Embodying Pessoa: Corporeality, Gender, Sexuality (University of Toronto Romance Series)
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he multifaceted and labyrinthine oeuvre of the Portuguese poet Fernando Pessoa (1888-1935) is distinguished by having been written and published under more than seventy different names. These were not mere pseudonyms, but what Pessoa termed 'heteronyms,' fully realized identities possessed not only of wildly divergent writing styles and opinions, but also of detailed biographies. In many cases, their independent existences extended to their publication of letters and critical readings of each other's works (and those of Pessoa 'himself').
Long acclaimed in continental Europe and Latin America as a towering presence in literary modernism, Pessoa has more recently begun to receive the attention of an English-speaking public. Embodying Pessoa responds to this new growth of interest. The collection's twelve essays, preceded by a general introduction and grouped into four themed sections, apply a range of current interpretative models both to the more familiar canon of Pessoa's output, and to less familiar texts - in many cases only recently published. As a whole, this work diverges from traditional Pessoa criticism by testifying to the importance of corporeal physicality in his heteronymous experiment and to the prominence of representations of (gendered) sexuality in his work.
exalts the banality of daily events (‘E continuo fumando, / Enquanto o Destino mo conceder, continuarei fumando’ [And (I) keep smoking. / As long as Destiny permits, I’ll keep smoking]), or, in a parenthetical aside, he exalts a potentially more cheerful life that could result from his marrying into a working-class family: ‘(Se eu casasse com a filha da minha lavadeira / Talvez fosse feliz.)’ (If I married my washwoman’s daughter / Perhaps I would be happy.)32 As these verses make the reader
urbanity and capitalism, he feels himself to be a peasant to whom the blotter, covered with nothing but never-valuable traces of out-of-date calculations, appears as ‘novidades.’ The consciousness that had aspired to attentive description can attest only to its own stupefaction and yet the vision that he had rejected persists in an ‘inert’ staring that goes on even without the brain actively directing it or obtaining any definite knowledge from it. The traces on the blotter, which seem to come
inconceivable absolutes. And it is this – ‘our common ignorance,’ not our conscious contracts – that makes us ‘brothers.’37 One can decide to hold one’s breath, and for a few seconds, or maybe even a minute or two, the intention holds. But the ‘simple life of the lungs’ soon overwhelms intention in one way or another, even if it has to force a loss of consciousness, at which point the body starts breathing again on its own. What is true of what eludes consciousness on a small scale is also the
effort to channel into his poem emotions unacceptable to his society no less than to himself. Just as he did later with the flesh-and-blood poet António Botto and his explicitly homosexual poetry, Pessoa in this poem about Fernando Pessoa, He Had His Nerve 129 antiquity’s (the classical world’s) last god, ‘embodied’ his own, reined-in physical sexuality in ‘others’ (historical personages, this time) in a dramatic narrative – a poem similar to those poems Robert Browning called his dramatic
servant, nor of elder and acolyte, nor of chaste twin souls.38 Rather it is a polymorphous sequence that encompasses all of these configurations, and many more, by the consenting agency of both parties, each of whom contains in potentia the identity that his companion currently performs. As such, it is tempting to interpret Pessoa’s vision of love between males not as a reiteration of the cult of ‘manly’ paederastia trumpeted by nineteenth-century Hellenists, but rather as predicated on the