Splinters of Being: Fernando Pessoa as Multiple Singularity

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“We’re splinters & mosaics; not, as they used to hold, immaculate, monolithic, consistent wholes,” wrote Virginia Woolf in her diary. We should pause over the two terms neatly joined by Woolf’s ampersand, for they suggest different, perhaps antithetical, ways of thinking about the self. A mosaic, after all, is precisely an arrangement of “splinters,” an assembly of fragments into a new totality or consistency. Today we might see in that difference an index of contrasting aspects of Woolf’s own writing-identity: stylistic innovation on the one hand, personal fragmentation on the other. But Woolf’s sense, at least in her diary note, of the difference between an outdated “whole” self and a modern fragmentary one is not an anxious but an enthusiastic, almost jubilant one. The demise of the “monolithic” Victorian ego was, in her eyes, something to be celebrated, for it corresponded to a liberation from the “ill-fitting vestments” of nineteenth-century prose, with its conventional structures of plot, character, and “plausibility” tailor-made to constrict or misrepresent reality and falsify the “myriad impressions” of the human psyche. For Woolf this aesthetic liberation was, moreover, not simply a matter of literary style. It encompassed a whole new contact with life, beyond the “tyrant” self (an echo there, perhaps, of Freud on “his majesty the ego”), a tyrant that had for so long ruled over social interaction and reduced the existence of the Other to a prescriptive narrative of the Same.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-18
Number of pages18
JournalQui Parle
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2008


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