Pessoa told me «Dante is a liar»


A few days ago I read, by chance, something that really amazed me. I looked up where these words came from, and I found out that  they were from Livro do desassossego (the Book of Disquiet) from Fernando Pessoa.  Then I looked him up and came upon such an extraordinary author. It was like love at first sight.  I fell in love with him: he got to me! and his book is one of my favourites now.

So I would like to think about a motif that Pessoa seems to explore in his work. Actually, I believe that this motif has been depicted and explored in Art since a long time ago, because it is an inevitable fact of the human life experience.

Responding to our biological sense of sight, we can see the world around us. As we look, we are also being looked at. The world is a place where we peer by looking, being looked at and also by creating real and imaginary images of what we see. Then, vision and memory are necessarily connected, becoming an aesthetic experience. So yes, I believe in life as an aesthetic experience; even love, specifically falling in love.

Everybody knows how we fall in love: by one person’s image either physically, virtually or ideally. But moreover, looks can start a relationship between the two, through which a special intimate space can be built: an “interfacial sphere” (Peter Sloterdijk); a sphere like an exclusive bubble of real or imaginary erotic content.


El Bosco, Detail from The Garden of Earthly Delights (See the couple inside a bubble).


Giotto, Detail from  The Meeting at the Golden Gate (Joacquim and Anna, both faces in a two-poled aureole).


Probably, the most famous classic author that describes falling in love through a matter of glances is Dante in his Vita Nuova and La Divina Commedia. Dante describes with emotion, the effect that his beloved Beatrice’s vision had on him, from the first moment he sees her. It is a perfect description of an interfacial establishment:

In the beginning he sees Beatrice, then he is politely greeted by her; she looks at him and they recognize each other every time they meet. But to avoid gossiping, Dante denies being in love with her saying that he loves another woman. Now she painfully denies greeting him, and the interfacial bubble explodes, taking “his love”  to a new level.

They don’t see each other anymore, but Dante has captured Beatrice’s image. He posseses it in his memory, so “their love” now takes place in his imagination. He cannot do anything more than think of her by singing her lauds in his poems. Meanwhile, he marries another woman, but he still thinks of Beatrice. Then she (Beatrice) dies, and because of this suffering (not seeing her again), he starts writing the Divine Comedy in her honour.

Therefore: What was the basis for Dante’s love? Was the sphere broken definitely when they stopped seeing each other? What was he in love with? Was he really in love?

Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Salutation of Beatrice, 1859.

This love story makes me think about when «that person» you don’t know suddenly says you “hi”, and you don’t remember having seen that person before, but now had caught your eye. You recognize each other and you both start exchanging greeting looks. After that interfacial connection, a kind of sphere starts pumping trough those simple words like “Hi –hello. Have a nice day –Thanks, you too. See you –Bye”, and suddenly you start dating.

But one day you stop, and some time passes by. When you meet each other again, «that person» has met someone else, so “your bubble” bursts. You start remembering, thinking of that person and wondering if it’s the same with «that person» (although  is with someone else).

But it’s over. Like Dante, you carry that image with you. The image of «that person» you used to like “face a face” still likes you in your memory, in your imagination…But isn’t real; may be it wasn’t real.


As Pessoa says, we really never love anyone, because what we love is the idea (the image or concept) we have or make of someone. Neither you, nor anybody are real lovers. You are an illusion created by the other person, and vice versa. “Love” is just a matter of gazes; gazes bouncing on appearances.

“Love” happens in our own imagination, where we construct an illusionary sphere, and being unreal, is nothing but a bubble of beautiful absurdity.

This is how I love: I fix my attention on a beautiful or attractive or otherwise lovable figure and this figure obsesses, captivates, and possesses me! I love with my gaze and not even with my fantasy, because I don’t fantasize at all about the figures that captivate me. I’m not interested in knowing the identity, activities or opinions of the person whose exterior aspect I see.

We never love anyone. What we love is the idea we have of someone. It’s our concept –our own selves- that we love.

Fernando Pessoa, The Book of Disquiet.

Let´s remember then the Shakespeare say: «all that glisters is not gold».  So not only in love, but in life «what is essential is invisible to the eye»*, don´t you think?

*Antoine de Saint-Exupery, The Little Prince.


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