Reviews and occasional notes on classical music

Reviews and occasional notes on classical music

"Music, both vocall and instrumental, so good, so delectable, so rare, so admirable, so super excellent, that it did even ravish and stupifie all those strangers that never heard the like." - Thomas Coryat, after hearing 3 hours of music at the Scuola di San Rocco in Venice, 1608.

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Objectifying the subjective pleasure of reading

Fernando Pessoa: The Book of Disquiet, read by Adam Sims

"Like when a reader reads out loud, to fully objectify the subjective pleasure of reading..."

In his great masterwork The Book of Disquiet the great Portuguese modernist Fernando Pesoa posits a perfect retirement:
"...on the outskirts of somewhere or other, enjoying a tranquillity in which I won’t write the works I don’t write now.... How sublime to waste a life that could have been useful, never to execute a work of art that was certain to be beautiful."
For a retired librarian living on the tranquil outskirts of Canada, this feels a bit close to the bone. When the marvellous Adam Sims came to this passage in this perfect new unabridged Naxos Audiobook, I realized that I wasn't even reading Pessoa myself (though the eBook is on my iPad all set to be read), but sublimely having someone else read it to me. All something that might have happened in an updated version of a work by Pessoa.

Pessoa is so much in vogue today, I guess, because of our almost random jumble of yearnings, for meaning, for an end of pain, for hope, for comfort, for life and/or oblivion. "To possess, in the shade, that nobility of spirit that makes no demands on life... To be no more, to have no more, to want no more." Adam Sims beautifully, carefully, soberly even, communicates almost unbearable grief when Pessoa's protagonist Bernardo Soares, his own stand-in "heteronym", confesses to the terrible effect of losing his mother when he was only one year old, and his father, a suicide, at three. And then, in a just-a-touch lighter tone, he turns to the dark comedy of Soares' elaborate circumlocutions, a combination of Melville's Bartleby, Kafka's Samsa and Borges' Doctor Tsun. The Book of Disquiet is often so very funny, full of irony but with no mordant bite.

"Pessoa was as devoted to incompleteness as to self-estrangement," says Benjamin Kunkel, "and most of the prose he wrote was fragments".  But in the midst of his unfinished work are many lacunae of Pessoa's own design. Sims will build up a not inconsiderable head of steam in Soare's seemingly sincere arguments, and then pull the rug out from under us: "Missing text here." This, I think, must work even better in an audiobook than on the printed page. One is never on solid ground with Pessoa; and Sims has perfectly judged his pauses, his subtle rhetorical emphases, to keep us, the would-be comfortable listeners in headphones being read to by a mellifluous voice actor, always a bit on edge. The Book of Disquiet.

So with deceptive simplicity a transcription of almost innumerable quotidian details in the life of an Assistant Bookkeeper in the Rua dos Douradores in 1930s Lisbon somehow adds up to this sad and funny, triumphantly hopeful and deeply depressed novel. It's a book about not writing a book by writing a book, and reading a book by not reading it.

The release date is July 13, 2018.

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