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Meeting with David E.

Wellbery
2015

December, 10

I am something of intermediate, pillar of a boredom


bridge Notations about Existence in Fausto

What is between
Myself and me?
What should have been
Lest this should be?
Fernando Pessoa (Summer Moments from English Poems)

In addition to a work that recovers the greatest myth of the


modern era, Fausto is perhaps the most enigmatic poem by
Fernando Pessoa. It is an attempt considered unsuccessful to
bring into Portuguese its Germanic representation, with reference
to the version of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe's Faust.
It can be listed several similarities and dissimilarities
considering the European tragedy, that includes, as possibility, to
seek a dialogical relationship by the reading of both. However, in
the foreground, what has prompted me during the reading of
Pessoas play was an attribute or an attitude that I will call here
"negativity".
During my appreciation of the poem, I tried to determine
what should be the dynamic of my reading: the way in which my
reader's attitude, my behavior to what was presented to my sight,
would determine my comprehension of the piece. And what
surprised me since the first page was the negative character of my
effort. In other words, it seemed to me that at every time of my
contact with Fausto, this poem took me for a walk around itself, in

Meeting with David E. Wellbery


2015

December, 10

circles, making me travel in a kind of a journey of reiterated


themes and concepts which were not converted into a dramatic
action. Furthermore, the strategy of composition developed inside
the

poem,

elaborated

recurrently

on

analogies,

paradoxes,

antinomies and antithesis, guided me to a dynamic of reading in


which the movement was back and forth, inside a sort of constant
hesitance.
I denominate herein reading of "negativity" a sort of reading
that lies on the irresolution of the enigmas that are presented
during the development of the text, but also a reading which
succumbs in the attempt to comprehend not only the enigmas
the mysteries that are presented, but also that stumbles trying to
conceive the poem as a piece of theater. In addition, Fausto is in a
dredge that pulls the reader into the poem, and does not allow the
decoder to make its own reading because it draws us into the
same abyss which is Fausto. What and where is this abyss one of
the matters of poem?
The starting point of my inquiry was one of the key points of
Fernando Pessoa's poetic: the discussion about the Existence. This
discussion is based, among other things, on characteristics that
may be classified here as negativity and also the thought about
an

idea

of

anti-philosophy

or

anti-conceptual

philosophy.

Nevertheless, his poetry it would carry, create, build through a


strategy of paradoxes an irreconcilable tragedy, an ontological
way of thinking, that performs a sort of anti-philosophical system.
What I here denominate irreconcilable tragedy will be developed
further. Nonetheless, this idea approaches the tragedy pattern of

Meeting with David E. Wellbery


2015

December, 10

Fernando Pessoa to Goethes tragic model. I intend to work on


concept of tragedy in a near future.
As from terms negativity and anti-philosophy and their
appearance on Fausto I will try to link those concepts to drama.
First of all, it demands to assert that Fernando Pessoa's Fausto is a
text divided into five acts and four interacts, which apparently
does not maintain among themselves a dramatic unity. This means
that, in this frame, a sequence of events is not arranged or
coordinated on space and time, offering to reader potential
spectator an idea of sequence. In Fernando Pessoas Fausto we
just can see a disconnected and fragmentary discourse. A
statement of a negative adventure and also of a negative hero.
There is in Pessoas Fausto no positive aspects that would have
featured Goethes romantic Faust. Moreover, the sense of History
in Twentieth Century, of course, has also been modified, Fausto
shows us a strongly lyrical tone to the detriment of a dramatic
ambience. The theatrical element realizes itself by the way in
which are composed by the lyricism of the fragments. This lyricism
is mainly characterized by:
a) Irresolution of an intense pun of antinomies.
b) Irresolution of an intense, not aligned pun of the sections
of sense.
The Pessoas Faust contradicts the concept of drama in
Hegel, because its lyrical subjectivity doesnt match its epic
objectivity. In other words, the interiority doesnt recognize itself in
exteriority organization. This happens for various reasons, some
from a more formal nature, others, subjective in nature. Among

Meeting with David E. Wellbery


2015

December, 10

those that could be enumerated as formal matters, and that we


could also call "technical", are:
1) The fact that the text is almost all of it built in the shape
of dramatic monologue.
2) The acts and interacts do not count saved rare
exceptions on elements of Attic tragedy, either, are not easily
detectable elements like hybris, moira, peripeteia, denouement,
desis commonly constituents of the tragedies in general, even the
current ones.
3) The presence of lyric especially characteristics, which
includes:
a) The question of the ennunciative apparatus of lyric, that contains
possibilities of indirection. In other words, into its ennunciative
forms, it poses the question of an "absent" as related to the
notions of voice and voicing. The lyric creates effects of voicing
(amality). Paul de Man expressed this aspect of stating that "The
principle

of

intelligibility

in

lyric

poetry

depends

on

the

phenomenalization of the poetic voice."1


b) Lyrics attempt to be itself an event rather the representation of an
event. Albeit, it can contains representations of action, in Lyric,
the narration, that is, the present of discourse or articulations
cannot be reduced to the narrating of past events on the
contrary the narrated events seem to be subsumed by (trumped
by) the present of lyric enunciation. In this case, a distinctive
feature of Lyric seems to be the attempt to create the impression
of something happening now, in the present time of discourse,
creating effects of presence.
1 Paul de Man. The lyrical voice in Contemporary Theory. In: Theory of the Lyric.
London: Harvard University Press, 2015. (p. 35)

Meeting with David E. Wellbery


2015

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c) The ritualistic dimensions of the Lyric, included the patterning of


rhythm and rhyme; the repetition of stanza forms and the sonority
aspect are opposed to the fictional aspect. Adding to it the role of
reader or the listener as a sort of performers.
On the other hand, we have the subjective aspects that
composes this frame of negativity and anti-philosophy, which may
be named substance. Certainly those elements are constituted in
the poem through language, that includes the lyrical aspect, the
transmutation of drama as genre, the text organization shaped in
soliloquy. It means that into this structure and in that speech, the
subjective content materializes itself. However, it is very important
to be listed what aspects of this subjectivity that are developed
inside Pessoas tragedy.
The amusement provided by Fausto is based on three
fundamental axes over the five acts that comprise them, namely:
the limits of knowledge an intelligibility (this theme includes the
notions of truth, reality, real, dream, experience, sensation and
perception); the metaphysical meditation (this theme includes
consideration of death, immortality, mystery, the finite, the
infinite, emptiness void , Being and non-Being); and the collapse
of rationality in front of these two axes already presented (this
theme includes terror, horror, madness, abandonment, boredom,
fatigue, oblivion). It is evident that these three areas are
interdependent and cannot be thought in a relationship of cause
and consequence. They are presented like this in order to facilitate
the comprehension of ideas in a didactic and more understandable
way.

Meeting with David E. Wellbery


2015

December, 10

A recurring misgiving in Fausto is that the Thought is not the


continent of Existence. That is to say unlike the Cartesian
philosophy of "I think, therefore I exist" or I am (Cogito ergo
sum), the act of thinking does not guarantee the fact of Existence,
and also does not approach the idea of Existence from the idea of
Thought. As a consequence of this assertive, it is possible to say
that, we can, through the act of thinking, given to the entities
attributes qualities (form and substance) such as color, weight,
shape; usage; discover into them the attributes of raw materials;
display into them even the atoms, this means that just saying
something about the thing, does not mean say what it is its
individuality. To say what this thing is "in the world", defining its
components, uses, accidental characteristics is not the same thing
as saying something about the fact "that" it simply "exist". What
is, for example, the answer to the question: "What is to exist?".
For instance, if I behold a thing, I have to explain at least
three facts about it:
This thing is;
This thing is a thing;
This thing is a thing.
It means that insofar as this thing is a thing, it has a way
of existence, as this existent; insofar the thing is this thing, it
is an existent; but, insofar as the thing is, it is existent and it
manifests existence. That is, it is an existent through which
existence is manifested. Thus, when I contemplate a thing,
insofar as it exists, I am contemplating its existence; but as I
contemplate the existence of the thing, I am moved to

Meeting with David E. Wellbery


2015

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contemplate existence as such, for the existence of a thing is the


manifestation of existence as existence, namely:
This an individual existent;
Thing a kind of existent;
is the fact of existence.
Thereby, I cannot understand existence as a notion, but only
to accept it as an insight and to affirm it as a fact.
Inside Fausto this axiom is designed ad nauseam. The
protagonist is ultra-conscious of the horror that is to exist, because
the fact that it is not comprehensible by methods of analysis on
which the starting point is the attempt of conceptualization. He
has the intuition that the act of thinking pushes him away from the
knowledge of the real truth. The excessive thinking, always,
leads him to an intimate way to experience the world, so that this
dynamic also dehumanized him. This streamlined experience
keeps him away to feel like other men, inside the dimension of the
will. This experience sums up a kind of feel that makes him
denying the world, and this movement is increasingly lonely,
leading him choosing to become a misanthrope. Fausto does not
lose his sanity by a lack of understanding. On the contrary, the
reason for his climb to the madness is not absence of rationality,
but the excess of it.
The mystery of the eyes and the look
Of the subject and the object, transparent
To the horror that is beyond it; the mute
Feeling of unknown itself,
And the suffered commotion that is born
Of feeling the madness of the void;

Meeting with David E. Wellbery


2015

December, 10

The horror of a misunderstood existence


When this horror comes to the soul
It makes all the human pain an illusion.
That is the supreme pain, the real cross.
They want to despise your holy proud
Oh, Christ!

So I see horror the inner soul,


The perennial mystery that crosses,
Like a sigh, heaven and hearts.
Thus, I am thinking more than anyone else, [] 2

The horror mentioned in this fragment consists, in the first


instance, in a loss of contemplative ability, which is derived from
the replacement of seeing by the dynamic of rationalizing the
senses. This observation leads us to the question: What is the
cause for which this mechanism (Fernando Pessoa often use the
word gear or wheel) of thinking is triggered? What is the element
that drives the wheel within Fausto?
Consequently, what was presented as reason (including its
excess) collapses due to the inability to understand the existence
as the thing-in-itself. The horror is established from the time that
the possibility of conceptualization comes up on the limit of
concept. The existence, given as incomprehensible, starts to
create around itself a new dynamic conceptualization. This means
that it is present in the poem the creation of a limit-concept,
which can not be formulated as content. A concept in which the
experience of inadequacy of the concept of concept itself is
2 Fernando Pessoa. Fausto: Tragdia Subjectiva. (texto estabelecido por Teresa
Sobral Cunha). Lisboa: Relgio dgua Editores, 2013. (p. 42-43).

Meeting with David E. Wellbery


2015

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manifested. Fausto, repetitively, also raises these questions


concerning what it means the existence as the thing-in-itself:
More than existence
It is a mystery the exist, to be, to have
One being, an existence, an exist
Any one, not this one, since this is it
This is the problem that disturbs more.
What is to exist not us or the world
But to exist-in-itself? 3

A thesis appears from this experience of inadequacy. Does


existence, given its conceptualization limit, create around itself the
"limit-concept", which is existence itself, and that can not be
formulated as a philosophy, but just as poetry? Could the
existence, as a concept denying oneself, only be represented
symbolically, metaphorically, lyrically? To answer these questions,
we have to collect and analyze other variables in the constitution
of the poem. Some background to grasp these insights is required.
In

World

as

Will

and

Representation

(1851)

Arthur

Schopenhauer presents an idea of world divided between what he


named Representation and Will. According to Schopenhauer, there
are into the "reality" of the world two ways of this world to be
captured by our experience. The first and clearer of these ways of
apprehension

of

the

world

is

by

Representation.

The

representation includes acquaintance of categories such as:


perception, ideation, rational cause, motivation, goals, reflection,
and others. Representation exists only for us to be able to perceive
it and understand it, as it is, it is no more than a projection of our
3 Ibid. (p. 104)

Meeting with David E. Wellbery


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intellect. Through this projection, we impose purpose and causality


upon it through our intelligence.
Nonetheless,

underling

this

illusion,

exists

the

Will,

instinctive forces of nature, such as pain or pleasure, that


Schopenhauer calls blind urges, which works exactly in the
opposite way of Representation. These forces work to create an
absurd drive toward existence. Thus, this essential condition of the
world has no reason or motivation, the purpose and end teleology.
Whenever we try to control it, we simply manifest the Will
unconsciously. Thus, Schopenhauer suggests that our "existence"
is a continual oscillation between the hope for purpose and the
conclusion that this yearning can never be fulfilled. This dynamic
would lead us to what Schopenhauer named the "Eternal
Becoming".
Eternal becoming, endless flux, belongs to the revelation of
the essential nature of the will. Finally, the same thing is also
seen in human endeavors and desires that buoy us up with
the vain hope that their fulfilment is always the final goal of
the willing. But as soon as they are attained, they no longer
look the same, and so are soon forgotten, become
antiquated, and are really, although not admittedly, always
laid aside as vanished illusions. It is fortunate enough when
something to desire and to strive for still remains, so that the
game may be kept up of the constant transition from desire
to satisfaction, and from desire to satisfaction, and from that
to a fresh desire, the rapid course of which is called
happiness, the slow course of sorrow [].4

4 Arthur Schopenhauer. World as Will and Representation. (translated from


German by E.F.J. Payne). New York: Dover Publications, 1969 (p. 164)

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Meeting with David E. Wellbery


2015

December, 10

As we can perceive, the Eternal Become would belong to the


revelation of the essential nature of Will. Throughout the trajectory
of the character represented in the poem, there seems to be a part
of him the attempt to regain the contemplative capacity and,
thereafter, to release the drive toward existence, that is, toward
the Will. However, because of a kind of curse which afflicts, Fausto
is sentenced to two consecutive sentences: the first is, to have bet
all his efforts on comprehending the mystery through the reason,
he sees himself failing on purpose because he comes to
understand that the mystery is not comprehensible to the
understanding. As a result, Fausto enters into a vortex of doubt
and uncertainty because his conviction is not only to be doomed to
always think and to always be aware, but he also knows that at
some point of his life, he experienced was exposed the
Mystery, nonetheless, he cannot make this experience something
cognizable now.
The thinking, and to always think
Give me an intimate way and (...)
Of sentiment which makes me inhuman.
I cannot any longer fraternize the feeling
With the feeling of others, misanthrope
Unavoidably and in my essence.5

And continues
The more deeply I think, more
Deeply I misunderstand myself.
To know is the unconsciousness of ignoring,
Even those who know much knows nothing.

5 Fernando Pessoa. Fausto: Tragdia Subjectiva. (texto estabelecido por Teresa


Sobral Cunha). Lisboa: Relgio dgua Editores, 2013. (p. 49)

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The more deeply I think, yes,


Deeper I feel ignored,
Deeper I feel something
Aside from that I deeply think.
And this is what makes me say: I think
Deeply.6

This fracture between thinking and understanding the world,


the gap between what is Will and what is Representation, leads
Fausto to a thought that I previously termed "negativity". That is,
there is the possibility of living under certain naivety to the idea
that the world is a dream, that there are possible utopias to be
achieved, not by launching efforts to thought, but this behavior is
not represented as a solution to the mystery of things, it was
established as a non-clarification way. On the other hand, applying
efforts in thought, in philosophy, in all the sciences, does not
provide the sense of existence, because the collapses happen
when he realizes the difference of the thing-in-itself, existing in its
gerund. For this an attempt to overcome the Representation is
needed in the search for a new understanding through the striving
for Will.
The collapse between Will and Representation happens in
Fausto due to his exposition to the mystery, and this mystery is
presented as unsolvable, because its nature is connected with the
impossibility of conceptualization concerning the experience of
existence. Hence is created, during the creation of the poem, a
poetic that would not contend the concepts of existence, or thingin-itself, but a sort of poetry as a possibility of representation of
these ideas. Moreover, this discourse mode inserts Fernando
6 Ibid. (p. 117)

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Pessoas Fausto in a meta-poetical category, since it is possible to


perceive during the drama reading an idea of anti-philosophy. By
using this term, I would indeed say that the poem places in
probation the mimetic capacity of literature to give us an
accounting to represent what we understand as "reality." Instead
of seeking in philosophy or in natural sciences a plausible
explanation for this "reality" as it presents to us, Fausto inquires
into the apparent uselessness of rational thinking so that we can
grasp the truth.
The impossibility to Fausto grasping the truth, drives him
into a language of silence to represent the silence of the world.
This silence terrifies Fausto because its muteness presents itself as
the only possibility in front of the unsolvable mystery of Existence.
Fausto comprises solely the terror of this silence, insofar he is the
only one that reached a level of thinking in which is possible the
thought about the non-thinkable.
Silence, as a response to the collapse of understanding, can
be comprehended as a failure of rational discourse, which is
impossible to formulate an answer to the obsessive question
already referred to in this text: What does it mean for a thing to
exist? What is it in itself? There is no definitive answer to the
question, neither in the context of Fernando Pessoas poetry, nor
even in the philosophical context in the beginning of the twentieth
century. Nonetheless, following on dialogue with the philosophy of
Schopenhauer, we can find the reverberation of the same question
echoing.
Whether the thought, insofar labored to exhaustion, it cannot
reach an understanding on that "being in the world" to exist in
itself we can infer the impossibility to this matter being solved

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with reference to a world as Representation. Instead, it leads us to


consider that the act of existing is related to the world as Will. The
clue to this illation is given within the poem itself:
Existence
Vague abstract notion,
I am still more than you!
In me is seen naked
(And no one understands it)
The Mystery (...) crude
That world and life have.
I am a vague and simple name
I am the sink true
Nobody ever hold me
(Even understood me)
My name, who found
could not go further.7

These verses belong to the voice of Existence, a character


who only appears as featured during the Interact II. Splitting the
interact with two other enigmatic voices (Being and Sigh of the
World), the character builds its own conceptualization. Its name:
Existence.
Existence whose is an abstract notion, but supposedly
addressing its discourse to Fausto, tells him: "I am still more than
you!". This verse can be designed as it is following: I the
Existence am a vague and abstract notion, because I cannot be
grasped or conceptualized from a rationalizing system of thought.
This means that, to have access to it (existence) its is necessary
something else, philosophically incomprehensible. This conclusion
7 Ibid. (p. 128)

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Meeting with David E. Wellbery


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is clear once the character is actually speaking to Fausto, insofar it


says that it is more than he is. Perhaps this may mean that the
existence, albeit an abstract and vague notion, it is more than
Fausto, insofar as existing is more than theorizing about existence.
Fausto as an archetype of the incessant and relentless quest for
knowledge fails to even having comprehended things about all
areas of scientific and philosophical knowledge, grasping existence
as

analyzable

and

conceptualization.
Furthermore,

understandable
it

describes

phenomenon,

the

existence

liable

to

itself

as

incomprehensible, because in it is seen in raw and naked form


the Mystery of world and life contained. Existence also throws a
warning: "My name who found / Could not go further." Who else
might have found his name, was it not Fausto?
Fausto acting in its path by creating a system whereby the
Representation is intended to provide meaning at Will. This will be
experienced thoroughly in its push directed to the contemplation
of the mystery in an attempt to create a dynamic movement which
would enable a return to the starting point, added to this
comprehension of the journey. However, this task becomes
impossible since the impulse that led Fausto to experimentation
with existence as will, it is now the time, in the shape of
damnation, subjected to thought, rationalization, which makes the
effort for understanding will (considered here as Mystery), a vain
task, emptied of meaning, exhausting, tedious. We return here to
the topic of "negativity".
In one of the most complete and interesting studies
published about the poem, O poema impossvel: o Fausto de
Pessoa (1986), Manuel Gusmo uses the term impossibility,

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rather than negativity. According to him, the impossibility in


Fausto consists in two main features related to the genre issue: the
first one concerns about the fact that the dramatic poem does not
comply entirety in the shape of what is proposed by its genre. This
failure presents itself "in the absence of multiple unit and
dynamics of the dramatic genre: organization of time and text in
acts and scenes, structure of the events, clipping of voices and
characters, etc." The second, concerns on the character of the
hero. According to Gusmo, a hero figure in Fausto, "the one who
the writing as such builds, the character who, in this case, almost
exclusively says me." It is a figure of denial, because it represents
the "radical impotence" in front of the world, the overwhelming
and

tragic

experience

of

language

adventure,

of

gnoseological, existential and ethical dimension."8


Moreover, the impossibility or negativity in Fausto is further
than failing to achieving the dramatic genre piece. It is a negativity
that is presented in the vortex of Fernando Pessoa's poetry,
manifesting itself in his work as style, here translated by a triple
and

fragmentary

impossibility:

impossibility

of

knowing;

impossibility of living; impossibility to love, all translated as well in


an impossibility of transparency of language. Impossibilities that
Gusmo does not point as being merely "positions" or "theses",
but "discoveries" of an experience such "discoveries" are doomed.
Only a negative hero could fulfill a failed project as Fernando
Pessoa's Fausto. The mismatch of Fausto himself does perform a
really impossible task: to pursue a fusion between a world as
Representation and a world as Will, through a cognoscent effort.
8 Manuel Gusmo. O poema impossvel: o Fausto de Pessoa. Lisboa: Caminho,
1986. (p. 214)

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This is perhaps one of the most defining characteristic of this


poem, performing throughout a path that we may take to be the
work of a lifetime a Sisyphus job, an absurd and meaningless
pursuit that can only be justified in itself as art.

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