I am nothing – just an abstract centre of impersonal sensations

Just as, whether we know it or not, we all have a metaphysics, so too, whether we like it or not, we all have a morality. I have a very simple morality: not to do good or evil to anyone. Not to do evil, because it seems only fair that others enjoy the same right I demand for myself – not to be disturbed – and also because I think that the world doesn’t need more than the natural evils it already has. All of us in this world are living on board a ship that is sailing from one unknown port to another, and we should treat each other with a traveller’s cordiality. Not to do good, because I don’t know what good is, nor even if I do it when I think I do. How do I know what evils I generate if I give a beggar money? How do I know what evils I produce if I teach or instruct? Not knowing, I refrain. And besides, I think that to help or clarify is, in a certain way, to commit the evil of interfering in the lives of others. Kindness depends on a whim of our mood, and we have no right to make others the victims of our whims, however humane or kind-hearted they may be. Good deeds are impositions; that’s why I categorically abhor them.

If, for moral reasons, I don’t do good to others, neither do I expect others to do good to me. When I get sick, what I hate most is if someone should feel obliged to take care of me, something I’d loathe doing for another. I’ve never visited a sick friend. And whenever I’ve been sick and had visitors, I’ve always felt their presence as a bother, an insult, an unwarranted violation of my wilful privacy. I don’t like people to give me things, because it seems like they’re obligating me to give something in return – to them or to others, it’s all the same.

I’m highly sociable in a highly negative way. I’m inoffensiveness incarnate. But I’m no more than this, I don’t want to be more than this, I can’t be more than this. For everything that exists I feel a visual affection, an intellectual fondness – nothing in the heart. I have faith in nothing, hope in nothing, charity for nothing. I’m nauseated and outraged by the sincere souls of all sincerities and by the mystics of all mysticisms, or rather, by the sincerities of all sincere souls and the mysticisms of all mystics. This nausea is almost physical when the mysticisms are active – when they try to convince other people, meddle with their wills, discover the truth, or reform the world.

I consider myself fortunate for no longer having family, as it relieves me of the obligation to love someone, which I would surely find burdensome. Any nostalgia I feel is literary. I remember my childhood with tears, but they’re rhythmic tears, in which prose is already being formed. I remember it as something external, and it comes back to me through external things; I remember only external things. It’s not the stillness of evenings in the country that endears me to the childhood I spent there, it’s the way the table was set for tea, it’s the way the furniture was arranged in the room, it’s the faces and physical gestures of the people. I feel nostalgia for scenes. Thus someone else’s childhood can move me as much as my own; both are purely visual phenomena from a past I’m unable to fathom, and my perception of them is literary. They move me, yes, but because I see them, not because I remember them.

I’ve never loved anyone. The most that I’ve loved are my sensations – states of conscious seeing, impressions gathered by intently hearing, and aromas through which the modesty of the outer world speaks to me of things from the past (so easily remembered by their smells), giving me a reality and an emotion that go beyond the simple fact of bread being baked inside the bakery, as on that remote afternoon when I was coming back from the funeral of my uncle who so loved me, and I felt a kind of sweet relief about I’m not sure what.

This is my morality, or metaphysics, or me: passer-by of everything, even of my own soul, I belong to nothing, I desire nothing, I am nothing – just an abstract centre of impersonal sensations, a fallen sentient mirror reflecting the world’s diversity. I don’t know if I’m happy this way. Nor do I care.

Fernando Pessoa
Bernardo Soares, ''The Book of Disquiet''
(Text 208)
Photo: Anna Rubin Milcheis

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