Thought, which for other people is a compass to guide action, is for me its microscope

From Fernando Pessoa’s The Education of the Stoic (pg 22-23):

My lack of initiative was the root cause of all my troubles – of my inability to want something before having thought about it, of my inability to commit myself, of my inability to decide in the only way one can decide: by deciding, not by thinking. I’m like Buridan’s donkey, dying at the mathematical midpoint between the water of emotion and the hay of action; if I didn’t think, I m might still die, but it wouldn’t be from thirst or hunger.

Whatever I think or feel inevitably turns into a form of inertia. Thought, which for other people is a compass to guide action, is for me its microscope, making me see whole universes to span where a footstep would have sufficed, as if Zeno’s argument about the impossibility of crossing a given space – which, being infinitely divisible, is therefore infinite – were a strange drug that had intoxicated my psychological self. And feeling, which in other people enters the will like a hand in a glove, or list a fist tin the guard of a sword, was always in me another form of thought – futile like a rage that makes us tremble so much we can’t move, or like a panic (the panic, in my case, of feeling too intensely) that freezes the frightened man in his tracks, when his fright should make him flee.

My whole life has been a battle lost on the map. Cowardice didn’t even make it to the battlefield, where perhaps it would have dissipated; it haunted the chief of staff in his office, all alone with his certainty of defeat. He didn’t dare implement his battle plan, since it was sure to be imperfect, and he didn’t dare perfect it (though it could never be truly perfect) since his convection that it would never be perfect killed all his desires to strive for perfection. Nor did it ever occur to him that his plan, though imperfect, might be closer to perfection than the enemy’s. The truth is that my real enemy, victorious over me since God, was that very idea of a perfection, marching against me at the head of all the troops of the world – in the tragic vanguard of all the world’s armed men.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s