Ktismatics

6 May 2011

Tips on Becoming a Triumphant Hero of Art

Filed under: Fiction, Psychology — ktismatics @ 3:07 pm

For someone who makes dreams into life and turns the hothouse nurturing of his sensations into a religion and a politics, for such a one the first step is to feel minimal things extraordinarily and out of proportion…

Creating something witty and adding an immediate complexity to the simplest, fatal sensations leads, I said, if it augments the pleasure that feeling gives immoderately, to increase the suffering that comes from feeling out of proportion. For that reason the second step of the dreamer would be to avoid suffering. He shouldn’t avoid it as a stoic or an epicurean of the first type would, that is, by abandoning his childhood nest, because he will harden with regard to pleasure as to pain. On the contrary, he should seek out pain and pleasure and instantly go on to educate himself to feel pain falsely, that is, have, when feeling pain, some sort of pleasure. Various paths lead to this mode of being. One is to apply oneself exaggeratedly to the analysis of pain, having beforehand prepared his spirit in the face of pleasure not to analyze but merely to feel; it’s an easier mode than the superior ones, of course, easier than it seems in saying it. Analyzing pain and, whenever it appears, habituating oneself to turning it over (until this takes place instinctively) to analysis adds to pain the pleasure of analysis. Once the power and the instinct of analysis is exaggerated, its exercise soon absorbs everything, and only an indefinite material remains of pain for analysis.

Another method, this one more subtle and more difficult, is to accustom oneself to personify the pain in a certain ideal figure. Create another Ego inside us that will be in charge of suffering, to suffer whatever we suffer. Then create an internal sadism, completely masochistic, to enjoy its own suffering as if it were someone else’s. This method — whose first aspect, on being read, is impossible — is not easy, but it is far from containing difficulties for those trained in internal lying. But it is eminently realizable. And once all this has been achieved, what a taste of blood and sickness, what a strange bitterness of distant, decadent pleasure cover the pain and suffering: pain becomes linked with the disquiet and the angry climax of our spasms. Suffering, long and slow suffering, has the intimate yellow of the vague happiness in deeply felt convalescence. And a refinement consumed with disquiet and sickness makes that complex sensation resemble the anxiety caused by pleasure and the idea that pleasure will flee and resemble the illness that pleasures draw from the prefatigue that is born from thinking about the fatigue they will provoke.

There is a third method for subtilizing pain into pleasure and making anxieties into a soft bed. It consists in giving to anxieties and suffering, by means of an irritated application of attention, an intensity so great that because of its very excess it brings the pleasure of excess (just as it arises during violence) to someone who, because of his soul’s habit and education, vows and dedicates himself to pleasure, the pleasure that pains because it is so much pain, the pleasure that tastes of blood because it inflicts wounds. And when, as in me — refiner that I am of false refinements, architect who constructs himself out of sensations subtilized through intelligence, through abdicating from life, through analysis and his own pain — all three methods are used at the same time, when one pain, felt immediately, and without hesitation for intimate strategy, is analyzed to the point of absolute dryness, placed in an Ego exterior to the point of tyranny, and buried in me to the maximum point of being pain, I truly feel myself to be a triumphant hero. At that point, life for me is over, and art throws itself at my feet.

– Fernando Pessoa (1888-1935), The Book of Disquiet

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4 Comments »

  1. “Suffering, long and slow suffering, has the intimate yellow of the vague happiness in deeply felt convalescence. ”

    I guess that’s the worst. Dominic had something about Brian Dillon’s book on 9 Hypochondriacs, including a few heretofore unidentified Flatulence Specialists–but nothing compared to this fin-de-siecle raving. Reminds me of Theophile Gautier, even though I’m remembering the over-sensitive writing about art he did.

    “At that point, life for me is over, and art throws itself at my feet.”

    Once dead, I doubt he knows what art does. I forget sometimes just how much of this sensibility pervaded so much 19th century art (although he comes late in it), and the consumptives and Chopin and later the expressionistic suicides. Maybe it was necessary, but by the Edwardian period, these delicate types were better when they were witty, as Wilde and Firbank and their wonderful sissy quips. The ‘professional sorrowful soul’ continued, but in less putrefied style.

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    Comment by illegal dances of new york city — 7 May 2011 @ 8:51 am

  2. I can’t decide how serious Pessoa is here. Elsewhere he laments that he feels nothing at all very intensely — is this a contradiction, or a side effect of his threefold masochisms? He also says something about how he feels only so that he can write these feelings. Pessoa wrote under many pen names, or what he called “heteronyms.” The Book of Disquiet he wrote under the name Bernardo Soares. Wikipedia quotes Pessoa:

    My semi-heteronym Bernardo Soares… always appears when I’m sleepy or drowsy, so that my qualities of inhibition and rational thought are suspended; his prose is an endless reverie. He’s a semi-heteronym because his personality, although not my own, doesn’t differ from my own but is a mere mutilation of it. He’s me without my rationalism and emotions. His prose is the same as mine, except for certain formal restraint that reason imposes on my own writing, and his Portuguese is exactly the same…

    It’s possible that Pessoa created this elaborate masochism as a semi-fiction, imagining a psychology for his alter-ego Soares. This interpretation is even more likely when considering the many portions of this memoir in which Pessoa/Soares describes his long-term job as assistant bookkeeper, his boss, his office, his coworkers, his apartment on the same street as his office — whereas in fact Pessoa had no such job or apartment.

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    Comment by ktismatics — 7 May 2011 @ 10:04 pm

  3. “And a refinement consumed with disquiet and sickness makes that complex sensation resemble the anxiety caused by pleasure and the idea that pleasure will flee and resemble the illness that pleasures draw from the prefatigue that is born from thinking about the fatigue they will provoke.”

    There’s just something about that one that makes me think he’s actually experienced it; I don’t think the sadist seeing such as this in a punished object could get it down that accurately (if it is, and I have to take his word for it). Getting involved with ‘pre-fatigue’ as part of the illness of pleasures, given that you’ll inevitably end up with fatigue after the pleasure resembles Derrida’s complexes about masturbation, and how it is ‘particularly dangerous’. He WOULD think so. And maybe it is, but what isn’t? I just know that I know that you can sleep well afterwards sometimes in my own experience, and that a girl told me that she had started doing it some 20 years ago in order to then sleep pleasantly. A more barren version of this is in ‘Rachel, Rachel’, the old late 60s movie with Joanne Woodward, in which the spinster says guiltily ‘It’s just to make me sleep’.

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    Comment by illegal dances of new york city — 11 May 2011 @ 11:08 am

  4. As I write, Kate Bush’s “The Sensual World” is playing on my online radio. In these meditations Pessoa/Soares repeatedly comments on his sleepiness, which of course goes along with his dreamtalk, as if he’s always dreaming even while not asleep. In cultivating prefatigue and stimulating exhaustion — and you’re right, he describes it in masturbatory terms in “the angry climax of our spasms” — he’s purportedly wooing the waking dream that becomes raw material for his literary art. But you think perhaps he has also exteriorized his internal sadist on masochists other than himself? I wonder what’s known about Pessoa other than his self-narratives.

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    Comment by ktismatics — 11 May 2011 @ 12:11 pm


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