Sunday, April 13, 2008

A Revolution of the Alive


Pessoa at his favourite coffee shop -- with loyal friends.

A new love is introduced into my world...

Upon a recent trip to Portugal I was given a book by the poet, Fernando Pessoa. He is this new love! His words!

Pessoa is a most intriguing person. He wrote much of his poetry from the perspective of several other characters, he called these characters Heteronyms. Yet, within the words of each of these persons there is a feel of Pessoa also being present, never a sense of him ever being truly distinct from these various characters.

Within Portugal, and most certainly within Lisbon, Pessoa is a national treasure, a hero. Yet, his heroics are of the ordinary-people kind. In my (very new) reading of Pessoa, I never had any sense that he was directing his writing toward academia, or even toward any higher or prestigious class. Certainly an unusual poet, for his words were rarely written as his own, and, at this point in time, his words are certainly not his own, for they are now the people’s words, they are Portugal’s words.

My favourite of Pessoa’s heteronyms was named Caeiro. Pessoa himself claimed that he (Pessoa) was a disciple of Caeiro. Caeiro’s words were simple and lovely, gentle, and it could be easy to stay in this quiet place. Yet there is a power which awakens with his words, and this power quickly becomes disruptive and political. While we are not looking, Caeiro overturns tables, long standing tables, tables of religion and science, mystical tables, metaphysical tables, tables of power and control, he overturns them all, sending the golden coins and the transcendent thoughts scattering down those cobblestone streets. He was a prophet of sorts, awakening hearts, minds and bodies to something we might call “nature.” Not that nature was separate from humanity, separate from mind – not at all. For Caeiro a levelling democracy occurs, wherein the full diversity -- people, flowers, the wind, the sea, the donkey -- all is nature. However, it must be emphasized that while Caeiro used the term nature, he also disliked the word, for it was never sufficient, and all too often, through the way people used language, it became a singular and unifying thing -- and this was anathema for Caeiro.

A few of Caeiro’s words...

I believe in the World as in a daisy
Because I see it. But I don’t think about it
Because thinking is not understanding...
The World was not made for us to think about
(To think is to be eye-sick)
But for us to look at and be in tune with...

I have no philosophy: I have senses...

If I speak of Nature, it’s not because I know what Nature is,
But because I love it, and that’s why I love it,
For a lover never knows what he loves,
Why he loves or what love is...

As Gilles Deleuze argued for the immanent, for a world where nature is able to speak, on its terms, within its on uncountable diversity, and as Gregory Bateson turned toward what he called the grammar of the Creatura, so also Pessoa... Through Caeiro he calls forth a world where we cease to assess and calculate, we cease to encapsulate, to reduce to simple terms, and we experience life as close as possible to where it is encountered, in the way it is encountered, with a language which sees, and in turn, loves.

Nature becomes not a singularity, but many things, many possibilities which must be experienced in their own unique presentations, and not even as things enfolded under the singular umbrella of nature itself.

And also people, all those people we meet, they too are part of this nature (or this un-nature), they too are to be encountered, engaged with, experienced, discovered to be in relation with us -- and, in the end, they are to be loved. No more assessments, no more words which reduce and minimize the beautiful and even tragic complexity which we all, as people, carry with us. No more of that professional gaze which Foucault so carefully unpacked for us. But for Pessoa, for Caeiro, the motivation for this change never emerged from an abstract place of social justice, neither did it come from a commitment to environmental, cultural, gender activism... No his politics emerged from the poet’s engagement with rocks and trees, with children and oxcarts, with herds of sheep, with grass and sea and sunlight. These things of the Alive, moving upon the land and waters of Portugal... it is these things which really turn over the tables, that send our assumptions tumbling down those hilly streets. And, it seems to me, that Pessoa, through Caeiro, would have it no other way!

Just a few more of Pessoa’s words...

I look and I am moved,
Moved as water flows when the ground slopes...

Only Nature is divine, and she is not divine...














2 comments:

Ana Marques said...

Like photographers, Caeiro lived his live throught his eyes...

But my favourit one is Álvaro de Campos! :P

Christopher Kinman said...

Ana -- I would love to know more about why Álvaro de Campos is your favourite of Pessoa's characters? I am eager to go back and re-read Alvaro de Campos now...