- in the last book I read, Elizabeth Costello, I also found that I was not "relating" to the text that way. My feeling about this is that both Coetzee and Mercier have a very different type of voice -- at a first approximation, "more cerebral" -- than much of what I've been reading in the last few years. It could also be that I'm moving in a different direction as a reader. This is difficult to quantify; I'm just going to leave it out there for the time being.

posted evening of February 19th, 2009: Respond

Thursday, February 18th, 2010

Biking along the Tagus

The river of my village does not make one think of anything.
Whoever is on its banks is only on its banks.
My dad sent along a link to a cool new bike path in Lisbon, painted with the words of Fernando Pessoa/Alberto Caeiro's ode to the Tagus. You can follow Vimeo user Abilio Vieira as he pedals the length of the poem. Here is Richard Zenith's translation:

The Tagus is more beautiful than the river that flows through my village,
But the Tagus is not more beautiful than the river that flows through my village
Because the Tagus is not the river that flows through my village.

The Tagus has enormous ships,
And for those who see in everything that which isn't there
Its waters are still sailed
By the memory of the carracks.

The Tagus descends from Spain
And crosses Portugal to pour into the sea.
Everyone knows this.
But few know what the river of my village is called
And where it goes to
And where it comes from.
And so, because it belongs to fewer people,
The river of my village is freer and larger.

The Tagus leads to the world.
Beyond the Tagus there is America
And the fortune of those who find it.
No one ever thought about what's beyond
The river of my village.

The river of my village doesn't make one think of anything.
Whoever is next to it is simply next to it.

I'm a little bit puzzled by one thing: The direction Mr. Vieira is riding is obviously the intended direction for reading the poem; if you were going the other way the words would be backwards and it would be difficult to read. But traveling in this direction, one sees the stanzas of the poem in reverse order, (sort of) as if one were reading up from the bottom of the page -- the order of lines within stanzas is preserved. I wonder what the thinking behind this was. Also, why the mirror-image "s" in "O Tejo desce de Espanha"? Just carelessness?

Update: Mr. Vieira has a blog entry about the bike path. it is the ciclovia do Tejo, running 7 km from Belém to Cais do Sodré along the northern bank of the Tagus.

...I'm finding myself fascinated by this coincidence: The Portuguese which Mr. Zenith translates as "Whoever is next to it is simply next to it" is "Quem está ao pé dele está só ao pé dele" -- the repeated pédele pédele seems just like the perfect text for a bike path...

posted evening of February 18th, 2010: Respond
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