Wednesday, August 22, 2018

The Arithmetic of Identity

     There is never enough time to read all that I wish  -- so much poetry and mathematics awaits my attention.  The Portuguese poet Fernando Pessoa is one whose work is in my queue.  Recently I have been exploring Pessoa's poetic prose in The Book of Disquiet   (Ed. Jeronimo Pizarro, Trans. Margaret Jull Costa, New Directions, 2017).  Below I offer the first two paragraphs of Section 152, The River of Possession -- I have delighted in their play with numbers and meaning: 

          It is axiomatic of our humanity that we are all different.  We only look alike from a distance and, therefore, when we are least ourselves.  Life, then, favors the undefined; only those who lack definition, and who are all equally nobodies, can coexist.
          Each one of us is two, and whenever two people meet, get close or join forces, it's rare for those four to agree,  If the dreamer in each man of action frequently falls out with his own personal man of action, he's sure to fall out with the other person's dreamer and man of action.

In a later paragraph, Pessoa adds:    Love requires us to be both identical and different, which isn't possible in logic, still less in life.

     Thank you to Portuguese mathematician-poet Francisco Jose Craiveiro de Carvalho -- who led me to Pessoa.  Allen Ginsburg's poem "Salutations to Fernando Pessoa" is available here.

No comments:

Post a Comment