Philosophies Embodied in the Heteronyms of Fernando Pessoa Identity Crisis or a Great Philosopher Essay

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"The Philosophies embodied in the Heteronyms of Fernando Pessoa. Identity Crisis or a great Philosopher?"


The Philosophies embodied in the Heteronyms of Fernando Pessoa. Identity Crisis or a great Philosopher?

The Philosophies embodied in the Heteronyms of Fernando Pessoa. Identity Crisis or a great Philosopher?

Introduction of Fernando Pessoa; his Life, Work and Background

Fernando Pessoa (1888 -- 1935) was a poet who wrote using various "heteronyms" or literary alter egos. However, as will be discussed, these were not alter egos in the conventional sense but were in fact separate entities that the writer claimed existed and informed his existential and artistic experience. This becomes clear from the fact that "Pessoa devoted his life to conferring substance to each alter ego, giving each a personal biography, psychology, politics, aesthetics, religion, and physique." (Gibbs 226)

Central to his writing is the issue and problematic status of individual identity -- and the deconstruction of the belief in a single, static sense of "self." His works continually raise questions such as, what is identity and does personal identity really exist? As the author states; "I am, in large measure, the selfsame prose I write. I unroll myself in periods and paragraphs, I make myself punctuation marks; in my unbridled allocation of images I'm like a child using newspaper to dress up as a king…. I've made myself into the character of a book, a life one reads." (Poplawski 293)Get full Download Microsoft Word File access
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Pessoa has been recognized not only as a major writer in both the modernist and postmodernist traditions but also as one "… of the most interesting and complex figures of Western literature in the twentieth century." (Poplawski 293) He was born in Lisbon in 1888 and lived in this city for most of his life, however an important period of his youth was spent in South Africa. After his mother remarried further to the death of her husband, the family moved to Durban, South Africa, as the father had been appointed as the Portuguese consul to the city. (Poplawski 293) Young Pessoa stayed in the country for ten years and his elementary and secondary schooling took place in English schools in South Africa. This period was to have a profound effect on him. This education also made him well read in English Literature and "…the roots of his poetic theory and practice reach equally into Portuguese Literature and the Anglo-American literary tradition." (Poplawski 293)

The first books that he published were in fact collections of English poems, however they only received "courteous but unenthusiastic reviews from the Times and Glasgow Herald." (Lachman para. 2) Apart from various articles very little else of his was actually published during his lifetime, however he did publish Mensagem (Message), which is an extended esoteric poem with nationalist overtones. This book received a consolation prize in a national competition. (Lachman para. 2)

As regards his working life, he mainly supported himself as a freelance translator of French and English for various companies. His private life was extremely solitary and almost reclusive. He had no known lasting romantic affairs and was never married. His lonely life ended in 1935 when he died from hepatitis as a result of excessive drinking.

It is therefore perhaps ironic that until fairly recently the works of this creative and contemporary writer were little known. However, his writings and especially the Book of Disquiet, have been recognized and acclaimed by many critics, including Harold Bloom. This book is a fragmentary collection of mostly unfinished texts found in a trunk after his death, which reflect the existential anxiety related to the search for self and identity in the modern world. This work is seen by many critics to be a contemporary reflection on the condition of modern humanity and society.

The fragmentary nature of these writings - jotted on scraps of paper, the backs of envelopes, the reverse side of other manuscripts and other odd places - makes Pessoa a prime postmodern figure, and the trunk, whose contents are still being catalogued (it contained some 25,000 items) has taken on the same mythical character as the valise Walter Benjamin carried on his fateful escape from Vichy France. (Lachman para. 1)

His work is seen to be aligned with the postmodern and deconstructive view of the fractured and disjointed modern human ethos. This view is also linked to the perception of his personal life and his fragmentary psyche -- which has in turn been linked to discussion about psychosis as opposed to genius as Gray (2001) notes: "…he passed his days writing, drinking and chain-smoking, scraping a meagre living from translations and devising English crosswords, a reclusive figure with few friends and almost no love life. To him, obscurity became a kind of vocation." (Gray 52)

While he did not receive any great recognition of acclaim in his life, after his death he became recognized as an accomplished poet and essayist in Portugal. The most significant part of his oeuvre consists of more than 2000 pieces of text which were found after his death. (Gray 52) the author did not provide indications of how these fragments should be assembled but did provide the book's title -- the Book of Disquiet. He also wrote poetry, plays, treatises on astrology and a variety of autobiographical reflections. (Lachman para. 1) However what make this writer so unique is his heteronyms, or the writings of others, which became an essential part of his oeuvre.

2. The Concept of Heteronymia.

The concept of Heteronymia is usually defined as follows: "Term coined by the Portuguese poet Fernando Pessoa to describe an alter ego through which poets/authors can create work." (Glossary of Poetic Terms) However, this definition does not do justice to the complexity and importance of the term. Heteronymia should not be understood simplistically, especially in terms of the way that is creatively employed by Pessoa. This is made clear in a study by Sadler (1998) who states that, "Over the years, numerous theories have been put forth about the motives for Pessoa's creation of the heteronyms." These theories range from psychological assessment of the author to the influence of other poets and writers. With regard to the latter view, some critics have attributed authors such as Caeiro, Reis, and Campos to the influence of Pessoa's friend Mario de Sa-Carneiro, whose poems and stories frequently induced the idea of a split within the self. Harold Bloom has viewed Caeiro and Campos in terms of Pessoa's close reading of Whitman, which resulted in a desire to distinguish what the American poet termed the "me myself" and "the real me," or the spiritual and fleshly aspects of humanity. (Sadlier 72)

However, another theory that will be explored in the section below refers to the view that the heteronyms are a sign and are symptomatic of the modern questioning and deconstruction of the idea of the unified self or static ego. This is an aspect that has received a great deal of attention for both psychology and philosophy. A further viewpoint is that the heteronyms are a reflection of the author's schizophrenic personality. (Sadlier 72) for example, critics have suggested that "… the heteronyms as symptoms of a historical period when the notion of the unified self was being called into question by philosophy and psychoanalysis." However, others have suggested other causative and motivating factors. Mario de Saraiva for example has "…. gone further along these lines, suggesting that the heteronyms were the result of Pessoa's own schizophrenic personality." (Sadlier 72)

3. Heteronyms of Fernando Pessoa

In order to understand the concept of the heteronyms one has to view this concept in the context of the work of Pessoa, and particularly in relation to the Book of Disquiet. Something of the author's motivation to develop these various characters can be gleaned from the following quotation: "For temperamental reasons that I do not propose to analyze, nor is it important that I analyze, I constructed within me various characters distinct among themselves and from me -- characters to whom I attributed various poems that, in terms of feelings and ideas, are not like those that I would write." (Sadlier 74)

In essence, as Poplawski (2003 ) so succinctly explains, Pessoa's heteronyms are, literally, "…other names which Pessoa himself (or "orthonymous") gave to "other poets" he discovered in himself and under whose different personalities he wrote." (Poplawski 293) There are dozens of these other characters that have been found among the texts left by Pessoa, however, there are some which are more prominent and important than others. These characters are: Alberto Caeiro, Ricardo Reis, and Alvaro de Campos, as well as Bernardo Soares, but Soares is described as a semi-heteronym by the author as he is more of an alter-ego of the author himself and is the author of the Book of Disquietude. Alberto Caeiro is described as an "ingenious, unlettered man who lived in the country and had no profession." (Gibbs 226) the character of Richard Reis is a doctor and classicist who "…wrote odes… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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