April 10, 2008

The Book of Disquiet, text 212

I was in Taipei last weekend, and went to the Page One bookstore in Taipei 101 for the second time. It's the best English bookstore on the island, although it seemed better the first time I went there, when I was so surprised that something like it was sitting in Taiwan, the kind of thing that makes me regret living down south. But only for a while. I like being out of things.

The first time I went I picked up Pessoa's The Book of Disquiet, and have been very slowly going through it ever since. It's nearly all good, and the parts that aren't now will be later.

From birth to death man lives enslaved by the same external concept of the self as do the animals. He does not live his life, he merely vegetates on a higher, more complex level. He follows norms he neither knows exist nor knows himself to be guided by, and his ideas, his feelings, his actions are all unconscious - not because they lack consciousness but because they lack any consciousness of being conscious.
Text 212
Since that is how we live, there is really no justification for our thinking ourselves superior to animals. We differ from them only in purely external details, in the fact of our speaking and writing, in having an abstract intelligence to distract us from our concrete intelligence, and in our ability to imagine the impossible. All these things, however, are just the chance attributes of our organism. Speaking and writing make no difference to our basic instinct to survive, which is quite unconscious. All our abstract intelligence is good for is constructing systems, or semi-systemic ideas, which for animals is a simple matter of lying in the sun. Even our ability to imagine the impossible may not be a unique talent, for I've seen cats staring the moon, and for all I know they may be wishing for it.
Text 211

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