Fernando Pessoa’s Art of Living: Ironic Multiples, Multiple Ironies – The Philosophical Forum – article

Fernando Pessoa’s Art of Living: Ironic Multiples, Multiple Ironies

Rehan P. Visser | The Philosophical Forum


In The Art of Living, Alexander Nehamas argues that Michel de Montaigne, Friedrich Nietzsche, and Michel Foucault undertook a particularist art of living—a unique project of self‐construction. In so doing, argues Nehamas, they based their lives on the life of Socrates, that quintessentially ironic character. To this list of self‐fashioning philosophers, I add Fernando Pessoa, the twentieth‐century Portuguese writer. I argue that Pessoa, via the writings of his heteronyms, also took Socrates as the model for constructing a self. Moreover, Pessoa employed all three kinds of irony that Nehamas argues is present in Plato’s writing, and did so not just to investigate the nature of the self, but to question its very existence. This is Pessoa’s formulation of the problem of the self. But Pessoa also borrowed from Nietzsche’s views on multiplicity, redeploying them in order to fabricate multiple selves. Pessoa’s solution to the problem of the self thus consists in the heteronymic device, which acts as a deus ex machina, unifying the disparate fictional voices and establishing Pessoa as a new, authentic self. Accordingly, Pessoa borrows from both Platonism and anti‐Platonism, distinguishing himself from both, so as to contrive—and simultaneously exemplify—an original art of living.


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