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This review is taken from PN Review 59, Volume 14 Number 3, January - February 1988.

the homonym and others

Almost all the factors that make Fernando Pessoa a remarkable figure are stubbornly resistant to the construction of a stable image of the man himself. In this respect we are effectively left - as Pessoa believed Shakespeare and Leonardo were left - 'frustrate on the frontier'. Indeed, the more obviously stable the image - the famous Almada Negreiros portrait, for example, or the scatter of faded photographs - the more 'frustrate' one becomes, since for all their virtues they can tell us only what we already know: that he was, and is not. As the centenary of Pessoa's birth approaches, however, it may be preferable to ponder the obverse of this paradox: that he is, and was not. It was thus, after all, that most of Europe (including his native Portugal) first became aware of the name and nature, if not the person, of Pessoa. In practice, this involved the discovery of how, for most of his life, Pessoa had been an essentially lyric poet writing under assumed names, a strategy stringently reinforced by the very unusual provision of detailed fictitious biographies. It began to look as if Pessoa's primary claim to posthumous fame lay in having taken Rimbaud's 'Je est un autre' to its logical limit, and with a consistency of purpose unmatched by Stendhal, or even Kierkegaard. But the enigmatic element remained the identity of the dynamic principle behind the whole endeavour, without whom there would have been nothing to retrieve. The issue ...

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