Challenging Modernism: Fernando Pessoa and the Book of Disquiet

M. Stoker

Research output: ThesisDoctoral thesis 1 (Research UU / Graduation UU)


In this thesis I studied the Book of Disquiet by Portuguese author Fernando Pessoa (1888-1935) in order to determine to what extent the work could be linked to European literary modernism. In the first part of the thesis I focused on text-genetical issues to determine which manuscripts from Pessoa’s legacy belonged to Pessoa’s posthumously published book, how the text was edited in the various available editions and how an arquive edition of the Book of Disquiet could be established. I showed that establishing critical editions of Pessoa’s works is highly complicated. The editions produced by the Equipa Pessoa are highly teleological, similar to reading editions and other (semi-)critical editions. I formulated some ‘prologomena’ for an arquive edition of the Book of Disquiet and compiled an edition that served as the basis for my interpretations in the second part of the thesis. In the second part, I opposed the book as codex to the book as volumen, and attached to this distinction Deleuze’s concept of Logos versus Anti-Logos. Aspects of the codex and the Anti-Logos are clearly present in the Book of Disquiet. Both in form and in content the book is fragmentary, hesitant, tentative and multiple. I read Pessoa’s fragments mainly as ‘absolute fragments’; texts that belong to a book that can never be complete. This is needed to outline a type of reading that does not search for unity and coherence, but that somehow succeeds in respecting the fragmentation and instability of the work. I showed the consequences of fragmentary writing for the status of (semi-) heteronym Bernardo Soares, stilistic issues and the thematic scope of the texts. I proposed a ‘monadology of the self’ in order to illustrate in what way the Book of Disquiet differs radically from any other of the heteronymic works Pessoa produced. I’ll furthermore used one of Stanley Cavell’s ideas (‘hidden literality’) to try to reveal some recurrent themes in these fragments. I used comparisons with other works belonging to high modernism, such as Du Perron's Land van herkomst and Proust's À la recherche du temps perdu to illustrate to what extent the experience of time and memory in the Book of Disquiet differs from these works. Ideas and concepts by Foucault, Hassan and Lyotard are used to show the postmodern affinities in the Book of Disquiet. This thesis shows that the Book of Disquiet continuously balances on the vague border of the two currents modernism and postmodernism.
Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
Awarding Institution
  • Utrecht University
  • De Medeiros, P.R., Primary supervisor
  • Bertens, Hans, Supervisor
Award date3 Jul 2013
Print ISBNs978-94-6191-790-4
Publication statusPublished - 3 Jul 2013


  • Specialized histories (international relations, law)
  • Literary theory, analysis and criticism
  • Culturele activiteiten
  • Overig maatschappelijk onderzoek
  • Fernando Pessoa
  • Book of Disquiet
  • literature
  • modernism
  • postmodernism
  • genetic criticism


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