The Cashier and the Assistant Bookkeeper

Pessoa in 1928
On the first pages of the Margaret Jull Costa translation of Fernando Pessoa’s (or Bernardo Soares’) The Book of Disquiet (Serpent’s Tail, 1991) we read:

Freedom would mean rest, artistic achievement, the intellectual fulfilment of my being. But suddenly, even as I imagined this (during the brief holiday afforded by my lunch break), a feeling of displeasure erupted into the dream: I would be sad. Yes, I say it quite seriously: I would be sad. For my boss Vasques, Moreira the bookkeeper, Borges the cashier, all the lads, the cheery boy who takes the letters to the post office, the errand boy, the friendly cat – they have all become part of my life. I could never leave all that behind without weeping, without realising, however displeasing the thought, that part of me would remain with them and losing them would be akin to death.

A little later in the book comes this (p. 10):

And, like a diverse but compact multitude, this whole world of mine, composed as it is of different people, projects but a single shadow, that of this calm figure who writes, leaning against Borges’ high desk where I have come to find the blotter he borrowed from me.

Borges is a common enough name in Portugal but still. Here’s Daniel Balderson, from a paper given in 2005:

To speculate for a moment, it would seem reasonable that Borges learned of Pessoa much earlier . . . perhaps, indeed, during the Borges family’s visit to Lisbon in 1924. Pessoa—the Portuguese writer with the strongest affinities to Borges—was certainly a quiet celebrity in literary circles in Lisbon in the mid-twenties, even though the vast majority of his writings would only be published after his death in 1935. Borges, due to his associations with avant garde groups and small literary magazines in Madrid and in Buenos Aires from 1920 to 1924, would presumably have looked into what was happening in Portugal in these regards, and if he talked to anyone involved in literary circles he would have heard about Orpheu and surely about Pessoa himself. It is even tempting to posit a visit by Borges to the cafés frequented by Pessoa . . . So I think it is worth entertaining the idea of a conversation that Borges could have had with Pessoa, and maybe even with Pessoa’s heteronyms, in Lisbon during his six weeks there in May-June 1924.

And then he quotes (in his own translation) an unfinished Pessoa poem from a little later in that year, 1924. It ends:

What woe that tastes of the end. / If the ship was abandoned / And the blind man fell by the road / — Forget them, that’s the way it is.

jorge-luis-borges-joven
Images: Pessoa in 1928; Borges in his youth (nd)

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