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Beyond-God e beyond-being: Uncreated and Yearning in Fernando Pessoa

Beyond-God and beyond-being: Uncreated and Yearning in Fernando Pessoa

Paulo Borges

(University of Lisbon)

Our working supposition is that one of the main sources in Pessoas work is to be found in the experience that there is something in the subject, which is former both to the constitution of the world and his presence in it, as well to what traditionally is presented as its absolute principle, God. The feeling and the memory of this anteriority unfold in the experience of non coincidence between himself, or the common identity that the subject ascribes to himself and the world ascribes to him, and a deeper dimension which cant be objectified or characterized, that he fore-feels as an hidden nature not lost at all, as it is present in the sense of its own absence and is reachable at different levels of consciousness, and that throws the subject into the restlessness of a fundamental dissatisfaction and inadequacy with what life, the world and its own subjectivity offer him. Among other compositions of the young Pessoa, we believe this is displayed in the important 35 Sonnets, written in English between 1910 and 1912, and corrected until their publication in 1918. The confirmation of our supposition would show the remarkable rooting of Pessoas work in that literature of a yearning exile, that strongly characterizes the Portuguese tradition and that raises to a theoretical consciousness of itself in the work of Teixeira de Pascoaes and other members of the movement Renascena Portuguesa, whose magazine, A guia, introduced Pessoa to his first appearance before the public with an essay about the pantheist transcendentalism of the new Portuguese poetry, from Antero de Quental until Pascoaes and his followers. A substantial part of Pessoas modernism and sensationism would then precede and depend from what, apparently, it refuses the most, the mystical-metaphysical experience implied in the traditional yearning lyrics, that in the poet raise to the simultaneously sweet and sour experience of the union-scission in the uncreated.

Some of the 35 Sonnets allow a clear exemplification of this. Firstly, the sonnet XXIV, here transcribed:

Something in me was born before the stars

And saw the sun begin from far away.

Our yellow, local day on its wont jars,

For it hath communed with an absolute day.

Through my Thoughts night, as a worn robes heard trail

That I have never seen, I drag this past

That saw the Possible like a dawn grow pale

On the lost night before it, mute and vast.

It dates remoter than Gods birth can reach,

That had no birth but the worlds coming after.

So the worlds to me as, after whispered speech,

The cause-ignored sudden echoing of laughter.

Thatt has a meaning my conjecture knows,

But thatt has meanings all its meaning shows

If we take the first four verses, the statement that something in himself was born before the appearing of the symbols of what is more remote, visible and glowing in the world, watching it from far away, can be read as the expression of inherency in the uncreated and the absolute vision of the origins that unfolds in it, all the more since in the presence of this communion with an absolute day the perception of every days life is emphasized as something repetitious and aged. It isnt just about stating a birth and a presence former to a particular set of inner-world beings, in this particular case the stars, but to confess the experience that, when something comes into being, he is already there. There is something in the subject which precedes the appearance of everything, being at the same time presence and absolute vision. Thus, it cant be accidental that what distinguishes itself as the object of this vision happens to be precisely the sunrise, that prestigious image of the appearing and unveiling of things, so relevant in the human experience and the metaphysical and ontological western and planetary imaginary, as demonstrated both by the word origin (from the Latin orior, meaning the appearing of the stars, but employed specially in reference to the sun; where the notion of orient comes from) and by the link between es (dawn) and en (being, presence), indicating the being as an appearing, a manifestation, not to forget the platonic affinity between the Sun and the Good, in line with the mythical-metaphysical Indo-European representation. What stands out in this Pessoas poem is the undetermined, pre-original and pre-manifested instance, which is immanent in the subject as transcendence and vision of everything that is and appears. One could say that it is the unconditioned of this transcendence, through which it is nothing of what is and appears, that turns round in the totality of the vision that contemplates the own rising of the condition of possibility of all life and visibility.

In the following four verses it is particularized in what consists this anteriority and transcendence, whose experience, though considered to be past, keeps being present in a hidden way, as a light that cant be objectified and is dragged by the poet through the night of his Thought, such as the trail, only heard but never seen of a worn robe. In this splendid image, what the poet brings with himself at any moment and becomes present, along and beyond the obscurity of the thought directed to the worldly things, is that same vision of its original appearing. Described, nevertheless, as the Possible or the dawn of the manifestation that, instead of triumphing and accomplishing in firm and obvious realization and being, looses glow and clearness and becomes undefined, moving back to the darkness, silence and vastness of the unmanifest, such as a dawn grown pale / on the lost night that precedes it. It isnt after all absolutely lost, then, as the image suggests, gradually as the subject gets forward having the horizon as an object enlightened by his own looking, always the dragged tail of his robe, invisible but audible, ties him to that unmanifest and makes it present in a sensitive, though trans-objective, way. It is in the latent presence of the Night of the unmanifest or uncreated, everlasting former and wider than the day of the manifestation, that the other night, the one of the Thought, is accused of not being able to catch a glimpse of that in the heart from where it rises and constitutes, neither the vision of universal potentiality, nor the unlimited that precedes it and to where after all it returns.

It is this double instance, felt but ignored both in conceptual and intellectual terms, since it is transcendent to thought, that the subject carries any moment within himself. And it is this, the uncreated and the full vision of universal potentiality, in other words, what in the subject is transcendence and absolute anteriority, that we can understand in the next triplet as remoter than Gods birth, that consisted in no more than the worlds coming after. The uncreated and the full vision of the possible, inherent to the subject, are transcendental and former to a God that only appears as such through the constitution of the world, even if the creative or manifestation principle belongs to him. Without the appearing of the world, as a created or manifested effect, that would neither be nor appear as principle and God, remaining in that primordial indeterminacy, which cant be something else than one and unique, that for this reason cant be anything but the something which is irreducibly transcendent and former to all. Thus, what in this case is stated is something that in the subject transcend all that is possible and all the real, including what traditionally is pointed out and represented as its transcendent source, God himself, that in this context, while presupposing an otherness at an ideal and real level, is just a determined, manifested and created form of that Possible and of that absolute uncreated that the subject brings within himself. Indeed, if what one thinks to be God is after all the absolute itself, it coincides with that something that there is in the subject and that transcends everything. However, to apprehend it and nominate it as God implies that the experience one makes of him is made in the duality between a subject and an object or a cause and an effect, conferring him a determination that refers him to the domain of what has a beginning, a concept and predicates. Thus, the latent uncreated in the subject is irreducible to any divinization, as well as to any theology and metaphysics. To divinize him and think him both as God to the human conscience and as God to himself is to diminish and degrade him from the absolute to the domain of the relation.

Pessoa seems to move here, in what concerns the western tradition, on the line of Plotinus, where the transcendence of the ineffable one excludes the thinking and the being for himself, distancing from Aristotles vision that is prolonged, secularized, in Hegels one. He shows as well a remarkable affinity with the Master Eckhart s vision-experience of a primordial state of absolute immanency, where what will be determined as subject is free from God and everything; it is just as far as it willingly exiles from there and constitutes itself as a created being, that, together with the appearing of the creatures, this ineffable depth is determined as God for himself and for them. Thats why, in this eternal uncreated condition, unborn and fore-subjective, former to the determination of the self, the world and God, the future subject is above God while principle of the creatures, whereas, in reality, it is his not less eternal birth or passage to the subjective and transient determination that originates the determination of everything and of God himself as such.

This affiliation in the western tradition extends to the eastern one as well, and between one and the other to the handling of the matter in the portuguese tradition, where at least since Antero the vital and impersonal absolute, present at the deepest bottom of the subject and the universe, transcends all the personification, divinization and cult, understood as the Idolatry that shrouds him when he is nominated as God. It is an important matter of the contemporaneous portuguese thought, present in the vision of God in Pascoaes as the only perfect atheist, among whose diverse meanings stands out the one that God, while absolute, is not God for himself, being instead an infinite source of possibilities, out of which totality the manifested God as such is but one: In the Infinite all is possible, even God himself !. A converging perspective can be found both in Jos Marinho and Agostinho da Silva, among others, and the most significant is that it always precedes and converges to one experience-summit of transcending what traditionally is presented as the transcendent itself.

If in Pessoa, sometimes, the surpassing of God is presented as a desire as intense as the prayer of Master Eckhart in order that God liberates him from him, however without an addressee, as when he speaks of the overflowing, absurd desire of a satanic kind that preceded Satan, that one day a day without time or substance one will find a escape outward from God and the deepest in us will give up, I dont know how, being a part of being or of not being, in another text, perhaps from the same period of rewriting of the 35 Sonnets, with a clear gnostic and oriental influence and in a heterodox dialogue with theosophy, it is stated, nevertheless, that God, the God Creator of Things is just a manifestation of the Unique, that, while a emanating center of the creative and affirmative powers, is itself an Illusion. God is the Supreme Lie, not as a simple false belief of the human mind, but as a process of self-illusion of a being and conscience equivocated as to their own reality: God exists, in fact, to himself; but God is wrong; God thinks he exists, but he doesnt. The divine conscience suffers from the illusory belief in its intrinsic existence that affects all beings, which are not absolutely, since the being itself is but the Not-Being of the Not-Being, the deadly statement of Life. In an easier way, the being of all beings, including the one from God, is just a determination and, therefore, one denial of the unthinkable that transcends the Unique itself and that, stranger to the Intelligence, through it and for it is thought as Not-Being.

This denunciation of the equivoque of the divine being for himself, besides the contusive metaphysical blasphemy that strikes straightly against the I am who I am of the revelation in Exodus (3, 14), ground of the Christian onto-theology, raises the question of who is the one that is able to state the divine mistake of existing for himself. Going back to the commented sonnet, we believe that it only can be the uncreated something that there is in the subject, the transcendent spectator an expression of Pascoaes to name the same - which, former to everything, witnesses the total spectacle of the birth and constitution of the world, including Gods one, that just through the becoming of things will be determined as such. Former to the world and to God, seeing that God is subsequent to the world, we understand that in the presence of this uncreated and contemplative instance the world can be as a sudden echoing of laughter without a known cause. If its traditionally supposed cause, that is, God, is after all its effect, the becoming of the world appears expressed by an image of a pure and spontaneous irruption. As it is said in the last lines, one conjectures that it has a sense, but this sense doesnt display more than its conjectural existence and not what it really is. The experience narrated in the poem is of a radical and absolute pre-existence in the subject, former to the world and God, that allows him the vision of universal becoming with a spontaneity whose sense is undetermined and irreducible to any reason, entity or specific finality.

A second sonnet, XXXI, seems to confirm the most relevant features of this experience, introducing some new elements.

I am older than Nature and her Time

By all the timeless age of Consciousness,

And my adult oblivion of the clime

Where I was born makes me not countryless.

An exiles yearnings through my thoughts escape

For daylight of that land where once I dreamed,

Which I cannot recall in colour or shape

But haunts my hours like something that hath gleamed

And yet is not as light remembered,

Nor to the left or to the right conceived;

And all round me tastes as if life were dead

And the world made but to be disbelieved.

Thus I my hope on unknown truth lay; yet

How but by hope do I the unknown truth get ?

Here, the subject asserts as well to be former to Nature and its Time, claiming perhaps for a timeless Consciousness,...