From Fernando Pessoa’s The Education of the Stoic (pg 37-38) – spoken, it should be pointed out, in Pessoa’s heteronym persona of the Baron of Tieve. Minus the harsh phrasing I’ve found the same basic hurdle to appreciating parts of Leopardi and Vigny (de Quental I’ve not read).
There’s something vile – and all the more vile because ridiculous – in the tendency of feeble men to make universal tragedies out of the sad comedies of their private woes.
My recognition of this fact has always prevented me – unjust, I realize – from experiencing the full emotion of the great pessimistic poets. My disenchantment only increased when I read about their lives. The three great pessimistic poets of the last century – Leopardi, Vigny and Antero de Quental – became unbearable to me. The sexual basis of their pessimism, after I’d discerned it in their works and confirmed it in there life stories left a nauseous feeling in my mind.
How can I take Leopardi’s atheism seriously or react to it sympathetically, if I know it could have been cured by sexual intercourse? How can I sincerely respect and respond to Antero de Quental’s wistfulness, sadness and despair, if I realize that it all sprang directly from his forlorn heart, which never found its complement – physical or psychological, it matters little – in the real world? How can I be impressed by Vigny’s pessimism apropos women, by his exemplary and outrageous La Colere de Samson, if in the very outrage of the poem I recognize the “loved by few or loved poorly, and suffering cruelly on that account” of the critic Faguet, if I see it’s but the lofty expression of a cuckold’s ordinary torment.
How can anyone take seriously the argument “I’m shy with women, therefore God doesn’t exist,” which is at the heart of Leopardi’s work? How not reject Antero de Quental’s conclusion that “I’m sorry I don’t have a woman who loves me, therefore sorrow is a universal condition”? How can I accept, and not instinctively disdain Vigny’s attitude: “I’m not loved in the way I’d like, therefore women are vile, mean and despicable creatures, with none of the goodness and nobility of men”?
A later fragment repeats the Leopardi commentary (pg 50)
This is one of the cases in which we must all be Freuds. It is impossible to lean not to sexual explanation, because the social behaviors Leopardi erects of his own problem……
The worst of this sort of tragedy is that it is comic. It is not comic in the sense that Swinburne’s love poems are comic.
“I am shy with women: therefore there is no God” is highly unconvincing metaphysics.
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