restricted access Fragments
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7 Fragments fter having spent so long, in so many books, during what sometimes seems like somebody else’s lifetime, trying to perfect the art of joined-up writing, I find that the fragment imposes itself on me. This is because I have decided that I want to tell the truth, the truth of a life. For reasons that I hope soon become clear, the truth is only communicable indirectly in fragments. This will be a life in pieces, then. There are various mighty precedents for fragmentary writing, from Pascal and La Rochefoucauld, through to Chamfort who was the inspiration for the early German Romantics, like Friedrich Schlegel, who mastered both the practice and the theory of the fragment and passed on the art to Kierkegaard,Nietzscheandmanyothers.ForSchlegel, each fragment was a like a hedgehog, complete in A 8 itself and rather prickly, and he believed that the only plausible form for the systematic expression of a philosophy of life was in the little anti-system of a fragment. I propose to take him at his word. I also think of Walt Whitman’s preface to Leaves of Grass where he compares the United States to a poem of fragments and describes democracy as an essentially fragmentary form of social life, where each individual is a fragment in the vast free verse poem that is America. In fact, I think of Whitman a great deal, living just south of where he lived Brooklyn Heights and passing the office of The Brooklyn Eagle on my way home, where Whitman was editor in the 1840s. I imagine him carrying the fragments of Leaves of Grass to his printers in Cranberry Street. As Emerson said, the truth is only available in fragments. I also think of Fernando Pessoa at another Atlantic harbour in Lisbon and his art of the fragment as a way of capturing the disquiet, the desassossego, that is the core of the self. Pessoa pursued this through more than twenty different pessoas, the word means person in Portuguese, in the sense of a mask, actor or dramatis personae. Pessoa called these persons ‘heteronyms’ and his major actors were Alberto Caiero, Alvaro de Campos, Ricardo Reis and what he 9 called the ‘semi-heteronym’ of Bernardo Soares, the keeper of books in the city of Lisbon and the author of the Book of Disquiet, Livro do Desassossego. Disquiet can only be expressed directly through the person of another, another pessoa, and only in the form of fragments. In writing this, I promise to tell the truth, but not to be myself. Is disquiet the subject of this book? It is certainly possible. If one were not disquieted, then why would one write? The point is that one’s disquiet, one’s anguish, one’s anxiety, is the essential thing that makes one the one that one is and that it cannot be addressed directly. It can only be faced indirectly , defaced or dressed with someone else’s face. As Pessoa, or Bernardo Soares, puts it in what he describes as his litany, and it is a nicely pagan litany, Nós nunca nos ralizamos. Somos dois abismos – um poço fitando o Céu. We will never be able to realise ourselves, to achieve self-realisation, we are two abysses, a well staring at the sky. The closest we get is indirectly, in a fragment. ...


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