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Alex Smith

@ Sunday Times Books LIVE

A purse of kisses(#68 Fernando Pessoa)

A man of many heteronyms, Fenando Pessoa died of cirrhosis but not before he’d written (oh heavens, I sip my tea between words and my reading glasses steam up) … where was I, the poet novelist Pessoa was born and died in Lisbon. (Dammit they are steamed up again, I’m not used to wearing glasses; it is all these kisses that are wearing out my eyes; usually it is lips worn out by kisses, but I do not expect my eyes are the first in history to be blinded by the kiss). So Pessoa was Portuguese, but he lived in South Africa between the ages of eight and eighteen—traumatic years for kissing. Pessoa lived that formative decade in Durban where the climate, as I recall, is muggy and so if you kiss someone on the cheek, their cheek could very possibly be clammy. I would like to know what his favourite picture book was as a child. What inky and wild illustrations led him to become seventy-two men? With all those wretched heteronyms to deal with it doesn’t surprise me that finally he should write The Book of Disquiet. (Ah! I have discovered it is only when I breathe out after sipping tea that the steam from the cup held at lip-level is projected upwards over these lenses; the mist lasts no more than three seconds and then all is clear again.) And from The Book of Disquiet here is Pessoa’s advice to unhappily married women…

My wish for you, my dear disciples, is that by faithfully following my advice you’ll experience vastly multiplied sensual pleasure with, not in the act of, the male animal to whom Church and State have tied you by your womb and a last name.

It’s by digging its feet in the ground that the bird takes off in flight. May this image, daughters, serve as a perpetual reminder of the only spiritual commandment there is.

The height of sensuality, if you can achieve it, is to be the lewdest slut imaginable and yet never unfaithful to your husband, not even with your eyes.

To be a slut on the inside, to be unfaithful to your husband on the inside to cheat on him as you hug him, to kiss him with kisses that aren’t for him—that is sensuality, O superior women, O my mysterious and cerebral disciples.

Elsewhere in the same book, there is another kind of kiss…

To feign is to love. Whenever I see a pretty smile or a meaningful gaze, no matter whom the smile or gaze belongs to, I always plumb to the should of smiling or gazing face to discover what politician wants to buy our vote or what prostitute wants us to buy her. But the politician that buys us loved at least the act of buying us, even as the prostitute loved being bought by us. Like it or not, we cannot escape universal brotherhood. We all love each other, and the lie is the kiss we exchange.


Recent comments:

  • Ben - Editor
    Ben - Editor
    July 17th, 2008 @17:23 #

    A lovely post, Alex - and like the image, too. I hope your specs have de-steamed by now...


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