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Fernando Pessoa on the Fractured Self – A Salon with Agnes Callard
April 3, 2021 at 7:00 pm BST
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Our friend Agnes Callard – associate professor of philosophy at the University of Chicago and everyone’s favourite Twitter thinker – joins us for a special discussion about the nature of “self”, whether points of view exist, and how Pessoa’s poetry can reveal some answers.
“Pessoa’s key insight is that our mind and our sensations–even our affective experiences–are obscure, tangled, elusive, and to a large extent constituted by the act of introspecting. Like Freud and Nietzsche, Pessoa suggests that we are, fundamentally, strangers to ourselves–but unlike them, he doesn’t need to posit an unconscious layer of our psyche to do so and this makes his scepticism more interesting and more radical” — D.H.C van Zoonen
We are accustomed to speaking of ourselves as having—and sometimes as being—points of view on the world. But notice that the metaphor of a “point of view” suggests unity: a line can be divided, a figure can be divided, but a point is radically unified—because radically simple. And yet our experience of ourselves is routinely unpointlike: fractured, disunified, and internally conflicted. We struggle to integrate our memories of the past, apprehension of the present, and plans for the future into anything that could be called “a self.” We don’t know what we “really” want.
What is it like to have a “point of view” that is not a point? The philosopher who concerned himself, first and foremost, with this question was Fernando Pessoa. Writing not under pseudonyms but full fledged “heteronyms”—fictional characters with elaborate backstories who sometimes interact with one another within the pages of his text—he was a man with the soul of a city.
Though Pessoa’s poetry is well known and appreciated, his prose has not integrated into the philosophical canon; he has not generally been recognized as a philosopher in the Anglo-American world, nor is his work taught in philosophy departments. In this salon, we will approach his most important work, The Book of Disquiet, with a view both to trying to understand his fractured mindset and to seeing how we can use his original and confronting insights to reorganize our own experience of ourselves.
To read before the Salon:
- 11 am Los Angeles
- 2 pm New York
- 7 pm London
- 8 pm Berlin