The use of an alternative name is one of the civil rights in the country of literature. Only a state authority, for example Facebook, has the right to tell you that you can’t do it.
Even prominent writers have used pen names. Although publishers, who have less imagination than their writers or they wouldn’t be called the publisher, meaning no disrespect it’s just true, will sometimes insist on giving the game away by printing on the cover: “X writing as Y”.
Another case is where the publisher doesn’t want to give up a famous name so you might be confronted with: William Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Williamsburg by William Slink. Or you might find the deceased writer’s name in huge letters while the actual writer, who can’t be called a ghost writer because it’s the writer who’s dead, given a more modest type size. Then there is the minor case of that sensational book by Anonymous who, when you find out who Anonymous is, you don’t care.
I feel like I have discovered Borges’ brother and he is a sensational writer named Pessoa. Pessoa points out that he doesn’t use pseudonyms but has heteronomic identities, which sounds like something that conservatives would like.
The idea behind these heteronomic works is that the writer is not merely hiding behind a cover name but has created a fictional identity for themselves. You are reading a work of literature but the author of your book is also a work of literature. As far as I can tell, Pessoa has written under three different personalities, as if he were one of those split personalities who have multiple identities. You recall, decades ago, how there was such a vogue for split personalities. That book and movie, The Three Faces of Eve, was very popular. Even types of psychosis can go in and out of fashion.
How can a writer be three people? Let’s break this down.
The first two seem to be built out of binary sets of values. Alberto Caeiro celebrates the beauty and sensuality of the moment. He celebrates life. He’s also a Roman Catholic and references to that faith appear in his texts. I could imagine him attending Mass each Sunday.
Ricardo Reis, in contrast, is pagan and classical references are scattered through his writing. In contrast to Alberto, his work is full of mourning and regret for lost time and the passing of youth.
Alvaro De Campos is Whitmanesque. I was in my element here since I have been reading Walt Whitman since I was a teenager. De Campos writes the best Whitman that I have read and Whitman writes the best De Campos I have read.
There is a bit more material included about these writers. Some have influenced the others and there are capsule biographies and fragments of “author interviews” included.
Finally in this collection, Pessoa writes as himself. But it’s a self, as can be seen from previous incarnations, that is in continuous evolution, with corresponding shifts in how to understand the world and in what is capable of being understood. Pessoa is Proteus, or that’s part of what he is, a maker of masks and he has to be.
“Surround who you dream you are with high walls.” (First line of Advice)
I omitted telling you that this is a book of poetry. I feared if I disclosed that then you wouldn’t read the review. But now it’s too late for you to take back your reading. There are several things that the everyday reader will not do. One is read poetry. Another is read plays. Reading works in translation is another no-no.
I can imagine tying someone up, shooting them up with drugs like students take when they want to stay awake, and forcing them to watch movies with subtitles.
You probably think it’s wrong to force people to improve themselves. My argument is that there is a whole world of experience out there. Why would you want to confine yourself to your own neighborhood if you don’t have to?
I know all translation is inadequate. If I were a more gifted reader, I would teach myself Portuguese so I could read Pessoa, I mean all of them, with greater pleasure and insight. Like the writer, I forget which, who taught himself Danish so he could read Kierkegaard in the original.
In my defense, would you tell me I shouldn’t read Faust because I don’t read German? I’m positive Goethe is better in German. On the other hand, we think Rilke is an American. And Chapman’s Homer, honestly, is the best thing since Homer. Perhaps for my next post, I’ll review a play and not tell you it’s a play. A Little Larger Than the Entire Universe is from Penguin, the source of most classics in English. The translation by Richard Zenith is wonderfully effective.